Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mad Love

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Mad Love
Luke 8.26-40

I was away at a week of church camp, the Assemblies of God, summer camp that my family would allow me to attend for a week each summer. It happened towards the end of worship, a girl around my age started shrieking, and what looked to be losing control of her body. All of our eyes watched as her small frame appeared to be involuntarily shaken, cries escaping her mouth. Middle School youth move in large groups anyways. Seeing this, you might have thought someone announced T-Swift was outside.

Most of us youth worried for her safety, though the adults began to ask for us to return to our rooms. As we moved towards the exit, the pastors and staff circled around her, trying to safely contain this outburst.All of us wondered what was happening to her as we walked to our rooms.

The next day the staff explained that she was possessed by a demon, and they needed to clear the room for an exorcism so that the demon wouldn’t enter into anyone else. Admittedly, because of this incident I spent the rest of that summer believing that a demon was going to possess me.

This story sounds skeptical to us present day folks, almost as impossible as the story we heard read from Luke, the story of the demon-possessed man that Jesus releases from his tormented state.

Many people have tried to come to terms with things, especially about one another, that we do not understand. Disability and mental illnesses have through history been likened to demonic possessions. Queer sexualities and trans-gender folx have been called demonic. Alcoholism and addictions have been addressed as folx struggling with their personal demons. And for many, demons are just that, spirits that take hold of us. Today, we should strongly take issue with anyone calling our disability, sexuality, gender, or addition demonic.

And the gospel writers were trying to make sense of this mad world. What all these invocations of demon possession seem to suggest, however, is that beyond the physical and even the personal, there are forces at work in the world, and affecting us that we cannot quite quantify.

Where is love in the body? What color is the soul? Can we inject grace into our blood? What smell does hate have? What tests can we run to screen our bodies for sexism or racism? In the end, however we understand these mysteries, there are evidently good spirits at work in our world and there are also demons. There will always be a need to put words to that special grace that drives some to bring life through impossible conditions and which drive others to commit unspeakable acts of violence.

With honest reflection, some of us come to accept this. What will happen if we accept “them” into our community-- whoever the group being identified as “them” is? It’s hard to trust folks we have previously mistrusted or blocked out of our lives. What if they betray us? What if they do things differently than us?

But this is the liberation that Jesus proclaims at the start of his ministry of setting the captive free, and recovery of sight of the blind. Jesus declares liberation is for each and every one of us.

Many of us might be frustrated with the response of the townspeople, demanding Jesus leave them. When the oppressed are made free, fear is an odd response in the midst of this miraculous moment. And the scripture describes that the man can’t keep quiet, liberation is bursting from him.

Why would we ever want to hush or demand the silence of folx who have experienced liberation and good news? Have you ever heard: “I wouldn't go around telling people you’re in therapy.” “I really respect this LGBT person, she’s not in your face about it.” “I don’t like those people but I like him, he is one of the good ones.” “Back in the day, people didn’t make as much of a fuss about labels as they do today.” “Oh, I just can’t learn all these new PC terms. I can’t keep track. I won’t do it.” “Why do those people keep coming around? Can’t we just ask them to leave?” “What if they become dangerous?”

Oppressed folx do not have to make themselves worthy to the dominant group by conforming, and we never have to make others small in order to make ourselves important.

Are we among those living within the tombs? Are we among the towns-people in the scripture, begging for Jesus to leave them? Folx who witness Jesus’ miracle, seeing the demon possessed man freed, who now have the opportunity to be a part of the restoration of relationship, to live and be community together.

The question in the end, is do we really want Jesus. If we want Jesus, well Jesus tends to come with all the sorts of people who we may have cut out of our lives.
May each of us be found by this mad and liberating love. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Pay It No Mind

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"Pay it No Mind"

Marsha P. Johnson was a woman set apart. Her own community regarded her both as a saint and as an outcast. While she has begun to be remembered as one of the founders of the gay rights movement, one of the first to resist in the Stonewall Riots, and a co-founder of one of the first transgender rights groups, in New York during the 1960’s and 70’s there were many members of the trans and gay community who did not want anything to do with her. Unlike some of the trans women and drag queens who lived in the Village, Marsha’s poverty and homelessness made it hard for her to afford high quality clothing or make-up. Instead, this black trans woman with chronic mental illness would accept free donations and buy resale clothes from the thrift store. As a result, trans women, drag queens, and gay men would cross the street to avoid her because they felt that her way of dress and behavior was an embarrassment. She was even within the LGBTQ community considered by some unclean.

At the same time, Marsha was revered. A friend recalled seeing her sleeping under tables in the flower district. When they asked the shop owners if they should tell her to leave, they said, “no, she is holy.” These flower shop owners came to know and adore Marsha. They would give her extra flowers with which she would create these hair pieces and hats that would crown her face like a floral halo. And they were not the only ones who called Marsha a holy woman. Members of the community in the 1960s and 70s recall how people would meet her from all around, people visiting New York from other countries, and how she would attract people with her friendliness, generosity, and good spirit. Over time, people began referring to her as Saint Marsha. And this is all before her rise to prominence one night when police were harassing the LGBT community at the Stonewall Inn and Marsha was one of the first to riot in resistance. After this she would join with Sylvia Rivera to form STAR, one of the first trans rights organizations. Yet before this and throughout her life, Marsha was called a saint not just because of her activism but because of what might be more accurately called her ministry.

Marsha says she married Jesus when she was 16 years old. Jesus was the only man she could trust, she told interviewers. Jesus never laughed at her, she said. Jesus took her very seriously. Marsha was a mystic as well as an activist, performer, and community leader. She lived with mental illness as well but told people, “just because I am crazy, doesn’t make me wrong.” Despite or because of her eccentricities, literally a woman who lived outside the center of the community, she was considered a woman set apart. She was known for being holy, for being compassionate and generous. She was known for being brave and yearning for justice. She had next to nothing but gave everything for her community and her faith.

May we come to see the saints God has called from among the outcasts and the unclean. May we be guided by the spirit and the love of holy women like Marsha P. Johnson. May we likewise welcome the stranger, give generously, wear flowers in our hair, and when we find ourselves harassed by unfair systems of oppression, may we know when to stand, may we be brave enough to resist, and may we pay no mind to a world that would shame us for who we are. May we find hope, find life, find love, and find pride among God’s most unlikely of saints.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Still She Prevailed

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Still She Prevailed
Acts 16.9-15

Here's another important women who played an significant role in the Holy Spirit’s movement in the early church. 

The early church apostles were sharing the good news with new people, and in new lands-- and they were jockeying for power and authority, similar to the current presidential nominees. What seems a well formed political alliance, can change overnight!

At the end of Acts 15 we learn that Paul and Barnabas part ways, though they have been traveling together bringing the good news throughout the lands, they have a disagreement about a certain apostle who would travel with them. Barnabas and Paul had such a sharp disagreement about this and they decide to part ways. Then Paul chooses a new companion, Silas, to journey with him. The scripture says after stopping in Lystra they welcome Timothy to come with them. Now, Paul and Silas and Timothy are planning to go to Asia, but the “Spirit of Jesus” did not allow it, and instead they went to Troas. Then the unexpected occurs. During the night, Paul receives a vision of a man in Macedonia, pleading for help.

This seems like an odd story to chronicle. The apostles are headed one place, and then end up somewhere else. And after Paul woke they made their way to Phillipi, the leading city in a Roman occupied Macedonia, which is the western side of Greece. After a couple of days, on the sabbath, they decide to head outside the city to the River, to find a place to pray. And what they find is definitely unexpected. There are no men mentioned at all beyond Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
Instead they find a collective of women outside the city on the riverbank, and they sit down and talk with them. Of course, there’s not much continuity between the Paul’s vision and this group of women. For one thing his vision was of a man asking for his help. And in this case, Paul happens to stumble upon this community of women. 

And one of these women was Lydia, who is called a “worshipper of God” and also states she was a “seller of purple cloth.” The color purple is something that only the wealthy could purchase, the materials coming from the retrieval of a dye within the shells of crustaceans. Some argue she is a merchant or business woman to the wealthy. The scripture does not give us adequate details about Lydia, though we do find out that she is not from Philippi, she is from Thayatira. Lydia, a merchant of purple clothes, is a far way from home, and we know that in listening to Paul and Silas and Timothy she is overcome by the Holy Spirit, and eager to hear the good news. So much that she and all her household, this collective of women, are baptized. And then Lydia is inspired to welcome Paul and Silas, and Timothy to come stay at her home. 

Anytime the Holy Spirit is present hospitality is practiced and community is formed.

What we see here in scripture is the creation of a tribe of Christian women who take care of one another and challenge the individual to be more and do more than just be a self-concerned individual. 

Tribes can be a powerful instrument for reorienting us towards a more loving, peaceful, and just world. Often, tribes can arise out of shared need and dangers which make the comfort, love, peace, and equity they promise all the more alluring.

Consider the case of women’s communes and intentional communities that developed in greater number not only in the early Christian period of the church but also in 1970’s and 80’s. It is around this time that we saw many women’s festivals, reading groups, book stores, community farms and intentional communities develop around the United States but especially in more rural areas. It is an interest historical trend that when many marginalized populations of men, such as gay men, headed into cities during the 70s and 80s to form the beginnings of LGBT friendly districts and the start of movements that would become pride parades, at the same time many women of all sexualities moved into more rural settings. As I said, the legacy of this female exodus to rural parts of America still exist today in various women’s festivals, intentional communities, as well as many artist and feminist networks.

There were many motivations for the breaking off and forming of these intentional feminist and women’s communities, including lack of safety and respect among many male dominated spaces such as existed in the city. And as this exodus of women occurred, we could certainly see a rise in tribalism. The concept of men being from mars and women from Venus gained steam at this time, even as the book would not be written until the early 90s. We saw Wonder Woman’s background as an Amazon from a land of all women explored in comics. And in various ways, the idea of creating a land exclusive for women developed and a tribal philosophy of women taking care of women grew.

As in the case of the tribalism we discussed earlier, there is a lot of good power and community that can come from this tribalism. There are also dangers. In many of these American women’s communities and women’s festivals, tribalism also deepened certain prejudices while it overcame others. Over the decades, this women’s separatist movements have been critiqued for privileging the concerns of white women over those of women of color, critiqued for not being accessible for women with disabilities, especially in many of these rural settings, and critiqued for being exclusionary of transgender women but also transgender men who were regarded as unwelcome in these exclusive all women’s communities. Likewise with the military we can see how tribalism has helped many while excluding others, including women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay, bisexual, and lesbian people and currently transgender people.
Tribes can help us prevail and persist, revolutionize and resist, but they can also limit our ability to perceive the struggles of others, even those much like us, and to extend love beyond the exclusive limits of our tribe.

Thus my prayer and hope for us is to be like the women of Lydia's community who foster care and comfort and power among our tribes but also to welcome those who are new and different. Lydia and her Christian women’s tribe welcomed in Paul and Silas and Timothy. May we likewise extend welcome, and honor, and love for those who are often not included in our tribes. May we look backwards to memorialize those who sacrificed for our tribes while also looking forward to opening ourselves to those who are not yet included. We persist and prevail, remember and progress. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Discipleship: Women Ways

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Discipleship: Women Ways
Luke 9.36-42

Today's post is in honor of the disciple Tabitha, a.k.a. Dorcas. I'm betting there are some future mamas out there thinking "It’s time to bring back Dorcas as a popular baby name." I’ve thought about mentioning this to my wife, “sorry honey we can’t name our next spawn Dante, we have a serious shero from the Bible to name this child after.”

It’s only unfortunate that the name sounds like a well known put down.

Although the author of Luke-Acts is the best of the four gospels at lifting up women, we know that the author was deeply influenced by the mores of greco-Roman culture. Some scholars have argued that the writers of Luke-Acts, to gain the favor of male readers in the Greco-Roman Empire, diminished the role of women apostles in Acts, to focus more on the works of Paul and Peter, often featuring women as glorified groupies. Now, I’d guess that not many of us often picture female disciples among the early church movers and shakers, but the more we dig into scripture the more we find that women were integral to the early church. From the very beginning of the book of Acts we hear that Mary the mother of Jesus was present, along with “certain women.”

Who were these mysterious women? For all we know Tabitha was present.

We find from our scripture later in Acts, Tabitha is given the title “disciple,” and it’s the only place in all of scripture that the feminine form of disciple, mathetria is used.

We learn that Tabitha’s ministry in the community of Joppa, was in service to those in need, sewing garments for those without. And she didn’t do it alone. She worked alongside a community of widows, likely those who had been the recipients of her love in the time of their deepest need, and were inspired by her ministry. Women supporting women.

Tabitha gives us a model of what discipleship looked like in the early church. Devoted to good works and acts of charity, she offered tangible resources to folx in her community at a time of their great need. She fed and clothed, and protected these women, shepherding her flock in the life saving practices of community care and support.

One way we can examine the ways that women and men are treated differently in Acts is with Tabitha. In verse 39, Tabitha is praised for her “acts of charity” to the widows of Joppa, but this is the only place the words “acts of charity” is used in all of Acts. But in Acts 6.4, male disciples offer “Service of care and word” to widows which in the Greek translates to ministry. Why is it that men were charged with service to the widows and orphans and is considered ministry, but Tabitha’s work is considered “acts of charity?”

While Luke offers us a snapshot into the world of women in the early church, it is of scattered references and women who function in the backdrop, as patrons, and philanthropists, rather than key players in the spreading of the Good News. For years I found this imbalance so painful I couldn’t even pick up the Bible. But over time I came back and I tried to read for glimpses of women disciples and it gave me hope. And women are certainly there, if you read carefully. There are many more present than you realize, though often unnamed. The ones who are named, such as Tabitha we can look to for strength and hope.

This gives us a very different picture of Tabitha than the text supports, perhaps her ministry was one of good works and shepherding her own church. Tabitha in her life and ministry literally makes life out of death- the work of creating cloth, and sewing garments and tunics is about taking what is the dried out materials of dead cells, and turning them into the finely woven fabrics.

Now for a brief mother’s day story. My mother’s mother, Lula was a Tabitha of her own kind. Growing up in the Southern Baptist church and in a time when women were limited in vocational aspirations she came into her own calling and ministry once her children were grown. My grandmother ministered to the women who were left behind after their spouses had passed on. Taking them to necessary medical appointments, helping drive them to get groceries. My grandmother became the caretaker and archivist of the widows in her own community. I always wondered why my grandmother’s back porch was so cluttered with furniture that she would keep for the right person who needed it most. This was her ministry, she was the shepherd of so many. The artifacts of widows she had loved to their end were given new life in helping those who had little.

Who are the Tabitha’s in your life? On this Mother’s day, consider: who are the spiritual mothers who helped disciple you?

May this legacy of women and spiritual foremothers inspire us as we live out our own vocations. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019


Acts 9.1-6, 7-20, John 21.1-19

I know how hard change can be. I think we all do in one way or another. Trying out new things can cause a lot of anxiety. Or even doing what we have always done but without the same people or in the same place can leave us feeling confused like the Apostles after Jesus’ death, they are doing what they know best, sitting in their boat fishing. They were fishermen many of them, they knew how to fish, but in the wake of Christ’s death, suddenly alone, they were disoriented. They were now living with their shock, having had brief encounters with the Risen Christ, their thoughts were scattered and work aimless, catching fish should have been easy for them, but it just wasn’t working for them.

It’s at times like this that we need people to call us out of our funks and say, like Jesus does, “Hey! You! Yes you! What’s up? Peter needed to be shaken out of his funk and reminded that Christ’s sheep needed to be fed and led.

Jesus asks us: do you love me? If our answer is yes, then the call is clear: than do it, by loving one another as we have been loved us. But this call isn’t easy is it?

Acts Unpacked

And we see this difficulty play out in our scripture from Acts. It is another story of Jesus calling the least expected to build the kingdom of God.

A couple chapters earlier we were introduced to the Jewish Pharisee Saul, and murderer of Stephen, a follower of the Way, and he is on a mission to hunt down and persecute Jews who follow Jesus. On his way to Damascus a bright light appears and a voice from the heavens speaks “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” This moment appears many places in art and stories about the early church.

Many will tell you that it is at this moment that Saul turns into Paul, as though the former life is completely ended and he is created entirely new. Perhaps many of us want change to be like this, a radical transformation, a new start, we want to leave our past behind. Others of us may fear change of this sort. We love something about the past and worry change means a kind of loss. I don’t think change is ever that easy and I don’t think it’s too simple either for Saul, soon to be called Paul.

Jesus confronts Saul in this harrowing moment, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul has been emboldened by folx with power and authority to carry out acts of terror against a marginalized religious community. But the word the translators use, persecute, means more than that. “To follow after” is certainly what Saul is doing. Saul has been following the Apostles. Saul appears in Luke-Acts after Christ has risen and after the Apostles have started their ministry. And because he follows after the Apostles, he is peculiarly placed to learn from them. The man who had been following the Way of the Apostles of Christ suddenly realizes he needs guidance to understand how to follow on different terms.

But Saul is a proud man. He is not the type to freely admit to it when he finds himself traveling and suddenly lost. So God has to force the matter. After being knocked to the ground by the light, Saul gets up. When he rises Saul realizes he cannot see. Many of us might think it strange that God would blind someone. After all, Christ healed the blind didn’t he? Well the decision to blind Saul may be just as strange as God’s decision to make Saul and apostle to begin with. Some might try to explain this by saying that Saul is blind because he is confused. He cannot see the truth of Christ. But we need not reduce blindness, especially given by God, to simply a condition of lack. Rather, it is by this blindness that God begins to help Saul see the world in new ways.

The first thing Saul needs to learn is that he cannot continue down the road alone anymore. Suddenly, in this moment of vulnerability, he begins to be open to the fact that he needs help, maybe even help from the people he persecutes, who he will soon begin to see in a new way through his blindness. This is what happens next, Saul literally is lead by his traveling companions, by the hand to Damascus. The voice from heaven is Jesus, and he gives Saul instructions to go to Damascus where Ananias will come for him. He had his mission. He knew where to go. He had the power of mobility to get there. But he is not able to do it all alone. He needed companions on the way.

Anyone who has even been lead somewhere by the hand, depending on the power dynamics at play and the personality of those involved, the one being led may feel a certain lack of power. We can imagine how insufferable this may have been for Saul, who was so used to being in charge, who perhaps walked through the world with little care for the impact his actions had on marginalized folx.

But without this lesson in interdependency, without the gift of his blindness, Saul may have arrived in Damascus but in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. This way Saul arrives, open to the help and guidance of others.

As Saul is being brought into Damascus to a place where he can rest from his travels, God is speaking to another person, Ananias. Ananias was deep in prayer at the time, and he is called on by God to go seek out, to follow after Saul. Ananias’ first instinct might have been to persecute Saul when he found him, or perhaps to run away entirely. Flight or Flight. It’s important to keep in mind, Ananias is exactly the kind of guy the Saul was hunting down. He is fearful for his life, knowing Saul’s reputation. Perhaps God was doing some divine matchmaking here.

God calls Ananias to show up for Saul, to heal and not hurt, to guide and not to expel Saul. He is to embrace Saul, lay his hands on him like someone for whom he cares. He is to show compassion on an enemy to turn him into a friend. Despite the pride of Saul and the fear of Ananias, God brings the two together on this night. And though they are both scared, they both learn important lessons.

Scripture says that Ananias found Saul and lays his hands on Saul. We can imagine how uncomfortable this might have been for strangers and potential enemies, people who hold different spiritual and political views. But it is through their willingness to come together that change happens. By Ananias laying hands on him, through God, Saul’s blindness is lifted. Yet we might not say that Saul’s sight is totally restored. It returns but with a difference. In a sense, these are new eyes. At this moment, Saul is not only open to change but sees the Apostles in a new way. He sees God in a new way. As the history of his life and letter bear out, he sees the world in a new way. He will continue to follow the Apostles but now as a brother.

This is the way life seems to have always been. Life is change. And as we see among ourselves and the disciples how hard life can be. In this season of Easter, we are called to consider how the Church moves on after great changes and losses. Whether it is the loss of a leader like Rachel Held Evans or the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are being called to reflect on our own grief and the need to find new ways to move forward on different terms. Whether it is the first Easter season with a new Pastor or the Disciples receiving Paul among them as a new Apostle, once an enemy now a sibling. Change can be difficult and again we will need to find new ways to move forward on different terms.

We began Easter with the sound of golden trumpets and horns, celebrating resurrection and we walked out into the rebirth of Spring. Yet for all this fanfare, the new life we are given is not the exact same as the old life we had. In ways, change calls on us to grieve and let go in order to grow and evolve on different terms. And there is great things awaiting us, beloved church, things we can’t yet imagine. I do believe that the spirit of the resurrection promises us a world transformed and a life glorified. The new life will contain things the old life could not. The new world will show us wonders that the old world could not create. That may be hard to believe, it may be hard to imagine how the new life could be good when we know what we have lost. But we have seen this before. The tree must leave the acorn if it is going to grow flowers and fruit. The caterpillar must leave the chrysalis if it is going to rise a butterfly. The change is real and the grief is real but again and again, each Spring and each Easter we are reminded to turn our eyes towards the way goodness continues to meet us in our lives, on different terms. May God we with us as we navigate these transitions, these transformations and learn to translate and understand our world on different terms. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Reverend Rachel J. Bahr is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, serving as a minister in the Church for over eleven years. Rachel received their Masters of Divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary. Afterwards spent six years building up the youth and family ministry in Glen Ellyn, IL, from a handful of kids to among the largest in the Chicagoland area. During this time, they mentored under the Reverend Doctor Lillian Daniel, author of When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough (2014) and Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To (2017). In 2013, Rachel moved to Maine, serving as associate pastor for a community of fisherman, craftspeople, artists, and leaders of the local tourist industry. During this time, they became engaged to their now wife and mother to their children, Doctor Gabrielle M.W. Bychowski, Ph.D. Subsequently, Rachel received a call as associate pastor in Connecticut, where they pioneered a racial justice ministry, LGBTQI ministry, Family Promise ministry, and developed a successful network of social media ministries including online Bible Studies and a new lecture series on faith in pop culture, “Christ and Comics.” In recent years, they have gone on pilgrimage through holy sites in England, sitting in the anchorite cell of St. Julian of Norwich, as well as hiking the Olympic Rainforest, the Appalachian Trail, and the Adirondack Mountains.

In a previous era, Rachel worked in theater performance and arts, receiving their Bachelors of Fine Arts from Catawba College in North Carolina. In “the windy city,” they worked primarily in Theater of the Oppressed circles, a form of social justice performance ministry that set their down the path towards ordination into the Church. While Rachel is no longer headlining shows, they bring singing and character voices to their ministry, creating a Broadway sermon series, hosting church talent shows, and adapting the life stories of Church leaders into monologues to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On a smaller stage, they used the gift for song to propose to their wife, Gabby, with a rendition of “the Origin of Love” and would sing again at their wedding, this time performing a duet with her father, “the Rainbow Connection.”

Ministry really is in Rachel’s DNA, following in the legacy of their father, a retired pastor ordained in the Assemblies of God Church. As a youth, they were baptized by “the Power Team,” a group of weight-lifting ministers whose talents of preaching while ripping phone books in half by hand would demonstrate for Rachel the various types of strength required to be a leader in today’s Church. Today, while they don’t destroy books in their ministry, Rachel does still enjoy exercise that involves strength training.

In addition to their sermons and social media ministry, Rachel maintains a routine of writing. They produce a blog,, and is actively developing a book on ministry and social justice. An avid reader, a few of their recent favorite books include Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander which became the focus of church book groups.

Rachel’s family is full of strong women. As mentioned, they are married to Dr. Bychowski, a full time faculty member in English, teaching seminars on ethics, diversity and social justice, including, “Queer Christianity,” “Beyond Male and Female,” “Women of the Civil Rights Movement,” “Intersectional Traditions of Feminism,” and “Histories of Disability.” Gabby serves on the Executive Board of the United Church of Christ’s national Mental Health Network. She has written over a dozen academic articles on disability and transgender in the Middle Ages, as well as regular pieces reflecting on theology, her life as a trans woman, and pedagogy.

Together, Rachel and Gabby raise two willful and creative children, Clementine (12 years old) and and Elanora, who often goes by Nora, (8 years old). These kids fiercely approach the world and all its wonder, reminding their moms that as difficult as the world can be that life is full of joy, play and laughter. Clementine has just finished her first year in a School of the Arts, where she developed her passion for theater, singing, and the visual arts. Nora just received her green belt in Karate, but wants everyone to know that she also loves rock n’ roll, people, science (especially chemistry), and people. The tuxedo cats Frankie and Mustache complete the family.

With her family and in her downtime, Rachel likes to laugh, think, and eat yummy food. Coffee is one of their closest friends and cheese is a frequent house-guest. Among human friends, Rachel prefers sitting and talking while a brisket smokes or sitting for hours together at a Thai restaurant. At home, they watch zombie films, the Handmaid’s Tale, and Parks & Rec.

Above all, Rachel has a deep and abiding faith in God, keeping their eyes full of hope and their heart full of passion for the building of Christ’s Church. They will tell people: the God who I experience is closer to me than my breath, who is my constant company beckoning me closer, who reaches back to me in the depths of my moments of loneliness and despair, and the one who sees all of God’s children as beloved. As a young adult, they fell in love with Jesus again through the faith communities that compelled them to see Jesus again with new eyes. This Jesus stood in solidarity with all oppressed people, and breathed new life into my soul. This is when their call to transformational leadership emerged: when they were learning alongside black civil rights activists, church leaders, and mothers. Rachel believes that as followers of Christ, now more than ever, we must listen and respond to the voices beyond the walls of the buildings who have been ignored and excluded, offering hope to people that are desperate to witness good news. We need to remind ourselves that we have many collaborators still to come who will help us broaden our boundaries. A commitment to justice is at the heart and soul of Rachel’s ministry and faith. This means standing up for the least of these and being a pastor for all people. When we gather together around the communion table, it is a reminder that each of us matters equally, and that we need one another to thrive. All people are welcome, affirmed, and valued in Christ’s table and that is the spirit that Reverend Rachel J. Bahr follows in their ministry.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Bringing Your Queer Home: Growing Up Queer in Rural Community

Today I had the privilege of supporting my wife in teaching her classes at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In the class Beyond Male and Female, we discussed Eli Clare's Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation, and I shared my own story of working class constrictions on queer bodies. The code of my family of origin was very similar to Clare’s.To participate in the family means going along with the structures and assumptions of the family that have been established for generations. There are those who are seen and valued and the others ignored and despised-binary embodiments- white and black, male and female, hard-working or lazy, work of the hands or work of the mind, heterosexual or queer, able bodied or freak. Binary thinking at its worst, where the only folks who are seen and heard are those who buy-in to the identities of the local community- who would you imagine this would be? Respect was awarded to those who stayed in their boundaries, followed the rules of the community. 

Growing up in this context, the queer burrowed deep down inside of me, I learned to be a girl, through lessons that my grandmother and mother inadvertently taught me, my value came through baking and cooking, on holidays being taught to serve the men food before sitting down to eat myself, the assumption that one day I would marry and mother, and this was my informal training, “be a good little woman.” I’ve never been a good little woman. The environment was suffocating. I was frequently told to be quiet at the table, to not share my mind, especially not with Grandpa or Uncle Jack who refused to listen to me. I did anyways, and they would mock me for claiming my own truth. They would mock me for having big ideas, “Rachel, you are talking like a fish!” My dreams of going into the theatre would illicit names like “Miss Hollywood! You and your big ideas!” followed by their laughter. 

My desire to escape this hostile, small-minded, place of origin was clearly articulated through dreams of careers that would draw me into places and professions where I would be far away, where I would be taken seriously. I wasn’t ever asked about my academic success, education was not valued. I was never asked about my sports successes, even though I played soccer, volleyball, and softball from 1st-9th grade.

Adolescence for most is a crisis of belonging, but for me it went far deeper. Naturally as a teenager and young adult my chosen community and family were was ever increasing in nerds, goths, theatre kids, queers, those who had become experts at dancing on the margins, enthusiastically carving brave spaces, widening the boundaries, and unapologetic about wearing the rainbow.

Even though I cloistered myself within these communities, I myself replayed the tape of my family of origin, married at 21 to a man, mothering at 23 and again at 26. Although, I was pretty snug in my own self and communal pit of denial, my curiosity and academic success led me to pursue a professional degree in ministry in Chicago. I knew when I was surrounded by the beautiful rainbow of people in seminary I had died and gone to queer heaven. I came out as queer to my then husband when I was 22. I was always unsatisfied with the relationship. There were many times when he would say, just quit seminary and your job and stay at home with the kids. If hell exists, being the good little woman might be it. It took me 7 more years to get a divorce and come out to my family.

Of course many of you know that Dr. Bychowski and I were married in February. My ex of course is a co-parent with us in parenting our children, and he sent us congrats upon hearing about our marriage, saying to me “I hope you have a better experience as a husband than as a wife.”

As Clare describes bringing his queer home, I want to share a story that happened not so long ago. In September my grandmother died unexpectedly, and when I decided to go back to FL for her funeral I knew that it would come with costs. My mother, for instance, made it clear that her brother, my Uncle, insisted that my partner, and my sister's partner, were not welcome to come to the funeral. My mother also again asked me, for the sake of keeping the peace in a turbulent time, to not be an activist with her family. “Can you just ‘be quiet”’ echoed in my ears from my childhood. But I decided to go anyways out of love for my mother and to offer her needed support, even though I knew I would be headed into a hostile environment.  

The funeral was filled with relatives, some that I recognized though hadn’t seen in 17 years. I walked into the funeral parlor, presenting somewhat androgynous- half shaven head, black tunic, leggings that I wore specifically because my grandmothers favorite color was purple, but they were hiked up to expose the bottom two inches of my hairy legs, with my black leather mens boots. all eyes seemed to follow me. They politely looked down, refusing to make eye contact. Even after the service ended, folks avoided me, looking at me long enough that I noticed, only to look away when I made eye contact. I asked my mother to facilitate a meet and greet, wondering if folks just didn’t recognize me anymore- age has changed me, some think for the better. But that wasn’t it, it was that I wasn’t recognized, I was no longer one of them. I didn’t belong, I wasn’t following the rules of the family. 

On my parents request, I went with them to lunch at my grandmother’s favorite restaurant, the Golden Corral- still none of the relatives would talk and engage with me. They would talk to our children. My mother encouraged me to say goodbye to my Aunt Barbara before I left. So I went to her, sat down next to her, while she finished up a conversation with a close relative, though the conversation just went on and on and on, and I had run out of time. I simply stood up, and walked away with no recognition from my Aunt that I had patiently waited for half an hour to catch-up. Her silence communicated its own message. You do not belong here. And that’s true I do not belong there. I do not belong to them anymore. I have a family of a chosen variety that welcomes the opinionated, outspoken queer activist me, and I’m no longer buried in that pit of denial. I’m wild and free, unbound from the binary.