conversations on the fringe




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… 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

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:
  • 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:
  • 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

HIV Care Connect is a program of the Illinois Public Health Association and is funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health

Apothic Space: Encouraging Fully Inclusive Environments

There is a sense of power in individuality and identity, a power which leads to control, dependency, and objectification of people as subjects. Social status, categorizing groups of people, and individuation all contribute to the subjugation of people. Power and control become the implicit nature of identification and is realized in the subjectification of codified lifestyles defining those who are “in” and those who are “out”.

Tribal identification, the “in” group, provides a sense of belonging and control in aesthetically pleasing communities. These communal categories further protect members from violations to the codes that threaten the tribal law of truth. Members are a simulacrum of the tribe.

Ask someone the question “Who are you?” and almost immediately the conversation turns to gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or some other segregating category. The innate need for a sense of belonging forces identification with one or more groups or tribes.

Appropriate appearance maintains status in the tribe, and controlling powers limit disruptions to the status quo. Violations of the tribal ethos act as an affront on the security of the tribe and are promptly challenged.

Unnatural barriers discriminate against those who are other, differentiating conflicting tribal characteristics. Majority rule becomes the prejudiced reality.

The majority holds power and controls the environment. The marginalized are forced into compliance or rejected. There are those in the majority tribes who want to include outsiders, who extend a message of openness. Others extend vailed microaggressions designed to correct behavior or target a characteristic.

Inclusivity is not a characteristic of a tribe. Inclusivity is the intentional invitation to the marginalized, not to become but to belong. Inclusivity is the normalization of coexistence. The marginalized do not have to change to be included. The including tribe transforms in the diversification of expanding influence.

Take, for example, the conservative Christian proposition to people who are LGBTQ+ to abandon their lifestyle for a more suitable lifestyle. The obvious dilemma is who defines the suitable lifestyle, the inviter or invitee?

There are those in the Christian community who are adamantly opposed to the behaviors exclusive to LGBTQ+ people, and believe the two tribes are incompatible. There are those in the LGBTQ+ community who also believe the two tribes are incompatible. However, there are those of us in the middle who want to be transformed by expanding our influence to experience the beauty of our diversity.

Here are three things you can do or encourage to create fully inclusive environments.

Respect the perspectives of others

Nobody perceives the world the same way you do. Your experiences, emotions, and mental models contribute to unique perceptions of reality. Professor of psychology at Princeton University, Philip Johnson-Laird, identifies mental models as the complex interrelated connections of knowledge and other causal attributes that shape our perceptions of reality. The way you understand the world around you is not the same way someone else understands the world. Invite others to share their perspectives without judgment. When you are able to respect and understand the perspectives of others you position yourself to understand your own biases more fully. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself. What is it that I don’t yet understand? What is the emotional truth this person is experiencing? What is this person’s objective reality?

Engage in open and supportive dialogue

Communication is the process of coming to a shared understanding through a common experience. Open and supportive dialogue is not about arguing over who is right and who is wrong. Open and supportive dialogue is about engaging someone else to come to a new understanding. You may want to ask yourself, am I listening to what this person is trying to tell me, or am I listening to my voice of judgment? Your voice of judgment is your internal broadcasting system, your mental model, that limits your perspective out of fear. You might ask yourself, what stubbornness or judgment am I holding on to? Once you identify the message your voice of judgment is conveying, you can eliminate judgment and listen intently to what someone else is trying to tell you. Active listening is the most important facet of communication. For more on listening refer to Listening 101 (hyperlink to Another important facet of communication is language. The language you use will contribute to or hinder the dialogue process. You might want to reflect on how the other person might receive the words you are using.

Intentionally create an atmosphere of inclusion

Inclusivity is an intentional decision to adjust your current reality and engage a new reality. The first step to intentionally create an atmosphere of inclusion is to understand what is really going on. Respecting the perspective of others and open dialogue begin by removing yourself from the center of your universe. It’s not about you! In fact, as long as you make it about you there is no chance of including others. Ask yourself, at this moment, what is my aim? What’s really going on? If your answers to these questions reveal an agenda or motivation to address something in the other person you are making yourself the center of your universe. Be self-reflective. Self-awareness means you understand your feelings, your perspectives, and your orientation to the present moment. You begin to realize you are not the center of the universe. You open yourself to greater possibilities of inclusion because you aren’t afraid of what may are may not happen. You can create an atmosphere in which other people can contribute. Intentionally remove yourself from the center, and learn from the marginalized.

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.


Youth Ministry and the Problem of Shitholes

Today would have been the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 89th birthday.  On this day, as we approach the 50th year since he was assassinated, we celebrate the radical life and legacy of Dr. King – along with others who have and continue to work to dismantle systemic racism and fight for civil rights and justice.  And yet, as we celebrate how far we have come, we must acknowledge how much farther we have to go.

Just last week, on the eve before MLK weekend began, in a meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform, the President of the United States called El Salvador, Haiti, and other African countries “sh*tholes” and questioned why the U.S. needed more people from these countries rather than from places like Norway.

Let’s just be clear: it is downright racist for anyone to say and believe these things.  And it is inexcusable and incredibly dangerous for our country’s president to be the one to do so and for other national and religious leaders to remain silent or to downplay his beliefs and behaviors.

God created ALL humankind good and in God’s image. God created ALL nations good. There are no sh*thole countries.  And the United States is lucky to be made up of people from El Salvador, Haiti, and other countries in Africa, who have made this country a better place.

When we wonder if anything or anyone good can come out of that “sh*thole” continent, country, city, neighborhood, school, or whatever other place we label as inferior, let us just remember who Nathanael encountered after he said “Can anything good come out of (that sh*thole) Nazareth?” (John 1:43-51)

(I think it’s no coincidence that this just so happened to be yesterday’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading.)

Yet, Philip responded to Nathanael by extending him an invitation to open his eyes and his heart and to “come and see” for himself.  Building relationships with and learning about people and places that are different from us and from what we know help us begin to break down stereotypes and other barriers that cause misunderstanding, division, and hate.  As we see with Nathanael, once he started to build a relationship with Jesus, he began his journey toward his own transformation.

As youth ministers and youth workers, we have an opportunity to invite our youth to open their eyes and hearts and to “come and see.”

And as leaders in the church who work with youth, as Christians, and as members of the human race, we have a responsibility to call out racist stereotypes, words, actions, and beliefs for what they are and to denounce them… even and especially if they are carried out by our national leaders.  When we do so, we begin to model for our youth how they – too – can and should call out and shut down stereotypes and racist remarks and actions, no matter whom the person is that is behaving in such a manner.

This is not a partisan issue.  This is not about a political party or a particular politician.  This is about the evil and harmful sins of racism and white supremacy.  And they must be shut down.

Because to be silent about these statements and beliefs is to be complicit.  To ignore such statements and actions sends several strong messages to our youth and their families.

Our silences tells our youth and families that the racist statements and beliefs of the President are normal, are true, and thus can be continued.

Our silence tells our youth of color and their families that not only are they not valued by their country and many of their country’s leaders, but that they are also not valued by us, by the Church, or even by God.

Our silence tells all of our youth and families that some people – based on skin color and/or country of origin – are superior to others.  It says that God does not actually care about the “least of these” and that people of faith should just ignore God’s call (which we hear throughout the scriptures) to welcome and care for the immigrant and refugee, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim God’s good news of justice and peace to the world.

So how can we – as youth ministers and youth workers – break our silence?  

There are many ways, but we can start by:

  • Publicly calling out all forms of racism (individual and systemic, overt and covert) on social media, in church newsletters, in our sermons, and in our worship liturgy (prayers, calls to confession, music, etc).
  • Continuously educating ourselves on racism and immigration issues and actively working to become anti-racists. (For those of us who maintain white privilege: we must listen and learn about our own racism and how we benefit from and contribute to systemic racism.  This is a life-long journey.)
  • Leading youth group discussions about what scripture has to say about racial justice and immigration and teaching youth about immigration history in the U.S. and current issues related to immigration justice.
  • Leading youth group antiracism discussions, book studies, and workshops on how youth can identify, call out, and shut down racist comments and actions.
  • Helping youth learn about and from people and places that are different from them and from what they know.  (Teach youth about the history and current contexts of other countries, cities, and neighborhoods.  Take them on trips; share stories and videos; partner with other congregations; bring in speakers from immigration/refugee resettlement organizations, etc.)
  • Empowering youth to work for immigration and racial justice.  (Help them write and call their elected officials, asking them to publicly condemn racist statements and actions and to pass just policies.  Take them to town meetings, marches, teach-ins, and rallies that call for racial, economic, and immigration justice.)

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 been 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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