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A World on the Move
Queering Faith
Igniting Change

Immersion Blogs


Reflections from the American Church in Paris

By | A World on the Move, Immersions, Paris Immersion | No Comments

Immersion participants will be blogging here throughout their course, “Immigration/Refugee Crisis, Religion, Globalization and the Post-Colonial State,” sponsored by Pacific School of Religion, UC Berkeley Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project (IRDP), and Zaytuna College. Today’s post is from Joel Wildermuth, an MDiv student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. 

As we are quickly learning, the study of human migration is deeply complex. It requires thorough care in attending to the layers of identity that are bound up in conversations around the on-going global migration crisis.

As a group of learners from diverse backgrounds, we continue to encounter the challenge of conversations in which religious, ethnic, and social identity are significant factors. What we are learning to embrace is the discomforting nature of these kinds of conversations, and the fact that they demand honest, intentional, and respectful engagement from us if we are to adequately make sense of what we are seeing around us and how we might respond to it. In this way, discomfort is good. Discomfort summons us—particularly those of us who come from positions of privilege—to see the narratives of injustice and oppression that we have been blind to, and further demands that we see (and hear!) these narratives with humility and compassion. Staying with one another through these conversations is part of the necessary work that needs to be done as people join together in justice work.

On a more personal level, I would like to share a thought that came to me as we listened to the migration stories of six members of the American Church in Paris – a congregation in which 40-50 nationalities are represented. In each story it was evident that legal matters played a significant role. Who is allowed in? Who is not allowed in? How long can they stay? What are they allowed to do? How long does it take to obtain legal papers? And how does one’s identity factor in to these questions? The only thing I could think of as I listened to these stories was: Why is it that legally belonging somewhere is such a big deal, and why have we allowed the legality/illegality of migration to preclude the moral prerogative we have to help our fellow human beings seeking safety, opportunity, a place of belonging, and a place to flourish? I yearn for a world in which national boundaries no longer deprive people of these things.


Prayers for Days Like These

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We are uplifting student, staff, faculty, and alumni/ae reactions to the horrific violence affecting our communities, nation, and world. May these words will be a source of comfort and call to loving action. Please email your reflections to Erin Burns (eburns@psr.edu) to be considered for posting.

Active Grief Affirmations

Active Grief Affirmation by Latishia James“As a black woman, learning to be okay with taking up space has been a difficult process. However, it is a process that was aided by my grief. Grief does not care about privilege or propriety. Grief demands acknowledgement and once it begins there is no turning it off. And so I began the journey of not only grieving but of convincing myself that the way I was grieving was perfectly fine. Active Grief Affirmations was born from that place.” – Latishia AV James (MDiv ’16)

Read Latishia’s Active Grief Affirmations here

A Prayer for Days Like These (July 8, 2016)
by Dr. Sharon R. Fennema, Assistant Professor of Christian Worship and Director of Worship Life

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
when weariness seeps into our bones
with its arthritic ache made worse by the ever-present storms of fear and injustice,
when the bright flashes of the relentless death-dealing forces of racism
remain on our retinas even after we close our eyes,
when the thunderous outrage of those who seem only now to have woken up
(how many bodies did it take – ‪#‎staywoke‬)
echoes hollowly in the face of the mountain climb of change
when the arc of the moral universe is too long and the bend toward justice too shallow
raise up in us a voice that cries out
not only in lament
not only for justice
not only in outrage
but also
with feet that take to the streets
with hands that hold the traumas and offer healing
with ears that hear the call to keep unfolding our own prejudice and privileges
with eyes that see not only the need for ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ but the beauty of it
with fingers that do more than press “like”
and pick up the phone
or the computer
or the voter registration card
or the protest sign
or the prayer book
with bodies that show up and keep showing up
God of these weary days, weary years, weary lifetimes,
Unsilence our tears.

What would a Silicon Valley brand of community organizing look like? 

By | A World on the Move, Main News, President | No Comments

Silicon Valley Roundtable

by Rev. Dr. David VásquezLevy, President, Pacific School of Religion

What would a Silicon Valley brand of community organizing look like? 

That was one of the central questions at the Interfaith Roundtable in Silicon Valley that we hosted at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.  The thinking from a select group of religious, business, philanthropy, and social change leaders identified two particular markers: (1) the possibilities that would arise from drawing on the innovation, collaboration, and creativity that are a hallmark of Silicon Valley to engage complex social issues; (2) The need to recognize and become better engage the growing power and influence of tech companies that mirrors—and sometimes rivals—the traditional power structures of government and civic society. 

Energy came into the conversation as we imagined both the potential of a relational engagement with the best aspirations of tech industry leaders, as well as the need for social change leaders to more effectively highlight the ways that the new economy being developed in Silicon Valley duplicates and sometimes exacerbates historical inequalities.

With a 150 year history of preparing spiritually rooted leaders, we at Pacific School of Religion are excited to broaden our partnership to develop the next generation of leaders who can frame the issues of our day and their own passions in a broad, imaginative, and compelling narrative, while sustaining their work by drawing on the animating power of faith.  The Roundtable highlighted the potential and need for creating a Silicon Valley brand of community organizing.

Read former Board of Trustees Chair Julien Phillip’s reflections on the Silicon Valley Roundtable here.


Pacific School of Religion welcomes Dave Beeman as Vice President for Admissions and Enrollment Management

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Pacific School of Religion welcomes Dave Beeman as PSR’s new Vice President for Admissions and Enrollment Management, beginning August 1. We are excited for the depth of experience, commitment, and passion that Dave brings to this newly restructured position, which reflects the discernment that shaped our search process for leadership in this important part of our work and ministry together.

Dave joins us from the Columbia University School of the Arts in New York City, where he has served in various capacities since 2001, including oversight of financial aid, admissions, student affairs and alumni affairs. Most recently, he has served as Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid, which included serving as the school’s chief enrollment officer. In addition, and at various times in his tenure, he has served on Columbia University’s Financial Literacy Committee, the International Student Loan Suggested Lender Review Committee and as a member of the Gender-Based Misconduct Panel. He has also been a member of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the New York State Dave BeemanFinancial Aid Administrators’ Association, and the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals.

With three ordained United Methodist ministers in his immediate family (and parents who married in seminary in 1951), he understands the vital role spiritual leaders can play in social change.

As he accepted the position, Dave said: “As the world continues to grow more complicated, it is an incredible honor to help recruit the next generation of theological and spiritual leaders representing the broadest possible array of backgrounds. Building upon the great work of the past, I look forward to collaborating with the PSR community to enhance the school’s efforts in strategic planning, recruitment, financial aid and student retention, thereby aiding our graduates in becoming the stewards of social change they are called to be.”

Do Not Be Afraid: Celebrating the Courageous Leadership of PSR Alumnae this Pride Weekend

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Do not be afraid.

This Pride weekend, in the continued aftermath of the attack at PULSE nightclub in Orlando two weeks ago, two PSR alumnae—Bishop Yvette Flunder and the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto—are among those embodying the courageous Gospel call to resist fear.

Every encounter between humans and the divine in Scripture begins with the phrase: “do not be afraid.”  This liberating message is at the heart of the Gospel.  It framed Jesus’ earthly life—from the angels’ mid-night message to the shepherds at his birth to Jesus’ post-resurrection words to those who gathered in fear behind closed doors after the atrocity of the crucifixion.

This year’s San Francisco Pride celebration represents a particular statement about resisting fear.  Pride is a time to celebrate the unique and diverse gifts that LGBTQ people bring to our world and to recommit ourselves to safeguarding the rights of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Bishop Yvette Flunder, founding pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ and presiding Bishop of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, will serve as a featured speaker from the Main Stage, bringing the kind of powerful witness to justice and liberation that has been a hallmark of her ministry.

In an historic moment, the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto became one of the first openly-LGBTQ persons to be nominated to the Episcopacy in the United Methodist Church.  The California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church at its annual gathering this week recognized the gifts for leadership and ministry of Rev. Dr. Oliveto—senior pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco—when they voted to nominate her as their sole episcopal candidate to the Western Jurisdictional Conference. Rev. Dr. Oliveto was also the lead author of the #CalledOut letter, in which more than a hundred United Methodist clergy came out as LGBTQ last month.

We are grateful for the ministry and witness of these two remarkable alumnae.  PSR is proud of our long heritage of educating LGBTQ people for ministry and leadership; these two women embody our commitment to the inclusion of LGBTQ people in every aspect of church life and our society. Both contribute actively to the development of the next generation of leaders by serving as adjunct faculty members at PSR.

As PSR marks its 150th anniversary, we remain committed to the tradition of boldness that led to our founding and has supported our mission.   Join us in our work of resisting fear as we prepare theologically and spiritually rooted leaders for social transformation.  Explore our website to learn more about our work and explore the resources of PSR’s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion.

Orlando’s Intersections: May Our Differences Stretch Us to Revolutionary Love, by Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

By | Faculty, Main News, Queering Faith, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza | No Comments

Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethics Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza reflected on the Orlando massacre for Sojourners.

It was the last day of the Philly Trans Health Conference, the day of the Philly Pride Parade. It was my first time at the conference, and as a non-binary trans Latin@, I felt safe, finally, and had a growing awareness that my body was safely contained with other trans and trans-positive folks.

That safety was fractured when I woke to the news of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. As I lay there in shock — many of my LGBTQ siblings, the majority of them Latin@, were murdered, taken from our community — mí gente, I cried!

And as a non-binary trans Latin@, I knew that my own response would be an important one. I have always been vocal about the constellation of differences that are found in relationship relative to race, religion, and sexuality. This shooting has been named one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history, and we cannot ignore the overlapping intersections of race, religion, politics, gender, and sexuality. Read the full post on Sojourners.

Keep on Dancing, by Rev. Dr. Jay Johnson

By | Faculty, Jay Johnson, Main News, Queering Faith | No Comments

Rev. Dr. Jay Johnson wrote the following post for his blog, Peculiar Faith

I know some churches where lots of dancing happens on Sunday mornings.

I know some gay dance clubs where lots of praying happens on Saturday nights.

For many years, I failed to notice the deep intertwining of these spaces, the blurring of the categorical lines and boxes that supposedly mark the difference between “sacred” and “secular.”

I grew up in a religious tradition that treated dancing with a great deal of suspicion and attended a college where social dancing of any kind was forbidden. Even after setting aside that religious perspective, I mostly overlooked the glittering sparks of divinity flying off the sweaty bodies of gay dancers and the spiritual glow of otherwise dingy warehouse clubs where we all felt safe, safe enough to be ourselves.

No, more than that: I learned how to be myself in those clubs. I learned friendship and devotion, comradery and betrayal, ecstasy and grief. I kept my sanity on those dance floors in times of anguish and with friends and lovers who likely saved my life more than once. I understood far better what Christian liturgy meant on Sunday morning – and why I should bother going – by dancing with all those other queers on Saturday night.

For years I enjoyed dancing in gay clubs for more reasons than I appreciated at the time. The light of that appreciation dawned brighter one night some years ago on a dance floor in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I wrote about that night in my book, Peculiar Faith, and how odd and transformative it was on that particular night and in that particular place to feel completely at home in my body with all those other bodies. With few exceptions, we weren’t dancing as couples that night but all together, each of us dancing with all the others. It was one of the few times in my whole life when I felt, without any doubt, that I truly belonged somewhere.

I felt the Gospel, in other words. I felt the Gospel residing securely and cozily in my very own body.

I don’t mean that gay dance clubs are perfect slices of Eden. They aren’t, and neither are churches. But I did at least touch and taste that night what I have come to believe is the very hope of Christian faith: to be completely at home in our own bodies without any shame, completely at home among other bodies without any guilt, and completely at home with God without any fear – all at the same time.

Experiencing “home” with that kind of depth is sadly quite rare and perhaps becoming rarer still in a world of so much fragmentation and isolation and violence. Oddly enough, I am convinced that the peculiar faith of Christians can rise to meet these yearnings for home; more oddly still, most churches could use some help in that work from gay dance clubs.

From eighteenth-century English “molly houses” to twentieth-century nightclubs, LGBTQ people have persistently carved out spaces of safe haven, gathering with others often at the risk of physical harm. Far more than venues for drinking alcohol and finding sexual liaisons—though that happened too—these spaces of homeward longing catalyzed shared reflection, strategizing, and deep bonds of affection. All of this redrew the cultural and political map of Europe and the United States.

Someone else just recently noted these things about queer spaces as well – the President of the United States. Responding to the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Barack Obama noted that gay bars stand for more than dancing; they provide places of “solidarity and empowerment.”

That sounds like Church, or what church could and ought to be. Consider what a friend of mine reported hearing from a speaker at the vigil held in Oakland, California, the night of the shooting. “When they kill black people, they kill them in church; when they kill gay people, they kill them in the clubs.” A voice in the crowd then responded, “sanctuary is sanctuary.”

The purpose of terrorism, whether foreign or domestic, is to terrify us and divide us. Queer people have known this for a long time – and still we gather. The earliest Christians knew this too; and still they gathered to celebrate the mysteries of faith, often under threat of imperial persecution.

This is scary stuff – the very stuff of terrorism. Yet as a wise colleague of mine once said years ago, “You cannot do Christian theology from a place of fear,” he said. “The only way to do Christian theology is by being open to the possibility of joy.”

A second-century Christian said mostly the same thing by declaring that “those who do not dance do not know what is coming to pass.”

In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, there are many steps we must take to heal and to guard against still more violence. Whatever else we do, though, let us make sure to dance – and hold hands, and share hugs, and kiss each other.

Dancing is not a luxury and it is not frivolous. Dancing is the bodily necessity of joy and the rhythm of courage. And still more: While LGBT people dance for a host of reasons, a thread of commonality weaves all of it together. In a world of oppressive social structures, unwelcoming religious institutions, and constant threats of violence, we dance for hope.

This – in addition to having lots of fun – is why I find dancing with other LGBT people so compelling. We do live in a world of rampant bigotry, physical insecurity, and risks to personal safety; and still we dance, and at times with joy shaking loose from our bodies and gratitude lighting up our faces.

I dance and I see the luminous presence of God.

No shame.
No guilt.
No fear.

Keep on dancing.

Rev. Dr. Jay Johnson is Pacific School of Religion’s Visiting Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture, Academic Director of the Ignite Institute, and Director of the Certificate of Spirituality and Social Change (CSSC) and Master of Arts in Social Transformation (MAST).