June 2019 - Randi Johnson

What is the injustice here?

This year’s Pride event seems more significant than those of the past few to me.  It’s been a tough year for the LGBTQ+ community and I have really felt the “target on my back”.  “Pride” is an opportunity to stand proud and be seen for the daughter of Christ I am in the midst of these turbulent times …….

I am a charismatic, born again, transgender, Methodist woman running a Federal climate change research program in the Trump administration. Life is good, but it’s been a turbulent year for me and the LGBTQ+ community for a number of reasons:

The government is working to take away our basic human rights by:

1) Reversing the federal policy that provides transgender people equal access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

2) Allowing healthcare providers to choose not to perform procedures if they violate the provider’s conscience or religion, which would include not treating me and other LGBTQ+ patients.

3) Taking transgender medical services away from our military; the Federal civilian work force (which includes me) seems to be the next target based on HHS policies and statements.

4) Reversing the federal policy that protected transgender people’s equal access to homeless shelters and housing assistance.

5) Instituting a ban that effectively prevents transgender troops from serving in the Military.

6) The Federal government is now proposing to redefine human rights based on “natural law”.

7) The Virginia legislature once again failed to pass basic human rights protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

My denomination, the United Methodist Church, made it perfectly clear that it considers me a second-class member when it emphasized this point earlier this year its special General Conference to deal with the LGBTQ+ issue.  Fortunately, my local congregation (Restoration Reston) fully affirms me and allows be to be in leadership roles (I love my church family!).

Add to this that the Administration is moving my research organization out of the DC area for no apparent reason other than to disrupt research (did I mention I run a climate change research program?) and you can see why life has been turbulent lately.

What is your role or experience?

This month the LGBTQ+ (queer) community makes the simple statement, we are here, we are people of value, we (and everyone) deserve equal rights (btw, we aren’t asking for special rights, just equal rights).  We, like all people, want to be a functioning and valued part of society.  Diversity brings strength, let’s embrace it.

Despite the current political environment, I’m spoiled rotten and blessed to the core.  I have the support of my neighborhood (I have a great “pack” of ladies I hang with), my church, and my workplace. I have a daughter that loves and supports me and is about to have my first grandchild ❤️.  My job is secure and I can retire at any time.  My relationship with our loving God is strong and secure.  Since my transition in 2017, I have been able to be my true self and I challenge the prejudices in the world around me.  God is good. Life is good.

The morning after the 2016 election God and I had a conversation.  I was still presenting male, a privileged straight white male, and I realized I was about to give up the privileges that come with being a straight white male.  The Federal government was about to switch from an Administration that accepted me to an anti-queer Administration.  I was scared.  God started out: “fear not”, me: “easier said than done”, God: “where have you been putting your trust?”, me: “executive orders”, God: “How’s that working for you?”…..  I realized I had put my trust in people and not in God; it was clear I needed to look to my loving Maker and not the government.  However, I responded: “but I feel like a second- or third-class citizen now”.  God: “Now you understand how much of the world feels”.   While it didn’t feel like a good thing, I now know that this is actually a blessing.  I now know (as the apostle Paul kind of says in Philippians 4) what it is to be privileged and what it is to be second-class. Being transgender, and having presented both male (for 60 years) and female (only 2.5 years), I also have insights into both male and female perspectives.  Very few people have all these perspectives; I’m spoiled.  Life is good because I understand the blessings that are mine.  I also have the privilege of being “out” without the fear (valid fear) that many of my LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers have.  While I am not a “militant”, I am visible.  I am in lay leadership in my local church, I serve on the board of Equality USDA, I accept opportunities to speak when asked, and I can do it without fear. I am spoiled and blessed.

How has creativity or art brought reconciliation for you or this injustice?

Art and symbolism allow me to make statements without being blatantly in your face.  A Trans Pride flag during Pride week allows me to make a statement in my neighborhood in a nonthreatening way.  A 500queerscientists sticker on my work notepad allows me to be out and proud and yet non-threatening at work.  The 1Church4All bumper sticker on my car tells the world I’m a Christian and we are called to love everyone.

What is one practical way you want people to get involved? 

What do I want from people?  I do NOT want them to “understand” me; I want them to accept and respect me for the human I am (and the LGBTQ+ community for the people they are).  To understand me you would need to be transgender, and I don’t wish that upon anyone. People also need to stand up for the oppressed and not be silent.  That means telling your law makers you don’t approve of taking away people’s rights, pointing out prejudice when you see it in everyday life, and showing love and respect to all.  I want people to be informed by science and facts, not by myths, false stereotypes, prejudice, hatred and fear.

I’m a member of three “clubs” I don’t want my friends to be part of.  I’ve lost a wife to cancer, lost a child to heroin, and I’m transgender.  All three have helped formed me into the woman of God I am today, but I wish these on no one. I wish I hadn’t experienced any of these, but I’m also thankful for what I have learned through the process.  I wish there was an easier way to learn, but we are who we are because of the struggles we have endured.  I am thankful that I have let these life “events” make me better, and not bitter.  God is faithful, even when life falls apart.  God will continue to be faithful as I and my community continue to fight for the human rights we are all entitled to.

For more insights on being a transwoman, see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrYx7HaUlMY&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR0P-eRe5g7rinZ1Tew-ySOFQX-xPsy3gd-MTyM1Mdky3o60zkyyjNoBneQ

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This is such a special post. Not only is Randi a friend, powerful woman in government and strong faithful Christian, she is actual family. I have learned so much simply by knowing her and chatting at family gatherings.

One of my favorite experiences was going on an evening prayer walk and listening to her dedication, trust and wisdom. During that time (and every other time, honestly) Randi reminded me how important we all are. All of us matter.

You don’t have to wait until society forces your family members into a vulnerable space. There are so many folks already in those spaces. Get to know them. Become their allies. Use your voice on their behalf. Engage politically. Fight for HUMAN RIGHTS. Fight for Love.

I am learning Love is never passive.

Thanks for partnering with me during your busiest time of year, Pride Month. Love you!

May 2019 - Denae Blosser

What is the injustice here?

All across Turtle Island (the "North American Continent" without borders), the land, air, water, animal relatives and Indigenous people are suffering from a 500+ year violent colonial history. Considering Indigenous people have existed since time-immemorial to this continent, the shuddering powers of genocide have left staggering and unapologetic consequences for those Indigenous Nations that have survived. One of the most difficult continual issues we face as Indigenous People is the extremely high rates of missing and murdered people. There are numbers, stats, etc. to support understanding this violence but as Indigenous communities, we live with the reality in our hearts, minds, and spirits.

What is your role or experience?

My role is to represent my nation, community, clan and my kin. 

As Rauna Kuokkanen puts it, “Instead of being victims, indigenous women are citizens of their nations fighting to have their rights recognized as women and as a people. In many cases, indigenous women are organizers who actively mobilize their communities and available resources in most creative ways that often go beyond ideologies and practices of global market economy."

MMIWhoismissing is using modern tools, photo-documentary practices, and creative campaigning to sustain awareness and to promote the deep understanding we need to address this violence. It is about spirit, it is about love for our people.

How has creativity or art brought reconciliation for you or this injustice?

As an indigenous woman, it is in my nature to create. It is in our nature to create with purpose. We create not for ourselves, but for our people, our families, our communities. This campaign, though a reflection of a collective pain we share all across Turtle Island, has personal roots within me. I work because this colonial violence took a mother away from me, for me this is productive healing. 

What is one practical way you want people to get involved? 

a) There is no practical way. If non-indigenous people want to help or get involved, it starts with a deep reflection of their own kin, systems, and communities that have thrived off the genocidal violence of Indigenous people and how the individual often blindly maintains these systemic injustices in their own life. 

b) see included "Indigenous Ally Toolkit" (Please email Megan at meegggss@gmail.com for a copy!)

c) follow, support, listen and donate to MMIWhoismissing 

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Though my mother is maternally indigenous, we have never really understood what that meant for us. So much of my familial ethnic identity faded when she died as a middle aged woman.

I became aware of the sacred beauty and creativity of indigenous people as a young girl at Pow Wows. I loved the dancing and the intricacies of traditional clothing and jewelry. And I still do.

I first became aware of the injustice of colonization in Bridgetown Church in Portland, OR. An indigenous man was invited to share his experience under the oppression, and resilience of, colonialism. Especially Christian colonialism.

Then more recently, I heard Kaitlin Curtice speak at Evolving Faith in Montreat, NC. She led a meditation on the sanctity of land and tribes who originally cared for it.

Both of my experiences exposed my complacency, or silent violence. I knew I needed to learn more.

After engaging with Kaitlin on social media a few times, I came across activist Denae Shanidiin (@MMIWhoismissing). Honestly, it was the intense beauty of grief that drew me into Denae’s work. She advocates bravely, authentically, and inclusively. She isn’t doing this for popularity or capital gain. This is her healing process and, thankfully, she is taking us on her journey.

It is a wonder to behold. I beg us all to engage nonviolently. Learn. Read the Toolkit. Keep our eyes, ears, and mouths open.

These prints depict the type of healing activism I have seen in Denae and other Indigenous women. They are for sale in our “SHOP” tab. Any profit will be shared with Denae and her advocacy. Thank you for partnering with RECONFIGURE Art, Denae!

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April 2019 - Kellay Chapman

1. What is the injustice you experience (specifically related to Sexual Assault Awareness Month)?

On a personal level I experience the injustice of being a woman in our culture, at best weathering sexualized comments about my appearance and further down the spectrum having to engage unwanted sexual solicitations. And, this occurs in everyday situations and places- at a restaurant or in line at the grocery store. These experiences are so common for women we tend to not recognize them as injustice, however if we are going to spend a month working to grow in our awareness around sexual assault it is important to remember experiences of sexual harm and violence happen on a spectrum. Anyone who uses sexual undertones that make someone uncomfortable has perpetrated a kind of assault. On a vocational level I experience a myriad of injustices as I engage the stories of individuals through sexual abuse recovery groups. The injustice of parents who failed to protect their children, who set their children up for abuse intentionally or unintentionally. The injustice of abusers' ability to foster a sense of complicity in their victims. The injustice of the abuse itself, namely the experiences of powerlessness, betrayal, and ambivalence we all suffer in the wake of harm suffered in relationship. 

2. What is your role or experience?

I facilitate sexual abuse recovery groups using material by Dan Allender and The Allender Center of The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. I have been walking through stories of harm with folks since 2013 when I was first trained through The Allender Center. I have now led around fifteen thirteen week recovery groups locally and I also work as an apprentice with The Allender Center facilitating at some of their workshops from time to time. I am also a survivor of a complex family of origin system, which had significant failures to protect and nurture in the realm of sexuality.

3. How has creativity or art brought reconciliation for you or this injustice?

I often use poetry to process the stories I am privileged to engage. This allows me to ponder stories in a way that is not voyeuristic. Also, at the end of my recovery groups we share a celebration meal together to mark the work we have done and the journey we have been on together. At these meals each person in the group brings a gift for all of the other members. These gifts are always creative. Gifts include paintings, poems, blessings, plants or flowers, reminders of our beauty. When one is able to cultivate beauty in the wake of abuse one is defiantly standing against evil. In essence it is a re writing of the story, a taking back of power, an ownership of voice.

4. What is one practical way you want to see people get involved?

Engage your own stories of harm. You cannot be a good listener to the stories of others if you have not listened well to your own story. Begin therapy, engage the work of Brené Brown, take the Story Sage or Wounded Heart online courses through The Allender Center, join a recovery group if that's an option where you live. We all live in a broken world therefore we have all experienced some level of trauma, which needs to be integrated in order for us to live as whole and alive people. Secondly, begin to disrupt the cultural myth that abuse is an experience of the other. Sexual abuse occurs in all communities, including faith communities. Whether you know their stories or not you know many survivors of sexual abuse, be mindful of this in your interactions with others. And, most of all, remember one survivor you know may be yourself. Offer yourself relentless kindness as you begin your own journey of healing. If you would like help locating resources in your area as you begin to engage your own stories of harm, or are looking for resources, on behalf of others, please feel free to get in touch with me. 

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As a victim of sexual assault myself, I have experienced (and still experience 10+ years later) the slow and difficult work of restoring a healthy sexuality. I am deeply grateful to know Kellay and her heart for this work. She is the real deal! If you need help, reach out. You can take back your power. Don’t be silent.

Below you will see the art piece I created to represent Kellay’s blog and my own story. I wanted to depict how recovery from sexual assault takes mental strength and a gentle reintroduction to the physical body. It is personal work that takes time.

This print is for sale in our “SHOP” tab. Any profit will be shared with Kellay and her organization/cause of choice. Thanks Kellay!

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March 2019 - Erin S. Lane

1. What is the injustice you experience (specifically related to Women’s History Month)?

A tiresome and lazy under-representation of women’s theological voices in sermons, songs, and footnotes.

2. What is your role or experience?

Hey-o, I’m a theologian! And I have been since the age of four when I ran up and down the driveway doing windmills with my arm and shouting hallelujahs with my  mouth.

But it wasn’t until I went to Divinity School in my late twenties that I realized how deeply problematic the “cannon” is for women’s theological voices. Cannon here simply means the writings a religious community discerns as foundational and formational to the faith. The only trouble, of course, is that for thousands of years now the writings in the Christian tradition that have been found up to snuff (or found at all) are the stuff of men. So, the injustice is perpetuated when we are told that before we can grow in our faith we have to know the basics—or what my training called the “core curriculum.” Learning from the ways of women? Elective.

Even now when pastors and professors and parishioners regularly quote sources other than the Bible, there is often a cultural cannon they’re pulling from: men like C.S. Lewis, Rob Bell, and Eugene Peterson are popular choices in my progressive circles. And so the cycle continues whereby we support the writings of men with our time, tongues, and tokens, and slowly they become “essential” reading for not just the friend we’re gushing to over coffee but the future generations formed after us.

3. How has creativity or art brought reconciliation for you or this injustice?

Well, I am literally trying to “write” this wrong!

My first published book was an anthology I co-edited called Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith (White Cloud Press, 2013). It was comprised of 40 essays from women under 40 unearthing the taboos that have stifled us, divided us, and prevented us from feeling at home in our Christian communities. Perhaps the coolest part of the book— the whole series, really—is that you get to hear women speak for themselves. This takes the pressure off having to agree with them or even “tolerate” them, and instead you get to bear witness to the people who are living in your neighborhoods, communities, churches, and home. 

For my second book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe (InterVarsity Press, 2015), I wanted to explore the alienation of being a modern women in an ancient church. It’s about my search for a church home as a Catholic feminist in the American south. It’s about becoming a pastor’s wife before I became myself. So, too, is it a story about enduring community when it’s awkward, and small talk suffocates and the preacher gives bad sermons and the suffering of strangers feels intrusive. Still, we offer our pained lives to one another like bread and say, “Take. Eat. I belong to you.”

4. What is one practical way you want to see people get involved?

“You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it,” the poet Adrienne Rich said, and I would add to it, “—and quote, as if your life depended on it.”

Don’t just read books by women this month—and all year long—but quote wise women in meetings and conversations and presentations and Instagram posts. If you’re giving a sermon or writing a story, count how many sources you cite and challenge yourself to have at least half from women. (I did this for Lessons in Belonging and it was hard and humbling work.) If you can’t get a least half, tell us why, raise a flag, find others forging a solution. If you’re a woman, quote yourself more! And if you’re a man, quote a woman more! Better yet, step aside more often than you’d like, so women can speak for ourselves and tell you about the cannon—Rabia and Julian of Norwich, Mary Oliver and Alice Walker, bell hooks and Clarissa Pinkola Estes—that is shaping our stories.  

Most importantly, slow down. I like to tell people that the most feminist thing I do is move at the speed of my soul—which is to say that I must first tend to all that is tiresome and lazy within me in order to tend to the slow work of justice.

Erin S. Lane is an author, editor, and retreat facilitator who lives in Raleigh, NC with her improbable kin. To get word when she’s written a fresh one, subscribe to her “Good for You” newsletter by visiting www.erinslane.com.

Seriously, go sign up. Its full of divine mischief that will open your eyes to the goodness in your everyday life.

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February 2019 - Josiah Sims

Happy Black History Month, friends. May you and I have the courage and strength to stand up for and alongside our black brothers and sisters. This month, yes. But always.

This month, I had the honor of partnering with my friend from college, Josiah Sims. Josiah is a black artist living is San Diego, CA. Please check out (and BUY!) his art here. He is all those things and much more. He loves God and others, has eyes to see systemic and generational injustice, a passion to educate white and brown folks and has such creativity.

Below you will read his voice, unedited. The bold numbered questions are the actual questions I sent. And the quoted text is Josiah. We spent some time on the phone unpacking question 2.

1. What is the injustice you experience (specifically related to Black History Month)?

The miseducation of African Americans based off my personal experience, more specifically black males.

2. What is your role or experience?

I'm gonna have to call you or FaceTime to explain number one from my personal experiences past present an future lol

On the phone, Josiah shared more details about the false narrative and miseducation surrounding black men and women. He spoke of the general acceptance of police brutality, stereotyping of black single mothers and his own experiences. Two of his thoughts have stuck with me since our phone call.

The first thought came up as Josiah addressed the stereotype of black single mothers. He gently brought up slavery (which I would never feel comfortable or confident doing) and the treatment and expectations of black slave women. Often, black women were torn from their families to be sold as slaves, raped by their owners and expected single-handedly raise the children. He asked the question that I hadn’t even thought to think. Do we think 400 years of learned patterns won’t play out in the black community?

The second was in regard to losing his hard-earned identity. Josiah was an athlete all of his life. When we met, he was a sprinter for the track team at Washington State University. After graduated, he left Pullman and his athletic identity to pursue other dreams. Now in San Diego, he is no longer known as the “well-mannered athlete”. He is given the miseducated identity of a black male, and has the false narratives of what that mean forced on him.

3. How has creativity or art brought reconciliation for you or this injustice?

Art is my favorite outlet! within my art I can say everything without having to say anything my suppressed emotions my hopes my dreams & desires my heart for others an those around me what God is teaching me or what I'm learning in tha moment it's all there an more recently my history an my cultures history has begun to show its face within my works but the most beautiful part about art is the dialogue the conversations that follow afterwards i have friends of all races yet my white friends I've been able to have great conversations around my pieces talking about black history an how it's American history yet not treated that way I live for conversations that bring restoration!!! It's so necessary I'd like for people to sit with people around food an share stories about personal experiences to help give uninformed or misinformed things that have already taken place in individuals lives to help all us understand better I believe if we fought for understanding as much as we do

Being right we would be in much better shape as society yet above all that if we do anything an have not love what's the point?!? In my art the unconditional love I've been shown by God is the primary driving force to express who He's created me to be an it's the reason I wanna see reconciliation I know it's only possible with Him but that doesn't mean just pray an sit on our butts it's gettin over ourselves an outta our comfort zones to attack those things keeping us as people divided

4. What is one practical way you want to see people get involved?

I'd like to see people have more meals together with those that font look like them and have a real story swap experience swap conversation around food I believe that'll change perspectives 

It was an honor to hear Josiah’s story and share it with the world. Below you will see the art piece I created as representation of Josiah’s story. This print is for sale in our “SHOP” tab. Any profit will be shared with Josiah and HEAVY Artistry.

Voices of the People: Introduction

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Hi friends. It feels good to be writing on the RECONFIGURE blog. So far, I haven’t utilized this space to its potential. I feel too busy (I probably am!) and don’t want to start something I can’t do well. So in light of that, I am collaborating with others so we can do something well together!

This idea has been deeply shaped by my experience at the #EvolvingFaith Conference in Montreat, NC. During a Q&A, the new (s)heroes of mine, challenged us in spaces of privilege to give our platform (#sharethemic) to those who have been ignored or kept quiet. Not just speak on their behalf.

So here I am taking the challenge. I am hosting a 12-month collaborative blog series to elevate voices of people experiencing injustice.

Each blog post will focus on a different topic based (loosely) off of the “Awareness” calendar. I will ask each guest blogger the same 3 questions, listed below. I will post their answers on my blog and create a piece of art to represent their answers. See questions below.

  1. What is the injustice here?

  2. What is your role or experience?

  3. How has creativity or art brought reconciliation for you or this injustice?

  4. What is one practical way you want to see people get involved? 

The purpose of this blog series is to bring awareness and action to different social justice issues using words and art. And by action, I mean action with your body and resources.

My hope is to quiet my voice (at least once a month) to listen. I also hope that you listen and buy art to support this work. Your contribution will go toward the cause of the month and your art will stand as a reminder for action.

The art I created for this introduction is a symbol of what it could look like for a white woman to share the platform. I imagine when this happens, other colors will come to light. There will be deep blues of sorrow, fiery reds of anger, bright yellows of joy, and purple hues of transcendent love. I also believe that it can be hard for those of us in privileged places to share. It can feel like we step into unknown shadowy areas, unsure of our roles or own experiences. But when we come together, we see how our shadows and colors dance. We see how we belong together for a gorgeous bigger picture. Please join in the artistry.

Here is the line-up for 2019. If you have friends that are effected by or passionate about changing any of these areas of justice, please let me know! Also, if you know the month for a cause you care about, comment below so I can add it to the list.

  • February: Black History Month

  • March: Women’s History Month

  • April: Sexual Assault Awareness Month

  • May: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Month

  • June: LGBT, World Refugee Day

  • July: National Black Family Month, Minority Mental Health Awareness

  • August: Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Overdose Awareness Day

  • September: Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Suicide Prevention Month

  • October: Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month,  Prison’s Week

  •  November: Hunger and Homeless Awareness Month/Week

  • December: Spiritual Literacy Month, AIDS Awareness Month

  • January: Human Trafficking Prevention Month

My first collaboration will drop this week for Black History Month. Keep your eyes and heart open, friends.

Introducing RECONFIGURE

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Hello there! You found us, or maybe we found you. Whatever the case, we are here, together. Do you love being creative? Do you love people? Maybe you love both, hey, us too!

You see, ReconFigure is about way more than creating fun, expressive art. Let us explain.

We exist to do the harder, and more creative work of building authentic relationships with mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters experiencing isolation from community through the selling and giving of art and kindness.

We are about more than the artist and more than the art. Art is a beautiful platform, but that’s just it. It is the platform. For us, art is a platform for reconciliation. We created ReconFigure with the hope to reconfigure the world through art. We sell art and at the same time give away art with guidance on how to engage people in your city experiencing isolation from community.

Our vision is big and we are in the process of taking practical steps to get there. We are excited for the possibilities. One person taking a piece of art to a nursing home, could turn into one beautiful conversation, which could lead to another beautiful conversation, which could lead to a beautiful relationship and friendship, essentially ending the loneliness for that one person.

We are excited you stopped by to be a part of reconfiguring it out. (You like that?!)