Strange, but I have had nothing to write the past few days. Mostly because it has been busy with shows at Susquehanna and Bucknell Universities along with several meetings with folks here in Central PA.
Yesterday I had lunch with Rev. Barry Stopfel. Barry was in the middle of a religious fury over 10 years ago as an openly gay man ordained into the Episcopal Church. Back in 1995 Barbara Stewart of the New York Times wrote an article about Barry and the controversy,
When a St. George’s committee hired Mr. Stopfel in 1993, a few members — three or four families, say other parishioners — objected to having a gay man as pastor, and quit the parish. The vast majority who stayed seem to be his big fans. In a reasonably prosperous and reasonably staid community, people who are youngish, older and very old all sound startled when asked about having a gay pastor. To them, he is simply their priest, a smart and soothing man who happens to be gay.
But today, the 47-year-old Mr. Stopfel finds himself in the path of an ecclesiastical hurricane — not because he has battled for his rights but simply because he is gay. A sizable part of the national Episcopal hierarchy — 76 of the church’s 297 bishops — recently signed a letter leveling a formal charge of heresy against the bishop who ordained Mr. Stopfel as a deacon five years ago. The accusation means that the bishop, Walter C. Righter, now retired and living in New Hampshire, will be tried in a church court.
Barry co-authored the book, Courage to Love : A Gay Priest Stands Up for His Beliefs Courage to Love : A Gay Priest Stands Up for His Beliefs in which he shares his story. Since all the hooplah, Barry has been quietly living his life in Central Pennsylvania for much of the past years pastoring a Unitarian Universalist church in the area.
We met up for lunch yesterday and talked mostly about Jesus and the Gospels and the powerful narratives that transcend doctrine and dogma. Since I so often come from the perspective of an actor and a playwright, when I read the Gospels (aka the Jesus Stories), I look at what is unsaid, who is not speakin,g and what double meanings might be taking place. Through Bibliodrama, we can physically explore the text to unearth details that get overlooked in reading.
Barry is preparing to return to the disocese where all the conrtroversy occured to give his congregation an update when he speaks there on Pride Sunday. He tells me that in the weeks leading up to that presentation, he will preach for several weeks from the Gospels, sticking with the stories.
I have been in communication with an LGBT activist from overseas who has been concerned about the rise of ex-gay programs in one of her country’s largest cities, a haven for LGBT people. She wrote an excellent article outlining the history of the ex-gay movement and the risks in submitting to reparative therapy and ex-gay ministires. She quoted the major medical associations and even some studies, essential citations for good journalism. She sent a copy and asked me for my input.
What she did not include in her first draft were the stories of ex-gay survivors, eyewitness accounts of those people who earnestly turned to ex-gay providers looking for helping but instead came away harmed. I pointed out that what moves many people and helps them to relate to an issue and better understand that issue is the inclusion of narratives. These do not take the place of studies and science and professional experts. Instead these give further weight and evidence to what the professionals have to say. We become living witnesses.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons people respond so positively to Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible. I include the stories of many transgender people I interviewed woven into Bible stories. A reporter who interviewed me yesterday and had been to a recent show told me that she doesn’t ever remember being at a play where the audience was as silent and attentive as she did with Transfigurations. These powerful true stories ground the audience and more so ground me as performer. Performing the play really feels like an act of worship.
I fly out early tomorrow morning to Portland, OR where I will join in on the Thursday night worship and dinner with the Anawim community, a group of gay Christian men who meet weekly for prayer. I then spend the day in Salem, OR with my friend Peggy Sengers Parson giving us a chance to catch up, then I head to the winter gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC–a Queer Quaker group).
On Sunday I head to Seattle to do Transfigurations (actually Des Moines, WA) and then to Spokane the next day to do a variety show of sorts there and then back to Portland in time to celebrate my birthday with some friends at a vegan friendly restaurant. Hey you only turn 44 in Portland once!
I also just confirmed that I will be at Rice University in Houston, TX on March 11 and then at University of CA in San Diego on March 27-29 for the Transgender Leadership Summit. I will post details soon. You can check out my current schedule here.