Comments for Integrity Austin’s Viewing of Voices of Witness
November 14, 2006
Voices of Witness, for Austin Integrity,
Welcome. Thank you for coming tonight. I’m so happy that you decided to come and join us this evening. As I understand it, it has been a long time since Austin Integrity has gathered together, and I am honored that we have done so tonight around this video, Voices of Witness.
Just so you know a little about me before we begin, I’m a native Texan. I spent most of my life in Dallas, and about 8 years ago my former partner and I set off on a quest to have kids. The short version is that we ended up in LA because the surrogate we found was there, and we now have two wonderful kids, Brian and Kacy, who are 7 and 5. I have just come back to
Texas to go to seminary—and I’ve got to tell you that it feels good to be home!
It is an exciting time to be in seminary, in fact it is an exciting time in our church history- not just our church but the church catholic- the Body of Christ. We have, for the first time, begun to be recognized as members of the body as GLBT people. The Spirit is speaking, and She won’t be ignored.
It’s also a time of great pain for a lot of people. Like so many of us, those who are against us are now starting to understand the pain of the perception that the church excludes them. It doesn’t matter whether the church actually excludes them or not – what matters is that we share the perception that we are excluded.
That gives us something in common. Funny, isn’t it, that the very thing we fight about is the very thing which ties us together. But instead of focusing on the unity which is possible in that one thing we focus on the division. Unfortunately, that is just how we are as humans all too often. We forget that we are all the same: That we share a common humanity, a common plight, a common purpose, a common God.
We are all the same. But we are all different, too. Ed Bacon, rector of my church in Pasadena (whom you will see in the video), says often, “God’s love is bigger than we would like.”
And that, my friends, is where the church has failed us all too often.
Before I go on, let me talk about difference for a minute.
Since coming back to Texas, one of the differences I have noticed between CA and here is that it doesn’t bother people to openly state their opinions in CA. There, they will tell you exactly what their position is on any given topic—no matter how sensitive or charged it is—and then still expect you to go and have a cup of coffee with them.
It’s quite nice, really. Getting comfortable with this I realize that I can get to know people more fully; more deeply; when not hiding anything. I don’t have to adopt their opinions just because I disagree, nor they mine.
So when I came back to TX, I acted the same way. I was surprised when nearly every single time I stated a “touchy” opinion the conversation somehow got redirected to the weather!
The point of all of this is to say that you may not agree with everything I say tonight. That’s ok. We’re going to have a dialogue here. You don’t have to agree with me, or with each other, or with the clergy here, or with the Diocese or the Church at large. Part of Integrity is about being together—about being in dialogue—about being intentional about being in community. That means cherishing even those things which make us different.
Given that we are so different as GLBT folk from the hetero-normative world around us, we should be able to appreciate that, and celebrate that diversity. Especially when it comes from within our community. That is why we are so creative—so open-ended—why many times we end up in creative professions; entertainment, interior design, art, music. OK, I’ll pause while you groan at my stereo-typical remarks.
It’s hard for us to fully embrace our diversity, though. Let’s face it – historically the church has not been real receptive to diversity. Its not like the pope said to the Spanish conquistadors, “Go and celebrate the diversity of the people you find in the new world!” No- instead there was either conversion to Christianity or death. The same in the Crusades. The same in the Inquisition. The Salem Witch Trials. And so on.
Those who are different have always been persecuted by the church- mostly because they were not understood. Even today, we still have the theology of sacrificial atonement left in the church. Many pulpits still preach that Jesus died because we are so bad, or so unworthy, or so poor in spirit. That makes it easy for us who are different to fall into the trap of believing we are somehow less than human.
In my small group work at All Saints Pasadena, I never met a gay or lesbian person whose spiritual coming out wasn’t tied in some way to their sexual coming out. Jesus has been an instrument of fear instead of healing for far too long.
Fear is a hard thing. Many times the opposite of love is said to be hate—but I would argue that the opposite of love is either fear or apathy. We know about fear in our community.
Fear has kept us as GLBT people in the closet. It has also kept us from fully coming to the realization that celebrating our diversity as a community is a wonderful thing. No wonder we have a hard time coming to the conclusion that God loves us all. No wonder we have a hard time not only with being accepted in the church pew, but demanding to be fully included in all of the sacramental rites and rituals of the body of Christ as any other Christian is. When the foundation of traditional Christianity teaches us that we are innately bad, our own internal homophobia has plenty of room to linger—to fester, to never be permanently healed. Deep down inside, we are scared that it just might be true that God doesn’t love us enough.
We must not let fear ruin us.
Christ did not die for our fear. Christ isn’t a guilt-ridden symbol of all things we’ve ever done wrong in our lives. Christ is our liberator. Christ died in solidarity with the suffering of the world because God loves us so much that he wanted us to know that he understands what it is like—that he gets it—that he is there with us in our joy and our pain, in our sorrow and our gladness—that he is there to free us from the oppression of all of the brokenness in the world to bring in the reign of God where justice and righteousness will hold fast and true forever.
The rector of my parish in Pasadena, Ed Bacon, says that the two commandments Jesus held up as most important- to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves- is really three commandments. He says that, because “to love our neighbor as ourselves” isn’t saying much if we don’t love ourselves.
My sense is that in much of this country, GLBT people still are not able to love themselves fully. As a result, we are not able to accept that God loves us fully, nor are we able to love others fully. All kinds of brokenness falls out of that.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from a book I had to read for seminary this past summer by Daniel Groody. In it, he discusses how the thoroughly demoralized undocumented immigrants coming to this country don’t need the guilt I’m talking about: “Preaching humility to the powerless is enslaving, while preaching humility to the empowered is liberating.” It’s a slightly different slant on something you may have heard before: Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted—but this is from a more spiritual perspective. We, as a spiritual minority, are powerless and are enslaved when told that Jesus is here because we are so bad. A little humility for those who are in power and not ready to let us share some of it, though, well—I’ll leave it for you to decide what you think the right answer is for them.
A few notes about the video. As you know, we’ve been working very hard over the past few years at Integrity and our partners like Claiming the Blessing (who produced this video) in the national and international arenas to secure our place at the table and we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve still got a way to go, but it is looking more hopeful with each passing day. We must remain strong, bond together, and remember our calling as a unique people in the body of Christ, remembering always the core of the Gospel message and the Gospel imperative to make room for all at Christ’s table.
I don’t have time to give you a complete history of modern Anglicanism and Episcopalianism here, but because we have made great strides there was an attempted backlash at this summer’s General Convention of TEC. This video was made to spread our witness, have our voice heard, ensure our continuing place at the table, and reduce the impact of the backlash. You will see reference in the video’s opening to numerous past councils, conventions, and convocations of different bodies which have failed in their calls to listen and dialogue on our place at the table. We can talk about that after the video.
A few points about the video:
- This video was primarily filmed at All Saints Pasadena, my home parish. I know lots of the folks in the video, and if you watch carefully you may even see a peek of my balding head and my wonderful son. If you have specific questions about people or their stories, please make a note of their names and if I can answer without jeopardizing their confidentiality, I’ll try.
- The target audience for this video is primarily straight people, since it was given to General Convention to try and stop the backlash. Given that, we can still learn a lot. My questions and lecture is focused on a GLBT audience, as I think we need specialized forums to deepen our unique spiritual needs.
- Every time I watch it, I am deeply moved. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself connecting with deeply held emotions- it is a touching, powerful video that connects with those parts of us that are in the greatest need of healing. That can make us angry, sad, happy, joyful, or depressed. Be prepared emotionally, and don’t feel like you have to stay if you become too overwhelmed. There are several copies of the video available here for you to take home if you’d like, and you can also order them at voicesofwitness.org.
As we watch this video, I would like you to watch for these things:
- Watch to see what kind of witness these GLBT people have to make to the world as Christians.
- Be aware of the relationship between self-acceptance (being “out”) and acceptance of Christ. What patterns and relationships emerge? What does it mean to be out?
- Watch also the straight people, and see what kind of transformations go on in their lives. What kind of movement happens?
- How do they view Christ?
- How is God viewed? What is the theology, or understanding of God, behind different speakers?
—- Video Presentation —–
- What emotions does the video elicit in you? Why?
- Does your answer in #2, above have any impact on your life, your ability to relate to Christ as liberator and to be out in the world?
- Why is being out important? What does “being a witness” mean?
- How we been effective or ineffective in helping the “listening process” called for by all the different councils over the past 30 years? What can we do to be more effective?
- The gay and lesbian people presented in the video are presented as “normal”. Is that helpful or not? To what degree are we, as GLBT people, the same as the hetero-normative world around us? To what degree are we different? How do those similarities and differences affect the way we relate to Christ and to the Gospel?
- Is there anything you wish had been done differently in the video? Anything additional you would have liked to seen? Why?
Calls to Action
I want to leave you with a 2 stories, one short and one long.
[First story omitted in oral presentation at event due to time constraints.] The first one is this, and it may sound a little controversial but it is historically accurate, and we have much to learn from history. I do not relay it in order to pass judgment on any person, bishop, nor group, but only to relate what may be the unintended consequence of some dioceses’ policies on their parishioners—and I tell it because I have heard the stories of those who are so happy to be allowed into parish life that they do not feel like they need push for full inclusion anymore. I do not judge, for we are all called to different purposes, but it is a story I will tell you so that you can do with it what you will.
In the history of the many occupations of
Israel, three periods are particularly relevant for us. The Greeks tried to control the Israelites by prohibiting Judaism. The Israelites responded by revolting (an event they celebrate with Chanukah every year). They then had independent rule for about 100 years, until
Rome conquered them.
Rome did not try to stomp out their faith, but gave them just enough latitude to prevent revolt in an effort to keep them controlled- appeased yet still subject to occupation.
Rome was largely successful in this effort—it worked. I’ll give you just a second to reflect on this and what it might mean for you.
– Pause –
Now I’ll remind you, just in case its relevant, that you can join Integrity at integrity.com!
The second story is one that I love, that I found in a sermon that Susan Russell preached some time ago at All Saints Pasadena. It is from Robert Fulghum:
Giants, Wizards, and Dwarfs was the game to play. Being left in charge of about 80 children 7 to 10 years old while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the parish hall and explained the game. It’s a large-scale version of Rock, Paper, and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision-making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.
Organizing a roomful of grade-schoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity — all this was no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go.
The excitement of the chase had reached a critical mass. I yelled out, “You have to decide now which you are: a GIANT, a WIZARD, or a DWARF”. While the groups huddled in frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pant leg. A small child stands there, looking up, and asks in a small concerned voice, “Where do the Mermaids stand?”
A long pause. A very long pause. “Where do the Mermaids stand?” I say. “Yes, you see, I am a Mermaid.” “There are no such things as Mermaids.” “Oh yes there is, I am one!”
She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category – Mermaid – and was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where the loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things, without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for mermaids and that I would know just where.
Well, where DO the Mermaids stand? All the Mermaids – all those who are different, who do not fit the norm, and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes? Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation or a kingdom on it.
What was my answer at the moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. “The Mermaid stands right here, by the King of the Sea!” So we stood there, hand in hand, while the Wizards and Dwarfs and Giants rolled by in wild disarray. It is not true, by the way, that Mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.
Let us pray that we all find our place to stand, and let it be in solidarity with all the other mermaids- the marginalized, the poor, the forgotten, the sick, the victims, and all those in need.
Let us pray.
Great generous God,
You have graciously created us in your image.
You have granted us freedom and love.
You choose not division but wholeness.
Allow us to be whole ourselves, that we may work for unity outside ourselves.
Allow your wellspring of light to come up from within us, that it may spring forth and brighten the world.
Give us hope for justice and peace, and grant us clarity and strength that we may use our arms to bend the long arc of history towards your reign, and usher in your kingdom.
Grant us peace, and joy as you send us forth into the world this night.
In the name of Christ our lord and our freedom,