Category: faith

Rainbow Mass in Sweden

I love Sweden, especially because of some very dear friends I have there. Courageous people who explore their lives, sexuality and faith in so many creative ways from Karaoke to Monster drawings.

Lots of folks think that Sweden is a gay paradise where EVERYONE is absolutely accepting and affirming. They do have progressive laws for gays and lesbians (although my state of Connecticut provide better legal protection for transgender people than Sweden’s current laws), but tensions, challenges and difficulties still exist.

Noa Resare (the other husband in the team of Alex and Noa) recently helped organize the Rainbow Mass up in Umeå. He shares a story of the event and the growth of one Lutheran priest in the process:

One of my responsibilities today was to arrange a Rainbow mass in the lutheran church at the center of our town. Finding a priest willing and able to step in and celebrate with us when the one we had asked had to cancel for medical reasons was more difficult than I had imagined. Finally, after having contacted 22 people that all said they couldn’t help me for various reasons I finally found someone reluctantly willing to celebrate with us.

His name was Erik, and he was a swedish lutheran piest of the old kind. He was someone that you would suspect was still using the old translation of the Lord’s prayer (the one obsoleted by the new official swedish Bible translation that we got in 1981), a suspicion that turned out to be correct.

I was happy that he agreed to do it, but when we had our mass today many little things was not as we had discussed. He didn’t specifically welcome the LGBT community as we had agreed, he refused to call themass “Rainbow mass” (that is sort of a trade mark for LGBT friendly services in Sweden), and he held rather long sermon about forgiveness starting out with Mt 18:21-22 (when Jesus says that we should forgive each other seventy-seven times). It started out kind of good, but then his focus shifted a little bit too much onto the notions of sinfulness and cleanness.

However, when we started to celebrate communion together (I helped people with the wine, he distributed the bread) I felt that this mass was a big moment for him. He did something that he hadn’t done before, and probably hadn’t even dreamed of doing. My feeling was that as he was administering the communion, seeing people coming forward to share communion that he had never seen in church before, some with rainbow colored clothing, some women with men’s clothes, a girl with a pink wig, he was changed. He was seeing new things, a new kind of diversity among the people sharing communion.

I was deeply touched by this, as I sat down listening to the organ music ending our service. Seeing someone’s eyes open, old and perhaps judgemental ideas just falling to the floor when challenged by reality, that was simply amazing.

Thank you Noa for organizing the Rainbow Mass and for giving me permission to share this account. Big hug!

The Chalk Talk

Many people have written to me about how meaningful the Chalk Talk experience was for them this weekend at the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference. The folks at Soulforce displayed some photos on their site that I have posted here as well.

The Chalk Talk provides participants an opportunity to engage in a group discourse through writing and drawing. The facilitator (Jallen Rix and me in this case) provides a large blank writing space (white board or sheets of paper), plenty of markers and enough room for people to move around so they can write and see. The activity is conducted in silence.

The idea comes directly from my work as a CFG Coach and my training with the National School Reform Faculty. CFG coaches provide ways for teachers to improve their teaching practice through peer professional development facilitated through the use of various protocols. The Chalk Talk is one such protocol. They have many others–may favorites being the text-based protocols and the Future Protocol.

As a high school teacher at the Watkinson School in Hartford, CT, together with my fellow teachers, we adjusted the protocols for use in the classroom. And since then I have tried them out in other venues. I love the protocols because they embody much of what I value in Quaker practice.

As we gathered in front of that large sheet of paper with the two trails of paper on the ground, we settled into what felt to be a hushed sacred silence. So much pain, so many memories stirred up and appeared on the page. Bit by bit we built this wall, which some said felt like a memorial. Our prompt–Ex-Gay Experiences–The Good/Harm drew out responses including drawings. Many people claimed the good they received from their ex-gay experiences as well as listing the deep deep harm they experienced.

We then debriefed the experienced and began the process of storytelling, of mourning and of healing.

This week I am in River Falls, WI (near Minneapolis, MN) for the Friends General Conference (Quaker) for our annual gathering. All this week I lead a three-hour a day workshop for 21 high school students. The workshop is entitled Looking In–Looking Out, a forum where we explore our own lives and the world around us. We do art, worship, play games, discuss, study the Bible, do drama and of course have snacks.

Today we focused on our faith journeys and did most of our sharing through a Chalk Talk (on a proper chalk board for a nice change). When with Friends I refer to the Chalk Talk as Meeting for Worship with Attention to Graffiti. Our prompts God/Belief/Me. The spirituality of high school students consistently floors and humbles me. Today they wrote so many profound and witty and insightful and heartfelt comments.

One of the young Friends put up a phrase that provoked much discussion:

God is an ugly creature
to test our faith

Some people objected and felt put off by it. Others said they could relate to the sentiment particularly if you have a God who is always testing you and putting you through hard times to prove a point.

The author of the statement finally shared her intent. She said that so many people call themselves Christians. Some are kind people, but some are mean and talk about a mean God. They say all sorts of horrible things about God as they share their faith. She said she sees God as this battered creature who shows up at our door for us to take in and nurse back to health.

This concept moves me deeply, that we can be called to shelter and nurture a battered God, to make room within and a nest of sorts for this God beaten by believers.

So often young people and people in churches and ex-gay programs rarely get to share their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs. It so often is a sit down, shut up and listen sort of affair. What I love about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference (and I desire to do in my workshop this week) is that we sought to create a space for people to speak out and be heard.

This threatens some people who have more to gain from our silence. It is frightening for us who engage in the process because so many thoughts emerge, some which seem to be in conflict. But in this deep communal sharing, we come to a broader truth and understanding. We break away from the polarized debates to the heart of the matter. We get to the people and we get to the things that matter most to God–love, mercy, justice and relationship.

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!

Nytt Inläg in Lund

That’s “New Post in Lund.” I arrived in Lund, Sweden yesterday after a short flight from London to Copenhagen (thanks Esther for the ride and for sharing a bowl of coffee with me!) The last time I was in the university city of Lund with this past September. I visited twice on that trip. The first time was with the crew from the gay theatre troupe in Malmö. Then a few nights later I came with Alex & Noa for Kulturnatten.

This time I stay with a Quaker Friend, Janet and her husband, John, who is a professor at the university here in Lund (about 40,000 students). Today I have the day off to just chill, go to a cafe and do some writing then maybe see a film. Tomorrow I give a talk at their Gay & Lesbian film festival before they screen Fish Can´t Fly.

Thursday the student group, Smålands Nation, sponsors my performance of Homo No Mo at the university as part of IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia). Then on Friday I fly up to Stockholm to meet up with Alex and also see Daniel (formerly of Malmö). Then it is off to the North to Umeä where I will hang out with Alex, Noa and their three children.

Right now it is 3.20 in the morning. Due to a combination of unresolved jet lag, too much fabulous Swedish coffee and a very entertaining dream about all the US presidental candidates, I am wide awake. (Oh, in my dream, similar to the famous question once asked to Bill Clinton about his pot smoking, where he admitted yes, he did but did not inhale, in my dream, all the candidates and their wives sit in on a cozy roundtable discussion and have to answer if they ever had a same-sex sexual encounter. The LOOK on Hillary´s face! Then there was this whole exchange between Hillary and Laura. Needless to say it got me laughing, which woke me up.)

Tonight I am thinking about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine this summer and what an amazing time it will be for so many of us who spend a great deal of time thinking and writing and talking about ex-gay experiences. As I spoke in Oxford Friends Meeting on Sunday, I shared how the work I do and the conference is not a direct attack on the Ex-Gay Movement.

In fact, some gay activists would most likely want us to come out harder against Exodus and others. But the hope is that by having survivors step up and tell some of their stories, we can tease out the more sublte points that will help to understand the many factors that may lead someone to enroll in an Exodus program and pursue change in other ways, in some cases, for decades.

The press and folks who do not know the issues too deeply, often make broad swipes at Exodus and ex-gays in general. I do believe that program leaders are responsible for the harm their programs cause, and I do believe that more harm than good come from most ex-gay experiences, but the bigger picture reveals that other players influence these issues, including the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning (LGBTQQ aka the gAy,B,C´s) community.

During the Q&A at Oxford Meeting on Sunday, I shared some about my faith and my years in the ex-gay movement and in a church system that loved me unconditionally, well except for one strong condition. The audience contained lots of gay men in it along with some lesbians and no doubt bisexuals (the Invisibles as I have come to call them. Yeah, they too do exist), along with lots of straight folks.

After sharing some of my faith journey in response to a question about why I am still a Christian, one man asked, “Why do so many people use religion as a crutch?” (Which sounded to me like an opinion dressed up as a question). I shared how some of us are “wired for God” and just like our ancestors from the earliest days, we pursue a spiritual path of understanding and enlightenment and that for me to deny the God part of me, would be like those years that I denied the gay part of me.

I need to be authentic, and it would be illogical for me NOT to develop a spiritual practice and seek to know the divine. I also acknowleged that some (many?) do not feel the same way and do not understand why someone would choose a spiritual path, especially in light of the oppression many religions pratice. I concluded that I need to be honest about my spiritual path and be aware that much religion can control and hurt people, and that I must avoid those sorts of systems.

I thought about his question the next day in the shower, and considered how so many of us God-wired people have felt (and feel) like unwelcomed outsiders in the LGBTQQ community, especially when we run up against the anger and hurt and accusations we sometimes feel from people who do not share our experiences or interests in matters of faith. Yes, I know that the Church has been CRAP to most to us LGBTQQ folks, and I do not expect folks to embrace their oppressors. I understand that anything that looks and sounds and feels like that old time religion will not work for most (one of the reasons I joined the Quakers.)

But people of faith, Christian and otherwise, within the LGBTQQ community, often feel silenced and shut out by the hurt and the anger and the intolerance of folks who are either not wired for God or not interested. (Much like many of us felt shut out by the hurt and the anger and the intolerance of straight church folks. Hmmm, perhaps we learned it from them…) No wonder some LGBTQQ people of faith turn to an ex-gay program where they can both openly acknowlege their attractions for people of the same-sex along with their love for God.

It is easy to point the finger at Exodus and Focus on the Family and other groups that spread false messages about us as they promise “freedom”. And yes, these groups and leaders need to be held accountable for their actions, particularly when they become aware that they harm people. But those of us in the LGBTQQ community need to also look at ourselves and question “How open and affirming are we?”

Do we love our own unconditionally or only as long as they line up with our politics, style and beliefs?