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conversations on the fringe

Thirteen Reasons Why (Season 2) Is Back


The controversial Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why is back for its sophomore season. The producers promised to further delve into the challenging subject matter initiated in season one, placing the spotlight on sexual assault and gun violence.

We’re busy at work developing discussion guides for season two but, in the meantime, here are our discussion guides for each episode of season one:

Thirteen Reasons Why Discussion Guides: Season One

If you are not familiar with the subject content of this series, BE WARNED. Each episode has content that can be triggering to people who have experienced trauma and/or suffer from depression and self-injury.

It is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that the series be watched with parents or other adults to help process the strong visual content and to help manage the risk of triggering stimulus. If you are particularly vulnerable to strong visual triggers, it is recommended you not watch. 

If you, at any time, feel helpless and hopeless and are considering harming yourself or contemplating taking your life, please call one of the hotlines below to talk with a trained staff member immediately, call 9-1-1, or go to your closest emergency room.

 

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What We’re Reading


The War On Kids: How American Juvenile Justice Lost Its Way 

“Dramatically and rapidly, though, the United States became an international outliner in the severity of its juvenile sentencing practices. Each year in America, police arrest more than one million juveniles, and about 250,000 of those kids are charged with a crime and processed in adult court. In some states, children as young as six can be transferred out of juvenile court into adult court without any judicial oversight. Once there, they face sentences – often mandatory ones – that were drafted with adults in mind. If convicted, these children are sentenced to a term of years in a correctional facility fraught with problems, not the least of which is that it was designed for adults. Until 2005, the United States was the only developed country that subjected children to the death penalty, and today we are the only nation that employs juvenile life without parole. Because of their physical and mental vulnerability, youth inmates experience the highest rates of sexual and physical assault, as well as suicide. The Pope, U.N. officials, and international human rights organizations have condemned American juvenile sentencing practices.

So how did we abandon the groundbreaking model of juvenile justice that we constructed only a little more than a century ago?”

 

How To Say Goodbye (The Voices Project ep. 13)


How do you say goodbye?  It seems like such an existential question and yet it is one that has come up all too often for me as of late. It is one thing to have to say good-bye and move on from people who are your friends. But how do you say goodbye to clients? How do you say goodbye to the people who have trusted you in such an implicit way?

In this blog, I talk about giving a voice to the voiceless. I try to invite the reader in to understand the lives of some individuals who may never have the chance to tell you their stories from their own perspective. I have been privileged to be able to be a person in so many people’s lives who are given the gift of receiving those stories; to bear witness to their pain, their struggle, their hopes, their joys and to weave it all together into this story that is theirs uniquely and worthy of dignity.  And then to share it with all of you, in hopes that we can be more compassionate and more merciful to one another.

There is a sacred trust when someone comes in and starts to unpack their lives in front of you. When they pull out the snippets of sentences that will begin to form their stories, they often hand them to you a piece at a time with shaking fingers and trembling hearts, so accustomed are they to rejection.  And I, by no virtue of my own, other than this determination of my heart to use it in the service of others, was God able to use me to help provide them with that shred of dignity they so desperately needed.

But here is the crux of the issue. When you work in this field, there is high turnover, people get moved, people leave to further their education, whatever the case may be; they go. For ourselves, our clients are individual stories we are compiling which will make up the tapestry of our experiences. But for our clients, we are the dogged protagonist who plays the important role of creating an environment in which change begins to feel possible. We are not bit players, we are perhaps the only character in their story that is willing to see beyond their present circumstances, and we hold their hope in our hands, and then we say goodbye. Sometimes, as it was in a few of my situations, it is an abrupt goodbye. There was not the necessary time to prepare or to make a plan to transition them to someone else. Or to prepare their hearts and psyches for yet another change, another person who is walking away. When you work with the most vulnerable populations, leaving feels cruel, and yet it is at times, unavoidable.

So how do you leave?  How? In my case, I had one lunchtime. I had one hope that all the usual players would assemble and that I would be able to take a few minutes with each to tell them how blessed I was that they gave me their trust, that they shared their voice with me. To tell them that someone else would come behind me and pick up where I left off and that everything would be OK.  There were the ones who asked me why? Why could I not stay at least until……until the housing came through? Until they got their I.D. until they got their 3-month coin from AA they were so excited to show me. Until they found out about the job interview they had just gone on…until. But worst yet were the ones, who simply said, of course, you are leaving.

There are no answers and this blog post is never about a simple answer.

The answer to how you say goodbye, is that you simply can’t.

I carry them all with me. I carry Frank and Chelsea, and Greg, and Shannon, and John…and they become a part of how I will approach the next person, and the next. They have all taught me so much, and there is no way for me to just leave them behind. And so I incorporate their stories and I guard them. I tell people who are complaining about “those schizophrenics who hang out in the library”, what it was like to watch Greg get his first paycheck.  Or when people say that you can’t build trust with a person who has been so brutalized by past abuse, I tell them what it was like the first time Shannon came in and sat next to me in church. When people say that a pedophile can only be treated as the monsters that they are, I will tell them about my friend who found his first job after 29 years in prison, and to celebrate he distributed clean socks and hygiene products he purchased with his first paycheck, to the people living in their cars at the truck stop. I will tell people that we are all a sum total of our stories, and these stories are vast and wide and can’t be put into a category or boiled down to simple experience. I will tell them that saying goodbye means breaking my heart a little wider so that God can fill it more deeply.

In the job that I do, in the organization I work for, we are told that we don’t say goodbye, we say see you later. And so this is what I said on my last day there, see you later.  Because I will; I will see pieces of them in every client that I ever serve. Stories told with the human voice are so powerful, because they can be retold and passed on. It is a sacred trust, and one I don’t take lightly. Not Goodbye. See you later.  


Karen Cassidy (stmichaelcas@gmail.com)

Karen is a mother of three amazing adult children. She works for a non-profit organization that serves some of the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals. She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told.

Lessons on the Ascension: From my very wise 6th-12th grade youth


In my church growing up, the Ascension was rarely discussed or touched on. The only way I really knew about it was through our monthly reciting of the Apostle’s Creed on communion Sunday: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.” But even though I recited this every month, I didn’t really understand what the Ascension was about or recognized its significance for Jesus’ followers 2000 years later.

However, in the past few years serving in my Lutheran congregations, I have come to appreciate and see the Ascension as something really important in our Christian life.

I have my 6th-12th grade Lutheran youth to thank for this.

In these past several years, my youth have led the joint Ascension worship service for our three ELCA congregations in our neighborhood, Edgewater, which is on the north side of the city of Chicago. (Our youth ministry is a joint ministry among these three congregations and consists of youth from each of them, as well as some youth from the neighborhood.) Every year, I have asked a few of my youth to look over the different texts for Ascension Day, reflect on them, and write a short homily for our service.

Every year, I have learned from my youth and have been touched by their thoughtful reflections on the Ascension and how it is important for our Christian way of life today.

As several of my young preachers have suggested, it must have been extremely difficult for the disciples to deal with this emotional roller coaster of watching Jesus journey toward his horrific death on the cross and grieving as they thought they’d never see their dear friend and teacher again, then being surprised and thrilled to have him back in their lives, only to then be left by him once again as he ascends into heaven to sit at God’s right hand.

What the heck!?

As Steve (who was a 7th grader at the time) said in his sermon several years ago: “I mean: to see Jesus die on the cross, come back and then just randomly go to heaven. That must have been hard for the disciples. If I were one of the disciples at that time I would have felt as though Jesus was playing tricks with me the whole time, and to be honest, I would have probably felt that he abandoned me.”

I think many of us today can relate to this feeling. Throughout my work as a pastor with youth and children, I have heard numerous stories about experiences of abandonment… by my youth’s peers, by their most trusted friends, by family members, by politicians who don’t make decisions that promote equal rights for their families, and even sometimes by the Church. And I’m sure this is not just a common story for our young people today… I know too well that – though we may not share these struggles as openly as we grow older – the more years we’ve lived life on this earth and the more people we have encountered, the more times we have experienced abandonment.

And as humans, we too often place God in our own image; telling ourselves that this human abandonment in our lives is proof that God has abandoned us, as well.  

Just when God has come to be with us in the flesh, Jesus dies on the cross, and just as we get comfortable knowing he has returned to us through his resurrection, he ascends into a place that we too often feel is far, far away… up into heaven.

And we are like those early disciples, left looking up towards the sky, wondering in our darkest moments: “Where in the world are you, God!? Why have you abandoned me!?”

As Luz explained in her sermon her sophomore year of high school: “Throughout my life I lost hope in God. I did not believe he was there with me in the Holy Spirit anymore. I believed he left me for good like he left the disciples… This year, things were pretty rough… and I lost hope. I thought that things would never be okay again.”

And yet, in the Ascension, Jesus doesn’t just leave the disciples abandoned and alone, as they stand on the ground gazing hopelessly up at the sky.  And in the Ascension, Jesus doesn’t just leave us on the ground abandoned, alone, and hopeless alongside those disciples, either. 

In the Ascension, all of Jesus’ disciples receive the gift of the Holy Spirit: even though God will no longer be physically present with the disciples through the Son on earth, God will be present with them always through the Holy Spirit.

Kai (a 6th grader at the time) explained: “After Jesus ascends to heaven, these angels appear to the apostles and tell them to stop looking for Jesus in the sky. What I think they meant by this was that the apostles would never see him come back to earth again. So, instead of looking for Jesus in the sky, they should look for Jesus all around them. And this is also a message for us today. No, we’ll probably never physically see Jesus. But we can see the people that represent Jesus. The church community is the first thing that comes to my mind. We all represent Jesus in the good things we do. I mean, we’re not the perfect servants of God. Nobody is perfect. But we see people do good things for other people all the time… As a church community, we help, we serve God and others, too. We pray. We forgive and also ask to be forgivenThat’s just the little part of God inside of us that tells us to do good.  So WE are the Jesus of the Earth.”

And as Luz continues in her sermon: “[Although I thought that things would never be okay again], I was wrong. In the midst of my toughest times, I felt God’s presence with me and within me. He never left my side. I started noticing the little things that made me know God is here.” She explains how our youth group has embraced her and loved her for who she truly is and how it is in them and through them, that she knows God is present. Then she urges the congregation: “Just sit for a moment. Think about how the Lord has blessed your life even through all the obstacles you’re going through. Jesus went through many similar obstacles, too. And yet, God blessed him. We are all brothers and sisters, we are all alike no matter what we’ve been through or are going through right now. I know at one point I was confused like the disciples, about how Jesus could just leave us, but honestly, he never did because he’s in you, and you and even you. Our Christ is everywhere.”

And this is where we see the meat of the Ascension message. This is where we see and hear our great commission. When Jesus was building his ministry here on earth: preaching good news to the poor, and proclaiming release to the captives, he began his work of empowering and equipping others to do so, as well…

Because this work is not just his work: it is the work of all of his followers.

And the Ascension is where Jesus passes on this great work to all of us. It is when Jesus declares that though he will no longer be physically on this earth to preach the good news himself, his work will continue… in and through each one of us. 

And we can continue to do this work through the power we receive in the Holy Spirit as we share and build that power by being witnesses of God’s love.

As Ngbarezere, who was a 9th grader when he preached his sermon said: “The Holy Spirit gives us a choice to act, and we have a decision to do the act for good or for evil. This is the power Jesus was talking about, the ability to do good or bad, the choice is ours.”

Steve expands on this: “[Jesus] calls his disciples to be his witnesses, not just witnesses, but witnesses to the ends of the earth. Now, what do you really think it means to be a witness? These disciples had seen some pretty amazing things and I think Jesus wanted these disciples to tell people what they had seen… So how [does this] form us in our lives today? To me, the end’s of the earth is at our Care for Real food pantry, which is only a few blocks away from here, where we are witnesses of God’s love when we help all of these hungry people get food and feel loved.”

And Ngbarezere adds:  “Jesus said ‘And you will be my witnesses…’ How are we witnesses? With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be Jesus’ witnesses to all people – to follow in Jesus’ footsteps of loving the oppressed and standing up for justice and equality.

Here’s an example of standing up for justice and equality… A couple months ago I attended a community meeting, and the main cause for it was that they were about to close MY school down. Of course, I had to go, and although going helped a lot, I felt I could do a lot more due to the fact that it was MY school. I not only marched with over 500 people, but I also said a speech in front of 500 people, of how I felt about [the city] trying to close MY school down. (They didn’t close the school down by the way).

Now, how do we love the oppressed? We can contribute to changing their day by simply saying a hello. A simple hello can change somebody’s mood, like for another example; I was at the Care For Real food pantry and I was helping distribute the food. Every time I saw someone I tried having a small conversation with them, hoping that I can lighten their day in any way possible. Although tiring, I enjoy going there every time I can to help out. This is an act of what Jesus meant. During these periods of time, I used the abilities that I had for good, for justice, and equality, and each of them contributed in a positive way… When we leave here today, I want you- No even better, I challenge you – every day to receive the Holy Spirit and become a witness of Jesus.”

As my wise young preachers have articulated, the Ascension is not an event that we should just gloss over. It is an event that is central to our Christian faith and how we must consider what it means to live as followers of Jesus.

Jesus did not just leave us alone and powerless when he ascended… He left us with empowerment through the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we, too, can be witnesses of God’s love to the ends of the earth.

This Ascension day, may you be blessed by these wise words of my amazing youth who are doing just that.


Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

I am Racist


Dear white sisters, brothers, siblings:

I have a very difficult confession to make.

I am racist.

I wish so much that I wasn’t. I try so hard not to be. But I am.

I think this is such a difficult confession to make because we often think people who are racist are “bad” and are intentionally hateful. Yes, there are many people who say and do overtly racist things. But the truth is, most people who are racist are good and well-meaning people, who don’t want to be racist, try their hardest not to be, and don’t even realize they are.

You see, I don’t belong to extremist groups like the KKK, call people racist names, or say things that are overtly racist. I even shut down jokes and call out comments that I recognize are racist. And yet, I am still racist.

I grew up in a diverse town and went to diverse schools. I currently live and work in a diverse community, and I have friends, colleagues, parishioners, neighbors, mentors and even a family member who are persons of color. And yet, I am still racist.

I follow people of color on facebook and twitter, read books and articles about racism and white privilege, attend anti-racism workshops, preach and teach in my churches about racism and white privilege, and participate in marches and rallies that address systemic racism.

But despite all of this: I am still racist.

Why?

Because my entire life I have been socialized to be. I have been conditioned to see the world through my eyes (the eyes that belong to a white body, which is the kind of body our society has supported, deemed the “norm,” and uplifted as superior for 400+ years.)

My school textbooks have been written from a white perspective. My television shows, movies, and books have been dominated by characters who look like me. The media I follow often perpetuates harmful racialized stereotypes and biases – no matter how progressive it might be.

Despite that my family taught me that all people were created in God’s image and deserve to be treated equally, I am still racist.  When I first see a person of color, I still sometimes fail to see her as an individual and instead see her as a stereotype. When I hear people of color share their stories of being racially profiled or denied upward mobility in their workplaces, I still sometimes question if their experiences are valid. There are still times I say, think, or do things that I don’t even realize are racist and that perpetuate systemic racism. There are still times when I worry too much about ticking off my white friends or accidentally saying something that is offensive to my friends of color that I don’t speak up when I should. There are still times when I am in the virtual or physical spaces of my siblings of color and I end up wanting to center myself. And when people call me out on any of this, there are still times I feel defensive and focus more on my own discomfort than on the fact that black and brown lives matter more than my feelings.

You see, as a white person who was raised in a country that was founded on white supremacy (the belief that white people are inherently superior to people who are not) and that throughout its history has continued to reinforce this white supremacy through social and political forces (slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, glass ceilings, racial profiling, racialized policing – to name just a few), it is extremely difficult to shed myself fully from my own racist views, biases, thoughts, and ways I believe the world should function… No matter how hard I try.

I am stuck in this 400-year-old deeply engrained racialized system that not even the activists of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s could completely free us from.

And I benefit from this system. My whiteness is a privilege in it.

For example, as a white person, people look at me as an individual, not a stereotype. I will never be denied a loan, housing, or job interview because of my skin color. A store clerk will never follow me closely to ensure I don’t steal anything, and I will never be taken advantage of by a car salesperson because of my whiteness. I have always had access to quality education and upward mobility. My white body is not seen as a threat. People will not call the cops if they see me taking a walk in their neighborhood past sundown or quickly move to the other side of the road when they see me walking on the sidewalk where they are walking. I will not be pulled over in my car for no reason or on my bike because I look “suspicious.” And if I do get pulled over, I will never have to worry that if I reach for my ID in my pocket, make a quick move, or even mouth back, I could get shot.

Among many things, racism denies the humanity in God’s beloved children and fails to see that God created all God’s children good, in God’s image, and beautifully and wonderfully just the way they are.

Racism is a painful and deadly sin.

And I am racist.

I live in a racialized society dominated by racist systems that were founded by white supremacy. And I benefit from and contribute to these systems.

Now, this may sound incredibly hopeless.

But it is not.

Because as Christians, we believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, he freed the world from its bondage to sin. Does this mean we are no longer sinners? Of course not. Because we are human.

But this does mean that we no longer have to be bound to sin. 

When we confess our sins in the presence of God and one another, our sin loses its power over us. Confession leads us toward repentance, whereby the grace of God – our hearts, minds, and thoughts begin to be transformed and we start to turn away from our sins.

And whenever we turn away from something, we also turn toward something in the opposite direction. In this case, when we turn away from our sins of racism and white privilege, we turn toward a life of being anti-racists. But we cannot just turn away from our sin, turn toward a new way of life, and then pat ourselves on the back and go on our merry way. We must continuously and actively move toward this new way of life.

Since the sins of racism and white privilege are so deeply ingrained in us and in the racialized systems we participate in and are conditioned by, we must actively check our privilege and racism, confess it, repent of it, and be moved to take action. We must do this over and over and over again.

While I am still racist, I choose to not let racism and white privilege dominate who I am.

I choose to be actively anti-racist.

I choose to learn about and become more aware of my white privilege and how I can work to dismantle it and the harmful racialized systems of which I am a part. I choose to listen to and learn from the voices and the cries of my siblings of color, to show up, and to grieve and stand with them in their pain and anger. I choose to speak with my white friends, neighbors, parishioners, and family members about white privilege and interpersonal and systemic racism. I choose not to allow my discomfort, embarrassment, guilt, defensiveness, or the mistakes I have made (and will make) to take over me and hold me back from doing this important work.

While this new way of life is really difficult, in the Christian tradition, we believe that we do not pursue this way of life alone. We do this with the help of God and with one another.

So, fellow white siblings, will you join me in this holy anti-racism work of calling out and dismantling our white privilege, white supremacy, and the racialized systems we are conditioned by and benefit from? Will you support me and encourage me? Will you help open my eyes to the ways in which I am still blind to my own white privilege and racism?

I need you. We need each other. So let us do this holy work together.

And as we begin this work through confession, repentance, and action, let us hold onto the beautiful gift we have: that God, who is rich in mercy, loves us even when we were dead in sin and made us alive together with Christ.

In Jesus Christ, we are indeed forgiven! So now together let us act!


This blog post was originally published at https://revgalblogpals.org/2016/07/18/the-pastoral-is-political-i-am-racist/ and is reposted with permission. RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use the material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


If you are interested in further exploring race and racism, white privilege and systems of white supremacy, and how to be a good ally, contact us today to schedule our one-day workshop, Race and Racism: A Visitor’s Guide to Deconstructing Whiteness.


Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

Throwing Stones


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This popular childhood mantra is used as a bulwark against verbal assaults. Words matter.

Throughout history, stones have been used to tell stories. Ancient cultures arranged massive stones (megaliths) for sacred contexts. The pyramids in Egypt and South America, the numerous monuments near Bouar in the Central African Republic, the Stonehenge in England, and the Tatetsuki stone circles in Japan are some examples of these ancient stones that tell a story.

Ancient Hebrews also used stones (masseboth) to tell the stories of how God interacted with the Hebrew people during significant points in history. For instance, Jacob set up a stone and declared it to be the house of God (Genesis 28:22), Moses ordered twelve stones be erected at the base of Mt. Sinai and sacrificed to God in honor of freedom (Exodus 24:26-27), and Joshua similarly had stones erected when the people of Israel entered the Promised Land (Joshua 4:9).

In the Christian tradition, Jesus seems to refer to himself as a rejected stone and cornerstone (Matthew 21:42). Later, the author of Ephesians also referred to Jesus as a cornerstone, the foundation of the household of God likely referred to in Psalm 118:22.

Both the Hebrew and Christian traditions seem to affirm a significant understanding of stones telling the story of how God interacts with humanity.

The imagery of story stones was extended to one of Jesus’ close friends and followers, Peter. The name Peter comes from the same Greek word that means rock, Petra. Jesus referred to Peter as the stone that would expand the household of God (Matthew 16:18).

Peter expanded the imagery of story stones as he told the story of God invading humanity in the person of Jesus, a living stone (1 Peter 2:4). Peter then extends the living stone imagery to all who follow Jesus and his example (1 Peter 2:5).

You are a living stone, and you have a sacred story to tell.

It doesn’t take much for someone to silence a story. Stories are silenced every day with flippant comments, derogatory remarks, microaggressions, and blatant oppression. These stones of destructive force are thrown without regard, and generally out of fear.

The sticks and stones that break your bones are not your true story. Despite the stories you may have heard that label you unworthy, you are part of a grand story – a story centered in hope and love.

Your story doesn’t begin or end with you.

Just like the sacred story stones you have a story to tell. You are a living stone. Tell your story.


Resources

witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/stones.html

witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/stonehenge.html

solarey.net/megalithic-stones-in-bour-central-african-republic/


Tony Clyde is a veteran leader with over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and adults in non-profit and corporate sectors. Tony is an expert at helping people recognize and remove the personal barriers holding them back. Through mentoring, training, and coaching Tony helps people and organizations achieve their true potential.

Tony is an entrepreneur, launching several new programs, and consulted with churches and other organizations on starting new programs, using technology, teaching effectively, and leadership. Tony is launching a new project called the Throwing Stones Project. The Trowing Stones Project partners with organizational leaders to facilitate environments of full inclusion for people who are LGBTQ+. Tony is a graduate of Northwest Missouri State University with a Master’s in Education and is in progress on a doctorate in organizational leadership. Tony’s specialty is in authentic leadership, personal coaching, and creativity.

The Fringe: A Gathering Place fro LGBTQIA+ Youth, their Families, and Allies


A safe and supportive space for LGBTQIA+ youth, families, friends, and their allies from around Central Illinois. This is a non-religious endeavor. Even though Conversations on the Fringe has faith-ties (but is affirming and inclusive), The Fringe Gathering Place is not religious. This is to ensure everyone feels welcome in this space. All are welcome!

This initiative is being launched after a two-year-long study of LGBTQIA+ youth. Each student engaged in face-to-face interviews, submitted written responses to an extensive questionnaire, or completed an online survey. We had over one hundred participants. The questions focused on family acceptance/rejection, coming out, stressors, intersections, trauma/bullying, social alienation/acceptance, substance abuse/mental health issues, suicidality, and faith experiences.

The results of our study closely reflected the national statistics, LGBTQIA+ youth are susceptible to suicidal ideation.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
  • LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
  • LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
  • Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
  • Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
  • In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

*Source: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.00011gchfpqw9eg0s3l17fmde1ojx

There is an immense need for more safe and affriming spaces in the Peoria area for queer youth.

Over time, we hope to provide the following service/supports for youth in our area:

  • Mentoring/Peer Mentoring
  • Health/Wellness Education (testing/prevention)
  • Support Groups (trans, family, depression, substance abuse, etc.)
  • Referrals (healthcare, mental health, substance abuse, etc.)
  • Advocacy/Activism
  • Family Support
  • Harm Reduction (inclusive sex and sexuality education)
  • Social Events (trips, art classes, dances, etc.)

We have two important dates coming up. If you are interested in either you are invited to attend.

Important Dates:

Youth Leadership Board Meeting – May 2nd, 5:30pm – 7:30pm

Adult Advisory Board Meeting – May 9th, 6:00pm – 8:00pm

If you are interested in joining the adult advisory board or the youth leadership board contact us at cschaffner@fringeconversations.com

Join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thefringegatheringspace/

If you are interested in volunteering, please email us at cschaffner@fringeconversations.com or stop by and visit us at 1411 NE Adams St. Peoria, Illinois 61603.

Myths About Grief


I am all too familiar with grief.  It has been a constant companion in the work I do, working with people who struggle with substance misuse, have a mental health diagnosis, the homeless, and marginalized youth, like LTGBQIA+ teens. I have a background in emergency medical care first working as a paramedic and then later in an ER as part of a trauma team. I have also worked on a surgical team that would procure tissue and organs for donation post-mortem. As a counselor working with the population I do, I frequently get the “call” we all dread. Whether it is death, accident, injury, or loss of a relationship, grief is an unwelcome visitor.

I have also experienced grief in ministry. I remember the details of all the student deaths that occurred. I remember specifically talking with students, friends, family members, staff and volunteers and not being able to satisfactorily answer the “why” questions.

Weekly I see status updates from youth ministry friends asking for resources to provide students and families on the subject of death and grief. Many are unsure how to lead a group of young people through the challenging journey of grief as well as how to navigate that journey of their own. That is why we felt compelled to debunk myths surrounding grief.

Myths About Grief:

Grief and mourning are the same things.

Grief and mourning are inseparable, grief is the emotional, internal processing of loss/bereavement and mourning is the expression of that grief.  For example, grief is filled with feelings of sadness, anger, and thoughts that contribute to the intensity of those emotions.  Examples of mourning are crying, talking about the person who has died, or celebrating special dates related to the deceased.  Not expressing the grief through mourning can be a barrier to healing.

Grief and mourning follow a linear and orderly pattern.

The “Stages of Grief” popularized by Elizabeth Kubler Ross was never meant to be a definitive prescription for dealing with grief where you checked off each stage as you progress beyond it.  There is no one way that an individual grieves and mourns.  For every individual that experiences grief, there is a unique expression of that grief, based on numerous variables. Don’t get caught up in, “Am I grieving the right way?”.

You should move away from grief, not toward it.

It is toxic to the soul to repress what longs to be expressed.  Job stripped off his clothes, scraped himself with shards of pottery, and sat in a heap of ashes that came from everything he had, and he sat there for a long time.  He could have immediately started to “put the pieces back together” but literally just sat in his grief.  He moved into it.  Minimizing grief and avoiding the mourning process tends to lead to isolation and confusion and even deep depression.

The goal should be to “get over it” as soon as possible.

I hear many people say, “I should be over this by now”.  I hear others say the same thing about those in mourning, implying that it is bad to feel bad for too long.  As we reconcile the loss in our lives with being able to move forward there can be a renewed sense of hope and power surge into our spirit but that does not mean we are done grieving or mourning.  We can sense movement but still be in process and that is what many experience when they reach that point.  The ever-present, sharp pain in the heart will eventually change into an accepted and acknowledged sense of loss.  The sense of loss will likely never completely go away but will dull over time.

I have to be strong = No tears/emotions.

We live in a toxic culture that is repulsed by “signs of weakness”.  Tears, strong emotions and general sadness are looked down upon.  How many times have you heard a parent say, “Knock that off or I’ll give you a reason to cry”?  This implies that there is no reason to cry, so STOP!

Usually, when people try to console a crying individual it is because they are uncomfortable with that expression of grief and often feel powerless to help stop the pain you are experiencing.  God stores up our tears in a bottle the Psalmist tells us and knows what is in each one.  He values the tears you shed and is likely shedding tears of the same thing because death was never in His plan.

The individual is the only loss.

Individuals who are mourning are not just mourning the loss of the individual who has died but also all the dreams associated with that relationship.  Other issues that may contribute to the intensity of the grief could be the financial cost/loss, future plans, memories to be made, etc.  The intensity of grief is typically driven by these future-oriented losses as well.  Allow time to process and speak about these additional losses as part of the grief journey.

Have you experienced grief/loss in ministry?  Have you heard these myths from those you walked with?  Have you felt or believed these myths yourself?  How will you address these myths looking forward?

Dreamers: What’s Their Story?


Since I was 4 years old, I always knew that as soon as our whole family had visas, we would be getting on a plane to America from South Korea. We grew impatient as this process took so long, but we went on with our everyday life without much impact.

My friend Ryan (name changed for privacy) also waited 4 years to come to America, but his story is very different from mine. He lived in Guatemala during a civil war. People were tired of corrupt government and dreamt of a better life. His father was at risk of being forced to join the guerrilla. Wanting a better life for his family, he left his children and wife behind and headed for California looking to secure a safer and better future.

His wife eventually joined him while Ryan and his brother lived with their aunt. 4 years later, the family was reunited in Los Angeles. They knew that crossing the border with “coyote” smuggler was just as risky as staying in a non-progressive society where poverty, violence, and civil war was all they knew. However, the high risk of crossing the border at least came with the hope that if they made it, there could be better future. The family no longer had to live in the midst of civil war.

Ryan’s parents worked diligently to provide for the family. His mother cleaned houses all day, and his father worked in a factory. They were granted legal work permits, legal social security cards, and legal IDs. They both worked hard, paid their taxes, and did their best to be law-abiding citizens. The only thing that was missing was legal documentation to live in the United States… but once again, this was the better option than living back home.

Ryan and his brother were taught to study hard, get good grades, and go to college to secure brighter future. Ryan didn’t even realize that he was “illegal” until he was actually accepted to a Cal State University. When he went to enroll in University, he learned that without a green card, visa, nor birth certificate, he couldn’t get financial aid. Because the family couldn’t afford to pay for his tuition, Ryan made the decision to go into the workforce although his heart was for higher education. Ryan found a job in a charter school where he could live out his heart for mentoring teens.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), created in 2012 under Obama administration, allow people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study, and work in America. In order to apply, they must meet the following requirements: under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, came to the US while under the age of 16, have continuously resided in the US since June 15, 2007, be enrolled in school or have equivalent of a high school diploma, and never been convicted of a serious crime.

Those protected under DACA are known as “Dreamers.” Since DACA creation, nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants have been granted protection from deportation. And nearly 690,000 are currently enrolled in DACA. Current DACA recipients come from around the world, but more than nine-in-ten are from Latin America, and nearly half of current DACA recipients live in California (29%) and Texas (16%) (Pew Research). Under Trump administration, new applicants under will DACA will no longer be accepted, and their current permits will begin expiring March 2018. Unless Congress passes legislation allowing new immigration status, Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020.

DACA gives youngsters the opportunity to be known as “legal” residents, to continue on with higher education, and work towards a career. Most Dreamers are “givers, not takers.” Of course, in every population of people, there are bad apples in every barrel. But you can’t judge the whole barrel by few bad apples.

Most Dreamers love this country because they were given education, safety, security, and opportunities that their motherland couldn’t provide. They want brighter future for themselves and their families just like every other immigrant. They consider America to be their country as most of them grew up in the US from childhood.  

When I think about my friend Ryan, it pains me that he was robbed of opportunities that were granted to me. Both of our parents wanted better future for their children. Fortunately for me, we didn’t have to flee South Korea in a hurry. We could afford to stay as long as our paperwork came through.

However, for Ryan, his parents made the decision to flee Guatemala due to civil unrest even if it meant leaving illegally. Ryan and I both didn’t have much say in the matter. We followed our parents. We both studied hard in hopes of better education and opportunities that our parents wanted for us. We both lost our moms at a young age. We both had obstacles to overcome.

Fortunately for me, my legal status allowed me to chase after my dreams of going to a top university and following my passion in my vocation. For Ryan, all that came to a sudden halt. In the past 6 years I’ve known Ryan, he has always worked multiples jobs to support his family, especially his younger siblings after his mother’s passing. In addition, he found the time to mentor teens through his local church.

Ryan has impacted many young people that he has mentored over the years. And those of us that are blessed to call him a friend have been touched by his story and enriched by who he is. He was granted DACA, and he still dreams of going back to school one day.  

I asked Ryan, “How can we best support and advocate for Dreamers?” This was his answer:

“By exactly what you’re doing. Asking and getting to know someone’s story. I believe if you listen to life stories, you come to know an individual not by their label but by who they are: their character, their content, their humanity, and their heart. We’re not how many portray us. Dreamers are beautiful individuals who want to contribute to our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nation to be better and greater. Most of us pose no threat to our nation. We have a lot to offer… all we want is the opportunity to do so.”


Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

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