Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Hell We Create

I have been thinking a lot about a phone call I had at the beginning of this week with a person whose child had come out as gay.  These types of phone sessions are fairly common it seems for me as the head of our local PFLAG chapter.  And often times, the stories are the same: parent is calling me after agonizing for days, weeks, months about their child who just came out.  Their agony comes from (fill-in-blank-of any-number-of-bad-scenarios-they've-heard-about-or-imagined) for their child.  And ultimately, there is a broken heart.  This child is shattering all the dreams that they'd had for their kid.  No white wedding.  No opposite-gender-in-law.  And (usually the most gut-wrenching) no grandchildren.

And the biggest agony of them all:  "I don't know how to talk to my child about this!"

Of course they don't.  Because they aren't gay.  And you have to be gay to talk about being gay to a gay person, right?

These discussions by phone, or sometimes by email, are among the most important contacts I make as a PFLAG leader.  Many people have wondered if it is hard for me to listen to a parent who isn't all A-OK with their kid's sexual orientation.   It isn't hard for me to listen to these parents; I hear in their voices the hurt and the struggle to unlearn the misguided ideas they've had about sexual orientation or about their influences on their children and did they "do something wrong."   I don't take any of it personally because it isn't about me; this is about them.   And for me, it all comes back to the fact that so many of things that torment all of us when faced with change or difference stem from our ego and the hell we create when we think we are the center of all things.

And for a parent, this is the most important conversation they're going to have about their kid.  For many of the parents I talk to, they haven't shared this earth-shaking news with anyone else because they are afraid.   They know what is said about gay people when folks think they don't have to be polite because "we're all among friends here."   Maybe they've even participated in a little good ol' fashioned gay-bashing at one time in their lives.  Sometimes, they'll admit to that in the conversation.  And the tears begin to flow and this call becomes the confession of sin, those things done or left undone.   How they are met during this phone call could make a huge difference in how they treat their gay child from here on out.  That's why I think it's important to listen, listen and listen some more to what the parent is saying and gently steer them out of the waters of fear and back to the sea of love.  And get them to come to a PFLAG meeting. Once there, they'll meet other parents who have been through the same hell, and found their way to the light.

People have asked if I reveal to the parent that I am a lesbian.  Not usually.  Again, this phone call isn't about me; it's about them and the hell they've created.  The last thing they'd need is for me to tell them, "I'm here; I'm queer; and so is your kid so get used to it!"

So how do we get people from creating this type of homophobic hell?   I think it can come with the continued advancement of equality and acceptance, both goals of PFLAG.  The more we can shift the societal thinking in a direction that doesn't view a person's sexual orientation as somehow limiting or wrong, the less power that hell will have to draw parents into a whirlwind of torment.  The more we can have self-assured parents who stay out of that pit, the better it will be for all gay people.

If you are coming out to your parents or guardians, make sure you have the contact information for PFLAG ( readily available.  We are there to help keep your relationship with your loved ones in tact... and encourage them to become the fierce advocate for equal rights that they were meant to be!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Methodists Making Waves

Perhaps I'm a fool, but I believe that anyone who responds to a call to the priesthood is following the will of the Spirit.   If they make it through the meat grinder of discernment and seminary to become a priest it is an act of God's will that gets them before a bishop for ordination.   The priests and pastors of a church are then expected to be a human representation of Christ and help to shape the spiritual lives of others.  And they are expected to obey their bishop.

But what happens when the bishop, or the Church, seems to be out of step with the reality looking back at the priest or pastor from the pews?

That's the question that haunts many clergy in this country who are seeing more and more LGBT people returning to church, and participating in the life of their parishes.  In the northeast, the corner of our country that has been the most favorable toward marriage equality, it has to be incredibly hard to be a leader of a faith community that is lagging behind the civil authorities on the question of marriage.  Imagine being a minister to a lesbian couple that you see week after week at the altar rail, who pledge their money and their time to the life of the congregation, who you know want to get married and would like you to officiate... and you have to say, "No" because your national Church refuses to recognize the love shared between two people as valid?  One can rationalize it away, but the reality is that-- as retired Episcopal Bishop Barbara Harris said-- you are forced to treat that couple as the "half-assed baptized."

Well, in New England, 100 clergy in the United Methodist Church signed a pledge to say, "Enough!!"   The renegade reverends have said they are defying their national church's position on performing marriages for same-sex couples.  From the Boston Globe:
The Rev. LaTrelle Miller Easterling, pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Boston’s South End, signed the statement, she said, because she could not in good conscience deny a practicing member of her church her marriage blessing because the person is gay.
“We’re laying on the line our ordination that many of us have worked four to eight years to get, as well as the expense and time of the seminary,’’ she said. “I certainly stand by this movement.’’
This is a tremendous act of courage, and commitment to following the Spirit.  There are some in New England, and elsewhere in the United Methodist Church, who are not thrilled with this act of defiance of the higher authorities.  But sadly, when it comes to equal rights in the Church setting, it seems the only way things change is for some group within the structure to finally force the issue.  This is a proud tradition throughout the history of the Christian Church. So many of the advancements in thinking within the Church have first been met with resistance and a begrudging release of the power held by a few.  The German Reformation with Martin Luther going toe-to-toe with those who would defend the infallibility of the Pope, and the retention of Scripture and Sacraments to the priestly class is just one classic example.  The creeds came about only after much infighting and struggling and drawing of lines.  Painful and maddening as it must have been in Nicea, the end result is language that has been passed along throughout the ages and beliefs that have survived to this day.

One signal that things might be changing for the Methodists outside New England came last week in the trial of Rev. Amy DeLong of Wisconsin, who had committed the "sin" of being an "avowed practicing homosexual" (the unfortunate and very-dated language of the UMC's Book of Discipline), and she had married a lesbian couple in defiance of the Church laws.   Her trial ended with the jury refusing to find fault with her own lesbianism, and putting her on a 20-day suspension rather than defrocking her.  

"I hope this signals to folks around the country and around the world that the United Methodists in Wisconsin aren't going to throw their gay children out," said a smiling DeLong, sitting beside her partner of 16 years, Val Zellmer.

I believe we are moving in a direction that will bring all these denominations still wrangling and using piecemeal diplomacy to a place of  "pastoral generosity".  That generousity will allow ministers to marry couples regardless of the gender of the two people.  I believe time will show these brave members of the New England clergy and Rev. DeLong to be following what the Spirit is saying to the Church instead of simply kowtowing to earthly authorities who will drag their feet forever on a matter of justice for all. 

I believe in what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

Monday, June 27, 2011

History Gives Context

Students in the American school system learn about historical figures such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   In Florida, schools must teach about the Holocaust.  And there is no dearth of lesson plans about the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.  

People of faith, particularly in the mainline denominations of Christianity, are always being brought into contact with the text that help to shape their beliefs about God, Christ, and Spirit.  Celebrations of the Eucharist, and the major religious holidays with their traditional hymns and scripture lessons serve as a way to re-member ourselves to the Holy One.

History gives one a sense of a past which has brought us to the present moment and guides us to the future.

This is why it is so important for queer people to learn their history, much of which has been hidden from them because it was not deemed important enough to talk about (yet another way to marginalize us). 

I'm often very surprised to meet people, gay and non-gay, who don't know what I mean when I talk about "Stonewall".   Can you believe there is ANYBODY who hasn't heard the story of the June '69 riots that rocked the Village in New York when the trannies and other patrons at the Stonewall Inn bar fought back against yet-another police raid of their local mafia-owned watering hole?

Young queers here in Florida probably aren't aware of the McCarthy-esque witch hunts led by State Sen. Charlie Johns of Starke from 1956-1965.  Johns chaired the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee which targeted gay men and lesbians in state government and public schools and the universities.  More than 100 employees and students had their lives destroyed by the committee's work which mercifully came to an end with a power shift in the state legislature... and the publication of the "racy" purple pamphlet.  The pamphlet was meant to cause shock and awe with many photos of men kissing each other in half-naked poses.  Instead it caused revulsion and anger that taxpayers money was being used to publish such "filth."

These are some of the saints and martyrs that fed the spirit of Pride celebrations in the years.  Knowing the events, and even names, of those who have gone before is very important.  Hearing about the struggles that plagued the LGBT community, from the Anita Bryant Save Our Children crusade against human rights for LGBT people to the current day struggles of marriage rights gives hope to those who without a history may think their issues are new.  They aren't.  Many have come and gone and died and loved to get us to Friday night's momentous occasion in New York.   Just knowing that there were people hugging and kissing and celebrating on Christopher Street in front of the Stonewall Inn after the marriage equality vote gives me goose bumps. 

From the documentary, "Screaming Queens" about a riot in 1966 in California at the Compton Cafeteria
A part of me wonders if queers shouldn't write their own Queer Passover Haggadah, replete with retelling the stories of Stonewall, Harvey Milk, the Reagan years and the AIDS quilt, the Marches, and the plagues of state referendums... and the deliverance by state and church law in some places.  We could make June 27th the first night of our Queer Passover, with the youngest at the table posing the question of how this night is different than any other night as we recount the bravery of the Stonewall patrons in New York City. 

Knowing that we are part of a larger story helps to make our contribution to that story feel stronger and more vibrant.  That was the take home message I got this month when former Faustkateer and ACT UP Tallahassee activist Rob Nixon came to town for a photo exhibit and discussion about the early days of Pride Week in Tallahassee.   To see the pictures from that first Pride celebration on the steps of the old State Capitol building and to talk about the film festival that was once held at the public library reminded me of where we were when we had fewer gray hairs and how far we've come.   

It gets better.... if you know the history and can see how much the world has changed. 


Saturday, June 25, 2011

I Love New York!

I remember this ad campaign from the early 1980s and it is so appropriate today.   Indeed, gay people from New Hampshire to North Carolina and all over this country let out loud cheers when we got word that the NY State Senate had passed the marriage equality bill.   And the ink wasn't even dry on the page before Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law, making New York the largest state with marriage equality in the nation.

What a way to kick off this weekend's commemoration in New York City of the seminal event of the Stonewall riots which started the gay rights movement in this country in 1969.

I got word of the bill's passage when I pulled out my cell phone at the end of last night's performance of the "Faust with Benefits" cabaret.  A text had come through from the Human Rights Campaign announcing "Victory!"   I handed my phone to Dennis who was on stage playing with the after-show band and he made the announcement to the crowd assembled in the back yard.

"YEAH!!!" The whoop from the assembled multitude could have been heard for blocks away.   There was toasting, hugging, kissing, and even sweeter acknowledgement that one of our Faust couples was celebrating their one year anniversary of their own wedding in Washington, DC. It was a great night!

My hope is not only that this victory will solidify the situation in my home state of New Hampshire (where the National Organization of Marriage has been trying to up-end marriage equality), but it will also light a fire under the butt of our President who says all the right things, but refuses to take bold action to push for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.  It's time, Mr. President.  

Friday, June 24, 2011


The word "repent" is so loaded.  And in queer ears, it is distasteful.  How many times has some street preacher screamed that word at me and my friends as if screaming would somehow force us to change?!

A couple years ago, my favorite Friday priest, Fr. Lee Graham, preached a homily in which he re-framed my understanding of the word.  Repent, while having a commanding sound, can also simply mean, "rethink" or "consider this again."   Those words are easier for me to hear, particularly when I think of John the Baptist whose feast day we celebrate today.  

John, born of Elizabeth and Zechariah six months before Jesus, had gone out into the wilderness and embarked on the life similar to the Jewish prophets before him.  He has shunned his own comforts and is calling on the people of Israel to get right in their relationship with God.  And this time, it's different than with the other prophets.  John also knows that he is the end of this era, and a new game is coming to town in Jesus.  All the more reason for him to speak with urgency and really push for people to reconsider how they're living, moving and having their being.   All the way to his death by beheading.  That's what happens when he speaks truth to power in telling Herod Antipas, "You ain't right!" for marrying his brother's wife.

The directive to repent is one that I have often spoken of in regards to the church, particularly in this past year as the Anglican Covenant continues to be bandied about.   I have found the obsession on trying to draw lines in the sand and declare "who's in" and "who's out" in the kingdom of God to be so stupid that the only word that seems fitting is "repent".   To the Church I say, repent, or rethink, this absurd idea that God loves only this set of people enough to include them at the Lord's table, and anyone who isn't exactly like us is to sit in the corner with a dunce cap.   Repent, or rethink, this need for control and order when all Scripture seems to indicate that once the Holy Spirit gets into the mix, all order and honor goes toward God only and not those in their fancy clothes who parade about in the temple.   Repent, or rethink, what it means to be a disciple in the creation that God has given to us... and that our job is not to be tearing each other down but to be building each other up.   Repent, or rethink, what it means to be a steward of that creation as we refuse to recycle glass and certain plastics because it might cost some money to do so.  Repent, or rethink, documents that are likely to cause more distress and discomfort in the Anglican Communion and drive people further away from God due to their unfortunate belief that the church institution is God.

On this feast day of St. John the Baptist, I recommit myself to the mission of quiet and contemplative listening to God who gives me the strength and courage to be my queerly Christian self in this world as a witness to God's love for all.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Hot Steamy Lesbians

I had to laugh this morning when I noticed that someone in Los Angeles stumbled upon my blog by entering the search string in Google: "hot steamy lesbians making passionate love."  My site was #54.  The fact that the person got that far, and came here, tells me they were pretty desperate!  And probably left very disappointed.  Somehow, a queer navigating a relationship with God probably isn't much of a turn on.

I've been thinking some about how our culture has some messed up ideas about sex.  I think the church, or at least the teachings that have happened within the church, have contributed to the problems.   Folks like to blame St. Augustine for having molded Christianity's anti-body stand.  They also look at the letters of Paul and his condemnation of the flesh in favor of the spirit as more evidence that the Christian Church has made us all very sexually frustrated individuals.  But my reading of the situation suggests that it isn't the fault of Paul or Augustine.  It's the fault of those who have interpreted their writings and used them to advance an agenda of negativity against the body.  It is the leftover gnosticism that challenged the earliest of Christian thought and the philosophy of black vs. white, good vs. bad, God vs. Demi-God that wormed its way into our psyches and has led us to this screwy place of dichotomous thinking about the body.

The body is not bad.  The body is the house of our soul and the soul is given breath to light up the body and animate it.  Our bodies are receptors that inform our souls of things that are good and bad.  Our bodies let us know that something is pleasing and when something is painful.  If something is pleasing and good we don't think about our body.  We only think about our body when something in the body hurts.  Just like the way we tend to turn to God only when we're in need or trouble of some kind, and we don't remember that God is also with us in our times of pleasure and happiness.   

The way I see it, when St. Paul is talking about trying to break free from the flesh and pay attention to the spirit, what I see is the striving to stay tapped into the amazing and freeing love of God that one experiences sometimes in centering prayer.  A place where in silence and simplicity of stillness, there is a feeling of no longer being confined to the physical limitations of the body.  This is not a place I have reached often, but the couple times it has happened (once in centering prayer and once in a polarity session), it's knocked my socks off.  It is a new way of understanding the phrase of being "in love" that defies my ability to really explain it. 

In a way I believe that is what can happen when a couple who are meant to be together experience when they "make love".  The combination of two souls meeting each other in two bodies which unite as one can take those souls on an ascending ride which defies words and intellect.   Such an experience is true love... and God is there with them in that moment and allowing those souls to know what it means to be "in love".
This is not the stuff of sermons on a Sunday morning, but it is the stuff of the every day life of God's people as they enter into relationship with each other... be it same-gender loving or opposite-gender. 

So while I am not about to offer up any "hot steamy lesbians" to the curious and sexually challenged net surfer, I am about reminding us not to scorn and bash the body.  Instead, come to love the body as the receptor of God's love, both in the temporal and eternal sense of love.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remembering the Father

If it hadn't been for my father, I would not have returned to church.  

This is a fact.   It was my dad's death which brought me back into the Episocpal Church after an extended absence. 

As I sat in church this morning listening to the sermon, my mind wandered back to the fall 2007.  My father died on October 5, and we held two funerals: one in New Hampshire with the burial and another service at St. John's on All Saint's Day.  It was the most time I had spent in church in about 15 years.  And I didn't expect to spend another minute more in a pew. 

And so here I am today: in the pew every Sunday.  When not in the pew, I'm serving as part of the altar party as a Eucharistic Minister.  I co-mentor an Education for Ministry group, and am ready to complete the course this year.  And this morning, I was addressing the congregation of St. John's about our new Circle of Hope ministry to assist with those who are unemployed and underemployed to find their way out of the morass of despair to a place of hope and a new job. 

Not only am I back in church, I feel like I spend half my life in the church.

My active participation is an outgrowth of that moment back in November 2007 when I wondered whether I should go back to St. John's.  The funerals were over, so there didn't seem any reason for me to be there.  But I couldn't shake the feeling, or the incessant round of hymns in my head, that made me feel compelled to be there.  I wrestled with the question for a few days until that Sunday morning when a voice in my head boomed, "Show up!"

The sound of that command was very similar to the way my father would put his proverbial foot down with us kids when we got too loud and rambunctious.  And while the voice I heard was not my father's voice, it was inescapable dad-like order to quit arguing and just do as I was told.

I wonder if this is what might have happened with those who were called to follow Christ.  Ordinary guys, and the sisters Mary and Martha, are going about their every day tasks when they dropped what they were doing to be a disciple of Christ's because they were ordered to "Show up!"  

To show up, in my experience, is not merely to come to church and sit in the pew and allow someone else to do the thinking for you.  When I responded to the call to "show up", I found myself listening deeply and learning the story of what it means to be part of the Christian version of God's people.  And I discovered in the listening that the story of Christ is one that was highly liberating and freeing.  I felt myself connecting with what my ancestors, and understanding that many of the themes that still exist in today's world... pride, greed, guilt... have always been with us, but they do not have to rule our lives if we allow love to be our center point.   My understanding went deeper still when I understood that to tap into that root of Love in my own being meant that I was empowered to act on that love.  And through my actions out of Love, I am presenting the face of God to others in a way that is non-threatening, non-judgmental, and quietly Christian in that Episcopalian way.  Episcopalians, at least the ones I've known, are not street preaching evangelizers.  But we can be people who open the way to a faith that stimulates the brain and encourages the heart to stay strong.

My sense as I survey the past 3-1/2 years is that God has been acting in the Fatherly way with me, teaching me and shaping me and molding me the way a parent would.   Interesting that it was the death of my earthly father that forced me to become acquainted with my heavenly Father.

Friday, June 17, 2011

This Space Reserved For...

Dear blog readers far and wide,

You may have noticed a dearth of new material on this blog recently.  It's not for lack of wanting to post something; it's lack of time in which to sit and organize my thoughts enough to put the words out there.  This is what happens when one is immersed in Hell.   Hell Week, that is!

Tonight, the Mickee Faust Club is opening its newest queer-themed cabaret "Faust with Benefits."   As a performer, director, and producer... you can imagine I've been a bit busy this week.  Costumes, props, last minute changes, rehearsals... and all in the splendor of our un-air conditioned building in record-breaking triple digit temperatures.   All is well.  Everyone was well-hydrated, but we did have some short fuses during this period of high stress.  Still, the show is ready to go on.   And so am I.

Please stay tuned for a blog entry or two from me in the next couple days.   In the meantime, please feel free to peruse the things I've written before... and visit some of the choice blogs in the blogosphere.

And now... on with the show with the show... and away we go!!!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Whoosh! There It Is!

I enjoy Pentecost, or as we in the Anglican world like to call it Whitsunday.  It's like another Christmas, only this time we aren't in awe of a babe in the manger.  Instead, we're getting our socks knocked off with the rush of a mighty wind and tongues of fire.  In some churches, this drama gets played out in the reading of Acts 2: 1-21 with a lector beginning:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place...

And from various parts of the church, you'll hear what comes next.  Languages, many different languages, all saying the same statement.

Und als der Tag der Pfingsten erfühlt war...
Mentre il giorno di Pentecoste stava per finire...
Quand le jour de la Pentecôte arriva ...

It's a cacophony of surround sound.  Maybe you can pick out a word or two.  But not usually.  Once those tongues start flapping, it's chaos.
Perhaps that's how it sounded in the upper room when the Holy Spirit arrived and rested on all in the place to provide them with the words they would need to speak of their belief in Christ.  But I think the words aren't what was the most important in that dramatic moment.  I think they were excited babblings of something intense happening within the breast of each of those individuals.  These yammering individuals were infused with the flames of passion that was informed by their intellect and their experience.  
We get a great example of that in Peter.  As folks witnessed this crazy scene of people talking a mile a minute, they wondered if the group of them had tossed back a few too many, accounting for this excited talk.  Peter, who I think of as the disciple who was always striving for the gold star from his teacher Jesus, finally delivers a speech in which he's not just saying the right words; he is speaking from a depth of conviction that I maintain wasn't there so much in the gospels.  He lays it out there, quoting from the prophet Joel as his "proof", that the man killed by the Romans was the Son of God.
In many respects, I see the Holy Spirit continuing to rush in to closed spaces to bust open people and make them pour forth with the truth of themselves.  I think that's what has been happening in the Church during these last several years.  How we respond to that Spirit determines if its arrival is good and joyful... or a painful and agonizing challenge.  The pain comes in the attempt to subvert the Spirit or control it and make it behave the way we want it to behave.  We want to be rational, not babbling.  We want to appear respectable, not chaotic.   We want to hide in our locked rooms because there are people out there who are ready to kill us for being who we are.  The story of Pentecost is one that says, "Sorry Charlie; God doesn't work that way!"
When the Spirit of God, which is a Spirit of Love, moves in and takes residence in our beings, the locks on the prison doors of self-hatred and self-denial and self-centeredness are broken and tossed off.  And we are released, ready or not, granted the liberation of being freed by the new advocate sent to be with us to the end of the age.  We may not have the physical person of Jesus Christ to hold our hands and break the bread at our table, but we have the Spirit which was part of him and united him with God the creator.  At Pentecost, we celebrate that Spirit's arrival to burn within us.
Where is the Spirit going to carry us?  There is no limit when we allow it to move freely.  Feel the love. Experience the passion.  And be alive and awake.

Friday, June 10, 2011


This has been quite a week of comings, goings, and doings in my life.   When I get this overscheduled, it doesn't leave time for emails, or blogging, or God.

But in those moments when I have stopped and taken the 15-20 minutes to do centering prayer, a feeling emerges in the core of my being.  I feel neither here nor there... and a bit adrift.

Now this can be a sign of just how crazy busy I've been between church volunteer activities, and PFLAG and Faust.  But I also think it's reflective of where we are in the retelling of our story as God's people.  Last week.... and we were reminded on Sunday... Jesus, who had just come back from an absolute and bloody death, again tells the disciples, "I'll be seeing ya!" and ascends into Heaven just as Elijah disappeared in the Hebrew Scriptures.   Two unnamed, unknown men appear and ask the disciples why they are looking up.  One can imagine why they were; I mean, if I'd seen the guy upon whom I had pinned all my hopes just shoot up into the sky, I'd probably be staring at the clouds, too! 

But that's not the task at hand.  Searching the sky and saying, "Where'd he go?!" isn't the next move.  The searching and the seeking for Jesus needs to be done among ourselves.  That's what I think he was driving at when he was praying to God and saying,
All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
He's been with us, died with us, and been resurrected in us: now we are to see him in the eyes of those we encounter. 

I also think he's recognizing the transition he's going through.  He will be entering into a state of being in-between the physical, tangible, temporal world and the world that is eternal and exists all around us... even if just beyond what we see and "know" to be true.
It's also a transition time for disciples and by extension us as we retell this story.  We've been put in this weird place of waiting for the "Now what?"  It is a place that anyone who has ever experienced a transition should be familiar with.  When you are out of work, or when you've just completed school, you go into this odd state of wondering and questioning.  Sometimes and for some people this is exhilirating, but for others it causes dread.  For me, it feels like the familiar music of life has been put on pause and in its place I'm hearing just a single steady drone of one note held down on a keyboard. 
The "Now what?" will get answered in the form of a mighty gush of wind that fills the upper room with tongues of fire and people babbling in the native tongues of all the nations imaginable at the time.  That's how it happens in the story.  How it happens in this real life?  I think that depends on each of us.  When the Spirit fills us and lights us internally on fire, where do we go with that?  
For me, it can be seen in my determined doggedness to remain present and alive.   My presence and life speak volumes for the rest of who I am and the labels that get attached so people can understand who I am. 

Massage therapist.

All of those labels apply.  But the real essence of my "who" is just the fact that I am.  My I am is infused with I AM because that's what I believe with every intake of breath.  And the breath, to me, is the symbol of the Spirit.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Double Dose of Death Leaves Huge Hole

Van Lewis was a determined, gentle and odd character on the landscape of Tallahassee politics.   I remember that he and his mother, Clifton, were perennial attendees of every city commission meeting I covered as a cub reporter for public radio.  They were there mostly to talk about historic preservation.   Van tried to join the ranks of the Commission... twice.   He never won the popular vote, but he won the hearts of many who appreciated his candor and his unabashed willingness to speak his mind.  When you interviewed him, you had to respect the fact that he not only was Van, but was Ahunahana.  He believed he was the spirit of a Seminole Indian chief.  As a reporter, I figured it was better to go along than to have an argument over these credentials.

His parents were among the few white supporters of equal rights for blacks in Tallahassee during the Civil Rights Movement and bus boycotts in the 1950s and 60s.   His mother was loved by young teen-aged and college boys struggling to make it on the music scene.  My old boss told me Clifton made a place for punk bands to rehearse in a warehouse space when others didn't want anything to do with guys with lopsided hair cuts and leather high-laced boots.  She saw it as artistic expression, and she was all for it.  And that's the stock from which came Van, a tireless advocate against circumcision.

 I came across this video of Van talking about his crusade to end the practice at one of the local hospitals.  It's interesting to hear this guy, with ties to old money Tallahassee with Lewis State Bank, talk about how he and his brother were arrested for simply walking up and down a public sidewalk with protest signs in 1970.  Van died Monday after living for four-months with pancreatic cancer.   He was 68.  Among his last words, the newspaper reports, he wrote out this message on a white dry erase board:
"Maybe God's main work with me is done. My body stops. I don't. I'll try to do my job. I'll let God take care of God's."
Not even 24-hours later, another longtime activist and advocate for neighborhoods was killed in a car accident on West Pensacola Street.   I interviewed Edwina Stephens years ago when I was still the lowest person on the totem pole at WFSU.  But in that one interview, I saw why people were drawn to listen to her.  She was passionate about protecting neighborhoods and the environment.  She didn't need to be in political office; her's was more the role of the prophet, speaking truth to power at every turn and doing so in a way that was a loud thunder without the ligtening show.  Her presence on the southside was huge, and her absence will be felt.  

In thinking about the loss of these two individuals, I am reminded of the real privilege that I enjoyed as a reporter in that I spent time in conversation with people who had something to say that was worth listening to and sharing with the public.  Yes, I also spent countless hours being mired in the crap at the Capitol, and that stuck to me like barnacles on a boat.   But Van in his eccentric, off-beat and loveable ways made following and reporting on the news more fun.  Edwina made her words matter.   Both of them left their indelible mark on me, and I feel richer for having been privileged to share their stories with the public radio audience.

Into your hands, dear God, come the souls of Van and Edwina.  May light perpetual shine upon them and may they ever increase in your presence.   Amen.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Don't Question Me, Child!

Another fictional conversation with our blithering and beleagured character Bishop Yellow Belly and the smart as a whip upstart, Miss Young Person.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Modern Day Martyrs of Uganda

David Kato, Ugandan teacher and LGBT Rights activist, Feb. 13, 1964-Jan. 26, 2011

When I looked at the feast day celebration for today, I took a long pause.   This date commorates the burning and beginning of an organized effort by Ugandan King Mwanga of Buganda to wipe out Christianity.  Like many of the stories found in the Scriptures, King Mwanga was enraged that members of the royal court who Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries had converted to Christianity refused to put loyalty to the earthly King over their fidelity to Jesus Christ.  And so on June 3rd, 1886, he had 32 young men burned to death.  He had hoped the mass killings in Buganda would scare away Christianity.  Instead, because these young men and many other martyrs went to their deaths singing hymns and offering prayers, it had an opposite effect.  It helped to spread Christianity throughout the country.  Much later, in the 1970s, the Ugandan leader Idi Amin also launched a persecution of Christians, resulting in the murder of Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum among thousands of others.  Even that reign of terror failed to crush Christianity and today, Uganda has one of the largest Christian populations in Africa.

Unfortunately, with their majority status has come the un-Christian behavior of oppression and persecution of the LGBT people.  And with that persecution, Uganda is again seeing people martyred for their belief in the equality of all God's children.   

Take the murder earlier this year of LGBT rights activist David Kato.   In this interview with the BBC in 2010, Kato talked candidly about the situation on the ground in his country especially with the noxious Anti-Homosexuality bill lurking in the background.    Kato was brutally beaten and died on the way to the hospital in Kampala.  Witnesses at his apartment building talked of a suspicious vehicle and a "group" of people that had been in the area the day of his murder.  However, the authorities made an arrest of Enoch Sydney Nsubuga.  Prior to the arrest, leading advocates for the Anti-Homosexuality legislation including "christian" leaders Martin Ssempa and Scott Lively were spreading a story that Kato was killed in a sexual liaison that went bad because Kato refused to pay up for prostitution.   The Ambassador from Uganda to the European Parliament also supported this story as foreign leaders stepped up their demands for a more thorough investigation of Kato's murder.   It was the old trick of blaming the victim for their own murder. 

Adding to the insults was the way the Anglican Church of Uganda, known for its condemnation of LGBT people, conducted Kato's funeral.   The Church would not allow a priest to celebrate at his service; instead they sent a lay reader who took it upon himself to condemn homosexuality... with the coffin of a dead gay man and his friends and family in the room!!  Fortunately, a lesbian member of Sexual Minorities of Uganda put a stop to the travesty by seizing the microphone from this man, and Bishop Senyonjo (also in danger in his native country for being receptive to LGBT people) led the mourners to the burial site to quickly finish the service.

The Ugandan High Court has jurisdiction now over the Kato murder trial.   But I am hopeful that a higher court is acting to bring attention to the need for more love in this African nation.

People, such as David Kato, do not die for naught.   Like the Christian martyrs, Kato met death without ever denying who he was or backing down when his life was threatened.   His willingness to live his life in honesty no doubt touched others and has given them the guts to keep going.  And even if the supposedly "Christian" nation of Uganda has swallowed the poisoned pill of homophobia supplied readily by the evangelical right-wing pharmacists in the United States, I am confident that the Spirit will not allow this to be the forever situation among a people who previously had not been so whipped into a hatred of gay people. 

And so on this feast day, I pray for the full vindication and justice in the murder of David Kato and for God's Spirit of love to rise in the hearts of the people of Uganda and bring the nation into a true respect of the message that Christ delivered to the world; a love of God which becomes manifest in the love we show one another.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sexy, Silly and Scandalous

June is hot, steamy, and sweaty in Tallahassee.  And I'm not just talking about the weather.  I'm talking about the rehearsals and preparations for the summer cabaret show, "Faust with Benefits". 

The start of Gay Pride Month means the beginning of the Fourth Annual Queer As Faust Festival in Railroad Square.  Our theater troupe, known for original skits and songs and really bad jokes, has crafted a show that would make the beard of a bullying Archbishop fall out.   We're also bringing back Faustkateer-in-exile and longtime gay activist Rob Nixon for a photography exhibit and sharing his memories of the growth of Pride Week in the capital city back in the early 1990s.   And we'll put our queer-themed skits on local radio station V-89 FM at the end of the month!

To help us pay for all our fun, our Faust member Stacey Abbott is holding a fundraiser at her yoga studio to introduce people to "Flow Yoga" and collect some cash for Faust.

This is one of the more exciting events that Faust does.  A bunch of us who self-identify as "queer" or "gay" or "lesbian" were bemoaning the lack of gaycentric-themed events in Tallahassee during the height of Gay Pride Month.   The local gay community center had moved Pride to April, and while it is more comfortable to spend time outdoors during the more temperate early spring in Tallahassee, it felt out-of-step with the history of why we celebrate in June.  Stonewall did not happen when New York City was enjoying the cool and often rainy spring!  Hence, the Faustkateers boldly decided to brave the sizzle of a Tallahassee summer to entertain the adoring masses.

I'm in many skits in this show.  I'm an android of amazing proportions; a dancing dyke; an M2F bar patron; and a crazy character caught in a spoof of a 1980s video.  I've had more fun directing this show than I have in the past which is a good thing, and I'm hoping that the end product will delight the audience.

Or, at least, make them blush!