Being Faithful in the Hard Times—as only LGBTIQ People Can!
SISTERLY REMARKS 9/22/18
MARY E. HUNT
It is always good to be on the Mountain. On this the autumn equinox weekend, it is lovely to be here with all of you. There is a feel of change in the air—summer behind us, the winter ahead, all as it should be.
Special thanks to Jean Richardson for your faithful work to make this place the important locus of dreams and rest, of nurture and challenge that it has been and continues to be for so many people, and especially this weekend for us. Please extend our thanks to the staff.
The Barn is a sign of new and renewed life that responds to the needs of people beset by chaos and instability in the world. I have a deep sense that we were made for these times, that all of our work and prayer, our experiences and commitments prepared us for this very turbulent moment in world history when Americans’ souls are tried at every turn.
Kirkridge is more important than ever as a place where we can refresh our souls, strengthen our bodies, and build the links that will help us deal with whatever is ahead—war, constitutional crisis, backlash against so many gains on racial, ethnic, sexual, gender fronts. Fasten your seat belts, my friends!
As you turn on the news and talk with your neighbors, keep in mind that we have the privilege, the luxury, I would say the necessity, of this time and place, these people and the long history of faithful people who have come up the mountain as we do to reset our moral compass and reaffirm our sense that goodness and beauty will endure. Some days this season, I admit, it is hard to do!
In an effort to get us all on the same page, I want to pick up from our moving introductions, remind us of what we focused on last year, and move us into this new territory together. At times like these in our history, I am ever more grateful for groups like this in places like this where we can speak honestly and envision something quite other than what is happening in our communities—racism, xenophobia, police brutality, #MeToo, adult and children immigrants/refugees separated from one another, floods…what next?
LAST TWO YEARS
Two years ago we explored a variety of spiritual practices that ground us, like meditation, coloring, scripture reading, walking meditation, etc.
Last year we looked at “our spirits growing older” or what I named “joyful aging.” I said, when I think of joyful aging, I imagine:
–Doing what we want as long as we can
–Being with people that we like as much as we can
–Refusing to do what we don’t like when we can
I hope we have all had some semblance of that experience this year and that we have found some of our spiritual practices to be grounding. Of course the deep losses of partners and friends, the illness and diminishment of those we love and perhaps of us as well, are hard to bear. But I find it important to keep my eyes on what means most—family, friends, commitments, and solidarity—as I enjoy this bountiful world despite so many signs of trouble and trial. Our spirituality is a source of vision and practice to create another kind of world. I have to dig deeply into it to find fragments and remnants to bolster my dreams in these difficult times.
This year, given all of the changes and the rapidly deteriorating political situation, we could keep focusing on aging. But I propose instead to shift our focus at this horrific moment in our history to what Being Faithful in the Hard Times—as only LGBTIQ People Can! I want to venture some reflections on what our being LGBTIQ people means today, how it helps us navigate the ‘false truths’ and the dispiriting displays of human depravity. I invite us to value what each and every one of us does that is part of the goodness not the tawdry, inhumane, anti-Earth way that seems to be sweeping our land. We are better than all that, and we have only to look around this room to affirm that fact.
We have struggled most of our lives just to be ourselves. We know something about being lied to, lied about, and treated badly. But somehow, perhaps through the grace that Virginia Ramey Mollenkott taught us about, we have come this far.
My first experience of Virginia was in a church in Washington, DC where she was preaching. I was a tad late and had just entered the vestibule when I heard her bellow so beautifully, “Grace is a lesbian.” I scampered in to find a seat to hear more, and over the years I have heard and appreciated more of her wisdom.
This is what I mean about Being Faithful in the Hard Times—as only LGBTIQ People Can! We have the experience (per force) to do so.
LET ME START with the deteriorating political situation, how we are reacting to it, then suggest some ways that we know to cope, concluding with how our history sets us up for success even in these very hard times. I hope it these remarks will be a springboard for our weekend conversation and a resource for living in our local communities.
- Deteriorating political situation—
I know the Divine laughs at our plans. So when I think back to the January 2017 Women’s Marches that were held around the world, I smile at my own and other people’s naiveté about what was to come. Donald Trump had just bested Hillary Clinton in an Electoral College win despite everything. We knew it would be bad, but I did not realize just how bad things would get and how quickly things would go down hill.
There is no need to enumerate for you the remarkable cascade of injustice that is raining down on us. Be clear that yes, things are as bad as you think. I will pick five just to give a sample of the scene—there are so many I could pick and you can add your own sources of scandal when we talk:
1- The Brett Kavanagh nomination and allegations of sexual abuse reignite the Anita Hill scene and make clear that 27 years later we are not very far along. There is only a 50/50 chance anything will be different this time around. All of the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee are still men. The chances of a woman being believed are quite slim. The price this survivor, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, has paid already is beyond steep.
If I were a senator I would have one question for her: “Did you jump on him, try to take off his bathing suit, cover his mouth in case he screamed?” No further questions. Patriarchal power is patriarchal power; women do not typically rape men. But this man opposed an abortion for an immigrant teen, among other conservative views, and now his character is in question.
2- Wars rage in Middle East. Gaza is in a state of emergency. We have little info and less insight into what is happening and why, how people are suffering and what we can do to stem the tide. Yet it is a major war zone with living conditions beyond the pale.
3- Immigrant children are separated from their parents and left in what are tantamount to prisons. This is a situation created initially by US foreign policy in Central America that results in conditions so dire that people will risk life and limb, indeed risk losing their own children in order to gain a foothold in a country of immigrants. But Trumpian policies dictate that children be separated from their parents, held in detention, AKA jail, without the minimal data to get the children reunited. The harm to children is lifelong, a sure recipe for failure to bond, regression, inability to trust and relate, not to mention the daily deprivation. It is simply inhumane. It will affect all of us, as these kids will need the resources and love of our communities as they grow.
4-Environmental degradation is real. Hurricanes do not happen as acts of God but acts of humans with poor people disproportionately affected. Hurricane Florence is not over yet in North Carolina, but some FEMA funds were diverted to ICE just before the hurricane season started. How stunning! Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is still reeling from last year’s hurricane. This is not surprising given the state of the US government agencies in which staff people are deeply demoralized and unable to give their best.
5-The Mueller investigation, Russian interference, a president out of whack/control all have endless implications for government. Direction is set from the top. We are on shaky ground going into midterms. Living in Washington, I have friends who are longtime government workers. They report conditions of employment that are hard to imagine. For example, I ran into one good lesbian in the Justice Department going to work around 10 AM one day. Why go earlier, she asked, there is little to do. Her hands are tied. What will unfold in the next few weeks is beyond imagining. But a cursory look at Rachel Maddow every night is enough to keep the strongest of us awake in fear of the consequences for the world of power run amuck.
This is the backdrop against which all of our personal issues are set—
aging/illness/retirement; deaths of children and partners, parents and friends; economic woes for many; lack of clarity on what to do next; Supreme Court in question such that real threats to marriage equality, reproductive justice, immigrants’ rights are in front of us.
Then there are our lives—at once rich and full, fraught and vexed, beautiful and uncertain, changing from one day to the next. How do we cope? What does it mean to be who we are? And where can we tap the resources to carry on and carry others with us?
- What we are feeling/experiencing and how we process that in this horrific moment; navigate the ‘false truths’ and the dispiriting displays of human depravity?
I think we come to the mountain to talk with one another about these things. We have been fed “false truths’ about ourselves before so we can smell that rotten fish from a distance. We have been subject—either personally or in our rainbow communities—to the indignities that are so rampant in this time of virulent backlash—to be able to relate to much of what goes on when Black Lives don’t Matter, when trans people are being dissed and killed, when immigrants are mistreated because of who they are.
Just this week a priest in Chicago burned a rainbow flag as a way of exorcising our kind. Imagine how he would treat people of color…We can expect worse to follow. I heard a case this week of an insurance company refusing to reimburse a double bed for a gay couple, one of whom has a very serious disability, because on his insurance card it says he’s single even though he has since married. What could be more cruel and vicious?
We can plan on more of this because the worst impact of the Trump election two years hence is that his solid base of 30+% of voters is right where he is on the issues. Many of them are sure that we are an essential part of the problem just as church officials will blame the fact that many priests are gay on the pedophilia problems and cover-ups when in fact sexual orientation has nothing to do with the abuse of power.
- Why LGBTIQ people are prepared to handle things
One of the reasons we are able to handle this is because we have been there, done that before. We have been discriminated against but found a way to thrive despite it all. We have engaged in activism in many ways and know that survival and thriving are depending on all in/everybody welcome/inclusive communities or we all perish: children who need help, elders who struggle, people of color who suffer racism, people living with disabilities with whom we join as advocates. We are those people and they are us. The eco crisis puts us all in the same boat but the frank fact is that some are in deluxe cabins with balconies and others are in steerage.
Somewhere lurking in all of it is a sense of our own experience of being discriminated against. Especially for white, privileged women, it is complicated to discern how the world works—what needs to be changed, who has power when we have been barred from it because of gender/sexual orientation. But for us as lesbian/bi/trans/queer people there is clear path forward that simply begins at the path we have long been on.
I want to reflect on what’s ahead of us because of the unique resources we bring to this time of struggle. It is interesting to note what happens to us when young people do not use the label lesbian. Are we now dinosaurs about to become extinct when everyone is queer so no one is particular in their oppression? What about ‘women’ when we are no longer so certain who is a woman? One thing is clear—that people ought to be able to define and be called what they want, and that discrimination of any kind is anathema. These principles come from faith traditions and from our hard wrought experience.
As we age, I submit, the issues of sex as sex are not unimportant but they are different than they were in adolescence or young adulthood. Sex finds it place in everyday life as the human right to personal expression, love making in myriad forms, and simply being comfortable as human beings in our bodies. What is so threatening about that I wonder… apparently everything!
- Some ways we know to cope
As one develops a more integrated, mature life, the place of sexuality takes on new colors and hues. So it ironic and maddening that we are painted with the brush of discrimination when we live a kind of wisdom others need. When we say LGBTIQ we are painted with the same brush as young queer kids of color. I am happy to embrace that identity and to use my symbolic capital to keep them alive. But among us I think we can usefully discuss what it is that makes us so unique, what we bring to share.
I will open with four things and then invite us to bring more of our wisdom to the table:
- We know what is important: love
Pedro Arrupe, Father General of Jesuits counsels, “Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” I am not here extolling the virtues of long-term relationships—God knows we learn as much from our losses, mistakes, and bad luck in love. But “falling in love” with friends, work, family, pets, lovers, Earth, and sticking with those commitments does decide everything. To do that against society’s dictates as all of us have done is to know its truth more profoundly.
- Stand with others in trouble
We are the experts on solidarity, beginning with other queer people whose experiences are so different from our own. Think of gay men who face the world in wholly other ways than we do—male privilege, toxic masculinity, physical violence, shame about manhood, and yet they are always in our claims for justice even if sometimes we are not in theirs.
We stand with the outcast, the stranger, the widow and orphan both because we have to insofar as we are those people and because we want to because we understand that the Divine is always on the side of the oppressed as in Psalm 103:6. Whether we call it interlocking issues, interstructured analysis, overlapping issues, multifactor analysis, there is an intuitive sense that Buddhists live out with such clarity that all is connected. So standing with those who are marginalized is standing up for oneself as well.
- Expect and be prepared for things to get worse even as they have seemed to improve
Marriage equality does not mean equal rights to housing, jobs, and income. It does not guarantee that queer kids won’t be bullied or that lesbians can keep their teaching jobs as the recent case of Indiana Catholic schoolteacher fired because for being married to her partner, just one of many such cases.
Racism is rampant. Charlottesville was ground zero but micro-aggressions and Driving While Black persist with impunity in many places. Cavalier disregard for the impact of our racist history on families is unthinkable post-Obama but it is more virulent than ever.
- What is finally important in our activism in light of our aging is that we are on a well-trod path for which we simply go the next mile and enjoy along the way.
We have anchors and we are anchors for others who are far more at sea than we are. Think trans friends whose rights in the military have been tramped on, for example. We dealt with that for LGB people. We walked that path and we continue with Trans people. No wonder they are a priority concern for our faith-based queer groups.
Think of young women who are watching the case of Christine Blasey Ford with a mix of bewilderment and understanding. We bring our Anita Hill experience—we walked that path and we start 27 years later with new assumptions and more conviction about how women must be believed.
While we don’t need to do everything, we do bring experiences that are not trivial as life unfolds.
- How our history sets us up for success even in these hard times
Let me close with a short description of two events this year that clarified these matters for me, experiences of our history providing hope. I find these useful for our survival and success in these hard times:
- Kirkridge’s 40th anniversary of LGBT programs
Last fall Kirkridge sponsored a marvelous gathering of faithful people to celebrate four decades of LGBT programs. We came as a diverse group of people not nostalgic for struggles well met, but pushing our focus to include international colleagues whose daily lives are under massive threat. We underscored our woman-identified contributions. We joined with trans people to change policies that would have them live in bodies that are alien to them. We encouraged young people to love as they will.
The weekend was a tribute to Kirkridge’s steadfast ministry of “picket and pray” beginning with those who are on the margins. Many of us, especially white, educated, able bodied people, have moved “from margin to center” as bell hooks (in her book From Margin to Center) would have it, and we are now responsible to keep the traffic flowing toward greater and greater inclusion. We have learned a great deal that we bring forward to future struggles.
- Rolling Away the Stone, St. Louis
Hundreds of religious activists from all over the country joined in a celebration of forty years of LGBTIQ work in our respective faith traditions. It was a mountaintop experience in an airport hotel. Many of the people who paved the path were there—Nancy Wilson, Janie Spahr, Selisse Berry, Loey Powell and so many others. Troy Perry and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott were absent due to frailty but they were there in spirit. Chris Glaser, Carter Heyward, Darlene Gardner, Jim Mitulski, among so many others were fully present and accounted for!
There were workshops, lectures, and panels galore to learn about and celebrate our history. We were in St. Louis where the African American community has experienced shootings and police brutality to which we pledged our support in eradicating. We named our own racism as we vowed to do better.
For me, the most instructive and moving part was the closing celebration in which we gathered in concentric circles. Seated in the middle circle of elders, some with canes. Standing around them were laborers in the vineyard, people like me who are still at it, on our hind legs and doing our best still to move along the path. Encircled behind us were the young people—many queer and trans though hardly a lesbian identified among them—carrying on this work of the Divine in their own way by their own lights. It was powerful to be together in this graphic way.
As we sang, we knew who we were and where we fit into a struggle that in so many ways has just begun. There is a bit of that here this weekend—each of us having come to the mountain in her own way, in her own time, circling with and being encircled by others who will continue to do what we have done in hard times. We come finding our people, learning and teaching, praying and dancing, mourning and enjoying—only to return to the daily struggles with far more strength than we brought.
Being Faithful in the Hard Times—as only LGBTIQ People Can!
No one has to do it all. No group has to provide every resource. But we do need to do that piece of the work, walk that part of the path that is ours in our time and then let go and enjoy.
No one knows better how to do that than we LGBTIQ people of faith because we have done it over and over and over before. We have cumulative wisdom. I hope we will now see fit to have confidence in our experience and share it as a major contribution to a better world in hard times.