Wednesday, December 2, 2009

my Dec 1st

December 2, 2009

The day after World AIDS Day, and I can’t help but wonder, did anyone learn anything yesterday?

Living with the hard reality of unemployment and diminishing financial resources meant that World AIDS Day this year was observed the way I would have done so every year in the last 20+: in silence, in practice and prayer.

World AIDS Day is very personal for me.

It’s not just the loss of my beloved Louis, one of the most extraordinary beings I’ve ever known, co-founder of the first AIDS service organization here in Montreal and defining gift of my life.
It’s not just the 300+ buddies and friends who died in the care of a programme I helped run before moving on to other forms of activism.
It’s not just the great flood of memory and detail of two over-sized decades on the front lines of service and activism locally.
It’s not just the POZ folks I have known, most unforgettably from Africa, through conferences and networking.
It’s also the great wall of chosen indifference we’d thrown ourselves up against again and again for decades now.

It’s also the aching sense I’ve had since the very first time I met a POZ person from Africa that her suffering and the sense that , the obscene suffering of her great continent needn’t have ever happened if Westerners had re-examined their homophobia and stepped forward to help in that first, nightmarish decade of HIV/AIDS when some winter weeks we had folks dying daily.

It's all interconnected.

Sometime mid-afternoon, keeping my ass on the bench and the long-suffering of my creatures had brought me to a space beyond the memories of helpless frustration, loss and the seeming inability to make a real difference; to a reflective space.

Truth is, my life was totally altered by those decades- in more ways that you’d really want to know about.

Truth is, because of the very real courage, passion and grace I witnessed and shared in the lives of those we lost there are just some things I have zero patience with now.

Truth is it can never be the same: the way life was before those two over-sized, transformiatve decades.

Which strangely enough brought me to the seeing just how those years shape and inform my sense of what is going on in our Church at this moment.

The Church and AIDS you ask? Bare with me please.

Sitting there, the silence ended up asking a series of questions.

In those raw, first years before anyone really knew anything much; before AIDS had been normalized and so many careers were being built on the back of HIV AIDS; what were our options- what was our only real option.

To turn up- to step into the very real poverty of the ‘need’.

What did you have to work with?

Nothing much except each other. Let me rephrase that- nothing much but the grace of God in and through each other.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am NOT glamorizing, idealizing, or fondly looking back.
I remember just how little there was in the way of resources; and how much at times, we were able to do with it.
I remember the end of too many months when there was NOTHING to give.
The meals left out in the hospital hallway- on the floor!
Medical staff double-gloved and masked just to take a temperature.
Substandard housing, inadequate welfare and treatments options running out.
Friends carried out of their apartments, while the landlord hovered, impatient to change the lock.
Unpaid bills, unbought winter clothes, the indifference or rejection of families.
Funerals and late night bedside vigils.
The polite avoidance both by too many churches and the corporate sector.
I remember wasting flesh, the rawness of diapers needing to be changed, silent sunken eyes and fetid breath.

Yes, there was also moments of extraordinary grace- so many of them. Laughter, the incredible Christmas parties we somehow organized, the silent defiance of our marches through the gay village and the joy and generosity of our friends when they knew that Louis and I really were a couple.
Mostly, I remember the raw chasm of ineffective helplessness with each death, and none more so than that of my beloved.

Sitting there, a kalidescope of faces and memories- many of them of ‘the moment’ when individual lives broke open to the hard reality and grace of their situation. The naked place where ‘who,’ ‘when,’ ‘how’ became irrelevant; where victimhood was cast off, and Life- every precious moment of it became the only priority.

Which brigs me even closer to this sense of the interconnectedness between the reality we lived then and the current state of our Church.

Current appearances to the contrary- yes inspite of all the noise, the panicked fear, the threats, recriminations, the supercilious posturing and condamnations; we, the Church - let me be more specific, the Anglican Church is standing on very sacred ground, where the Holy Spirit is closer to us than breath, where the transformative possibilities are limitless; where the ‘dream of God,’ and the call to heal Her creation has never been stronger or clearer.

But inherent in that dream- that call, are a few things the Church- our Church has to embrace and own up to; and as I say this the face of one exquisitely precious friend comes to mind. An accomplished correographer and dancer, it was only in that quite, but very sacred moment when she owned her sero-status, that she stepped beyond being a victim of either circumstances or virus and owned the gift of life she had been given, with all its many graces, its gifts and its lessons.

Likewise, I’d suggest there are a few things our Churches have to own up to and own:

1) It’s history, and the suffering & harm it has done in too many lives, the scandal and insanity it has, at times been implicit in- never more so than currently in Uganda.
Buried in this hard but radically freeing truth is a TREMENDOUS gift once we step into the realization that the life, ministry and death of our blessed Lord and Saviour was about anything but power. It was and is about Life

I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.

2) The sacred ambiguity (h/t saint Verna) which contemporary critical study of Scriptural texts calls us into is a wondrous, freeing, ambiguous gift. Within this context it is my understanding that ‘idolatry’ is essentially a futile attempt to control reality, to colonize or franchize the Living God and the sacrament of life itself- usually in the exercise of power.

3) The sacramental gift of the lives, grace and ministry of the faithful laity, and none more so now than the LGBT faithful, who continue to fill our pews, continue to contribute of their gifts and time, and continue to stand witness to that ‘Love beyond our wildest imaging’ in their lives and vocations within a patriarchal monolith which continually wills them back to a ‘crucified place.’
To quote one, very dear sister, ‘when are they going to realize, it’s our best they receive- the best of our loves, our lives and faith.’

Please let me contextualize this within two conversations which began in the weeks before December 1 but which resonated deeply within my practice and observance yesterday.

‘P’ is a man in his thirties, an accountant by profession, a faithful son of the Roman Catholic Church, who recognizing his gender as a gay man chose to remain faithfully celibate, and for more than a decade worked in his diocesan structure as a professional accountant before moving on to work in the corporate sector. ‘P’ knew of me through a family member of his in another city with whom he’d often had issues over her leaving ‘the Church’ over the issues of the ordination of women and the full inclusion of LGBT faithful. ‘P’ like too many closeted faithful was ‘the Church’s’ staunchest defender' in their ‘discussions he told me ironically.’

Two things in particular brought ‘P’ ‘to the wall,’ to use his words: ‘taking on’ James Carroll’s ‘Practicing Catholic’ and subsequently the ‘arrogant pronouncement of the American Council of Bishops’ on the efficacy of end of life suffering.

‘It all just shattered- like that’ he told me through audible tears. ‘Carroll is right- so much of it is man-made b.s. inflicted on a Jesus-hungry faithful to shore up the power of a bunch of old men in skirts.

There was one paragraph in particular ‘P’ read to me over the phone:

‘When the Gospels have Jesus ‘predicting’ the destruction of the Temple and identifying himself as the replacement, they are describing an after-the-fact adaption that Jesus’ followers made to what the Romans had already done. Writing in 80 or 100 a story that claims to be happening in 30, they bring into that story, as prophecy, the decisive destruction of the Temple in 70. The Temple will be destroyed, Jesus says, because the Jews are rejecting him. But the rejection in question is experienced not by Jesus in 30, but by Jesus’ followers in 80 or 90 or 100, afer the Temple has been destroyed.
James Carroll, ‘Practicing Catholic’ pp 143

‘Why were we never taught this? How can they continue to teach inerrancy,’ ‘P’ challenged me over the phone.

The other conversation began almost two weeks earlier, from ‘E’ in her late forties; single mother of two adult children; a narcotics officer seconded for a year to an American federal agency. ‘Away from home for a year’ on this posting, she’d quite innocently asked the pastor of the Lutheran Church she is currently attending for some reading suggestions for the long evenings she spends alone in her’ temporary quarters.’

‘E’ was reading Marcus Borg when she called- referred by that same pastor who has been an online friend of mine for more than two years now.

‘Jesus, Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary’ was the volume in question, and ‘the wall’ ‘E’ had hit was Borg’s chronological de-construction of Scripture.

Rather than weeping, ‘E’ was angry- without being sure who the real target was, and uncomfortable sharing what she was feeling with her interim pastor, ‘someone I barely know,’ she told me without being aware of the irony of speaking to an absolute stranger long distance.

When my initial suggestion, that what was really going on here was a call from the Holy Spirit, an invitation to embrace both a larger life and a larger faith, ‘E’s anger and the pain beneath it found its bullseye- yours truly.

Less than an hour later she called back, and we talked, prayed in our respective silences, and yes, even laughed late into the night. (Danged time differences!)

Several times ‘E’ quoted to me what I sensed were the articles of the faith of her particular denomination, none of which I ever challenged.

However I did suggest they might be only part of the picture, a ‘particular context.’

Sometime after midnight, with me asking questions more than anything ‘E’ was silent for several very long moments. ‘... I think I’m finally getting it... there’s God, and there’s the Church, and what I’ve been doing... what I’ve been holding on to is the Church, not God.’

I reminded her of her own family’s story, how one of her grandfathers or great grandfathers had literally been responsible for much of the construction and all of the beautiful carving in the prairie church she still considered her spiritual home, and that there is real beauty in all of that.

‘Yes, but Church without... personal relationship with God is... rules and real estate.’

We actually ended up discussing ‘the gift of Borg,’ how the scholarship he shares can be used as a lense- an always incomplete lense, for ‘seeing through the structure to God waiting for us in the very sacrament of our lives.

Yes, we actually talked about the sacrament of ‘E’s’ life, and that’s when there were tears.

‘E’ I sent back to her pastor with the suggestion that perhaps they might want to start a group study of Borg’s book.

‘P,’ with his permission I put him in touch with a gay Episcopal priest I know of in his city. Not for conversion- for friendship.

Their first contact was when ‘P turned up ‘unannouced’ at Sunday Eucharist, and sat there in tears, ‘at the sheer wonder if it all. So many tears I almost didn’t go up to receive the Sacrament,’ he told me.

‘P’ and his new friend have got together several times, for an ‘incredible meal’ at the rectory, for a film 'that had nothing to do with anything but laughter,' and several long walks.

‘E’s’ last e-mail to me closed with ‘ not a cloud in the sky. Everything is indeed possible with God.’

And sitting there late last night it all fit together- my understanding of the great blessings our ordained sisters have brought our Church; the awesome miracle of November 2, 2003 and the truly great gift the faithful of New Hampshire gave our Church; the frightened noisy theatrics from what another friend calls ‘the peanut gallery of the Anglican purity police’; the persistent wonder of the faithfulness and generosity of so very many LGBT lives within our Church and the life-affirming powerful ways in which the Holy Spirit is using those lives to bring us into ‘life more abundantly.’

Yes, there were tears, of love and thankfulness, of awe and remembrance.

Thanks be to God.