I returned to the Changing Attitude/Integrity Bible study where they continued to looked at John 9. This time we considered how the man born blind grew to understand Jesus through sharing his experience with others.
The night before I had dinner with a friend who is disabled and often uses a wheelchair. She and another friend, a wheelchair user, recently traveled from England to Ireland on a holiday. They took the journey with a personal assistant to help out along the way. On their return to Heathrow, the airline temporarily misplaced both their wheelchairs. They sat in airport issued equipment while attempting to sort things out with a Heathrow employee. My friend said that throughout the entire exchange the employee spoke rudely, but more shocking still, the Heathrow employee never once looked at my friend or the other person also sitting in a wheelchair. He dealt exclusively with the assistant as if the two disabled women did not exist.
We see what appears to be a level of ableism in the John chapter nine story. The religious leaders repeatedly and rudely questioned the formerly blind man, and they treat him like an idiot or like some adults would treat a child as if he doesn’t know what he is talking about. In moment rarely seen in the Gospels, they completely discount his story and instead call on his parents to explain what happened.
18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” 20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.”
I love how we can look at the scripture with different lenses to consider various perspectives. How often do “able-bodied” people treat disabled people like children as if they did not have a valid opinion or intelligence or feelings or romance or whatever.
Next I sat for an interview for the BBC World Service Reporting Religion. The presenter asked excellent questions. He and the producer prepared better than most journalists I have enounctered, having watched the DVD of Homo No Mo as well as listening to previous interviews. He asked penetrating and at times challenging questions. It was not a fluff interview at all. At one point he pressed in about my need/choice to be part of a church that was so controlling.
For years I continued to place myself in abusive churches that did not affirm me but often ruled with tactics of fear and shame. During the interview I got to explain about my current choice to be an active member in the Religious Society of Friends how the Quakers seem the exact opposite for me. It is a faith community where I have to find my own way without a leader telling me what to do or how to do it. (The show is slated to air next weekend. I will provide a link when it is up).
After that Auntie Doris, Tractor Girl and I met up with Davis Maclyalla, a gay man from Nigeria who received asylum from the UK government because of the dangers he faced in his home country. What a sweet and fun guy! He exuded such joy and confidence. His mind and heart sounded clear and at peace.
I took the most delicious nap in the afternoon (yes, we older folks need our afternoon naps) then met up with Auntie Doris for some silent worship before my presentation at Keynes Lecture Hall. Before we did though a producer from the BBC and his cameraman approached me, “You know we are filming you tonight because the Archbishop of Wales will attend your presentation,” he explained as I looked puzzled at all the equipment.
Actually I did not know, but turns out Barry Morgan, the archbishop, who has spoken out in favor of women bishops and the inclusion of LGBT people in the church, agreed to attend my performance and in fact asked all the Welsh bishops to join him. BBC Wales has tracked him with a film crew over the past few weeks for a documentary that will air in December.
My presentation went off well in many ways (with the archbishop prominently seating towards the front and an enthusiastic and attentive audience). I shared in more serious ways than the previous night. Of course I did funny bits from Homo No Mo but also included more about my spiritual journey as I attempted to explain to the audience how my mind looked during those 17 years when I sought to suppress and change my sexuality.
The crew told me that the archbishop would say a few words after the Q&A session. When I finished, the LGCM organizer asked me to stay in the front while the Barry Morgan spoke. I assumed the archbishop would share his views about LGBT people in the church or just give an tepid inspirational message to the audience like bishop types have been known to do. Instead he gave me one of the most affirming public tributes that I ever received. He thanked me and marveled that I still have faith after my trial and expressed admiration that I did not grow bitter because of it. He went on a bit more about my presentation as I sat there opened mouthed and nearly in tears.
After hearing about bishops who don’t listen or don’t care or don’t “get it,” it felt so good to hear something different, something affirming. And in a strange way, it felt healing. I mean after years of not getting affirmed by many different clergymen, to have an archbishop embrace me like that dislodged some of the rejection I had experienced. Ultimately I know that I stand on my own two feet before God and man about my life, and I do not need anyone in the church to approve or affirm me. But it still feels good to hear it.
I also met a wonderful woman from Utah. A recovering Mormon and a straight woman who has found many men to be jerks, she told me how much she appreciated hearing messages from a gay guy that went beyond the gay issues. More and more I have been talking about gender and sexism in my presentations as well as skin privilege. Although they each contain distinct features, many of these oppressions operate in similar ways.
She told me how recently she endured a negative incident with two gay men, who over drinks with her proceeded to pronounce all sorts of awful things about women. This shocked and hurt her; it did not surprise me. I have witnessed a tremendous amount of misogyny, a hatred or contempt of women, dished out by gay men. I cannot think of two groups that could be better allies, but sadly some gay men have not sorted out their own gender issues. They also have not begun to deprogrammed from the sexism and male privilege dumped into us by society. In my own freedom as a white gay man, I need to grow sensitive to the oppression of others–including women, non-whites and the disabled.
Over dinner last night Auntie Doris gave me a Rowan Williams Christmas ornament (the shop at Canterbury Cathedral has the coolest gifts) along with a postcard that contains a quote by Steve Biko,
The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.
Indeed. I know that during much of the Lambeth Conference and also in many of our faith traditions around the world, we seek to help oppressors and those not yet affirming of LGBT people to better understand the issues, to experience transformation by the renewing of their minds.
Far too many of us though still need to do that same work in our own minds. We need to detox from the shame that has addled our brains since childhood. We need to deprogram from the oppressive ways of thinking about ourselves and others. We need liberated minds and hearts filled with clarity about who we are and about the world around us. Many of us have begun this journey. Let’s press on and break off the shackles of what others have said about us and others, whoever we are, and let’s seek to see with a sharper vision and a deeper insight.
I head off to London today, then fly home tomorrow where I will get to spend a day with my home meeting before heading off to Baltimore Yearly Meeting for a week (which I imagine will be a restful time for me).
photo credit goes to Auntie Doris