What I Carried into Wild Goose

Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful experiences I had at Wild Goose–the good stuff. It was so good in so many ways, but I arrived troubled and even in the midst of all the “good stuff” I wrestled with difficult feelings during the Festival.
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In the four months of preparation leading up to the Wild Goose Festival I mostly felt anger. Inside me I carried a tightly wound rubbery ball of emotions–anger, bitterness, cynicism. These feelings lived with me as presently as our two cats on bad days, Wally and Emma, demanding our attention and reminding us of their existence, shedding their fur on the furniture and vomiting up the dinner after adamantly pestering Glen and me to feed them. I could not shake off the strong feelings that nudged and clawed at me.

The Wild Goose Festival and the staff organizing the event did not provoke these feelings and the daily nagging I felt. In fact, I was thrilled to have been invited well over a year before the event took place. I looked forward to seeing friends and to presenting in front of lots of people who did not yet know my work. Still it was the preparation for this event that stirred up the strong feelings.

Growing in me was a quiet steady rage towards public Christian leaders and how they have dealt with “the gay issue.” I felt deeply troubled by how they had responded to the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ.)

Now I am not talking about the outright homophobes who strategize and lobby against, picket, and shun LGBTQ people and our supporters. I am not talking about the people who promote or provide treatments or ministries designed to annihilate our orientation or gender identity/expression. No doubt I have strong feelings about the actions of these people, their relentless slander towards LGBTQ people and their commitment to treat us less than human. But these were not the people who inspired the mess of emotions that caused my throat to constrict when I began to talk about their actions and my neck and upper back to tense up when I read stories on-line.

It was NOT the outright opponent to LGBTQ inclusion and rights who was getting under my skin. Rather it was my own friends, the people who told me they were on “my team” who provoked me. These are the people–pastors of churches, theologians, public speakers, Christian leaders, the new movers and shakers of the emerging church, who privately assured me that they have no trouble with LGBTQ people. They are privately on-board with marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. But publicly their stance is not nearly as clear and firm. Publicly they communicate that they are not yet sure, they are still working it out, or “it’s really not my issue.” Some perform a position of being still confused about the issue. Some may genuinely be confused and not 100% on-board. And along with them are many more like them who I do know not personally not but I suspect hold back on their public support of LGBTQ people. As my friend Brian Gerald Murphy said to me, “For some of these people it’s that they’ve never made thinking about LGBT concerns a priority, if they did, they would quickly realize it’s OK to be gay (because they are smart and rational.)”

Coming from a Conservative Evangelical tradition, I do understand the dilemma these friends of mine and leaders like them face. These folks work in a religious political system that will punish them, shun them, remove them, deny financial support, dissolve their book contracts, and drive them into the wilderness if they pronounce any clear positive support for full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and society. They work in a highly charged world that strictly monitors dissent.

As I have raised questions, they and their supporters offer explanations for the incongruity between private and public stances regarding LGBTQ issues. They explain that the cost is too high. They explain that they are getting into places that I, as a gay man, could not get into. They explain that in their own way they are moving the conversation along. They say they are waiting for the ideal moment to reveal their support. They say they are working within the system to reform it. They say that the opportunity to address other social justice issues will be compromised if they come out in support of LGBTQ people. They say they are building bridges. They say, “I really wish I could do more.”

And in some ways they may be right. They move in and out of a highly charged world where they feel compelled to be strategic–wise as serpents and gentle as doves. The group Sojourners, a sponsor of the Wild Goose Festival, has employed such a strategy for over 30 years. I can see how it may have made sense then and even five years ago.

But times are changing quickly. Public opinion towards LGBTQ people and issues have shifted dramatically, and the new generation coming up are vastly different from their parents on this issue. Also, the Church has had the opportunity to hear and see many many LGBTQ Christians living their lives openly, and serving powerfully. We have come out. We have engaged with our pastors and friends in person and on Facebook. They have witnessed the undeniable fruits of the Spirit in our lives, and they better understand the horrible consequences of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism as a result of our testimonies. Some outright deny us the right to exist freely in the world and Church, but the strident homophobic voices are quickly becoming the extreme and decidedly on the wrong side of history.

My anger grew and expanded as the time approached for Wild Goose. I experienced feelings of injustice springing up between Christian leaders and me–the ones who privately believe one thing (or say they do) yet publicly hide this belief. And in my anger I think I may have recognized something in their actions, something long familiar to me.

As a gay man I have known fear. It ruled me, paralyzed me, kept me inauthentic and self-hating for years. I felt that I would be more valuable to the world if I presented as a heterosexual and a gender-normative “masculine” man. I feared the rejection of others, the loss of privilege, the change that would come crashing in on me and the ministry I wanted so badly in the church I loved. So I lived bound and gagged. We called it “The Closet” back then, a miserable soul-sucking place that hungrily lured us to deposit secrets, integrity, and freedom in exchange for acceptance.

In speaking with my partner, Glen Retief, about these feelings welling up in me, choking me as we drove to Wild Goose, I explained, “I feel upset about the lack of integrity that some of these leaders have. How long can they live with this conflict in their integrity?” At last I gasped, “It’s unfair.”

And we arrived, and I felt more angry than when we left home. I felt concerned about my presentation two days later, worried that I would just stand there and rant and call people names and meltdown. Yet I could not deny the feelings. As a Quaker, I have learned to be still, to hold things up to the Light without grasping or dismissing. I recognized that I could not ignore my feelings or judge them. I needed to simply let them be as I entered the grounds, attended the talks, listened to others even as I felt an ache within me and deep distrust. Still I wanted to be clear, not of the anger, but clear and cool in my mind about the issues and most importantly about what I needed to say when it came my time to speak.

{Tomorrow I will post some of what I shared from the stage at Wild Goose, this “thing” that has been growing inside of me.}

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This post has 16 Comments

  1. stevethack on June 30, 2011 at 12:30 pm Reply

    this blog seems to pretty much some up everything i love about you peterson, its raw , honest vulnerable and shows your desire to not be limitted by your anger, sadness and frustrations but continues to try positively engage with people who really get on your tits! that said a full blown rant that names names would be far more enjoyable read! :-). is hoping wild goose in bringing like minded people together can help create space where leaders feel safe to make private beliefs public ?

  2. Mindy on June 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm Reply

    I try not to hold bitterness against my friends and former pastors, at least some of whom are more ok with me and my partner than they will publically admit… I want to offer grace… I don’t want to own the burden of their journey or their pain. I know that I have flaws and fears no less deep than they, that lead me to betray others in ways that may be as hurtful as my own pain has been.

    But I share your anger, Peter, and I thank you for your words and your heart. I missed your talk at The Goose, but I will make a point to cross paths next year if we are both there.

    I suspect that those who are hiding their private beliefs out of fear — fear of others, of loss, of God, of whatever — are paying a dearly high price. May they be healed.

  3. Mike Croghan on June 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Peterson, thanks for this. Your thoughtful, faithful honesty and courage continues to humble me. I think a related – yet not identical – problem is people like me. I’ve never been part of the conservative evangelical world. I grew up outside the Church, and I’m now a part of two churches: a middle-sized, traditional-ish Episcopal church, and a very small (30-40 adults plus kids) trans-denominational “emerging” church. Both of my church communities are very progressive, open, and welcoming, with LGBTQ folks demonstrably welcome (including in leadership positions), though neither is by any means perfect. As an individual (and, to some extent, a leader) in these communities, I have always been open and honest about my unequivocal belief in equality regardless of sexual or gender identity – but it has been far too easy for me to act as if there’s no particular need for me to do more than that. I mean “the Church”, for me (that is, the rather open and progressive communities I’m personally a part of), is doing OK, right? This boat’s not in need of rockin’. We’re all equal and welcome and loved, and all’s right in the world.

    And this, while I’ve also campaigned for years for the idea that we need to think and act and connect outside our parochial little tribal worlds – that the Church is so much bigger than that. This, while I’ve been a part of a community that, despite its small size, incarnates that idea by including and celebrating folks of so many different church backgrounds – Anglicans and Methodists and Charismatic/Pentecostals and Brethren and Catholics and agnostics and Lutherans and Presbyterians and atheists and Baptists and, yes, Evangelicals coming together as one Body of Christ – not uniform, but together in community. This, while I’ve been active in Emergent Village, which in this respect (ecclesiological diversity) looks like my little church writ large. So what exactly is my excuse, living as I am within these larger, ecclesiologically diverse contexts, for thinking and acting on such a small, safe, limited scale when it comes to the place of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters? Well…er…um…it sure has been easier for me that way….

    Well, brother, all I can say at this point is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been so silent for so long. But I hear you loud and clear, and you (along with many other folks I was blessed to spend time with at the Goose) have finally spoken to me with words and witness that have managed to penetrate my thick head and heart – words and witness that the Spirit has been trying to get through to me for some time now, I believe, though I’m well-practiced at ignoring her. I’ve begun work in allowing myself to be formed as an ally. I hope I’ll be led to ways I can help. And I thank you, again, for your witness.

    (And if anyone else reading this is like me – straight, cisgender, liberal, progressive, living and perhaps leading in liberal/progressive contexts, preaching gently to the choir, enjoying the safety and affirmation of that situation, and feeling OK about our place in this changing world – can I suggest that we ask ourselves, our LGBTQ friends, and the Spirit if that’s really all we’re called to at this moment in history? The Body of Christ is bigger than our little progressive ghettos, and the Church as a whole is responsible for great pain and suffering, every day. Are we being called to help do something about that? Are we listening?)

  4. Bernie Newton, Jr. on June 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm Reply

    Thank you for these thoughts, Peterson. As you briefly discussed at the Goose, this is exactly what’s happening to me in regards to having to leave my faith-based psychotherapy group practice. Although not everybody in the group is a fully-inclusive ally, amongst those who are, there’s still great fear about the loss of voice with those who “monitor dissent.” Sadly, they’re right that my presence is still such a lightning rod issue when doing any ministry with the more conservative church world. As you know, situations like this create a swirl of emotions that’s hard to describe. On one hand, we appreciate those who have nurtured us along the way; on the other, we must be honest about our anger and disappointment and willing to challenge those very same people.

    I appreciate your thoughts about holding things up to the Light without grasping or dismissing, and I wish all of us could be better at that so that we could live more fully in that non-dualistic place of full humanity. Thank you for your work, which brings us a little closer to that.

    And we need that National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ Allies!

    • Matthew on July 1, 2011 at 5:02 am Reply

      What a brilliant idea “A National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ Allies!”

      No holding back! No more pretending!

      I am new to your blog Peterson & am slowling working backwards through some of your posts. To hop from Australia (pardon the pun) over to the “Wild Goose Festival” would have been amazing – maybe next year!

      I am a straight ally & wonder if you have heard of a group in Australia called “Freedom2be” http://www.freedom2b.org/

      Freedom 2 b[e] is a safe place to assist LGBT people from Christian backgrounds on their journey to reconcile their faith and sexuality – huge things are happening in Australia.

      Thanks for hearing me

      Matthew

  5. Lynn on June 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm Reply

    This is so powerful! Thank you for walking your walk with integrity and for sharing your insights. Blessings.

  6. Jules on June 30, 2011 at 10:38 pm Reply

    Peterson:

    I was not at Wild Goose and have been living through many experiences. I have mostly been interested in my fellow LGBTQ feelings about Wild Goose. I wondered if I would find people felt the same as I have. The tension you speak has been in my throat for awhile now. At times it comes out and steps on toes. Other times I try to tone it down so that I maybe heard, but it gets a nice nod. I guess all that to say, your not a lone in that tension. I think I’m with Shay, in that I have anger that has been building in me. Mostly because I’m getting tired as a queer woman, involved in the conversation, and feeling just appeased. Basically, the feelings you put out here. I’m still unsure how to change this feeling or even combat the anger that wells in me a lot of the time. I know I want to bridge, but I also want our voices to have a place. Not a place to pacify us, but that gives me a sense that our “tribe” celebrates us, openly. Not sure if this makes sense, but here ya go.

    Much love!

    Jules Kennedy

  7. Divonne on June 30, 2011 at 10:57 pm Reply

    As a female pastor, I’ve ‘sprained myself (to deaf ears) so many times that I too am sick of it. No, I’m not LBGTQ. But I am someone who has had to fight for her place at the Table. And I’m sick of it too. Sick of white males (ahem… I noted who had the “big stage” for speaking at Wild Goose) saying they “affirm” women in ministry. And don’t. Sick of people “talking” about how it’s a shame there’s a “stained glass ceiling” — and then telling me not to over-react.

    But my anger is not what you are angry about. I just understand it.

    I’m still learning how to be an ally to LBGTQ folks in the Church. I suck at it. And yes, I have not been clear or as affirming as I should be. I don’t “school” parishioners who act ignorant. I don’t respond with a strong, supportive stance to those who are going through trans* stuff. Hell, I didn’t even know what “cisgender” was before The Goose. I had to Google it when I got home. Why didn’t I ask you or someone else who used it? Because I was embarrassed.

    Maybe that’s the core of the problem. We’re embarrassed to admit how little we know, and how incapable we feel to help. Or we’re just worn down with our own junk. Crap, I’m still fighting to get a preacher job with pay I can live on, with benefits, and with a church that wants me. And while I’m at it, stay married, raise my kids, keep my friends…

    So my life is NOTHING like yours. And yet I understand.

    And believe me, I am not having a contest to see who’s madder. I just understand.

  8. Liz Opp on July 1, 2011 at 12:43 am Reply

    Hey there, Peterson.

    You know I drop by here only every now and then. Your post on FB caught my eye, so here I am.

    I appreciate the awareness you have, of how you can relate to the pastors who yearn to be free of the burden of hiding their true support for LGBTQ individuals, just as you and others in the LGBTQ community have experienced the burden of being closeted: We all yearn to be able to express ourselves freely and authentically, without fear of being shunned, ridiculed, stigmatized, shamed.

    It also sounds like you did well–an “exercise of the Spirit,” early Friends called it, as do some (like me) today–to let your anger speak to you, to learn what it really wants you to know and what it really wants you to say.

    By way of illuminating a few things, here’s a bit of my own story:

    Not too long ago, I was all about “talking the talk” and telling folks that as a person of European descent (ie. White), I was anti-racist and working to undo racism. It wasn’t until I stopped talking and started exploring how to “walk the walk” that my outward behaviors began to match my inner desire. I could no longer “turn off the switch” or “wait until a better time”–unconscious self-talk that allowed me to ignore the injustices, punishments, and lack of privileges that come with not being White. And now I am bolder in my words and actions–not perfect, but better–when I take a more active stand against what I view as interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism.

    I see a similar pattern here: there is the *intention* of members of the majority group (in this case, straight people), who believe they are doing the right thing by waiting for “a better time” to challenge the system. But they may be out of touch with understanding, let alone experiencing, the real and hurtful *impact* on the people whose lives are–how else to say it?–on the Cross.

    When it comes to modern-day oppression and the historical trauma based on multi-generational oppression, one person’s good intentions can at most account for 49% of a situation; but the person who directly feels and experiences that lost time, that lost opportunity for witness and for a turn toward justice–that painful impact accounts for no less than 51% of the same circumstance.

    We must help our allies understand this.

    But folks with unearned privilege–in this case, straight privilege–are socialized–by the dominant White, straight, middle-class, able-bodied society–to give greater weight to intention, not to impact, which is why we, as LGBTQ people, must share our pain and outrage, over and over and over again.

    Similarly, as with the distinction between intention and impact, there is a distinction between input and influence.

    Our allies often seek us out for counsel on how to respond to situations, and we readily give them our input. But when our input has no influence when it really matters, we can tire of educating, of giving advice, and even of having hope. Or worse, we can feel betrayed by the very people who have told us they stand with us but “it just isn’t the right time.”

    What I offer here, Peterson, about impact vs. intention, and input vs. influence, you probably already know, either intellectually or experientially. And you know that these concepts that I share are not mine– they come from my involvement in anti-oppression work over the years.

    Our allies need us to continue to share our story and our anger. And we need our allies to continue to walk with us, even as they wrestle and we rage.

    When we take a stand for doing right by ourselves and doing right by others, we all may lose connections that we’ve valued. But when we stand in solidarity and in the Spirit, we discover friends that we’ll always treasure.

    Blessings–and see you very soon, God willing,

    Liz Opp
    The Good Raised Up
    Equality Is Coming

    • p2son on July 1, 2011 at 9:14 am Reply

      Wow all of these comments are so thoughtful, well expressed, deeply felt. I truly feared that speaking of my anger would inspire a defensive reaction from some readers. Perhaps that is why I labored over this post and got feedback from my partner, Glen, and our friends Matthew Beams, Anarchist Reverend, and Brian G Murphy (and as a result Brian’s insightful quote above.)

      Thank you for reading, for sharing the post on Twitter and Facebook, for considering where it speaks to you, for sharing your own painful feelings.

      There is a Christian concept about have a fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. And perhaps that is the most vital role of being an ally, or at least the critical first long-term and on-going step–to hear and feel the pain of another who’s experience is foreign to us and to allow that suffering to squeeze past the privilege that keeps us blinded and insensitive and unaware. Then we will be personally informed as we step beyond intent to deed.

  9. charolem on July 1, 2011 at 3:49 am Reply

    Holding you in the Light. And loving you immensely. There’s so much hurt and anger in so many of us. Thank you for posting this and sparking the conversation.

  10. Callid Keefe-Perry on July 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm Reply

    I’ll just join in to say Amen, and thank you for speaking your truth here.

  11. cary on July 1, 2011 at 3:52 pm Reply

    not having been at the festival, i feel there’s a need – for me – to sit back and listen and reflect on what others have to say. (seems to me that Anarchist Rev and Callid Keefe-Perry’s reflections link really well with the discussion that’s happening on this page but that’s for another day.)

    but i wanted to say, the conversation opening up here – which has themes that are applicable to this entire endeavor we call church (and beyond) – is an extremely welcome one to my mind. i feel a sense of relief.

    i’m relishing the themes and spaces that are opening up within it. there are voices and perspectives emerging that seem vital, and may, if we let them and will listen, really create room for many other voices to emerge…

    i see seeds of real transformation, hope and greater justice… the conversation is shifting.

    thanks for sharing – not just to Peterson but to all who’ve been contributing here.
    this all gets my Yes.

    cary.

  12. forrestwife on July 1, 2011 at 9:43 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing.
    As a person who never feels like they fit in anywhere,I am practicing being grateful for even the smallest support and compassion from others.
    And practicing loving them as much as I want them to love me
    this does not mean I am free from anger, hut and jealousy- just that I am practicing as much as I can being loving and kind.
    i sense that in you Peterson and am grateful for who you are and all you share.

  13. paul on July 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm Reply

    Peterson,
    Is that your angry picture?

    “Anger… duplicity… lack of integrity…” are all feelings, conditions, dispositions I am intimately familiar with.

    Anger. I was an angry guy so many years of my life. I lived like a cornered animal being gay and ‘knowing’ that ‘God’ was against that. Anger has such a negative connotation in our culture, peel back a layer and more often than not what is revealed is hurt. Hurt gets a whole different response from others and even our own conscience. Hurt from the never ending fight between who I am/was and who I was supposed to be (or not be).

    Duplicitous? Hell, I wrote the book. Gay and married to a woman. Teaching in church the day after I had anonymous sex with a guy.

    I had the integrity of oil and water.

    It took me 35 years to come to terms with the gay thing… and I’m gay. I wonder if I ever would have come to terms with the gay thing had I not been gay? I hope so, but would I have had the impetus to grapple with the question had it not been my own reality? LIke Jacob, I wrestled with “God”… for 35 years? And after the ‘match’ I still don’t have the physical limp to evidence the struggle-for myself or anyone else. My limp is internal, it manifests in that portion of life that cannot be substantiated.

    How do we help the duplicitous see so that they do not violate their own integrity?

  14. Rebecca Bec Cranford on July 7, 2011 at 2:38 am Reply

    I lived 15 years of my life transgendered. Currently I am trying to figure out what it means to love a very masculine male, despite me being a woman having to suffer with too much male hormones, short hair, tom-boy manurisms, and tatted arms. I felt major rejection in the church. I told God I never wanted to be pentecostal after My overdose, death, and revival. But I spoke in tongues two weeks after I started chasing him/her/it. I ended up in the same denomination where I experienced sexual molestation and spiritual abuse. I am currently in that denomination and seeking credentials.
    I hear what you are saying about being mad.Unfortunately, some conservative evangelicals may never hear anything other than homophobic rhetoric if there aren’t some of the secret advancers that play the political game- especially in my denomination.We don’t value education overall. Our theology is baptist at best tossed with a little glossolalia. We are mostly white and made the hispanics get their own presbytery. They aren’t ready for welcoming most of the community around them. Most of them were raised nationalists and also think catholics are going to hell. don’t believe me- find a southern evangelical and talk a bit. These people need a lot of love and YES they must be challenged prophetically.
    Many attack people like Marin or Others who stay in because they don’t make a stance- yet their “fruit” shows a deep love for the LGBT community (and conservatives are changing) Others have no status in their given denominations anyways, just an internet status. Coming out as a supporter wouldn’t help their denominations move forward. Just push them to home churches. which- might be a great thing.
    If some who are inside came out as supporters right now, they wouldn’t help change anyone. and these evangelicals need someone who can help them navigate and deconstruct previous interpretations of scripture.
    Its hard to be “nicodemus” sneeking around to see Jesus and still be a pharisee. — but who will go to the conservative churches and help them? Should we just tell them we are Supporters or Allies? It may cost us everything- and Christ said we would suffer- but would it change the church or just split it? Are we all to be Martin Luther’s? Or are some of us to be Erasmus’s?

    Honest question from a dumb girl who needs help…

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