Lisa Larges Proposes “Politics of Prefigurement”

Lisa Larges, of That All May Freely Serve

The Seminary community had the pleasure and privilege of visiting with Lisa Larges, Ministry Coordinator for That All May Freely Serve, at two on-campus events during the last week: a talk “Humor, Hospitality and the Politics of Prefigurement” on Thursday evening in Caldwell Chapel, and a follow-up conversation over lunch in the Women’s Center on Friday. The Women’s Center in particular was glad to be able to make space for the lunch hour conversation on Friday, in solidarity with More Light at LPTS and That All May Freely Serve. These conversations with Lisa have us thinking deeply and hopefully about what it would mean to, as she says, “be the community we want to be and then invite the church to join us.”

This vision is in the context of the long-standing debate about the full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in the life of the Presbyterian Church — a debate which, as Lisa notes, is in some ways a refusal to reach agreement on a minor issue, perhaps because the almost comfortably predictable moves, countermoves and frustrations of this debate keep us all from having to face up to the far more overwhelming challenges of the major issues facing the church. Environmental issues. Poverty. Violence. The future of the church. It is almost comforting to be able to remain stuck in the questions of ordination and marriage equality, these questions that for a generation or two of Christians and non-Christians alike have already become non-issues.

In this context, says Larges, it can sometimes seem that the attitude of asking the church for permission to participate is an act of “giving away some of my power,” and that there is more integrity in going ahead and doing what one is called to do, and then with humor and hospitality and (hopefully) grace inviting the church to come along. Not, as might happen, “inviting” in an arrogant way, in which the message would be “OK, now you’ve got a chance to join us and be on the right side of things.” Rather, “inviting” in a way that makes clear that we — whoever we are, the marginalized, the would-be disciples, the undesirables from some points of view — are trying to live towards and into a vision of community, of church, that we get from Jesus, from Scripture, from the church itself, and the more the merrier.

“Prefigurement” is Lisa’s term for this prospective, provisional, proactive ecclesial project. It’s a word that tries to get across the idea of a way of being that is doing what it is talking about, a way of being that involves trying to put into practice the principles and the commitments it is advocating and asking the wider church to adopt. Humor seems to be essential to that way of life — aside from the fact that it can help maintain sanity and equilibrium. Hospitality — openness, a making space for people and for life, through listening and conversation, through engagement — is also part of it. Hospitality would exclude some of the prejudices that beset the ongoing debate, and in particular the way this debate revolves around the struggle to negotiate attitudes towards and readings of Scripture. Larges names the prejudices as the opposed convictions that “liberals don’t love Scripture, and conservatives are stupid.” The practitioners of a politics of prefigurement would be working to set these prejudices aside, and to notice the intelligence and the love at work in the language and the practice of their conversation partners.

This vision of prefigurement that Lisa outlined on Thursday night is catching, in a good way.

But how does it work? That is, what would it mean for us to “be the community” we are longing to be part of? This was one of the big questions that occupied the conversation at lunch on Friday among a dozen or so students, faculty and staff members, along with Lisa, over soup and cookies in the Women’s Center. How do we be a community with an expansive understanding of God, for instance, when the mention of inclusive language in connection with the Trinity is enough to close doors to further conversation, for instance? Where in an existing congregation would this community take place? Or could it? Or would new congregational space need to be made?

Those of us connected with the Women’s Center like to think of the Women’s Center as a space where something like this visionary and envisioned community could practice its walking and talking — maybe those thoughts need more lunches and more sharing and inviting.

But there is also the persistent sense that the world around us is going through a time of “retrenchment” as some call it, or pulling back, or shrinking back from inclusion, diversity, questioning. It seems that calls to return to old orthodoxies that reinforce familiar patterns of power, privilege, domination, and control are louder than ever in recent years, and have a lot of support. One conversation partner named this phenomenon — hopefully, we thought! — as the last gasp of the demonic: that old oppressive order is about to be overturned, and its violent convulsion and lashing out is the sign of its imminent demise. Not to say that things are not about to get a lot worse before they get better.

And what would invitational, delightful practice look like, when, as another conversation partner noted, this longed-for community is one that practices a lot of hard work, and sitting with discomfort: recognizing our own racism, for instance, or coming face to face with the fact that we will need to give up some enjoyable habits for the sake of the planet’s well-being? How do you make that kind of embrace of dis-comfort appealing? Someone else noted that people have been enchanted into parenting for a long time, and that is a practice with lots of discomfort, too. [lots of nods and “oh,yeahs” to that] So maybe we can learn a lesson or two from what makes parenting attractive . . . ?

So we didn’t reach even one resolution. But the mood as the conversation wound down and people drifted off to other appointments and finally we bid Lisa farewell for now was changed, nevertheless. How? Maybe more thoughtful, and yes, somehow more hopeful. Thinking the possibilities is itself, it seems, one of the practices that makes space for those possibilities.

We thank Lisa Larges for reminding us of this, for sharing her wisdom and her humor in doing so, and for helping us turn the space of Caldwell Chapel and the Women’s Center, if only for some significant moments, into places of prefigurement.

[Edited for spelling 12-08-10]


On the December Calendar

Cats Observe Advent Calendar Candle

Keep an eye on what's coming up in December

Here’s what the Women’s Center has on its calendar for the month of December:

December 1, World AIDS Day, supporting More Light’s dedicated worship service and information tabling event focused on that event.

We will be enthusiastically and gratefully accepting items for the Fall Arts and Crafts Sale through December 8 (or 9th, if you come to the pricing party and help us price them!)

December 2, attending Lisa Larges’ talk, “Humor, Hospitality, & the Politics of Prefigurement,” 7:30 p.m. in Caldwell Chapel. Lisa Larges is Minister Coordinator of That All May Freely Serve, an organization dedicated to an inclusive church for all who are disenfranchised, a goal that includes the welcome of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people into full membership, including eligibility for ordination to all church functions.

December 3, Lunch with Lisa Larges and informal conversation in the Women’s Center, 12:30 p.m. All are invited to share — in the conversation, and the lunch!

December 9, Pricing party for the Fall Arts and Crafts Sale, 12:00 p.m. until all the items are priced, in the Women’s Center. This will be the last chance to donate items for the Sale, so we hope all crafters and artists will come by the Center. If past experience is any guide, this will be a wild and wooly time of roll-up-your-sleeves fun with a purpose, not to be missed!

December 10, The Women’s Center’s Annual Fall Arts and Crafts Sale, always featuring an amazing variety of treasures from the hands of students, faculty, staff, and friends of the Women’s Center. (Years past have seen everything from watercolor portraits to fresh eggs, with batik, jewelry, glassware, knits, and legendary spaghetti sauce in between.)

The sale takes place in the Winn Center Commons, from 9:00 a.m. until approximately 2:00 p.m. All interested members of the community are invited to help clean up the area after the sale and transport arts, crafts and display materials back to the Women’s Center at that time, for post-sale bargains and festivities.

December 13-17, we wish the students of LPTS well with Research, Study, and Finals!

December 15, Heather Thiessen, Part-time Director of the Women’s Center, will pick up her diploma at the University of Louisville’s Graduate Student Hooding and Award Ceremony, 4:00 p.m. in the Kentucky Yum Center.

December 25, Merry Christmas!

December 31, and a Very Happy New Year! We are especially looking forward to January and this J-term’s Art of Presence with Artist-in-Residence Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris and Dr. Johanna Bos.

Oh, and one more thing . . .
The Women’s Center is now happy to be able to serve as the regular Tuesday evening meeting space for a local Engaging Spirituality group, a program of JustFaith Ministries. [updated 12/1/10 18:04]

Lisa Larges


Lisa Larges

By Johanna Bos, Faculty Liaison

Last week Lisa Larges visited our campus and the Women’s Center. On Thursday afternoon twelve of us gathered at her feet to hear her tell personal stories and discuss with us issues of power relations, both in a personal context and in institutional religion. Lisa is the Coordinator of That All May Freely Serve, the arm of the Presbyterian Church that works for full inclusion of all who are called to professional ministry, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. She has been a candidate for ordination for more than twenty years and is still seeking to be ordained. Her case will come before the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting in Indianapolis on Friday Oct.30, 2009. Several representatives will travel to Indianapolis to be present at the hearing. In a recent publication Lisa observed that “as long as the Presbyterian Church practices faith-based discrimination it is fighting a losing battle.” It is clear to Larges that biblical scholarship, theological perspectives and cultural changes are moving the church toward inclusion. She also notes that until that day comes the church will continue to create spiritual damage in the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.[Echelon: Taking Pride in Business, 3/17/09] We honor Lisa in her long struggle toward the dignity and equality she, together with so many others, should have been afforded a long time ago and our prayers for her wellbeing go with her to Indianapolis.

On Sunday Oct.25, she preached at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, on the story in the Gospel of Matthew of Peter coming out of the boat to meet Jesus on the water. Her interpretation of this well-known tale caused both loud laughter and profound recognition in the congregation. She ended her sermon with the image of an uncertain, frightened, wavering human hand stretched out toward the warm, strong, supportive hand of God, who is coming toward us across the water. May the hand of God stretch out to lift our Queer sisters and brothers into the place where they may serve God with all their talents, imagination and love through ordained office in the church.

Lisa Larges Visits the Women’s Center

Lisa Larges

Lisa Larges

Lisa Larges, a Minister Coordinator for That All May Freely Serve, an undaunted follower of her call to ministry and a familiar friend of the Women’s Center at LPTS, will be in the Women’s Center Thursday, October 22, 4:30-6:30.

We look forward to hearing her words and sharing in conversation with this stalwart champion of our need to hear and affirm the calls of all those God calls to ministry, including those who qualitative difference from the norm challenges conventional and limited understandings of the substance of faithfulness and holiness.

[Lisa last visited the LPTS campus in April, 2008; see A Beautiful Wedding and Lisa Larges et al. on Faithfulness for more on that visit.]

We Are In Full Swing!

". . . is like a woman who took three measures of flour . . ."

. . . is like a woman who took three measures of flour . . .

Special from Johanna W.H. Bos

Though you may not know it, we have been going at it summer and fall. Here is a brief report of our activities:

In light of our Acting Director Heather Thiessen’s leave, our graduate Marie McCanless was hired in June to help Johanna in planning specific events. Marie will be working with the Center through December.

June, July, August
In June, a team began meeting to plan for V-week and a performance of the Vagina Monologues in February, 2010. Megan Case, Christine Coy-Fohr, Marie McCanless and I met for evening dinner in the Women’s Center to begin the initial planning. The team has since then expanded, including our Vagina Monologues Director, Katrina Peckich-Bundy, our support guys Marvin Dandurand and Brennan Pearson, our field education student coordinator, Kate Davidson, and others. We are now edging toward audition time which will be in the last week of November. We have great events planned and work with zest to see them come into fruition. The proceeds of the performance for the most part will go to the Louisville Casa Latina.

August and September
Late August we were fortunate to have Kate Davidson join us as the Field Ed Student Coordinator for the Center.

September 11, the Women’s Center participated with gusto in the Seminary Tailgate Party and thereby won first prize! Our prize is proudly displayed in the Women’s Center. Johanna Bos appeared as a 19th century Suffragist, Susie Wiggins as Susan B. Anthony, Kate Davidson as a Flapper, and Megan Case as a bra-burning Women’s Liberationist.

September 13 the Center participated in the Louisville AIDS walk with upward of twenty participants, great signs and a wonderful spirit. Our walking was preceded on Saturday with sign-making and a presentation on the HIV/AIDS epidemic by our alum aaron guldenschuh gatten. Earlier that week we had a movie showing in the Center of the film Life Support, with very good attendance and discussion.

Also during the summer a team started to work to help plan the Fundraising dinner which took place on September 20. A great number of students joined in this effrot which turned into a rousing success. A reception with a small art exhibit preceded dinner. During dinner, which this year was in the Winn Center, Seminary Stars kept the guests entertained, while Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty provided an inspiring speech making clear the need for a Center such as ours on a Seminary campus. For photos of the event are available on the Seminary website under photo galleries.

Right now we are preparing for Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20 which is being planned by local representatives of the Transgender community and More Light at LPTS under the able leadership of Kate Davidson and Marie McCanless. Kate is making herself especially responsible for the More Light Group on campus and is planning a number of activities for the near future. Lisa Larges of That All May Freely Serve will be in town October 21-24 and will be speaking on our campus on October 22 from 4:30-6:30. We also hope to host the Rev. Erin Swenson to address the campus on transgender issues, early in December.

Movie showings, panel discussions and a workshop are all part of the plans surrounding Transgender Day of Remembrance.

December 11 we plan to have our Fall Arts and Crafts show in the Winn Center, a major fundraiser for the Center.

As I write this I have just returned with four other representatives from the Women’s Center at LPTS to support and protect women who are having an abortion at the clinic on Market Street. Quite an experience. A crowd of opponents were standing there praying to Mary and God the Father and holding up pictures of fetuses and of Jesus on the cross. A number of them tried to harass the clients as they are walking into the building, coming close, yelling. Supporters tried to form a protective hedge while escorts are surrounding the women who enter the clinic. It became soon apparent to me that the drone of the Hail Mary’s and other prayers and chants would be too hard to bear with for more than two hours, and I aosl thought that theirs should not be the only voices to be heard, so a few students and myself began singing some favorite songs. “Turpitude, Moral Turpitude, Depravity, Depravity, Inherent Baseness,” the song called Calvin’s Round, we sang to the protesters as they were chanting their “Aves.” While women were escorted in we sang “We Are Marching In the Light of God.” We also warbled “This Little Light of Mine,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “We Are A Gentle Loving People,” “Hava Nashira,” and “Ubi Caritas et Amor” in harmony. We need to create a regular repertoire and some good singers whose voices carry. We sang the entire time we were standing there. When the Archbishop came with a crowd of followers to stand across the road chanting prayers, we sang “Ubi Caritas et Amor.” Come join us next time. Supporters need to show up in greater numbers! Dress warmly especially socks and warm shoes. It is cold there. What a world!

Johanna W.H. Bos
Dora Pierce Professor of Bible and Faculty Liaison to the Women’s Center at LPTS

A Beautiful Wedding

Saturday’s “Wedding Justice and Love in Faith Communities” was a remarkable time of sharing, worship, reflection, praise and celebration, and reconnecting with joy.  Indeed, if there was one word that kept recurring, and kept characterizing the morning’s procedings, it was precisely:  “joy.” 

It was a joy, first of all, to be able to meet and talk with Jane Spahr and the remarkable group of people who had come to support her, to tell their stories of marriage and courage, and to remind the Presbyterian Church USA that it includes gay people, and that those gay people participate in the life of the church.

It was a joy to hear the testimonies of several veterans of struggles for full inclusion of LGBT folk in the church.  Lisa Larges’s first words were “The title of my talk this morning is ‘The Church, Marriage, two patriarchal institutions that we want to be included in, we don’t know why” — oh, joy!  And joy was Larges’s main point, that the God who liberates is a God of joy, and that the church needs the lives and stories and the joy that is brought by the marginalized, the excluded, though whether the marginalized and excluded need the church (at present) is far less clear.  But of course, we’re not talking about inclusion in unchanged institutions.  Both the Church, and marriage, need to change — to realize their potential to liberate, to be sites of joy and celebration.  God, in Larges’s presentation, is a God of radical joy and abundance, and that joy needs to fill the church, and [by implication] change the world.

Jim Rigby talked about the abandonment of privilege, the road to learning from those who have been pushed to the margins, and in the process being under indictment or on charges within the church “a lot – all the time.”  But again, this process is something that’s called for in a church that tries to follow God who is leading from the future into the future, a future that does not simply look identical to the past.

Jane related some of the history of her movement from new pastor, learning to preach, in a church in Pennsylvania that had accepted two women pastors because “no one else would take it,” and that church’s becoming a place of healing and joy; talked about discovering herself as a lesbian, and the joy that brought her; talked about reveling in being an evangelist – a person who spreads good news; and talked above all of the significance of the presence of the prophetic voices of LGBT folk in the church, who continue to speak out for justice even when in spite of the disregard of the untransformed church. 

That church has problems, according to Jane Spahr.  It reduces LGBT identity to “a behavior,” and then tries to treat that behavior the way it treats so much other sexual behavior.  Visible, vocal LGBT people become the confessors of others who harbor sexual secrets that are unmentioned and unwelcomed in the church context, like rape, abuse, harassment.  It expects LGBT people to stick to “their issue” – as if LGBT folk don’t have ideas about money, the environment, immigration, prayer . . . as other people do.  That church turns its back on what the ministry and the presence of LGBT people offers it, brings to it as gift, through these people, of God.  

We talked about marriage, what marriage means, what it might mean for the church and our communities to accept gay marriage.  A high point was when several couples who have been married by Jane Spahr over the years shared their experiences of finding one another, and marrying, and what that has meant in their lives.    

We enjoyed beautiful worship!!  Johanna Bos read her moving translation of Isaiah 56.  Debra Mumford reflected on the eunuchs, what that conflicted identity meant then, what the message of it’s inclusion might mean for us now – like the ability to worship, and to love ourselves, because God loves us, as we are.  Johanna Bos reflected on the foreigner, who is not to be “separated, yes separated” from God’s people, but rather whose worship God will accept and take delight in, because what God seeks is faithfulness to God, and because God’s temple is to be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 

We ate lunch, we met each other, we wished each other well, we had a wonderful time, we were blessed beyond measure.  Thank you, Jane Spahr, for coming and spending time with us, and all of this group.  Thank you for bringing us this beautiful wedding of justice and love, joy and hope, words and wisdom, in our faith community!

Last edited 3/11/09.

Chris Elwood and Sue Garrett on “Homosexuality and the Church”

I am going to be on I-71, returning from a short trip to Dayton, Ohio, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 20 (that’s tomorrow!) — which is only of general interest because of what I would be doing if I weren’t:  going to the Christian Sexuality Forum that’s going to be held at that time in Hundley Hall, Gardencourt.  Professors Chris Elwood and Sue Garrett will moderate this forum. 

Organizers Gail Monsma and Karin Wright say “Many of us are struggling with how to think and talk about sexuality from a biblical and theological stance and also how to prepare ourselves to address this in pastoral ways.  We need a place to discuss our views and listen to each other.”  Sunday’s forum is meant to be such a safe place for discussion and learning.

There can’t be too many safe places for discussion and learning, especially about issues that are squarely facing the church and the world.  We hope many members of the community will take advantage of this opportunity to think about the way same-gender relationships look from various vantage points within the Christian Biblical and theological tradition. 

Then, we hope that many of those members will continue that process by coming to the discussion of gay marriage next Saturday, April 26, “Wedding Justice and Love in Faith Communities,” with Lisa LargesJim Rigby, Jane Spahr, and others, 9 a.m. to noon, also in Hundley Hall, Gardencourt

That discussion is part of a set of events that clusters around the hearing of Jane Spahr’s appeal on disciplinary charges in the denomination (more info here).  Which maybe just shows how much we have needed those safe spaces for discussion and learning, and for how long.