Monday, September 21, 2015

Not Just a Mild Abrasion

I'm about to do the equivalent of Facebook "Vague-booking."

But I want to put this out there, in all it's ambiguity.

I hope I've never, in this blog, pretended that the church is always a safe place. It certainly isn't for everyone. Despite being gay, I've come through my lifetime in the church pretty well intact. I did my coming out in a safe congregation. I've long been aware of all kinds of ways that the church has blessed me where others have been beaten and broken.

I've also just realized that not all wounds are cuts or broken bones. Not all wounds are that sharp and sudden and obvious.

This is how I described it to someone today: It's like a spot that has rubbed raw. It may have started out as a mild abrasion, but eventually, it gets ugly. Like a bed sore. But because it starts as a mild abrasion I could treat it that way. No big deal, just a scrape.

This past weekend, I had a visit with my spiritual director. I've been seeing him for over a year and I've sometimes wondered what it was doing. It felt like a regularly scheduled ramble session by me, with a very kind man listening. Sometimes I just complained. I can't imagine it's been pleasant for him. Still, he said he saw "movement" (a word he prefers to "progress") and I've come to trust him. Movement seemed reason enough to keep the appointment, even if I didn't necessarily feel it myself.

Then this past weekend---I don't know what happened. I think maybe I/we got more specific than usual (certainly more specific than this blog post). I could see a light go on for him. He realized the depth of something I think I've talked about before, but this time he saw a specific consequence. Maybe that's what happened. He might say otherwise.

But the light going on for him somehow illuminated my own story. He saw something and he seeing it somehow made it legitimate. He saw the wound and I saw it through his eyes.

He saw it as significant and I can no longer pretend it's "no big deal."

I've thought about this all day today. Pondered it in my heart, to use biblical language. The bed sore image makes sense on many levels. Paralysis, not moving, is what leads to bed sores.

It's past time to turn over and give it a chance to heal.

The "movement" seems to be a breeze, but it's moving. She's moving. Mysteriously.

Come, renew the face of the earth. I have a glimmer, today, that it's possible.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stories and Their Ends

I'm in downtown Houston daily for work. This means regular interaction with homeless people. I don't mind, mostly. I mean, I can be as impatient and hurried as the next person, and a request for money, particularly when I don't have any, is just plain annoying.

But I appreciate their survival tactics. I admire their storytelling. Sometimes, I hear the same story twice (or more) and I've begun to count the change or dollar in my pocket as part of my entertainment budget.

One fellow, who I ran into a couple of times over a year ago, had a bit of a "absent" sound and look about him, but he had a detailed story about being displaced by a storm (even if there hadn't been one in months) and having a child in a hospital, where his wife was at the moment, and that if he had just five more dollars, he could afford a place for he and his wife to spend the night. He sounded tired, beleaguered, and despite what I describe as "absence" in his voice and look, he had this story down pat. I would say that each time I heard it, it was almost word for word in the retelling. I've worked with experienced actors who have done less well with each performance of a play. (Heck, I've been that actor.) So, he impresses me with his ability to give me the same performance twice, his ability to play the part of a beleaguered father, his general "stage presence," if you will. I'm sure he's not finding a place to stay that night with his wife, but I don't mind paying for that performance.

Another guy that I've run into a couple of times, has a different schtick. He usually brushes by in a hurry but greets me as he passes. Of course, I respond, even if it's only a head nod. This is his cue to start the script. "Excuse me sir, but I just want to thank you. You are the first person to so much as acknowledge me in two days. You were obviously raised by fine parents who taught you respect other people."

Thank you, I say, as I get ready for the rest, which has a bit more improvisation to it. The last time was a plea for a dollar so he could catch a bus home. Sure, why not. A compliment not only to me but to my parents is worth a dollar.

I realize these stories are told with a purpose, succinctly, survival. I get lectured now and then by one friend or another about what these men (almost always me) do with this dollar, but I have to say, I don't much care how they spend it. If it's for a drug habit, which is sad and also quite possible, I figure giving them a dollar for a performance is better than them getting desperate and resorting to more dangerous---to themselves or others---means of getting that dollar. I'm pretty sure my withholding of a dollar is not going to make them suddenly go to rehab, either.

All of which is interesting or not. It's so common that it's probably not.

But to wind up, the last time I ran into this latter fellow, a question came to mind. It seems to me that both homeless people and churches are complained about because they ask for money. It's fair to say, I think, that both tell stories in order to get that money.

I know that some stories are told only with an end in mind.

And I'm left with my questions about what survival I'm helping with, what theater I support, what outright lies am I willing to accept in exchange for the money in my pocket.

These questions have been churning---diving underneath, out of sight and mind, rising to remind me they're there---and like churning things do, I'm slightly unsettled by the question.

I have no conclusion to draw except I think it's a good sort of unsettled. I share them to share the unsettling.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Curious Case of Kim Davis

No doubt, you've heard of the Kentucky county clerk who is now in jail for not fulfilling her duties, i.e., issuing marriage licenses to couples of the same gender. I don't want to add much more print to the issue. There are plenty of articles about her, about how she may or may not be used as a martyr cannon fodder for a larger anti-gay agenda, about how sexist some of the reaction to her has been (really, how she dresses or wears her hair is NOT the issue and reveals some nasty anti-woman and classist currents in our nation), and whether or not she will come out ahead financially in the end, thanks to a likely book deal or whatever.

It's not that I don't care about those things, because I do (particularly the anti-woman and classist currents in this incident). What I'm having trouble with is a really big part of the  arguments against her.

It's the "do your job" argument.

Yes, there is some validity to it, I suppose, and "do it or find a job more aligned with your belief system" is, likewise, a valid choice in the matter.

But assuming that she's acting out of sincerely held moral misgivings about same-sex marriage, I do react to the calls for her to blithely disregard her convictions.

Because, honestly, I might hold convictions that could conceivably get me in trouble in job situations. Luckily, I've not come up against them, but just the fact that I'm gay and am determined to live as an out gay man has potential for all kinds of issues.

The thing is, while I heartily disagree with the analogy, I can see where some people might say, "do your job or quit" might be said of any number of horrendous historical situations. The go-to example, of course, is the Holocaust, but that's hardly the only one available to us. Any number of military actions taken by any number of nations (including---maybe especially---my own) might also fit here.

So, what I hear from the people saying "do your job" is that conscience doesn't matter. And that troubles me deeply.

While I'm not a big practitioner of it (a character flaw), I am something of a fan of civil disobedience. Of course, I prefer when the issue aligns with my personal agenda, but I have more than a little respect for people who defy the powers that be, even when I agree with those powers.

I mean, I'd rather be writing about someone who, in defiance of court orders, had been issuing marriage licenses to gay couples long before the Supreme Court said it was the law of the land. Heck, I'd rather be writing about someone who, on religious conviction, wouldn't sell a gun or who on conscience wouldn't sell subpar baby formula to developing countries, compromising children's health. There's all kinds of ways I'd cheer on someone breaking the rules at work on grounds of conscience.

So while I, again, deeply disagree with Kim Davis' convictions, I have to say, she was willing to stand by them and suffer the consequences by going to jail.

Now, having said that . . .

A more fruitful conversation, it seems to me, would be to talk about why her convictions are misguided, why the particular brand of religion she's claiming is lacking in Good News, how she could have a change of heart and mind (metanoia) and fulfill her duties in good conscience.

But I've long since learned that I want more subtle and nuanced conversations about things than the dominant culture can bear.

So . . . all this to confess that I have multifaceted feelings about the case of Kim Davis.

All I have to say, in closing, is that I can only pray that the Spirit moves in her heart and mind to help her meet the God of ever-widening welcome. I don't take great pleasure in her jail time. I'd rather she be converted and return to her job. I'd like for her to be able to, without troubled conscience, issue marriage licenses to any two people, whatever their gender. 


Post script: I have deep doubts that I'll get my wish, at least not anytime soon. Once a conviction is made in national media, it takes a super-heroic level of humility to back away from it, and I don't know that she has the support system around her that would make that humility possible. I don't say my prayer with much naivete. Still, I pray it. I'd like a good miracle story to come out of this. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I Saw a Peace Maker Today

I don't know exactly what was going on. This is just a scene I came upon. It was troubling but not without hope. But I don't know exactly what I saw.

I'll just describe it as best I can.

Cast of characters:

A white guy in a wheelchair, dirty, long tangled, blond hair; a hard life obscured his age (40-60 is my best guess). His right foot was missing, leg cut off about halfway down his shin. His left arm was in a cast. He was agitated.

A large Hispanic man, probably twice the size/weight of the wheelchair guy. Jeans and denim shirt, cowboy hat. Working class, I'd guess,  but with a demeanor that makes me think he's used to being in charge.

A black woman, shorter than me, close-cropped hair. In current jargon, she had skills, as I'll reveal.

I got off the train at Wheeler station, as I do on my way home, to transfer to a bus. Before the train stopped, I could see the two men were engaged in a physical struggle. At first glance, I thought the big guy was maybe a constable or sheriff department, some sort of lawman but not in a policeman's uniform. I think I guessed that at first because he had some things clipped to his belt, but as I got closer, I could see none of them were guns.

But I couldn't tell what was going on. The wheelchair guy was struggling against the bigger man, but was he having a seizure? Were they actually fighting? It became apparent that they were fighting, or as much as a one-footed man with an arm cast could fight. People were telling the wheelchair guy to let go and I saw he had hold of the Hispanic man's shirt, had pulled it almost completely open. The wheelchair guy had a bit of a wild look about him---perhaps I would too if I were being held down by a man twice my size and more able-bodied.

The black woman was in it, trying to tell the wheelchair man to let go, telling the bigger man to step back. Neither were listening to her at first.

I overheard a Metro employee tell someone she'd already called the Metro police.

Not knowing what was going on, I just stood and watched, made a point of it. I ran through my summer of being a chaplain to see if there was anything there that I might pull up to use, but I came up empty. In the present moment, no one appeared to be getting hurt, the two men just holding on to each other, the woman trying to talk them apart.

Enter a white woman, about the same age of the wheelchair man. She also had long, tangled hair, was sunburned, and had other markers of a hard life, but she had all her limbs. She ran up shouting, "He's my brother, he's my brother!"

It was not a happy family reunion. The wheelchair guy seemed not at all interested in seeing her, struggled against her as much as against the Hispanic man. The most useful thing I did the whole time was pick up the wheelchair guy's cap and place in in the wheelchair beside his leg. The only useful the thing the sister did was she got the larger man to turn his attention to her. She started pleading with him, "don't take him to the jail, take him to the alcoholic place. Please! Please! don't take him to the jail, take him to the alcoholic place!" She soon walked away crying.

The black woman moved in to the wheelchair guy and spoke softly to him. I couldn't hear her and he responded as softly. He had tears in his eyes and she nodded, sometimes smiled. She squatted down beside his chair and he calmed down as she talked to him.

The police arrived. I had stepped back, but stepped forward again, not in the way, but presenting myself as a witness, less to the altercation than to whatever the police might do next. Too many news accounts lately make me wary of how police handle situations.

Thankfully, these policemen (and they were all men) were calm and professional, one talking to a Metro employee on the train platform, another talking to the Hispanic man. None of them said much to the wheelchair guy, other than an initial "what's going on?" Maybe they all knew each other.

It was the black woman who I watched now. She became the hero of the story in my eyes. She continued to squat by the wheelchair, talking softly, listening, soothing this troubled man.

I remain puzzled by what happened. I didn't see the beginning, have no idea what started it all. My bus came and I boarded, feeling as useless as I had been the whole time. It seemed the worst had passed.

But I had seen a peacemaker, blessed be she, child of God.

In this great big beautiful world, there is so much hurt and trouble, but we are not left without hope.