All posts by NewGuyattheTable

Amplification Nation.

Mass shootings bring out the very worst in groupthink and the strangulation of discourse.

The internet becomes a maelstrom of (even more) terrible things for a set amount of time.

I’m tired of people yelling at one another about action and inaction, and showing off prophectic allergies to action on their own parts.

I’m tired of that, frankly, in myself, as well.

Mostly, I’m searching for a quiet place and method from which to act.

I am not great at finding this right now.

Pride, Before a Fall and After.

We are over a day from this horror.

Two days ago, some of us–or maybe, I’m just speaking for me–had been able to escape the context of the dangers of our lives. In my first sermon a few weeks ago, I proudly extolled the wonders of growing up a happy, well-adjusted, suburban gay kid, as if hatred and bigotry were things I’d somehow dodged. It was an illusion. Pride does not mean we are safe; it means we step out and stand out to connect better with one another, and we choose to be brave so that someday, we might not have a need for this.

I always thought I was impervious to shame slung my way about my sexual orientation.

And then, last night, I watched a man who taught me theater at age 14, who still teaches art to teens, say, publicly, via social media, “Do not trust a muslim.”

I engaged him with a “really?” What followed was a few moments of debate followed by his proclaiming me a “liberal ass hole (his spacing, which led me to respond with an image) faggot” who “didn’t get that these people wanted [me] dead.”

I expected it to hurt. All I felt instead was deep sadness and disappointment.

So, that was fun. And today, I want to do more. Some moments, I’m stuck. Some, I do better.

The vigils cascade forward. We pray. It isn’t enough. We squabble on social media. We are wasting time.

What happens next is essential. It is definitive. We write our legislators; it is not enough. The Onion is pretty spot-on about this.

We assess the statements from some of our allies who want this to be about anything other than it was: an attack on us. Clickhole takes the stuffing out of that.

We make it clear that this was a murder by math: hatred, crazed or otherwise, plus a weapon designed for vivisection by bullet, equals 49 people dead in less time than it takes to listen to a hit single. Gawker spells out the glorious precision, the elegant horror, of the AR-15.

We already feel it–the tug from rusted-out powers that be, the pull to pivot ourselves in opposition to our Muslim brothers and sisters. To respond with hate rather than love.

No, We disarm hatred through listening. We will not be manipulated. This video existed before this conversation. It is essential:

We learn. We share information. We do not back down. We acknowledge that there are those who have a vested interest in us casting aspersions and blame. We do not give in to that. We link hands. We show up. We shout loudly. We fight hard. We love harder.

And we do. not. stop.

 

When Prayer is Vital and Not Nearly Enough.

I spent the entirety of church this morning in the murk of grief and rage, chewing the inside of my cheek raw, thinking about what happened last night.

Today, I await calls from my friends in Orlando, hoping desperately to hear they are safe.

I am praying constantly, for peace, for understanding, for those hurt and killed, for families, for the community, for an end to these stories. And I’m feeling an emptiness in it, a uselessness in it. I struggle with that.

And I hit a counterpoint with myself: right before Communion this morning, I found myself talking to God, asking him why prayers sent twenty-four hours ago didn’t assuage this; why a chance accident involving the firing pin of the gun involved wasn’t able to render this violence impotent, or that the gunman didn’t trip on a sewer grate and break both arms yesterday, or any number of what we might call “God Moments” that affect us each day and offer us grace in near-misses instead of head-on tragedies.

And then I caught myself; we do this. God doesn’t do this. We do this. He is not the root of our suffering, but is present with us in it.

And I took a deep breath. And I wanted and needed to do more than pray. We are called to do more than pray. It’s a start, and it’s valuable, but by itself it will not create a better situation tomorrow.

I talked several days ago about how silence about LGBTQ in the faith community is just as bad as vitriol. It provides a null space into which evil and the capacity to devalue and denounce an entire group of people are allowed to grow. And let’s call that for what it is: evil. Making another person feel less-than because his or her compass rose of love points in a slightly different direction than yours is evil. There is no way that this brand of reckless, blameful behavior comes from God

It’s already started, the social media dark debate about whether this attack was about Islamic extremism or a lack of gun control. Stop. That doesn’t solve anything.

Do something. Stop debating. Do something.

Here’s what I’m telling myself to do:

First, educate yourself about gun violence in this country, and ways to positively invoke change. This book changed how I thought about this.

Second, give blood when you can and when needed. Gay men in this country can’t, unless they pronounce celibacy. That’s gross and wrong. Bank blood to aid in times like this.

Third, understand the major strides and terrible climate in this country for the LGBTQ community, and find a way to fight back. It isn’t about bathrooms, the way it wasn’t about counter space fifty years ago.

Fourth, work harder to make our places of worship homes of inclusivity and God’s love, in real and meaningful ways. Until and unless we do that, we are creating spaces where hate is allowed to grow via silence or declaration. And I refuse to be a part of that.

Fifth, I’m going to love harder. Orlando was last night; there is no guarantee against any of us being in a public place when and where this might happen again.

So I will act. I hope we all will. And we pray, too, because God will hear us. But we have to hear Him, as well, and feel the call to do everything we can to make this a world that looks and feels more like His goals and image.

What Accessibility Is and Isn’t.

Before I worked in church communications, I spent over 10 years in arts management and marketing. At one point, I had a boss who would say, in regards to arts marketing: “I get to lie for a living.” It still bugs me, for two reasons: first, the idea of marketers as liars is about as relevant and toxic as leeches in medicine, thanks in no small part to the work of Seth Godin. Second, the idea that you have to trick someone into enjoying and experiencing whatever it is you have to offer, from the arts to God and everything in between, scares and enrages me, because it implies that you think you’re smarter than the people who might engage with what you’re promoting–and here’s the biggie: it means you don’t believe in what you’re promoting. It means you believe, on some level, that your profession, your vocation, your voice, how you spend your days, is inauthentic. And you’re pretending to be okay with that.

All of this is prelude. I’ll talk a lot more about authenticity and these moments later, I’m sure. This has me spooked because it’s lip service.

I got a call yesterday morning from an old friend who worked in not-for-profit arts with me several years ago; she’s relatively new to New Jersey, and recently diagnosed with a debilitating disease. She wrestles with some of the same issues that I do, in that she doesn’t often look ill but is struggling with fatigue and physical limitations. She was enraged; she was at a conference at Princeton University, hosted by a state-funded arts organization, and found herself guided to parking over a half-mile from the conference center, with a shuttle bus that took 30-45 minutes to the site designated as her only option besides walking. No other options of access were advertised; she felt shamed and excluded by this situation.

She called me because we’d talked last week about some of my struggles with access to churches in both my job and desire to worship. This was a struggle which we’d recently commiserated on together; her rage yesterday was fueled because she’d specifically decided to attend the conference because of a panel on accessibility for patrons of differing abilities to art and arts events; we both found the irony searing and anger-inducing. One of the event organizers informed me later that handicap-accessible parking was available for attendees who requested it; while that’s good to know, it still requires a breach of dignity to make an inquiry about the issue. No access options were made clear in any of the conference advertising or materials. The sadness of this comes in that Princeton has an awesome microsite built just for this; it was an oversight. The kind of oversight that people who organize these events and sometimes run these structures make because they don’t need these resources, and aren’t trained to anticipate or sensitize themselves to these needs.

Which brings us to churches. And my concerns about this. Since I got sick last November, I’ve visited 32 Episcopal churches, both for work and for personal worship; nine of these churches met current ADA standards. At an event earlier this year, I found myself paired with a parishioner using a walker for mobility; we’d met at a service the year before, and decided to spend the day together as buddies. The church we found ourselves in had an elevator (this is good) but to get to the room for the event, we had to take the elevator to the lowest level and walk up three steps. I could do this; it was significantly harder for her. It took physical assistance from me and another friend for her to make it up these steps to get to the event.

At another church, without ramps or accessible bathrooms, I watched a number of apologetic, friendly men lay down a rickety temporary ramp on the steps to assist a man in a wheelchair up the steps and into the sanctuary. It was a process that involved some manhandling and pushing and a tremendous amount of embarrassment. I spent three months in a wheelchair; I thought hard about how this would’ve affected me. If I’d been through that experience, I would’ve let the shame and otherness I’d experienced in that moment get the best of me, and I wouldn’t have come back to that church. No matter the efforts of the folks who helped the gentleman in, the unwelcoming lack of access is built into the bones of the building. And there’s nothing being done about that.

Being authentic and open and true about this issue is the only way we can solve it; none of us can afford to “lie for a living” when it comes to respecting the dignity of all human beings, as our baptismal covenant calls us to do. We have to actually do this, instead of looking enough like we’re doing this to feel better about ourselves. We have to lean into this issue now; as we age, as our bodies find ways to teach us lessons in their spectacular malfunctions, all of us will be drawn into this context in one form or another. We have to be aware of how dehumanizing and alienating these situations can be, and actively fight against them.

The resources are out there. We’re built for compassion and connection. We can do this.

Mockrageous.

The death of the gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo has opened up an explosive range of responses and emotions. My Facebook news feed is a scary place right now.

Here are some things I know to be true: I mourn the death of this beautiful animal. I am thankful the four-year-old boy was not injured or killed. Gorillas are smart, territorial, unpredictable creatures. Once Harambe had the boy in his hands, the conclusion of this sad encounter was already guaranteed.

And yet, now, there are the memes. There are casual, horrible statements of what should be done to the mother of this boy, to the boy himself, to the zoo, for what happened. Statements lamenting how few gorillas are out there, decrying animal cruelty, raising up Harambe’s life as having more value than the child in this situation.

Okay. Stop.

First of all–this is a tragedy, no question. Second, where was all this knowledge and outrage and affinity for endangered animals prior to this incident? All of a sudden, we’re all experts on gorillas and wildlife preservation and we have the .jpgs to prove it. Having seen Congo once, I feel very comfortable in talking about the mental state of gorillas. Because it’s Congo. Guys, I’m kidding. Friends don’t let friends watch Congo.

Mock outrage–mockrage–takes hold when we edit out the facts of a situation to the point where the basest details are allowed to shape us into an emotional state that is both false and inflammatory. Donald Trump has made an art out of this. The internet has made a lifestyle out of this. We are so much more than the cardboard cutouts of lamentation and vengeance that these stories make us out to be.

The just and reflective–and one might say Christian–response to this is to take stock of what happened and ensure it can’t happen again, be it a different sort of enclosure, or empathic narrative about what happened with Harambe, or with different protocols about childcare and staff stewardship at the Zoo. There’s no way to bring Harambe back. And when it comes right down to it, a child endangered by the presence of an endangered animal doesn’t leave a staff member with a gun much of a choice; tranquilizers would have taken 10 minutes or more to take effect. It was a difficult and harrowing choice to make, but it was the right one.

So we move forward, past mean-spirited memes and gross calls for vengeance, into a way of mourning and learning and meaningfully working to make sense of this senseless death via its inability to ever happen again.

Seeing Ourselves in Church.

I love The Birdcage. When I saw it as a teenager, it was the first place I recognized the kind of casual love and acceptance between two men that I yearned for; there was truth, and freedom, and delight, and an ease of personality present there. I wanted that, badly. I still do.

I want it in my life, and I want it in my church.

I got into a light argument with a colleague on Friday about the nature of the LGBTQ community and visibility in the Episcopal Church.

We’ve got an official churchwide policy of acceptance, and an offering of newly-minted same-sex blessings and an assurance that they will remain in place. And yet, we’re the “big tent” of diversity in polity, meaning that we also support those ideas and ideals that have yet to come around to the actual concept of inclusiveness. My colleague, in another diocese, argued: “Do we need our bishops to verbally acknowledge our presence and this policy, or is having it enough?” She works in a diocese where the bishop has quietly accepted and enacted the same-sex marriage rites, but does not trumpet this fact for fear of reprisals from the vocal and less-progressive factions within her diocese.

My response was one I co-opted from a generation before me: “Silence equals death.”

It’s important, then, for our clergy, our laypeople, our Episcopalians of all stripes, to make it clear if they support a church that is inclusive of LGBTQ children of God, to say so, boldly, and then–to show up and proclaim it with equal boldness. The gentle glibness of “we welcome everybody” just isn’t enough anymore.

This church found me. I found it, and found comfort in it, but not without struggle and some loss. It’s important to acknowledge that, and to also acknowledge that there are many thousands of LGBTQ people like me who were and are hungry for a relationship with God, and that requires more than a gentle welcome and then a “well, we sorta acknowledge you” as we quietly point them towards pews and polity that smell oddly like separate drinking fountains. We’re better than that. Our God is better than that. He knows we can do better and expects us to be better.

LGBTQ people will only become the fierce, gentle, and awesome disciples of our church that I know we can be when we’ve eliminated the fear and semi-couched welcomes that are based in that fear. We are who we are. And that’s beautiful and church-ready, without compromise. It’s high time we as a church took a deep breath and made an effort to actually connect and reconcile, in admission and awareness of the quarter-assed attempts of the past and the steady promises of the present.

We have to talk about it. We have to really mean it. It’s a social justice issue–the same sort of social justice issue we’ve fought churchwide for on poverty, and gender rights, and issues of race. And if it’s not something we or our leadership is comfortable engaging, we have to be honest about that, too. Because if my LGBTQ brothers and sisters can’t find grace here, they need to know when it’s time to move on. That would hurt me terribly. But the quietness of silence is always worse than a spoken “no” or “well, sorta.” Always.

The Days When You Lose.

I got a question about this past weekend’s sermon last night: “You talk about the days you beat this and the days you lose. What does it look like when you lose?”

A friend of mine talks about his depression as not an abundance of sadness, but the absence of joy. “Imagine waking up and finding every day to be 48 degrees, still, overcast and grey. That is depression.” That’s not my personal experience, and it’s not what I’m feeling.

The days I lose don’t feel like that. The name I’ve put on the rage-sadness-loss-and-so-forth of the edge of the cost of this illness and the amputations and the adjustment to the new normal–

It’s grief. I think that’s as accurate and as close as I can get to it.

When I get caught up in the black cloud of loss, I grieve in tangibles, like the reverse-Cinderella madness of trying on a dozen right shoes from before this happened and finding that none of them fit, nor are they ever likely to. I also grieve in theoreticals, the perceived loss of self-worth and image. The assessment of myself as undateable, even when the healing is complete, because this disgusting thing will be hidden underneath my fashionable custom footwear, an inability to count past 17 on my digits. My constant, persistent, sometimes-verified worry that my colleagues, whom I often think the world of, now look at me as a damaged and less-valued set of goods, biding their time until I finally succumb to this or roll over into a less demanding field or just self-classify as disabled and allow someone able-bodied to step into my role.

Much of it isn’t true. Much of it is gilded with and clouded by anger. But it is valid and real, these thoughts that happen on the days when I lose.

I fight back with structure; I do what positive people do and I make plans. I create a chain of responsibilities for myself that require me to be okay and strong and viable until an event on a set date. Sometime before that date, I engineer a similar set of requirements for a date past that. And this daisy chain gets me through these days. I work on being as viable and valuable as I can be; I try to show gratitude for my friends who get it and are there for me and understand that this is serious and I can’t always manage this alone. I try to show forgiveness for the friends who want to be there but are spooked by illness or are at capacity with the battles of their own–I know that they don’t really need my forgiveness, but it’s easy for me to feel lost or abandoned or less-than on the days when I lose, and that’s not their fault.

I greatly prefer the days when I win. I hope that goes without saying. But the deep shadows of the days when I lose makes the sharp contrast of the winning days better. Here’s to more of them.

First Sermons

Nothing happens by accident. And anything we might be able to survive becomes a lesson. 

What follows is my sermon, delivered at Grace-St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at the 8 AM, 10 AM, and 5:30 PM services, in response to John 5:1-5:9.

Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

A significant part of living our shared lives in Christ is that, as we take additional trips around the sun together, the beauty and truth of the Gospel reveals itself to us in different ways. When I first encountered today’s Gospel reading several years ago, I interpreted it as a simple story about faith inspiring us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and take a meaningful place in this world; at that point, that made a lot of sense to me.

But life continues, and things change.

I’ve talked about my personal faith story a lot in the last year; international news site The Guardian asked me to talk about my status as a lifelong progressive and gay man,  “coming out,” without reservations, as a Christian in my thirties. It struck a chord, somehow; over a million people read that story, and thousands commented on it, fervently, for both good and ill. My editor at The Guardian attributed the interest in my story to the “delicious paradox” of wanting a relationship with Jesus Christ without compromising the truth of my ideals and sexual orientation. When you trace the steps and know my story, this spot from which I currently stand–pun intended–makes perfect sense, plain as day.

I was raised completely unchurched; my dad’s an Episcopalian from Boston, my mom is a Jewish girl from Tulsa, and I was raised…confused. My parents instilled a strong sense of right and wrong in my brother and me via a love of learning, popular culture, and their own personal examples. I didn’t know the gospel, the story of Jesus Christ, and as an eight-year old boy  I instead threaded together a bizarre, commercially-influenced version: Jesus and Santa were somehow the same person, born on December 25, and Holy Week represented the death of this mashed-up character following a prolonged weight loss; on Easter Sunday, we rejoiced as he returned to us in the form of an adorable bunny rabbit.

I was a kid with an intense and fertile imagination; it’s not much of a surprise that I ended up in theater as my primary calling in my teens and twenties. Like-minded people coming together to tell vital and vibrant stories about why we’re here and how our lives profoundly affect one another, and building a community for the common good in the process…that’s theater, sure, but it’s also a gigantic part of what I love about church.

With that said, at this point in my life, I plaintively argued, publicly and privately, that I didn’t want or need a relationship with God. I considered myself a rarity: a mostly-happy, fairly well-adjusted gay kid who grew up in suburban America, totally unscathed by the monsters of bigotry and hatred. Never once in my formative years did I feel unwanted, or afraid, or less-than because of my sexual orientation; my parents were, and are, some of the most loving and intellectually engaging people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I knew early on that the content of my character would have a far greater impact on my place and progress in this world than my attraction to men. With all this in mind, I considered religion an unneeded and potentially damaging interaction with my worldview. I had theater for community and social good, I knew who I was and loved myself, and, from regular doses of Fox News, of hypocrisies and cover-ups of scandals and horrid transgressions, of casual conversations with my peers about the “love the sinner, hate the sin” nature of my “lifestyle”–well, I didn’t need church, in specific, or God, in general.

I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong. And I remember the day I started to realize that: June 10, 2010.

TIngling in my fingers and persistent fatigue led to me finally seeing a doctor and confirming a year’s worth of suspicions: a diagnosis of diabetes, complete with an insulin regimen and a half-dozen medications, at 28. My physician made it clear: this was permanent. It could get better. It could be managed. But this was an intractable part of my life and would, at some point, most likely contribute to my death. The funny thing about this period of my life is that I felt mostly fine. As soon as I started medications, diabetes, for several years, became a set of data points on a page instead of something I could feel. That would change; I spent days googling diabetes horror stories.

If you ever get the chance to do this: don’t.

I was angry, in two pointed and distinct directions: first, at myself, for a combination of cruddy genetics and poor decisions on both the dietary and stress management fronts. I could handle self-directed anger, and I took steps to manage and treat that. What started to nag at me was that I was mad at…something else. The anger bubbled beyond the borders of me into something vast and mysterious and frustratingly implacable. When I was physically by myself, I started to talk to the air, acknowledging, for the first time, a presence bigger than me. I now recognize this as prayer, in the only rudimentary form I could muster it.  It scared me in ways I struggle to put into words; I felt God, for the first time in my life, and I desired connection and conversation. I was so mad at God for this diagnosis, the end of my youth-powered denial of my own mortality.

I was angry. I wanted more. These two facts, taken together, led me to a profound truth: I believed in God, and I wanted to know and understand him better. Even talking about it now rumbles out crazy feelings of fear and awe and helplessness at the size and weight of what I was feeling–I now recognize it for the call it was, but at the time, it felt like slow-burn shattering of my entire perspective as a happy-go-lucky-sorta-unflappable-maybe-agnostic-possibly-atheist. And sure, it was that, too; it began a five-year journey of church shopping, of arguing with clergy from different denominations, of earnestly, sometimes desperately, looking for answers where there were none. And it led me, in the end, to the Episcopal Church, and by extension, my vocation and ministry as communications director of this diocese. And to my baptism at Grace-St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on October 11, 2014.

This is all prologue to the greatest test of my faith thus far, in November of this year, when diabetes became more than just a vague future threat and actively threatened to end my life. An infection in my foot went septic; three toes and much of my right foot were amputated. Had I sought treatment a few hours later, I’d’ve lost the leg. A day later, I’d’ve lost my life. Nearly six months later I’m still recovering,

It’s been a rough road, of near misses and close calls and losing giant chunks of my independence. I’ve re-learned to walk, bit by bit. I’ve been blessed and humbled by the rallied army of friends who’ve kept me in the game, kept me positive, helped me take care of myself, kept me alive. And yet–every day, I look at what’s left of my right foot and I fight the impulse to consider myself broken, beyond repair. I struggle to imagine a time where I’ll once again be defined by what’s in my heart and mind instead of perceptions of my physical invalidity. Some days I win that fight. Some days I lose profoundly.

And here is the core of today’s Gospel: Jesus approaches the invalid, disabled for thirty-eight years, and asks him, simply: “Do you want to get well?”

My gut response to that question was a gigantic eye roll and a prolonged “Duuuuuuuuuh.” OF COURSE the invalid wants to be well! Don’t we all? And then I thought–wait a minute. What’s really being asked, here?

Jesus is offering the invalid a choice: the man can wallow in his brokenness, and let it be the thing that defines him in his heart of hearts; his response to Jesus confirms this, with his explanation of his current location being a result of a lack of help from his friends and that the more able-bodied folks always beat him to the pool’s edge. In Jesus, however, he’s offered healing, real and true, if only he has the faith in both Christ and himself to accept it and make his way to the pool, hale and hearty. And that’s exactly what he does.

Today’s Gospel moves me in ways I never quite expected it to; we’re all broken, in ways that are both visible and invisible. These traits of ours, these things that happen to us, the parts of ourselves we define as shameful or let divide us from the rest of the flock–these things are not us. They are part of us, parts of our stories, but in Christ, in faith that God has purpose for us, and a promise of healing and wholeness as we put our trust in him and one another–in that trust and love, we are so much more than our broken parts. We are the body of Christ on this planet.

And together, we are whole.

We accomplish amazing things together. I’m still in awe of the Pride and Joy Festival, which many of us here came together to put forth over the last two days, as the biggest affirmation I’ve seen in this diocese of the LGBTQ community as a welcome and celebrated part of our church. We raised up sexual orientation and gender identity–traits that, in generations past, carried with them definitions of brokenness both in the individual and in the often shameful ways these individuals have been treated by communities of faith–and right here, at Grace-St. Paul’s, we cast aside that definition of brokenness as a brand on a community. This is a place of God’s love, and over the past few days, that love trumped brokenness with wholeness and togetherness in a very real way. Despite the sorrowful history between LGTBQ communities and faith-based communities, we all opted to get up and walk to the pool, together. And look what happened. We proved, conclusively, that this is a place of God’s love, and healing. No exceptions. And I’m stunned, humbled and grateful for that.

I know I’m going to wake up every morning, and look at where most of my right foot used to be. But my plan is to acknowledge that broken part of me, take a deep breath, and also acknowledge the painful progress and lessons that have come in the wake of this thing that happened to me. Every day, Jesus offers each of us that choice: we can lie in the shadow of the terrible things that have happened to us, or we can, through our faith, make our way to the edge of the water, together and whole.

I know what I’m going to strive for, each day. And may that be true for each and every one of you, as well.

I love you people.

Everybody–into the pool.

Iconography, Cultural Signifiers, and Stereotypes.

I don’t always understand aspects of the gay superculture. I don’t personally have a taste for drag, or dancing, or sass, and I’m allergic to glitter. And all of that is okay, because we’ve reached a point in pop culture and regular culture where we’re not boiled down to these base–if fabulous–signifiers. I can be all the things I am and still be gay.

With that said–there’s something about Ursula.

I was seven when The Little Mermaid hit theaters; I was immediately drawn to the indigo-hued, octopus-from-the-waist-down villain from the piece. Perhaps it was her confidence, perhaps it was the body language, perhaps it was Pat Carrol’s sanguine voice. I saw something I recognized; something aspirational.

I’ve learned in my travels that many young gay men had this feeling. It’s funny what we gravitate towards; stereotypes are one thing, but icons transcend that.

I always wanted to be Ursula when I grew up; tonight, for the first time in ten years. I sort of get my chance.

Stay tuned.

 

#BigGayChurch

Something big is happening at my church this weekend.

The Pride & Joy Festival comes to central New Jersey on Friday and Saturday; it’s two days of music, fabulous worship, and affirmations of the love and relationship between LGBTQ people and God.

This is a big step for my church, and The Episcopal Church in New Jersey as a whole. Since becoming an Episcopalian, I’ve met hundreds of LGBTQ people in churches around the country, and my heart burst with love last summer when. on the tails of coast-to-coast same sex marriage legality, The Episcopal Church voted to adopt same-sex marriage rites.

And yet. And yet it’s not enough for me and others. We’re often as a community to quiet about our gay brothers and sisters in our midst. And acknowledgement and open embrace is necessary after decades and centuries of otherness at best and violent transgressions at worse. In my diocese, the only LGBTQ events to garner widespread attention over the last few years are commemorations of World AIDS Day. And while that is a part of our history, we are more than that.

I’ve attended liturgical events dedicated to deprogramming the parts of Leviticus and Paul and Romans that declare us sinful and abomination; I guess that’s cool, but I’m past that. I think a lot of us are past that. I sin constantly, in my temper, in the condition in which I keep my bathroom, in the over-consumption of ice cream, in what I ignore or over-accentuate every day. The barometer of who I am attracted to and how my heart works in that direction do not feel like sin. That part of me is not part of sin. I refuse to believe that and don’t need it deprogrammed.

So, then–this weekend, instead of deprogramming or analyzing the scripture that might condemn us, we look at passages that celebrate differences, that explode with weirdness, that say “if you can’t fit in–don’t. It’s okay. It’s welcome. God needs that.”

I’m thrilled. If you’re around, please join us; it’s free, and there’s sung worship and a cabaret on Friday (my performance is a surprise…) and worship, an “ask us anything” panel of clergy on Saturday, family-friendly games, and a cupcake social. We’ve adopted the hashtag #BigGayChurch –perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, but also out of truth. We’re one church. Some of us here are queer, and we’re not going away, and we have value to offer in being accepted and embraced into the fold and rites of the church as a whole.

“There is no longer
Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and
female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3.28)