A Eucharist Journey: Day 5 of 8

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Unity

-Joshua M. Casey

One of our earliest Communion prayers is from a late 1st Century book called the Didache, or “Teachings”. In the blessing of the bread it says,

 As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever (Did. 9:4).[1]

In these early stages of the faith, there appears to be an understanding that this act has a unifying power for those who partake. It recognizes that as individuals we have complex lives full of our own joys and sorrows, but when we gather as the Church to receive the Life of Christ, we are leaving one world and entering another. Now this leaving is in no way an escape, some attempt to leave the problems of this world–to be saved from it–but an act of centering–a reminder that we are saved for the world. This leaving and gathering is essential for the Church to become what it is meant to be: the physical presence of Christ in the world. As Orthodox scholar Alexander Schmemann said, “In Church today, we so often find we meet only the same old world, not Christ and His Kingdom. We do not realize that we never get anywhere because we never leave any place behind us.”[2]

We leave and gather for unity, for solidity. Like a loaf of bread which appears once the various ingredients are brought together, we go to church in order to become the Church. Better still, we go to be reminded that we already are the Church. This remembrance unites stained sinners into the stainless Body of Christ, that we might go out and bring this same unifying Life to the rest of the world. For it is in this “superlative act of Christian fellowship”[3] that we approach the Table–broken, frayed, and hungry–and discover a Love that is equal to the task of our emptiness. Not the old kind of love which is for those who are like me in name, skin tone, or opinion, but a new kind which transcends the differences we allow to divide us, making friends out of enemies.

For this is ultimately the aim of our unity found in this Common Meal: not simply a command to love (that is nothing new), but the possibility of fulfilling the command. That if we receive this Life into our bodies, we might then have the strength to turn together to the world and love it as Christ has loved us (John 13:34): with that same death-shattering, Life-giving, transformative Love of God.

[1] Didache. The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (translation J. B. Lightfoot). Early Christian Writings, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-lightfoot.html>.
[2] Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary, 2004.
[3] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: HarperOne, 1954. Print.


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.

A Eucharist Journey: Day 4 of 8

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Waking Up

-Joshua M. Casey

How often have you walked (or worse, driven!) somewhere, only to suddenly realize you have no memory of the trip?

Did I drive through any red lights? Did I signal for that lane change? And what was I even thinking about?

We are all of us sleepwalkers. Spiritual somnambulists shambling through life with only the appearance of consciousness; bumping into each other yet unable to acknowledge the world around. We speak of “life” as though we were living it, yet we pay as much attention to movements around us as we do our next breath.

Yet even our next breath is a gift: an inhalation of the continuously self-giving Divine in whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), the Christ, the physicality of the invisible God, in whom we literally “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).[1]

Life. Breath. The veritable proof of our present and His Presence; that you, a mere collection of muscles, sinews, organs, tissues, and synapses are dry bones come to life with the rushing of the wind of the breath of God. And it keeps happening. Every breath. You, at this moment, are taking into your lungs the very Presence of the Lord Almighty. Take a moment to let that sink in. If God is immanent, inundating this world with the weight of Himself, then His Person saturates the very atoms of air being drawn into your chest.

Stop. Breathe. Notice that you are here now.

Perhaps it is because we don’t pay attention to our next breath that we forget, and our feckless flinging away of the Gift numbs our senses to the truth: God–and his Kingdom–are everywhere, even within (Luke 17:21). We forget that we can no more invite the presence of God into our lives than we can run it out of them. As Franciscan friar Richard Rohr says, “We cannot attain the presence of God because we're already in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness.”[2]

Perhaps this is why the primary act of the spiritual life is to wake up. Perhaps this is why we need things like Communion, things which have the power draw us back into the truth: not because they are in themselves special, but because they can be the vehicle of transport into awakening. And we need all the help we can get. May these elements awaken your soul to yourself, and especially to the Christ who dwells in you and in whom you live, move, and exist.

 

[1] All verses from NRSV.

[2] Rohr, Richard. "Loving the Presence in the Present." Center for Action and Contemplation. N.p., 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <https://cac.org/loving-the-presence-in-the-present-2015-12-29/>.


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.

A Eucharist Journey: Day 3 of 8

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Symbol

-Joshua M. Casey

Legendary American author and lifelong Catholic Flannery O’Connor was out to dinner once with what she called “Big Intellectuals.” Five hours into the gathering she had not spoken once, but when the conversation turned to the Eucharist, one of the guests implied that it was, after all, a very good symbol. At this, Ms. O’Connor, finally spoke: “In a very shaky voice,” saying, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” She continues, “That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”[1]

A symbol is a tangible representation of an intangible idea, and we are constantly surrounded by symbols, so much so we take their existence for granted. Flags are tangible objects representing a tangible land full of tangible people–yet held together in an intangible bond called a “nation” and represented by a colored piece of fabric. They’re the white hat so you know which is the good cowboy, the red lightsaber denoting the bad Jedi. Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven incessantly crying “nevermore,” an experience of the constant, raven-black reminder of his loss, or the uncreated future of Gatsby’s elusive green light.

Simply put, symbols, as we know them, presume on the inexpressibility of their object, for who can physically embrace “the good,” “loss,” or the rest? Similarly, when we hear Eucharist referred to as symbol, often what is expressed is a belief that these objects, the bread and cup, are not in fact the Body and Blood of Christ, but merely there to make us think about Him and His death in some abstract way. They aren’t Christ’s Life, but a call to think about it. Yet as Ms. O'Connor implied, if Communion is merely an illustration or think-piece, surely we can do better. So, what if?

What if the bread and cup are more than a symbol, but a Symbol? The Greek symballo means to literally throw two distinct realities together and hold them fast. What if, instead of representing Christ’s Body and Blood, they actually (as He Himself said) were His Body and Blood, uniting and holding together the Man and God within. And what if Eucharist is our participation in that Incarnation, that mix of Humanity and Divinity? What if, through faith, imagination, and desire (i.e. hunger), it fueled the Christ Life within us, taking ordinary bread and juice–ordinary food, drink, and hunger–and turned them into the Eternal Life of the Kingdom, a participation in Christ and His mission of re-Creation?

[1] O'Connor, Flannery. Habit of Being. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999. Print.


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.

A Eucharist Journey: Day 2 of 8

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Thanksgiving

-Joshua M. Casey

Perhaps the most enduring and beautiful term for this Common Meal is Eucharist. Transliterated Greek, it simply means “thanksgiving.” It is a recognition that this Meal above all else is an act of thanks for God’s great Gift of Life Himself. An enacted word, a physical “thank you;” it’s word given flesh and dwelling in our midst, even to the depths of our physical bodies. In this act, we receive the Gift and return it and ourselves and the world back to God. This is, after all, what sets us apart from every other creature in the world–our ability to give thanks; to not simply eat food, but recognize the Source from which it comes. This bread is not merely converted into calories allowing our bodies to continue functioning, but is also transformed into a participation in Life as it was meant to be: communion with God and participation in His economy of abundance. Herein lies our “original” sin, or that which we always do: not participation in the world’s delights, but participation for the delight alone, without regard for the One who provided it.

Too long have we lived in the world’s economy of scarcity, fearing there will not be enough; that we must take rather than receive. Rather than holding open hands, ready for the gift of Life to be placed in our palms, we reach and grasp, pushing down others who are also reaching and grasping, all striving to take that which would be freely offered if we would cease the taking.

Too long have we seen with the eyes of the Israelites in the wilderness, blinded to God’s constant provision, seeing only the bare rock, ignoring it’s hidden water (Exod. 17).

Too long have we hearkened to tales of bloodthirsty giants,  ignoring the cluster of ripened grapes before our eyes (Num. 13). Yet it is the Christ who calls us to open our eyes and unstop our ears, to perceive the hidden abundance in His Body and Blood–the victory of Life within His death. He calls us to receive this “ordinary” world as though it were more, because it is.

For the world to come, that it might be revealed as the banquet table of Christ, we give thanks.

For the world as it is, when we catch it unawares, shimmering golden and charged with the grandeur of God, we give thanks.

It is this this transfiguration of the world for which we long, for which we give thanks in faith, and for which we take responsibility to bring about; offering ourselves and the world back to God as a living sacrifice, that all creation might be as Moses’ burning bush: utterly pervaded by the Divine Glory, transfigured and yet not consumed.


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.

A Eucharist Journey: Day 1 of 8

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Introduction

-Joshua M. Casey

For the next seven days, we will contemplate that centerpiece of Christian communal life: the Eucharist. Also known as Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper, this act has for too long been relegated to simply one moment among many in our worship–or else in an effort to make it “more special” has been so far removed from the physical life of faith that it has become purely symbolic. Yet properly approached, it can become the bread of heaven, providing strength for our journey, and can provide new insight into why Christ would call those who hunger blessed.

So, whether you are reading these to prepare for celebration at the Table, or simply as a way to re-orient your mind toward seeing The Christ in all things, we invite you:

The table of bread and wine is now made ready.
It is the table of company with Jesus,
And all who love him.
It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world,
With whom Jesus identified himself.
It is the table of communion with the earth,
In which Christ became incarnate. 

So come to this table,
You who have much faith
And you who would like to have more;
You who have been here often,
And you who have not been for a long time;
You who have tried to follow Jesus,
And you who have failed;
Come.
It is Christ who invites us to meet him here.[1]

[1] Iona Abbey Worship Book. Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2015.


About The Author

Joshua M. Casey worked as a campus pastor for eight years and is passionate about connecting the church of today to the practices of our past. He lives in Bloomington, IN with his family and writes regularly at joshuamcasey.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @thejmcasey and Facebook.com/jmcasey7.

Psalms and Self Care: Day 3 of 3

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Runaway Bunny Love

by Austen Hartke

“Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.”

-Psalm 139:7-12 (NRSV)

When you were little, did you ever read the story of the runaway bunny? It’s all about this baby rabbit who decides to run away from home. When he tells his mother, she says “If you run away, I will run after you.” The baby bunny says, “If you run after me I will become a flower,” and the mother bunny says, “Then I will become a gardener.” The baby bunny says he will become a bird, and the mother bunny says then she will become a tree that the bird can always come home to. No matter what the baby bunny does, or where he goes, his mother finds a way to be there—sometimes in the background, and sometimes right up close.

When I read this part of Psalm 139, all I can think about is how God is just like that mother bunny. If we ascend to heaven, God is there. If we go down into whatever the opposite of heaven is (there’s just a bit of debate about that!), then God is there too. If we fly as far away from God as we think we can get—guess what? God’s still there, and God’s waiting for us.

I know a lot of LGBTQ+ Christians who worry about whether God can still love them if they’re gay, or bisexual, or transgender, or asexual, and I always love to point them to these verses. God can do whatever God wants, and what God wants to do is love you! Of course, sometimes we feel like God is a long, long way away. We feel this urge to get closer to God, and that urge is good. But I think it’s important to recognize that God hasn’t gone anywhere, and really, neither have we. When God feels far away, that’s a good time to realize that we’ve been acting like the baby bunny, pretending to be what we’re not, and trying to get away from a love that’s always nearby.

So open up your eyes, remember that God loves you for who you are and not for what you could be, and see if you can find the ways the Spirit is following you!

For more thoughts on this topic, check out the Transgender & Christian video "When God Feels Far Away.” (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXULQ13CgS8&list=PLwWfCs7vnwdC1wbIAmH3_kIm0fE7oN9tE&index=75)


About The Author

Austen Hartke is the creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” which seeks to understand, interpret, and share parts of the Bible that relate to gender identity and the lives of transgender individuals. Austen is a graduate of Luther Seminary’s Master of Arts program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, and is the winner of the 2014 John Milton Prize in Old Testament Writing from the same institution. He has spoken at conferences all over the country, including The Reformation Project Conference in Atlanta, the Gay Christian Network Conferences in Houston and in Pittsburg, and the 2016 Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference. Currently Austen lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is working on a collection of biblical and modern narratives from gender-non-conforming people of faith, to be published with Westminster John Knox Press in Spring of 2018. As a transgender person of faith, his greatest passion is helping other trans and gender-non-conforming people see themselves in scripture.

www.austenhartke.com
Twitter: @AustenLionheart
Facebook: www.facebook.com/TransAndChristian

Psalms and Self Care: Day 2 of 3

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Borrowing Faith

by Austen Hartke

“In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
    when I meditate, my spirit faints.

You hold my eyelids open;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

I consider the days of old,
    the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
    let me meditate in my heart.”
    Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

-Psalm 77:2-12 (ESV)

We’ve all had nights when we toss and turn, trying to sleep but overcome by some anxiety, or some memory of something we did wrong, or maybe even by that overwhelming grief that visits from time to time. We try deep breathing. We try to count our blessings. We try praying. But somehow, this night, nothing works. We begin to wonder whether God’s really listening. We begin to wonder if God cares anymore.

This is where we find the author of Psalm 77—in bed, trying desperately to find some peace and get some sleep. They wish they could meditate, but they’re so upset, and the songs that used to comfort them aren’t working. How do we quiet our minds when we get caught in this spiral?

For the psalmist, the key comes in the form of borrowed faith. They can’t conjure up their own hope right now, so they decide to rely on the belief of the people who walked with God before them.

Sometimes when I’m feeling especially shaky in my faith I have to reach out to the stories of people in the Bible who experienced God first-hand, and in the flesh. What must it have felt like to feel the sand under your feet as you walked out of Egypt? What must it have smelled like to be in the room where perfume was being poured over Jesus’ feet? When we get stuck in our own thought spirals it can be helpful to draw on the strength of our spiritual ancestors, and even on the stories we remember in our own lives. When do you remember feeling God’s presence most strongly? When was the last time you wondered if maybe that weird coincidence was God moving in your life? It’s okay to not be sure—the psalmist wasn’t sure when they asked all those questions about whether God was really still listening. God’s not asking us to be sure—God’s just asking us to keep reaching out. To keep listening. To keep telling those stories.

For more thoughts on Psalm 27, check out the Transgender & Christian video, “Borrowing Faith!” (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-jzz7Cs5T8&list=PLwWfCs7vnwdC1wbIAmH3_kIm0fE7oN9tE&index=27)


About The Author

Austen Hartke is the creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” which seeks to understand, interpret, and share parts of the Bible that relate to gender identity and the lives of transgender individuals. Austen is a graduate of Luther Seminary’s Master of Arts program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, and is the winner of the 2014 John Milton Prize in Old Testament Writing from the same institution. He has spoken at conferences all over the country, including The Reformation Project Conference in Atlanta, the Gay Christian Network Conferences in Houston and in Pittsburg, and the 2016 Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference. Currently Austen lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is working on a collection of biblical and modern narratives from gender-non-conforming people of faith, to be published with Westminster John Knox Press in Spring of 2018. As a transgender person of faith, his greatest passion is helping other trans and gender-non-conforming people see themselves in scripture.

www.austenhartke.com
Twitter: @AustenLionheart
Facebook: www.facebook.com/TransAndChristian

Psalms and Self Care: Day 1 of 3

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Never Forsaken

by Austen Hartke

"If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up."
- Psalm 27:10 (NRSV)

Sometimes it's hard to have good relationships with your parents, even under the best circumstances. Those of us who are LGBTQ+ take a huge risk when we come out, and for most of us the scariest thought is the possibility that we may lose contact with members of our family. There are so many stories of teens kicked out of the house for being gay, or transgender adults who haven't been invited to Christmas since they transitioned, and the weight of that possibility can feel like too much to bear. We can start to question our worth--if our parents won't accept us, does that mean we're unlovable?

Into that terror and loneliness come the words of Psalm 27. This song to God begins, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" The author of the psalm is telling God all about what scares them, but then expressing hope and faith in God's presence at the same time. This tension between fear and hope probably sounds familiar--we tend to get caught somewhere between the what-ifs and the maybes. In verse 10 the psalmist stands with us, as LGBTQ+ Christians, when they acknowledge the possibility that human relationships may fail when we need them most.

But when we feel most abandoned and most needy, God promises to be with us. You may see God with you in the actions of others, or in that still, small voice in your own soul. No matter what anyone else says or does, God promises to hold you when other arms and hearts aren't strong enough.

For more thoughts on Psalm 27, check out the Transgender & Christian video "Take Courage!" (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOI3Ta18OGo&list=PLwWfCs7vnwdC1wbIAmH3_kIm0fE7oN9tE&index=16&t=148s)


About The Author

Austen Hartke is the creator of the YouTube series “Transgender and Christian,” which seeks to understand, interpret, and share parts of the Bible that relate to gender identity and the lives of transgender individuals. Austen is a graduate of Luther Seminary’s Master of Arts program in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Studies, and is the winner of the 2014 John Milton Prize in Old Testament Writing from the same institution. He has spoken at conferences all over the country, including The Reformation Project Conference in Atlanta, the Gay Christian Network Conferences in Houston and in Pittsburg, and the 2016 Philadelphia Transgender Health Conference. Currently Austen lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is working on a collection of biblical and modern narratives from gender-non-conforming people of faith, to be published with Westminster John Knox Press in Spring of 2018. As a transgender person of faith, his greatest passion is helping other trans and gender-non-conforming people see themselves in scripture.

www.austenhartke.com
Twitter: @AustenLionheart
Facebook: www.facebook.com/TransAndChristian

Searching For God In Religion: Day 6 of 6

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The Power Of The Tongue

-Susan Cottrell

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21.

Another suicide. Another lesbian hanging in her closet, another trans boy stepped in front of a bus, another bisexual with an overdose. All thinking they are so horrible even God couldn’t love them. What a tragic loss. In my work to reconcile families and help heal a badly wounded community, I see far too many of these occurrences—it’s enough to break your heart.

These people were not born into self-loathing; they were conditioned into it. They were told they were an abomination, told God hates them, told they deserve hell. No one is born hating themselves, even if they can’t remember a time when they didn’t. (Heteronormative conditioning—and othering—starts early.)

That’s the staggering power of the tongue. That’s the power blow we deliver with our words—even when we don’t know what we’re talking about. Death by a thousand microaggressions.

On the other hand, Life! Encouragement! Hope! These likewise lie in the power of the tongue! That’s the breath of creation we deliver with our words—even when it’s a casual and easy remark we offer to someone in passing. Life by a handful of random kindnesses.

Bitter is the rotten fruit of deadly unkindness and casting people out. But sweet and sustaining is the ripened fruit of loving-kindness and bringing people in.

You have the power to love people to life—including you—by your very words. It is sweet fruit indeed.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Cottrell is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQI children. She is an international speaker, author and spiritual director. Through her nonprofit organization—FreedHearts—Susan champions the LGBTQI community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that love—of God and others—is the foundation of faith. She spent 25 years in the non-affirming Evangelical church, is the Founder and President of FreedHearts, has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, served as the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin (Texas), and was featured on ABC's 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America. Her books “Mom, I’m Gay”—Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith (published by Westminster John Knox Press), and True Colors - Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You, have been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, The Gay Christian Network and many others. She and her husband Rob have been married for 30 years, have five children, two of whom are in the LGBTQI community, and live in Austin, Texas.

Searching For God In Religion: Day 5 of 6

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Your Words Betray You

-Susan Cottrell

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” James 1:26. 


YOU get a car, YOU get a car, YOU get a car…” I would love to be able to say along with Oprah. What joy and life that kind of blessing imparts!

But, “YOU’RE going to hell, YOU’RE going to hell, YOU’RE going to hell…” I would never say to anybody, for any reason. What pain and death that kind of cursing imparts.

I have received many lovely affirmations in my advocacy work, from the kindest, most beautiful people over the years. “Thank you for everything you do. Your labor is not in vain. You are impacting lives and changing hearts.” “One word comes to my mind about you: brave. I wish I could be half as brave as you.” “So thankful for you for standing up and reaching out like you do—you help me be a letter mom to my amazing gay daughter.”

Who couldn’t use words like that? I tell you, that’s about as good as Oprah saying, “YOU get a car!” And yes, I printed out these and other affirmations and put them in my journal to encourage myself.

I encourage YOU TOO to own these sweet words… for whatever ways you have stood up, been brave, changed lives—even your own! You deserve much more encouragement than you’ve gotten, I have no doubt about it! Take it and let it be yours.

But I have gotten my fair share of hatred too. “Cottrell is a straightup heretic and an enemy of the Church. She is not only supporting sin herself but encouraging it in others. If you want to justify sin, feel free to do so, but don’t put words in God's mouth. May God in His rich mercy rescue you Susan before it is too late.” This person is paralyzed by fear—the words are simply untrue.

This too. “YOU ARE SICKENING AND THERE IS A SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL FOR YOU.” Yes, it was in all caps.

The license people give themselves to speak like this to others! Good heavens! And it is invariably religious people who speak like this. But, to repeat James, religious people who but don’t control their tongue are fooling themselves with their worthless religion.

Now Beloved, let me tell you something:

YOU TOO may have received vile words… and I invite you to lay them right here and let them go. They don’t belong to you and they never did. You get to reject ANYTHING that doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. AND YOU CAN TELL THEM I SAID SO!

Words have power. The words we speak carry great responsibility. Those who claim to be religious—those who claim to speak for God—need to be most careful how they speak. Not least. Most.

Don’t be fooled by the worthless religion of those who don’t control their tongue. Instead, take the words that encourage you and own them. And let the rest go.

You do you. I’ll do Oprah. “YOU get a blessing, YOU get a blessing, YOU get a blessing…”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Cottrell is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQI children. She is an international speaker, author and spiritual director. Through her nonprofit organization—FreedHearts—Susan champions the LGBTQI community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that love—of God and others—is the foundation of faith. She spent 25 years in the non-affirming Evangelical church, is the Founder and President of FreedHearts, has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, served as the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin (Texas), and was featured on ABC's 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America. Her books “Mom, I’m Gay”—Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith (published by Westminster John Knox Press), and True Colors - Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You, have been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, The Gay Christian Network and many others. She and her husband Rob have been married for 30 years, have five children, two of whom are in the LGBTQI community, and live in Austin, Texas.

Searching For God In Religion: Day 4 of 6

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Where Do We Find God's Justice?

-Susan Cottrell

“Human anger does not produce the justice God desires.” James 1:20 NLT*

I have seen a lot of anger these days—in politics, in the church, in the world at large. Reasonable, thoughtful discourse is flooded away in a tsunami of keyboard vitriol. Soundbite retorts. Knee-jerk hate. Patience? NO WAY! We’re too busy making a point.

When my father used to yell at the family in anger, we shut him out as we waited for it to pass. We didn’t absorb a thing he said—we were too busy working not to absorb it! It was too hard, too strong, too much. His yelling never improved whatever situation he wanted to improve.

That’s what happens online too—as we seek to resolve complex concerns via Facebook. The more grenades we lob, the more entrenched we become in our polarized camps. The more vitriol we spout, the more we believe what we believed to begin with. Seems clear that human rage like this produces nothing good.   

Now take a look at the end of that verse: the justice God desires. The translators unfortunately chose to translate the Greek word dikaiosynēn as righteousness—which, in keeping with our Western rugged individualism, implies individual piety. But the word is better translated justice (hence the asterisk above after NLT). Justice focuses us on community, the common good—that’s the focus of Scripture from beginning to end. To lose that is to lose the entire sweep of Scripture… as we’re seeing today in our modern Western church.

Human anger (except when it is speaking truth to power) only escalates individual and partisan interests and is constantly at odds with the overall good. We need to refocus on community, concern for others and our common humanity. It is the only way to achieve the justice God desires.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Cottrell is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQI children. She is an international speaker, author and spiritual director. Through her nonprofit organization—FreedHearts—Susan champions the LGBTQI community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that love—of God and others—is the foundation of faith. She spent 25 years in the non-affirming Evangelical church, is the Founder and President of FreedHearts, has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, served as the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin (Texas), and was featured on ABC's 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America. Her books “Mom, I’m Gay”—Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith (published by Westminster John Knox Press), and True Colors - Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You, have been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, The Gay Christian Network and many others. She and her husband Rob have been married for 30 years, have five children, two of whom are in the LGBTQI community, and live in Austin, Texas.

Searching For God In Religion: Day 3 of 6

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We've Gotta Listen, People!

-Susan Cottrell

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” James 1:19

When Marcos came out as gay, his family told him he was no longer welcome, not to family gatherings or even over for dinner. They shut him out of their lives for ten years.

In fact, 25% of homeless LGBTQ youth become homeless they day they come out to their parents.

That’s a LOT of knee-jerk reacting. I’ve heard it recommended to wait 24 hours before answering a difficult email—but in less than that time these parents are throwing their children out of the home and onto the street.

For heaven’s sake.

This call in immanently reasonable, to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry. So many parents… (so many Christians… so many people…) shoot from the hip in their anger, pain, fear. They cut off their beloved child, lashing out a death knell with no thought of the deadly harm they’re inflicting.

To get to know this aspect of your child’s story that you didn’t know before takes time. It takes listening. It takes more than shooting off some words you can’t take back. It takes laying down your weapons and pulling up a chair.

Eventually, Marcos’ parents came around. Eventually they laid aside their pride and their fear and they found out more about this son of theirs they always knew and loved and this aspect of him they simply didn’t understand. But how beautiful it would have been if they had embraced him while they were sorting through it all, instead of rejecting him. They could have saved everyone ten years of anguish. “You can always reject them later,” I tell parents, tongue in cheek, “but you cannot restore the time spent in agony after you cut them off.”

May we ALL be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Cottrell is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQI children. She is an international speaker, author and spiritual director. Through her nonprofit organization—FreedHearts—Susan champions the LGBTQI community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that love—of God and others—is the foundation of faith. She spent 25 years in the non-affirming Evangelical church, is the Founder and President of FreedHearts, has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, served as the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin (Texas), and was featured on ABC's 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America. Her books “Mom, I’m Gay”—Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith (published by Westminster John Knox Press), and True Colors - Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You, have been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, The Gay Christian Network and many others. She and her husband Rob have been married for 30 years, have five children, two of whom are in the LGBTQI community, and live in Austin, Texas.

Searching For God In Religion: Day 2 of 6

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Pure & Genuine Religion

-Susan Cottrell

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27

Katie messaged me: “So this is the part where my family disowns me because I came out as lesbian.” My heart broke. This young woman has been navigating this journey for a long time, trying to reconcile in her own heart the vile teaching of her church about “gay people” and her growing discovery that she is, in fact, a lesbian and that isn’t changing. She did not ask for this, she did not choose it, it is what it is. And her family has rejected her—in the name of Christ. Rejection is not love, and it is not Christ.

By contrast, pure and genuine religion—a pure and genuine commitment to God—is about caring for people in tangible ways—providing for those in distress. Katie certainly has found herself in distress, discovering this unexpected orientation her family and church community have long made clear they consider evil. If religion prevents you from embracing those you were told to love—namely your own daughter—then it is not pure, and it is not genuine. It is as impure and disingenuous as you can get.

Oh, yes, that part about “refusing to let the world corrupt you.” Yeah, you may have noticed that the world tends to reward the powerful and trample the disempowered. The world doesn’t take care of its neediest members, including outcast women and abandoned children. To jump on the scale and further the imbalance against the disadvantaged is the very definition of letting the world corrupt you.

God help us right the wrongs done against those in need, like Katie and the millions of others who need our caring and our help. Only then can we hope to find pure and genuine religion. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Cottrell is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQI children. She is an international speaker, author and spiritual director. Through her nonprofit organization—FreedHearts—Susan champions the LGBTQI community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that love—of God and others—is the foundation of faith. She spent 25 years in the non-affirming Evangelical church, is the Founder and President of FreedHearts, has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, served as the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin (Texas), and was featured on ABC's 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America. Her books “Mom, I’m Gay”—Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith (published by Westminster John Knox Press), and True Colors - Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You, have been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, The Gay Christian Network and many others. She and her husband Rob have been married for 30 years, have five children, two of whom are in the LGBTQI community, and live in Austin, Texas.

Searching For God In Religion: Day 1 of 6

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What Is a God-Thing?

-Susan Cottrell

“It's a God-thing.” I have said this many times along my path. When I recognize something extraordinary, outside the norm, something especially coincidental or helpful or unexpected, it must be a God-thing.

One day I said this to a friend and she sighed with exasperation.

“Breathe in," she told me. "Breathe out. THAT’S a God-thing.” Ah! Of course God-things occur all around us, all the time—not just those occasional blips that my human brain recognizes and identifies and labels a God-thing!

At that point, I had no qualms about declaring this or that as God-things… (does that mean others are not?). I had not thought through the implications of declaring where God is or is not, what is God’s doing and what is not! Now, of course, all that feels silly. I’ve seen God that is much bigger (and kinder, and more loving) than my then smaller-church understanding allowed.

Now, I’m in a whole new place. Now that my understanding of God has expanded—and my box for God has been shredded!—I see God in ways I didn’t before. I now see God in places, and in faces, I didn’t before. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

Now, I experience God's presence always. I’ve decided to label it ALL a God-thing. Because it is.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Cottrell is the prominent voice for faith parents of LGBTQI children. She is an international speaker, author and spiritual director. Through her nonprofit organization—FreedHearts—Susan champions the LGBTQI community and families with her characteristic tender-heartedness, and she zealously challenges Christians who reject them with her wise insistence that love—of God and others—is the foundation of faith. She spent 25 years in the non-affirming Evangelical church, is the Founder and President of FreedHearts, has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, served as the Vice-President of PFLAG Austin (Texas), and was featured on ABC's 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America. Her books “Mom, I’m Gay”—Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith (published by Westminster John Knox Press), and True Colors - Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You, have been endorsed by The Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, The Gay Christian Network and many others. She and her husband Rob have been married for 30 years, have five children, two of whom are in the LGBTQI community, and live in Austin, Texas.

Original: Day 3 of 3

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Original Community

Esther Baruja

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
-Galatians 6:2 New International Version (NIV)

I recently returned from visiting my hometown. I’ve lived away from my community of origin for 12 years now, and each time I visit I feel further away from the family members and friends who used to feel familiar. I recognize that I am also further away from the person that I was when I lived there—the person that they remember. And while I have changed, many of them seem to remain the same. I changed because I had to learn how to survive as queer person in a “queer-phobic” world.

It’s hard to experience this sense of distance, but on this most recent visit an old friend organized a get-together with others who felt “outside of the margins.” We talked about our present struggles, our dreams, and our futures. At the end of our conversation, they thanked me for my time with them. In turn, I was thankful to them. They gave me hope to continue seeking a more just world. They connected me to their experiences. They fueled my spirit with their passion. In a place where I thought I had lost connections, I found a new family. By carrying one another’s burdens, we created a new community. Today, reflect on where you can help to create or renew community in your own life. Whose burdens can you carry?


About the Author

Esther Baruja, native of Paraguay, has a Master in Divinity from ISEDET Seminary in Argentina and Chicago Theological Seminary.  Esther's focus is theological-based liberation from multi-layer oppressions at the intersections of race, class and gender. She lives in Cleveland, where she is pastoring at Archwood UCC church in Brooklyn Centre.

Original: Day 2 of 3

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Original Faithfulness

Esther Baruja

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.
-Psalm 36:5 (NIV)

I grew up looking up at the stars. The Milky Way, that marvelous white path in the darkest of skies, was the last image that I would see before falling asleep outside on summer nights. At one point in my life, though, the night sky began to feel different—I was overwhelmed by it. I was scared of the immensity of the universe. It is so limitless, so unknown, so powerful, so ever present, so unpredictable; and in contrast I was and am so small and insignificant. The universe made me feel the same way God did. God was infinite, I was and am finite. Looking at the stars reminded me of my own finiteness. It made me face the reality that my life will end one day, while the universe will remain.

I can’t change that fact, but I have been able to change the way I understand it. Now I see myself as a part of the universe, a minuscule fraction but still an undeniable part of the creation that our loving God sustains with Her Spirit. Yes, death is inevitable, but now I live my life in the most authentic, meaningful way that I can. Having accepted my finiteness, and I can admire the stars knowing that I will someday return to them.


About the Author

Esther Baruja, native of Paraguay, has a Master in Divinity from ISEDET Seminary in Argentina and Chicago Theological Seminary.  Esther's focus is theological-based liberation from multi-layer oppressions at the intersections of race, class and gender. She lives in Cleveland, where she is pastoring at Archwood UCC church in Brooklyn Centre.

Original: Day 1 of 3

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All We Need Is Love

If I speak in the tongues (languages) of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)

One afternoon while I was waiting for the bus to take me home, my best friend looked at me with tears in her eyes. “Now that you decided to come out of the closet as a lesbian,” she said, “I have to tell you how much that you have hurt me.”
I was speechless. I got on the bus and rode away; I went home sad, ashamed of myself, and full of guilt for causing the suffering of my friend and others that loved me.

A few months later, I met a new friend that responded to my guilt by saying: “Hey, you didn’t do anything to hurt them. If they are hurt it isn’t because you love a woman, it’s because of their own prejudices. It is their arrogance that hurts, and their own feeling of self-importance that is being affected. If they love you they should be happy if you are happy.” When I heard him speak these words, I felt a moment of awakening as the verses of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, flooded back to me. That passage shows us what we all need—the acceptance, respect, affirmation, and celebration of our identities made flesh through acts of love by those around us.  Without love, the use of biblical verses to condemn my sexual orientation feel like a punishment—even if the person speaking tells me that they love me. But love doesn’t need to be explained. It is felt because it is alive. I couldn’t feel the negative reaction to my queerness as love because it wasn’t love. Love doesn’t condemn, judge or punish. It takes away shame, it doesn’t cause it.  It gives freedom!


About the Author

Esther Baruja, native of Paraguay, has a Master in Divinity from ISEDET Seminary in Argentina and Chicago Theological Seminary.  Esther's focus is theological-based liberation from multi-layer oppressions at the intersections of race, class and gender. She lives in Cleveland, where she is pastoring at Archwood UCC church in Brooklyn Centre.

The Rainbow Connection: Day 5 of 5

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What Is A Rainbow?

-Evan Taylor

Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path.” NIV

The psalmist here is giving us the best advice in the world when it comes to living a modern Christian life. Note that the first part of this verse admit that the “light” is for ourselves first, to inspire us, to keep us warm and informed. The second part of the verse is a little less direct, but in metaphor is telling us to go out and proclaim our “light” to the world. Why would the light be just for me? It’s not, it’s also there to light the “path” we are to go to share that wisdom of our own personal rainbow with all we know.

This is what we can learn about the rainbow. Since it first appearance 1000’s of years ago, we have seen it go from an image of a promise in the story of Noah to so many extremes.  It has been the story of legend in with leprechauns and pots of gold. It has been used in cartoons as superpowers in Care Bears and was the dividing line between Dorothy and the Land of Oz. Rainbows mark the scientific measuring of light and their elements, while at the same time, inspired thousands on YouTube videos.

Rainbows have been depicted as hopeful, beautiful, and celebrated as symbols of pride and hope. In joyful baby cries and swaddled up in a baby quilt with Noah’s Ark on it, and also in the chant and cries for equality from a protesters holding it high. Rainbows are beautiful, no matter how they used.

It is in the rainbow that we can celebrate our faith in Jesus, or at least his message of hope and love. We can choose to let the light reflect the love we have been shown. We can choose to let the light refract through us and shine the love on others. We can choose to allow the light to bend a little and disperse through us to others of different views or faiths.

May God bless you and teach you and show you your own personal rainbow of faith. May the light of Jesus shine on you, through you and out into the world. May you take hold of the colors that unite and celebrate the diverse culture that is truly being a follower of Jesus Christ. Amen.


About the Author

Evan Taylor is a man with many hats. Running his own photography business, raising 3 adopted kiddos and staying in love with his amazing wife of nearly 14 years, he rarely slows down. Joining the staff at East Side in June of 2014 part time as Outreach Coordinator,, Evan has felt a passion for the community of Tulsa. Since January of 2017, his title changed to Outreach Minister and he moved into the position full time. Evan is a graduate of OSU-Okmulgee in photography in 2000 and Graduated from the Commissioned Ministers Training Program through the state office of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Oklahoma in 2015. His hobbies include reading, writing, scary movies and trying out funky art projects.

Evan lives in Tulsa, OK with his wife Deanna and their 3 kids, Jessie, Dexter and Ripley.

The Rainbow Connection: Day 4 of 5

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What Is A Rainbow?

-Evan Taylor

Mathew 5:14-16 "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” NIV

The last element of a rainbow is how it disperses light.  Dispersion of light is the process of splitting all the colors that make up white light into its 7 main colors. In reality, if our eyes were not our built in refractors, we would see all elements of light all the time. In other words, everything would be a rainbow. Can you even imagine?

Everything in the world is a color. It is the way our eyes were created that make it possible to tell if an apple is red or the sky blue. These 7 colors that separate in the rainbow go by another name. A man, you may have heard of. Roy G. Biv. This was a name created for kids to learn not just their colors of the rainbow, but the order to it. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. As chaotic as the science behind rainbows all seem, there is always a order to the chaos.

As a child, you may have met Roy in kindergarten, just about the same time you learned “This Little Light of Mine” in Sunday School. The lyrics are near straight plagiarism from the scripture today. “Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m gonna let is shine!” It is just that simple really. The light we have been given, in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, on behalf of the world is what we are to be dispersing in the world today.

In order for us to show that light though, we must first love ourselves and accept ourselves and try and get our lives at least a little in order so that the chaos of the world does not overtake us. Jesus gave us the light, what are you doing with it?

May the light of Jesus flow in your soul and so bright that it can’t help but shine in your world of influence. May the love you have for yourself, shine out to your neighbor as well. Amen.


About the Author

Evan Taylor is a man with many hats. Running his own photography business, raising 3 adopted kiddos and staying in love with his amazing wife of nearly 14 years, he rarely slows down. Joining the staff at East Side in June of 2014 part time as Outreach Coordinator,, Evan has felt a passion for the community of Tulsa. Since January of 2017, his title changed to Outreach Minister and he moved into the position full time. Evan is a graduate of OSU-Okmulgee in photography in 2000 and Graduated from the Commissioned Ministers Training Program through the state office of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Oklahoma in 2015. His hobbies include reading, writing, scary movies and trying out funky art projects.

Evan lives in Tulsa, OK with his wife Deanna and their 3 kids, Jessie, Dexter and Ripley.

The Rainbow Connection: Day 3 of 5

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Refraction: How Does It Affect Me?

-Evan Taylor

Ecclesiastes 2:13-14 “Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done? I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.” NIV

King Solomon was the son of David and wrote/spoke these words about learning the hard way that wisdom is learned and not earned. We can learn wisdom through the rainbow by looking at another element of it, refraction. Refraction of light is when the speed of the light is slowed down when it travels through a transparent object and the light actually bends.

Have you ever been in a totally dark place? So dark, you can find yourself in it? I compare this type of darkness in life to being awakened in the middle of the night in a storm and all the power is out. You are in your familiar place, but in the confusion of being woke up quickly, you can’t find your bearings. Even putting your feet on the floor feels weird. Most people today would reach for their cell phone on the night stand to get at least some measure of light to see and not “folly” around.

That little speck of light is like the light of Jesus in our lives. That light moves through us and is refracted in an array of colors and sparkles. The rainbow here too reminds of the Pride Flag in the LGBTQ+ community and the torment they have suffered at the hands of “believers” that assume so much about their faith that they make it their zeal to shame and cause emotional and sometimes physical pain to people. This kind of light is not what Jesus had in mind. No matter your stance on the issue, love is more of facilitator than hate.

May you experience the light of Jesus in a new way today and as the light passes through you, may it refract in the direction of love and acceptance. Make a special effort today to show your love for a person you know in the LGBTQ+ community, maybe even yourself. Amen.


About the Author

Evan Taylor is a man with many hats. Running his own photography business, raising 3 adopted kiddos and staying in love with his amazing wife of nearly 14 years, he rarely slows down. Joining the staff at East Side in June of 2014 part time as Outreach Coordinator,, Evan has felt a passion for the community of Tulsa. Since January of 2017, his title changed to Outreach Minister and he moved into the position full time. Evan is a graduate of OSU-Okmulgee in photography in 2000 and Graduated from the Commissioned Ministers Training Program through the state office of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Oklahoma in 2015. His hobbies include reading, writing, scary movies and trying out funky art projects.

Evan lives in Tulsa, OK with his wife Deanna and their 3 kids, Jessie, Dexter and Ripley.