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Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

Over at Facebook I have many different types of friends (like 2200 friends) and of course they have friends who represent many perspectives. Today on a friend’s wall posting about wearing purple in support of LGBT youth two straight folks raised objectives revealing that they felt “bullied” into showing support of gay kids. In frustration one of them said, “We need to have a Heterosexual Pride Parade.” The other agreedMr. & Mrs. Salt & Pepper.

Now I know a lot of straight people. Some of my best friends are heterosexual. In fact, I come from a distinctly heterosexual family that I love. I know that some straight folks feel put upon by all of the recent news about gay. lesbian and transgender suicides and bullying. “Why do we have to hear about THEM all the time?” Hmmmm. Welcome to my world where I constantly have to go out of my way to hear about anything other than straight lives.

Lately I have been thinking of the subtle powerful force of heterosexism, like high blood pressure, I consider it the “silent killer” insistent and constant in its messaging that heterosexuality is NORMAL, the idealized norm, what everyone is expected to be, an identity that is celebrated, rewarded and represented to the exclusion of all others.

Like a low-grade fever or undetected high blood pressure, non-straight, non-gender normative people live with a steady barrage of pro-heterosexual messages mixed in with anti-LGBT messages. Even in US states where they offer “gay marriage” everyone knows it is not the same as a straight marriage because of the federal protections granted to heterosexual couples and denied to all others. But beyond the legal protections or lack of protections in the household, on the job and elsewhere, we get a deluge of pro-straight messages in pop songs, commercials, movies, religious ceremonies, proms–shoot even salt and pepper shakers! I know that there is a growing movement to include LGBT lives and voices in the media and on the agenda of the board of education, but it’s spotty at best and is often drowned out by the heterosexism that exists in almost every encounter silly and sublime.

Here’s an example of straight pride & privilege.

Marueen says, “My husband Bill & I got together w/ our two daughters & their husbands to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and Cindy & Todd’s first baby. At church the pastor said a blessing over the family & we recommitted our vows.”

And everyone says, “Oh, that is so nice.” And it is and there are gifts and cards and photos and public sharing on Facebook and beyond revealing pride and affirmation and celebration of Bill & Maureen’s successful heterosexuality.

Of course most don’t think of Maureen & Bill expressing “Heterosexual Pride.”

It’s just “normal.”

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Exodus International, the ex-gay umbrella organization which is fast fading from any sort of prominence, has often proclaimed the bold and yet obscure mantra, “Change is Possible!” To the many of us who suffered under the weight of homophobia & the pressure from family, friends & society who valued heterosexals over others they treated as sub-classes of human, we wrongly assumed “change” meant transformation from gay to straight. Once on the inside, program leaders informed us that such a change was not actually possible. They have since come out in public with similar statements. We now understand that such a change is not neccesary or healthy to pursue.

The journeys many of us have travelled in churches and with our faith & sexuality took unexpected twists & turns. I look back at that 19 year old I once was in NYC engaged in saving the world beginning with myself, and I recognize myriad changes (extreme thinning of my hair being one of the many physical changes.) My faith, my worldview, my understanding of my sexuality have drastically altered, yet I still see shades of the same person, who in many ways carries the similar values, insecurities & hopes.

Which brings me to some questions for you!

-In looking back on your own odyssey, in what ways have you changed? How have you remained the same?

-If you could send a message back in time to your younger self, what would you say? What advice, insight or encouragement might you share?

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A few months ago I posted a series of Twitter/Facebook/Blog status updates that I compiled into a blog post entitled Jesus Loves You! But I’ve heard rumors… I figured that would be the end of it, but about two weeks later I got inspired again and began another round of Jesus Loves You! updates. Since the first round, John Henson, the brilliant Welsh minister and author of Good as New–A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures, has become a Facebook friend. (Do buy his book–it is stunning) He spiced up the daily updates with his own analysis on Jesus. Lots of lively commenting ensued from loads of different people including Deborah, Fredrick, Brett, Tania, Eddie, Susanne, Rabbi Nina, Jean–well loads of people. I also got tons of affirmation from Friends when I attended Quaker gatherings this summer. So many lurk in the Light. 😛

Like the first set this one brought out all sorts of Facebook friends who I rarely see. Some of the Jesus Loves You! updates really struck a chord, got people laughing, thinking, remembering, connecting. There is a move afoot to print some onto mug. Personally I think some would be perfect on a thong.

I purposely choose phrases that are ambiguous or have multiple meanings to let the readers decide what it all means for them. For me many of them serve as commentary to how Jesus is marketed by some churches–Jesus the product. There is also one Wizard of Oz reference there that confused a lot of people (which speaks to what an old gay guy I am that now people don’t get Oz references.) See if you can spot it. Some also speak to the challenges many of us have faced with the Christian faith as it has been taught and practiced and the double-standards we experienced. Some are just fun with no deep abiding meaning that I can extrapolate. I sometimes just like playing with words.

Check ’em out. Which is your favorite? What do they mean to you? Have some of your own you want to add?

Jesus Loves You!

  • Jesus Loves You! No purchase necessary to enter. Employees and families are not eligible. Void where prohibited by law.
  • Jesus Loves You! Side effects may include dizziness, exaggerated feelings of depression or elation, changes in sex drive & impotence.
  • Jesus Loves You! Yet you worry, that in spite of all you tell yourself (and all you’ve done) you still look fat in those jeans.
  • Jesus Loves You! Unconditionally. Well, kinda.
  • Jesus Loves You! He arrives at your door a battered beast seeking shelter, refuge.
  • Jesus Loves You! But he doesn’t like to brag about it.
  • Jesus Loves You! But he works weekends.
  • Jesus Loves You! But look out for the in-laws!
  • Jesus Loves You! Most scholars now agree that he looks nothing like his current Facebook profile photo.
  • Jesus Loves You! But he gets kinda weird when you start asking lots of questions.
  • Jesus Loves You! He loves you not. He loves you. He loves you not…
  • Jesus Loves You! With extra strength cleansing power! Those tough sin stains don’t stand a chance. Now in lavender or lemon-scented blood.
  • Jesus Loves You! Although he does live in an exclusive gated community & only let’s the ‘right’ people in.
  • Jesus Loves You! Christ Update 4.0 bulked up w/ new spiritual security enhancements & now compatible w/ Buddhist & Pagan operating systems.
  • Jesus Loves You! Behold the Lamb of God! (Yeah, he’s into that whole furry scene)
  • Jesus Loves You! Have seen this Savior? Last spotted in Roman-occupied Palestine circa 33 AD.
  • Jesus Loves You! You are truly lovely and extraordinarily worthy of love and then more love.
  • Jesus Loves You! Consider the lilies of the field before an ecological nightmare annihilates them!
  • Jesus Loves You! He ascended up to heaven & seated himself at his Father’s right hand, thus ending a 33 year custody battle.
  • Jesus Loves You! The exact whereabouts of the Savior is still unclear. Sources close to Jesus claim he mutated, became air-born & went viral.
  • Jesus Loves You! Why look ye for the living among the dead? He was forcibly removed from the planet 2000 yrs ago by his Father’s henchangels
  • Jesus Loves You! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
  • Jesus Loves You! First Crusade Cola© then Inquisition Fruit Punch® and now Jesus Lite Energy Elixir™–fullness of life w/ 75% less wrath!
  • Jesus Loves You! “I am the Vine; you are the branches.” An invasive specie of global proportions.
  • Jesus Loves You! Purveyor of loaves & fishes since 33 AD. “Our cod is an awesome cod!”
  • Jesus Loves You! Do not fear the monster lurking under your bed or the one living in your heart.

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My religious trajectory began in the Roman Catholic Church and landed me in many of the Christian religious movements of the past 30 years.

At age 17 I left Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Lake Huntington, NY with its tinny sounding organ and hymns sung in impossible keys through the noses of old ladies, and I began to attend Gospel Tabernacle, a fundamentalist Bible Church in Honesdale, PA. This church encouraged their youth to attend Word of Life Bible Institute and Bob Jones University (Also known as BJU). After I graduated from high school, I opted for what my pastor considered a liberal institution, Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance school. While there I attended an independent Evangelical church in nearby New Jersey. They talked about grace and provided gourmet coffee in the Fellowship Hall after service.

Following a stint with the Evangelical mission HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, I moved to New York City where with hands raised and feet stomping I jumped into Glory Tabernacle, a non-denominational Charismatic church that put the happy into the clappy. We railed against principalities and powers, and in ancient pagan fashion regularly drove out evil entities ensconced in every corner of the city. (And to the god of the North, I bind you and in the mighty name of Jesus I command you to depart with your evil minions!)

Right before this Holy Ghost-filled church fell apart because of a sexual scandal between the young charming pastor and his children’s nanny (a result of The Enemy attacking The Man of God, who apparently failed to build a strong enough hedge of protection around himself or else inadvertently opened a door to demonic oppression or quite possibly both), I moved onto Times Square Church. With services held in one of Broadway’s premiere theaters I sang in their rocking Gospel choir and sat under their teaching, seasoned in a Pentecostal/Holiness tradition with a prophetic punch brought on by senior pastor David Wilkerson (He regularly warned us that North America would fall because of homosexuals who would then roam in homosexual gangs. Apparently it is part of our agenda)

Through my connections with people in the Manhattan-based L.I.F.E. Ministries ex-gay program (and unemployed Broadway actor support group), I also occasionally attended Household of Faith Ministries (now Christian Cultural Center) a word of faith non-denominational church in Brooklyn that adhered to the teachings of Kenneth Copeland, Marilyn Hickey, and Kenneth Haggin. Oh the things I claimed in faith!

Through Times Square Church I became acquainted with a small house church in Yonkers, NY called the New Testament Missionary Fellowship. Without a pastor or Sunday program, the congregants of this small assembly needed to produce the ministry themselves, which included prophecies, spontaneous original songs, dancing in the Spirit and Bible lessons.

From there I moved to the UK and Zambia where I mostly attended non-denominational charismatic churches. After my world fell apart in Zambia, I attended a small charismatic church in England that bought into the Toronto Blessing with full-blown laughing in the spirit. At one Toronto Blessing-inspired conference I endured, “God” tried to minister to me through animal noises and grunts. All very entertaining (and terrifying) but I struggled to grasp what “God” was trying to tell me. During that time in England I also attended Wednesday communion services at the local Anglican parish.

When I returned to the States to attend the Love in Action ex-gay residential treatment facility in Memphis, TN, the program leaders forced us to attend Central Church, an Evangelical mega church with a mega choir and a theater-like atmosphere that dazzled us week after week in a giant round building resembling an abandoned space ship. As a struggling ex-gay, I attended the Men’s Sunday School class and Promise Keepers while avoiding the many rest rooms. We learned by experience about the a reputation for spontaneous gay sex during the service. Those crazy straight Evangelicals and their toilets!

When I could elect to go to a church of my choosing, I attended an Episcopal church led by a husband/wife ministry team that taught conservative theology with a sprinkling of Charismatic hands-on ministry and a failed attempt at the ALPHA Course (which I guess one could term as a success of sorts.)

When I came out as gay, I attended the monthly meetings of Integrity, a gay Episcopal group in downtown Memphis and latter became an officer in that group. On Sunday evenings I walked a half-block to a campus Episcopal church led by Samson, a Kenyan pastor who created a community feel to our services and organized gorgeous pot-luck dinners afterwards.

In 2001 I moved to Hartford, CT and soon after 911 I entered a Quaker meeting house and have been a Quaker ever since. So far I have found a home of sorts among “Friends” as we call each other. Quakers are big time pacifists. I have discovered that Quakers don’t get violent, just passive aggressive. My favorite part has to be all the quiet we practice during our weekly meetings (and I have to say, for me it requires practice.)

In an upcoming post I write how some of my current Quaker experiences mirror some of my earliest Roman Catholic ones.

What about you? What does your faith odyssey look like?

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I warn you that none of this may make sense. (But I do have a butt/bum joke embedded in my little sermon below)

I’ve been reading the words of Jesus a lot lately (at least those recorded in five different Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas) in the shocking and lovely book Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures. My reading mixed with conversations with folks in Malta on Guernsey and England has gotten me to think in a new direction (well new for me).

For weeks I have reflected and spoke about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. (Auntie Doris heard this one over and over and over again) Here is one version of the story in Mark 8:1-10 (form Good as New version.)

It was during this visit abroad that Jesus again found himself with a large crowd of hungry people. Jesus called his friends together and said, “I’m concerned about all these people who’ve been with me for three days and haven’t eaten. If I send them away hungry some may collapse before they get home, because they’ve come a long way.” The friends asked, “How can we get enough bread to feed everyone, out here in the country?”

Jesus asked how many loaves there were and they told him “Seven.” Jesus told the crowd to sit down and took the seven loaves. He said “thank you” to God, broke the loaves and gave them to his friends to pass among the crowds. They also had a few small fish. Jesus thanked God for these and handed them on to be passed around. The crowd has as much to eat as they wanted and seven baskets of leftovers were collected. About four thousand people were fed before being sent home.

It’s a well-worn story that many people know. I have always seen it as one of those, “Jesus pulls a rabbit out of a hat” kind of tricks/miracles. Cool! Jesus can make bread miraculously appear! Now that can come in handy.

But I see another more challenging way that I can look at this story.

The disciples and the crowd are out in the countryside for three days. This is before the days of Subway Sandwich shops and Red Lobster restaurants or well-catered retreats. This is a people used to carrying food around when they travel. Jesus rightly discerns that some folks don’t have any food left and will need nourishment to get home. Wow, how thoughtful, how sweet, how unbelievably practical. I love this Jesus.

So he turns to his team, “What you got?” I love how even in the English you can hear the sarcasm and exasperation in the disciples’ response. But Jesus had a plan, a radical one that did not require any magic tricks, one that I believe serves as an even more impressive miracle.

Jesus sat everyone down. Then taking the scant offerings the disciples rustled up, he begins to serve the people. Now I don’t for a minute believe the disciples gave up all they had to Jesus. If they were like most of us, they probably squirreled away a secret stash for themselves for later in the day. In fact, in the John 6 version of the same or similar story, the disciples offer nothing of their own but instead take five loaves and two fish from a little boy (giving an entirely different meaning to “out of the mouth of babes.”)

Jesus provocatively begins to distribute the little he has to give. I imagine Jesus doing this very slowly, dramatically, taking his time with it. The disciples see the basket rapidly emptying. They dig into their hoards and pass some more food forward. The news spreads quickly and quietly through the crowd, first to those closest to the disciples then radiating out. A supply line forms as each one who has food passes it along through many hands to the disciples then to Jesus and then back to the people.

In the end EVERYONE eats, including those who had no longer had food as well as those who carried more than enough. The crowd had such vast resources of food among them that stacks of leftovers remain.

A “magic trick” Jesus is cool and convenient to have on hand. One that calls on me to contribute from my own stockpile so that another’s needs can be met, challenges me and the society in which I live.

One of the classic clobber texts that has been used to silence and shut out gays, lesbians and bisexuals from the church has been 1 Corthinians 6:9,10. (I imagine some use it to keep out transgender folks too).

Many scholars dispute the accuracy of using the word “homosexual” in the text. Other renderings include effeminate and soft (as in living a life of luxury and ease). I am sure you can find much about this dispute on-line. What I do find noteworthy about the list of those who will not “inherit the Kingdom of God” is that it includes people partaking in everyday activities that I rarely hear mentioned from the pulpits in North America.

Neither will any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others.

Many have used I Corinthians 6:9,10 to stake claims on who can and cannot go to Heaven. Ah, but does this passage actually speak about our eternal reward in some galaxy far far way? The writer of Romans, in a long discussion about the discomfort among some believers with the culinary choices and practices of others, defines the Kingdom of God this way,

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…

Looking at the current credit crisis, I think many will agree that much of the trouble we get ourselves into in regards to debt has to do with living beyond our means–greed. Of course there are other reasons for getting in arrears, (tee hee) but if I am honest, I have to admit that buying those shoes on sale at Macy only felt like an emergency at the time.

Here is the formula that I see. When I am greedy, this can lead to stinginess and to debt. I then experience a lack of peace, joy and righteousness in my life. Makes sense. I mean instead of peace, I worry about how I will pay the bills. I feel depressed over the situation. I may also find myself tempted to be less than virtuous when someone at the checkout counter makes a mistake in my favor. (I may even ascribe the mistake to God’s justifying that it’s God’s way of looking out for me. The Lord is my accomplice; I shall not want!).

For years I thought God was mostly concerned with my sexuality. I spent nearly two decades and tons of time, prayer and money obsessing over the bits between my legs and what I should and should not do with them. Reading the words of Jesus, checking out how he operated, I begin to see that I lived distracted from reality.

I leave you with a video posted on my friend Mario’s blog. Wow, seems Disney and Barrack Obama, encourage us to consider the “least of these…”

God Help the Outcasts

hat tip to Mario at Gay, Christian & Campaigning

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A Whole New Queer World

On a recent trip I met a man who 25 years ago went into the closet and only reemerged over the past two years. He lived for a while as a gay man in the late 70’s and then in the early 80’s he fled the gay scene into a heterosexual marriage and deep into the closet.

What a different world it was then. I was just graduating high school. To be gay meant to be reviled in most circles. Conservatism and the Religious Right rose to great power and wielded a long media arm that regularly bashed gays. The primary way that it seemed you could express your “gayness” was at a seedy gay bar or an even seedier adult book store. And of course AIDS hit with a fury and was quickly labeled a “gay disease” and God’s judgment on homosexuals.

Many gay men took flight and found refuge in a heterosexual cover or in the ex-gay movement (or both). It was about that time that LIFE Ministries in NYC began their ex-gay program, and I began to attend it. As a Christian struggling with homosexuality, it seemed the only logical, sane and righteous course. I did meet a gay Christian when I was a teen. He was an adult and I was a teen, and he hit on me, so I wanted nothing to do with these fake gay Christians.

Today when I read most ex-gay testimonies of how God delivered someone from homosexuality, I hear the back-story of someone who knows the gay world as it existed in the 80’s and early 90’s. Their gay lifestyles most often consisted of cruising parks and public restrooms, of drunken binges at gay clubs, of godless irresponsible living with little regards to themselves or others. Their lives, as they describe them, were miserable, depressing and outright dangerous. And the reality is that many gay men have lived this way and some still do.

How the world has changed and is changing. Sure you can still find people living lives that they regret. This happens with both gay and straight people, but the “gay world” today is such a different one than it was 25 years ago. So many more options for connection.

Just this week I presented at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. The LGBTIQA group PRISM organized the event, and as a result, I got to hang out with the students in the club and their friends (and even one of their mothers!) This group of young folks were like nothing I would have imagined 25 years ago. For one there was no pressure to label anyone or put people into boxes. I really had no ideas who was gay or straight or bi or whatever.

It wasn’t about sex or hooking up but about shared interests in literature, foreign languages, environmentalism, film and food. I met a young man who loves the poetry of Christina Rossetti and who couldn’t wait to get back to his home so that he could hang out with the guys from the men’s Bible study–not at a gay church, just a regular independent Evangelical church that has been his spiritual home and a place he found affirmation, and as a result has been able to deepen his faith.

Now I am back in Portland, OR and I met with the Anawim community last night, a group of men who, for the last decade have met every Thursday night for a meal, Bible study and prayer. These men know each other well, help each other out of financial difficulties and all manners of personal crisis. These men love each other deeply. As we gathered, first for silent then forspoken prayer, I thought about all the people in the world, queer and straight, who long for community, who long for deep intimate relationships and a place where they can be authentic without fear of being rejected. And here is a place, a queer space for that sort of communion. And at Goucher, there is a place where you can be real and be yourself and find friends.

Now I realize that both of these communities are not perfect. I got to see them on their best behavior. I imagine people can be selfish, insensitive and stupid at times. Hey we’re talking humans here. And I do not wish to suggest that these communities are sexless. So often in the Church we have been taught that anything having to do with sex is evil and so some queer communities seem to have everything BUT sex. We are sexual beings, and that is what I see so exciting about the communities above, they seem balanced. It is not all about sex and it is not all about eradicating sex from our lives. It is about being fully formed, healthy humans in community with each other.

Some ex-gay promoters and providers live according to a template of gay life in the early 80’s. Times have changed and they are changing. Queer folks comes in all flavors and we are finding myriad expressions for our lives. We are not all holed up in a dark dingy bar somewhere waiting for a quickie. We are living our lives, full lives, spiritual lives, meaningful lives, responsible lives, lives that some folks in the 80’s like me longed to live.

That man who just reemerged after 25 years locked away in the closet, like being in a time capsule, has so many wonderful things to discover.

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Rainbow Mass in Sweden

I love Sweden, especially because of some very dear friends I have there. Courageous people who explore their lives, sexuality and faith in so many creative ways from Karaoke to Monster drawings.

Lots of folks think that Sweden is a gay paradise where EVERYONE is absolutely accepting and affirming. They do have progressive laws for gays and lesbians (although my state of Connecticut provide better legal protection for transgender people than Sweden’s current laws), but tensions, challenges and difficulties still exist.

Noa Resare (the other husband in the team of Alex and Noa) recently helped organize the Rainbow Mass up in Umeå. He shares a story of the event and the growth of one Lutheran priest in the process:

One of my responsibilities today was to arrange a Rainbow mass in the lutheran church at the center of our town. Finding a priest willing and able to step in and celebrate with us when the one we had asked had to cancel for medical reasons was more difficult than I had imagined. Finally, after having contacted 22 people that all said they couldn’t help me for various reasons I finally found someone reluctantly willing to celebrate with us.

His name was Erik, and he was a swedish lutheran piest of the old kind. He was someone that you would suspect was still using the old translation of the Lord’s prayer (the one obsoleted by the new official swedish Bible translation that we got in 1981), a suspicion that turned out to be correct.

I was happy that he agreed to do it, but when we had our mass today many little things was not as we had discussed. He didn’t specifically welcome the LGBT community as we had agreed, he refused to call themass “Rainbow mass” (that is sort of a trade mark for LGBT friendly services in Sweden), and he held rather long sermon about forgiveness starting out with Mt 18:21-22 (when Jesus says that we should forgive each other seventy-seven times). It started out kind of good, but then his focus shifted a little bit too much onto the notions of sinfulness and cleanness.

However, when we started to celebrate communion together (I helped people with the wine, he distributed the bread) I felt that this mass was a big moment for him. He did something that he hadn’t done before, and probably hadn’t even dreamed of doing. My feeling was that as he was administering the communion, seeing people coming forward to share communion that he had never seen in church before, some with rainbow colored clothing, some women with men’s clothes, a girl with a pink wig, he was changed. He was seeing new things, a new kind of diversity among the people sharing communion.

I was deeply touched by this, as I sat down listening to the organ music ending our service. Seeing someone’s eyes open, old and perhaps judgemental ideas just falling to the floor when challenged by reality, that was simply amazing.

Thank you Noa for organizing the Rainbow Mass and for giving me permission to share this account. Big hug!

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