Archive for June, 2019

Dear friends in Christ,

I know I’ve talked about my friend Naomi in the past, but I was thinking about her as we began this summer’s Connect Meals. Naomi was a co-worker of mine during the year my wife Erin and I served as missionaries in Taiwan. One weekend, she invited us to her home to learn how to make baozi. We knew only parts of her story: that she suffered partial paralysis connected to treatment for brain cancer; that her husband was unable to work owing to significant back injury; that she also had an adult daughter with significant developmental challenges, needing round-the-clock care.

Naomi lived in a typical tiny Taipei apartment, cramped further by the additional tables she had set up. Food was everywhere: platters of dumplings and stir fry, bowls of noodles and rice, trays of fresh fruit, and all the ingredients to make baozi. It was clear that our cooking lesson was a formality— the main event was us, her honored guests, and feeding us in abundance. It was almost overwhelming to receive such generosity.

What sets this particular experience apart was not only the quantity of food, nor the generosity with which it was given, but also the very real vulnerability Naomi showed in inviting us into her home. She brought us into closer proximity with both her joy and abundance, as well as her pain and struggle. Medical equipment took up residence next to serving platters, and couches doubled as storage for displaced home goods. This was not a magazine-worthy dinner party with an emphasis on appearance. This was scruffy hospitality, given from a place of genuine care.

During our recent Instructed Eucharist, we repeatedly used the word “discern.” We talked about how the gathered church believes that somehow Jesus is present in the Eucharist, in the readings, the bread, the wine, and in the connections we share as a community in that service. Part of the task of making Eucharist is for us to “discern” Jesus’ presence. Where is Jesus showing up? The ritual acts of Word and Table are forming us into people who can discern Jesus in the world. That teaching finds deep resonance with me as I look back on that shared meal with Naomi and her family. Through the lens of Eucharist, I can now discern Christ present in that meal. Naomi was sharing more than baozi; in her vulnerability and abundance she was sharing Christ, broken and given for the world.

Sara Miles writes about her conversion to Christianity in a somewhat unorthodox manner, receiving communion before ever considering “being Christian.” She came curious to church one day, where communion was shared person to person, and she found herself inexplicably converted as she reached out to take the bread. The Jesus she came to believe in is the one made known in the bread and wine. Her faith “proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn’t promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life.”

This summer we are given many chances at St. John’s to be with one another in Eucharistic community, in a community that is defined by this kind of faith. I encourage you to sign up for a Connect Meal (visit tinyurl.com/SJEmeals19) if you haven’t already. These meals provide a place to bring our whole, authentic self, to share our story, and hear others. For our hosts, I am so grateful you are making these moments available. I encourage you to lean into scruffy hospitality, trusting that you too can give abundantly and vulnerably, and in so doing, make Jesus known.

Happy summer one and all! Enjoy eating together and sharing stories! I will see you in worship!



Originally published in the July/August 2019 Evangelist.

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By Jennifer Neil Tianen

My dear friends in Christ,

I am not the pronoun police and I do not have a politically correct ideological agenda to impose upon you. This renaming is an invitation to a process of me becoming a new creature in Christ. It is not mandatory upon you. My birth name is Neil and I have always loved that name. For those of you who have known me as Neil for the approximately last three years that I have been with you, and who feel more comfortable still calling me that, then I welcome still being called so. For those of you who are willing to call me Jennifer, then I embrace your affirmation.

I stand here in the shadow of a lifelong fear. Not an over-concerned fear born of vain male pride. Rather, a fear born of violation, assault, suicide, and harassment. A fear that taught me to blend in to survive. I should not have survived; there are factors that can be tallied and I had too many of them to have come through to health and spiritual glory. But I did survive and thrive. So I am here today, moving from joy to joy.

It could have been otherwise. When I was young, I secretly carried a knife in my pocket. It was not there to defend myself or to hurt anyone else. It was there as a great comfort and solace that I could make it all go away in one quick slice. The blade was resting upon my wrist and I very nearly pulled it. Instead, I chose to live and suffer through to a hoped-for better day.

I am so glad that I lived to have this better day. To have known the love of my life who prepares my heavenly mansion next to hers. To have stared into the trusting eyes of my baby boys. To come here on Sundays and share communion with you.

I was born differently than I would have liked to be. That was God’s Will. But God’s Will is not always immutable. God has opened new doors and shown me a way forward at last to be my long-wished-for self.

There are pictures of me from when I was 5 years old. I have always loved those pictures. When I have shown them, I have been asked, “Who is the little girl?” That used to embarrass me, but not anymore. I see them as how I would like to have stayed while growing up. Frail, blond, and pretty. There is one picture in particular. I wrote a poem about it:



















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The Episcopal Church has a long and complicated history of wrestling with and discerning the full inclusion of out gay and lesbian persons fully into our life and ministry. We have come, haltingly over time, to be a church that understands same-gender attraction as one of the diverse manifestations of God’s creation, and that people who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual are just as God intended them to be and that God loves them and each of us as we are and for who we are.

As our understanding has grown, many have come to believe that people exist on a spectrum of sexuality and gender, as well as married, single, partnered, and celibate. Moreover, this spectrum manifests a great diversity of gender expressions. We know there are some who identify as transgender: those whose experience of their gender assigned at birth does not match their understanding of their own gender. The Episcopal Church has begun to evolve our polity and teaching to be inclusive of transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, and genderfluid persons at all levels of ministry and life.

My colleague, the Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, himself a trans man and Episcopal priest writes,

We can view human beings as both a ‘bond’ of a wonderfully variegated creation and an agent, or workshop, of creation’s transformation into the heart of God. Humans were created last, reasoned the patristic theologians, and we were given the gift of gathering the whole together and lifting it up so that all creation might be transfigured by the Creator….When we stumbled in our feeble attempts to fulfill that vocation, Christ came into our midst and became the ‘fresh institution’ of creation, transfigured us in his image, and bound creation to himself—even the parts of creation that we do not always understand and that sometimes make us uneasy. It is through this transforming power of Christ that I, and many transgender people like me, find our true identity as children of God.

This spring, the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music made available, through our Book of Occasional Services, a liturgy that acknowledges and blesses as holy the process of name change.

As the introduction to that rite reads, “When an event or experience leads a baptized person to take or to be given a new name, the following may be used to mark this transition in the parish community…This new beginning is distinct from the new life begun in Holy Baptism, which conveys regeneration and the responsibilities of Christian discipleship.” We recognize that there are many reasons a person might need to change their name. And, in the case of transgender persons, the process of transitioning from one gender expression to another very likely includes the process of changing one’s name. I am grateful then for this liturgy making possible for ours and other faith communities, to come around a person in transition, to bless and give thanks for the renewing and reclaiming of their truest God-given identities.

At St. John’s we have come to know trans and gender-nonconforming individuals as integral members in our life as a faith community. On June 30, I am delighted we will be able to use this service for one such member, Jennifer, as she makes the courageous step of changing her name and affirming her identity as a woman before God and us her faith community.  I hope you will experience the same gratitude and wonder I felt at Jennifer’s vulnerability and authenticity in sharing this part of herself with us, as together we honor what God is up to in her life.

Again, as my colleague, the Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge writes, such a moment “can be a part of our rebirth and new life that accompanies our membership in Christ’s body…I have many times encountered transgender people who tell their own lives as stories of salvation history. Many, including myself, are people for whom the mystery of faith finally helped us claim our selves, our souls and bodies, as vessels of reconciliation.”

—Jered Weber-Johnson


Originally published in the May/June Evangelist.

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It was a beautiful day; the sun shining, the garden greening, no bugs yet. But somehow I just couldn’t get a break. The handyman wouldn’t return my calls and I needed STUFF
FIXED NOW, the car was making a funny sound, I received a surprise medical bill, everyone seemed to be disappointing me one way or the other. I must have said “Are you bloody kidding me??!” dozens of times.

And then then the wind shifted, a friend called, the car kept quiet, and I felt that things would work out. I breathed again.

Some people call that the Holy Spirit.

The disciples were having a series of bad days and a cold fear was in the air. Persecution was intensifying; Jesus was leaving (again) and the usual arguments were taking place. But then Jesus promises to send a “spirit” to help.

The apostles were celebrating a Jewish harvest festival when it happened: The wind shifted and everything changed. The disciples stopped arguing and started doing good things. Peter preached up a storm and converted thousands on one day.

Sunday is Pentecost – a confusing celebration if there ever was one! It’s about tongues of fire and people speaking in different languages and still understanding each other and is called “The Birthday of the Church”. The color of the day is red (for the tongues of fire).

But mainly it’s about “spirit” and what that means for us now. When this Spirit touches us through words, music, the Bleeding Heart in the garden, or a feeling that won’t quite go away, we might call it coincidence, wishful thinking, or our imagination. We can dismiss it and reason it away.

Or we can listen, and pay attention, and see what God has to say to us. It can be pretty interesting and sometimes even save the day. Or our life.

And I’m not just being dramatic here. There will be plenty of drama on Sunday! But there will also be more……

See you in church.


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By Kevin Seitz-Paquette

Our culture would have us believe that there is some inherent tension in being both Christian and a member of the LGBT community. In my own past, I’ve heard things like “being gay isn’t sinful, but being in a homosexual relationship is,” or, from LGBT friends, “why should you be a part of a movement that hates us?” The latter cut particularly deep—homophobia is not exclusively a Christian problem, and all of Christianity is not a homophobic movement. The view of incompatibility between the Christian and LGBT communities persists, however, and I had fallen victim to it by the time I graduated college.

When I was a teenager, and I was first starting to grapple with one of life’s most troublesome questions—whether some people are evil by nature—my father answered that “God’s law is written on the heart of all men and women.” Even as I wandered outside the Church, the law written on my heart told me that LGBT individuals were not actually unwelcome. To the contrary, I felt pulled towards finding a faith community that would celebrate LGBT individuals and welcome them as children of God.

To be LGBT and Christian is to recognize that God created us—all of us—in his image, and that we are called to honor that image by living authentically. We know that the Church is a place that looks in awe at all that God has created and welcomes it. By our own experience, especially at St. John’s, we have felt the Christian community telling us that our relationships are just one more manifestation of God’s love for us.

God transcends the lines that humans use to create division, like race, gender, and sexual orientation. The Christian community reflects that transcendence in its diversity, and LGBT Christians play an important part in the completing the big quilt that is the Church.

Originally published in the May-June 2019 Evangelist.

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