Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Church Under Construction....

Part of me is saying to myself that this feels far bigger than it actually is, and that I have it out of proportion. The other part of me has been in tears off and on since yesterday, and does not expect to get through this post with out crying some more. However, writing things out and turning them inside out and upside down and thinking them over is a way to process and reframe and arrive at perspective and ideas for things to do. The other day, as mentioned in an earlier post on about Labyrinth, and the new look on my blog, we - Dreamweaver and myself - went to a "Quiet Day" at our church. Our church has a new sanctuary and has been under construction ( see the picture above), which is now finished. So our Quiet Day was in the new sanctuary, which is beautiful! The indoor candle lit Labyrinth was set up in the hall where the old sanctuary was, the out door Labyrinth was, of course and as always, available. A lovely lunch was provided...reading materials were provided. There were materials to make a sand labyrinth with. Communion was served. Quiet music...spiritual direction. A day to meditate, to rest and feed the soul...
Except that Dreamweaver and I arrived at the church with a storm in our hearts. The day before in our local paper there was an article on the second page about the Episcopalian Diocese in SC possibly splitting over the GLBT issues that are shaking the denomination and we were very concerned and rattled by it. Dreamweaver in particular was shaken, as she is about to be a very brave little Episcopagan and actually JOIN this church as a communing confirmed member. And as the very visible Lesbian couple in the church - and the only gay couple that we are aware of - we were feeling very unsure - like a target painted on our backs! Dreamweaver went to Mother L in tears for spiritual direction.
She received assurances that the church would stand by us, that we were welcome, that Mother L and Father M were on top of the situation...and then the conversation exploded in her face. Dreamweaver asked what could we do to help...and Mother L, without realizing she was putting a match to gasoline, made the statement that we should not have Public Displays of Affection - no putting our arms around each other, etc, until the church got "used" to us...
Dreamweaver caught up with me later on our way down to lunch and told me. I came to a dead halt and felt like someone had just punched me in the gut - HARD. Don't touch, don't look like a gay couple, don't make anyone uncomfortable...I live my life in this town with my head cranked over my shoulder gauging where I am, who is near, is it safe to be near my wife. GLBT people live daily with these decisions - can I put the picture of my partner on my desk at work, or will it get me harassed and fired? Can I put my arm around my lover, or is this area of town safe - could I get lectured by someone, beaten up, raped, murdered? Is the person in the corner someone who knows other people that I am NOT out to - will kissing my partner on the cheek and holding hands Out me to people I choose not to be Out to. Sean Kennedy was murdered a block from where Dreamweaver was working at the time - his murderer got manslaughter, served virtually no jail time, the rest of the sentence aborted. His ugly gay bashing phone call after he killed Sean was inadmissible in court. ( We live in a dangerous area of the country...
Church was my safe space. Years ago, when I first began attending, I caught Father M on the second time I was there and told him flat out I was gay, and asked if it was a problem...that if it was, I would just move on and keep church hunting. Father M hugged me and said that I was welcome as I am, and that there was no problem. Never have I felt so relieved, because I had fallen in love with this church. So for years I have been attending, quietly but openly gay- no flag waving, but no hiding either. My ex did not attend very often with me, which probably made it easier on folks to kind of ignore me, or not "see" what I am. Dreamweaver however, attends with me, and as I said earlier, is officially joining the church. Up until now, when our insane school schedules let us attend, we have sat together in the pew, with my arm around her, or holding hands, in the service, across the parking lot. I have felt safe. I have bragged that I attend a church where my love and I were welcomed and accepted as we are, a couple, a family, that we didn't have to hide, that this church has ministered to us as the Bible teaches - in love.
When I had my hip surgery, Mother L was at the hospital praying with Dreamweaver and my parents while they waited. When I got home and was recovering, the church brought us communion. When Gentle One and his wife who came to bring us communion saw our poverty and empty cupboards, he brought back enough groceries from the church to feed us for three months. When the electricity was about to be shut off, the church paid the bill. Indeed, my best guess is that over the last five years, they have financially helped with college book money, electric bill money, gas money, or just enough to keep the checking account from bouncing. Mother L, said this weekend that she wishes she could help us this fall, but the discretionary funds are empty and that distressed her. We didn't ask; but she knows our situation and we appreciated the fact that she wished she could help. In fact, a few times we asked for help, it didn't come from church money, but from Father M or Mother L's own wallet. Moreover, we right now have no means to give back the help that has been extended to us. Won't have it until we are out of college. (We both have had severe relationship/financial distress and changes in careers and have lost homes and financial stability. It won't always be this way. I have offered and will be donating a free mural to the church - I may not have money right now, but my talent and time is my tithe - when we move into our post college and grad school careers and stabilize, we will be paying forward by tithing to the discretionary fund account for those who come after us who are in similar condition). When I was under going one of the darkest periods of my life, I turned to Father M and received counseling, acceptance, and Christian love - the same from Mother L. This is a wonderful church - everything a church should be and more!
And all of a sudden, this. Don't be public. Don't be seen. Don't act like a couple publicly. I stood in the parking lot of the church and abruptly had tears pouring down my face. I kept telling myself the reaction was extreme, that this is a small thing, a misunderstanding, something we could accommodate if it would did no good. I could not stop the tears, or the feeling I had been stabbed through the heart, or that my "safe" church, my heart's home was suddenly no longer safe. I stumbled through the rest of the day, unable to focus on the meditation, only finding some peace and centering when I walked the indoor Labyrinth. D. who was in charge of the Labyrinth - keeping candles lit, providing writing materials, and spiritual direction - began her walk in on the Labyrinth as I was walking out. We came together at a turn, and I stepped back to let her pass. She walked up to me and hugged me, profoundly and deeply - I clung to her for a moment, feeling the love and acceptance heal me somewhat.
Later in the day I cornered Mother L. and went through the same discussion - poor woman! - wanting confirmation of what I had heard, to see where she was really coming from.
Mother L was a school teacher before she became an Episcopalian Priest. She is a very reserved woman herself. I think she is not comfortable with public displays of affection from anyone - that this extends not from bigotry, but from her own natural reserve and perhaps ignorance of GLBT issues. Just because some one is an ally, does not necessarily mean they are educated on all the issues and impacts of this culture. She did say that she did not want to make us uncomfortable, and to not worry about what she had pointed out if it did. She also admitted she would not have so counseled a straight couple...that last brought a look of sudden dawning realization to her face - the beginning of understanding of what she had just done. She was loving and compassionate, and when I said one of my dreams was for Dreamweaver and I to marry in this church and for her and Father M and Mother L to perform the ceremony, she lit up and said she wished with all her heart that someday that could happen. No. Not hate or bigotry. Or lack of acceptance. Only misunderstanding and cultural blindness. That was all we had time for, as the day was drawing to a close, and the final communion ceremony was about to start.
Dreamweaver and I went home afterward, feeling that we had not quite had the spiritually restorative day we might have had. Sunday morning we rose and went to church. I almost could not walk in the door. I chose for this service to consider what Mother L. had said about our visibility and taking time to let people get used to us. So I did not put my arm around Dreamweaver in the service, or hold her hand going into the building. And before the service was half over, I was crying again, and could not stop the tears from running down my face. I grew up sitting in church with my family - my dads arm around my mother, my mom's arm around me - it was a part of being together as a family in worship and community. And I felt that this was being denied to us. And yet, as we left, other members of the congregation came to us and hugged us and greeted us...our home is still our home. Afterward, Mother L came to us, alarmed and concerned and threw her arms around us, and wanted to know if we needed to talk...we said that we wanted to later - we knew she and Father M had a meeting immediately after with Episcopal church leadership to discuss the article in the paper about GBLT issues and the Episcopal church split. I am sure Mother L went to that meeting shaken and thinking hard.
So where are we now? We will be talking to Mother L and Father M about GLBT issues, and getting them information. We will continue to sit together with our arms across each other shoulders. We will not back down, but neither will we become militant, or angry. This is our church, our home. These are our community and family. And as those who minister to us have done so, we will minister to them regarding the truths of being Gay in this world and culture. I feel better today - talking about with Dreamweaver, writing this post, talking with friends (THANK YOU Alissia!) have gone far to ease my heart. I have a button on a vest that I wear that says the Mahatma Gandhi quote - "we must be the change we wish to see in the world."
Our church is a human organization and flawed, a family, and heir to all the miscommunication and misunderstandings that humans are capable of. It is a church "under construction" and love is how we build it. So with love, I will begin...


  1. Oh, Cameron, I wish I was there with you now so that I could give you a huge hug. I'm sorry that you are going through this, though I am glad that you still have the support of your church. This just tears my heart out.

    When I start my own country, you and Dreamweaver should be some of the first citizens.

    All my love and prayers,

  2. My dear Cameron, take a deep breath. Repeat as necessary.

    I am definitely an ally, and I think I'm a fairly well informed one as well. I certainly try to be. When I read what Mother L said to Dreamweaver, I cringed. But when you wrote what else she said to you about it later in day (or the next day) I relaxed a little bit.

    Here's my take on it: She's trying. She means well? I agree with your assessment that she isn't as well-informed as she might be. Perhaps you and Dreamweaver might be able to help educate her as the opportunity presents itself.

    This is a very important issue, and obviously your church/denomination is struggling with it now. It's got everyone on edge. The seas are rough. Try to be patient.

    I love you both. Big hugs all around!

  3. I LOVE you guys!!! Thanks so much! You have no idea how precious you are to me and to Dreamweaver! Java, I consider you to be an extremely well informed incredible GLBT ally and wish more were like you! You are amazing! Light, we will apply for citizenship as soon as you open the borders! Lets all just hang in there and breathe! Oh - and Dreamweaver posted to her blog about this too. Also worth reading!

  4. Beloved,

    Witnessing your agony yesterday was heart stopping. Never have I been in relationship with one who cherished me so deeply, loved me so profoundly, valued me so openly. There are no words to express the extraordinary relationship we share, nor the callousness of those who lack educaation, even with good intentions. It really sucks when the victim is stuck with the role of educator.

  5. I am and have always been thrilled that you were able to find a church that would accept you and your partner as is without need to lecture or judge or condemn you or her. And quite frankly, it pisses me off that this is happening now after you and she have already fallen in love with the church and its people. I hope after you guys have a chance to talk to Father M and Mother L you will once again know it as your safe haven.

  6. well... damn....
    I'll be happy for the day when my friends...all of my friends can walk down the street holding hands, kiss hello or dance with one another without anyone looking on with anything other than a smile for the cute couple.

    No of "flaunting"....
    really when you think about it we "breeders" have flaunted our sexuality for years.

  7. Cameron....and Dreamweaver,
    I already posted to Dreamweaver's blog, and (grin) I can see you read that. A few -minor- points to add. And keep in mind that I am somewhere between agnostic, pagan, and atheist.

    You have nothing to thank me for. You and Dreamweaver give as much or more than I ever give to you. The balance I feel will always come up owing more to the two of you. And I thank you for that.

    As to being I said, anytime. Literally. You and others have been there for me in the darkness, and giving back is only one small step in my personal redemption. I have much to be thankful for, and sometimes I think even more to atone for. This is only a small payment on the interest of that debt... I have years before I will have sufficiently paid those who have stepped up are repaid.

    And yes, you are helping to build the church with love. A church is not a book.... not a set of rules, doctrines, proverbs and fables. It is not the shining icon or the Transubstantiation of Communion. It is not the person at the front lecturing the masses. It is not the songs, or rituals, or dogma.

    It is the people. That is what a church really consists of. "Anywhere that two or more are gathered in my name, I am there also." The definitive definition of a church. So you follow a tradition that most don't even think about. You build the church not brick by brick, but person by person, action by action, thought by thought and deed by deed. This is what truly makes a church. This is also why, even in the same sects no two churches are the same. The people who come and take part in the services and discourse in what ever form are what builds the structure and form of the church.

    Build well. You have good tools. And build with love, as hate only destroys not builds. May the gods and goddesses (yes, I practice heresy) watch over you and guide you in the path you need. The one that will help you past the hurt, and help you teach those around you.

    I believe in that saying. More now than ever in my life. So many have reached out for me that I can and must reach out for others. They were the change they wished to see.... as I hope to be now.

    Blessings upon you both as you see fit. My love, caring, support, and compassion go out to you.

    Take what you need, as I give gladly.

    Be safe and well,


  8. Alissia, you have become such a wonderful part of our lives in such a short time - and I can't imagine life without you in it now! I understand what you are saying about the - shall we call it - Karmic debt you feel you owe those around you. It is a debt that we all owe the communities that love and sustain us...and yet between such as us there is no owing at all, only love and support freely given, no measuring or stinting, and offered with open hands. "Pay it forward" is another way to express it. And yet, "owing" and "paying" are poor terms that cannot express the richness of the gift of unconditional love, freely given. Such we have received from you...such we offer to you. Thank you with all our hearts.
    Much love, and blessed be!

  9. I'm glad that you were able to go back and talk to Mother L some more, because as I was reading along in the beginning, that is what I was mainly thinking!

    First, that there are people who are just generally PDA-averse.

    But second, mostly, that it's a hallmark of heteronormative privilege that Mother L doesn't *HAVE* to think about the impact of her suggestion on you, and therefore, she likely just never has. It makes sense inside her own head. She can't know what it feels like to the recipient unless someone, somewhere along the lines, sits her down and explains it to her.

    So, lucky you! ;-)

    I hope you guys do get a chance to talk to both of them at more length about this. Do yourselves a favor, try to jot down some notes for yourself of the kinds of things you want to cover. Not that you have to be reading from a script, but it will help to organize your thoughts to try to come up with it beforehand.

    It also sucks when the oppressed, discriminated-against minority is put in the position of "well, it's YOUR job to educate the people in the position of power on how not to hurt you!" Seriously, you see that ALL the time, and I've seen many good arguments presented about why it's really NOT the minority's job. That the tools exist, out there, to educate oneself as part of the privileged majority, in how Not To Be An Ass to those without the same privilege. One important answer is: it shouldn't have to be your job to educate and explain; Mother L is capable of educating herself, if she really wants to.

    But... while I agree with that theory, I also recognize that reality is a compromise between the two. It sucks -- but, you also have an investment in educating these folks the way YOU want them to be educated, in the terms that are important to you. So that makes it more valuable to you to do the educating yourself. And it helps build community between you and them, and that's part of what being part of the church is about.

    Stepping back for a moment, though -- be sure to put that on the list. The fact that yes, hey, you're glad to sit down with them and help them understand how not to hurt you! But... the fact that you have to do that in order to stop them hurting you is another sign of *their privilege*.

    I'm glad that you said that Mother L had that small lightbulb moment where she realized that she would never, ever demand of a straight couple what she demanded of you guys. That's a big one. And it's also worth pointing out to them that the community CAN'T "get used to you" if you are presented to them in a dishonest way, which is to say, if you are presented to them as a sexless pair of friends, how can they get used to you as a couple? It's contradictory.

  10. Pt. 2! (I wondered if there were length limits for comments! Now I know...)

    (Here's another lightbulb moment -- so, do other women in your church group hug? Put their arms around each other? Hold hands, perhaps? If they're family to each other, or friends, I bet it's not even blinked at. Depends on the community and how much touch is a part of it. But that's the thing. I know it's another form of being blinkered, but how many people in that community are likely to look at you guys, two women with arms around each other or whatever, and not see "a couple", but rather, just see "two women behaving the way women often behave with each other"? It'd be far more challenging to social norms if you were a male gay couple, obviously. But it's not like you're going to be sticking your tongues down each others' throat right there at church, or in the parking lot! I find it difficult to believe that the kinds of PDAs you'd engage it AT CHURCH would be any different than what women engage in with each other in public, anyway. The only difference is that Mother L is thinking that while people regard it as "normal" and probably don't even notice it amongst other women, if they "know" you guys are a couple, they won't be able to see pretty much the same behavior without regarding it as sexualized -- and frankly, that's kind of offensive, too. It relates to the larger issue of how homosexuality is often characterized as being All About Sex. See also: "how am I supposed to explain a gay couple to my kid?" How about the same way you explain any couple to your kid? Two people holding hands doesn't require you to launch Explicit Sexual Education for your child, and that doesn't change just because the couple is same-sex.)

    They also really do have to understand the underlying message -- you guys are the minority, you're the ones who are threatened by all kinds of social factors. Yet, the advice to you is basically, "don't make the majority uncomfortable". Um... why not? Why is the majority's comfort of more value than your own sense of welcome/safety? Well, for practical reasons, you can answer that you are *asking something of* the majority -- their acceptance, their forbearance; and to get it, you're being asked to meet conditions. Why? Because the majority has all the power in this relationship.

  11. Pt. 3... (that's it, really!)

    But I wonder, if you are able to put it into those terms, if that will make another lightbulb go off. Because that's describing a fairly abusive relationship. And it needs to be pointed out that little is being asked of the majority here. They aren't being challenged to expand their idea of what God's love is. Or... to look at it another way, the message is that *your mere existence*, as individuals and as a couple, is so innately challenging that that's all they can be asked to encompass at first.

    But objectively, that's a very low bar. That's what I mean about them not being challenged. That's a path, I feel, that leads towards reinforcing in the majority the idea that merely accepting your existence (in as neutered a way as possible, so as not to "threaten" them) is a great accomplishment. It's not. It's the LEAST THEY CAN DO. Literally, the least. They need to do more. And the only way to get them to do more is to model for them what is expected.

    Asking you guys to hide the PDAs, to be sexless, to be not a couple -- that's telling the majority that when it comes to accepting gays, the gays still have to live by the majority's terms for their existence and their expression. The great accomplishment is to model to the majority the idea that you two, behaving like any other normal couple according to your own wishes (I mean, in the sense that whether gay or straight, individual desire for PDAs varies), ARE "just like any other normal couple". The more people see it, and the more it is looked upon as normal and no big deal by the leaders of the community, the more the rest of the community will accept it as part of the social norm.

    I hope that's something you can get across to Mother L. They're the leaders. Their job is to model the expected behavior to the community.

  12. As per your discription of the newly constructed church it seems that you are pretty happy and feel relief about the fact of newly constructed church.

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  13. Thank you for your great article on this is very important subject.Very informative and easy read.Very happy this is getting done. It's a humanitarian victory, of sorts.
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