Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!



(Elton John, April 2, 2009 concert, Laramie, WY)

Psalm 51:6:

"You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart."

On October 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard died as a result of injuries he sustained when two men savagely pistol-whipped him, beat him, and left him for dead hanging from a rail fence near Laramie, WY. Their plan was to rob a gay man by enticing him with the pretense of being gay in order to gain the victim's trust. In essence, Matt died because he admitted who he was.

At the time of Matthew's death, I remember wishing that no one should ever have to die for telling the truth about themselves.

Recent stories of multiple suicides involving bullied gay youth have been spreading like wildfire in the news; twelve years later, it appears we are not much better at making this world an accepting place for ten percent of the people in it. Sure, the times, they are a-changin'--but we are still nowhere close to "there" yet.

In my 20 years of teaching medical students, I sometimes laugh to myself at how it seems I have attracted students who needed to "try out" their "coming out story" in my office as a safe space. Maybe it's because I'm roughly the age of their parents these days. Maybe it's because, as I joke to my friends, "The butchest straight woman you ever did see," and the student's mistake in assigning MY orientation made them feel they have an immediate ally. Maybe it's because I have the rep around the hospital of "You can tell her anything and, yeah, she might blow a gasket at first, but once she's over it, she sits down and listens in a different way and makes you feel like you can see your way out of it." Maybe all of the above.

Over the years, I have come to grin at how surprised they seem at my being relatively nonplused about their big admission. Often my response is pretty bland..."Uh...okay, well, that's out on the table now, huh? Now what do you want to talk about?" or "Well...I kinda figured that out already," or "I think you're pretty neat for who you are, and I don't really care if you're pea green or have purple polka dots all over you, gay, straight, whatever." So many times, they twist and turn over their big revelation and I am pretty much, "Ok, so?" about it. Then they start telling me about who they HAVEN'T told yet, and we talk a little about that.

But I keep forgetting so many people in the world aren't as nonplused. I keep forgetting that there are other people out there that want to beat them to a bloody pulp, or psychologically torment them, or family members who will feel ashamed of them.

Worse yet, God help me, I keep forgetting that what sustains me in all the trials and tribulations of this world--my faith in God through the redemption of the world by his son Jesus Christ--is too often used as a weapon against these young people.

Oh, Lord, help me to stop being so blind to my own naiveté.

I was so proud of my little parish Sunday night. On Oct. 10, we dedicated our monthly Taizé service to the rash of young men who had recently committed suicide as a result of being bullied because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. You can see the local TV newslink here. I was proud that we are a group of believers that are not afraid to believe out loud.

I'm going to be up front here--this is a terribly touchy issue in discussions with other Christians, particularly those of the more fundamentalist variety. But I'm going to give you the short version of "How I can be a person of faith and not lose a wink of sleep over homosexuality."

Let me start by saying I am a person who takes the Bible very, very seriously, but not literally. I am also a lifelong learner of history and the sociology of history at the time it was happening.

I know what those few verses in Leviticus say. I know what some things in Paul's letters say. But I cannot divorce myself from what was going on in the world of those people at the time.

The first five books of the Old Testament are the history of a nomadic people who had to work hard at merely surviving. They knew that surviving meant to make babies, and to have some degree of public health so masses of people didn't die from eating tainted food or catching contagious disease. That, to me, is mostly what Leviticus was about. Leviticus is harsh on any form of sexual activity that a) doesn't result in the possibility of babies, and b) leaves up for grabs whether someone's a bastard and the community will have an inheritance law problem on their hands. I personally believe all the hoo-haa in Leviticus is more about that, and less about who sticks who's part in what place. Even then, they were more concerned about men's parts than women's parts. The common belief in those days that baby-making power was all about the man, and the woman was just the "vessel," the "incubator" for all that man stuff that made babies.

Priests in OT days were also the de facto doctors of the community, so the easiest way to promote public health (and baby production) was to make it a religious issue. The great unwashed were far more likely to obey God than only obey the jerk in the shiny robe.

We've singled those "homosexuality" passages out in way beyond the rest of it. We eat bacon, we wear cotton-poly blend, we plant hybrid trees, and no one goes berserk about any of us being cast into Hell over it.

As for Paul's letters, the more I read about the secular writings of the times, the more I am convinced that Paul's mind was more on the Roman practices of pederasty and sexual slavery and prostitution and orgiastic behavior than it was on two loving, caring human beings in a same sex monogamous relationship. For all practical intents and purposes, the latter just wasn't done publicly, so it would not be addressed as a "problem."

Paul was a guy who had a lot on his plate. He was trying to keep the early Church in one piece. How in the world were all these men and women, Jews and Gentiles going to pull it off without killing each other, while the Romans were trying to kill them all? The Romans didn't even really care so much about their beliefs other than the fact that a new religious order could cut the revenues of the temple tax and and create a social insurgence counter to "normal" Roman-influenced life in the Roman Empire...and the Romans had cast their lot in the Jewish portions of the Empire to align in an uneasy relationship with Judaism. Some new religion could upset the power balance.

In short, it was all about the money and the power on the Roman end, and it was all about solidarity on Paul's end.

So sometimes, honestly, I think Paul just got to ranting, in the way parents rant on car trips when they have had too much, "Mom! Dad! He's touching me! Make him stop touching me! Mom! Dad! He's LOOKIN' at me! Make him stop it!" Worse yet, it's confounded by the problem that it appears very likely other authors later tacked some stuff on Paul's words. Plagiarism wasn't even a concept 2000 years ago. In fact, it was quite the opposite--if you were a good writer, and considered a prophet of any sort, it was very likely someone WOULD use your stuff and add to it or change it around to suit THEIR needs. Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery.

The third thing that stands out in my head is that Jesus said NOTHING about the topic of homosexuality. Zero. Zip. Nada. But he sure said a lot about divorce that seems to be ignored, and he sure said a lot about caring for the poor that doesn't seem to matter to a lot of people, and he sure said a lot about loving people we personally find icky. There's enough right there to keep the world busy for a while.

So ultimately, I came to a decision for myself. I just sort of decided that I was not going to worry my expanding head with homosexuality as an impediment to the Heavenly Kingdom. If, God forbid, St. Peter bars the door to me on my arrival, it will be more likely because of something a lot more important than how I feel about gays and lesbians getting married to each other and raising children in committed, loving relationships. Heterosexuals haven't exactly set the world on fire in our abilities to play house and be nice to our kids, so if the GLBT world wants to give it a go, bring it on!

It made me committed to make everyone feel our Eucharistic table is for everyone. That table has sustained me through some pretty dark periods. I want EVERYONE to feel free to come to this table. I find myself aching over my friends in Christ who don't feel this way, and I find my heart aching for troubled youth who have enough trouble in their life as it is, to feel like "...and God doesn't like 'em either." Kids are so gun-shy about being loved by God as it is, and we don't help it by using God as the bait-and-switch to try to "convert" them back into heterosexuality, or using God as the shillelagh to beat them over the head on account of their "wickedness."

I simply won't do it.

I continue to pray that we have even more churches out there who begin to believe out loud in the mandate to seek and serve Christ in all people, as outlined in our Baptismal Covenant.

If you get a chance, also drop by and read this wonderful service written by my blog friend MadPriest, to remember the life of Matthew Shepard. I am humbled that he chose to use my litany for the intercessions in this service. (I also have to admit his being a speaker of the "Queen's English" adds some real BBC-kinda class to my northeast Missouri words!)

Matt's death should never have happened. But because it did, we need to turn our hearts in a way that teaches us not to propagate the hate that led to it.

2 comments:

Dang.... I thought I was the butchest straight woman around...

WV: codson
hmmmm

We can alternate days and flip for Sundays, Margaret!

I still like our friend Elizabeth's line on FB one time when they were going down the "lesbian list"--things like comfortable shoes, can't accessorize, carries a pocketknife, like flannel shirts, etc. I kept going, "Damn. That's another." She finally said, "If the lesbian police were rounding everyone up, you'd be in jail, and I'd walk." LOL

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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