Documentary Film Review – “Crossing the American Crisis”

On April 7 from 12:30-2:00pm Michael Fox and Silvia Leindecker will be at the Poverty Initiative to screen and discuss their latest documentary, “Crossing the American Crisis.”  I have had a chance to preview the film and can attest that it is a powerful piece that captures the effects of the 2008 US economic crisis from a broad range of voices and also holds up what individuals and communities are doing to organize for change.  It features many of the groupings that we work with at Poverty Initiative and who are part of our Poverty Scholars program including the United Workers and the Vermont Workers Center.

Drop by to watch and discuss if you’re around and available.


Here is the trailer:

A Love that Would Not Let Me Go

When we tell our stories, we are transformed. When others hear our stories, they are transformed. The story telling for Project Union Responds stirred up the Union community. We were stirred up because sharing our stories was an action of liberation, affirmation, by re-claiming our selves, our bodies, and our faiths. We were stirred up because sharing our stories required us to reflect on how we had been (and still are) harmed. As a community we received, held, and honored all that has been stirred up in us throughout the process; specifically during an evening, candle-light service on Wednesday, October 13, 2010, in James Chapel.

The following is a copy of the reflection offered by Barbara L. Rice. Ms. Rice has a master of counseling and is a first-year, master of divinity seminarian here at Union. Her employment portfolio includes working with LGBTQ youth. As a community, we are graced by her presence and voice.


A Love that Would Not Let Me Go

When Zach was a child I loved him. When Elizabeth was a child I loved her. When Luke was a child I loved him. When Erica was a child I loved her.

[Hosea 11:1–12] is one of those passages of scripture that I have always been drawn to, never fully knowing why. I’m sure my 16-year-old interpretations of this text were age appropriately simplistic and egocentric. But there was something in my initial and naïve draw to the passage that was innate—that was calling me back to some womb-like recognition of my connectedness with a love that would not let me go. I would not have used those words, but there was a desire to ingest these images into my being. I wanted to know that type of security, that type of love. I wanted to watch an old home movie of God bending down to feed me when I was a toddler. I wanted to see, feel, and touch these cords of human kindness and bands of love. I wanted to know that they would catch me, would hold that space, would keep me safe. And I wanted the people in my life to know and feel that security and love in their own lives.

And I think in many ways those bands of love were very real in my heart and in my life. At the risk of being stereotypical, I was very much a tomboy, and it was considered cute to run around in my baseball uniform all year long. And I was always picked fairly quickly in the process of choosing kick ball teams in elementary school. I would occasionally be called dyke, but had no idea what it meant, and I didn’t care. I had friends because I learned early in life that if you listen to people they tend to like you. So, I could fit in pretty well and for the most part was spared the personal pain of bullying.

As I grew into adolescence I had that familiar gnawing sensation that many of you can relate to – that sense that something about me just wasn’t right. And it would creep into my thoughts now and then, this utter terror, that there might just be some tiny chance I was gay. This nightmare sat in the back of my mind and would rear its head, and I would think that if this is in any way true then I probably didn’t deserve to live. This belief that, if I were indeed gay, I would be unworthy of taking up space on the earth, mostly came from my family narrative which was passionately homophobic in the name of following Jesus. So, if this secret, this nightmare, was possibly true then it would mean that I was beyond the point of any repair.

And so I would sit with these images that I sought out in the Bible—pictures from Isaiah of loving protection amidst storms and scary things, the intimacy of Mary washing Jesus’ feet and his defense and love for her, and then this one in Hosea of having been known and loved intimately since babyhood regardless of my attempts to escape. And I would try to connect with that love and tell myself that this was enough, and tell myself that I could get through this life devoting all of it to God, and that I would be given the strength to keep myself together (i.e. not fall to the temptation of living in that ‘lifestyle’) until I died and could experience ultimate union with the Divine. My life was full of sports, friends, mission trips, school work, and service clubs. By all appearances I was a pretty happy teenager and as long as I could keep the terror silenced or distant then I was OK.

I wasn’t externally tortured for being gay, but I was internally tortured. I’ve thought about this a lot these last few weeks. I can’t imagine what I would have done if there had been this added layer of ostracism, of being targeted, or being ridiculed. I truly do not know that I could have survived that, and I look around at my friends in this room, not knowing each story, but knowing that for many of you it was a struggle that words can’t capture. And I sit with gratitude and awe realizing you have survived.

In my therapy practice in Greensboro, NC, I had the privilege of working with many teens and adults struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation. Their struggles were often based on their understanding of what religion or the Bible said about same gender love, but they inevitably faced peer and family ostracism. In doing trauma work with my clients incidents of extreme bullying would often come up, and these memories would be so vivid that, as they were described to me, I felt like I was there. It was as if in their description I could see, hear, touch, smell and taste the terror, the fear, the punches, the tears, the shame. As if their spirits had been branded like cattle, we would work together to deconstruct the internalized messages left by these incidents. We would work to untangle and heal those messages, until they could become scars as opposed to gaping wounds, and we would work to take away the powerlessness of the memories.

However, the consequences of some of these marks can’t be avoided. I think about a 26-year-old gay man I worked with who suffered such horrendous bullying and abuse in high school that he stopped going to school to avoid being tormented, which led to him eventually dropping out altogether. He completed his GED and now works a minimum wage job while trying to go to community college at night. He struggles with just making it day to day—not only financially but also emotionally. He stays in relationships with fairly abusive partners because, as he would honestly share, if he didn’t have a partner with whom to live he would be homeless. The bullying and peer abuse that led to him dropping out of school has left its mark and he is trying to dig his way out, and it’s a long, dark path.

I recall checking my voice mails early one morning before work, and listening in heart breaking horror, as I learned that a queer mutual friend of several of my teenage clients had hung herself the previous night. I was familiar with this girl, who had committed suicide, because they both frequently spoke of her. When I saw these two clients that same day, they were both obviously wracked in pain with all the things that go along with the ones left behind by suicide—what could we have done, why didn’t we see this coming, why wouldn’t her parents get her help? But, as if that wasn’t enough, one of the girls, who also identified as queer, sat sobbing on my sofa as she told me how unsympathetic her parents were to this devastating loss. By her reports her parents were not at all accepting of her orientation, and did some ridiculing of their own. So, the night my client learned of her friend’s death she was hysterical, and went to her mother for comfort, only to have her mother respond by saying, “well, that’s what happens to gay kids, they end up hanging from rafters.”

Well, I’m here, we’re all here, to say ‘no.’ That’s not the inevitable fate of gay kids. Swinging from rafters, jumping off bridges, shooting themselves in the head… this is not the unchangeable fate of our queer kids!

How I wanted to transmit to these clients, to my friends, and so many others, a sense of the tenderness of God’s love, of these totally devoted images such as this passage from Hosea. I wanted them to know that they too had access to a love bigger than all this pain; that they too could tap into a love that would not let them go. This is our job – to take this love to the people, to be living examples of this determined devotion.

As some of us have been telling our stories for the video, I’ve wondered about who didn’t make it among us. Who would have been here, sitting with us now if they could have made it a little longer? How has God grieved for the lives cut short due to hate? Who are we missing? What ghosts are among us who dreamed of seminary and theological education, but who didn’t survive the crucible of a queer childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood? Where would they be sitting right now? How would they enrich our community and our lives here at Union? Who would be their boyfriend, girlfriend, their partner? Who would be their best friend on the hall? And so I look out at your faces and am filled with gratitude that you made it, that we have the chance to become the beloved community; that we have the chance to share our stories with each other. I also am grateful to have made it, and grateful that I have been able to cling to my daughtership during dark times.

And out of Egypt I called my daughter. Out of Egypt I called my son. Out of Egypt I called my child. Daughtership, sonship, beloved child…. What does it mean to be called out of Egypt, out of bondage, out of slavery? What does it mean to be called to freedom, to life? Sometimes we prefer the bondage we know over the freedom we don’t know. But we are called, if we can hear – and I believe we can hear when something inside of us is ready to hear – to take the first steps of a journey towards freedom. Sometimes that first step is a commitment to find support, to find somewhere you can be honest.

For me I heard the call towards freedom one day in 1997. I was a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship,a conservative parachurch ministry, and I reached a point after years of being in reparative therapy, where I could no longer live with my internal incongruence. I reached the point where I didn’t care if I was indeed going to go to hell, because I was already in hell – my life was hell, my internal struggle had driven me to the brink of again wanting to be on the other side of this existence into the next one, just wanting Jesus’ arms around me. So I picked up the phone and called my supervisor. And, as I suspected, I was asked to resign, I was then asked to leave my non denominational church, which led to loosing most of my friends, and my family relationships experienced a type of death from which they have never fully recovered. And, it was in this wilderness space that I spent a lot of time reading and praying and wrestling with what to do. Regardless of what others said, what did God say? Could I still have a relationship with God and live this earthly life in a way that honored all parts of me, including my sexuality? I had wanted to be in vocational ministry since early childhood, and I thought that dream was over, and I was not sure who I was without this dream. I knew I did not want to live without a palpable connection to God, because to me that has been the only thing that gives life meaning. So, I decided I would take the first step. I would just move forward with what I could, and live, and see what happened. It was kind of an experiment because I was out of options, other than suicide. Of course what I found was more connection with God, and that God did not forsake me, but met me in ways I could have never known without taking that first step.

In this way, I was experiencing something similar to what Hosea describes at the end of the 11th chapter: “They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes.” The freedom of flying, even though you’re trembling. The sense of soaring even though you’re shaking – but heading to your true home. I happen to believe that home is always and only coming home to that love, that Divine love, that claims us and declares us perfectly made. In essence I believe coming home is a kind of coming home inside of ourselves, to rest in the love that waits for us there. As these tragedies in our queer community have moved us to share our own stories, as we have been moved to do anything we can to give a struggling kid hope for one more day, I have come to feel that we can become, that we are becoming the beloved community. And I believe it is from that grounded place that we move out into the world to serve, to stir, to rage, to liberate, to mourn, and to ultimately heal. As Hafiz said, “God revealed a sublime truth to the world, when He sang, ‘I am made whole by your life. Each soul, each soul completes me.’”

When Tyler Clementi was a child I loved him.

When Billy Lucas was a child I loved him.

When Seth Walsh was a child I loved him.

When Asher Brown was a child I loved him.

When we were children God loved us.

—Barbara L. Rice, MS LPC

©2010 Project Union Responds. Reprinting available with permission.

All of the sudden…

This past week I have been uplifted and angry.

I am overjoyed that Union Theological Seminary students, staff, and faculty have come together to voice a positive and inclusive message to LGBTQ youth. The comments we have received have been heartfelt and grateful. One in particular says “This is the first and only message from Christians about LGBTQ people that I’ve ever heard that was supportive, loving and in the spirit of Christ. I am deeply moved and profoundly grateful for these words today. Thank you and God bless you.”

I am also deeply heartbroken and angry. Over the past week I have heard from friends and family who ask “what is happening all of the sudden?” To them, I reply, “all of the sudden? What do you mean all of the sudden?”

The media has recently started to pick up on the LGBTQ issues, most popular being violence and suicide. They are feeding off of these headlines, which gives them the ability to create revenue and promote themselves. In a few weeks the issue will most likely be dropped. This is another reason why it is important for the Christian community to speak up.

Yes, it took us hearing from the media to get this project going, I’ll admit that, but it comes at a time when we are aware of these two problems:
1. There aren’t many positive Christian messages of inclusion that are being heard and recognized outside of our safe churches and affirming communities
2. The media will use the stories of violence to promote themselves, because it sells, and soon it will all be forgotten. And, we in turn, will shake our heads and move on.

I must confess to being slightly complacent and comfortable on these issues over the past few years, excusing myself for being young and thinking that someone, somewhere was already doing the work. However, I realize that my ability to reach out to the community is supported by the Seminary and I have access to resources for networking and sharing compassionate stories of hope and love. It was most regrettable that there were no headlines from churches or religious leaders across the country speaking against hate crimes, hate language, exclusion, quality of education, equal rights, youth and young adult services, etc, etc, etc… It is devastating.

Please, let’s all work together and create an on going positive Christian message to our communities so we do not have to ever answer “what is happening all of the sudden?”

–Stephenie Stovall

Old Religion vs. Civic Religion

Arizona Snowbowl

Arizona Snowbowl and the Hopi Reservation

Over the weekend, the Wall St. Journal reported about a conflict between the Hopi people and a ski resort. At issue in this conflict is the plan from Arizona Snowbowl (the resort) to use recycled water to make artificial snow in an expansion into land that the Hopi and several other indigenous peoples believe to be sacred. What is interesting here is less that this is a possible church-and-state issue regarding religious rights. Rather, it is a conflict between two religions: the Hopi’s and American Civic Religion.

The Hopi object on two grounds: first, that the water originally proposed was non-potable sewage water; second, that making artificial snow is an affront to the sovereignty of Nature. Nature decides when it snows, not the manager of the ski resort. The response from the government has been in defense of that most sacred tenet of Civic Religion: the right of a business to operate and make money. To be sure, the American fervor in supporting the Church of the Almighty Dollar is rarely less intense than what could be found at a revival meeting.

What insights might we gain from asking the question about a conflict between religions rather than a conflict between a religion and a secular state? Wouldn’t the issue be different if it were two churches vying for the same plot of land for a sanctuary? What about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem?

Guest Writer: Charlie Becker Hornes “I Might Be ‘Fat’ Today, But God Knows I’m Happy”

Charlie Becker Hornes, M.Div. ’10 writes in response to the comments posted to the YouTube video about Glenn Beck.

The author in 2004

I have taken some pretty good punches this week on YouTube directly and indirectly regarding our Union’s response to Glenn Beck video:

• “I think that first chick missed the part about gluttony maybe? Kinda hypocritical.”

• “This vid is full of fail. The only reason a person who thumbs this up is if they hate GB.
You got a fat white b*tch telling that a class changed her life? Please, do mankind a service and stop consuming so much of our natural resources.”

• “This was very helpful. I now know of one school that my child will NOT be attending. Looks to me to be filled with wombats, freaks, losers, and asexuals.”

• “’You’re actually in a famous room where I took his class 70lbs ago. I want to invite you into this iconic room and just show it to you. Here’s a door. And wood. And oh look a chair. Is it lunch yet’ A lot of winners there at Union”

• “Why don’t you people dress a little better?”

• “Why are Americans fat?”

• “Is she pregnant?”

We have taken hits about our looks, our education, even clear concerns about our sexual orientation… to get straight to the point… some people have still very much missed the boat. I am fine if someone criticizes me or even disagrees with me when it comes to my opinion on issues. I am not fine when attacks are made based on straight-up appearance. This just underscores the heart of the Liberation Theology debate. This is one of the many underpinnings of the problems in our current world, especially here in the United States that clearly needs to continue to be addressed. People judging people based on what they look like. This has been going on for so long and people have been abused, killed, lynched and attacked because of it. Enough already.

Yes, as Mr. Beck clearly states, Liberation Theology has much to do with the two categories of the Oppressor and the Oppressed… but there is so much more to it than just that. And, no, it is not about Communism or even Socialism and Marxism. For me, it is about an attitude of compassion for each other and for the opportunity to allow God’s law to break into the world… not the law of humanity, which in the current state of our world, people are denied their humanity and existence based on externals such as race, skin color, sexual orientation, religion or even what country they originate from – not to mention what they might weigh. No, this is about granting basic human rights to our fellow humans at all costs, no matter what, because all humans deserve their dignity. This country has a poor track record in this department no matter how you decide to twist the historical records, and we white people have quite a lot to still answer for. Including you, Mr. Beck. Including me.

Union has changed my life, and it was not just Dr. Cone’s class – it was an intense, three year, grueling process of insane reading, junk food and New York City pizza eating, intense paper writing, all night-ers, discussions – even arguments and the breaking down of all of the preconceived, unknown and arrogant notions that I walked into this program with. In short, these past three years, although extremely difficult, have forever changed my life on my view of the world, how I view and treat other people, and mostly, how I now view myself as a small part of a greater community of many different types of people.

The term “othering” is seen in two ways. One has a negative quality in which we base a human’s worth on qualitative means such as skin color and “race,” along with other factors such as citizenship, sexual orientation, gender, religion, etc. In this way, we “otherize” another in order to, for lack of a more academic phrase; simply feel better about our own selves, which denies them their humanity and dignity. This is polarizing and divisive.

A more positive view comes from Fred Craddock when he gives a nuanced idea of what it means to come into the space of the “Other” in his aptly titled homely, “Othering.” In this light, we break down such barriers, and remove the boundaries caused by fear that keeps us from really coming to know the real humanity of those we deem “our neighbors” but whom we find different or other than us in one form or another. Especially those who might seem just so frighteningly different from who we tend to think we are.

It is sad that people like Glenn Beck make a living off of instilling these fears into the hearts of our nation and then plays off of them to make a buck, or to promote a form of clever-racism that has the obnoxious lead out of “folks, I am not a racist.” People like him are divisive. He is not one who falls on the side of compassion for others. Instead, he is preaching the poison of fear and the negative connotation of “Othering” that continues to feed a systematic machine in this nation, which only leads to more suffering, poverty, injustice, abuse and a climate of people who refuse to look out for the widow and the orphan in our very own communities – which is in fact what the New Testament teaches us primarily. It is not the widow or orphan that might look like us or think like us that is the only concern. What about those who are totally different from us, believe differently, look differently, and might have a different life style than we do? Do they not deserve humanity and dignity too? It is those others who also, if not more so, deserve compassion from each and every one of us if we are able to extend a helping hand, or at least an acknowledgment of their humanity if we are to truly “love our neighbor as our self.”

These are the things that I have learned at Union Theological Seminary. My belief today in justice for all of my neighbors exceeds race, borders, class, skin color, sexual orientation, gender and religious beliefs… just to name a few.
Today, if there is someone that I can help, I hope to be able to extend that hand. I hope to make it my life’s work.

My fellow students and I have taken some real hits this week, and that is okay. Most had little to do with what we actually said, and were, instead, focused on our external qualities.

For me, it had to do with my current weight.

Being healthy is a very important priority and it should be for all of us.

Well, there are a few things people might want to know about me. You might be surprised to now that I moved to New York City fifteen years ago to be an actress and a model, which I was relatively successful at for ten years. At least my husband is quite impressed with my CV.

I was a member of all of the Unions, and had a pretty extensive and impressive theatre, film, TV and commercial resume as well as a nicely put together modeling composite. Although I was consistently a size 6, and believe me, I worked hard to be that size, I was constantly told by my agents that I was always a borderline “plus size” model… and those are killer words in the modeling business. I have done my fair share of intense exercise, dieting, no carbs, crazy-healthy lifestyle and internal self discipline, self loathing and scolding just so that other people thought I looked “good enough” and let me tell you… I am tired of hearing about what people think I should look like.

I probably could have done pretty well as an actress. I worked hard and seemed to be relatively talented. I left the field of acting of my own accord, however. Though I am sure the business is great for others, I was never happy, regardless of how low my weight was, or what exciting new jobs I had coming up. For me, I had a constant feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction with my life, despite some exciting successes.

Although I have always been a person of faith, over the years my connection to my Presbyterian faith was reawakening, and I was only finding myself truly ever happy when I was volunteering and being of service in my community through a relationship with God, which I very much believe God initiated within me. For me, helping others through my life of faith became the only true happiness that I have ever known. My career as an actress and model offered me no outlet to be of service to my community and I learned in time that I was just in the wrong career. I was always too busy running around completely self-absorbed and worrying what people thought of me to stop and help anyone else out for a change. Obviously, God had other plans for me.

Over the years, I have been able to find some real joy and contentment in my life, just being me, knowing that I am okay exactly how I am today. This faith based initiative I took on personally finally lead me to Seminary, and thank God, I was lead to Union because this institution is a place that instills the idea of service and justice into its students’ lives of faith in a most remarkable and life changing way. It not only changes our lives, it will change the lives of all of the people we help in our lifetimes. Coming here is an amazing experience.

I know first hand that our nation struggles with an obesity problem, but society is not completely responsible, with all of the chemicals we are being force-fed through advertisements. Hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, enriched flour, manufactured wheat, processed sugars, all at cheap costs that undercut any type of organic or non-chemical based product on the shelf, making piles of money for distributors who care nothing about what goes into products and its consumers; only the bottom line. It is hard not to buy the cheap stuff when you are on a budget. Fortunately, it seems like our selections and our consciousness is slowly transforming into a nation that cares about what we eat more than we ever have.

I know from first hand experience. Fast food is cheap… and I am a broke Seminarian pledging a life of service that walked away from a very lucrative career. I will probably just break even monthly once I start paying back my student loans. It is hard to eat healthy and exercise when you are broke, on a budget and on six deadlines. When I do have the time, I am so fried that watching TV with my husband just seems like the better choice. Clearly, there are things that I personally need to work on now that I have graduated.

For me, coming to Seminary and exercising my brain, for a change, these last three years straight, might have caused me to add on several pounds, but the weight I can lose with a healthier lifestyle… what I have learned in the process of getting this degree, I plan to hold onto for dear life. It is incredible for me to read comments about my weight today, so many years after retiring from a career where my weight was what engulfed nearly every waking moment of my self-centered life. I actually really used to care what other people thought and to a fault.

These last few years have been liberating for me. For the first time in my life, I am entirely happy with the person that I am becoming because, in this vocation, I know that I will be spending the rest of my life getting fantastic sleep, knowing that I spent my day helping my neighbor as best I can, whatever my neighbor might “look” like. I may not make my actress salary any more, but my internal joy and satisfaction is well worth the sacrifice. And now that I have my Master’s of Divinity degree… maybe I’ll have some free time to take up jogging again… but this time, only as a way to feel good, staying healthy and sharing a long life with my amazing husband who likes me just how I am.

So, being attacked about my weight might be the catalyst for this response, but my answer is that I might be fat today, but God knows I am finally happy. So for all of you who think that judging people based on what they look like is okay instead of airing on the side of compassion, I say to you… you really need to get a life. I have.