I don’t know about you, but I sat transfixed all day in my PJs in front of my laptop watching Inaugural events live and streaming through CNN/Facebook (as I added to the running commentary of status updates and comments). We have effectively run out of language to express the historic, momentous, outrageously incredibly joyous reality that the USA has elected and brought to White House a Black man. In a country that has been rife with racism and white privilege, this presidency marks a shift, a growth, a hope that we will continue to work towards justice and equality.
Far less dramatic and full of pomp, circumstance and global significance, this weekend I appeared before my local Quaker Meeting’s business meeting to report to them about the work that I have been doing these past two years since they approved a minute to travel in the ministry. This is part of some excellent Quaker practice that gives individuals an opportunity to be supported and affirmed in the work they feel led to do while also receiving a measure of on-going accountability and clearness.
Both my support committee (a group of four people I meet with every four to six weeks to talk and sit in silent prayer over the work that I do around LGBT issues) and I offered reports to the business meeting. Hartford Friends Meeting affirmed the work that I do and encouraged me to continue to travel with the minute they endorsed in January 2007.
Below is my support committee’s report. You can read mine here. Personally I felt affirmed. As an artist, a gay guy, I have faced challenges in the past within faith communities to be authentic without experiencing rejection. Like many I stuffed parts of myself away resulting in disastrous outcomes. My life, my work, my faith today is richer because of my connection with the Religious Society of Friends.
As members of Peterson’s Hartford Monthly Meeting support committee, we have felt privileged to accompany him on his journey for much of the past five years. That journey has led him to create and perform a series of exciting, thought-provoking and highly entertaining one-man theater pieces. Sometimes we have literally accompanied him to venues;most times we met as a support committee where he tested ideas for new pieces and explored the spiritual dimensions of his ministry.
Peterson’s subjects in performance ranged from his experience in a residential program aimed at eliminating homosexuality, through a spectrum of politically charged related topics on gender identity and the politics of oppression. Audience members have laughed, cried, and later sought out Peterson’s understanding personal ministry as they struggled with personal experiences of oppression and the struggle to define themselves in a world where they too often have to settle for far less than the full acceptance we all crave.
Peterson’s website and blog have drawn another large group of often-desperate people struggling against oppression by family, peers, and social norms. Some visitors to his site have found in his replies to their emails the first acceptance and empathy they have ever experienced. They can share their appreciation with others by means of Peterson’s performances recorded on CD and DVD, or by circulating copies of his interviews in major national media in the US and Europe.
His latest piece, Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible draws together the strands apparent from his earliest works, as
…he unearths transgender Bible characters–those people who do not fit in the gender binary, and who in transgressing and transcending gender, find themselves at the center of some of the Bible’s most important stories,
to quote from the attached brochure.
Also on this brochure appears this tribute from a Quaker theologian who attended a performance of “Transfigurations”:
“I applaud Peterson for bringing to the fore in this play a new way of looking at the Bible! Bravo! No, bravissimo! I had to look at my own sexual stereotypes and how I bring them to biblical interpretation!”
–Michael Willett Newheart, Ph.D. Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Howard University School of Divinity
Quakers in monthly and yearly meetings, on college campuses, and in Friends’ support groups across the US and Europe have also gratefully received this ministry, as the enclosed endorsements of Peterson’s travel minute indicate.
Not only Peterson’s many audiences benefit from his consciousness-raising, prophetic voice. We on the support committee feel privileged to have shared in his exciting and continuing journey.
Bravissimo, Peterson! We love you.
Barbara Taylor, Clerk,
John Humphries, former member and Clerk,