Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Divine Hammer


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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: March 6, 2010
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jennifer Luu, Equality Ride Media Director
Cell: 410 493 3539

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"(Phoenixville, PA) -- Friday, the Equality Ride, a national bus tour visiting Christian colleges and universities to promote inclusion and safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, started its journey at Valley Forge Christian College (VFCC) in Phoenixville, PA.


...In response to the Equality Ride’s request to engage in real dialogue with students, faculty and administrators at VFCC, officials rejected the Equality Ride and denied them entry to campus. However, since the message of inclusion that the Equality Ride brings is so vital to LGBTQ students living in systematic, hierarchically-imposed silence, shame and guilt, Riders continued on to Valley Forge in hopes of engaging with the campus and the Phoenixville community at large.

'Although VFCC administration chose not to open their hearts, minds or campus to Equality Riders, in the interest of spreading inclusion and affirmation to isolated students at VFCC, we felt that we could work collaboratively with the community to show visible, vocal support as close to school grounds as possible,' explains Rider and VFCC stop organizer Jess Kalup. Equality Riders estimate that between 50 and 75 people participated in a rally in Charlestown Park, which borders the VFCC campus, as well as a vigil on the west border of campus. Participating community members included students from Arcadia University, West Chester University, Eastern University and local church leaders and congregants.

Throughout the day, Equality Riders joined with community members to sing songs of solidarity hoping to spread the message of safety and inclusion to the campus. Members of the religiously oppressive group Repent America were in attendance to protest the rally. Equality Riders invited the protestors to share in constructive dialogue over lunch provided by the community. Despite Repent America’s efforts to stifle the inclusive message of the Equality Ride, the community rally was held to give community members a forum to speak their truths through personal stories reflecting on the harm of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Tears were shed and hearts were mended. Community members, including ex-VFCC students that were expelled for being LGBTQ, thanked the Riders for bringing an LGBTQ-affirming perspective to the campus. The VFCC student handbook states, 'Members of the College community are required to refrain from all forms of sexual immorality including but not limited to, any form of pornography, promiscuity, homosexuality…adultery, rape, sexual violence and abuse…' Policies like the one at Valley Forge create climates that make LGBTQ students feel unsafe and foster environments of hostility and silence. Conversations throughout the day were respectful and productive and went from about 10:00 AM until around 3:30PM.

'From our vigil lines and gatherings on the sidewalks bordering campus that we were banished to, we could see students on campus watching us and wondering about our message. I think the Equality Ride brought a vital affirming voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people and hopefully the Equality Ride's visit let the silenced students of Valley Forge Christian College know that they are loved, they are worth it and they do deserve a voice,' says Caitlin MacIntyre, 2010 Equality Ride Director.

Equality Riders will be visiting Philadelphia on Saturday. From 10am-1pm, they will be participating in a clean-up community service project in West Philly through Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia and from 6pm-8pm, they will be having a potluck dinner at the William Way Center in Center City Philadelphia. All are welcome to come and join Riders for discussion. On Sunday, The Equality Ride will visit Imago Dei Metropolitan Community Church in Glen Mills, PA, located at 1223 Middletown Road, to engage in a faith-based, affirming safe space. Service begins promptly at 10:30am.

More than 200 U.S. colleges and universities have explicit policies that discriminate against LGBTQ students. Some schools without explicit policies still foster climates where harassment of LGBTQ students is prevalent. A 2003 survey of 14 American universities found that more than a third of all LGBTQ undergraduates had experienced harassment in the past year.

Since 2006, the Equality Ride has visited more than 50 schools, hosting public forums, participating in panel discussions, and taking part in worship services and Bible studies. The goal is to inspire further conversation and to empower students, faculty, and administrators to make their school welcoming to all students.

The Equality Ride bus is on the road through April 27, 2010. Future stops include:

March 9 - Houghton College - Houghton, NY
March 11 - Affirming community visit - Knoxville, TN

Soulforce Q is the young adult division of Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end political and religious oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people through relentless nonviolent resistance. For more information, go to www.equalityride.com."

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So as stated in the Press Release above, Valley Forge Christian College refused to let us on campus and told students that they would be expelled if they came out to talk to us. Then, on Friday morning when we arrived at Charlestown Park, bordering the VFCC campus, fear-based, religiously oppressive group Repent America, was there to greet us. (Visit their website if you are sitting down and don't have any food in your mouth-- it might drop out when your mouth falls agape.) In response to this warm(ed by the threat of hell) Valley Forge welcome, The Equality Ride held. We held hands, two candlelight vigils and a community rally and sang lots of lovey songs with lyrics like, "Love inside of our hearts / Love, and only love, is moving me." Behold:

video

This one's just to show their well-made, very tall signs

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video

The Director of Repent America

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video

"Crossdressing...another element of what homosexuality is attempting to press upon our society..."

I love how we actually stop singing to listen to what he was saying about crossdressing. It was worth it.



Reverend Karla Fleshman being totally and incredibly awesome, as she often has a tendency to be



It's true! That God. What an advocate.


A great thing we heard in training week was the concept that most people can easily show up to conversations that take place on bridges over gaps without a sword. Putting down the sword is one thing and is perhaps fairly easy for some (not all members of Repent America, unfortunately). But who among us ever truly puts down our shields?

I had a meaningful conversation during our day at Charlestown Park with a woman who used a lot of words and talking points to express to me that her purpose and way of life was to exalt her Lord Jesus Christ above all else. I did open myself and my heart up to this woman. I also know that I spent a lot of time vested in words-- her words and what words of mine I was going to use to respond. And I know that words are a place under which I feel safe and comfortable and sometimes hide. (To be fair, she used a LOT of words.) So I know there is more room for me to put down my shield. With my shield partially lowered, I did see her and hear her, which is to say that I saw and heard the absolute surrender to God and Jesus that she works so studiously towards, every moment of every day, with every breath and every step that she takes. And I saw that with that labored, absolute surrender comes a torn burden that consumes her. As a flawed, earthly human, she will never succeed and she will never be good enough. And that work-- that all-consuming, failure-begotten work-- is what makes her feel worthy and worth something. Anything. Talk about repent, America. This woman was brilliant and beautiful. She is brilliant and beautiful. She recited me a poem she'd written about her worldview that she hopes to spread into the hearts of all that she meets, in a cadence that was quite of the emcee variety. So I told her that she should be a hip hop emcee. I also asked her if she loved herself. I was experiencing her in those moments when I spoke to her as so beautiful and I was overwhelmed by it. So I asked her if she loved herself because I was curious to hear her answer and because I wanted to tell her that I loved her and wanted to feel out if she would receive it the way I meant it as a human being, or if she would think I was trying to hit on her and then punch me. Her reply was that she hated the thoughts that came with her flesh and blood body but that she loved when she could feel the God inside herself. So somewhere in there...eventually...I told her that she was beautiful and brilliant and that in that moment, I loved her. Then I had to go eat lunch, so I went to do that while some other Riders spoke to her. She really did use a lot of words and it was often hard for others to get a word in edgewise.

Later, I went to run an errand and before I left, I told her that I might not see her again, that I really appreciated our conversation and asked her if I could give her a hug. She said, "yes."

In a lot of ways, these conversations with Christians intimidate me because I am coming from such a drastically, foundationally different place than most of them. So on one hand, I think, "What do I know, anyway?" Maybe nothing. What I purport to know when I think about that beautiful woman is that even now as I write this, I feel a great ache in my heart as it asks, "But what about the joy?" What about the JOY as you live your life as a vessel of the Divine? A conclusion I came to last year was that one of the times I know I am closest to The Divine is when I make mix CDs for other people. That might sound ridiculous to most people and would probably sound downright blasphemous to the woman I spoke to. But it's so beautiful and right and big inside me when I make art through the creation of a mix. I just want to look at that woman now and say, "Can't you just make something to spend time with God? Emcee one of your kickass poems, perhaps...?" :|

1 comment:

  1. I was moved to tears by the way you persisted with the message of inclusive divine love in the face of the closed-mindedness of the Valley Forge college. I hope that you reached some of those students who looked out to see what you were doing. I hope that some LGBT person feels affirmed in who they are as a result of your essential life-giving work. Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you are doing.

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