Friday, March 02, 2018

Some thoughts on ULS

Trigger warning—Conversion Therapy, Gaslighting, and Rape.
So, first off, here is some background from wiser and more informed people than I about what is currently happening at ULS, a new seminary built out of LTSP, where I attended, and LTSG.
Here are the closest thing to official notes we have.
Here are some really good unofficial notes from Pastor Lura Groen.
Here are Pastor Groen’s follow up reflections.
Here, as well, is ELM’s statement.
Finally, here is where a bunch of letters in support of Dr. Latini from the board and bishops were, but have since been taken down.

A History of This
            In my first year at LTSP the non-first year students would occasionally mention a rape that was “covered up” on campus. It was my first year and there was so much going on that I never dug any deeper.
            Then a well-known and beloved campus security officer was fired, and the students were not told what that was all about. He may or may not have taken petty cash. I distinctly remember some students fighting against the administration’s silence by setting up a camera hovering over a 20-dollar bill in the quad.
            Then there was a passive aggressive fight between faculty and students in favor of “Black Church and Multi-cultural” Worship and those who favored “Orthodox Lutheran” (read European) Worship. The whole thing felt like it was done in whispers and shadows and was really dysfunctional. This conflagration eventually heated up to the point that the administration let it be known that there are things students just don’t need to be aware of, the seminary isn’t our home, it is only a place we’re at for a while, so students should just stick to their studies.
            Then a campus group hid a rat infestation in the compost, the administration cleared it out without telling anyone—and somehow this open secret and lack of communication led to a completely unnecessary blow up on campus.
            Still later, there were rumors that the Seminary had no money and none of us would get a degree because Philly was going to lose its accreditation on account of this lack of funds.
            Then there was all the semi-secrets that floated around about the creation of ULS—I was gone by then, but hear tell it fit the pattern above.
            All that to say, LTSP had an ongoing transparency and communications issue. It seemed to be fused into its DNA. So, one of my deepest hopes for the dissolution of LTSP and LTSG and the forming of ULS was that that part of LTSP’s DNA would be left behind.

The Present Situation
            And along comes the revelation that Dr. Latini, ULS’s first president, was the CEO and poster child of a gay conversion organization. She did not disclose this on her resume, because she didn’t include anything about herself before she was ordained. She later told Rev. Dr. Elise Brown, the chair of ULS’s board, about her past. Rev. Dr. Brown made some inquires on her own and then did not pass this information on to the board. Then, either in November or December, she did so, maybe after a board member was informed of Dr. Latini’s history. Fast forward to February, somehow this information got out, and everyone feels betrayed or worse. 

A few thoughts:
-Reparative Therapy is unconscionable.
-In the 1990’s, living in Wyoming, I was at a very different place in my understanding of sexual orientation and gender issues writ large and might have bought Reparative Therapy as a humane way to help gay folk. Moving out of Wyoming, the enormous cultural shifts in our country during that time, and frankly exposure to LGBT+ people (especially at LTSP) has made such a position seem disgusting to me today.
-I feel for Dr. Latini. Reading between the lines I’d imagine part of the reason she applied to work for an ELCA seminary was because folk from all sides of her own denomination (PCUSA) had used her “conversion” and then her repudiation of conversion therapy as a bludgeon against one another. I can imagine just wanting to start fresh, let the Lutherans take me as I am now without using my person and past in polarizing ways.
-Having gone through the candidacy and call process of the ELCA—I was under a microscope for 6 years just to get interviewed for a call. Then before the “job interview” they googled my name, they read multiple pages of search results, and read basically every one of my blog entries (poor call committee, I’m freakin’ tedious). I wish ULS’s board had done at least that in this situation regarding Dr. Latini’s online footprint.
-Within that process, at my call vote, the congregation I serve asked me about my sexual orientation (which I refused to reveal). I’m a straight white cis-guy and that line of questioning made me feel uncomfortable and angry. I wonder how Dr. Latini is feeling as East Coast Lutherandom scrutinizes that aspect of her life.
-I wonder too how LGBT+folk at ULS are holding up? What would they like folk connected but outside the institution to be doing?
-Reading the notes from the Q and A session, the ULS board seems out of touch with a world where Google exists and LGBT+folk ought to be respected like everyone else. I’m especially surprised by Dr. Brown’s part in all of this. As a board member of ELM I wouldn’t expect that she would hide information about gay conversion therapy or be part of a group who would write off such a thing as “no big deal.”
-I’m astonished the board and bishops who wrote letters defending Dr. Latini would take them down—this isn’t 1984, there are no memory holes.
-There needs to be a non-board group that establishes a clear timeline of what happened and who knew what when, because the official one has holes in it and feels like something is being hidden.
-I pray for ULS.

My question:

The way in which Dr. Latini was hired seems to fit LTSP’s pattern of miscommunication and resistance to transparency. ULS is still a very young institution, how will ULS use this particular blow-up as a place from which to brake this pattern you’ve inherited from one of your parent institutions?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sermon: Hope Against Hope

Hope against hope

        My absolute favorite worship service is Maundy Thursday. Even as it is about Christ’s firm and unbreakable command to love one another, there is such a vulnerability to it, it’s amazing! There are, as well, the powerful actions that take place, 
foot washing—what can be more vulnerable than exposing your feet to other people, 
communion—sometimes for the first time, 
and the stripping of the altar while Psalm 22 is wailed out!
        Psalm 22, packed with verses that let us stay in that vulnerability
—verses that bottom out, embracing failure, holding us by the very last thread, scraping bottom just to get by… and only at the ending, these verses we read today, 
only there is anything that appears to be praise
—even here a subdued praise, “The LORD has acted!”
Psalm 22, with its cries from the depths and dangers and sufferings of life and threats and experiences of death. This psalm points powerfully to that phrase Paul uses today, “Hope against hope.”
This English phrase pressurizes the longer Greek, which expands out more fully as something like “Beyond Hope and Upon Hope.” Two separate experiences compressed together
—Beyond Hope
—Upon Hope.
      Beyond Hope, Upon Hope. The first a Hope that we cannot reach, that has passed us by,
the second the ground and center of gravity for our being
 Beyond Hope—Look you Abram and Sarai—names themselves barren and sterile. The first and last of a new nation, a branch upshot and withered, an inheritance passed on to nameless servants.
Beyond Hope—You Psalmists struck with awe and fear, despised, crying out, put down by your poverty, ate by your hunger, you who seek and do not find, you who sleep in the earth, who are dust and to dust you have returned, for you are dead.
Beyond Hope—Paul with the promise appearing null and void, Law made lawless, non-existence and death threatening every corner of our life.
Beyond Hope—Peter petrified, his Savior suffering, rejected and killed. Offering crosses as footsteps to follow.

Hope Beyond hope… Reading scripture through that lens, it’s all rather heavy… 
-and for some we are struck dead—“Wait?!? I have to die for resurrection to occur? For new life to take root?
This is terrifying, this reality of our life as Christians and simply as human beings… we do all we can to avoid the gloom and depths of our being and our world, but here’s the thing, it is still there, even if you look away.
-but for others, we who are perishing, this is a powerful promise… yes, when you realize, “The Word of God meets me even here? Even in the depths of my depression, at the bedside of a dying friend, at the psych unit, in the midst of shootings at school, in the grave yard and dementia unit”… God’s Word surrounds and encompasses, and speaks to that—to all of it!
Beyond hope…

Upon Hope too…
Upon Hope—Abraham, Sarah—those are your names, for ancestors, multitudes. A new nation
—laugh if you want to, that which is withered will be fruitful!
Upon Hope—You Psalmists, your awe and fear spreads out in praise and the glorification of God. 
Be Satisfied. 
Arise in the riches of holiness, see now the whole world seeks you out, that you might help them bow down to God! 
You who were once dead, now you live—those who have passed, arise and kneel before God, and their descendants proclaim God’s goodness in every age, and will continue to do so forevermore
—for God has acted!
Upon Hope—Paul those promises held in faith and that wrath you fear, dissolves and disappears! God is the one who gives life to the dead and calls something out of nothing!
Upon Hope—Peter did you not hear—after three days rise again… your life is more precious than the whole world! 
Living your life in authentic holiness will bring cross, yes, but it is real, and sacred, and good!
Upon hope.

Beyond hope, upon hope… 
Beyond hope—17 dead in Florida, students from around the country yet again traumatized and told they are not safe where they spend the majority of their time—in their schools. 17 dead, those kids escaping and those kids who didn’t escape… Lord have mercy!
Upon hope—did you see them… I know some of you disagree with them politically
—but did you see them! 
Standing before state legislators and governors and even the president
—transforming death into action
transforming an impossibly bad situation,
transforming their helplessness, into advocacy, into “Never Again,” opening up a debate about guns
and schools, 
and mental health, 
A debate that had been closed since we adults allowed the death of elementary school children to have the last word after Sandy Hook.
Beyond hope—have you seen a forest of pine on a mountain burnt? The whole edifice blackened, like an angry lava flow, a sheet spread over barren rock, the end of life itself, a moonscape.
Upon hope—pinecones popped open only in extreme heat, strengthened and nourished by rich black earth, new growth where there was none, a whole new forest forming before your eyes.
Beyond hope—apartments burnt in Elizabeth, over a dozen folk with disabilities displaced after a lifetime of living there…
Upon hope—a groundswell response from people of good will across central Jersey, homes found, clothing and food restored—all in the blink of an eye.
Beyond hope—the beginning of Psalm 22 and Jesus’ final cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Upon hope—the ending, that isn’t an end, but instead the gospel for us, “The LORD has acted.”

         Beyond hope… upon hope… rightly facing the reality of sin, death, and the devil—wailing while the world is stripped bare and so are we
—vulnerable there, bottomed out, held by the last thread, yet upheld by the truth that, “The LORD has acted!”
Beyond hope upon hope… hope against hope.