Jen Goes to Denver

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Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.
Leonardo da Vinci

My little activist-y self has been getting some activist-y action. From attending Sanctuary meetings, to marching for our children’s lives, to having breakfast with a small group of local faith leaders and Mike Johnston – a gubernatorial candidate, to sitting through an involved Longmont City Council meeting, to participating in the Democratic caucus for my little precinct. I have found myself in the bosom of that which I never knew I would most enjoy. These things thrill me. I am discovering the power of a voice. A single, lone, citizen’s voice has so much to say.

And just this past week, I testified with my co-pastor Paula on behalf of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and Left Hand Church against HB 1206 – a nasty bill that would discriminate against LGBTQ persons in their daily life from doctor visits and eating at favorite restaurants to adoption options. We convened at the capitol, for six hours listening to both sides of the issue, watching our legislators do their elected jobs. It was powerful, fascinating, and humbling. I am still reeling from the sheer force in that room.

Even before the 2016 presidential election, I was an activist-y sort. I circulated petitions for various causes that seem like nothing now, but were something then. I walked out of school in protest a couple times. I signed pledges, wrote letters, and made calls. But this presidential election has awakened not only something within myself but across the nation. Women are turning out in record numbers to run for office, alongside a multitude of  racial, sexual, and gender minorities. This is important. No longer can we trust the while male power in this country to protect us. My rights as a woman are in jeopardy, as well as the rights of so many with far less privilege.

I consider this an expression of my faith. I consider this resistance and activist action a function of my work as a follower of Christ in the world. And I love every second of it, along with a healthy dose of humble terror. I have a few fiery men and women across my ancestral branches and believe this has made it’s way into my bloodstream. And as difficult as this time is for so many, the fear, the loss, the unknowing – it is an exciting time to be alive. There are opportunities across the spectrum to be active whether it’s in one-on-one conversation, telephone calls, crafting signs, donating money. We all have a small part to play, whatever it may be.

This past Tuesday was not my first visit to Colorado’s Capitol. I’m part of a new organization called the Union for Affirming Christians. We met in Denver in January, a group of forty or so Christian faith leaders across the nation committed to doing the work of LGBTQ justice. As part of our day-long meeting, we paraded a few city blocks to the Capitol in downtown. We toured the Senate’s chambers and settled into a hearing room in the basement for a meeting with Representative Jeff Bridges. He, himself a progressive Christian tasked us with the work of stepping  into these debates, discussions, and spaces to defend the rights of those who need defense. This is our task and our call.

For so long American Christianity has been about self-reflection, self-examination, and salvation. This is not wrong, just incomplete. Many of the nation’s and world’s greatest evils have been perpetuated in the name of religion. Slavery, indigenous genocide, misogyny, homophobia – to name a few – have come at the hands, or at the chosen ignorance of Christians.

And Tuesday’s hearing was no exception. The angriest voices were those of the fundamentalist Christians, the ones bent on protecting their rights and freedoms as the persecuted. Persecuted where? Because they might have to make space for gay people who want the exact same thing? To live a life free from fear, in the pursuit of happiness?

I’m not sure how we mend this tear in our fabric of Christianity, but I remain firm and defiant on the side where I believe Jesus would’ve stood – with the poor, the rejected, the powerless, the hungry, the outcast.

I’m not sure where we got mixed up in all this, where we determined our station is with our own self-preservation and our comfortable congregations with their code of conduct. I’m not sure how this serves us, beyond giving us a tribe of safety. Regardless, I’m out. I’m grateful to be amongst those who know what rejection is.


Here is my testimony from Tuesday, March 27:

Thank you Mr. Chairman for hearing my testimony today. My name is Jennifer Jepsen. I live in Longmont and I am here representing the Interfaith Alliance as well as Left Hand Church in Longmont where I serve as one of the pastors. Left Hand Church is an open and affirming community, welcoming and including all members of the LGBTQ population.

As first and foremost a Christian, as one who takes seriously the greatest commandment of Loving God and Loving my neighbor as I love myself, I believe as a Christian, as a pastor, as a human it is my greatest responsibility to determine what love looks like. I don’t have to look much farther than Jesus. Jesus is our greatest teacher. And Jesus was all about human dignity.

This “Live and Let Live” Bill is one of the farthest things away from the imperative of loving our neighbors. Human dignity has no place in this bill. This denial of services whether it’s adoption and foster care, health care, housing, employment or the use of public spaces – does not advocate for who Jesus would advocate for. There is no offering of human dignity.

I am a straight, cis-gender female. I am a married mother of three children. I am not at risk here. My rights are not threatened. But I have friends and I have family. As a pastor, my fellow pastors are threatened as well as many of my congregants. One thing I have learned from the LGBTQ people in my life is: They are just like me. They want the same things as me. They want the freedom to live a fruitful and productive life, a life where they can love who they love, where they can conduct business in their communities, where they can use their gifts, talents, resources to make the world a better place, where they can serve and grow alongside other people in their workplaces and houses of worship and where their children attend school.

Many Christians don’t agree with me. They believe that affirming our LGBTQ community is a threat to society, to our children, our schools – that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have an agenda. No, the ones I know just want to thrive where they live, given the same protections and kindnesses as anybody else.

This is human dignity – to offer a safe and productive environment for all people to participate equally in the life of their community.

As a follower of Jesus, I seek to understand people different than me. I seek to feel what they feel. This is called empathy. To be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer is not a choice. Let’s consider their humanity as children of God. Let’s reflect the beauty of our great state of Colorado, championing a breathtaking reflection of generous diversity.

Thank you.

For the Bible Tells Me So?

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The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody…He obeys the attractions of an interior voice but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel a big, warm, interior glow.

—Thomas Merton

I have a harried relationship with the Bible. For years it was my penance, to repair the damage I had done in the name of sin and selfishness. I read and re-read, outlining and highlighting, learning and re-learning the concepts encapsulated across the tissue papery pages. I was an earnest sort, longing to know and experience God through seeking, earning my keep, and serving well. The bibles of my childhood, from the Children’s New International Version (NIV) with depictions of white Jesus, to my current copy of the NIV Study Bible, all hold a history of yearning and reaching, but never arriving.

But to be honest with you, the Bible had less to do with personal freedom and more to do with maintaining my purity and trust, while awaiting some grandiose revelation that would finally release me from the relentless searching and longing. I found scripture dull at best and condemning at worst. The Beatitudes were the most problematic as I crafted ways to exit myself from the privilege of my American life, to fit the desired but narrow definition of #blessed.

In response, I set my Bible aside. I couldn’t read the words anymore while measuring my worth against the assumed and tired prescriptions. I needed to know my relationship with the God of the Universe did not hinge on my interpretation and my effort and my choice of Bible study. I needed a hermeneutic (the lens through which scripture is interpreted) that carried love, grace, mercy, and hope across the pages, with room for doubt, questions, and freedom from fear. A God of Love, Generosity, and Abundance must overarch the words and the multitude of interpretations.

I am no theological scholar but I do listen to my body. When the Bible reading habit took a nosedive, my contemplative practice flourished. Through listening, writing, meditation, I have come to a deep reliance on my body’s knowing. My body tells me. When the divorce happened between our bodies and our brains, logic and reason became the gods. Logic and reason became the guiding forces for how we express our faith, how we understand Scripture, how we move about in the world. Logic and reason are wholly inadequate, taking me down a path of binaries, with no room for the middle spaces. When life is reduced to good or bad, sinful or holy, right or wrong we lose beauty, we lose hope. I may never accomplish a bullet-pointed exegesis of Scripture, but I will be able to tell you if something doesn’t seem right, and I will search until I find the answer that settles my gut.

Regardless of how we determine truth, and it is individual and unique for each of us, we must hold Scripture with kid gloves, exercising our responsibilities with great care, bathed in a deep well of humility. Many (most) people have been irreparably harmed and traumatized by inaccurate and harmful teaching. If our greatest work is to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves we may have to separate ourselves from scripture until we can view it through a lens of love, generosity, and abundance. We need to let go of the fear that our faith, our salvation is somehow in jeopardy if we do release our presumed understanding.

But, if we believe in a God that is a God of grace, we have room, ample amounts of room to seek and consider and re-consider. We have room to reform our assumptions and reframe our previous and unhelpful narratives.

It’s an interesting thing now to be writing and preaching sermons. And when you write and preach sermons in a Christian church context, it’s rather important to use Scripture. Who knew?

As I move into this new task of preaching, I pray I hold the heft of the responsibility with the gravitas it deserves. I know I will make mistakes. I know I will misinterpret. But, if through generous humility I make my aim to relay the abundant Love of Christ, I think I’ll be okay.

May we let go of the things that hinder us in experiencing the weight of God’s incredible Love. None of us can know what there is to know. May we find rest and peace in listening to the still, almost silent voice, inviting us into full and abundant renewal, even if it means releasing our stubbornest assumptions.

Kids These Days

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I know the world is done
But you don’t have to be
I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves
Are you tough enough to be kind?
Do you know your heart has its own mind?
Darkness gathers around the lights
Hold on

There is a light
We can’t always see
If there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
That we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

-“13” U2

Are you tough enough to be kind?

Do you know your heart has its own mind?

Darkness gathers around the lights.

I’m watching the children. The children are leading us these days. My kids are consistently perplexing and impressing me. I will admit things are not always rosy and wonderful in our home, but oftentimes it is a result of me being too set in my own ways, too set to follow their lead and challenge my own motivations and expectations. Sometimes they deserve my correction, but sometimes they don’t and I realize it is my turn to learn, to listen, to follow.

Watching our kids makes my neck hurt. In an instant, their ways can be odd and nonsensical, baffling – yet in the next they assume a level of responsibility entirely unbeknownst to me at their ages. They are brilliant. They are resourced. They are these incredible people that I get to watch become in their own right.

Our children are the lights. These kids from Parkland, FL – the next day after witnessing friends and teachers die – are leading us, calling out the adults, telling us to do something. And if we won’t, they will. Our kids marching and protesting and calling our lawmakers to accountability and action. Our kids want to be in school. Our kids want to learn and hang with their friends and participate in activities.

I thought I would take it on myself, just after Parkland, to organize a march. I soon realized as more stories emerged that the kids had it handled. The kids know best right now. And as a mother, an adult, a pastor I will undergird them. I will offer my encouragement and my awe, for they are to be regarded and heard.

Our lights have attracted the darkness. Hate mongering persists, criticism and threat of our lights because of a presumed loss of freedom due to threat of gun loss. Children are dying. Children are dying in their schools and the adults feel threatened because they might lose some high powered weapons.

I’m baffled.

My work is to elevate the lights for they are the brilliant ones these days. The ones who can still see. The ones who feel. The ones who haven’t been corrupted for comfort and payouts. The ones with the threatened future. I’m living in my future. Theirs is before them. Or, at least it should be.

The darkness is so thick and our only release is the speaking out, the activism, the protest march, the walking out. I understand. I am undergirding and I am encouraging. I am standing by waiting for instruction, following the lights.

My senator received over three-million dollars from the NRA. My representative, nearly a million. I hear that that doesn’t matter. They say it’s a drop in the collective bucket of donations. If so, why don’t they walk away? Why don’t they follow the lights?

Few of us have access to that many bucket drops.

I’ll be marching when it’s appropriate, but until I’m encouraging my kids and I’m listening to them. They don’t say a lot. I don’t have a chatty bunch, particularly the boys, but I know it weighs heavy – the drills, the news reports, the conversations. None of this is lost on them. None of it is lost on me.

Our hearts know the right thing. Our hearts feel the weight, the pressure, the pain. We need release and as my heart pulsates deep in my gut, I will allow the anger to build, to inform, to lead me. And right now this mama and pastor must protect and preserve our lights, our kids, advocating and showing up wherever they insist upon shining.

As they protest in righteous, holy anger, those of us who’ve lost our spark, we can follow their light. We can attach ourselves to their energy, inspired by their life, leveraging our resources, platforms, and solutions to promote and elevate their brilliance. We can stand behind them when they speak, carry their snacks and jackets while they march. We can tell our friends and advocate on their behalf. We can vote and call and show up. We can provide safe spaces for their plans, grief, questions.

May we step aside as our children shine bright and pave the way. May we recognize that we had our chance. Let’s let the kids lead. They seem to know better than the rest of us these days.

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

On Smiling…or not

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Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.
― Greta Garbo

I smile a lot. I was told in high school as a freshman by a junior girl who I admired that she liked my smile. So, I took that as a cue to keep smiling. I don’t smile just for smiling’s sake, nor do I smile at the expense of my authenticity. My face reflects my insides on a consistent basis.

Now that I’ve entered this new world of pastors and churches I often wonder if my smile is a detriment to my professional life. As I enter the world of men I think maybe my smile diminishes my offering, my strength. I wonder if I’m written off as “just a mom” or as friendly, or sweet, or hospitable by the people who don’t know me well.

It’s a concern I have more than I’d like to admit. I wonder if my doctor takes me seriously, or my boys, or fellow pastors. I wonder if my smile reduces me to cute, not worthy of being heard. I wonder how many women believe they must play nice in order to be loved, and smile to be regarded.

I like to work out at our local recreation center. The equipment and facility are fine, not as state-of-the-art as our neighborhood gym, but I like the intersectionality of the place. I like to cross paths with people I would not interact with in my everyday life.

I show up happy most days, depending on how much sleep I had the night before and what is being reported on NPR. One particular day I was excited to be there and saw some of my favorite folks. We bantered and shared a laugh. A man, who I didn’t recognize, walked over, stood before me encroaching my personal space and complimented my smile and said how much he enjoys my laugh.

In the past I would’ve made a silly, offhanded comment, but instead I offered a terse Thank you and carried on with my scheduled workout. I had no desire to cater to him or try to make him feel better. I just wanted him gone.

I’ve been working on listening to my gut. And in this space, as much as I love the people, there are a few I find suspect, who raise some intuitive red flags. Since the election, I find great difficulty in trusting older, white men until I get to know them. I wonder, with this particular man if my smile makes him feel better, if it makes him less uncomfortable around me.

I work hard when I exercise. I push heavy weights and oftentimes scowl into the mirror. A time or two I’ve been told to smile by other dudes, but I’m not sure how to repeatedly lift a 25 pound dumbbell into an overhead press without a scowl. I will not smile at the expense of my muscle mass.

There’s an odd dance I think women have to engage within to be heard and to function in our spaces. I’m recognizing how hard it is, deciphering on the fly what is needed in the moment. And my heart breaks realizing the number of years I spent trying to impress and placate men, while attempting to be liked, seen, and heard. I felt I needed to be small and cute so as not to be a threat, or to be named a bitch.

I like to write and preach from my scars not my wounds, as Nadia Bolz-Weber recommends. But sometimes things remain an open wound and they need to be discussed. I suspect the longer I operate in this world I will gain traction and learn and associate with men who are good and generous, but how many women have to compromise themselves to placate the males? And on this International Women’s Day I feel grief. This shouldn’t even be a thing.

I just want to be myself. I want all women to be themselves. I don’t want our size, shape, intelligence, talent, monetary worth, fashion selections, hair color, facial lines to be a liability. I want to smile and frown because it’s reflective of how I feel in the moment. I want to be me without catering to the people that feel uncomfortable. I want to show up as myself – sometimes happy, sometimes not. I want to demonstrate my ferocity as a woman, a mother, a pastor, as an advocate for people who need advocates. I want to be known as I am.

It might be a lot to ask. I don’t know. It’s still a wound, but I am committed to figuring it out – for our girls, our daughters, our sisters, and mothers.

So, on this International Women’s Day, smile if you want or don’t. It really shouldn’t matter.

Rivers of Joy

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“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

The three of us sat equidistant across the table from one another. It was our staff meeting – the last before we go full-time church. We stared back at each other over our meals, eyes wide, one of us dared to state the obvious: We are starting a church.

To anyone who has been reading this blog you know this is nothing new. This is not a current revelation. This church has been in the works for three years and we’ve had two “preview” services. This is real and it is happening and none of us are sure we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

But I can say with certainty, in the midst of our national pain and difficulty. In the midst of our desperation for what is true and right and good. In the midst of our search for hope, this church plant is the one thing that brings me life. Sure, I have kids and a good partner and friends. But the holy and hard-won work of getting this body born, as gut- wrenching and confusing as it has been, this good work is what brings relief.

After each of our two services thus far, both friends and new acquaintances alike stopped me with eyes wide: Church can be like this? I didn’t think I could go to church again.

This dearth of churches offering just and generous expressions of the gospel is a serious problem. When church is full of shame and shoulds, aligned with empire and politics, while failing to be a safe and welcome and inclusive place for anyone who walks through the doors, we have a serious problem.

I grew up attending Billy Graham’s Crusades. The first was in Spokane, WA when I was 10. My parents were involved, singing in the collective choir. I remember the endless on and on of “Just as I Am” as folks seeking salvation filed forward in droves. I found the spectacle fascinating and a true testament to the love and invitation of Jesus.

But I’m unsure how to feel about Graham now in light of his recent passing. I am not that same person. And I shouldn’t be. I’m a grown woman with a grown up faith. But I believe the evangelicalism of Billy Graham left us with a navel-gazing theology that tempts us to call our own salvation, our own cleanliness and holiness the pinnacle of our faith journey, inviting others to do the same. And while I know it is important to take inventory, to recognize where we are inconsistent and where our shortcomings harm those we love the most, I don’t believe this is the end of the road. I don’t believe we can hang our hats on some spiritual arrival. I am concerned we’ve reduced God to someone we must appease, striving for perfection. I’m concerned our Christianity has been reduced to a scarce either/or rather than an abundant both/and.

And now we are experiencing the ramifications of Billy Graham’s evangelicalism. We may have clean and forgiven souls while our society suffers. What about the pain in the world? What about the power differentials, the oppression, the systems of superiority? Is the church complicit because it’s been so engrossed in the confidence of personal piety?

As of last count, I asked God to save me eleven times. Contemplating a life of fiery torment due to normal bouts of greed, selfishness, gossip. I trembled in my bed imagining a world where demons lied in wait for my soul. I believed my good was never good enough. It was all about me. My efforts. My sin. My perfection. My holiness.

With our national climate of partisanship and tribalism, I wonder if focusing on our personal sin isn’t helping. What about the collective sin of our whiteness? Of our collective sins of heterosexism, patriarchy, and income inequality? Any time one group is oppressed at the benefit of another, pressed further into the muck of poverty and prejudice we must confess, repent, and seek a better way. A way of Love. A way of faithful generosity. A way of justice.

And this is why I believe in the church. I long to experience community so I can learn, grow, and participate in a life that works out of love. A life that seeks to find and dismantle the structures that oppress, the systems that prioritize superiority. I want a community that roots out systemic sin and calls it out, participating in the wonder of grace, generosity, justice.

And this is where the joy lies. This is where the joy flourishes – in the working together that results in equality, equity, and justice for all. May the Church lead in this.

I have no doubt Billy Graham was a good man. I think he did the best he could with what he knew and what he believed – what we all believed. I wonder what awareness came to him later in his life. I wonder what he knows now.

I am grateful, thrilled, in wonder at this new body we have in Left Hand Church. There are good things happening in Boulder County. And the greatest byproduct, the greatest gift is joy. True, untarnished joy.