Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Queer Controversy in Worship

Before I write another word, I need to qualify my remarks. What follows is not an attempt to retaliate or to prove my superiority. I'll use my exact words from a listserve post that appears to have upset many people. Truthfully, I have probably read the entire page-long passage at least fifteen times by now and still cannot find any fault with it.

I began like this.

Today’s First Day’s Worship in the largest room began auspiciously. An older man talked first, speaking in mournful, doleful terms about how, much earlier in life, he had prayed to ask God to take away his homosexuality. The effort had failed him and now, late in life, he still held severe reservations about being gay. I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure how to best understand his message, which was certainly confessional, though I wished he could have better conveyed his intent by making it twice as long.
The Friend's messages usually take similar form. He laments his homosexuality or his advanced age, or both, and how God has seemed far too distant for comfort. I am not unsympathetic with his message, but without further direction from the Holy Spirit, what comes across is not unlike psychotherapy. By contrast, when it is my turn to speak, I challenge myself to listen for God's implicit direction, a direction that may begin with me, but speaks to everyone gathered. It has been my understanding that all who give vocal ministry have a great responsibility to enhance everyone else's Worship.

Sometimes I wonder if many Friends have forgotten this, or perhaps they never learned in the first place. A wise Friend once told me that a connection with God is like building up the strength and flexibility of a muscle in a gym. I believe this to be an accurate metaphor. My next challenge is how to motivate and lead others to their fullest potential. Those who did not grow up a Christian like me are often ignorant of the terminology, though I have found many commonalities when we've spoken at length.

My post continued.

For those of you who know me, my bisexuality should come as not much of a surprise. I’ve made no pretense of hiding it and I’ve been open about who I am. I recognize I came of age in a more tolerant time than today’s first speaker. The churches in which I spent my time seemed to think that my sexual orientation was not worth getting upset about and was none of their business in any case. No one told me I was going to hell or told me I was committing a grave, unpardonable sin. I recognize I was lucky to have not necessarily been fraught with years of guilt.
And yet, if I said that I wasn’t bothered by my own sexual orientation from time to time, then I would not being speaking truthfully. That being said, neither does it knock me to my knees. Living a defeated life full of unresolved misery may not be the best solution for anyone with any problem. A transgender friend of mine does not intend to make her life’s example a bleak Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, she tries to live boldly as she is, even though her family background is that of Fundamentalist Christianity, even though they do not accept her as she is. Life doesn’t need to beat anyone down into perpetual pain.

This particular passage was interpreted in a manner I never intended. Those of my own generation probably would understand it best and know that I wasn't implying that he should just get over it. What I meant was that there's no reason to harbor such self-hatred, at any time, for any reason. Many of us who are LGBT have reached greater understanding, finding a piece of comforting mind in the process that to the Friend still seems to be elusive. This is a tragedy, but fortunately one that is becoming less and less of a cultural issue.

My transgender Friend will not allow herself to be a dark tragedy.

I am quite fond of a movie released in 1970 entitled The Boys in the Band. As the movie reaches its traumatic conclusion, a character speaks defiantly to the entire room. "Not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story!" And this was what I mean, in totality. I'm not sure heterosexuals understand this, or understand the nuance that runs alongside it.

I have accepted the way that I am, for the most part. I have not lain prostrate before God, begging for a reversal of fate. Each of us learns to accept ourselves as we are, at our his or her own pace. Important as it was, I eventually believed that God had better, more important issues on his docket that were pertinent to myself, beyond that of my sexual orientation. I'm not sure what role God plays in my bisexuality, but then again I see God as mystery.
Correcting that I wasn’t straight wasn’t, in my mind, a red alert with all hands on deck. Being bisexual for me is a nagging sort of affair, nothing I would consider horribly painful. This is true for others, of course, but not everyone's coming out experience is identical. As I said just now, who I am still remains a constant nagging worry, not a catastrophic illness. But those who know me personally and intimately have observed for themselves that more self-work is to be done and that my work is not yet concluded.

At a different era, I probably would have lived a closeted life, one where my equally genuine desire for women would deflect attention from same-sex attraction. This is the privilege that many bisexuals have. The Friend who spoke this morning seemed to wonder if God has any real place in his own private anguish and whether he had simply assigned the need out of his own desire for healing power of the Divine. That seems to be a bleak, sad place for me, one in which I hope no one remains any longer than necessary.

God is everywhere, just as he stayed with Jesus as he sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are never abandoned, but we need to be guided to the proper questions.

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