Friday, June 26, 2009

Building a Gay Community

Last night a gay and bisexual men's group operating out of a local university hosted their monthly coffee night here in my hometown of Idaho Falls. Because of the university and a gay bar, Pocatello naturally has a stronger and more visible gay community. Idaho Falls is much more conservative town even though it is roughly the same size as Pocatello, so, unless you know people already in the community, it would be hard to find a visible gay community here.

It's a blessing that the group has coffee night once a month here because Idaho Falls needs a stronger and healthier gay community, and it needs something that will reflect the character of Idaho Falls.

When I was in Atkinson, Nebraska visiting a gay friend who's a priest, he lamented the breakdown of institutions like gay bars. With the rise of the internet it's become easier to network but frequently it's done anonymously. He told me stories about men who were known to be gay in their communities but instead chose to live a lie and hide it. Being secretive may seem safe, but it attacks our ability to trust one another and really be ourselves.

It is incredibly easy not to risk being "out," but that comes at the cost of wholeness. Sexuality is set apart and compartmentalized in unhealthy ways. I understand the concern; I.F. is not known for being accepting of anything that isn't Mormon/white/straight/Republican. Hiding in the closet only to emerge for unhealthy expressions of sexuality, though, is not the answer. It is spiritually, emotionally and mentally harmful.

Building a gay community here in I.F. (and by extension the northern part of the Snake River Valley) will be a hard task, but it could have great results. And what's more important is that it will be authentically Idaho Falls and authentically gay. There are parts of gay culture I don't agree with or support, and some of it I just don't participate in because it doesn't resonate with me. Part of it, I'm sure, is the effect of living in Idaho Falls. That's fine; not everyone needs to be like me.

So a gay community here in Idaho Falls is about building something that is healthy and is rooted in the people here. It recognizes who we are and both challenges us to be proudly and happily gay while at the same time meets us where we are.

In a way it's like the Anglican tradition of Christianity (see? I was gonna fit religion in here somewhere). Anglicans see Christianity as not a "one size fits all" way of relating to God. There are so many different ways we worship God and different ways we talk about God and different ways we live out that relationship with God. In all the differences, though, there is the same Gospel, the same Lord, and the same Baptism. The seed of the Gospel is nourished by the ground it is rooted in, but, if it is faithful to God and the Gospel, the differences help the Gospel make sense to different people. So we need to build a gay community here that reflects the character of Idaho Falls (and not San Francisco, not Salt Lake City, not Omaha). At the risk of generalizing, though, there will still be something that unites all of us gays.

The similarity doesn't end there, either. Being gay and being Christian both require living openly even in the face of risk. It's not much a choice but a calling. The visibility of the church and the visibility of the gay community should be signs of the goodness of those communities. Not debauchery, not judgmentalism, not passivity, not hypocrisy, not vanity. Being known as a Christian or being known as gay can be risky, but I'd rather take the risk for the truth instead of hurting myself and others with secrecy.

So in the tradition of Stonewall, I'm proud to be who I am: gay, Christian, Idahoan. Thanks be to God for calling us to a life abundant!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Procession in the nursing home

Today I accompanied a parishioner on a visit to a local nursing facility to assist with the "Protestant Worship Service" (part of me cringes, 'cause we Episcopalians are Catholic, too!).

Conducting a worship service for a nursing home is a challenge, I can tell. Making a service appeal firstly to a broad group of people is hard; Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians have different worship styles. And secondly, making a service meaningful to people who, to say it kindly, aren't in the greatest shape physically or mentally and still challenge and encourage them with the Gospel is hard, too. I'm glad to see so many make the effort to include all our brothers and sisters in Christ in the worship of the church.

I don't have some surprising or startling insight to share, though. There's just an image I thought I'd share.

After the service, we helped wheel the nursing home residents to the dining room for dinner. As we slowly took people one by one, the pianist kept playing. I'd hear faint notes of a hymn down the hallway as I escorted someone to dinner. The music didn't stop until everyone had been taken down to the dining room.

The image was like that of a procession out- everyone was parading out of the chapel to go do the work given to them, even if they were being taken in a wheelchair. The grace was apparent- even if for just half an hour, Christ was really present and Christ was being taken out into the world.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grief and Guilt

Today was the funeral for a beloved member of my parish in Idaho. Because I've been bouncing around due to college and my internship, I haven't had the greatest opportunity to sit down and get to know the people here.

From my time in Omaha and now here, it feels incredibly odd to be around those grieving when you're not racked by the same feelings. For me there's been a feeling of guilt; I feel guilty because I'm not suffering like everyone else and guilty that I'm present for a funeral even though I didn't know the man nearly as well as everyone else present.

There's a significant emotional distance between me and those grieving. I don't have wonderful stories to remember about the deceased. I can't share the pain of loss even though I can offer my ears and heart for listening. I can offer my prayers and sympathies but I can't take the pain away. If I were suffering like them then at least we could feel some kind of comfort in our shared pain, but even then there's nothing I can do to make the pain go away.

As I sat and thought about this, I realized why the idea of God becoming human in Christ was just so important. God, with a heart of perfect love, stands with creation, watching all sorts of pain and misery. God watches as death claims those we love, God watches as human beings destroy one another and creation itself, and God wants us to know that there is immense love for us burning within the divine heart.

But our pain, our grief, our suffering is tied to our mortality and our humanity. Might God have felt some guilt for being so close to us and yet so far away? I don't know, but God became human so that God could truly feel human pain. God had to become a mortal and limited human being to cross that emotional distance.

Our pain and suffering, then, are not a barrier to God's love and understanding. God, who knows and loves us more than any other could possibly love us, is fully present with us in the midst of our pain as someone who suffers with us.

And as for me, my own experience of grief and loss should enable me to be better present to those mourning the loss of their friend, husband and father today. I do not know what pain they are going through, but our union in the body of Christ and our shared humanity might just be enough to make present the immense love of God.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reflections on hospitality

I've finally returned to Idaho! My internship ended in May, but I've been having a great road trip adventure for the past week and a half!

I was invited to Atkinson, Nebraska to spend a week with the great people in the rural parts of the state. After that I spent a few days in Boulder, Colorado to stay with some dear friends from college whom I haven't seen since their wedding last summer.

Being a guest can be a challenging experience. When you live in someone else's house for a while, the impulse is naturally to want to repay them for their kindness and hospitality. That's all good and well; we should never take gifts from someone lightly. But sometimes that wish to reciprocate is almost a desire to be "debt-free"; if I repay you for hosting me for a while, then we're "even." I won't owe you anything if I pay you back.

Accepting the generosity of others even when I had the means to pay them back made me realize that Jesus meant it with the whole "inviting people to dinner who can't pay you back" thing (Luke 14:7-14). We want so hard to make things "right." We want to wipe out our obligations to others so that no one has any claim over us. When we sink into this, then the spirit of generosity is lost. No one gets to give freely because it's more like a loan: I do this for you and then you'll do this for me.

If I worked to repay my hosts for their generosity because I didn't want to feel indebted, then I wouldn't have really been living into their hospitality. That isn't to say I didn't try to help out when I could; what I did do I did because I saw some need I could help out with. My "debt" couldn't be repaid because it wasn't a debt at all. It was a gift to be enjoyed and celebrated! And then what I did could be a gift, too.

I won't lie; I sometimes felt extraordinarily self-conscious about my needs while being a guest. That's understandable because even if we recognize hospitality as a gift we don't want to abuse that kindness and generosity. I didn't want to be a burden to my hosts! But when I've hosted people for dinner or a party, I enjoy helping them enjoy themselves by providing for those needs and wants. So being a guest requires balance: balance between being a burden and feeling indebted. It was a gift, so I enjoyed being with my friends. It was a gift, so I didn't abuse their generosity.


Because I've been so lax on updating (yes, I was without internet access for a week, but is that an excuse?), I'll post a few more updates later unpacking my latest adventure. I might even put up some pictures, too!

And let me thank my gracious hosts, Randy, Michael, Ryan and Katie for their hospitality in this trip, and all my friends new and old who made it such a wonderful time. Thanks, y'all!