conversations on the fringe

Homelessness Is More Complicated Than You Think

If you’ve ever NOT given a person experiencing homelessness money because you just knew they would buy alcohol or drugs, remember this next time…

On cold nights spent outside, alcohol provides temporary warmth. It is also nerve-wracking to sleep in a shelter and difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Alcohol can help an individual relax so they can sleep. Lack of sleep exacerbates mental health issues.

Withdrawals are worse than you could ever imagine. If someone needs to “get their sick off” so be it. Being in severe withdrawal is what drives people to desperate behaviors.

Meth is a stimulant. If you are sleeping outside, vulnerable to anyone and anything, being able to stay vigilant is necessary for survival. This is especially true if you are a woman, trans, or youth.

Being without a home also usually means not eating on the regular or not eating nutritiously. Cigarettes can act as an appetite suppressant. Smoking cigarettes may give some temporary relief from hunger pains.

Bottom line, stop assuming you know the story that brought this individual to this point in their life. Most of us have never known what it feels like to be so desperate that we would have sex for a warm place to sleep or to steal something to survive, or how life-controlling a substance use disorder is.

A large number of people who have not experienced homelessness want to moralize the decisions of poor people, perhaps to comfort themselves about the injustices of the world. For many, it’s easier to think homeless people are, in part, responsible for their suffering than it is to acknowledge the situational factors.

And when you don’t fully understand a person’s context — what it feels like to be them every day, all the small annoyances and major traumas that define their life — it’s easy to impose abstract, rigid expectations on a person’s behavior.

Next time you encounter someone on the side of the road holding a sign, just give them money. It doesn’t matter is it’s the change in your pocket or a $10 bill. Whatever you can give, please, just do it.

The main message it sends to the individual is “I see you and you matter.” Your money will not likely change their situation but it still matters to the individual just trying to get through the day.

Fringe Podcast Ep. 4: Meth in the Midwest

Fringe Podcast Ep. 4: Meth in the Midwest

Warning – Explicit Language – Not suitable for young listeners.

Meth is making a huge comeback across the country. As all eyes are on heroin and fentanyl, this powerful substance has come back with a vengeance.

This is the story of one man’s journey from a normal childhood, to a substance use disorder, to meth cook, to prison, and back to life again. Anthony’s story is a story of criminal behavior that nearly destroyed a family and his struggle to rebuild his life on the other side of prison. This is a story of hope and resilience and can serve as an inspiration to anyone wondering if they can ever recover from a life of crime and addiction.

What We Are Reading

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture

“This may be one of the most challenging books (to my own toxic masculinity) that I’ve ever read. I still have so much inner work to do.”

                                                                                                       – Founder of CotF Chris Schaffner

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s not okay to hit the girl you like. And it’s not okay to hit the girl you love.

The world around you tells women that they should always nod politely no matter what they’re feeling inside. Don’t ever take a polite nod for an answer. Wait for her to yell it: “Yes!”

Not everyone gets sex when they want it. Not everyone gets love when they want it. Things is true for men and women. A relationship is not your reward for being a nice guy, no matter what the movies tell you.

Birth control is your job, too.

Don’t ever use an insult for a woman that you wouldn’t use for a man. Say “jerk” or “shithead” or “asshole”. Don’t say “bitch” or “whore” or “slut”. If you say “asshole”, you’re criticizing her parking skills. If you say “bitch”, you’re criticizing her gender.

Here are some phrases you will need to know. Practice them in the mirror until they come as easy as songs you know by heart: “Do you want to?” “That’s not funny, man.” “Does that feel good?” “I like you, but I think we’re both a little drunk. Here’s my number. Let’s get together another time.”

Fringe Podcast Ep. 3: Bryce Foster // Recovery Anithero


Episode #3: Bryce Foster // Recovery Antihero

Bryce Foster is one of those unique people you can’t ever forget and he’s quickly become one of my closest friends and we are partners in crime doing harm reduction work in the midst of an opioid pandemic. His story is inspiring and hysterical. He’s a pretty smart and a lot irreverent. Also, he’s tried it all and eventually discovered a path that works for him. Listen in while he shares his story. You just might learn something.

Fringe Podcast Ep. 2: Harm Reduction

Episode #2: Harm Reduction

We are at the 2018 Harm Reduction Conference in New Orleans. Between the awesome workshops and stuffing beignets into our mouths, we sat down with four beautiful, badass, love warriors from the harm reduction field. We talked about LGBTQIA+ youth, homelessness and housing, serious mental illness homeless outreach and jumping fences to love on the most marginalized. We can’t wait for you to listen.

Our merry band of ragamuffins include:

Loren Phillips: Outreach Worker with a large mental health organization in Chicago

Christopher Powers: Psychotherapist and harm reduction counselor in San Francisco

Kimber Brightheart, LCSW: Independent contractor at the Midwest Harm Reduction Institute, founder of Queerplay, and harm reduction therapist in private practice

Valery Shuman, ATR-BC, LCPC: Senior Director at Heartland Alliance Health, Heartland Center for Systems Change, and Midwest Harm Reduction Institute

And me, Chris Schaffner: Founder of Conversations on the Fringe, DOPP Grant Coordinator, JOLT Harm Reduction Center Program Manager

Fringe Podcast Ep. 1: Rape Culture

Episode #1: Rape Culture

An interview with Melissa Dessert, LCPC who has extensive experience working to combat the impact of rape culture on college campuses. Melissa has been helping victims of sexual assault since the late 80s and is a local expert on trauma. Also in this podcast is Trudy Schaffner, a social worker and mother of 3 teenage girls. Both lend their vast knowledge and experience to this really difficult and complex issue.


Chicago Priest Burns Rainbow Banner:

On Sept. 14, Father Paul Kalchik, a priest at Resurrection Catholic Church in the neighborhood of Avondale in Chicago took a church banner that displayed a rainbow and a cross, cut it into pieces, and burned it in the Easter Vigil fire pit in front of a few congregation members.

In an interview last week, Fr. Kalchik asked: “What have we done wrong other than destroying a piece of propaganda that was used to put out a message other than what the church is about? …The people of this parish have been pretty resilient and put up with a lot of B.S… And it was just by accident that this banner that was made to celebrate all things gay…did not get destroyed when I first got here.”

Fr. Kalchik stated that the sexual abuse within the church is “definitely a gay thing,” and one of his parishioners explained that: “the flag that he burnt was… meant for evil things…It brought prey to predators.”

On Friday, Sept. 21, the priest was removed from the parish, and Cardinal Cupich stated in a letter: “For some weeks now, I have become increasingly concerned about a number of issues at Resurrection Parish. It has become clear to me that Fr. Kalchik must take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support so his needs can be assessed.”

However, Archdiocese spokesperson Anne Maselli explained in an email on Saturday that: “He is taking some time away from the parish. This has been in the works for some time and is not directly due to the flag burning.”

Whoever Welcomes One Such Child…

In the Revised Common Lectionary this past Sunday, we saw Jesus take a little child into his arms.  And as he embraced this child (one who was considered to be on the margins of society), he told his disciples: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to love and welcome all of our neighbors and to particularly stand up for and with those who are being marginalized, oppressed, and persecuted. Our Christian faith calls us to see all people as beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image and as beloved children of God, and to proclaim that those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community are worthy and deserving of God’s love and full inclusion in faith communities, just as anyone else.

Fr. Kalchik’s hateful act of burning the rainbow banner and his words connecting pedophilia and sexual abuse with the LGBTQIA+ community not only denies the Imago Dei of many within the human family, but it has also been traumatizing and has posed a real danger to the LGBTQIA+ community. As several Chicago area clergy and religious leaders have stated in our open letter to Cardinal Cupich (posted below): “By making this claim and taking these actions, Fr. Kalchik is further endangering LGBTQIA+ people and their families and in using his authority as a Catholic Priest, giving permission for others to treat LGBTQIA+ people with hatred and violence.”

Since Fr. Kalchik burned the banner, a strong statement from Cardinal Cupich or the archdiocese has not been made that acknowledges the trauma this act has caused or the dangers it imposes.  Nor has a strong statement been released that denounces Fr. Kalchik’s harmful words and false claims about the LGBTQIA+ community.

Thus, on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 8:00am, several Chicago-area faith leaders delivered a letter to Cardinal Cupich with over 180 signatures from Chicago-area faith leaders (of many traditions), laypersons, and seminary faculty, administrators, and students. The letter asks Cardinal Cupich to make a strong public statement acknowledging the trauma caused and denouncing Fr. Kalchik’s hateful actions and words, to conduct a full investigation of these actions, and to offer full transparency about Fr. Kalchik’s process and future.

Join Us In Our #BurnCandlesNotRainbows Campaign:

As of Wednesday, Sept. 26 at noon, there has still not been a response from Cardinal Cupich or the Archdiocese of Chicago. This silence further causes deep hurt and harm. Therefore, we are asking other clergies, religious leaders, and members of faith communities and institutions to join us in signing this letter. (You do NOT need to be from the Chicago-area.) You can find the letter with signatures and a link where you can add your name and title here.

Please share widely!

We also invite faith leaders and faith communities this weekend to join us in showing support and God’s love for our LGBTQIA+ siblings by wearing rainbow vestments and displaying rainbow flags or symbols.

Please post photos of these symbols and messages on social media with the hashtags:


Let’s show our LGBTQIA+ siblings that God’s love is for all, and that love wins!


See full letter below:

Dear Cardinal Cupich,

We write as religious leaders and people of faith in Chicago. As your colleagues in ministry, we represent congregations and organizations from across the city.

We come from different denominations and religious traditions, and yet, we trust that we share in common a belief in the Imago Dei – that we are each created in the image of God, that we are each beloved and worthy of God’s love and deserving of inclusion in communities of faith.

We also believe that positions of religious and spiritual leadership come with a responsibility to lead and care for our communities out of a deep sense of self awareness and compassion, a commitment to do no harm. We are called, as spiritual leaders to own our own stories – even our stories of deep pain and trauma so that we do not inflict abuse or pain on those who look to us for pastoral care and spiritual guidance.

On Friday, September 14, 2018, Father Paul Kalchik of Resurrection Catholic Church gathered with a small group of parishioners. They cut a rainbow banner that included a cross on it into pieces and then burned it. In comments reported by the Chicago Sun Times,  regarding his actions Fr. Kalchik “claims the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the church is ‘definitely a gay thing.’”  In addition, Fr. Kalchik was quoted in the same article as saying, “The people of this parish have been pretty resilient and put up with a lot of B.S…And it was just by accident that this banner that was made to celebrate all things gay … did not get destroyed when I first got here.”

Fr. Kalchik’s actions have caused great harm. They have traumatized some of us personally, members of our congregations and organizations, and countless others in our city and beyond by falsely claiming that the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the Catholic Church is “definitely a gay thing.” By making this claim and taking these actions, Fr. Kalchik is further endangering LGBTQIA+ people and their families and in using his authority as a Catholic Priest, giving permission for others to treat LGBTQIA+ people with hatred and violence.

We write to request a full investigation of these actions and for full transparency from the Diocese concerning Fr. Kalchik’s process and future. As people of faith we have deep compassion for the ways in which he has been wounded, and pray that he will experience personal healing and restoration. However, when someone with religious authority acts out of their own trauma to abuse others we must take action, and we ask for confirmation that Fr. Kalchik has been removed from ministry. We also request that you issue a statement that strongly asserts the dignity and worth of all people, including LGBTQIA+ people and their families, and denounces any connection between LGBTQIA+ people and pedophiles and sexual abusers.

Cardinal Cupich, at this time in our history and in our country, a strong statement is needed from someone in your position in the Catholic Church.  Otherwise, the Catholic Church is complicit in giving people a license to hate and harm. Thus far, you have remained silent on Fr. Kalchik’s false and harmful statements about LGBTQIA+ people and we are eager to hear from you.


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.  Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.

Reposted with permission from

Model Policy On Suicide Prevention For LGBTQIA+ Youth

A new study examines trans youth to see who is most at risk for suicide.

I was recently told a story of a 14-year-old CHILD that was kicked out of their home, by their mother, for being trans. She wants to transition from male to female (M2F) and instead of trying to understand, mom promptly kicked her out of the only home she’s ever known.

What does a young teen do in a situation like this? Where are they to go? How do they find sustainable food sources? How do they even consider getting back and forth to school? Where can they get a shower? Hygiene products? Support? Friendship? A hug? Love?

Most end up feeling helpless and hopeless. None of them chose this path. The dysphoria from feeling like you’re in the wrong body, with the wrong body parts is nothing they invented in their own minds.

Compound that with the rejection from family, friends, and the belief that God cannot stand to be in their presence (this is the message trans youth receive from most evangelical churches in America today), it’s no wonder suicide becomes an option for many of the precious children.

How can we reduce the risk these kids face in ending their own life? What role does the church play in creating these hopeless scenarios and what role could the church play in providing hope instead?

The link below is a suicide prevention policy from the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth. They created a model policy for schools that I think churches and youth ministries can adapt for their own use.

Click to access District-Policy.pdf

If you are, or you know of an LGBTQIA+ youth that is contemplating suicide, call 1-866-488-7386 right now. Trained crisis workers are waiting to talk to you.

Your life matters!

What Is Very Biblical About Separating Families At Our Border?

So let’s talk about that Bible verse that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted to justify the separation of families at the border…

1. Romans Is About All About Love:

First, Sessions took Romans 13:1-3 out of context. If Sessions read the epistle of Romans in its entirety, he would have seen that love is the center of what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Roman Church.  In chapter 12, just one chapter before the verses Sessions quoted, Paul writes: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:9-13)

Then, in chapter 13, just a few verses after those Sessions quoted, Paul writes: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

Additionally, Sessions’ point that Paul makes a “clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes” is just wrong.  Paul was actually serving time in a Roman prison when he wrote several of his letters found in our New Testament because he – himself – was a “law-breaker.” He was eventually executed for disobeying the laws of the government.

2. Romans 13:1-3 Has Been/Is Being Misquoted to Justify Evil:

Romans 13:1-3 has been historically used by oppressors in power to justify evil.  It was actually used by slave owners and by Nazis to tell those they were oppressing to submit to authority – no matter what – in order to justify the evils they were doing.

Many laws that have been put in place by the “State” (throughout history and that continue to be enforced today, both across the world and in our very own country) are oppressive, inhumane, unjust, and evil. Jesus would never tell people to submit to the human-made authority of such injustice and evil, and I believe Paul wouldn’t want us to, either.

Jesus must be weeping as he watches our national leaders and other Christians continue to use the Bible to justify such cruelty and hate.  

3. Jesus’ Lordship:  

Many Christians throughout history and across the world actually celebrate and uphold the theological belief that Jesus is Lord.  In Ancient Palestine, this notion of Christ’s Lordship was a radical and political statement. To claim Jesus’ Lordship was to challenge the Roman Empire (and the oppressive “laws of the government”).  To profess that Jesus is Lord was to state that Caesar was NOT Lord. In other words, Jesus is Lord over all human authority figures and governmental systems.  To claim that Jesus is Lord was basically saying: “I will submit to Jesus and not to any human authority or governmental system that does not uphold Jesus’ law.”  As mentioned above: Paul urged his readers in Romans 13: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

(Many of the early Christians did publicly proclaim Jesus’ Lordship, thus breaking the law and therefore were persecuted for their actions.)

During the rise of anti-Semitism and Nazi-Germany, many churches and Christian leaders responded to other churches and Christian leaders that supported/submitted to the Nazis by reemphasizing Christ’s Lordship. They did this again as a means to oppose such oppressive worldly governmental systems and to remind Christians that it is Jesus Christ – and no other worldly leader – who has authority. It is the Kingdom of God – and no otherworldly government – that reigns over the heavens and the earth.

Separating children from their families is NOT “very biblical.” (Actually, it’s not biblical at all). Rather, it is downright cruel and pure evil!

What IS very biblical:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” – Mark 9:37

“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

“Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.’ All the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” – Deuteronomy 27:19

What IS very biblical:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” – Zechariah 7:9-10

“Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” – Jeremiah 22:3

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:35,40

What IS very biblical:

Jesus’ parents – Mary and Joseph – were immigrants seeking refuge in a foreign land in order to protect their child (the baby Jesus) and their family… To take children at our border away from their parents as they seek refuge for the safety of their families is to take the baby Jesus away from his parents as they sought refuge for the safety of their family.

“Just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

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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