I received a warm welcome on Monday in Asheville, North Carolina after folks at Warren Wilson College had a weekend of snow and cold. After a gorgeous meal at Rosetta’s Kitchen (I ADORE their vegan smashed potatoes and gravy!) members of the Spiritual Life and the Peace and Justice crews along with their staff leader, Leah, got me settled into my campus efficiency apartment and thus began my reign as ‘Activist in Residence.’
Everywhere I turned on campus I found myself staring back at me. They plastered posters everywhere announcing my various presentations including a large bold poster that show just my eyes cropped like I have on my WordPress blog.
It was a FULL week (You can see much of my schedule here.) but one filled with meaningful conversations about queer issues, faith, sexuality, activism, performance and vegan food. (Recent WWC controversy is that the Cow Pie Cafe went from being vegetarian to vegan recently. Some students want to know, “Where is my cheese!”)
I asked students about any suggestions, warnings or advice they had for me as I moved onto their campus for nearly three weeks. I learned that I need to look out for actual cow pies (they raise cows as well as pigs and chickens) and that I better compost or else I will get a negative reputation. Seems a famous Hollywood type lived on campus for a summer program and he did NOT compost and will forever be known as a non-composter.
On Monday I got together with the Emmaus Christian group for a Bibliodrama, a form of Bible study through theater. We looked at the famous story when Jesus gets serviced by a sex worker. Actually the Greek does not state she was a prostitute exactly, but that she was a sinful woman with a bad reputation. Not sure what that meant, but she gave a mean foot massage. In a very intimate scene she weeps at Jesus’ feet and then washes them with her tears and dries his feet with her hair (which borders on some sort of fetish I am sure). Finally she massages his feet with thick perfume. The host of the party is shocked that Jesus is letting this woman touch him like this–Doesn’t He KNOW what sort of woman she is??? We then perform a play within a play when Jesus talks about two people being forgiven for a debt–one debt being VERY LARGE. The moral of the story–the person who has been forgiven much loves much.
I think that is true. I mean if you know you have been a knucklehead and a jerk and hurt other people and royally screwed up in your life, then you receive forgiveness and mercy from others instead of them judging you and rejecting you for the rest of your life, well, it could cause you to be a little more gracious to others. I know that is true in my life. As I work on my memoir, I remember the good, the bad and the stuff I would rather not remember–terrible failings on my part and hurtful behavior. As a born-again, Evangelical Christian attempting to annihilate the gayness in me, I was harsh and cruel and difficult to lots of people along the way–including myself. I remember when I felt so righteous about going out in front of an abortion clinic to harass the women who walked past us to enter the building. I believed I acted in love and I was totally in the right. I cringe when I think of the signs I held with the ugly and mean things they said on them. I cringe, but I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want to forget how strongly I felt motivated by love at the time. When I face opponents today who are anti-gay, I want to remember that most likely they too believe they are doing the right thing and that they may even be doing it in love.
I will not recap the rest of the week, but I had many highlights including heading to Spartanburg, South Carolina to present a three hour diversity training on LGBTQ issues for hospital chaplains. In that meeting with a broad range of Christian ministers, I shared my story, my testimony, of how I desperately sought to live for God, to love Jesus and follow the God’s will for my life, particularly in regards to the gay attractions I felt. As I spoke I thought of my friend Bonnie Tinker who would often say that we have to lay down our sword AND shield while doing Peace Work–the sword for obvious reasons (even Dr. King had to relinquish his pistol when he embrace direct non-violent action) but why the shield? Isn’t it there to protect? Well it is big and cumbersome and it hides our hearts. Our opponents at times need to see our hearts. When I am vulnerable with my opponent, I give them permission to also be vulnerable with me. Walls come down and we move away from just a head to head confrontation to a heart to heart exchange. They may not remember the words I said, but they will know that I was real and sincere and vulnerable.
In the mornings I have been working hard on my memoir (one of the reasons I have blogged so little lately). The writing is going well so far. I have about 70 pages so far with much of the rest of the book outlined. Each morning I try to spend at least two hours writing. Right now I am focusing on the book proposal itself in hopes of getting a contract before I complete the manuscript. Hey ya never know.
This coming week will be PACKED with all sorts of activities. Tomorrow night I will lead a workshop with Emmaus about the intersection of faith and sexuality. My hope is that I will facilitate a thoughtful conversation that goes to fresh new places without being bogged down with tradition and assumption. So many people say with such certainty what the Bible does and does not say about sexuality. Most people don’t have a clue about what they are talking about.
After the workshop I will host an open mic where students will read their creative non-fiction pieces and I will read some from my memoir. Tuesday I give my lively lecture about the Ex-Gay Movement. Wednesday I lead a training about How to Engage your Opponent–a non-violent, peace work training designed to humanize the other. Also on Wednesday I join in on the topic of Honesty with the Religion, Work and Service Class. Thursday I will help facilitate a discussion with a men’s circle. We will discuss pornography. Yummy. Friday I head to a creative non-fiction class to look at a piece I did where I wove a Biblical story into my own personal narrative. I believe we will then have the students attempt something similar. Finally on Saturday I head to Guilford College to give a talk about the intersection of faith and sexuality. Busy week but what a privilege to do such cool stuff with these students and staff who are so engaged.
I typed this fast, so hopefully it is not filled with too many errors.
“Everywhere I turned on campus I found myself staring back at me. They plastered posters everywhere announcing my various presentations…”
That must have been like heaven for you.
As regards to the book…I’ll thank you right now for including the prominent personal thank you to me at the opening of the book. Also, I’m free to discuss what should be covered in the chapter about how I’ve been such an important influence in your life.
Putting down the shield? That is an act of great courage. I must think about that one for a while. What an amazing thought — to lead in being vulnerable. Scary stuff, Maynard.
Joe! So nice to see you, and yes of course you will have a prominent role in the memoir. I have so much dirt on you I may devote a special chapter just to you!
It was like seeing the face of God 😛