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Back in October of 2001 I walked into a Quaker meeting house in Hartford, CT to finally attend silent worship. Over 10 years before in Wales I nearly sat through a meeting during my honeymoon with my wife. We were both 25 years old, conservative, Bible-believing, Pentecostal Christians looking for a place to meet with Jesus.

Since we had arrived at the Quaker meeting house about 20 minutes before the service, we nosed around in the front room and perused the literature prominently displayed. None of it sounded familiar. The language seemed vague, shadowy to us–suspect. “…that of God in everyone…the Light of the divine…the seed within.” We understood these words individually, but the way the Quakers strung them together, they smacked of the dreaded heresy of our day–NEW AGE. We dashed out of there in search of a proper church with a proper God that we recognized.

Years later, no longer married, no longer “straight,” I felt adrift in my spiritual life. I had just moved back up North from Memphis, TN. After two years of coming out and attending a warm (though not completely affirming) Episcopal church, I wanted to find a place of worship in my new home of Hartford, CT. I tried the Episcopal churches in the area, but although they were effusively welcoming of gays, I perpetually felt underdressed among the posh and well-groomed New England Episcopalians. Also, the churches I visited felt dry, stuffy, and conservative in the restrained way the priests and their staff conducted business.

I had begun work as an infusion teacher at the Watkinson School, the first job in which I was openly gay, and a place where the administration encouraged my creativity as I worked with both teachers and students to infuse the 9th grade with innovative, and hopefully effective, teaching and learning strategies and techniques. Through working with students like Daniel, May, and John and collaborating with teachers like Christina, Jen, and Steve, I felt the sludge in my brain begin to loosen up as critical thinking and fresh ideas began to flow.

Since a co-worker, Diane worked in the Middle School, I did not have too much interaction with her. I heard rumors that she was openly Quaker. This intrigued me. I never met an actual Quaker, and here was one among us in this progressive private school. I learned that David, an Upper School history teacher was also a practicing Quaker. After interrogating Diane to find out what actually happens in a Quaker meeting, I decided I to visit.

A few weeks before terrorists had attacked the USA. I visited lower Manhattan nearly a month after the downing of the World Trade Towers and other buildings. In my early 20’s I worked in the executive dinning room on the 50th floor at the American Express building directly next door to one of the towers. On a Saturday in October 2011 I returned to my old stomping grounds, but nothing looked the same, and the fire still smoldered. Military personnel with guns patrolled. Workmen removed debris and hammered more plywood over building facades as dazed tourists walked around silently. Most businesses were closed. Everything was covered in grey ash. The scenes I saw that day in New York mirrored the emotional state of the country at the time. Citizens were shocked and stunned. Many of us felt terrorized and vulnerable for the first time in our lives.

In that state of mind a week after my visit to NYC, I entered the Hartford Friends Meeting. There were perhaps 25 people sitting on pews facing each other. The pews formed concentric squares. There was no altar, no pulpit. There were no songs, no prayers, no sermon. Just silence. Stillness. This quiet lasted a full hour.

I did not feel bored or uncomfortable, which surprised me. Instead I felt I had come home, but to a home I had never been in before. The silence surrounded me and filled me and comforted me. After years of being pummeled by words, and weeks of terror alerts, breaking news, and a quick buildup to war, the silence felt like a balm to my troubled mind and panicked heart. I sat in that silence like in a hot bath, surrendering to it.

Over the next few years I continued attending meeting for worship. I would sit there and imagine I was as an overused clunky desktop computer in need of maintenance. Each meeting I sat in silence allowing the Spirit to do a scan disc operation over all the data I had collected through the years. I imagined God conducting a defrag of my mental and spiritual hard drive closing up the gaps, removing digital junk that took up room and slowed down processing.

A year later I began writing Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. My brain felt freer as I began to process nearly two decades receiving gay conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry. By 2004, after a clearness process with a small group of Quakers at Hartford Meeting, I decided to leave the Watkinson School and attempt to work as a theatrical performance activist. Now, nearly 10 years after attending my first Quaker meeting, I will embark on a six state, cross-country, train tour sharing my work about gender non-conformists in the Bible and my growing concern about climate change.

The practice of quiet contemplation may seem to some like a bland, heartless exercise for the rare esoteric mystic. Perhaps it’s not for everyone. I know I cannot do it for long by myself in my own study. But gathering with others in that silent place week after week, I have sifted through much inner debris. I have wrestled with my own demons. I have developed new ideas and found new direction for my work.

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Read about the three weeks I just spent at Haverford College as Friend in Residence. All my worlds collide–queer, Quaker, scholar, activist.

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Photos from Green Street Friends Meeting and Haverford Friends Meeting

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This week I began my three week Friend in Residence program at Haverford College, a historically Quaker undergraduate school outside of Philadelphia. According to the Quaker Affairs’ website,

The purpose of the Friend in Residence program is to enrich the educational experience for Haverford’s students, deepen the school’s appreciation of its Quaker roots and strengthen the College’s connections within the broader Quaker community.

Here is a full listing of my events

During my time here I will give two public performances to demonstrate the sort of work I do as a theatrical performance activist. On April 5th as part of the President’s Social Justice Series, I willl present Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. It will be a rare showing of the full theatrical production along with short pieces presented by trans people from Philadelphia.

But first this Saturday I will perform a stand-up comedy of sorts called Peterson Uncut! The Raw Version, which will give me a chance to tell some bawdy Bible stories and saucy tales from the Homo No Mo Halfway House and more. But earlier that same day I will help facilitate a Climate Summit. I am NO EXPERT when it comes to climate change as a scientific issue or a human rights issue. I will take part to learn from experts in the field both students and non-students–scientists, activists, and concerned citizens. What I bring to the event is my experience as a facilitator.

Tomorrow I head to Temple University to teach in a class about Sexuality and the Bible. The topic? Masturbation and Protestant Christianity. Again I have a scene from Homo No Mo that will come in handy as well as a scene from my play Jesus Had Two Daddies.

Haverford has given me access to their vast Special Collections, which includes thousands of Quaker publications as well as rare archival materials. So I got thinking about Quakers, who were so much involved with prison reform in the 18th and 19th centuries. They also ran hospitals, schools, and insane asylums. What did these Friends think about the sin of Onanism?

This week I have been reading biographies of Quaker members of the Prison Society that advocated many innovations in attempts to improve prison life. Guards were not paid back then and made their money by selling food, clothing, and alcohol to inmates. Also, all inmates were jumbled together regardless of the seriousness of the crime. Murderers and debtors were housed together. Also, men and women (sometimes with their children) were all living in one jail together with no segregation at all. The Prison Society lobbied the Pennsylvania Government and had that all changed.

The Prison Society, whose members also included non-Quakers like Benjamin Franklin, also strongly advocated for solitary confinement. They started with 16 solitary cells in the Walnut Street Jail. They assumed they were helping inmates, but ended up creating one of the cruelest forms of punishment regularly practiced in prisons today. Good intentions do not prevent people from causing harm.

Which got me thinking about masturbation and how prisons responded to inmates caught in the throes of the sin of Onanism. I recently read a reference in the book, New Jack City, about the writer’s time as a guard in Sing Sing Prison, that back in the day inmates were punished or sent off to an asylum in hopes of curing or curbing their masturbatory practices. Yesterday in reading a 1766 Treatise on Onanism I began to discover some of the attitudes and practices of that time–severe.

Who knows where the research will lead? It likely will lead all sorts of people discovering this blog post through all kinds of Google Searches. Next week I will research Hannah Whitall Smith and her very interesting offspring.

Here are some photos I took this week.
Special thanks to Diana Peterson, archivist for the Special Collections, Walter Hjelt Sullivan, director of Quaker Life and my kind handler and organizer of all these events, EarthQuakers, a Haverford sustainability group, Eileen Flannigan, a Quaker writer and climate change human rights activist, and Carl Sigmond and Sam Gant, Haverford students who I have known since they were in high school.

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Most people who read my blog & tweets know that I am a quirky, queer Quaker. In my Quaker meeting we do not have pastors or an program planned for the meeting. Rather we sit in silence for 60 minutes. Sometimes people share a message out of this silence. It’s a quiet sort of anarchy.

Recently someone asked me how I settle down for an hour of silence (perhaps skeptical since I can’t sit still for five minutes.) To quiet myself at Quaker meeting I do a number of things. I try to stay off-line on Sundays, particularly before meeting. I also try to arrive a few minutes early if possible. I sit and focus on my breathing for about 5 minutes. I’ll breath in through my nose for a count of four. Hold my breath for a count of seven. Breath out through my mouth for a count of eight. Sometimes I just breath and count to 300. Basically I’m trying to clear my mind and focus on the present. Sometimes though I panic thinking I might hyperventilate or worse that I have halitosis.

I also bring a note pad with me and a pen for when I get distracted–“You must renew your subscription to Bitch Magazine ASAP!” I write the thought down so I don’t have to obsess about it any longer. In addition, I meditate through writing. This week, for instance, I entered meeting with a query in my head–If I created a Scratch & Sniff Bible, what smells would it contain? I sat still then and began to write bizarre & stimulating ideas. The bloody birth of Jesus there amongst livestock must have been ripe with odors. The fishermen followers of Jesus may have looked so sexy, all muscular and hairy, but likely smelt like a vat of fish awash in body odor. Do the resurrected have that new-born human smell about them? Do their bodies smell fresh and new while their grave clothes reek of rotting corspe?

All this musing in meeting eventually brought me to a message that I shared outloud. I considered a phrase often spoken in my kitchen, usually by my husband Glen to me. Opening a jar tucked away in the back of the fridge or uncovering a bowl of leftovers, he’ll turn to me, “Smell this. Does this smell bad to you?” Thinking of that exchange led me to another phrase I often say to him while I am cooking. I ladle a spoonful of the stuff I’m creating (recipe? What recipe?) and guide it towards his mouth, “Taste this. What do you think it needs?”

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In both cases, Smell this/Taste this, we seek discernment, the input from another who may have a different, and potentially useful perspective that may either deter food poisoning or enhance the flavor of meal. In both cases the person seeking discernment exercises humility, inferring, “I may have this wrong. I don’t want to be guided solely by my senses.” The exchanges remind me of Proverbs 11:14,

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

In other words, there are times when we are making decisions–in the kitchen, in our lives, in our work, etc–and we would be wise to seek discernment, get other people’s input and perspectives. Then we can make informed, balanced, wise choices.

So with that in mind, what do you think, should I concoct a Scratch & Sniff Bible? If so, what fragrances/odors should I include/avoid?

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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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Since finally coming out gay in my early 30’s (after 17 years of self-imposed therapies to de-gay myself) I was never that keen on finding a partner. Sure I dated, and I met some great guys, but first off I knew I had a ton of gunk to work through. One cannot go to war against one’s sexuality and personality the way I did without needing serious recovery. The Ex-Gay Movement with all the faulty oppressive teaching  “ministers” and “therapists” served up with a warm loving touch did a number on me. Honestly I never thought I could ever be partner material.

Although “change” was not possible (as the ex-gays vaguely promised) recovery has been. Not that I have everything sorted out. Sadly I believe I will live with some of the negative effects of ex-gay treatment for the rest of my life. But not only does life go on for me, I have been able to reclaim much of my life, my art, my hope, and my sanity. With a handful of thoughtful, faithful, loving friends, I was prepared and content to live single the rest of my life.

In regards to romance and partnership, I hate it when people say things like, “Once you stop looking, that’s when you will find love.” Perhaps anecdotal evidence supports this claim, and unfortunately my own romantic situation plops me into the data pool of those who found love when not looking. Surely most people who find a partner have been looking for said partner. These folks don’t just drop out of the sky.

Glen Retief in Lesotho

Still, my partner did, in a matter of speaking, dropped from the sky. In 2008 I attended the Friends General Conference, an annual gathering of North American Quakers. We met that year on a college campus in Johnston, PA, and I roomed with my conference buddy, Dennis, a 65 year old+ scientist and dancer from Denver.   We roomed in a wing of the dorm where many of the LGBTQ folks clustered (you get to request what cluster you prefer when you register.) The dorm rooms were such that two rooms shared a bathroom. When I heard someone on the other side of the two bathroom walls, I thought that we should meet and devise a protocol so that we do not inadvertently barge in on each other.

Just as I cracked open my bathroom door, the stranger in the next room burst in. Tall, gorgeous, and wearing only his underwear, he practically ran into me. I quickly explained, “Um, yeah, so, like, I guess we share a bathroom, so maybe we need to knock or do something before we enter.” Although he was the near naked one, he did not seem flustered one bit. “Yes, I did not realize.” he said with a lilting foreign-accent that sounded a mash-up of British and German. “My name is Glen.”

And that dear friends, is how I met my partner–in the bathroom at a religious conference. Glen, Dennis, and I spent much of the week together going to meals, talks, and Quaker worship. I was a bit harried as I co-led a daily workshop for teens and was scheduled to offer a plenary address to the 1000+ Quakers at the end of the weekend. Glen told me months later that at the time he did not know if Dennis and I were just friends or something more, and he hoped I was available.

I struggled with a sore throat the whole week. I obsessed so much that I would not be able to speak by the time I did my presentation, The Re-Education of George W. Bush, that I paid little attention to Glen. He did catch my attention after one of the plenary addresses when he expressed his strong, thoughtful opinion contrary to my own about something the speaker said. I found this to be extremely alluring. At one point he told me that he was a writer, and inwardly I remarked, “Yeah, right, everyone is a writer these days.”

He saw my play and although he did not say so at the time, he was struck by my ability as an artist–not just another pretty face 😛 He then emailed me a chapter of a book he had begun, something about growing up in South Africa which I promised to read when I had some quiet time away from all the wild Quakers with all their many activities. Then we abruptly parted ways. He left a little early because he was concerned for the welfare of his cats, and I hurried back to Hartford to catch a  plane to London to speak at the Lambeth Conference.

I meet so many people. I like many of them and stay in touch, but I felt something different about Glen, and found myself thinking of him and speaking about him to friends in the UK. “I met this really nice guy…but I’m sure it is nothing.” Then on a train going up North to visit friends in Wakefield I cracked open the email that held the attachment of Glen’s memoir excerpt. The prose was gorgeous. The story deeply moving. I concluded, “He really is a writer–not just another pretty face.”

And as they say, the rest is history. Of course we took other steps to get to know each other before we literally fell in love while hiking in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. We also each found the other to be freakishly compatible. We are both odd ducks in our own ways, and to find another that fits so well, is well, nothing short of miraculous–a statistical improbability. We compliment each other in multiple ways. We enjoy ourselves together immensely and we help each other to become better artists and better people. We intellectually spar, we comfort each other, we cook for each other, look out for each other, we partner in every aspect of our lives–personally, professionally, spiritually, domestically.

Glen Retief and Peterson Toscano

Next month in Washington, DC we will appeared together to present our work. Glen will read from his memoir, The Jack Bank, and I will perform scenes from my plays, I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window and Transfigurations (a play about transgender Bible characters.”

Glen and I often quote a favorite passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, a text used in many wedding ceremonies. It can easily apply to all sorts of couples, but the text appears to be speaking directly about two males (at least in the English translations I have read. I will have to check in on the Hebrew one of these days.)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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Wanna check us out?

Tuesday, April 26, 11:00 AM Radio Interview with Glen about his book. WVIA’s ArtScene with Erica Funke

Wednesday, April 27, 7:30 PM Reading and book signing, The Jack Bank, at Susquehanna University

Saturday, April 30, 7:00 PM Reading and book signing, The Jack Bank, at Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg, PA

Friday, Saturday May 7 and 8 Peterson will perform I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window and Transfigurations in Oslo, Norway.

Wednesday, May 25, 7:00 PM Quaker and Public Witness, a joint presentation by Peterson Toscano & Glen Retief, at the William Penn House, Washington, DC

Thursday, May 26, 700 PM An evening with Glen Retief and Susi Wyss, Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD

Friday, Saturday June 24, 25 Reading by Glen Retief, performance by Peterson Toscano at Wild Goose Festival, Shakori Hills NC

Glen will also read at the Friends General Conference and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (details to be announced)

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Quakers. Not violent. Just passive aggressive.

What a terrible generalization that would work so well on a bumper sticker. When I speak among Friends in Quaker venues or among folks who know little about the Religious Society of Friends, this joke (I’m a Quaker, but I do not get violent–just passive aggressive) always gets a laugh.

With comic performances we comics most consistently employ two types of jokes.

1. The absurd “What if…” joke.
Example: What if men suddenly began to lactate uncontrollably?

I love where the “What if…” joke can lead. It can get totally silly, and it can also get profoundly insightful. Think about the justice work that can come out of such a ridiculous query–men lactating uncontrollably??? Think about the potential for laughs too.

2. The reality joke–“Have you ever noticed…”
Example: Have you ever noticed that when someone mentions that a loved one has lung cancer the first question someone else asks is, “Did she smoke?”

It’s funny because it is true. It also serves up a commentary about pastoral care when speaking with someone grieving over lung cancer. It has an edge to it because many people hearing the joke (including the comic perhaps) is usually complicit to some degree in thoughtlessly asking the question or at least thinking about it. We get caught in the trap and that can open up our minds to ask, “What is an appropriate why to respond when faced with comforting someone about lung cancer?”

I love Quakers when they are chewy

As a comic working in the USA I often bump into the requirement that my humor needs to mean something. It needs to have a deeper message. It cannot simply serve as a delivery system for pleasure and laughter. It has to SAY SOMETHING–a commentary on our times or important issues. This requirement is not too hard for me because as a performance activist (a title I coined for myself) I fuse art and public witness.

But sometimes a joke is just for laughs. Is that superfluous? I do not think so. I think about the talent shows I have attended and participated in that are sponsored by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (the FLGBTQC or simply Flibbity Jibbitz) We let our hair down. We laugh. We build community through play. When we cross the line, (and that is always a risk and has happened) we address it as a community. Though painful, this work is essential. Sometimes it is in our play we reveal where we still have work to do. But that is never the purpose of these oft times zany events. We do it to relieve tension, to open up ourselves with laughter, to enjoy the pure pleasure of mirth with each other, to fall over laughing seeing Bonnie Tinker on her head while people stuff dollar bills in her jean’s pockets. (And we feel so grateful for that memory when we think of this Friend we lost during FGC nearly two years ago.)

With all of the serious important topics we soak in as friends, like soaking in a hot steamy, smelly bath of challenging issues, we need a laugh every now and then. We need to lighten up so that we release pressure and dig still deeper into the harsh realities of privilege, oppression, economic injustice, environmental catastrophes, misogyny, and more. I know I need to laugh some of my own violence out of my system so that I do not live as a pent up, tightly sprung, peace-loving, passive aggressive progressive.

And in the midst of it all, I find great pleasure and comfort in being able to laugh at myself.

(originally posted at QuakerQuaker.org)

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Sunbury, PA (photo credit John Schwenkler)

As the wind began to whip the still tightly closed tree buds and newly blossomed dandelions, my friend Quintin and I walked up Market Street in the idyllic (and rough around the edges) Pennsylvania farming town of Sunbury where we both live.

The broad boulevard has a long narrow park in the center flanked by a cast iron fountain on one end and a Civil War canon the size of an SUV at the other. Recently renovated, the park planners caused an on-going controversy when they relocated the canon to its present position. The unintended consequence of this move manifested itself near Christmas time when they planted Santa’s Shack where it has always been on Third Street sandwiched between the east side of the park and the railroad tracks that cuts directly across town. In so doing they inadvertently aimed the canon directly on Santa as he sat in his big chair fielding requests from Sunburian children.

Right after we crossed the railroad tracks past the recently built and more recently vacated Social Security office, two young white men nearly crashed into us as we rounded the corner. In their late twenties, with an odd mix of scruffy and clean-cut looks with their facial scrub and button-down shirts and what looked like homemade haircuts, they each clung to well-worn black Bibles. Quintin and I gave the traditional Sunburian male greeting–a nod accompanied with a grunted “Good evening.” One of the two men replied, “Would you like to spend eternity with Jesus Christ?” He spoke with an accent common among the Amish Mennonite who populate much of the Central PA rural communities and speak a German dialect commonly called Pennsylvania Dutch.

They did not dress in traditional Amish Mennonite clothing–suspenders and hats, but I have learned that our area contains many different types of Mennonites each with their own rules, customs, and dress codes. English was most likely not the man’s first language, and as he spoke, I was not sure if his embarrassed-sounding, stilted delivery arose from speaking English as a second language or the nature of the question tossed at strangers on the street.

I smiled, “Already taken care of. I became born-again years ago at the age of 17.” Both men smiled back. Quintin looked like he wanted to flee the scene, perhaps worried about what I, his unpredictable performance activist friend newly relocated to the Conservative Susquehanna Valley, might do next. The same man spoke again, “Jesus is coming back very soon.” I found this curious since recently an older gentleman, replete with a long white prophetic looking beard, appeared at Pennsdale Quaker meeting two weeks ago and to those of us silently assembled proclaimed the same Adventist message with the added exhortation that we should get ready. Coincidence? Or is the Second Coming of Jesus trending among white rural religious folks who are suddenly propelled out of their comfort zones into the broader world to warn us all?

Since I speak Evangelical as a second language, I replied, “No man knows the day or the hour. According to scripture he can come back today, next month, or in another two thousand years.” This Biblical response seemed to surprise and please the two street evangelists as evidenced by their broad smiles. They then looked confused about what to do next. Likely they journeyed to Sunbury with its many bars and rough town folk  on the prowl for lost hungry souls. Instead they encountered someone unashamed to say he already shacked up with Jesus decades ago.

To lubricate the conversation, I then slipped into the social banter I mastered when I lived in Memphis, TN where they truly have a church on every corner–in fact some churches take up whole city blocks. “So, what church are you from?”

This question confused the men some more. Perhaps it was my accent–strangely foreign round these parts, or that in their pre-sinner safari preparations they did not rehearse this question. The man doing all the talking fumbled a bit, “We go to one over there,” vaguely pointing towards the river, “a church in Milton,” a smaller town about 15 miles away. “I guess you would say it is a Mennonite one.”

3rd St Tracks (photo credit John Schwenkler)

Unlike many folks I encounter cruising the streets for prodigals, these two Christians did not engage in the typical guerrilla church marketing campaign. They did not seem at all interested in luring prospects into their church to fill the pews. Unlike the church growth methods preached bymissiology guru, Ed Stetzer, these men did not extol the wonders of their congregation, their vibrant youth program, the Family Life Center replete with Olympic-size swimming pool, and the award winning programs for all ages.  They simply canvased our town in order to share Bad News (the scary announcement of End Times) and what some would consider Good News (You can have a friend in Jesus.)

I do not know what would have happened if I had  informed these street ministers that I am happily partnered with a man I hope to marry one day, and that as a Christian who is also gay, I have found comfort in transgender Bible stories.  Based on my experiences with Conservative Christianity, they would likely have interrupted these revelations as obvious, flamboyant signs of the rapidly advancing wicked Last Days. Or perhaps they would have surprised me with sincere questions instead of knee-jerk condemnations.  I do not know because I chose instead to wish them a good night and then carried on towards the local Chinese Buffet with Quintin.

Maybe they will return to Sunbury, and we will continue our conversation. They have good news. I have good news. We are both in search of a prospect, a hungry, open soul ready to hear a life-changing message. The passion  to plant our seeds in fertile, well-tilled soil drives us each out of our homes into the highways and the byways, onto Market Street and beyond.

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