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.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Easter Brunch

Easter Brunch

Easter brunch is one of my favorite things about the holidays, even if, as a Pastor, Easter brunch doesn’t come until around dinner time! Whether it is a fun meal with out of town family or just take-out Thai food, there is something about Easter brunch that makes the meal extra satisfying, even holy. I promise you it's not just the satisfaction of being done after marathon Easter services. Well, not only that.

Funny enough, out of all the various Easter holiday traditions, Easter brunch is probably one of the more biblical. We may love seeing kids (even adult kids) running around looking for eggs hidden around a lawn or house. We may remember fondly holding little baby chicks that the Pastor brought to Church. We may have rabbit candy, bunny shaped decorations, and watch rabbit themed movies. But as special as Easter bunnies, chicks, and eggs are, they are not very biblical. I don’t want to take away the fun or even deny that the theme of rebirth isn’t a part of the joy of Easter. Yet the events at the heart of Easter are far from metaphoric. When we say that Christ is Risen indeed, this isn’t just about the idea of new life but about the physical resurrection of a body; a body that the scripture today tells us was not only very tangible (touchable) but a body that ate food.

From the literal resurrection of Christ’s body, Scripture tells us the story of the first Easter Brunch. The meal happens while the Disciples are feeling high anxiety, perhaps even exhaustion, and grief. Their leader and friend, their messiah and Lord, their God and Christ, has died. This was not a metaphoric death. This was not just a myth. They saw Jesus taken from them. They were at his trial. They saw how his associates were being hunted. They had failed to be there for Christ. And then they saw him die. Worse still, afterwards, they had lost even his body, which had somehow disappeared after burial. The affect of the first Easter was likely one that involved a lot of fear, grief, and confusion. Is this it? Will all of this end in death; a gut wrenching cessation of life with nothing symbolic about it?

It is into the anxiety of Easter that Christ arrives to deliver the good news of Easter Brunch. The first thing Christ tells them here is, do not be afraid. “Peace be with you,” records scripture. This is a good opening line for the resurrected Christ to make. First, because they were afraid. Their leader, who they supposed would be the savior of the world, had been brutally killed. Now they were being hunted. They had reason for fear and anxiety. But second, into the very real and very gritty context of the apostles huddling together in hiding, the man who they had just seen brutally killed had walked in among them. Despite all Jesus had taught them about God and the promise of resurrection, the first thing they seemingly think when the risen Christ walks in would be some various on: “AHHHHH! GHOST!”

I don’t know about you but I often imagine Jesus giving a knowing, indulgent smirk to his disciples. “What were they expecting?” Jesus might have wondered. “Did they think I was being metaphoric when I talked about the life to come?” or “Are ghosts really more believable to them than the Son of God rising from the dead?” All of this wry humor and exasperation may be present when Jesus asks them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Clearly, even Jesus’s followers had found resurrection more digestible as a metaphor than as a physical reality. Because even when faced with the literal body of Christ standing in front of them, seeing is still not believing. Their minds jump again to doubt, to things as insubstantial as a ghost or spirit rather than accepting the literal fact of the resurrection that is present before them.

Jesus consistently meets people’s anxieties head on and more often than not he meets their anxieties about the life, death, and resurrection of the body with food. When the Apostles immediately jump to conclusions about his resurrection as some sort of spiritual metaphorical vision, Jesus stops them in their tracks and commands them, “touch me.” He reaches out with his body, coming to where they are and calling on them to meet him where He is. Because the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ reveals to His people is not a merely metaphoric or spiritual place. Christ was not a metaphor in life and nor was he a metaphor in death. Christ was fully God and fully human. Humans have bodies. Humans need bodies. Human’s touch one another. Humans are touched by one another. God does not hate human bodies but regularly finds ways to affirm the importance of bodies.

One of the most direct ways that God affirms the importance of bodies in the resurrection is through food. Throughout scripture, we see God not only bless bodies but literally feed bodies. God feeds his people in the dessert. Christ turns water into wine, multiplies fish and breaks bread. These are signs of God’s love but signs delivered through literal physical meals. What can be more of a reminder of our materiality than our body’s constant demand to be fed drink and food? We might prefer we not have bodies. We might want bodies that don’t demand so much maintenance. Working all day, praying, even leading a marathon of Easter services would be so much easier if our bodies were not whining that it needs to be fed. We may prefer to think of the resurrection as spiritual because we frankly find bodies to be inconveniences that we would rather transcend if at all possible.

Yet the reality that God gives us is rarely the half-baked, thin, and unsubstantial fantasies and fears we concoct in our minds. In response to our solitude and anxiety, Christ walks in among us. In response to our doubts and theories about ghosts or visions, Christ commands, “touch and see.” In response to our tendency to be spiritual but not religious, or metaphorical but not material, the resurrected Christ says, let’s sit down and have the first Easter Brunch.

Whether the Risen Christ needed to eat for his own needs, or whether He was eating as yet another sign and lesson for us, Jesus’s command that they sit down together again for a meal is yet another way he teaches us about God and heaven. “’Do you have anything here to eat?’ [Jesus asks. Then] They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” In the cartoons, if he was a ghost he would have eaten the sandwich, and they would have been able to see it going down his esophagus, and that didn’t happen.

Eating teaches us something about the resurrection. Because Christ’s resurrection isn’t just a metaphor but a present reality. The resurrection isn’t just spiritual but something that can be touched. The resurrection is just sort of divine vision that plays with our senses but one that can pick up a material fish and eat it. The fish isn’t just touched by the risen Christ but eaten.

Christ asks his disciples to share in their food, provided by their talents. The Gospel of Luke records that while Christ ate, he continued to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven, “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Christ in particular seemed to prefer the simple meal of wine and bread, maybe some fish. Christ made signs turning water into wine and multiplying the fishes and loaves. Christ tells us that he is present in the breaking of bread and wine. Here the resurrected Christ eats fish. These are not unimaginable holy foods from some spiritual banquet. This Easter Brunch was simple and not extravagant, humble and not showing off. The Easter Brunch with the embodied Jesus was just the sort of food that was lying around.

Then as now, God meets us where we are and shares in our world, our bodies, and our meals. Christ comes to join us in our communities, our homes, and share in our meals. Easter is not just about going out to meet God but making room at our tables for a God that desperately wants to come in and meet us. Christ wants to be present with us, to embody a physical, a human God among us.

Christ was always concerned with the material needs of his followers. An embodied Christ, understands personally the material needs of his followers, however, transforming the materials lives of the people meant also transforming systems.

In the summer of 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. visited homes in the hamlet of Marks, Mississippi. Later he remembered the hundreds of children who lacked shoes. A mother told King that her children had no clothes for school. The Nobel laureate wept openly. “They didn’t even have any blankets to cover their children up on a cold night,” he recalled. “And I said to myself, God does not like this.” Then he vowed, “We are going to say in no uncertain terms that we aren’t going to accept it any longer. We’ve got to go to Washington in big numbers.”

The Poor People's Campaign (PPC) was created on December 4, 1967, by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to address the issues of unemployment, housing shortages for the poor, and the impact of poverty on the lives of millions of Americans. Unlike earlier efforts directed toward helping African Americans gain civil rights and voting rights, SCLC and its leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., now addressed issues that impacted all who were poor regardless of racial background. Their immediate aim was to secure Federal legislation ensuring full employment and promoting the construction of low-income housing to raise the quality of life of the nation's impoverished citizens.

The SCLC planned a nationwide march on Washington on April 22, 1968, to focus the nation's attention on this issue and particularly to pressure Congress to pass legislation to address the employment and housing issues. Unlike earlier marches, SCLC leaders planned the creation of Resurrection City, a giant tent city on the Mall in Washington, D.C., where demonstrators would remain until their demands were met. When Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, movement leaders debated whether to go forward with the planned demonstration. They chose to continue the march with King's lieutenant, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, as its new leader. The march date was postponed to May 12, 1968, though a few hundred people arrived in Washington on the original date. The first week, May 12-29, brought a wave of nearly 5,000 demonstrators. During the second week Resurrection City was completed.

The protestors, people from a wide range of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds—Native Americans from reservations, Latinos from the Southwest, impoverished whites from West Virginia, as well as rural and urban blacks—came together and spread the message of the campaign to various Federal agencies. They also disrupted life in Washington to try and force the government to respond. At its peak, the number of protestors reached nearly 7,000 but still far short of the expectation of 50,000 people.

A NEW Poor People’s Campaign launched just a couple weeks ago, a national call for moral revival launched by the Rev. William Barber, this campaign is no longer cart and mules carrying people across the country, however, there remains for people who follow Jesus fundamental claims that we have a moral obligation to care for people’s bodies, the material needs of the people of our communities. The word is spreading through grassroots campaigning, revival services where testimonies are shared of people whose lives are impacted by environmental poverty and racism, whether the Detroit mother whose baby is suffering from lead poisoning, or the poisoning of the water supply in reservations from oil spills. Something has to change...


1. We are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all. Moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy.

2. We are committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.

3. We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the “War Economy” into a “Peace Economy” that values all humanity.

4. We believe that equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.

5. We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.

6. We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic inequality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.

7. We aim to shift the distorted moral narrative often promoted by religious extremists in the nation from issues like prayer in school, abortion, and gun rights to one that is concerned with how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, LGBTQIA folks, workers, immigrants, the disabled and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.

8. We will build up the power of people and state-based movements to serve as a vehicle for a powerful moral movement in the country and to transform the political, economic and moral structures of our society.

9. We recognize the need to organize at the state and local level—many of the most regressive policies are being passed at the state level, and these policies will have long and lasting effect, past even executive orders. The movement is not from above but below.

10. We will do our work in a non-partisan way—no elected officials or candidates get the stage or serve on the State Organizing Committee of the Campaign. This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.

11. We uphold the need to do a season of sustained moral direct action as a way to break through the tweets and shift the moral narrative. We are demonstrating the power of people coming together across issues and geography and putting our bodies on the line to the issues that are affecting us all.

12. The Campaign and all its Participants and Endorsers embrace nonviolence. Violent tactics or actions will not be tolerated.

Will we be resurrection people? Will we invite our brothers and sisters to Easter Brunch, sharing our plenty and our want? Will our hearts and our minds be opened in the breaking of the bread? Will we touch, and see, and embrace the resurrected Christ who helps us face our fears, disbelief, and wondering?