“Come out come out wherever you are…” Happy East-over!

One of the most challenging aspects of being LGBTQ over the last 40 years has been “coming out.”  Until Stonewall and the Gay Rights movement, it was assumed that if one led “a certain lifestyle” that one would simply stay quiet about it.  Rock Hudson, Paul Lynde, Langston Hughes and even people like Eleanor Roosevelt lived lives that clearly included same sex love, but they were not “out” in our modern sense of the word.  This was a potential way of navigating the world that was shared with me early on and with all due respect, it was one of the more painful options presented to me when I did ultimately come out to my family.  But we live in a different time now.

Right now, it is Easter for Christians and Passover for the Jews.  This is a time of gratitude; gratitude for sacrifice and gratitude for liberation.  It is the intersection of these two kinds of gratitude that I think makes the coming out experience of LGBTQ people the perfect Easter/ Passover subject for reflection.

In many ways, Christ was faced with coming out, time and time again.  Throughout the New Testament, Jesus reveals himself and is revealed as the Son of God.  I love this from John 4:25,26:

The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

This simple private confession is not a grand proclamation.  There is an intimacy here that reminds me of the kind of conversations that BFFs have where coming out can be matter of fact and really just a confirmation of what both people already know.  This is the way we would love all of our coming out stories to go.

But then in Matthew 26:63-66:

But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’

Frequently, this is how many people, particularly LGBTQ people of faith, feel like their coming out will go and unfortunately,  too often this has been the case.  Jesus cannot change who He is, nor does he want to, yet the non-believers wish to deny him his reality.  When we come out, this is what questions and statements like “are you sure” or “how can you know” or worse “you are not my child/friend/ family” can make us feel.  These are the attitudes that deny and condemn.   They put us to death.

Ultimately, Christ’s “coming out” leads to the ultimate sacrifice.  But it is this sacrifice that fulfills the prophecy and brings salvation by living (and dying) for a divine truth.  Through the lens of the LGBTQ coming out experience, there is a death (of hidden ways and secrets ) that also brings with it the promise of rebirth and an eternal life and legacy in who we truly are.

The Passover tradition, of which I am less familiar, but have been surrounded by since early childhood, may also hold great inspiration for LGBTQ people.  The entire story of the Exodus is one of great tenacity and dedication, but Passover, specifically says something.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, in its simplest terms, the Jews’ ‘first born’ are spared during the worst of ten plagues that are brought to test the Jews for their release from slavery by the Egyptians.  The first born of the Jews are spared by marking their doors with the blood of the slaughtered spring lamb as a sign to the spirit of the Lord to “pass over” their homes.  There are many lambs in the Bible (Old and New Testament).  But I draw inspiration from the the symbolism of sacrifice in the Passover tradition where something has been sacrificed so that something else may live, whether the sacrifice be of  good things or bad things (true or false gods.)  LGBTQ people continue to have to sacrifice relationships, family, jobs, living situations and many other things to simply live freely as they must. These are the sacrifices that are in addition to those that are faced by all people and that remind us to be grateful for being led to our personal Exodus in addition to the historical Exodus of some of our faith traditions.

So this Passover/Easter season, a time of sacrifice, rebirth, gratitude and liberation is a perfect time to also embrace the journey and experience of coming out whether it is past, present or future; whether it is you or someone you know.  What is your coming out story?

חַג שָׂמֵחַ

Happy Easter!

Too Quick to Covenant

“Should we create a covenant?”  These are familiar words to Unitarian Universalists.  I’ve found that in UU circles covenants are as common as coffee and dounts.  Bless our bleeding, left leaning hearts, it seems that UUs more than any group are always determined to be in “right relationship” with one another, and we frequently begin any kind of process or group exercise with a “covenant.”  Although I admire this eagerness to have level playing fields and understand how this can be a useful tool for helping groups stay on point, the specific use of the word “covenant” is a bit of a hot button to me.  As I delve deeper into understanding faith traditions and magnify that understanding in the lens of our modern world, I caution us all not to miss the point of true covenant or how the assumptions built into social covenants can actually harm us.

The covenants that most people are familiar with are those from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament.  The covenants entered into between God and Noah, God and Abraham, the Mosaic covenant, the covenant beween Jonathan and David and the Covenant of Christ are those which inform much of our modern interpretation of the word in Judeo-Christian culture.  I do not have the scholarly or linguistic heft to venture into a sufficiently deep explanation here of each of these examples, but suffice it to say that these are solemn agreements with God that assume two important absolutes: a) that one believes in God; b) that one believes in a God that believes in them.  Again, this is a much longer conversation…

I believe, however, it is useful to explore how in modern relationships, we take for granted a certain culture of covenant that has its own built in assumptions.  One of the basic definitions of a covenant is as an agreement.  It is first and foremost an agreement that two parties will fulfill certain obligations to one another.  One could call a covenant a “contract” of sorts.  One key difference however, is that a covenant is entered into between people or entities, or groups who know one another and hold a common goal or purpose, whereas a contract is generally between people who only have that agreement as their primary means of relationship.  A covenant serves to bind or enhance an already existing relationship.

The Biblical agreements that I mentioned before are definitely not just contracts. Often involving blood commitment, God (for those who believe and/or follow Abrahamic scripture) surely “knows” mankind.  God “knows” Noah, Abraham and Moses.  David and Jonathan “know” one another intimately and because of that intimacy, enter into their covenant.  The Covenant of God made through Christ, giving his Son for the forgiveness of man’s sin is one made based entirely on God’s omniscience, Jesus’ knowledge of his predestined mission and the acknowledgement man is willing to make in recognizing Christ as savior.  There is a lot of “knowing” going on here.

In today’s environment of deep political and social divide, it could be argued that we are in need of a covenant.  We are in need of an agreement that obliges us to protect one another and serve a common good.  Of course, we already have many agreements that are intended to do this, from the US Constitution to the Kyoto Protocol to NAFTA…and certainly the Judeo-Christian  covenants I point to should serve the purpose of making our world safe and nurturing.  We put on a good show in treating these agreements like covenants.  We see entire governments shaping the course of history based on some of these agreements.  We watch people protest for their rights based on their spiritual covenants.  But in a world that stumbles along on fractured social relationships…fractured by inequities and ignorance and fear and broad assumptions…even these solemn agreements with God become merely contracts that are too easily broken.

We all know what assumptions make….

The conservative LGBTQI hating Christian assumes that the world should want to function in their paradigm of truth.  The rich American capitalist assumes that everyone wants success in the way they see it.  Likewise, some of the the best ultra liberal Unitarian Universalists assume that the most damaging force to people of color is white privilege. These are just examples.  The point is that “right relationship” cannot happen until you are actually IN relationship with the other party. How well do you know me?  How well do I know you?  How deeply do our communities of trust actually engage one another in today’s world? Are we willing to sublimate our personal desires, agendas, guilt, etc. to acknowledge the world as it is seen through the eyes of others long enough to offer them the respect and love that would allow us to enter into a true covenant of human dignity?  A covenant is not a contract, so much as it is a commitment.  It is a commitment to be not just in right relationship, but to be in genuine relationship with one another.

Pardon the mixed cliches here…love your neighbor, but do not suffer fools.  If your neighbor is not willing to genuinely know you, and you are not willing to genuinely know your neighbor, you never stand the chance of embracing the true covenant of peace.

Bounce

Resilience.  This is a term that is new to me in the context of my current job.  I work for a non profit organization that is focused on equity.  All day long, I am surrounded by a brilliant and diverse team of analysts, coordinators, managers, associates, assistants and directors who are deeply engaged in asking questions of our government and our society that will lead to better outcomes for people who are poor and or disenfranchised.  My understanding, from a totally non policy-wonk standpoint is that “resilience” is the built in capacity for someone or a system to overcome or survive adversity.  When we talk of New Orleans after Katrina, we speak of resilience; or the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan or Indonesia…again the question of resilience.  This also goes from the macro to the micro level, when we look at human beings in poor neighborhoods or unhealthy situations…we ask the question of why some people not only survive, but manage to thrive while others become mired in patterns of un-success.

In a recent meeting to explore this word and its applications, understandings and questions, I was privileged to hear some incredible perspectives that related to everything from housing to health as well as our political structure and disaster relief.  This was a fabulous introduction for someone like me coming from a theological perspective, to the very specific way in which resilience is assessed in circles that deal with equity.

But what struck me about these very practical and tangible examples of resilience in a socio/economic related context, was how much this concept resonates with the spiritual and physical realm that is much less tangible and often regarded as totally impractical.

It is a proven fact that babies and children who are not touched do not thrive.  We must experience human touch to have a sense of safety in our world.  Without this, we have no boundaries and we are deprived of our most basic form of communication.  I would argue that above all the senses, our sense of touch is the most highly developed.  Within touch we are able to receive information about intention that can escape inflection in the sound of words, or expression in the faces we see, and so on.  I would imagine that this is one reason we have words in our language that come from this sense and apply directly to our emotions: feeling, holding, embracing, touching….But there is also touch that is not healthy and “bad” touch can do as much damage as no touch at all.  Children and people who are abused or deprived of agency in touch do not learn to trust the world around them or themselves.  It is a long road to recovery when someone has been taught that this basic interaction with the world around them is a constant threat.

I was recently reading the book The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What to Do When a Parent’s Love Rules Your Life and in it Dr. Patricia Love gives extensive detail on how parents who have inappropriate emotional relationships with their children, can do as much damage as those who have inappropriate physical relationships with them.  This is a perfect example of the bridge between the physical and the emotional aspects of touch.  In the book it is very clear that if a child is deprived of the unconditional love of the parent child relationship…if they are given a conditional relationship or are asked to “parent” their parents, they do not thrive in a balanced manner.  Likewise, if they are given too much contact (the emotional incest element) and asked to fill the role of surrogate “spouse” in a family relationship, they are equally damaged.  These structures, based on how we learn to touch one another physically and emotionally are what I see as a basic part of how we navigate our world.

In theological circles, we deal with the concept of resilience every single day.  Among other reasons, people come to religion to be sustained in times of trial, or to be “born again” or to find parts that are missing in their lives.  In short, spirituality is one of the most basic sources of human cultural resilience.  The church is often the first resource for communities in distress, whether that be emotional or physical; whether there is a tornado or a mass murder.  Churches, synagogues  mosques and temples are full when communities face disaster.  The reason for this is simple: unconditional love.  This is what we seek in religion, just as we seek this in our family relationships.  Christians speak of the unconditional love of Jesus that sustains and rebuilds them.  There is an assumption and security in how this love will always be present.  Like a child of the best parent, a believing Christian (and I would imagine any other devoutly religious person, or person with a solid belief structure) knows they will always be loved.

In Jim Wallis’ book Rediscovering Values on Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street, he talks a great deal about how religion and faith in community should be the moral bedrock for creating resilience in our culture.  He wrote the book at the height of the economic downturn and highlights both scripture and economic data to support the moral and ethical argument against big impersonal business and the robber baron mentality that brought our financial system to a collapse.  He points to personal moral obligations driven by both faith and conscience as a beacon to lead individuals and on a larger scale, business and even government toward equitable practices.  His formula has validity and we are seeing it now play out as communities are rediscovering small business and farmer’s markets and ways to make what is essentially “small town America” the hub of our culture.

I would take this all one step further.  Equity, that is balance throughout our economic and social structures, cannot exist unless we create an environment that is based in what is essentially unconditional love.  The “market” is not real; it is only a reflection of our relationships with each other.  If we have a financial system that is based on “I’ve got mine, who cares about you”, that is how we are relating to one another.  The market cannot “self correct”…we must correct it by entering into properly balanced relationship with one another.  We as individuals must understand that all of our actions do not exist in a vacuum. This goes for finances, for government, for local business, for education, for parenting and for how we relate to one another.  Young people graduating from college are burdened with lifetime debt before they have had the joy of properly earning a wage and feeling like a contributing part of their communities.  This is a classic example of how we are in an emotionally incestuous relationship with our society, where the “parent” (greater society) is asking them (recent grads) to provide parental stability when they have only just learned to walk; how can they succeed?  How can we succeed?

We will need to examine our cultural relationships.  Our most successful models are families/relationships with balance between parent/provider and child; an environment of unconditional love where we learn to trust and thrive; and a language of touch/interaction where we communicate a clear intention for mutual success.  These are important  foundations of our humanness and we must respect them on on levels of our existence.

Resources:

Jim Wallis’ books are available at Sojourners (http://sojo.net/)

Patricia Love’s books are available at her website (http://www.patlove.com/)

All of Me

When I look at all of the hubbub about next week’s impending ruling on Marriage Equality, I find myself aksing…does this matter to me?  I also find myself asking that question when we are engage in conversation about the economy and the real life impact surrounding Sequestration…again, does it matter to me?  When I hear about immigration reform, I also wonder…what does it matter to me?  And looking at the flurry of conversation out there about the newly elected Pope Francis, I wonder what do any of these issues have to do with me?

For the record, I am a single gay man.  I am also a graduate student in Seminary and I have steady well paid work with a non-profit.  I am a born US citizen who as the child of an immigrant, grew up with great respect for my born nationality.  I am also a Unitarian Universalist which means I am spiritually liberal to a fault.  My bills are paid, I have a nice circle of friends, I have paid for an expensive Ivy League education, I have a car and a roof over my head, good health…in short, an abundance of privilege.

I also however, have brown skin.  I also have, in the past been denied work, purchases and even housing for both my perceived sexual orientation and my race.  I lived with and loved and ultimately split from a relationship with someone who was undocumented here in the states.  I am also a Christian in a denomination that although it has Christian roots, has many members who are quite vocally anti-Christian. To that end, it does not serve me well to ask the question “what do these things matter to me” but rather, “what do these things matter to ALL of me?”

Next week when the Supreme Court hears cases on the un-Constitutionality of Proposition 8 and DOMA, they will be hearing cases that do not affect my current condition.  But rather, these cases and all of the issues I present in this post affect something much more precious than my immediate self.  These issues all affect my dreams.  I aspire to a committed and monogamous relationship with the person I love, who I know will also be male.  No government should be able to dictate or indicate the “validity” of that relationship.  If couples are being rewarded for steadfastly serving as pillars of their communities, either with or without children, but certainly by setting an example of fidelity and constancy, then I want to be able to garner that benefit as well.  I do not want to be singled out as a social pariah because of the gender of who I love.  I want to dream, dream big and know that somewhere, somehow, that my dream might just come true.

This goes for my economic stability as well.  I am not just someone who has had financial privilege, but I am also someone who has been intimately involved in navigating the social systems around aging parents; trying to dance between the goals of being a good son and the financial collapse of 2008 that took the value of our family home and a couple of family jobs with it.  All of me is disgusted by legislators who feel it is more important to spend 5 years posturing and avoiding solutions (while they continue to collect 6 figure salaries) as I bounce from job to job to pay for everything from bankruptcies to funerals and still try to eke out a weekend here and there to feel human.  I dream of security.

All of me feels the heartache of living with a partner who despite his love for me was paralyzed by the fear of being undocumented; someone who has made a good living since his arrival, never done anything dishonest and made a wonderful life for himself, but the system doesn’t work for him.  There is no clear path to resolving his issue and I have to live with the conflict and shame of leaving that relationship in part because of the anxiety and fear and limitations that this situation required we live under.  I dream of a place where two people who love are not asked to make a choice between their homeland and their life partner.

Lastly, all of me means that not only do I personally identify as a Unitarian Universalist and thereby embrace a strong sense of humanism and rational perception of life, but I identify as a Christian.  So within Unitarian Universalism I must always bring these two characters into balance.  Turning to the three legged stool of Episcopalianism (scripture, reason, tradition) I look at the Catholic church with both respect for its adherents and deep sorrow for some of its misguided leadership.  I dream of being able to embrace all of my religion without shame.

So although I am single, Marriage Equality matters to me.  Although I have money, resolving our national budget matters to me. Although I am a natural US citizen, Immigration Reform matters to me, and although I am a Unitarian Universalist, the Pope matters to me.  My challenge to you is this: ask yourself honestly as our world lurches toward important decisions this year and even as soon as next week, how does the world matter to you?  How does the world matter to ALL of you?