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Pride


Throughout my 25 years as a mother I have been blessed to have the home where kids wanted to come and to be the woman that people called Mama C. They knew that to enter my kitchen was to enter a safe place where anything could be discussed, and I would listen, reserving all of the judgement and none of the love.

In teenage years I truly became known as the home for wayward teens. There were a few years running that I always had a “stray” teen living with me. And while I loved to be the soft place to land my heart would always be broken for the reasons why.

With the one exception of a teen pregnancy, the teens that lived with me had been asked to leave home when they came out to their families. With each of them, the reasons for this forced exodus from their home was explained as religious reasons. The parents simply could not have that type of sin living underneath their roof.

Now I am a bible believing, Jesus loving woman.

But I also believe that my Jesus loved a good battle with the Pharisees. He admonished people to live the “spirit of the law” and not the “letter”. When pushed to say which of the commandments is the greatest, He answered with the famous: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all of your might; and to love your neighbor as yourself.

I want to ask these parents the equally famous question: Who is your neighbor?
Can you truly say you are following scripture if you do not love your neighbor? Is not your very own flesh and blood your neighbor? Did Jesus tell us to turn our backs on sinners; to condemn? Or did he not say: Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

I shudder to think of this- the measure you use it will be measured back to you. So let’s transpose this onto this situation. You can no longer live in my house because of your sinful nature, so I am sending you out; young, vulnerable, helpless, and afraid. And now let me pick up my rosary beads and pray. Let me walk into the confessional and get down on my knees and beg God for mercy….and let me hear him say- ah, no. Sorry. You need to leave my house. You need to get out. You are no longer welcome here. We can’t have your sin in our house. The measure you use will be measured back to you…..

What if instead these teens had been met with love? Unconditional love that only a parent can truly deliver? You are my beloved child and we are going to walk through this together. The world will hate you and berate you, and I can’t imagine what the battle has been in your heart, but I can tell you that you are safe in your home, and you have safety in my heart, and further, you are safe in God’s love…..

No, instead they came to me. Broken and rejected; homeless; vulnerable and scared. And I was not able to love them back to wholeness, not even with the ferocity and willingness of my love…

…because I was not their mom. I could offer them a safe place to be. I could help them find solutions. I could listen. I could bear witness to their journey, and certainly, I could wipe the tears, and make them a casserole. But I could not undo the rejection they had suffered. And so it goes. The very people who proclaim that their life has been found in Christ Jesus, in his death on the cross, in the very fact that He paid a price for their sins….have withheld that same love and mercy from the people that they have been charged with loving no matter what. John Paul II said famously that the family is the first church. Imagine that. Imagine the wounds we heap by the weight of that judgment.

People wonder why we need a Pride month. I have heard it all.

We have pride month because there are still people who would rather send their children out like sheep to a slaughter, rather than walk through this brave step with them. We have pride month because there are teenagers everywhere who do not have a Mama C to take them in, so instead, they become lost to the streets. We have pride month because we need to know that it is necessary to find a way to cross the church pew and to love our neighbors as ourselves. ALL of our neighbors. We have pride month because we are called by virtue of our salvation to love the spirit of the law…..to love. 1 John says: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we can be called children of God.

Love. That is why we have Pride month.

Love, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Love more. That is why we have Pride.

*published anonymously per author’s request

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I Am A Mother


I am a mother. The quality of love that I have for my children is what best helps me understand the fierce love that God has for us. Nothing can shake that determined love. I may not always agree with, or like my children’s choices, but my commitment to them is unbreakable. They are my beloved children…longed for, received into my arms, blessed on their journeys and watched over with prayers and hope. I see them through the filter of love and am bone-deep certain of their worth.

My eldest daughter loves and is married to her wife of almost 3 years and my journey of acceptance and support of their relationship was not without personal pain. Let me be clear, my love for my daughter was never in question! The pain I experienced was being plunged into the “space in between”.

By this, I mean the space between my daughter and the Christian Community that largely doesn’t feel God can bless any marriage other than that of a man and woman.

When my daughter told me about her relationship, my grief was largely due to what I knew was coming. I feared that other Christians (and some family members) would stop seeing my daughter as God’s beloved and start seeing her first through the LGBTQIA filter.  I kept their relationship a secret from all but a few trusted friends. I needed time to come to grips with it myself. Foundational to my fears was the worry that God might see my daughter the way some Christians do…as less than.

Before I faced other people’s opinions, I needed to settle my soul, so I prayed, read, talked and listened to other people, followed discussions and grappled with what I learned. I listened to both sides of the theological spectrum…those who called homosexuality sin, those who said it was not sin if it wasn’t acted on, and those who felt God created a beautifully diverse world and that gender variation were part and parcel of creation and perhaps the “sin” was in not accepting God’s creation.

I talked to an Episcopalian friend of my daughter who surprisingly led me to a Mennonite theologian’s book on sexuality. The book came at the right time and helped me put together all that I had been learning in a way that felt like a key unlocking a door to the wall between my head and heart. Simply, the author explained how our view of scripture has been altered and refreshed throughout the ages because of our unfolding understanding of science. We’ve learned that the world is not flat and that we are not the center of the universe! We’ve learned that women, men, and people of different races carry nearly the same genetic material and that there is no biblical basis for patriarchy or slavery! All are equally valuable to God…and as such, to each other. He said that he believes that God created humans in all their beautiful variations, then called them good. Period. He said that those who claim the LGBTQIA classification were called to the same standards in relationships that heterosexuals were called to. We are all called to relationships that are committed, monogamous, show mutual respect, are non-violent, caring, etc.

I’m a part of the Mennonite Church and our denomination is grappling with where they stand on LGBTQIA issues and what constitutes a faithful interpretation of the bible.

Just writing the word “issues” makes me bristle and tells me how far I have traveled on this journey.  Those who are in the LGBTQIA community may have issues as all humans do, but they are not an issue! They are God’s beloved, created by God, called good by God, and seen through that lens!

I can be patient with other Christians who are still grappling over what they think God says about human sexuality. I have no patience for those who view their fellow sisters and brothers as less than, or even primarily through the sexuality lens rather than the “beloved lens”. I believe this emphasis is sinful and runs counter to God’s intention, harming both the giver and receiver.

I spoke with a couple in Europe who has a gay son. When the mother went to her pastor for support and guidance, he basically told her that her son was not welcome in their church anymore. He said he could still attend although he should no longer serve or use his gifts in the church….and should sit in the back!

Instead of comfort and encouragement, this mother was pushed into that “in between space”….the deep valley between the son she loved and her church community. She took a 3- year detour of grief and isolation that needn’t have happened. Her son was left without a community in which he had been loved and nurtured just a short time before. The parents have since found a new community that is welcoming to all and they bear their scars well. The last I’ve heard, their son still has not found a church community.

My daughter is not in a Christian community and that is hard for me to see. She and her wife attended a small Mennonite church for a time and felt at home at first, but soon came to see that the hospitality was half-hearted at best. They have found their community with other women who play Derby and though I am glad for the friends they have there, I feel it is a pale substitute for what Christian community could and should be. It should be a diverse community that sees each other through the lens of God’s beloved-ness AND sees each other through the hope of what God is calling us to become.

If I could say one thing to the Christian community I think I would say that you need to offer God’s love to ALL, with no strings attached. Telling yourself that you love the “sinner” but not the “sin”, is the same thing as telling that young man that he is welcome at church but needs to sit in the back. God’s hospitality is wholehearted, not conditional. Half-hearted hospitality is irrelevant.

If I could say one thing to the LGBTQIA community, I think I would say that I have come to see you as God does….beloved, created in God’s image and part of his amazing creation and I yearn for the day when the chasm between the two communities disappears.


Mary Kennell lives on a family farm in Central Illinois and is married to Roger. They are proud parents of four adult children. Mary was formerly on the pastoral team at Roanoke Mennonite Church where she and Roger still attend.

HIV/AIDS and Youth At-Risk (A Harm-Reduction Approach)


This purpose of this post is to educate the public about the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people and to highlight the work young people are doing across the country to respond to the epidemic.

Today’s young people are one of the first generations to never know a world without HIV and AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four new HIV infections is among youth ages 13 to 24. Every month, 1,000 young people are infected with HIV and over 76,400 young people are currently living with HIV across the country. While there has been much talk about an AIDS-free generation, we know that this is not possible without focusing on our nation’s youth and their various intersections.

 

Here are some suggestions for youth that are at a high risk:

 

  • Get tested for HIV, alone or with your partner. To find a testing site near you call the CDC National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) / TTY: 1-888-232-6348 (24/7) or find the nearest testing center in your area/health department.
  • If you have HIV, start treatment as soon as possible with HIV medicines (also known as antiretroviral therapy or ART), and stay on treatment. ART can lower the level of virus in your body enough to improve your health, prolong your life, and prevent you from spreading HIV to others. For enrollment in HIV Care: hivcareconnect.com
  • Get tested and treated for other STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, and insist that your partners do too. Being infected with other STDs makes you more likely to get HIV.
  • Choose not to have sex or choose to have sex with one partner and agree to be sexually active only with each other. Both of you should get tested for HIV, and share your test results before you decide to have sex.
  • Choose lessrisky sexual behaviors. Anal sex, especially if you are the receptive partner, is the highest-risk sexual activity for getting HIV. Vaginal sex is much less risky, and oral sex carries much less risk than anal or vaginal sex
  • Use latex male condoms or female condoms correctly every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Condoms are the only effective form of birth control that also helps reduce the risk of transmitting HIV and most other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Talk to your doctor about HIV medicines to prevent HIV infection (known as PrEP) if you routinely have sex with someone who has or may have HIV.
  • See a doctor immediately if you have sex with someone who has or may have HIV if you are not already taking PrEP. Starting medicine (known as PEP) within three days after a possible exposure reduces the chance of getting HIV: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/pep.html
  • Limit the number of people you have sex with. The fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to have sex with someone who is infected with HIV.
  • Don’t share injection drug equipment, such as needles, syringes, works, or anything that might bring you into contact with someone else’s blood or bodily fluids.

Chris Wade, HIV Care Connect Project Coordinator

Illinois Public Health Association, HIV Care Connect

CWade@ipha.com

HIV Care Connect is a program of the Illinois Public Health Association and is funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health http://hivcareconnect.com

What about the “T” in LGBTQIA+?


More and more transgender people have come out in recent years. With the popularity of the reality show “I am Jazz”, a show about the journey of a transgender adolescent trying to navigate school, dating, and gender, the public transition of Caitlyn Jenner, and the rise of the #metoo movement challenging toxic gender expressions, we appears we are in the midst of another sexual revolution.

We have also seen the rise of what our transgender brothers and sisters have been saying for decades, which is discrimination, dehumanization, hostility, violence and even murder of trans people.

A 2014 survey on transgender discrimination in the United States reports startling data; 41% of transgender adults have attempted suicide compared to the overall population (1.6%). The numbers only get worse from there: 90% report having experienced harassment or discrimination at work, 57% have experienced significant family rejection, 26% have been fired for who they are, and 19% have experienced homelessness because of their gender identity. In recent years, the number of trans people who have been murdered has gone up too, in particular, trans women of color.

With this information in mind, consider this famous parable, as explored by author Austen Hartke (transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians):

Luke 15:4-7 The Message (MSG)

4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

Many of us probably heard this story for the first time as children – it’s a Sunday school favorite, and for good reason! It’s incredibly comforting to imagine yourself as the lost sheep, riding back home on Jesus’ shoulders after an exciting but ill-advised adventure. There are times when this story is exactly the gospel message we need – when we need to hear that we are worthy of God’s love, and the God will risk everything to have us back home again.

But what if we imagined this story a different way? What is the lost sheep didn’t wander away from the safety and goodness of the shepherd? What if it was just trying to escape the cruelty of the flock? Sheep will occasionally pick out a flock member who doesn’t fit in – maybe because of an injury or a strange marking – and they’ll chase that individual away. There are times when I think Christians need to see ourselves more in the ninety-nine sheep who stayed put, and ask ourselves if we may have been a part of the reason that the lost sheep got lost in the first place.

As a ministry professional, are you committed to holding the front door open for all who seek the welcome of its sanctuary or have you placed your foot behind the door so they cannot get in?

How many “lost sheep” are there because we have chased them away?

How do we help them find their way back home?


chrisChris Schaffner is a counselor and veteran youth worker. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.

June 2018 LGBT Pride Month and Queer Youth


June is National LGBT Pride month. Here at Conversations on the Fringe, we celebrate the beauty of diversity. In doing so, we are dedicating the entire month of June to exploring the world of LGBTQIA+ youth. We will explore several themes written by several writers, all from diverse backgrounds.

We want to be clear about the Rules of Engagement up front. Please read the following:

1.) Be Kind and Courteous

We’re all in this together to create a welcoming environment. Let’s treat everyone with respect. Healthy dialogue, even when difficult, is natural, but kindness is required.

2.) No Hate Speech or Bullying

Make sure everyone feels safe. Bullying of any kind isn’t allowed, and degrading comments about things like race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender or identity will not be tolerated.

3.) No Promotions or Spam

Give more than you take to this conversation. Listening might be the most significant thing you do. Self-promotion, spam, and irrelevant links aren’t allowed.

4.) Respect Everyone

Being part of this group requires mutual trust. Authentic, expressive discussions make the site great, but may also be sensitive and private. Disrespecting someone will get your comment immediately removed and you will likely be blocked from the site.

Thanks,

CotF Admin

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.

 

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.

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