Author Archives: Rev. Emily Heitzman

About Rev. Emily Heitzman

Follower of Jesus and minister with children, youth, and families at four congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago.

Guest Post at Bold Cafe: “A God Who Shows Up”

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Today I’m writing over at Bold Cafe: Women of the ELCA.
“This first Christmas was not a magical holiday homecoming story full of family turkey dinners, carol singing and football games. It did not involve decorating trees, baking cookies and opening wrapped gifts.
Rather, the first Christmas is a refugee story.
And it tells of a young, poor, homeless asylum seeking couple who fearfully flee their country and become residents in a foreign land in order to save their child’s life.
And yet, this story is also a story of hope. It is in the midst of this violent and fearful event when God shows up in the flesh: not as a king who has worldly power, and not as one who is distant and does not understand the plight of the marginalized. Rather, God shows up as one of the marginalized. God shows up in the flesh in a dirty stable, as a vulnerable baby, to a terrified young homeless couple on the margins of society.”
You can read the full article here.

Guest Post at RevGalBlogPals: “The Pastoral Is Political: Be Alert this Advent

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Today I’m writing over at RevGalBlogPals.

“Jesus says: ‘Be alert at all times.’

In other words: wake up and stay woke. And when you see the suffering and injustice of this world, look for the ways God is calling you to proclaim justice and peace and to offer God’s love to those in need. And then rise up and act.

This can be daunting when our news feed constantly updates us on one horrific tragedy after another. The world’s needs just seem too great.

Yet, Jesus does not end here.

‘Hold onto the hope of my return,’ he says, ‘so that your hearts are not weighed down with worries of this life.’ Raise your heads so that you might also see signs of the Kingdom of God that are already present and sprouting up like leaves on a fig tree. Look for signs that God is with us now and that the reign of God is near.

You see, it is necessary for us to find hope as we look for the signs of how God’s Kingdom is already present in this world. No, we must not ignore or downplay the injustice and suffering around us. However, in times such as these, we will not be able to rise up if we only focus our eyes on what is terrible.

So this Advent, may we slow down and choose to be alert. 

You can read the full article here.

“A Place at the Table” – Sermon on Mark 10:46-52

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They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” – Mark 10:46-52

Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd that had been following Jesus are in Jericho. And they are about to leave town and continue their important journey toward Jerusalem. As they are getting ready to leave, they pass by a man named Bartimaeus, who is sitting alongside the road. He is a beggar, and he is blind. And when he hears that it’s Jesus of Nazareth who is passing by him, he begins to shout out: “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!”

Now many in the crowd sternly order him to be silent. And it’s no wonder they do. This man is marginalized in many capacities. He is blind, which many at that time believed was due to his sin and his lack of faithfulness. And he is poor – and most likely experiencing homelessness. And therefore, he is deemed one of the lowest of the lows, an outsider who doesn’t deserve to participate in the life of the community and must be pushed to the complete outskirts of society.

So who does this man think he is, shouting out in a public place at a respected Rabbi and his close disciples: his devout and faithful students? He needs to be put in his place. He needs to be silenced.

*****

In the past several weeks we have seen many examples of people attempting to silence and erase others around us – particularly those on the margins. At the end of September, we saw Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely share her incredibly painful and traumatic story of being sexually assaulted as a teenager, only to have her story be brushed aside. And, instead of fully respecting and listening to her story, many – including those in powerful positions in this country – have questioned her integrity and her honesty, have mocked her, and at times have even called her a liar.

And this silencing of Dr. Ford shines light on the incredibly deep-rooted problem we have in this country of not believing and of silencing sexual assault and rape survivors (particularly those who are women and non-binary persons.)

This week, we are also watching the migrant families desperately caravaning on foot across Mexico toward our border, seeking a place where they will be freed from oppression and violence. Seeking safety for themselves and for their children. And yet, while this is a horrific humanitarian crisis, these asylum seekers are being demonized. They are constantly being depicted in the media and by many of our national leaders as a mob that is full of “very bad people” and that is invading our country and therefore needs to be silenced and stopped.

And last Sunday we got wind that the Dept. of Health and Human Services is attempting to change the legal definition of gender, determining gender only on biological traits that are identifiable at or before birth, which would erase trans and non-binary persons and will take away many of their civil rights.

And – as Rev. M Barclay, the first transperson who is openly non-binary to be ordained as deacon in the United Methodist Church – stated: “The spiritual trauma of being perpetually told who we are isn’t real, that others shouldn’t believe us or support us, and that our well-being isn’t of collective significance is doing so much damage.”

*****

As the crowds surrounding Jesus tried to silence the poor, blind man named Bartimaeus, so too are the crowds in our midst today trying to silence and erase those around us who are already on the margins and are most vulnerable.

And I think it can be easy to want to silence those around us who’s experiences and insights are different than our own or whose views make us uncomfortable and are difficult to understand… It’s often our tendency to silence those who’s stories and insights call for change, because that change often affects us. When change that requires inclusion of all persons takes place, it means that those of us who already have places at the table must make some changes within ourselves, too.

Because when we make room at the table for those who have been excluded, it means our space at the table gets a little smaller and we may feel a little more cramped and a little less comfortable than we did before. And when we offer platforms for those who have been silenced to speak their voice, that means the time we get to speak lessens and it means that there are other insights that we need to listen to, sometimes ones that will challenge our own perspectives and actions.

And this kind of change can be hard because it means we will likely need to give something up: whether it’s our pride, our comfort, our social status… our need to always be right, our constant use of space in the world, our positions of power.

*****

And I wonder if this was the case for Jesus’ disciples and the crowds surrounding him when they sought to silence Bartimaeus. I wonder if they sought to silence him in order to maintain their insider status and their positions of power.

I wonder if they feared that if they gave these things up, they would be valued and loved less. But even though Jesus loves and values his disciples and those in the crowds, he is not going to put up with their silencing, dehumanizing, and excluding of one of God’s beloved children. And he is not going to allow them to continue to hold onto their societal power and privilege that uplifts them while pushes others to the margins.

Because for Jesus: there are no hierarchies. There are no outsiders or last and least. For Jesus, ALL are beloved children of God, beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image. ALL deserve to be listened to, treated with dignity, and are worthy of equality and justice. For Jesus, there are no walls or borders that keep people – particularly those most vulnerable – out. And ALL are welcome at Jesus’s table.

We saw Jesus calling his disciples out when they sought to maintain a hierarchical status last week in our passage in Mark. When James and John ask Jesus to grant them seats next to him in his glory, which basically is asking for high societal status and power for all eternity, Jesus tells them that whoever wishes to be first must be last. And whoever wishes to be greatest must humble themselves and serve others instead. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,” he explains, “And to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And Jesus continues to proclaim who he is and who he calls his disciples to be in our passage this morning. Instead of brushing Bartimaeus aside, continuing on his journey, and allowing him to be silenced, Jesus stops in his tracks, stands still and tells his disciples to call Bartimaeus to him.

And when Bartimaeus comes to him, Jesus does something that is surprising and so different from the cultural norms of his day. Jesus asks what he can do for Bartimaeus.

I think Jesus’ question here is so surprising because so often we feel we know what is best for others… even when we don’t identify with those individuals or know what it’s like to be in their shoes…

And we often tend to speak on their behalf, without having their voices centered at the table, even if we don’t know what it’s like to be them: even if we don’t know what it’s like to be blind, to be poor, to be experiencing homelessness. Even if we don’t know what it’s like to be a youth today, to be a person of color or an immigrant in our country, to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Or to be whatever blank we can fill in…

So often we try to determine what life is like for others and what is best for them without even listening to their stories, experiences, perspectives, & what they say they need.

I think a good example of this took place earlier this week on Megyn Kelly’s talk show. She invited a panel to come on her show to discuss whether or not it is racist for white people to wear black face when they dress up for Halloween. Megyn’s argument was that it wasn’t racist because she said when she was a kid, it seemed to be okay.

But Amber Ruffin, comedian and one of the writers of the Late Night Show with Seth Myers pointed out that there was a big problem with what took place on Megyn’s show. Amber immediately noticed that all the people on the panel who were sitting around the table were white.

“How are you going to have a bunch of white people sit together and figure out what’s racist?” Amber asked. “White people don’t get to decide what’s racist. If I punch you, I don’t decide if it hurts or not. You do.”

And this scenario is so common. We tend to do this often. Whether it’s a bunch of men talking about what women need or experience or a bunch of people who have never experienced mental illness talking about those who do, and the list goes on.

*****

But this kind of silencing and exclusion from the table is unacceptable to Jesus. And in our passage this morning, he shows us another way.

He asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

You see, Jesus does not insist that he understands Bartimaeus’ experiences or knows what he needs and what is best for him. Rather, Jesus asks Bartimaeus to share his story and to state what he needs.

Jesus offers Bartimaeus – a person who had been ostracized and silenced for so long – the same kind of dignity all persons should have: the ability to speak for himself. Jesus makes room for Bartimaeus at the table and offers him a platform to share his story and his perspective. Jesus makes room for him to demand justice and equality that he has been denied. Jesus listens to him, believes him, and acknowledges his suffering. And then Jesus praises Bartimaeus for his persistence and resistance. “Your faith has made you well.”

And when Bartimaeus asks Jesus to restore his sight, and thus release him from the systemic oppression he had been experiencing because of his blindness, Jesus offers him healing and freedom and invites Bartimaeus to follow him on his way.

*****

Brothers, sisters, siblings: this story is good news. In our passage today, Jesus reminds this poor, blind man who he is and who’s he is. And Jesus reminds us of this, as well.

You see, Jesus loves us, and claims us as his own: beloved and sacred children of God: Each with our own stories and insights that deserve to be heard and held with care and love. And he calls all of us to follow him on his way of making space for and offering compassionate arms, listening ears, and believing hearts to those who have otherwise been silenced. And THIS, my friends, is where we will experience freedom and healing.

And for those who have been silenced or pushed to the margins: there is good news here, too. Because no matter how much the crowds may try to take away your dignity and worth: Jesus affirms it and marks you with his unconditional love.

Because you are beloved. You are beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image. You are a cherished child of God. You deserve to be listened to and to be believed, and your story is sacred. And no crowd or individual that says otherwise can take that away from you.

When Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, “have mercy on me,” Jesus stopped in his tracks and with compassion he invited Bartimaeus to share his story and what he needed, asking: “What can I do for you?” And through his listening ear and loving care, Jesus offered Bartimaeus freedom and healing.

And he offers this to you, as well.

Amen.

 

ELCA Youth Gathering 2018: E.C.T. Youth Group Posts and Media Coverage

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Want to read up on the ELCA youth Gathering 2018 in Houston?  Below are links to all of the E.C.T. (Edgewater Congregations Together) Youth Group daily blog posts during the trip, a link to the ELCA Youth Gathering youtube channel with videos of speakers, worship, etc. from the youth Gathering, and some media coverage of the Youth Gathering.

ELCA Youth Gathering Youtube Channel (with videos of speakers, worship, recaps, etc.)

E.C.T. blog posts from the ELCA Youth Gathering and Multicultural Youth Leadership 2018: 

Day 1 of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event

Day 2 of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event

Day 3 of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event

Day 4: Final Day of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event & First Day of the ELCA Youth Gathering

Day 5: ELCA Youth Gathering Synod Day #familiesbelongtogether

Day 6: Service Learning Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering

Day 7: Interactive Learning Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering

Day 8: ELCA Youth Gathering Closing Worship & Exploring Houston

Sermon I Preached Sunday, July 8 (following the ELCA Youth Gathering):

“This Changes Everything” – Sermon on Mark 6:1-13

Media Coverage of the ELCA Youth Gathering:

Coverage of the Families Belong Together Rally and Action Led by our E.C.T. Youth & a Few Other Chicago Youth:

Christian Teenagers in Houston Protest Immigrant Family Separation – Houston Chronicle

Protesting Christian Youth Ask, Who Would Jesus Detain – Houston Chronicle

General Coverage of the ELCA Youth Gathering:

30,000 Teens in Houston For Lutheran Youth Conference – Fox 26 News (Houston)

Lutheran Youth Gathering with Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Youth Gathering Director Molly Beck-Dean – Fox 26 News (Houston)

30,000 Youth to Descend on Houston for Lutheran Gathering – Houston Chronicle

Lutheran Youth Gathering Helps Teens Relate to Harvey, Maria Disasters – Houston Chronicle

Teens Tackle Human Trafficking in Houston – Houston Public Media

“This Changes Everything” – Sermon on Mark 6:1-13 #elcayg2018

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“He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  – Mark 6:1-13

Many of you might know that last week Pastor Michael and I were in Houston with 13 youth and 2 young adult leaders for the ELCA Youth Gathering, where 30,000 youth from all over the country and even across the world gather once every three years for worship, to hear speakers, to participate in service learning projects with local organizations, to learn about multiple areas of injustice and how our faith calls us to respond, and – of course – to also have a lot of fun.

This year, our youth group also gathered with about 700 other youth and adults for the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event, which is a pre-Youth Gathering event that seeks to empower youth of color and multicultural youth groups to grow in their faith, develop as leaders, and build awareness and acceptance of one another’s cultural backgrounds and differences.

During the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event, which is the most diverse gathering of Lutherans in the ELCA, our youth and leaders had so many powerful experiences as we sang and danced to global worship music together, talked with and heard the stories of people from all over the country and some from across the world, shared our own personal and family stories – some which included painful stories about our youth’s experiences with racism, and our group started a community garden for refugee families who are new to the Houston area.

Once the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event ended, the main ELCA Youth Gathering began. The theme for this year’s gathering was: “This Changes Everything,” and throughout the week we heard so many inspirational and challenging stories and messages about how God’s radical love, grace, and hope do – in fact – change everything.

While the worship we experienced and the messages we heard were remarkable, what was most powerful for me was seeing how our youth truly embodied the hands and feet of Christ as they created a safe and caring space for one another to be truly themselves, as they befriended and encouraged youth from other church groups, and as they organized and led 300 youth and adults from our Metro-Chicago synod in a rally and march calling for an end to the separation and detainment of families at the border. Several of our youth spoke – both in English and Spanish – led chants and songs, invited youth to call and write letters to their legislators, and two of our youth were even interviewed by Telemundo and the Houston Press. This was not easy for them to do for multiple reasons, esp. in times like these. Yet, despite the opposition they could have faced, these youth believed this was important, and for some of them, this was personal. So they proclaimed this good news. They were so courageous and they did a phenomenal job! I am extremely proud of them! They were an amazing representation of Edgewater!

After hearing and experiencing God’s love, grace, and hope last week in a variety ways (many of which were through our own Edgewater youth), we were then challenged to continue to share this good news when we returned to our home communities.

On our last night of the Youth Gathering, we heard from 11 year old transgender activist Rebekah Bruesehoff, who said: “I have a lot of support, but so many transgender kids don’t. Transgender kids are just like other kids. We need to be loved and supported… Hearts and minds can change. And I can change the world. I want people to know that it doesn’t matter our age. We can be hope for the church and all people. They need us. I have hope for a church where people are not just welcomed, but they are celebrated. We can make it happen… And you – each and every one of you – made in God’s image, are made to be hope in the church and made to be hope in the world. You are my hope.”

And we heard from poet Joe Davis, who said:

“This generation is the one that will disrupt fear with courage and status quo with radical hope. You are here for a reason: Not just for the future, but for the here and now. Show up unapologetically as your authentic self. The church and world need you… You are a generation that’s teaching us that enough is enough. Radical hope is when we celebrate not just what we see now, but what it can be. Things can and will be transformed. But there will be struggle, and we must practice this hope every day. This hope changes me. This hope changes you. This hope Changes Everything.”

Now, while many of the 30,000 youth and adults were inspired and transformed by the good news we heard and experienced last week, the call to share this good news when we return to our home communities is not always going to be easy. For we know it is not always going to be welcomed and accepted, even by those we are closest to.

And this was the case for Jesus’s homecoming in our Gospel text this morning, as well.

You see, in our passage in Mark, Jesus has just returned to his hometown – along with his disciples – and has begun teaching in his home synagogue. And yet, while this synagogue is filled with people who knew Jesus’ family, had hung out with Jesus when he was a boy, or had watched him grow up, they did not respond to his homecoming with welcoming arms.

When the Nazarenes hear him teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, many soon become astounded… And if there was any good sense of this word, it doesn’t last very long… as the Nazarenes soon take offense at him. “Where did this man get all of this?” they ask.

“Isn’t this the poor carpenter we’ve known all these years? Isn’t he the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren’t these his sisters sitting right here? Isn’t he the son of Mary?” they sneer, as they remind each other of Jesus’ shameful origin: that he had been conceived by an unwed teenager. “How could this guy – this poor, carpenter with ordinary siblings and a mother with a disgraceful past teach with authority? How could his teachings and his actions have any sort of power at all?”

Now our text does not say what it was about Jesus and his teachings that offended this crowd in his hometown synagogue so much that they discredited and insulted him. However, if we look back at the preceding chapters in Mark, we could probably take a wild guess.

In the first several chapters of Mark’s gospel, we see that even from the very beginning, Jesus’ ministry is not what would have been seen as ordinary.

He’s cast out demons and stilled a storm. He’s performed miracles… on the Sabbath day. He’s touched and healed those who were deemed “untouchable”: the sick, a leper, a woman… who had been haemorraging… for years. He’s called twelve disciples to follow him – most of whom are just common fishermen and one who is a tax collector. He proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near and tells those who follow him not to keep anything hidden, but to bring all their secrets into the light.

He eats with the sinners and the tax collectors and then tells the religious – the righteous ones – to confess and repent of their sins.

Jesus was changing everything!

And he was already seen as such an offensive radical rule-breaker that by the time we get to Mark chapter 3, many of his followers say he is “out of his mind,” some of the religious leaders accuse him of being in line with Satan, himself, and even his very own family questions his abilities and rush to where he is teaching and try to restrain him.

And now here we are a few chapters and several radical teachings, actions, and miracles later. Jesus has definitely shaken things up a bit, and it’s only the sixth chapter in Mark.

And here in our text for today, after all the backlash he’s already received, Jesus has the nerve to come back to his hometown and to his home synagogue. And here – in the midst of the ones who’ve watched him grow up, he comes preaching this same kind of message. This same message that treats the outcasts and those who were “untouchable” as if they are equals and calls the religious and righteous to bring their secrets to light and confess and repent of their sins.

Who does this ordinary carpenter with a shameful family past think he is?

But the insults don’t stop Jesus. He lays his hands on a few more of those “untouchable” and cures them. And then – as he and his disciples leave Nazareth and go out into the villages, he gives his disciples authority and commissions them to go out into the world vulnerably – two by two – with nothing but a staff, the clothes on their backs, and the sandals on their feet.

They must rely on the people they meet to feed them and to provide them with a place to sleep. And yet Jesus tells them they must go out boldly, proclaiming that all should repent, and they must confront evil, cast out demons, anoint those “untouchable” with oil, and heal the sick.

*****

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the disciples – who had just watched Jesus get opposed, insulted, and publicly shamed in his hometown synagogue, I would have probably thought quite hard about picking up all of my belongings and running in the opposite direction.

Because I’m sure it would have been very difficult for these disciples to give up their food, clothing, and social status – the things they were privileged to have and could rely on for their safety, comfort, and well-being. And it would have been very difficult for them to go out vulnerably and proclaim Jesus’ radical good news, with no confirmation that they could find people who would accept them and provide for them.

Sometimes I wonder how these disciples had the courage to follow Jesus and to go out risking so much, when it would have been much easier for them to ignore the cries of those around them and just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to face the suffering and injustice around them.

I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times when I just want to pick up all of my belongings and hold tight to my own privilege and just pretend that the systemic injustice that continues to prevail throughout our country and world and the suffering it causes so many people do not exist.

Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in. It allows me to avoid any kind of shaming and opposition that those who speak out often face. It enables me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the unjust systems in our country that still privilege those like me while deeming those who are not as “less than.”

Because as a white, cis-gender, educated, middleclass, woman who is married to a man and who is a U.S. citizen with documentation, I have the privilege of being able to just shut everything around me out and to live my life without fear.

I can just go to my safe home – without ever being pulled over in my car or stopped and frisked on my bike ride home because of the color of my skin. I can walk home without fear that I could get jumped or called a derogatory name because of my religious affiliation, gender identity, or because of the gender identity of my spouse.

I can go to sleep every night knowing that my sister’s children will never be forcibly taken from her or that my parents will never get deported. I have the privilege of just getting to turn off the news and going about living my own comfortable life without having to think about those around this country who have to live in fear every single day.

And yet, this is not a privilege I get to hold onto when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.

Because just as Jesus called out to the twelve disciples and commissioned them to acknowledge and let go of their grip on their privilege and to go out into the world boldly, he commissions ALL of his disciples to do so, as well. He commissions each one of us to share God’s radical love and to BE the hope that will – indeed – change everything.

Because when one member of our human family suffers, we ALL suffer.

*****

During our last worship service at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event, we heard Chicago Pastor Yehiel Curry explain that it is when we immerse ourselves with others who may look, speak, talk, believe, worship, and act differently than we do and get to know them, that we will begin to realize that we are more alike than we are different. And THIS IS WHAT CHANGES EVERYTHING!

He saw this taking place a lot at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event this week. (And so did I. And wow: was it ever a beautiful image of the Kingdom of God!)

Pastor Yehiel went on to explain that we are one in Christ, because it is Jesus who brings down the walls of hostility that divide us. However, we – as the body of Christ – are called to bring down these dividing walls in our world, as well. And yet, in order to make change, we need to start within ourselves.

“When you change your heart, you can change your mind,” he said. “When you change your mind, you can change your community. When you change your community, you can change your city. When you change your city, you can change your state.

When you can change your state, you can change your nation. When you can change your nation, you can change your world. When you can say this is my brother, this is my sister, [this is my sibling], this is my family: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!”

And then we are truly ONE in Christ.

Amen.

Day 8: ELCA Youth Gathering Closing Worship & Exploring Houston

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Sunday, July 1 was our final full day in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering. (Yes, I’m a bit late at posting but took a much needed rest last week!)

We got up early and checked out of Wyndham Hotel.

Then we headed to the NRG Stadium for our closing worship.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton preached and gave a big shout out on stage to our very own Lillian and Ngbarezere! They were two of six youth who met with her in early June for a text study to discuss the scripture she preached on at closing worship. In her sermon, she touched on many things these youth discussed with her. What an awesome experience for them and for her!

Then we participated in some powerful worship.

After closing worship, our group brought more beautiful energy, song, and joy to the other groups as we headed out of the NRG Stadium. I was so proud of them for this!

We had to stop and get a group photo with Kalleb, one of our young adults (and former youth group members) who was at the ELCA Youth Gathering as a volunteer for Valparaiso University. It was so great to worship with him this morning!

While most of the other groups dispersed and began their trips home, we had an extra day to hang out as a group and explore a little bit of Houston.

So we took the train downtown to grab some lunch.

Of course we received a few more Johnny and Maku selfies in our group text along the way.

And to make things even more fun, Maku started on our group chat a Holy Roast with your’s truly: Pastor Emily (PE.) I think we all know who won…

We finally made it to our lunch destination, a small local hot spot: Cajun Stop. It. Was. Delicious!

Some of us even tried new things like: fried pickles, fried gator, popcorn shrimp, crab legs, shrimp and hamburger po’boys, and gumbo.

After lunch, we stopped at the Graffiti Building and took some pics.

Then it was time for us to head to our hotel for the night, which was close to the airport. (We had to get up at 3am to make our 6am flight!)

At the hotel, we got to cool down and spend some more time with each other in the pool.

And because it was Jenny’s birthday the next day, we celebrated with a pizza party and surprised her with an ice-cream cake.

Finally, we crammed into Pastor Michael’s room and had our final check-in’s about the trip with each other. Throughout our trip and during tonight’s check ins, our youth showed love to one another and love and grace to me in so many incredible ways. Tonight was probably one of the most holy encounters I’ve experienced in my life, and it was because of these incredibly welcoming, loving young people who shared their lives and created a safe space for one another and for me to open up and share our stories and important parts of our lives with one another. Throughout this week and during our closing check-in tonight, these youth truly embodied the hands and feet of Christ as they shared, listened, encouraged, prayed, cried, sang to, hugged, held, and said “I gotchu” to one another and to me.

In a world and a country that is so full of suffering, heartbreak, and hate, it is these young people who are giving me hope for a better world and showing people like me how to follow Jesus and how to be the welcoming and loving people he calls us to be.

These young people are the Church. They are Jesus’ body in the world. As our theme for the ELCA Youth Gathering this week says: This Changes Everything!

THEY are my hope and THEY are changing everything.

I’m so incredibly grateful for and blessed by them and for/by my young adult leaders Jordan and Ngbarezere and colleague Pastor Michael Fick for accompanying me and these youth on this life-changing trip.

God’s presence has truly been made known.

May we open our eyes to see God in and through our youth, open our hearts to receive God’s grace that they share with us, and follow their lead in offering love to the world.

This Changes Everything!

Day 7: Interactive Learning Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering

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Day 7: (Saturday) was a great day. We began the day by sleeping in! (Yay!)

Some folks swam at the pool for a bit.

And then we went to the bus stop to catch our bus to the NRG Center.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Interactive Learning Center at the NRG center.

We first made our way to the Valparaiso University booth to say hello to former ECT youth group member and current college student, Kalleb.

Then we visited several other exhibits and learned about a variety of issues:

1. First stop was the #MeToo Exhibit:

2. Second stop was Lantern Hill Mexico: This is an education and nutrition program for impoverished children. This ministry seeks to break the cycle of poverty by ensuring children to stay in school instead of dropping out and working in fields or factories at young ages like many others in rural Mexico.

At the exhibit, we learned about the organization and painted designs and inspirational Spanish phrases on school benches for Mexican students in Ensenada.

3. Third stop was Peace Not Walls. Through accompaniment, advocacy and awareness-raising, Peace Not Walls connects ELCA members to our companions and promotes dignity, full respect for human rights, healing and reconciliation. With our Palestinian Lutheran companions, we also accompany Palestinians and Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims working together for peace with justice.

At the center, we learned a bit about the plight of Palestinians in Israel/Palestine.

4. Next, we visited the Reconciling Works Exhibit, an independent Lutheran nonprofit that works for the full welcome, inclusion and celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQIA+) people in the Lutheran church. It is our vision that the church is a place where LGBTQ people and their families can worship and thrive, bringing all their God-given gifts to mission and ministry for the world. There, Pastor Michael Fick walked our group through the different flags and explained what they mean.

5. We stopped at the Racial Justice Ministries booth. The Racial Justice Ministries of the ELCA are catalysts and bridge-builders committed to the work of equipping leaders, training, building alliances and supporting ecumenical networks so that together, throughout the church in public witness, programs and policies advance racial justice – locally and globally.

6. We wanted to go to the LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services) and AMMPARO booth that takes you through what it would be like as migrants and refugees seeking safety in a new land. The bad news was that the lines were so long that we were unable to make it through the exhibit. The great news is that 5000 people went through the excited and signed letters to their legislators.

Then we needed to have some fun…

Even and especially when we were waiting in long lines!

Mass gathering was full of fun and powerful speakers and worship.

Immanuel Lutheran’s very own Rev. Stephen Bouman spoke about what it was like to be Bishop in New York during 9/11.

The theme for the evening was God’s Hope Changes Everything. So Rev. Bouman said: “But hope cannot be crushed. There were many hero’s in the towers. The question often asked in tragedies “where the hell is God?” was being answered in small acts of compassion. God will use our hope to move our grief and anger into action.

I see you following Jesus who Changes Everything.

I see you: called to radical hope, being what you were born to be.

You are the church who will change everything.

Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton explained:

“Opposite of hope is not hate. It’s apathy. There is so much wrong that you can just right. There is so much more of you to give.”

Carson McCullar shared his powerful story about his addiction.

“I may have lost hope in me but God never did. No matter how hard things might be, there is a light of hope (for me it was through the friends and family who never gave up in me.)

Then Jamie Bruesehoff introduced her 11 year old daughter Rebekah, who shared her story.

Rebekah explained how sometimes as she began to under herself as transgender, she wondered: “Did God mess up? I’ve come to realize God does not make mistakes. God made me me.

I have a lot of support but so many transgender kids don’t.

Transgender kids are just like other kids. We need to be loved and supported.

Hearts and minds can change. I can change the world.

I want people to know that it doesn’t matter our age. We can be hope for the church and all people. They need us.

I have hope for a church where people are not just welcomed, but they are celebrated.

We can make it happen.

You – each and every one of you – made in God’s image are made to be hope in the church and made to be hope in the world. You are my hope.”

Finally, Joe Davis spoke. He explained:

“This generation is the one that will disrupt fear with courage and status quo with radical hope.

You are here for a reason: Not just for the future but for the here and now.

Differences are a gift. We are created for a purpose. Say you have a purpose not just in the church.

Show up unapologetically as your authentic self. The church and world need you.

You are a generation that’s teaching us enough is enough.

…Radical hope is when we celebrate not what we see now but what it can be. Things can and will be transformed. But there will be struggle, and so we practice this hope every day.

This hope changes me. This hope changes you this Hope Changes Everything.”

After the mass gathering, our brought beauty, a positive energy, and joy to those around us as we sang songs from MYLE.

What a wonderful day!

Day 6: Service Learning Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering

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Yesterday was our service learning day for the ELCA Youth Gathering. So we got up (suuuper early), put our orange t-shirts on, and had our grocery bought breakfast.

But despite how early it was, we still managed to have a lot of fun!

Then we hopped on the train and headed to the NRG Center to catch our service learning bus. The train was a sea of orange!

We arrived at our service learning destination with one other church from the Metro-Chicago synod: Independence Heights Park, which is located in the national register of historic places Independence Heights, the first black municipality in Texas. We first heard about the history of the community.

Then we got to work. We repainted murals around the park.

Some of the kids attending the summer camp program at the park joined us.

When we finished our murals, we hung out and played games with the kids at the camp.

Our youth group did a fantastic job with the children! One girl, Nevaeh, had tried to make a basketball shot before but could never make it in the hoop. Our youth encouraged her and showed her what she needed to do. At one point, she said she could not do it. But our youth encouraged her, and she ended up making 15-20 baskets! Our group saw God in these children’s and encounters with them and realized that encouragement of others goes a very long way!

At the end of our service day, we headed back to the NRG Arena to have some fun at the community life center.

At dinner time, we had to walk a little ways so we could have some good Texan barbecue at Pappa’s BBQ.

Then we headed back to the NRG Stadium for our mass gathering.

The theme for this day was God’s Grace Changes Everything.

We first heard from Elizabeth Peter, who said: “No matter how you’ve been excluded, god brings you into the fold and says you matter. And there is no limit to God’s grace.”

Then we heard a powerful message from Michaela Shelley, who told her story about her own struggles and how she experienced God’s grace grace in and through them.

She said: “God’s grace isn’t just about forgiveness. It’s also about how God leads us into the person we will be. No matter how many times you may curse God, God will always love you and you will always matter. This is grace.”

We heard another powerful message from the Rev. Will Starkweather about his struggles with anxiety and depression. He said: “Our God is in business of makings beautiful people and things out of broken people and things. We are all recovering from something. There’s grace for that.

Whatever you’re carrying, you are what you: a beloved child of God.”

Finally we heard from the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber, who explained:

“If your life really sucks right now, just know this is not your ultimate life long reality

Grace is way in which god is great heavenly composter making beautiful things out of feasies

Nobody ever becomes their ideal self. An ideal self is a lie. The truth is an ideal self doesn’t exist. The self God loves is your actual authentic self. The word for this is grace. God doesn’t wait for you to get a little better at or a little skinnier than or a little whatever before loving you. You are magnificently imperfect. And God loves this authentic you. God’s voice calls us worthy.”

She ended having the entire gathering of 30,000 youth and adults publicly renounce the Accuser… we publicly renounced ableism, heteronormativity, sexism, White Supremacy, perfectionism, and the lies we tell ourselves and hear from others.

What a powerful day! We look forward to sleeping in a bit tomorrow!

Day 5: ELCA Youth Gathering Synod Day – #familiesbelongtogether

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Today was a full day at the ELCA Youth Gathering!We started the morning by taking the train to the NRG Center.Once we arrived, we grabbed some food and hung out in the Interactive Center.And guess who I got to chat with for a while: Kalleb Miller (former E.C.T. Youth who is at the ELCA Youth Gathering as a representative for his college Valparaiso). It’s such a gift to be able to see youth grow into the people they are as young adults!Several of our youth took this time to prepare for the rally and march they would lead later that day in response to the family separations and family detentions.Since today was Synod Day, we gathered with the ELCA Metro-Chicago Synod for worship, fun bonding activities, and small group discussions.There, the ELCA Metro-Chicago Synod Bishop Wayne Miller preached about the woman at the well, who was isolated and shunned and yet Jesus appeared to her and showed up for her. This woman was a witness to his radical love.But this woman was not the kind of witness who just sees something take place but doesn’t do anything in response. Bishop Miller explained that being the kind of witnesses of Christ’s love that we are called to is not that easy.

He said: “We don’t remember the woman because of what she saw or heard. We remember her because of what she did.”Bishop Miller explained that the kind of witnesses we are called to be are those who don’t just see and hear things. Rather, we are called to be witnesses who respond to the injustices we see in the world and who speak out and take a stand.When we take the risks of being witnesses working for justice for all people, change can happen.The theme for Synod Day is “We Belong Together,” which seems like no coincidence, given that the National Families Belong Together day of action is June 30. So immediately after the synod day worship, our E.C.T. Youth and a few other youth invited the synod to be witnesses of God’s radical love and justice by speaking out and taking a stand against the separation of families and detainment of families at the border. We belong together! Families Belong together and in community (not in detention centers!)First, Ngbarazere and a youth from another church asked the synod to call their legislators and then to participate in a few action stations (put on a yellow Families Belong Together wristband and share one with someone they meet that day, decorate cards for children in detention centers, sign letters to legislators, and participate in a social media campaign.)Following the action stations, the group gathered together for a picture with Bishop Miller…And then we prayed with our feet by going on a short march, which was led by the processional cross.We ended in front of a statue of a family being reunited.Several of our E.C.T. youth spoke and/or led chants and songs during the rally, including Melanie, Xanath, Jenny, Maku, Johnny, and Ngbarazere.And Melanie and Xanath were interviewed by Telemundo and Houston Chronicle.

Houston Press also picked up the story and published:

1. Slideshow with 40 pictures featuring ECT and other Chicago area Youth found here.

2. This article quoting two ECT youth (who were key leaders/speakers/chanters/singers in the rally and march) found here.

These youth did an incredible job and truly were bold witnesses proclaiming the good news of God’s love for ALL people! This is what it means to be the Church: the body of Christ.

I am sooo incredibly proud of all our youth for showing up and bearing witness, leading us in what Jesus said is the greatest commandment- loving God and loving our neighbor – and showing us what it means to live out our call to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God! In times such as these, it is these youth who inspire me, teach me, and give me hope that we will indeed have a better world!God’s Love Changes Everything! This Changes Everything!

After the rally, we ate, chilled a bit in the interactive center, and then headed to our mass gathering with 30,000 ELCA youth and leaders in the NRG Stadium.The theme for the night was God’s Love Changes Everything. We heard from Rev. Aaron Fuller, ELCA pastor and command chaplain, who said:”Life is hard, but we shouldn’t have to do it alone. It is because of the people who have shown me love, that I experience God’s love…

We all know that people in our world need us to walk alongside them. They don’t need us to try to fix their problems. They just need us to love them.We love people so they will know their lives are a gift, so they know that their lives matter, and so they know that they are not alone.God’s love moves us past our fears and prejudices.”We were reminded by Deacon Erin Power that in times like these, people (including us) need to hear over and over and over again: “you belong here.”

And we heard from Marlon Hall that:

“You were born to make an indelible mark on the world that no one else can make. You do this by the love of God.God’s loves can grow up from the ashes of our burnt expectations.”We were also led in some incredible worship.placeholder://After our mass gathering, we took the train home and ended our night checking in with each other about our day.And of course there was some fun during free time at the hotel:We are looking to forward to what tomorrow brings us!

Day 4: Final Day of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event & First Day of the ELCA Youth Gathering

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Today was our last day at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event.

After breakfast, we packed our bags and headed to our closing worship.

There, Pastor Yehiel Curry from Shekinah Chapel in Chicago led us in a Libation Ceremony.

The theme for MYLE today was “ONE in Christ,” based on:

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” – Ephesians 12:14-19

So Pastor Curry PREACHED about our oneness in Christ and reminded us that Christ brings down the walls of hostility that divide us.

“It is not black families alone affected by mass incarceration; we are affected by mass incarceration. Why? Because we are one in Christ.

The Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Houston: ‘they’ didn’t have a hurricane; we had a hurricane. Why? Because we are one in Christ.

It is not just immigrant families being separated; we are being separated. Why?

Because we are one in Christ.”

He explained that if we want to create change, we need to start within us.

“When you change your heart, you can change your mind. When you change your mind, you can change your community. When you change your community, you can change your city. When you change your city, you can change your state. When you can change your state, you can change your nation. When you can change your nation, you can change your world.

When you can say this is my brother, this is my sister, this is my family: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! We are ONE in Christ.”

Pastor Curry explained that it is when we immerse ourselves with others who may look, speak, talk, and act differently than we do and get to know them, that we will begin to realize that we are more alike than we are different.

He saw this taking place at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event this week.

Pastor Curry said last night he saw black, white, Latinx, and Asian youth dancing together. And when we can dance together, share music and fellowship and call each other a siblings, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

We ended MYLE with a blessing to go out into the world and proclaim Jesus’ peace and justice for ALL people.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting ready to head to the ELCA Youth Gathering main event.

At 2:00pm, we finally arrived at our hotel. And as we waited for our rooms, some of us swam and others watched some World Cup games.

We grabbed dinner nearby.

And then, since our hotel is in the Medical Center, we hopped on the metro rail as headed to the NRG Stadium for our first mass gathering.

With 30,000 youth and pastors/adult leaders gathering in one place, we had to do a lot of waiting… but we found lots of ways to bond while doing so!

Our first mass gathering was excellent!

We began with some fun music:

We were greeted by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton:

And throughout the night, we heard the ELCA Youth Gathering theme: “This Changes Everything.” We also heard this evening’s sub-theme: “God’s Call Changes Everything” through multiple call stories.

We worshipped together:

And then we heard a powerful message from Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. (He is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults.)

Bryan explained that our call is to change the world.

He explained that there are four things we need to do to change the world:

1. God calls us to get closer to the margins. There is power in proximity. We need to get close to those who are being excluded and suffering. This is how we can change the world.

2. When we see injustice we need to speak out and talk about/address our history of racial injustice.

3. We need to stay hopeful. This can be difficult because hope requires us to believe things we cannot see. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. It holds us back from doing what we can to make change.

4. We have to be willing to do things that are uncomfortable and difficult in order to pursue justice.

He concluded: “I believe with this room full of 1000s of young people who are willing to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we WILL change the world.”

We concluded the gathering with more worship.

There is something s powerful about singing “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna Let it Shine” with 30,000 young people.)

We ended the evening with a lot of walking and waiting. But we found ways to make it fun!

We look forward to our first full day at the ELCA Youth Gathering tomorrow!