Among Friends in North Carolina

I arrived yesterday in Asheville, NC for the yearly meeting of unprogrammed Friends from this region that extends throughout Tennessee, and North Carolina and into Virginia and Georgia (and I imagine South Carolina).

SAYMA invited me to come and give a plenary address tonight about my faith journey as a Quaker. I will also adress the teen group as well as lead a bibliodrama. I appreciate prayers, warm thoughts and holding in the Light so that I can speak from the heart and in the Spirit.

One thought that keeps coming to me is how I am a refugee. (no not a Yankee from the stiff cold North seeking refuge among friendly folks in the South–although it does feel great to be back down here). No, I am a spiritual refugee. I had to flee my own faith community, in part because of my unwillingness and inability to conform to sexual norms.

But it is no longer only about my sexual attractions. I am a refugee in regards to how I look at life and faith and even politics. I don’t fit any longer in the Evangelical church that I once called home and family.

Not that I am a perfect fit among unprogrammed Quakers. Oh, they don’t have a problem with the gay thing (well most don’t) but I talk far too much about Jesus for some.

Too gay for some Evangelicals and too Christian for some liberal Quakers. Not quite at home. Which I guess is how many refugees feel, particularly those from other countries. They find refuge, a safe place, but that doesn’t make it home.

I sometimes feel that way among Friends. Perhaps we are never fully at home no matter where we are.

Update: Sunday June 10–The time here with Friends at SAYMA went very well. Funny how when you come out (as gay, as Christian, etc) how other people come out to you too. I also had some wonderful talks about how some Friends struggle with a lot of Jesus talk because of how they had been abused in their previous faith communities. I can understand that and see how that could get in the way for some people when they hear lots of messages that use similar language. Christine and I often talk to each other about the post-traumatic stress folks can experience even in affirming churches once they hear the language and see the images from their former church experiences.

Last night I got to meet up with Kevin and his friend Brian. Kevin is another graduate of Love in Action and an ex-gay survivor. He had finished the program before I did, and we would get together for lunch once a week (we had to get special permission for this). He said he remembered how depressed I was during those times which reminded me of the days I just broke down and cried in my room sometimes for hours. No one could console me.

Yesterday in speaking with a reporter from a German newspaper, she asked, “Did you get anything good out of your experience in the ex-gay movement?” I told her that I met some amazing people, people who have become my closest friends. We went through hell together and have bonded deeply.

I get to spend the evening with a friend in Asheville and head back home to Hartford tomorrow where I will sit tight for at least three days. phew!

This post has 10 Comments

  1. John on June 7, 2007 at 4:08 pm Reply

    “Too gay for some Evangelicals and too Christian for some liberal Quakers. Not quite at home.”

    Peterson, I resonate deeply with this feeling. I, too, was an evangelical ex-gay for a number of years. Like you, I eventually gave up on what became clear was an innate pursuit. And I was subsequently expelled from my evangelical church.

    Since that time, I have found love and care among the unprogrammed Quakers here in Illinois. I can’t thank them enough for their welcome; God has restored me in a profound way through the ministry of the Friends and the silent, spontaneous worship.

    Yet I do realize I am a bit too Christian to feel completely at home among the Friends. I suppose that’s okay. We’re on a journey, right? Guess I should be grateful that I can’t be 100% comfortable anywhere.

    I hope your time with the N.C. Friends is rich.

  2. Abby on June 7, 2007 at 4:19 pm Reply

    Wait, is that as far East as you’re coming?!

  3. alex resare on June 7, 2007 at 5:06 pm Reply

    I too am a refugee. In churches as well as in other places like the gay or trans community, in politics or just among my closest friends. I am way to different. It was very lonely at first but I must say but it forced me into a place that made me feel comfortable and at home alone with myself. Since I found that I can much more appreciate spending time with people who have a different and even an abusive attitude to religion.

    I am my own color on Gods palette. There might not be other colors like me but I match well with other nuances and even some contrast colors.

  4. Daniel C on June 7, 2007 at 5:38 pm Reply

    We are all refugees in many places.
    I wont tell you from what and to what, but sometimes the place that we called “home”, even if its a country, an organisation or whatever, is to bad for us, and we have to leave.
    The place where we knew how to behave is there – at the place called home. Where you met doussin of people that know you inside out, or alot. You laughed with you been with. And for some reason you just have to leave.

    The question is how to stop being sentimental – and start a new house somewhere. I still have problem with this question.

  5. Steve Boese on June 7, 2007 at 6:15 pm Reply

    Fascinating insights, P…

    Alex, I love the “I am my own color on God’s palette” thought.

    For me there is a link between the status of privilege and of being a refugee.

    While I’ve always been a white male with a decent enough education, there was also a decade in which I was a corporate guy, financially solvent, actively parenting, ostensibly straight, and involved in a mainstream faith community. (Oh yeah, and circulating in pretty homogeneous midwestern environments.)

    That brought with it a sense that I was likely to find ready acceptance and ability to mingle and connect with others easily in a business meeting, a prayer group, a neighborhood association, or a social gathering. I didn’t feel a need to carefully frame key details about my life, because I had the privilege of being able to talk about them without fear that those details would be controversial or set me apart.

    It’s not the same as a gay man, a person working through financial struggles, a survivor of a loved one’s suicide. I don’t have grievances to lay at anyone else’s feet about that, it’s just different. I don’t have the privilege of assuming that I’ll find simple refuge among folks who share my perspectives or my experiences.

    And, I’m not sure that I miss what I had. It may have felt easier, but to be authentic about being “other” (of whatever flavor) seems to open the door to more authentic connections with people.

  6. Anonymous on June 11, 2007 at 3:19 am Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your story with the SAYMA community. It was a wonderful experience to meet and speak to you, and it did the Young Friends community a lot of good as well.

    -Brittany D. Steffey

  7. Liz Opp on June 13, 2007 at 1:02 am Reply

    Peterson,

    Last year I attended SAYMA‘s annual sessions and discovered some of what you did: the more I risked sharing the concern I carry around preserving and restoring our faith tradition and Quaker disciplines, the more other Friends risked sharing the same or similar concern.

    And the “spiritual refugee” thing is something I’ve given some thought to recently, which was a good exercise for me: moving from spiritual refugee to spiritual immigrant to spiritual citizen.

    Always a process!

    Blessings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  8. John Helding on June 13, 2007 at 4:38 am Reply

    Peterson,

    Can you give me some sense of how you know that you are “too Christian for some liberal Quakers.?” What behaviours on their part (and btw, how do you identify who is a ‘liberal’ quaker?) give you this sense? I’m really interested in how you pick that up. As a west coast unprogrammed Friend I’ve not experienced anti-Christian behaviour on the part of other Friends and so I’m interested in how it manifests in your part of Quakerdom.

    John Helding
    San Francisco Meeting

  9. Anna on June 14, 2007 at 3:42 pm Reply

    “Too gay for some Evangelicals and too Christian for some liberal Quakers.”

    This Friend speaks to my condition. Although I was raised Quaker, I am pretty much alone in my age group for being both a Liberal Friend and a Christian. Often I find myself in the position of being too politically liberal and openly Queer for most Christians and too Christian for most Friends. While both aspects of myself make members of my own Meeting uncomfortable.
    Some days it’s only my natural stubbornness that keeps me from joining a Conservative affiliated Meeting.

    but we must all keep pushing on.

    Peace and Joy,
    Anna.

  10. forrest on June 18, 2007 at 2:41 am Reply

    Even though the spotlight of Quakerquaker is pretty much past… I want to invite you over to A Quaker Watering Hole where one of the subjects I’d like to see people discussing is this whole matter of Christianity, What is it anyway and What’s important/valuable etc about it, particularly as part of the Quaker thing? Because I’m a lot more sure what it isn’t than what it is, What we’re supposed to do with it, etc.

    Sexuality, well–I’m an old man who has mostly found it convenient that there’s a whole 1/2 the human race I don’t normally need to consider in that context (an emotionally messy context!)–and having the perfect (for me) wife makes things even simpler (not that anyone’s been trying to complicate my life lately!) I don’t really think we’ve got two different kinds of male human being on this Earth (or conversely, that anyone gets a whole lot of choice, re what kind of bod will happen to turn him on most.) & that’s not “just” a physical question, but also ties into whatever personal qualities a person most values, longs for, etc.

    So, what does “Christian” mean?–What “should” it mean? Why does it matter to you?–and What about that disturbs “some” (not all, then!) liberal Quakers?

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