A Jewish Reverend? Interfaith Minister? A Seeker’s Multifaith Journey

For some of us, wrestling with faith has left us battered and bruised.  Some walk away disillusioned, and search for meaning in other ways.  For others we are called, like Abraham and Sarah, to a place we’ve never been before.  My own journey led me from a Catholic childhood, to finding acceptance in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, to conversion to a Judaism which welcomes my LGBTQ family and inspires my social justice commitments.  I learned along the way that there are many pathways to the Divine. And unlike the childhood Sunday School understanding, a mature and mystical understanding of the Ineffable Source of Being cannot be limited to a static image of “The Old White Guy in the Sky.”

So why Jewish (and a Reverend)?  I chose Judaism for my personal faith for many reasons beyond the fact that my beloved was Jewish.  The spiritual technologies of Judaism are not only filled with ancient wisdom, they continue to provide relevance for me today.  I and my beloved found acceptance first as a lesbian couple and then later, my beloved was blessed on his journey as a trans man, within our congregation.  It inspires and informs my commitment to caring for creation. Judaism has taught me gratitude and mindfulness through its many expressions of Blessing.  And its system of honoring grief is grounded in the truth of the ways grief continues to shape our reality long after our dead are buried.

But unlike many people who choose a new faith, I wasn’t leaving behind that which didn’t feed my soul, so much as I was welcomed into the Jewish tradition of wrestling with the divine and co-creating covenant.  I continue to find gifts in the traditions of my youth.  The beauty and empowerment of Mary, as she accepted her role in birthing and guiding Jesus into his ministry.  The unconditional love and humility which instructed The Teacher to call out, “Abba”, Father.   The shared wisdom within the Elder and Younger Testaments that we have a Divinely-inspired duty to protect the widow & orphan, uplift the refugee, and steward the planet. 

And like many, I feel challenged by calcified constructs which are human foibles. Each of our world religions have nurtured countless souls; and each has inflicted deep wounds.  What I’ve learned is that any tradition can cause wounding when it clings too dearly to dogma.  One of the many names of that which we call Holy, is Breath of Life, and like our breath It must be free to move, inspire awe and fill us with creative sparks.

So why (Jewish) Reverend?  I used to joke that the Divine chased me through 3 traditions.  Time and again I felt called to serve Source.  When I finally accepted that call, and was in turn accepted into seminary, I realized that I needed to bring my full journey of soul-seeking with me.  Wiser teachers than I, in many of our world traditions, have recognized this as a time of paradigm shift. We are all being called to a place we have never been before.

Churches and synagogues alike have seen their memberships fall, as the numbers of those who identify as Spiritual But Not Religious has grown.  Many of us still feel nourished by the ancient wisdoms. It is not that SBNR folk reject a sense of Awe; but instead recognize that their journeys don’t fit in a singular box created for a different time and reality. 

In an age of global strife and climate catastrophe, we must each search within for how and who we want to Be, as the world shifts around us.  Each of us are on a singular journey, but like the “100th Monkey,” as we grow our compassion for self and open our hearts to the wisdoms found in the journeys of others; we can shift our collective and individual reality to become partners with the Divine, inspiring our lives and, with hope, healing our planet.

I invite you to join me on this Multifaith (and for some post-faith) Journey of seeking the wisdom within our own souls, the wisdom we can gain from one another, and yes, wisdom from the ancient ancestors as well.  I am a practicing Jew who is also an ordained Interfaith Minister, Spiritual Director and Chaplain. 

In January, I will be launching my private spiritual practice, Shelter For The Spirit.  It is not a church nor a synagogue. It is companionship using a variety of spiritual technologies. It is meaning-making and ritual weaving that calls forth a post-modern and (Godwilling) post-colonial, & post-capitalist world.  It is a ministry which draws on the wisdom of many traditions as well as the wisdom within your own truth. It is witnessing the face of the Divine in each individual, in all of their multiplicities.

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Pastoral Care for Trans and Gender Nonconforming Youth

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Called into Being

As I had said to my beloved (years ago,) there were two callings in my life, that informed my very being; ministry and mothering (which is as much a part of my gender identity as being femme).  It was because of this calling that I was able to recognize the calling into being of my husband’s gender actualization.  

At 5 years old my beloved announced to his family that “she” wanted to be called Tom Cowboy.  His parents freaked out in 1964, and kept him in dresses and emphasized his petite stature, so that the wishes of that boy child were subsumed (but never completely obliterated).  

30 years later, living as an out lesbian, the call began whispering again, and even as he shared this still small voice with me, he would push it down with “if only it were a different world, I would….”  Like the callings of Jonah and of Muhammed, at some point the whisper becomes a clarion that could not be outrun.  As it became harder to ignore he, like Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses), would say “why me”?  

As he approached his fiftieth birthday, he came to realize that he did not want to spend his elder years denying a call into the fullness of his being, and stepped into his Hineni (“Here I am”).  He came to realize that the years of struggling with anxiety disorder and depression were manifestations of the truth of his calling, screaming to be free. By answering that call, the blessing would be to honor that, having lived 50 years as a woman, made him the kind of man he wanted to embody for the rest of his life.

[excerpted from a paper in my Pastoral Care for Trans Communities class, and part of my upcoming book.]

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Rev. Gevurtz’s Ordination Sermon

Aish tamid tukad al hamizbayach; lo tichbeh (sung)

I think there is a beautiful synergy for us to arrive at this moment of ordination, on this particular weekend, at the start of a week which is holy to so many.  Today is Shabbat HaGadol, The Great Sabbath before Passover and tomorrow is Palm Sunday.  On this day Jews read of the installation of Aaron, as the High Priest of the Israelites. And tomorrow, Christians remember the jubilant arrival of the rabbi Yehoshuah into the Holy City. What does it mean for me, as I am ordained today, to be instructed as Aaron was:

אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה 
A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out

What is the fire which I need to keep burning, as I step into my Calling? What is the flame that I commit to carrying into this next phase of life’s journey?

I received an important lesson during the AIDS epidemic – when my friend Tim said “Don’t treat me like I am dying from AIDS – I am living WITH it! You could be hit by a truck leaving this apartment.  I just know I am going to die; but in the meantime, I am LIVING.”  I learned about the fire which is the passion for life, from Tim and others, whose flames burned too short a time – and I commit to tending that flame in all those I serve; may we cherish each moment we are given.

One spark of my fire, (that I almost let burn out), was my creative spirit.  Just as arthritis and fibromyalgia have limited my body, I allowed the workaday world to limit my spirit; and over time I allowed many of my passions –  acting, singing, crafting – to be extinguished.  My time here at ChI, in Arts for Awakening particularly, has breathed new life into the fire that once flowed through my creative spirit.  I commit to kindle that spark of creativity, that it might inspire me and others, as we co-create the world we want.

And finally, in journeying through life with a trans husband and gender fluid child, I have learned that none of us are either/or but Both/AND; our flames dance in multiple hues.  The divine light and luminous dark of holy fire, that which we name Wonder and Awe, calls us to be our truest selves.  But it also calls us to witness the pain and brokenness within many who our lives touch.  I commit to shining my light on the ways our society is missing the mark; and to nurture the luminous dark, which calls each of us to embrace our deepest and highest selves.

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Rev. Gevurtz’s Graduation Speech

Tonight begins the 27th day of counting the Omer, in the Jewish Tradition; Yesod sh’b’Netzach. Yesod is the quality of the Divine, experienced as a firm foundation, and Netzach is the quality of endurance; the ability to overcome obstacles.  It feels like a fitting moment, since Heaven knows, it has definitely taken endurance to finally achieve this milestone, just after my 60th birthday!  It’s been a long circuitous path!

When I started this seminary journey, I thought my activist days in social justice were behind me.  That I was going to slow down, and enjoy an idyllic and contemplative life of spiritual practice and chaplaincy.  Certainly, it was to be a coming of full circle, (since my journey into ministry first started in an AIDS hospice, more than 30 years ago), but it was time for this old war horse to go to pasture.

If I have learned anything in these 60 years, it is that Mother Divine has a sense of humor!  I guess she isn’t done with me quite yet.  Because she guided me to a school which has its yesod – it’s foundation – in Educating to Counter Oppression.  In my first term, the Holy One began guiding me to my future ministry, when I took Lindi’s Bending the Arc class.  Before I started (in both this class and in our foundational ECO course), I went in feeling like my life experience (with over 30 years of justice work) would make these courses more review than new insights.  I was wrong!  I remember thinking “How is it, with all my experience, I didn’t know this?!” – on more than one occasion!

My final project that first term, was to address the topic of queer youth experiencing homelessness.  That project put me back in dialogue with an organization for which I had served on their board, in the early 2000’s; The Community of Welcoming Congregations.  This in turn led to doing my field work practicum, with CWC.  But it also “accidently” led me down a path that has further refined my sense of calling, when I recognized the deep level of religious wounding that still exists within the LGBTQ community.

I remember a conversation I had at one point with a classmate, where I posited the idea that the trauma experienced by queer youth and the trauma being experienced by Mother Earth, likely have the same root cause, and that if we could identify that, then maybe, wisdom could lead us to healing many wounds.  This same theme resurfaced in numerous courses over the past 3 years; certainly, in Hugo’s Queer Studies class, but also as Chris Fry guided my memoir; all the way down to Faryn’s wonderful exploration of Jewish Liberation Theology.  I have come to believe that all of the social justice issues we struggle with: racism, misogyny, capitalism, queer & transphobia, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and the fevered destruction of our planet are indeed symptoms of the religious wounding caused by the hegemony inherited from Christo-colonizers; as they began exporting fear and hate as tools for controlling the masses.

No one person can take it all in, let alone take it all on.  We are each called, to serve in unique ways, to heal the soul of humanity.  But like Nachshon, (who was the first to step into the Red Sea, so the waters could part), it is only for us to step into the work, for miracles to happen. 

For my part, where The Divine has called me to step, came as such an unexpected miracle.  I am (as of 2 months ago) the new executive director of The Community of Welcoming Congregations, serving all of Oregon and SW Washington.  I am blessed that the board and our 100 congregations want to follow the work of that early vision; to create sanctuary for queer youth experiencing homelessness, and to begin to heal queer and straight congregants from the trauma of religious wounding. We have been given a firm foundation, here at Starr King.  And God gives us the endurance to Bend the Arc, toward justice. ot;:[&

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