Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rainbow Sash Group???

There are groups of protesters advocating for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians in Christian Churches known as "The Rainbow Sash Movement".  Usually, they attempt to receive Communion during a Catholic Mass while wearing a bold rainbow sash - making a political statement and protest during the Mass. (Their focus seems to be aimed primarily at Catholics, though I have seen articles where members have appeared at various other Christian denominational services)

Personally I find this very inappropriate and in poor taste.

For anyone who knows me well or has read this blog, they will tell you I am all about equal rights for gays and lesbians, and it is my constant prayer intention for full inclusion and acceptance within mainstream Christianity one day -- being accepted as children of God as He created us.  That being said, if you have a statement to make, you do not do it during a Mass, Liturgy or Service.  That is just rude and in poor taste.  You not only distract from the focus of the service -- which is to worship GOD (not YOU), but you disrupt the prayers and meditation of the people there.  That is wrong.

Groups like the Human Rights Campaign constantly complain about Churches voicing their opinions about Homosexuality publicly, and scream about the separation of Church and State.  I find it very ironic then, that some members of a group like this would find it appropriate to bring the state into the Church.

It surprises me that grown people in both camps - gay activists AND Church officials can often act like such children -- fighting each other in the school yard.  Neither group is very good at respecting the other despite their different beliefs.  Ever heard of agree to disagree??  How about lead by example?

Church goers could try behaving like Christians and treat others with love - and political activists could respect other people's beliefs and stop trying to force their views upon others.

It breaks my heart to not be fully accepted as a gay Christian in some Churches, but it makes me equally as sad when my fellow brothers and sisters attack the Churches in such ways.  When will either side learn?

Gay Christians can make more of an impact by living the Gospel, being a witness of Christ's love and acceptance, and praying for change more than they will ever make by protesting during a service or Mass.  The protesters that do it just to make a point (and are not "religious") - just stay home and do your work in the civil arena where it belongs.

Soap box speech done.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It Gets Better

Yesterday I joined countless people around the country in wearing purple clothing or a purple ribbon to remember those gay people who have committed suicide due to bullying.  There have been numerous reports in the media of college aged students giving into the hate and discrimination - feeling there is no hope left for them in life - and seeing death as their only solice.

On Tuesday, just before we were to stand up against this type of bullying, another brother, a 19 year old student from Oakland University, succumbed to suicide.

I wanted to share a bit of my own story of struggle growing up as a gay individual in a world that often times seemed so cold and indifferent.

After growing up in a small Catholic grade school (which I loved), I found myself thrown into a sea of chaos at the local public High School.  I wanted so much to continue my education in a Catholic institution, but my parents simply could not afford the high cost of tuition.  So, I went to school at the local High School where my older brother was already a student.  Not having grown up in the local public schools, I knew very few students, as most of my friends had transferred to local Catholic High Schools.

I didn't fit in at all, at least not right away.  Being a freshman is hard enough, but I was seriously over weight, an actual practicing Catholic (which garnered a lot of criticism from the secularistic ideals of the students - and ostracised me from most of the Protestant Christian students), and was also some what shy.

I did my best to fit in, but it seemed like a futile attempt.  I had few friends who knew me, had no idea of what types of clothes to wear (I missed the safety of a uniform), and also struggled internally with the fear that this attraction I had to members of the same sex.. the attraction I had assured myself was just a phase.. would not go away.

High School can be a sea of hormones, young men and women coming to terms with their sexual identities and feelings, and exploring those feelings with one another.  Most kids start pairing up and dating - talking openly about their feelings with each other.  I, like so many other gay and lesbian youth, kept everything bottled up inside.  It was already bad enough to be labeled a "homo" or a "fag" just as a general insult, but what if they found out I really WAS gay?

Eventually, by the end of my freshman year, and certainly into my sophomore year, I began to find my own clique of friends and secure my own identity.  My sense of humor and ability to make other people laugh made for a good defense and safety device.  Keep them laughing and they won't hurt you was how I lived.  It's still a defense mechanism, and has helped me develop into a fine tuned "smart ass" - only now I have discovered I am so good at keeping people at arms length, it is hard to let my guard down and accept them into my life.

It seems kids just know when someone else is different, even if that person doesn't admit it.  I tried dating a girl, but it only lasted a week.  I found it too disturbing and was very uncomfortable with the idea.  It was hard for me to connect with other male students - aside from the awkward attraction I felt towards them, I had little in common with them - not being the least bit interested in sports, or girls.

Then, as now, anything bad was labeled as "gay".  "That's so gay", "he's a homo", "that fag" were all expressions I heard on a daily basis.  It scared the Hell out of me and caused me to bury my feelings further and further inside of me.. hoping they would eventually go away.  Others minorities didn't have to suffer in silence - if a derogatory remark was made against women, blacks, the Eastern European students we had - anyone.. teachers were all over them.  Gay remarks however seemed to pass mostly unnoticed or ignored.  In gym class, I think they were even completely accepted by some of the coaches.

At times the suppression of my feelings, the lack of an outlet to express them, my perceived guilt for being "wrong", "dirty" or "immoral" would come to a peak.  I would plunge into deep depression, not knowing where to go, who to turn to.  I couldn't talk to my pastor, I couldn't tell my parents, my older brother already teased me to no end, school friends would not understand (they might even spread it around).  I felt so damned alone.

I remember so clearly, kneeling next to my bed at night, praying my rosary with such intensity that the beads would leave imprints in my hands and fingers from holding them so tightly.  I prayed that God would take the feeling away from me.. make me "normal".. make me "straight".  This experience contributes to my loathing of the fundamentalist Christian "pray the gay away" "ministries".  Believe me, if all we had to do was ask to be "changed", I asked enough for hundreds of gays and lesbians.

I gradually started to "come out" to close friends and faculty.  They gave me the outlet I needed to unburden myself of the secret that had been burning inside me.  Then (the late 90's) shows like Will and Grace had just started to come into existence, giving gay and lesbian people across the country a small affirmation of themselves on the screen.  I caught the show once in a while.. in secret, when I knew no one would be able to see what I was watching.  It might have provoked them to ask questions.  If someone did walk in while I was watching Will and Grace, I quickly changed the channel.

For me, my High School years were not the happiest years of my life.  I still have nightmares about being back there... even as a teacher, I have felt uncomfortable working in High School classrooms, remembering and feeling all to clearly the anxiety I felt those four years I was in school.

Life got so much better in college.  It offered a more diverse group of students and faculty where young adults felt more comfortable to openly express who they were.  I met some great friends and began to embrace who I was as a gift, not a curse... and delved into my major (History) where I was able to learn about societal attitudes towards gays and lesbians over the centuries.  The sense of isolation began to melt away as I met new people and learned new ideas beyond the standard history, sociology and psychology of the High School classroom.

My faith and sexual orientation took a bit longer to reconcile, and I have written about it here in my blogs in earlier entries.  One night, I felt so bogged down by all the scripture verses that were being thrown at me, and again I began to pray.  I asked God to speak to me, and make His message clear.  Was I being sinful for following through with the strong feelings I had had my whole life?  I turned on the tv and began flipping through the channels.  I stumbled across a movie called Door to Door about a salesman in the 50's who builds a successful career despite his physical handicap. In one scene, the salesman's young, fundamentalist female assistant finally realizes that two men on the sales route aren't just old roommates, but partners.  When she realizes this, she shakes her head in disgust, saying how wrong it was, and against the Bible.  The salesman said something to her that I will never forget.  "God doesn't make mistakes... He knows what He is doing."  There it was.. my answer.

In my 10 years since High School, I have grown so much stronger, mentally and spiritually.  I'm no longer afraid to be myself, and have long given up changing pronouns or omitting things that "others" might find offensive.  I speak about my feelings and experiences just as any heterosexual person would.  I find great spiritual nourishment in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, just as I always have.. though now I am an advocate of our richer and more traditional style liturgy, choosing to focus on the prayer life of the Church (after all, there is nothing anti-gay in the Mass) rather than the politics of the Church.  God is the judge of all, not any one person - religious official or otherwise.

I earned my bachelor's degree in History, doing a lot of private studying on gay and lesbian topics, which I continue to read about independently.  I recently earned my Masters degree in Social Studies Education, and do my best as a substitute teacher to correct students when they comment "that's so gay", and take a moment to share with them how wrong it is to put down a whole group of people so blindly.  I try to share my views and opinions with fellow educators who teach full time to help them be aware of gay bullying in their classrooms, and have been encouraged to see the number of faculty and staff who take the time to let their students know that such comments are not acceptable.

It's not an easy path, but it does get easier.  There's nothing wrong with you.. nothing that needs to be "fixed".  You're beautiful just the way you are.  We are all made in the image and likeness of God.. and He does not make mistakes.

Know that you are loved - gay or straight - you are loved.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Memorias Defunctorum

"Memorias Defunctorum" - Remember the Dead.

The month of October brings with it all sorts of creepy symbolism that to our 21st century mind is nothing more than indulging in our love of horror films.  In actuality, the symbolism of tombstones, skeletons and ghosts goes back to the practice of remembering our deceased brothers and sisters... and a reminder to ourselves that we too will die.

To read an earlier post I made giving a brief history of Halloween, click here.

Putting up the Halloween decorations, I kept thinking of my maternal Grandmother, who used to take my older brother and I to the local Hills department store every October for their annual "pumpkin hunt".  They would scatter piles of hay, and hide little plastic pumpkins within the hay... containing candy... and even a few with certificates for store merchandise.  It was like the Halloween version of an egg hunt.  My brother and I loved this annual tradition, and it still makes me smile thinking of going there with Grams -- then off to McDonald's for lunch -- a Happy Meal served in a plastic Halloween bucket.  Anyone remember those?

Thinking so much of Grams, I lit a candle in her honor and for the repose of her soul.  Doing this made me think of another tradition from my youth, this one coming from my first grade teacher, Sister M. Dorothy F.S.S.J.

In my former parish of St. Joe's (now closed), the founding pastor of the parish was given the honor of being buried in front of the Church he helped to build.  Every so often, Sister would take us on "field trips" to the grave site to pray for Father. 

In such a sterile world where we don't "like" to think of death, it seems like an odd custom.  Sister Dorothy was from a different school of thought however, one that encouraged the living to remember those who had gone before us.. to pray for "the souls of the faithful departed".

I decided to light another candle.  This one for the souls who had no one left on Earth to remember them.  This is another aspect of the Catholic faith that has been increasingly swept under the carpet.  It's a beautiful sentiment, to take time to remember those who perhaps have no one left to carry on their memories.  Remember praying for the poor souls in Purgatory??  Yea.. that's becoming "obsolete" too.  

Ironic.. so many "religion" classes teach nothing more about our faith than "community"... yet we have forgotten to include those community members who have gone before us.

While I have certainly hopped on my religion soap box, again lamenting the laziness and secularist tendencies of modern day Catholics.. I assure you there is a reason for my rant.

Regardless of your own spiritual belief system, there are people out there who volunteer to "adopt a gave" at their local cemeteries.  I think this is an awesome practice of human compassion and historical preservation.
Every time I go to a cemetery I find a grave stone that is being overwhelmed by vegetation and un-cared for.  Perhaps that person was the last of their family, perhaps no one else lives in the area, or perhaps the grave is so old, there is no one left to remember that person.  Pick a grave or two and help take care of it if you have noticed no one else is doing so.  Give respect once again to the name of the person on the marker.

One day it will be our turn - who will remember us?