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Archive for the ‘Quakerism’ Category

20110706-173618.jpgThis week I have the privilege and pleasure of attending the Friends General Conference (FGC) at Grinnell College in Iowa. This is the annual gathering of unprogrammed Quakers in North America. We are the Quakers who sit in silence when we worship (well until someone shares something they feel compelled to say.) I have attended this same conference on and off since 2004. It was actually at the 2008 FGC that I met my dear, sweet, wonderful partner, Glen Retief.

I don’t feel I can accurately say what happens at a typical FGC because so many people have different experiences here based on their identity, their age, family demographics, involvement on committees and in groups, and their energy level during the week. The week is PACKED with all sorts of opportunities to worship (much of it silent but not all,) play (Broadway singing and a variety of dance opportunities are popular as well as the unofficial wear a sarong day,) and engage in conversations about any number of serious issues like torture, the environment, racism and white privilege, and lobbying congress and the president about issues important to Quakers. For a group of peace-loving, anti-war, de-militarizing advocates, I always find humor in the intergenerational Capture the Flag activity. To spice it up I have suggested they fight over me and rename the game Capture the Fag.

Friends are encouraged to sign up for week-long workshops on a plethora of topics. Glen and I opted for the Couples Enrichment Workshop for LGBTQ people. There is a also a general Couples Enrichment Workshop for any couple regardless of orientation, gender identity and presentation, but some Friends recognized the need for a couples workshop specifically for LGBTQ folks. I imagine the more general one offers many of the same activities and tools, but being with five other queer couples provides Glen and me a chance to talk about our experiences with folks who have some shared experiences. While I am sure we would have had a worthwhile time with heterosexual couples, I value the time to be with just the queer folks this time around.

LGBTQ Friends are present and active in every part of the gathering–child care, plenary speakers, committee members and heads, performers, and representatives of Quaker organizations. The Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns remain highly visible each year hosting a well attended worship service every afternoon, and the wildly popular Cabaret and Silent Auction. I will not speak for the transgender and gender queer Friends among us about their experiences, but I hope some will provide comments here. I would like to see more gender neutral bathrooms on-site.

If you have a scent allergy or special food need (gluten-free, nut allergy, vegan) FGC staff and participants make efforts to create a safe and inclusive environment. Again I cannot speak for other people and their experiences, so I will not comment on how effective these efforts have been. I am no longer a proper vegan (I now eat eggs and some fish,) but I know that vegan deserts vanish quickly, most likely consumed by non-vegans who covet our animal product-free confections. I did witness some drama though around the gluten-free counter. After a day or two when Friends without a sensitivity to gluten chowed down on the limited supply of gluten-free food on offer, a gluten-free Quaker police force patrolled the area and effectively cowed the rest of us away from their supplies. Some strongly worded announcements in the Daily Bulletin didn’t hurt either. I know that vegans can be forceful about our dietary needs and preferences, but these gluten-free folks are delightfully militant in their efforts to protect themselves from potential medical harm. I stay out of their way.

Quakers are a peculiar people, and from my experience quite easy to offend. You never know which strongly felt issue will trigger a Friend and inspire gentle (or not so gentle) “eldering” often prefaced with the gravely articulated word–“FRIEND…” It is like when my mom carefully pronounced my first, middle, and last name to alert me that I was about to get disciplined. Try doing comedy among Quakers–it can be a minefield!

But mostly I find Quakers to be thoughtful people, willing to think deeply about issues, and to listen to another. Amidst the quirkiness, the complexity, the sometimes annoying reactionary conversations, I find an uncommon wisdom, spiritual leadings, conviction to question everyday realities, and people who value integrity, simplicity, peace, equality, sustainability, and social justice.

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Motivation–A Quaker Query

Fear, guilt, and shame–strong, toxic emotions that can motivate us to change, to move us to action or inaction. Fear, guilt, and shame can poison queer folks to live dishonestly, in the shadows, in tomb-like closets.

Fear, guilt, and shame can motivate good people, peace-loving liberal white Quakers to pursue diversity under the guise of justice, not fully recognizing the potential and quite probable exploitation of people of color in our efforts to integrate our white spaces.

Fear, guilt, and shame often has as it’s unspoken motivational statement, “I don’t want to be seen as one of those people!” (gay, racist, unevolved–fill in the blank…)

As we proceed with our initiatives, with our life choices,a helpful query might be, “Is this action a response to fear, guilt and shame or does it rise out of friendship, love, and justice? Or somewhat a muddled combination?”

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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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Doin’ it meaning worship that is. As many of you know I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers). I came to the Quakers as a refugee after a religious odyssey that took me from Roman Catholicism to Fundamentalism to Evangelicalism to Pentecostalism to Anglicanism and ultimately (or penultimately?) to Quakerism. A long and winding road indeed. I do not regret any of the stops I made although some proved more useful than others.

For me the Quaker way provides something other than a belief structure. We don’t have any established creeds to which we ascribe or affirm. Each Quaker has his or her own beliefs, but we do hold onto values that we have grown to cherish through the years (peace, integrity, simplicity, etc). It has also proved to be a healthy environment for me as a person who is gay.

But if you want to see a Quaker sputter a bit, ask the Friend, “So what do Quakers believe?” It’s kind of like asking vegans, “So what kind of meat do you eat?” For me being Quaker is not so much about what I believe, but more about what I practice, especially the practice of silence and stillness in worship.

paul (lower case “p”)recently e-mailed me about his first foray into a Quaker meeting. I asked if I could share some of his initial experiences on my blog. He agreed, so I hand it over to Paul.

Four weeks ago I attended my first Quaker meeting. It was really something, kind of felt like coming home, it is very familiar somehow. We gay folk, or anyone who doesn’t fit the status quo really, are often outsiders, strangers. Some of us spend our whole lives hiding in order to fit in, which is a contradiction in terms, I know, but to get the feeling of acceptance we hide the part or parts of us we know won’t be accepted. When we find a place where we can simply be who we are, it’s profound, like an orphan coming home. I say “orphan” because many of us have never really had a home, so I guess this is what it feels like.

Quaker service is not like any church I have ever been to. Before service there is what is called “Bible Workbench.” I guess one might compare it to “Sunday school,” but it’s nothing like it really. Instead of a teacher, there is a moderator, and the “workbench” is an open discussion on a portion of bible scripture. All viewpoints are welcomed, the only ‘rule’ is you cannot disparage another’s comment… thought you are free to disagree.

After “Bible workbench” there is the Quaker worship service. This also is not like any “church” service I have ever been to. In every church I have been to, there is singing, often musicians, praying out loud and a sermon from a pastor or preacher. Generally lots of bells and whistles. In contrast, a Quaker service is an hour spent in silence. Any participant who believes they have a message to give, is free to give it, but my experience has been that there is more silence than messages. Bells and whistles are fine just like chocolate cake is fine, but a steady diet of it isn’t very healthy. I don’t think it can be a substitute for “stillness.” Especially if it’s true that we have to “be still” to “know” who “is God.” The bells and whistles can actually impede the event and distract us from “God” replacing God with a God substitute, an image of our own making (which seems like idolatry). “Stillness” seems the absence of all such ideas and images in and effort to encounter the Who is right now.

If you want to find a Quaker meeting near you, check out QuakerFinder.org.
To read other blogs by Quakers about Quakerism, check out QuakerQuaker.org.

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It’s my international radio weekend! Although I am in Western Maryland right now taking part in Quaker gathering, I will also be on the radio in Canada and beyond.

Tonight at 10:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time) I will be a once again be a guest on Vancouver’s Queer FM CiTR 101.9fm where I will talk about my recent trip to Lambeth, my upcoming trip to Vancouver, Canada in October and whatever else Heather, the show’s enthusiastic host, gets me to talk about. You can listen live here.

Also, last week while at Lambeth Conference, George Arny of BBC World Service interviewed me for the Reporting Religion program. I talk at length about my ex-gay experiences, Beyond Ex-Gay, my faith journey and being a Quaker today. You can listen to the program here.

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Beyond Ex-Gay Mail Bag

Every week Christine Bakke and I get e-mails and messages from people who visit the Beyond Ex-Gay Website. We answer every one with a personal response. For some people this is their first attempt to reach out to someone since leaving the ex-gay movement or since they began to accept themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex. Recently I received this message that got me thinking and praying and talking to friends before I responded,

I am a Christian. I believe homosexuality in a sin. I have read all the pro-gay and anti-gay books i can find, including Boswell’s. I have gone to MCC the gay church. Nothing feels right. My mentor keps talking about “the gay Lifestyle”. I tell him there is no such thing….just as there is no “straight lifestyle”. Two suicide attempts and I chickened out of both. Guilt overwhelms me when I attempt to meet a guy or have sex. Dating women makes me feel like a liar. Damned if I do and damned if i don’t. I do not want to go against the Bible and sin and I do not want to live a lie and try to “go straight”. I am one of millions I am sure, but this is my life. I just do not know what to do.

I was actually at the annual gathering of Friends General Conference (Quakers) when I received this message. Without revealing the person’s identity except to say his name is Steve, I shared the e-mail with the high school students in the workshop I co-facilitated (Xtreme Quakerism!) We held meeting for worship with attention to Steve. In the stillness of worship I read the message and we held Steve in the Light and prayed for him. If during our worship they had something they wanted to say to Steve, they spoke it out. Based on their ministry, I wrote Steve the following response.

I have thought of you several times since getting your initial message through http://www.beyondexgay.com. Without sharing your full name, I read part of your e-mail to the high school students in the workshop I led last week. They are young Quakers, mostly straight, and they felt moved to pray for you and to encourage you. One thing that rose out of our worship was a message about fruit. One of the Quakers asked, “Where is the joy in the journey?”

In looking at the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, humility, self-control, etc. I remember my ex-gay years and how I longed for the gift of self-control. But I found for the most part most of the gifts did not grow, especially joy. In fact, I experienced quite the opposite. I grew sad and depressed even suicidal. I grew impatient with God, myself and others. I begged, demanded, implored God to help me straighten myself out or at least help me to control my desires. It seemed the more I pursued this path the worse things grew. There were moments when I thought I “got it figured out” only to discover that I was back in the same place I started. The depression and impatience only grew.

I realized that I was coveting my straight neighbor’s life. I wanted God to do something that God clearly had no intention of doing. I didn’t see the gift in being gay. I thought it must be a curse. But God was so very patient with me. When I finally succumbed to the reality that I am gay and that I will not change, and that if I pursue this course much longer it would destroy me and my faith, I suddenly found peace and a growing joy. In fact, I have experienced a whole garden of growth of the fruit of the Spirit. Yes, I lost some friends though it all, but I realize now they loved me conditionally. They loved me as long as I struggled to kill off a part of myself, but once I accepted the reality of who I was, even though I was happier and closer to God than ever before, they didn’t want anything to do with me. But God is good and I have developed new friendships, deep and thoughtful ones. Family and friends who have known me for a long time say that I am so much more solid and present than ever before. They feel love from me and see I am in a healthy place in my life.

We hear many lies spoken about gay people. We have been programmed to hate ourselves. We have conformed to the negative patterns of this world, patterns that some large parts of the Church have taken up as a fundamental cause as if these causes came from God. But we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can begin to understand God’s will for us. Like you I grew to distrust both pro-gay and anti-gay theology. But I trust God, and through being still and laying things out before God, I have found a clear and solid path and much much fruit.

Christine and I are beginning to seek out people who could serve as part of a team in helping us respond to the many e-mails we get at bXg. We get so many that we will not be able to respond to them all. If you are interested in being part of this team, let us know.

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I blogged last week about how deeply moved I felt when I heard the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1958 address to the FGC gathering of Quakers. Today over lunch with Lynn, a Friend from Hartford Meeting, I shared my notes from the talk and felt inspired even more. Something else stirred; the reminder that King had as a mentor in his life a man named Bayard Rustin. In fact, Rustin wrote many of King’s speeches in the late 1950’s. I spent the afternoon in the garden re-reading two books I have about Rustin.

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures of the 20th century. A Quaker, an African-American and openly gay, he served as an architect and inspiration for the direction of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. In fact, he was already writing about racial equality and non-violence as early as 1942 in his article The Negro and Non-Violence. He stated,

Nonviolence as a method has within it the demand for terrible sacrifice and long suffering, but, as Gandhi has said, “freedom does not drop from the sky.” One has to struggle and be willing to die for it. J. Holmes Smith has indicated that he looks to the American Negro to assist in developing, along with the people of India, a new dynamic force for the solution of conflict that not merely will free these oppressed people but will set an example that may be the first step in freeing the world. (page nine of Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin.)

Rustin went on to practice what he preached by resisting the draft during World War II, thus enduring a prison sentence of nearly two years (and used his time in prison to address inequities towards the non-white inmates.)

Starting in the mid-1930’s Rustin used non-violent strategies to protest war and nuclear weapons. He learned directly from Gandhi’s people in India and soon applied his training and experience to addressing racial inequality and the oppression of African-Americans.

In 1947 a federal ruling struck down segregated interstate travel. Rustin and others wanted to test the ruling, so they organized an interracial group of men to travel by public buses and trains in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. They challenged the segregation laws still practiced in those areas. Arrests took place on six different occasions with a total of 12 of the riders arrested. Rustin wrote about the experience,

Without exception those arrested behaved in a nonviolent fashion. They acted without fear, spoke quietly and firmly, showing great consideration for the police and bus drivers, and repeatedly pointed to the fact that they expected the police to do their duty as they saw it. We cannot overemphasize the necessity for this courteous and intelligent conduct while breaking with the caste system. (page 15)

Rustin first met Dr. King during the bus boycotts of Montgomery, AL in 1955, shortly after King’s house had been bombed. In his well-written biography, Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, John D’Emilio reveals the importance of Rustin’s input into Dr. King’s non-violent work.

From the start, Rustin communicated to King not only the efficacy and moral value of nonviolence, but the special responsibility of leaders to model it fully (page 231).

According to D’Emilio, King had only a “passing acquaintance with the philosophy and career of Gandhi…Rustin initiated the process that transformed King into the most illustrious American proponent of nonviolence in the twentieth century.” (page 231)

King had to learn non-violence from somewhere. He was in his late 20’s when he arrived in Montgomery. He was on his own for the first time, which poignantly comes through in his 1958 FGC address. His father was not going to be able to help him all the way from Atlanta. King needed to learn a lot and quickly. Rustin came to him seasoned in non-violence theory and practice.

To Rustin, efforts by King’s followers or by historians to present King as a fully developed Gandhian at the start of the boycott were a disservice to the man. “He had not been prepared for [the job] either tactically, strategically, or in his understanding of nonviolence,” Rustin emphatically told an interviewer. “The glorious thing is that he came to a profoundly deep understanding of nonviolence through the struggle itself, and through reading and discussion which he had in the process of carrying on the protest, not that, in some way, college professors who had read Gandhi had prepared him in advance. This is just a hoax.” Arriving in Montgomery a week after Rustin, Glenn Smiley, (another long-time peace activist from NYC), confirmed Rustin’s evaluation. About Gandhian nonviolence, Smiley insisted, King “knew nothing.” (pages 230, 231)

Not only did Rustin help King to understand the principles of non-violence and the application to the current situation, he began to ghostwrite speeches and articles for King starting in 1955. (see Rustin standing behind King during the March on Washington, which Rustin organized) The first article written by Rustin and ascribed to King appeared in April of that year. According to D’Emilio:

(Rustin) highlighted the messages that he believed had the most strategic value: that the boycott signaled the birth of a “new Negro” and a “revolutionary change in the Negro’s evaluation of himself”; that “economics is part of our struggle”; that that the boycotters had discovered “a new and powerful weapon—non-violent resistance.” (page 239)

20 years older than King, Rustin spoke like a teacher to a pupil in his letters to the young civil rights’ leader (page 241) and also helped King see connections to international politics and economics affecting all poor people.

So here comes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the annual gathering of Quakers in summer 1958. He gives an amazing, profound, and crystal clear message about the struggle for racial equality and the need to use non-violent methods along with connections to international post-colonial struggles and the economy. The passion with which King speaks tells me the message comes from his heart, but I believe much of it came from Rustin’s pen like many of King’s other speeches during this time period–especially because in this case King spoke to Rustin’s own people, the Quakers.

You can purchase a printed version of the speech or an audio tape here, but I want to share from the notes I took as I listened to the speech at FGC a week ago. In the work that I do around the Ex-Gay Movement and the full liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the US and elsewhere, I can hear critical messages for us in King’s (and Rustin’s) message. (King used the term Negro throughout. I will just use “people” in my notes)

  • The Bible has not been properly interpreted. There is a problem with a literal reading, and as a result people were taught they were inferior. They believed this and lost faith in themselves. It has left scars on the soul. People need to take a fresh look at themselves. God loves all his children; each one is made in his image. A new person has come to being which creates the present crisis. Humans with dignity struggle for freedom and human dignity, but privileged people won’t easily give it up.
  • How will the Struggle be Waged? Non-violence. Physical violence and hatred (the twins of Western materialism) only achieve victory, not peace.
  • Non-violence is not for cowards.
  • It does not seek to defeat and humiliate opponents. Instead it seeks to make friends and awaken a sense of shame over injustice.
  • We do not go after individuals, rather the evil systems that victimizes both the oppressed and the oppressor.
  • The non-violent resister accepts suffering without retaliation. Meet physical violence with what Gandhi called Soulforce. We still love you.
  • We avoid internal violence of spirit. We refuse to hate our opponent. An e”ye for an eye” leaves everyone blind.
  • This is not sentimental love, but agape, a love that offers creative understanding and seeks nothing in return. We love them because God loves them. Love your enemies—this transforms the soul of your opponent.
  • We have faith in the future believing the universe is on the side of justice. No lie can live forever.

I stepped out of the talk stirred, shaken, challenged, convicted, and moved deeply in regards to the work that I seek to do. What thrills me is that not only did King moved me, but also the Black gay Quaker, Bayard Rustin, who shaped those words in King’s life and for all of us to hear.

BOOKS
Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin
Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
To see VIDEO of Bayard in action go here.
William D. Lindsey, a Quaker who writes for the blog Bilgrimage, also has a rich post about Rustin with lots of detailed info outlining various influences in Rustin’s life including Methodism.

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