Foundry UMC

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Dancing Before the Lord

June 18th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC June 18, 2017, the fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

Text:  2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

 

Last weekend, many of us participated in a parade or two.  The annual Pride procession through our neighborhood was full of pageantry, dancing, and joy.  But as Dr. Phil Wogaman reminded us last week in his sermon, the freedom and joy of the Pride movement was borne out of deep tragedy, the tragedy of centuries of exclusion, oppression, and violence against God’s LGBTQ children.  Pride is a profound form of sacred resistance, to celebrate the gift of our God-given, created nature rather than appropriate the projected labels of others.  It is a great gift to claim the freedom to be who you are without apology. 

 

Today in our scripture from 2 Samuel, we encounter another great procession, full of pageantry, dancing, and joy. The backstory of this parade has its share of tragedies as well. King Saul and David’s beloved Jonathan have been killed; there is confusion and division in the new monarchy of Israel, and the ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines—which, at that time, was tantamount to the abduction of God.  It was a tumultuous time in the history of Israel.  But in the moment captured in the lines we heard this morning, David, the new king, is moving the recovered ark to his new capital and, thereby, placing God back at the center of communal life.  He is also making a shrewd political move; Jerusalem was neutral territory, not part of any of the twelve tribal lands—an important detail for a king who sought to unite the tribes of Israel.  The procession we read about today is the public celebration and culmination of all of this and is a moment of extraordinary joy and historical significance. 

 

In this moment, David is free and fierce and proud!  He dances with all his might!  But there is at least one person who can’t deal with David’s display of liberation and joy.  In the verses that follow our text for today it reads, “David returned to bless his household. But Michal [David’s wife] the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!’ David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord…’” (2 Sam. 6:20-21)    In that moment, in the face of disapproval and discomfort with his display, David claims his identity, his call, and his freedom to dance “before the Lord.”  God is his witness—that is the gaze that matters most.  //

 

How do we bring ourselves before the Lord?  One of the things I hear with some regularity after worship are things are things like, “That anthem made me want to dance,” and “There were times during the sermon when I wanted to say ‘Amen!’—but I didn’t.”  I have heard that some folks struggle (for a variety of reasons) to rise for all the hymns, responses, or for the Gospel but that they feel they have to do so since that is the invitation.  I’ve heard that people enjoy kneeling at the prayer rail, but sometimes worry that if they come forward, others will look askance at them.  I hear about what “works” for folks and what doesn’t.  All this has led me to reflect on how we come before God in worship and how or whether we allow ourselves to participate.

 

I’ve had the privilege of participating in worship across a wide variety of cultures.  From a capella chanting to praise music with a full band, from silent prayer to the lively and loud Korean Tong Sung Kido, from sitting still to dancing in procession, from “smells and bells” to no candles or images at all...  The rich variety of spiritual expression is really quite beautiful.  It speaks to the diversities of culture, value, temperament, and aesthetic preference within the human family.  In all of these ways of worshipping, there can be extraordinary energy and beauty and a profound opening to the presence and power of God.  Some forms of worship will resonate with you, and others not so much.  That’s OK.  Just remember that what doesn’t work for you may be the way others encounter God most powerfully.

 

Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s describes worship using the image of the theater.  Kierkegaard says that often folks assume that, in worship, the actors are the clergy, musicians, and worship leaders, the director is the Holy Spirit, and the audience is the gathered congregation.  In this scenario, worship leaders perform for the audience, the congregation.  Kierkegaard challenges this by suggesting that the actors are the congregation—you!—the directors are the clergy and musicians, and the audience is God.  God is our witness.  The stage is set and each of us has a role to play as we offer ourselves to the God whom we worship.  In this metaphor, the One whose gaze matters most is God’s.  Whatever we are doing in worship, what we are thinking, how we are responding, all of it—is our offering to God, is done before God and for the glory of God.  David claims this in his response to Michal: “I danced before the Lord.”

 

There are at least two things for us to ponder here.  First, how worried are we about what other people think and how does that help or hinder our own presence and response to God in worship?  Are you more worried about what other people see or think than you are about what the Holy Spirit may be inviting you to do?  If David had worried about what Michal thought—catching a glimpse of her disapproving look from that window—he might have held in his exuberant dance before the Lord.  And that dance was what the Spirit—and the occasion—prompted.  Perhaps there were other times when David’s exuberance was expressed in a different way—in a different time, place, or circumstance in his life.  My point is that when we come into worship, we can come just as we are—and we are invited to respond to God with authenticity and freedom.  There is not just one right way and you may feel very differently from week to week or in different settings.  Some weeks you may feel like dancing and others (perhaps most of the time) I imagine that for many of us it’s like one of my favorite scenes from the movie The Birdcage, in which Armand, the character played by Robin Williams gives direction to a rather ambivalent actor who says, “Am I just supposed to stand here like an object?”  In response, Armand says, “No! You do an eclectic celebration of the dance! You do Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! You do Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Or Twyla, Twyla, Twyla! Or Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd! Or Madonna, Madonna, Madonna!... but you keep it all inside.”  And here’s the thing:  that is OK as long as keeping it all inside is done from a place of freely offered worship to God and not out of fear of others’ judgment.

 

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I need and want to just “be” in the midst of the congregation—not speaking or singing or moving very much.  There are other times when I feel moved to respond, to participate in everything that is happening with full voice and body.  There are times when I want to fall on my knees before God at the prayer rail or to raise my hands in praise or surrender.  There are times when I feel drawn into conversation with a preacher and want to respond with my “Yes!” or “Amen.”  Other times, the Word spoken quiets and settles me into a resonant silence.  There are times when I find myself in tears rising up from deep within. 

If you ever have these kinds of spiritual impulses or responses, my hope is that you allow yourself to respond and to be moved without worrying whether someone will think you’re being inappropriate—even if your response is different from what is invited or from how others are responding.

 

This leads to our second part to ponder:  Are we judgmental or unkind when others worship differently than we do?  As I thought about these issues and questions, I was aware that the point here is NOT that we don’t have any order or expectation in worship.  In fact, one reason to offer a variety of services is in order to create space for different expressions of praise and prayer.  Here at Foundry we are planning to eventually offer a weekly contemplative service (like our Lent compline) and alternative worship through the coffeehouse ministry.  But even with the two unique worship experiences we currently offer, my hope is that we give permission to do or to be in worship as the Spirit nudges…without judgment or fear.  In order for that to happen, we need to be very thoughtful and careful about how we respond to others.  Sometimes, after a deeply moving anthem, you may want to just hold the energy of the piece in silence—but someone else may need to jump to their feet in applause.  It is true the applause will keep you from having your worship moment, but the person responding exuberantly, may know no other way of expressing how moved he feels and may desperately need that moment of joy.  If someone comes forward to pray at the altar and you find yourself noticing, lift a prayer for that person, entrusting them to God and giving thanks that God is present and active their life.  This, INSTEAD of thinking something like “I wonder what’s wrong with them?”  or “She must really want attention to go up in front of everyone like that.”  Whether someone chooses to clap or not to clap or to sing during the hymns—we can choose to trust that folks are doing and being right where they need to be that day.  Sit, stand, sing, move, be still, laugh, cry…be and do what you need to do.  AND be mindful and thoughtful about creating space for others to be and do what they need to do.  

 

Part of what prompted the Methodist movement was John Wesley’s observation that Anglican worship felt spiritually dead—like folks were just going through the motions and were not connecting with the living and loving God who had the power to transform their lives.  He set out to help folks reclaim their relationship with God—and to show up in worship expecting God to be there and for something to happen.  Spiritual power and resonance and “aliveness” comes in so many forms—in a quiet that is so still and deep that you can feel the energy snapping all around AND in an exuberant, rhythmic outpouring of speech and dance that wrings you out and fills you at the same time.  Regardless of where your spirit lives most of the time, I hope that we will learn to honor and respect the beautiful diversities of worship and prayer and praise.  And I really hope that if John Wesley joined us for worship on any given Sunday he would be proud of the ways that Spirit is living and moving and transforming lives in the people called Foundry United Methodist Church.

 

 

 

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God’s Language

June 4th, 2017

A Meditation preached by Pastor Ben Roberts at Foundry UMC on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Text: Acts 2:1-11 

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Between Rest and Stillness

May 28th, 2017

A sermon preached by Executive Pastor Dawn M. Hand on Sunday, May 28, 2017.

Texts: Psalms 37:3-7, Romans 12:9-18

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Keep Warm

May 21st, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, May 21, 2017, the fifth Sunday after Easter.

Text: Ecclesiastes 4:7-11

 

What is the most important thing in your life?  Without taking a poll, my guess is that, for many if not most of us, a person or group of people come to mind immediately.  Today we’re going to think together about relationships—the primary relationships in our lives with partners, family members, and close friends.  Each one of us in this room today has so much going on in our relationships—some is painful, some wonderful, and a lot under the surface.  There is always a lot.  As I prepared this “Soul Food” sermon series, I had in mind things I was hearing about how folks are trying to cope with living their already full lives with the added stress, outrage, fear, and uncertainty that has gotten stirred by the presidential campaign, election, and subsequent events.  One of the things that emerged was the toll these things were taking on relationships.  I heard this loudest with regard to family members with opposing political views. But I also have heard, spoken almost in a whisper, that marriages were feeling the effects, that the stresses were finding their way into folks’ closest relationships.  And of course this would be the case.  Anthony and I just moved into a new home in Brookland here in DC.  Moving is stressful.  Add that to all the other stress already exists in our lives?  Well… All our stuff shows up in our primary relationships in one way or another…and for better or for worse.  What I also know—particularly on the heels of this week’s events in my own life—is that it is good to have a friend, to have a partner, to have someone who will not only put up with you, but who will help you recalibrate and find your balance again.

 

The rather dark and cranky wisdom of Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?”  In other words, we need one another.  Trying to “go it alone” is a pretty daunting task and, even if we can persevere for a while, there will come a time when we just can’t do what we need to do without the help of another person.  (I have to admit, I considered breaking here for a singalong of all the songs on this subject:  “Lean on me,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Rise Up,” not to mention all the love songs!…) We are created to be in relationship and, regardless of the shape, size, or make-up of our family and circle of friends, the primary relationships in our lives are a profound source of “soul food.”  Sometimes we let other things in our lives—work, bad habits, or emotional baggage—keep us from fully receiving the nourishment available.

 

Over the years, I have known many folks who found their marriage in a shambles from years of failure to communicate; I have witnessed children alienated from their parents due to lack of time spent together; I have watched friendships sour through failure to show up for one another.  But today our focus is not on broken relationships—or on those tragic instances of abuse, betrayal, and the like.  Rather, it is a simple reminder that there is nothing more important than the primary relationships that we have in our lives right now, that these relationships deserve our care and attention, and that they are a source of deep nourishment.

 

Have you ever noticed how, in the movies and fairy tales and TV, the focus of the story is often on all the activity leading up to the beginning of a real relationship?  I mean, with Snow White, you’ve got all those little dwarves and songs of longing for the handsome prince, but just when they finally meet—for the first time, mind you!!—we hear the words:  “and they lived happily ever after.” …They JUST MET!  (talk about setting up unhealthy expectations!)  In the movies you see the hot pursuit of one person for another and, most times, the credits begin to roll just about the time that they’ve finally decided to be together.  In fantasy land, the hard part of romantic relationships is all in the meeting.  And, of course, meeting the right person is certainly not always easy and is often pretty darn hard.  But I would suggest that the even harder part of relationships is what happens after you’ve ridden off into the sunset, after you’ve made a commitment.  “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…”  Even if your call is to singleness or even if you never use those traditional words with a partner, that stuff is the stuff of real relationship and when you are in a real relationship with another person things get real pretty quickly.

 

Unfortunately, idealized pictures of relationships get into our heads.  Because we tend to want things to be easier than they are, we appropriate these images and, as a result, can end up feeling put upon or like failures, when commitment and relationship aren’t as easy as “and they lived happily ever after.”  It wasn’t supposed to be this way… // Any meaningful relationship will require care, cultivation, patience, work.  Like a garden, our relationships need to be lovingly tended or they can become dry, unmanageable, even unrecognizable.  Healthy relationships require an investment of time.  Today at Foundry, we prayed blessing upon small group leaders who have or will convene groups across the DMV.  Connecting with a small group—making that commitment of time to be in relationship with other folks in a way that is thoughtful, accountable, and honest—is a great way to practice the care and cultivation of meaningful relationships. 

 

In my own life, I do OK with some relationships, less OK with others.  And always, I can do better.  More than one clergy colleague has posted recently on FaceBook about struggling to be a good friend—about how ministry in the church always seems to override making time for friendships.  I can totally relate!  Our work responsibilities—no matter what they are—can become so all-consuming that we have little time or energy for friends or anyone else.  My further challenge is that even when I have held aside time to spend with Anthony (my spouse), he often gets the worst of me since I have been so intent on trying to give my best to everyone else.  Perhaps you understand what I’m talking about.  We can be patient, open, creative, engaged with others, but when it comes to our partner, parent, or child?  //

 

There is so much to consider and so many important things to practice in order to sustain healthy, nourishing relationships.  We have to communicate well, we have to—as my Arkansas grandma taught me—“give a little and take a little,” that is we need to learn to compromise; it is important to have compassion—to think about things from the other’s point of view and then be patient and gentle, forgiving and open.  Learning how to have healthy relationships is a lifelong process.  When it’s going well, what a joy and delight!  You feel heard, understood, and connected.  You experience tenderness and intimacy.  You know yourself to be cared for.  You can laugh together and accomplish difficult things together.  Now that is some nourishing soul food!

 

Today I want to invite you to put not only care but also celebration of relationships on your plate.  Celebrate the gift that you are to each other!  Take every opportunity to celebrate!  I have a friend who does this so well—she sends me cards, messages, funny gifts, all sorts of things for any possible occasion!  And it doesn’t have to be concrete gifts we share, but simply speaking the words of gratitude, naming what you love and appreciate about your partner or friend—sometimes for no apparent reason.  Celebrate the victories of life, whether large or small.  Find opportunities to play and to laugh and to cheer each other on!  Parents can do this for their children and children for their parents, friends for friends, and spouses for one another.  Celebrate the gift of having relationships that matter and that nourish our lives.  Don’t take these precious people for granted. 

 

Without them, who would lift us up when we fall?  How would we ever keep warm?

 

 

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The Sacred Sommelier

May 14th, 2017

This sermon was preached by Guest Preacher Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana at Foundry UMC on Sunday, May 14, 2017.

Text: John 2:1-11

 

 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

 

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it.

 

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

 

 

 

When Ginger invited me to come and be a part of this Soul Food series around the topic of PLAY, I thought immediately of my friend Cindy Rigby, a professor at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. Cindy has been studying the theology of play in recent years, and believes that play is vital to our spiritual lives and necessary for a healthy understanding of God.

 

Cindy told a group of colleagues about an event where she was asked to speak some years ago. When she proposed the theology of play as her topic, the event planners balked. These are serious times we live in, they said. People are out of work; we are a nation at war. Play seems frivolous, a luxury we can’t afford.

 

Fine, she thought. So she tweaked the titles of her presentations and gave them impressive-sounding names, replete with plenty of fifty-cent words, to be more palatable to the organizers. And then she went ahead and presented the play stuff under these new important-sounding headings. I applaud her playful deviousness.

 

It’s true, isn’t it, that some people feel they are “too important to play”; they almost have to be tricked into it. These people will tell you that, like the apostle Paul in I Corinthians, they’ve put away childish things (1 Cor. 13:11).

 

And in a world as fast-paced and chaotic as ours, such industriousness is understandable. We’re here in one of the nerve centers of the political world, and boy does it seem like that nerve is exposed and scraped raw right now. So many of us these days, if we’re not actually working in the halls of government ourselves, are contacting those people, through letters, phone calls, and town halls… speaking truth to power, standing with the vulnerable and the oppressed… that “sacred resistance” that is in the air here at Foundry and in many other congregations. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” We might also say, “If you’re not overwhelmed, you’re not paying attention.” The 24-hour news cycle has tired me out. There is very little energy left over for “frivolous” things.

 

Meanwhile Christ House still needs a lunch from us once a month, the building needs upgrades, and who’s going to teach the 1st and 2nd grade Sunday School next year? To say nothing of the various everyday tasks that make up a life. Commuting. Working. Cooking and cleaning. Paying bills. Flossing. A friend of mine who lives on Capitol Hill and in many ways embodies the type-A mindset of this area had a therapist tell her, “You know, maybe you don’t need to see your entire life as one big self-improvement project.” She responded, “My gosh, what else would it be?”

 

And yet just about every one of us is born with an innate sense of play.  Methodist minister and coach Chris Holmes reports a study in which a five-year-old on average engages in 98 creative tasks per day. By contrast, a 44- year-old engages in two creative tasks per day. A 5-year-old on average laughs 113 times per day; a 44-year-old laughs 11 times. Holmes says, “Where did we lose our sense of creativity, humor and curiosity?”

 

Now, I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I wonder how many of us heard that statistic and started auditing our lives: Hmm, how many acts of creativity do I undertake on the average day…? How many times did I laugh yesterday? Did I laugh yesterday?

 

Or perhaps you heard those numbers and folded your arms in skepticism: Well how do you define creative acts? What was the sample size? Was this a survey or an experiment in a controlled environment? OK, I’ll raise my hand for that, which may be a sign that this sermon is for the preacher as much as for the congregation.

 

But it’s when things are at their most dire that play becomes necessary. Rabbi Edwin Friedman, a guru in the area of family systems, wrote that anxiety keeps people pessimistic, to the point that it becomes almost impossible for anxious people to reorient themselves toward positive change. An unwillingness to play, or an inability to do so, is a symptom of an unhealthy or anxious system. The most steadfast social justice workers I know have a certain fizziness to them, that comes from taking their work seriously but taking themselves lightly, that comes from a certain playfulness that undergirds their lives. Because play is a conduit for perspective, and for hope. Play is not a luxury right now. It is essential.

 

But we’re together in a church, which means we’re not just here to talk about the psycho-social benefits of play. We’re also here to explore play as an act of faith and discipleship. Our job is made a little tough, because there aren’t tons of examples of play in scripture. But if you look at today’s story, in which Jesus turns water into wine and keeps the wedding feast going late into the night, you don’t have to squint too hard to see it as a deeply play-full act at its heart.

 

This is Jesus’ first sign in the gospel, and it feels different from the others. There are seven in all, and in case you need a review, here they are in no particular order:

 

  • Walking on water.
  • Three healings.
  • Feeding 5,000 people with the contents of a child’s picnic.
  • Raising a guy from the dead.
  • And… restocking the bar at a wedding.

 

One of these signs is not like the other.

 

Jesus’ mother comes to him: “They have no more wine.” It’s a statement… that’s really a question. A request. And Jesus gets that, because he responds to what remains unsaid: No mother, that is not my concern. This is not mine to do.

 

Maybe he figured he was too important to tend to such frivolous things. Not when there were people to heal and tables to overturn and Pharisees to take to school and justice to proclaim.

 

Mary is saying to him, Look… here is an opportunity.

And Jesus responds: Really? Beverage service? For my inaugural sign? I don’t think so.

 

And she turns toward everyone else: Do what he tells you. And again there is a subtext: You are needed, right now, right here.

 

I love that Jesus’ first sign is one he never intended to make.

 

What Jesus does here is improvise. He sees an opportunity to create something, and he uses what’s on hand to make it happen. I’ve been practicing improv for a few years now, and it’s an incredible creative exercise. You take a group of people and maybe a couple of chairs, and somehow scenes get created, and characters come to life. Together, improvisers construct entire worlds.

 

Now, when Jesus improvises, he creates not just decent wine, but the finest vintage the steward has ever tasted. I’m still relatively new at improv, and I can tell you that a lot of what we create is not good wine; it’s more like the wine that comes in the big jugs at the grocery store.

 

But the product isn’t the point. The point is to play.

 

In my Presbyterian tradition, we have the Westminster Catechism as one of our creeds, and much of it feels antiquated and a little stodgy, so I would never presume to foist it on you good Methodists… but let me offer you question one, if you’d like it:

What is the chief end of humanity?

To glorify God and enjoy God forever.

 

To enjoy God—that is our highest purpose.  

 

Cindy Rigby says this about the theology of play:

Too often, in our overextended culture, we conceive of ‘play’ as a ‘break’ from work that renews us to be able, once again, to work. It is a problem when we view our play as ‘merely reproductive’ rather than ‘productive’ activity. It is precisely through playing (in this specific, theological sense) that we are able to imagine God's Kingdom/God’s will in such a way that God’s desires become our desires. It is through imagination, founded in play, that we are able to participate in and even contribute to the coming of this Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.[1]

 

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We’ll never know what Jesus had in mind for his inaugural sign. What we do know is that his first sign wasn’t a healing… it wasn’t an exorcism or feeding 5,000 people. It wasn’t even a really good sermon. The first sign of Jesus helped the hosts of the wedding save face, to be sure, but otherwise it had very little usefulness. It was just an act of pure beauty. The celebration needs to go on, says Jesus. The love and fellowship should continue.

 

Jesus’ whole ministry began with a party.

 

About a year ago, a high school student in Nacogdoches, Texas named Taylor Ries asked if she could attend the prom with her same-gender date. School officials referred her to the student handbook, which said she could go by herself or with a date of the opposite sex. A back and forth ensued, and to cut to the chase, the school decided to cancel the prom rather than change the policy to accommodate Taylor and her date. So this year, there will be no prom at Central Heights High School.

 

But there will be a prom. Because members of the community decided to come together and host a “Lavender Prom”—a come-as-you-are event for LGBTQ kids and their dates and friends, a party that would be welcoming to all.[2]

 

This hits close to home for me because I was born and raised in Texas, and it seems like every week there’s a new state bill to restrict LGBT rights and protections. The latest is a bill in the Texas house that would allow adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ prospective parents.

 

In the wake of such mean-spiritedness in the Texas legislature, a lavender prom in a small East Texas town is such a small thing. But it’s a sign in the same way Jesus providing wine was a sign. Yes, people need to organize politically, and write letters, and try and elect candidates who don’t discriminate. But in the meantime, a prom for queer kids and their friends and dates can be a small act of beauty, like wine at a wedding.

 

These young people should be able to play.

 

Jesus said, "Fill the jars with water."

And they filled them up to the brim.

 

So may we be filled: with a spirit of curiosity, grace, and holy play.

Thanks be to God.

 

[1] http://www.ntxe-news.com/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi?archive=29&num=49438

[2] Kudos to my friend, Heather Olson Beal, for her work on this initiative: https://www.gofundme.com/lavender-prom-come-as-you-are

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