Wednesday, February 21, 2007

a holy lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which in the Christian faith is a time of introspection, prayer and quiet, commemorating Jesus' time of temptation and prayer before his Passion. The Book of Common Prayer bids us to a holy Lent, and it as that moment that I quickly admit my inadequacy, thinking how unholy I am, and of course, I rationally understand that to be a human is to be unholy, to miss the mark. In this service, we confront our humanity fairly head-on with the dry, chalky mark on our foreheads as the priest reminds us that we came from ashes and we will return to ashes. We're going to die, a sobering but often useful reminder. And in the order of the service, we list numerable ways how we miss the mark through our actions or lack of them.

Anglican Primates (mostly the Archbishops of each national Anglican Church -- Americans created the less royal Presiding Bishop in the 18th Century after the break with Great Britain) gathered in Tanzania this past week to talk about how the Episcopal Church has harmed communion with the other Churches over the consecration of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire and over not coming out strongly against authorizing rites for the blessing of the union of same sex couples. (A skimpy summation of what they said in their statement at the end of the meeting).

The primates gave our Church a deadline of responding by September of this year, and there has been a lot of posting in the blogosphere about what all this means. It looks like a religious civil war, something that happened in Europe during the Reformation when many people lost their lives. This particular civil war may not kill as many people -- although frankly gay and lesbian folk in certain African countries are in fear of their lives -- but the battlelines among Anglicans have been drawn for sometime.

Not a holy moment, this tearing between one side of the Church and the other.

And I have no great wisdom, no insight on what all this means. A priest once told me that the argument over gay people in the church in some sense does not involve gay people. It the larger straight community coming to terms with what to do with us. It is their struggle, he said. Not ours. But their struggle does have an impact on our lives. And hateful words have a cutting effect.

So I went to church tonight and sat in the nave, and prayed and sang, and listened to the words of Joel, the Old Testament prophet who warned of the dark day of the Lord coming, but who then reminded his audience that God was merciful and slow to punish. Repent. Seek God's forgiveness.

Not us humans. We all want to punish the other, sooner rather than later. It's not hard, getting caught up in the angry words, to want to rumble, like a gang, against those who disagree so disagreeably with us. During the Eucharist tonight, we prayed, as we always do, the Lord's Prayer, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. A pretty hard thing, which is why it is in this model prayer. Forgive. Let it go. Don't use up all our energy on our hatreds and our angers. Because we're so good, so holy? No, because we have been forgiven, too.

I am not a very good forgiver. I would much rather give myself the benefit of the doubt, while holding others to a higher standard, assuming the very worst from those with whom I disagree.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, and grant us thy peace.

I am in my 50s. This past week, I had a phone conversation with my mom. Here's what she wants. We're going to talk again, and its going to be about my being gay. We've skirted this conversation for many years. I have tried never to lie. In some ways, I think we have had tacit understandings -- and yet, she went much further than she had ever had in wanting to talk with me about being gay and being in the Church, something she tells me is wrong and with which she cannot understand. She wants us to talk about it.

As a young man in a fundamentalist family, I was terrified to have that conversation. During the many years of my father's invalidness, it did not seem right. Now he is dead, and my mother is elderly. We will talk. Lotta fears and anxiety, much of which are reflexes from previous anxiety created many years ago. And also some calm, knowing that I love my mother and that she loves me. I cannot convince her of anything else other than I love her.

One response to our not dealing with this is that I have lived much more of my life away from her. It is hard to share what is despised. It has probably also had an effect on me in other ways, too. I have no idea how this will turn out.


Anonymous said...

You're probably one of the main reasons I don't talk against religion as strongly as I would like to at times in my weblog. I think go myself: here's a man who has a difficult time being who he is and still being a member of his church--he doesn't need to be reading folks trashing his religion because of it's anti-gay directions.

I don't know what's going to happen in your church with this growing anti-gay movement in Africa and it's influence elsewhere. You would think that at some time, people would remember that wasn't Christianity supposed to be the religion of love and tolerance?

I do hope that your talk with your mother brings a measure of peace and acceptance.

Take care, Don.


Emily said...

Hi, Don--

I've been on a bit of a blog break, but I've dipped back in recently and found your post this morning.

My prayers are with you. My parents and I have found a way to live with my ordination (something they deeply opposed)--we've never really talked much about it, but over the years they've made peace with it. I can't imagine trying to have that conversation about something as deep and core to one's identity as one's sexual orientation.

Blessings to you on this part of your Lenten journey.

Don said...

Shelley -- please don't let me be a brake on the expression of your opinions. I value your writing too highly, particularly because of your intelligence, passion and fearlessness. I always learn from reading what you write, hearing what you think.

From my own experience, the Episcopal Church (the American Anglican Church) has been a good place for gay Christians, depending on one's diocese or parish. The current civil war is with about 5% of the Episcopal Church in this country, and a significantly larger number of other Anglican Churches, mostly in Africa and South America.

I am sad for the infighting going on right now, but I must say that I very much appreciate the reception and fellowship I've found in the Episcopal Church and in the parishes where I've belonged as a member. I particularly appreciate that I have never felt special or different, but a part of these parishes, places where I do not have to lie about my partner, our family, our lives. It's amazing, now that I think about it, but being gay has not been much of an issue at all for me as an adult member of the Episcopal Church.

The battles in the secular and religious spheres over gay people is sometimes hard to observe, but given the long silence and condemnation that homosexually inclined folk experienced for the past several hundred years, it may be a sign of positive change.

I am always a bit perplexed about the tremendous energy and anger that is displayed by those leading the fight against gay people and their families. Maybe it is the lethal mixture of "sex" (the most perplexing of subjects) and gender expectations that makes this one of those hot button issues.

We muddle on.

Emily -- Glad to hear from you again. Growing up, I really did have a best little boy in the world syndrome, never wanting to disappoint my parents. I was devastated when I realized I was gay, and frankly there was nothing in my life experience at that time to deal with what I was, one of the defining characteristics of my essential self. It took me many years to work through this, and eventually I began to realize that it was a part of who I am, but not all of who I am, I didn't choose it, can't change it, not really all that upset about it or worried about it. It just is, as are the color of my eyes, my balding hair or my right-handedness.

I know that an as adult I sometimes self-censor about referring to my partner if our safety is potentially threatened. But for the most part, I have lived my life over the years open and out to colleagues, neighbors, people I encounter, sales reps, etc. My rule is usually if a straight person would refer to their family in a social situation then I probably will as well.

The hard part for many Christians is that their own faith and churches makes this topic a deal-breaker on so many levels, and it really has become an obsession. It is becoming the defining dogma, tenet, characteristic of their understanding of Christianity, turning them into we=don't-accept-gay-people Christians.

The result is not only the harm they do to themselves and their own children, but the encouragement they give to others to act out in hostile ways. And from a Christian standpoint, they are trying to be judge and jury over who God loves, contrary to the Gospels. The oddness of this stand, this obsesssion, is that they then have to resort to lies, like the pastor in Colorado who carried out a relationship with a prostitute and then said after 3 weeks of intense therapy he was cured. Live a double life, with secrets, or act as if what is really is not.

Thank you for your prayers, and I will pray for you during your Lenten journey, too.

Rob+ said...

A lot of pain in that post, Don. These are painful, painful times, aren't they? I muddle on with you, dear brother, though I admit nothing tries my faith so deeply as this conflict.

I will be praying for your talk with your mom and would like to know how it goes.

Don said...

Father Rob -- thank you for your words of comfort. I've enjoyed your Lenten questions on your blog. I appreciate your prayers, too. Don

Hedwyg said...

Dear one, you have my prayers as you enter into that talk with your mother. My only word of advice (I promise!) is to try to keep that attitude of "I don't know what will happen," and to try to avoid speculating. It will be as it will be, and if you believe Julian of Norwich, all will be well.

What God thinks is "well" doesn't always jibe with what *I* think is "well," of course.

Be at peace. God is with you, and you are in my prayers.

Hedwyg (formerly known as RiverStone)

Don said...

Hedwyg -- wise advice. Thank you. I'm glad to hear from you again, and I will keep this in mind.