Wake Up - Witness to the Church

IMG_0062.JPG

I have an interesting relationship to the Church. As a religious under vows, I am bound to Obedience to the Church’s Canons, Constitution, and Creeds. Regardless of whether I agree with them. However, because I am not ordained to Holy Orders, but as a religious bound to a different Rule of Life, I am not bound by oaths of conformity, I don’t belong to the Bishop of my Diocese as Deacon’s do, and I have few constraints on my ability to speak truthfully to the Church without fear of censure. As a religious Brother, I am part of a long line of traditions, communities, and individuals that have often been thorny for the hierarchy of the Church, who freely spoke truth to her powerful “princes” to call them back from willful disobedience to the Gospel.

Generally speaking, I have no problem with those individuals who make up the structures of authority that govern our Church. When it comes to Bishops and Priests and Deacons, I am of the view that Deacon’s do the better work; Priests are generally better prepared for administration rather than pastoral care; and Bishops are…well for the most part I think they’ve fallen so deeply (generally speaking) into the corridors of power that it makes them less Chief Pastors and more like corporate CEOs concerned more with profit margins and restructuring than anything else. And lay people are rarely given any reason to do the hard work of Gospel witness when the clergy do it for them.

There aren’t nearly enough women bishops, and only token LGBTQ representation, regardless of the gifts particular individuals bring. And historically, Bishops have been more inclined to support the status quo rather than entertain any kind of prophetic stance that serves the Gospel mandate.

Recent conversations on Obedience and Prophetic Witness with one of my brothers have caused me to look reflectively at the question of my filial duties to a Church that I love, and the fact that I spend a great deal of time calling out the Church and its institutions for its often blatant disregard for people and communities who are the most marginalized and its role in that continued marginalization.

I have no doubt that those who hold Holy Orders in the Church are largely good people with good and noble intentions. I have no quibble with individuals by and large, although like anyone there are those who I think are good at their jobs and those I think aren’t. But my concern is not with the folks who hold these jobs. It is with the institution and its lethargy; the Church’s blindness about the difference between saying something and actually doing it; the Church’s willingness over and again to tell marginalized people to wait for justice and inclusion and welcome until the Church has suffered through 30 years of study committees. Only to discover that once the Church welcomes and says it includes that institutional behavior changes very little despite whatever legislation it passes and resolutions it affirms. The Church has spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort coddling those who resent inclusion and equality in the Church, always by asking those at her doors to wait. Wait. Wait!  And when the tide changes and say women are ordained; or LGBTQ folk are welcomed to full sacramental life; the cultural patterns of the Church take a generation or more to change.

The Church pays little attention to this reality. It becomes institutionally self-congratulatory, but spends so little time outside of its own walls as to make these changes relatively meaningless to those who actually inhabit the margins. Women still confront glass ceilings. LGBTQ folk outside still believe the Church has no love for them. Trans folks still find little welcome and less understanding.

In 1804, Absalom Jones became the first African American priest. It took 70 years for the first African American Bishop, James Theodore Holly. over 100 years later our first female African American Bishop. She received death threats. We just elected our first African American Presiding Bishop. In 2016.  And my goodness, how we congratulated ourselves. But, when I point out the Church’s racism, you’d think I was just being irrational.

Women’s ordination began in the 1970’s. In 1989 we elected our first woman Bishop. In 2006, our first female Presiding Bishop. We currently only have 5 diocesan Bishops who are women in the entire Episcopal Church. Women routinely make less than men, struggle to have their ministries recognized, and often are subjected to misogyny in the halls of the Church. Yet, when I point this out, the only people who know what I’m saying seem to be the women.

LGBTQ people? I barely know where to start. Human sexuality and the inclusion of LGBTQ people was discussed for over 40 years before there was really any movement other than empty platitudes. In 1990, a Bishop was accused of heresy for ordaining an openly gay man as priest. He had the charges dismissed after ecclesial trial…six years later. In 2003, we elected our first openly gay bishop. But it took until 2009 to pass a resolution stating that God’s call was open to all. It took another 3 years to include trans* people at all, and begin blessing our relationships. And another 3 before marriage was opened to all. And yet, the Church has little or no understanding of LGBTQ culture. It doesn’t step outside of its walls enough to learn about our identity and our pride. As long as we conform to its expectations, then we’re all good. The Church doesn’t see its homophobia. And it certainly doesn't see its transphobia. It thinks its work is done. When I point out its not done, the Church blusters and pouts.

I often tread a wire, much like the deacons in our Church, between the world and the institution. Trying to be a link between them. But my ministry is not about bringing those outside into the Church, as much as it's about bringing the Church out into the world. To see the actual lives of those whom the Church has historically harmed, and trying to get them to rebuild relationships that aren't dependent upon whether anyone sets foot within her walls. It is not easy work. It is often thankless. And too often, the Church just doesn't get it. But, if I believed the Church *couldn't* get it...I'd simply stop trying. I continue to have faith the Church will catch up.

As a religious vowed to Obedience, my job is to witness to what it means to obey the commands of Christ, to love God and neighbor; to embrace the outcast; reject power politics; to see God as Sovereign rather than the powers of this world, that Scripture reminds us belongs to another less savory Ruler. My job, under Obedience, is to point out the Church's disobedience to Christ's commands and call it to deeper commitment to justice and mercy. That's the witness of religious. What it means to take Christ's teaching seriously regardless of the cost. Even if that cost leads to death, like it did for Jesus and the prophets.

So, if the Church rebels and blusters...ok. But resist as it might, God will win. God will win with the love of souls. And if the Church follows, then it will have served its noble purpose. It will fulfill its promise as the body Christ left for us to do the work of the Kingdom until such time as God in Christ refashions the world and makes all things perfect. But the Church should have a care that it doesn't squander its inheritance by gatekeeping and indifference. By disobedience. By isolation.

I love the Church. But I love God's beloved children more. And witnessing to the love of God in a mad world is the work I have committed to...even when it means doing so because the Church has failed to do so. A painful work when I believe in my heart of hearts that the Church can love this way and too often chooses not to. Love isn't about resolutions, and legislation. It's about action. It's about relationship. It's about risk that those you welcome may actually change you into a greater vision of the Reign of Love that God has in mind. It's not about inclusion for its own sake, but so that those included may bring the fullness of their gifts to the work of healing the world. And the Church can't take up that work when it's still ensnared in the work of wounding.

Lent and Sacred Resistance

We live in a time of terrible sin. Not merely the horrifying weight of institutional degradation and policies that foment discord. But our own deeply personal sin is now being given extraordinary permission to flourish without check. Consider…

We have fallen prey to forces that negate our neighbor,

We have chosen division over community,

We have chosen to marginalize the poor and dehumanize them,

We have chosen to no longer offer welcome to the stranger,

We have cultivated hatred and resentment rather than love.

Lent cannot have arrived soon enough. For those of us who do the work of resistance, it has to start with self-examination. We have to own responsibility for our own sin. We can’t call anyone to resist if we, ourselves, haven’t done the work of internalized resistance to the temptations of isolation, power, and scapegoating.

We cannot do the work of sacred resistance as long as we see the battle as a zero-sum game, where in order for some to win others have to lose. God’s grace is bigger than that. In fact, the entire project of sacred resistance is about bearing witness to the fact that God’s grace is BIGGER THAN THAT!

Sacred resistance is about doing the work of overthrowing policies, not people. It is about saying no to the politics of division, exclusion, and economic punishment. It is about saying no to the demonization of the poor, people of color, sexual minorities, and women. 

Lent is a time for self-reflection that is not just about getting right with God. It is also about getting right with the world…with neighbor and friend; with ally and antagonist. It is about recognizing the way that the world directly contradicts the work of God toward the beloved-ness of all people, and recognizing our own complicity and disregard for the lowly and oppressed.

It is a time to reflect on the work we have to do to embody sacred resistance, by examining our own sin, our own mortality, and our own fears of scarcity. Pray, fast, give alms. These aren’t the goals but the means by which we confront our sin. Not for a season only, but so that it becomes a pattern of holiness to understand the root of our participation - blind or not - in the mechanisms of the world that leave some of God’s beloved children behind. 

We cannot serve the powerless from a place of power. Only from a place of humility and service. We can’t cease from judgment of others until we have judged our own selves rightly, under the watchful gaze of the God who calls us to love and serve as signs of God’s abundant care for all. The love God gives is not to reserve for ourselves as signs of our spiritual journey, but only for sharing with those who don’t yet know their beloved-ness.

So, if you are called to sacred resistance, use this Lent for the purpose of uncovering those things hidden from the foundation of the world…the works of violence, sin, and privilege that infect our hearts and close them off to one another. If we don’t do this, then our work will perish.

Love and Freedom

IMG_6315.JPG

Love is the most costly when it is framed by freedom. But it is also truer. This love allows the beloved to be fully who they are, to make mistakes, to grow. This love isn't frozen in time and place, but increases to make space for the beloved to become who they were meant to be. No matter how long it takes. This is how God loves. Endlessly. Freely. With our imperfections. In our mistakes. Patiently. Knowing that a love that controls our will and our choices will only suffocate us. But a love that is centered on our freedom to respond gives us endless possibilities to become who we are in our fullest selves.

On Wholeness

IMG_6311.JPG

Being fully committed to your spiritual life isn’t about some ascetic practice that will free you from whatever supposed human characteristics that block you from God. It is instead a way to embrace your humanity more fully and more completely. It is about finding joy rather than putting it away. It is about enjoying the body you inhabit even with its limitations, seeing your mind in all of its unpredictability and complexity, and honoring your emotions without judging whether they are right. The spiritual life is the humble contemplation of your own self as utterly connected to everything else and finding peace in letting go of the belief that you can control the world around you. The spiritual life is about rejoicing that God, and all of Creation, find their fullest expression in you as you are; and that finding your wholeness is the first great act of reciprocity to the unquenchable love that brought you into being. It is quite simply the discovery that God is already within you.

Queering the Church?

I do not see my ministry and its responsibilities as entailing either queering the Church nor churching the queer community. I believe my work is about demonstrating to both, in light of a long history of suspicion, persecution, divisiveness, and degradation, that God holds us both in love and favor for the gifts each brings to human life and joy. It is to our peril that we fail to recognize the gifts every human community, indeed every human person, offers without either holding up the Church as the only right model, or declaring that some expressions of love are less authentic or holy than others. It is my work to hold both my beloved Queer community and my beloved Church in tension with one another and to demonstrate that they share a common inheritance in God’s love, as do all the beloved creatures of God, and that they need not be opposed to one another. They are both inheritors of love. Healing and reconciliation are possible, and they have things to share with one another that both need. The Church needs a more truthful (by truthful I mean what IS) understanding of what God’s demonstrable, holy, self-sacrificing love looks like in the actual world; and the queer community would do well to embrace their truth - breaking open of the gift of their own expression of love that transcends the Church’s rigid ideas of what is acceptable. I am not in the world among my queer siblings to bring them to Church. They may do that if they wish. I am in the world to bring God - as I am able and willing - to those who wish for God IN SPITE OF the Church. To say God’s ways are not the Church’s ways, or my ways. 

And I am afraid to say that the Church doesn’t get to set the boundaries of what that love looks like. What configuration it takes. The Church doesn’t get to try to co-opt queer experience into her own rites and rituals to feel good about itself, or to pat itself on the back for being inclusive (all of a sudden) to those it has marginalized for centuries. And, likewise, the queer community would do well to understand that the Church has the means to demonstrate ways to show forth our lives to greater purpose than that which we have chosen for ourselves, having been taught by the world to expect no more than we’ve been given. Or having been taught we are worth less than who we truly are. The language of holy love is the Church's. Not that our love isn't holy, but that we too often lack language for it. The language of unadulterated and unapologetic love is ours. Not that the Church is in the business of apologizing for love. It doesn't. Love is messy and complicated and holy and exalted and unendingly and variously beautiful. And in God's love, there is surely room for all of it together; and the language that we need to describe it, to celebrate it, and to honor and sanctify it belongs to us all. Not just the Church. And no matter what you've heard, the queer community has it in spades. And it's not that we merely need to learn about it from the Church. The Church needs to learn about love from us.

Lent As De-Centering

Turn these stones into bread.

Throw yourself from this tower and let the angels catch you.

Bow down before me and all these kingdoms shall be yours.

Do you think Jesus needed the Devil’s help to accomplish these things? Since Jesus is God, then not likely. This is the conundrum of Lent. Jesus neither succumbed to the temptation offered by Satan, nor did he do for himself what was plainly within his power to do. Those of us who are privileged could stand to learn a lesson in this story.

What is within our power to do that we don’t do for the sake of standing with those who don’t have power at all? Is this not one of the calls for Lent? To examine our power and to willingly relinquish it for a time of reflection and de-centering of our own concerns? Or, perhaps, to take our power and use it for ends and means that are not to our own benefit, but to the benefit of others? 

These are the questions I wrestle with during Lent. The question of power and privilege. The question of limits, self-imposed or otherwise, that allow me to remember not my own place, per se, but my small place among countless others who also have a place and also those who, perhaps, don’t. To make room for those with no place! To take myself out of the center and to center the needs and concerns of others who have been robbed of power. To remember what is within my power and what is not. And to not succumb to the temptations the world offers that would cause me to exercise my power wrongly over others. Likewise with my privilege.

The Lenten call to remember our mortality; the call to pray, fast, and give; is about de-centering ourselves. To remember our contingency and our dependence, to symbolically deny ourselves the fulfillment of every want, and to give of our own bounty to those who have less or nothing at all. Nothing puts things into clearer perspective than the inevitability of our death. Nothing more powerfully symbolic than to remember we are dust, like all things once were, like every being once was, and that we will one day find ourselves returning to that dust. To deny that we are dust is to miss the point of Lent. But we are beloved dust. Dust with dignity. Dust with holy purpose. Dust with choice! For a cloud of dust has no center. There is no single grain of it that exercises power over the rest. And it is the wind, the Spirit of God, that moves the dust to where it will. 

What choices will we make this Lent that is informed by our dust-ness? 

What will we do with the temptation to center ourselves and our own concerns during Lent? Will we give away our self-centered concerns to the powers of this world that tempt? That defile the dignity of the human soul? Or will we, like Jesus, choose not to do this nor even call upon our own powers to manipulate the world to our own ends? 

God, help me to remember my place.

 

 

Love is Enough

IMG_6308.JPG

The only boundary between us and the outsider is our fear. Fear that to be in relationship with the “other” means that we will lose ourselves. Fear that the “other” may indeed transform us. But it is not merely the other that will transform us, but it is love that will change us. “Perfect love casts out fear,” as the Scripture reminds us. But what does this mean? What it means is that we must acknowledge that we are more deeply human and more fully in God when we have put down fear and picked up love. I don’t mean the trite and fuzzy love that makes us feel good. I’m talking about the kind of love that is willing to lay down everything, to sacrifice our “selves” for the sake of mercy, justice, peace, and compassion. What is there to fear if we all accept that everyone should be cared for? Surely there is enough love in the Most High God for all of us? Or has your vision of God become so small that God’s love is no longer inexhaustible, but reserved? If you are not willing to bear love for one another instead of fear, then you mock Christ and the sacrifice on the Cross. It becomes just a story of our own brokenness, rather than a story of the endless, lavish, and inexhaustible love of God.

The Church's Atonement (No...really.)

25AF1698-A132-41A1-990E-068C9C3566AF.JPG

No, my Church, you don't get to crow about how inclusive you are for LGBTQ folks. Because while you think you are, you're really not. You're merely tolerant.

In 1997 the General Convention Church passed the following resolution...

That this 72nd General Convention apologizes on behalf of the Episcopal Church to its members who are gay or lesbian and to lesbians and gay men outside the Church for years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church; . . . That this Church repents of its sins committed against lesbian and gay people—physical, psychological and spiritual—through covert and overt action and inaction. We seek amendment of our life together and we ask for God’s help in sharing the Good News with all people.

Thanks for that. A mere twenty years have passed since this resolution. It still took you another dozen years to decide that our relationships were worthy of blessing. Even longer to allow marriage...grudgingly. That doesn't seem very amendment of life-y to me. Certainly not repentance. For me, your behavior today still smacks of "sins committed...physical, psychological, and spiritual...through covert and overt action and inaction."

I mean, let's get real for a moment, shall we my beloved Church? 40 years after the ordination of women, you still treat women like crap. The stained glass ceiling of the Episcopate is only now starting to be fractured by women determined to assert their rightful place in the halls of the Church. Women still get little acknowledgment for their ministries while men too often take credit for them.

LGBTQ folks in the Church? Let's face it...the only difference between gay clergy now versus 100 years ago is that we at least name ourselves as such. As long as we assimilate, appear respectable, and tame ourselves according to your expectations...then all is well. Oh...but don't dare have relationships that challenge the heteronormative model. That just leads to trouble.

LGBTQ folks outside the church? OK...here's some real talk. You don't even know we exist. You know nothing about us. Because you've made no effort to do so. No one out here in the LGBTQ Diaspora knows a thing about your apology 20 years ago. They barely know you except filtered through a lens of centuries of active persecution, exclusion, and spiritual warfare against us. Do you think a 20 year old apology with little follow up is going to do much to mitigate that reality? If LGBTQ people are truly welcome into the Body of Christ, then that means we are kin in Christ. And, if we are kin to you we are indeed long estranged. You make no effort to come out into our streets and our world and our lives and demonstrate that repentance you speak about.

Having engaged in ministry in the queer community for over 20 years, and having been an LGBTQ activist for longer, I can tell you this. I have long since abandoned the notion of inviting my queer siblings into the doors of our churches. I have long distrusted the idea that we will actually feel welcome there, especially those queer folk who don't fit your image of the tame, white, cis-gender suit with a respectable job and a model nuclear family. I don't trust you not to make a liar out of us who work and minister here among our queer siblings. The queens and trans-women and gender activists and sex workers and puppies and nelly-bears and all flavors of QPOC who struggle against both homophobia and racism. And our un-housed queer youth.

Why should LGBTQ folk feel remotely interested in walking through your doors to find Christ. We can find Christ out here in the streets in much greater measure than in the shrinking walls of your house. While you struggle to keep the lights on, in large measure because of your generations of gate keeping that kept faithful people out who didn't fit your mold of worthiness, the living Christ is found in his tabernacle by the blinking of neon; in the feet of a tired queen who's just performed her fourth number tonight to raise money for a non-profit that serves homeless youth; in the gathering logical family of a trans-woman being held by her sisters while she sobs at having just lost her father that she never got to reconcile with. Because the Church told that man that his daughter was despised by God.

Where's your apology for that? What kind of repentance is necessary, and for how long, before you can undo the damage to millions of people like her? Especially, when you don't even know her story...or countless others.

What's your excuse? While you struggle to keep your doors open; while you are otherwise self-occupied with capital campaigns and the politics of which worship language is best suited to your agonizingly self-absorbed self-image; in San Francisco alone thousands of individuals are out there every night of the week volunteering, performing, soliciting money for dozens and dozens of non-profits that serve the most marginalized, needful, and alone. Drag queens and kings and trans folk and leather folk and countless others. And they do so under renewed assault from government, increased violence that threatens their very lives, and sustained pushes from other churches to eliminate their rights! They serve Christ under threat of persecution like the early martyrs.

Tell me...which of these is Church? With which of these might our Christ be more pleased?

I was deeply troubled some couple of years back when I discovered that a parish in the Church had asked a bunch of drag queens to raise money for one of their programs. The queens, of course, gladly obliged. What does this say about forgiveness and grace that a community who has been persecuted by you decided to help you meet your obligations to feed the poor? And yet...still...you don't come out to meet us where we are. To discover our gifts and joys in the midst of persecution.

So now...here is my call. Twenty years after your apology, it's to time to atone. To demonstrate your amendment of our life "together." Because that life together exists out here as well as in your sacred towers. It's not that we don't like you. It's that we don't trust you. We no longer have to prove that we are worthy of you. It is time for you to show that you are worthy of us. And maybe we can even teach you to dance.

Glitter and Ash Folly

The issue of glitter ash has suddenly become a thing! My first thought was…”how cool is that!” 

My almost immediate second thought was “wow…leave it to the Church to screw up a beautiful thing.”

Some important background...My ministry colleagues and I have been distributing ashes and glitter for 8 years in the Castro District. This strange combination arose very organically from within the community itself. It wasn’t an accident. And it had nothing to do with well intentioned Christian straight people showing solidarity with the community.

It started simply as Ashes to Go…which itself was the subject of some controversy, if I recall, when it first started. After a couple of years of doing this, we forged strong relationships with the drag community in the Castro and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters have sprinkled glitter for blessing for many years (over 35 to be exact) and in the absence of the church’s love and support, the Sisters have become spiritual and, yes, sacramental heroes in the LGBTQ community. 

It wasn’t long before the Sisters started to join us on Ash Wednesday while we do our street ministry of providing ashes, likewise offering their traditional glitter blessings. The combination of ashes and glitter arose from within the LGBTQ community here, and this is the 6th year we have offered them together.

It is always astounding how many people come to us for one of the other…and many ask for both ashes and glitter. While during the imposition of ashes we state “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” the glitter is offered with a variety of positive and affirming blessings by whomever is offering it. Many come for glitter who simply can’t partake in ashes because of their wounded-ness by the Church…but they come and stand along side those who receive ashes and community is forged. Some who once came for only glitter now ask for both. No one is turned aside, but all are bid welcome…whether to contemplate their mortality or their beloved-ness and life giving beauty. Whether to reconnect with their spiritual roots, or to be reminded of blessing.

I think, in this, that God is not displeased!

Along comes the church. God bless her mess. The “glitter ash” phenomenon within the Church only started this Lent it seems. And I have endured, frankly, some really ridiculous conversations about it flowing for three days across my newsfeed. While glitter ash harkens to what we do in the Castro, it feels wrong. Several words come to mind…condescending being chief among them. This isn’t something that has arisen organically in the Church as much as it seems an empty gesture imposed on those within her walls because it seems welcoming and lovely. This is very different from the street ministry of our beloved Companions who offer a choice, and for whom the glittery blessings of the Sisters has a 35 year history of meaning. The Church can’t really lay claim to this without co-opting something empty of history and meaning to the Church communities they offer it to.

Likewise, it appears that there is no “opting out” with the glitter ash the Church has chosen for this rite. Glitter and ash together reduces the symbolism and power of each, without making the resulting combination any the better or richer for it. 

It also assumes that glitter is an appropriate symbolic gesture for all LGBTQ people. I know from our experience that while there are a good many who wish the double blessing of both ash and glitter in our Castro ministry, many prefer one or the other rather than both. Those who want ashes want them for sacramental reasons. Those who want glitter want it because they have been so excluded from sacramental life that they can’t bring themselves to embrace the traditions of the Church, or because they simply don’t have any religious persuasion at all. 

Glitter ash as proposed by the current trend proposes a difference between gender queer folks and others. There are times and moments when this is not such a bad thing…the differences gender queer people bring to the table should indeed be celebrated. There are ways of doing that without the Church co-opting a symbol of “solidarity” that has nothing to do with solidarity. Trust me, there are million ways to show solidarity with LGBTQ people that have nothing to do with glitter on Ash Wednesday. Mixing glitter into ash isn’t going to make LGBTQ people feel welcome. It may make some people feel solidarity with our community. And others it may simply annoy. There are reasons why in the queer community we often call glitter “drag herpes.” Some folks will still find it in their houses this Christmas.

So…my thoughts are - the Church within her walls should knock it off. LOL

If the Church wants to go out into the streets, into the communities where LGBTQ people have sought refuge, then glitter and/or ashes may be suitable. Or not. But certainly not mixed together, and as gestures with some choice. And some meaning. 

In what other context do you find glitter in Church sacrament or Rite? Ever? We have an abundance of symbols of our faith. Glitter is not one of them. So, for this reason I feel confident that it did not arise organically in the Church. Whether it becomes a lasting durable symbol in our tradition remains to be seen. I doubt it. It lacks context.

Why does it feel like co-opting? Well, partly because the stated goal of said glitter in this particular Rite is to represent resurrection. Light and life and affirmation. Glitter doesn't represent that in the queer context. We aren't unicorns. In the queer context, glitter represents defiance. Grit. It represents fabulous self assertion - and this is important - in the context of persecution! In defiance of laws did queens dress in drag, and perform cabarets. They risked arrest for doing so. And death from violence. In defiance of cultural biases, laws, and animosity LGBTQ people risk being themselves.

Glitter holds no magic for trans folk in general, nor for the lesbian community overall...not that I've ever seen evidence for. Glitter arises from drag culture, and is far from a universal symbol for the broader LGBTQ community. And when it does resonate, it doesn't do so as a symbol of queer culture, as much as the defiance of heteronormative culture...in the midst of criminalization and social stigma. In many cases, perpetuated by the Church! This is what I mean by co-opting symbols. It is not for the Church to take glitter, make it a symbol for our broader queer community, and then use it to feel good about their "solidarity" with us.

I have no doubt the Church wants to do things that reinforce their solidarity, love, support, and atonement for their treatment of the LGBTQ community. But I emphasize this last most importantly. The Church needs to atone. Publicly. And it needs to seek gestures that actually mean something to LGBTQ people. The gesture of glitter ash means nothing without an appreciation for why LGBTQ people don't really want the Church to remind them of their mortality. What good news is it for us that we are all dust, if the good news and hope of God's love isn't made more explicit by a Church that has long withheld it from us? 

Legendarium

IMG_6205.JPG

Once upon a time, in the ancient and venerable Brotherhood of Saint Gregory, there arose a tradition. During the reception of communion, as the brothers would join in a line to receive communion from the two sides of the choir-- at the juncture where they joined in a single line -- each brother would bow in reverence to the senior brother who would receive before them. An act of respect.

After a time, it was merely a part of the ritual that was taken for granted during the reception of communion, or during other rites. The reverent bow, the offering of respect to the senior. All of the brothers were diligent in performing the simple act of respect. Or honoring the brother who came before. Except, perhaps, for those senior brothers who after many years in community, perhaps because of a bit of laziness, and by virtue of their seniority no longer felt humble enough to bother.

Except...it didn't really happen this way.

One day, during the Mass, a brother who was relatively new, decided to bow during communion. It was perhaps due to the fact that he was intimate with a culture where bowing was a sign of respect. Soon after, those who were behind him in choir repeated the gesture. Because it was done by a senior brother. Because it was lovely. It felt right.

It took no time at all for the legends and reasons to accrete to this practice. It was ancient. Those who didn't couldn't be bothered anymore. The gesture was so lovely, it was never questioned. It has ever been thus. It was duly handed down to all who came after.

One day, the senior brothers realized what was going on behind them. What a curious thing! Where did this come from? It was strange! How did we not notice until now?

Those who inherited the tradition were surprised that it was merely a few years old! "Has it not always been this way?" The senior brothers giggled.

"No," said the brothers who had come before. "This is a new thing."

How we long for the means to honor one another. In small ways that belie the large ways in which we don't. This is a story of the way holy moments give us the chance to honor one another in seemingly spontaneous ways that have huge implications.

I am, according to legend, a senior brother who could no longer be bothered to show this respect anymore. I laughed when I discovered not just the practice, but the legendarium around it. I marveled at how a small group of newcomers to the community inherited and embraced the tradition within a few short days. I wondered at the means by which it was subtly communicated to them or verbally that made it imperative within days that they enact the tradition. To honor it. How easily it happened!

I am a jaded old brother who never knew the tradition until it was handed forward to me by those who came after. As bizarre as it seems to me, any tradition that has been created to offer more honor to others rather than not is a divine gift. And I hope it continues for ever as part of the ancient and venerable practice of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. It makes me humble. And it gives me joy that I, for a moment, caught a glimpse of the future where religious life strives as always to more deeply honor the dignity of every person. Even if by a simple bow that was reclaimed from ancient practice by diligent young brothers determined to live true to what they'd promised. To honor the dignity of every human person.

What a gift of human folly.