Thursday, November 8, 2012

Full Circle, with Tears and Joy

"By and by, when the morning comes,
When the Saints of God are gathered home,
We'll tell the story of how we've overcome,
and we'll understand it better by and by."

I began this blog 4 years ago, in the aftermath of the passage of Prop 8 in California, when the country took a turn towards equality in its election of Barack Obama as our president, while some of our states took a sharp turn away.

On Tuesday, my home state of Minnesota took a turn towards equality when we voted down a similar amendment to our constitution by a margin of 52-48%, the first time any state in the union overturned an effort to dehumanize LGBT people in its state constitution. We shouted and laughed and wept tears of joy.

But underneath it all, for me at least and I think for many others, were another kind of tears. These are tears for those who didn't make it to see this day, who died of AIDS and suicide, those young people who didn't make it to see their high school graduations like Justin Aaberg, whose death pierced my heart as it pierced the hearts of many. The following is my reflection on this experience:


What I hear and feel most deeply around the defeat of the anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota is how deep it has hit so many of us in our souls, and how that power has come out of our eyes through those gentle drops of soul-rain. 

Having to prove one's humanity again, and again, and again to those who deny it is not only tiring, not only demeaning, not only frustrating. It is also deeply sad. It is sad for me and it is sad for those who cannot be moved, whose binders and blinders are so thick that they cannot see what is in front of them: LOVE. 

And that makes me sob like a baby.

And I think, man, I've been at this for 25 years, what about those who have hit this soul-draining homophobia for 35, 45, 55, 65, 75 years, those who died who never had a moment like we had on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning when this cursed proposed amendment took a header down the stairs of history?

What about those who deal with multiple stigma being put on them from the outside of their beautiful bodies and souls that grows inside them like a mold that grows out of control, about those throughout the world who do not have time to worry about their sexual orientation oppression because that is too much of a first-world problem, about those who have scarce dared to tell another soul what is most on their heart? 

What about those who suffered in silence or out loud, those young people who were made to feel like villains for being who they were, who were physically, spiritually, and sexually abused, who took their lives rather than living another day in a world that they felt could do nothing but hate them?

And then I see them: The Saints of God.

Those who are streaming in from all times and from all places, who have been washed in the tears that Jesus has for those who have undergone torment not only *in* his name, but *under* his name. Those whose faith has been kicked down the stairs along with their bodies, spirits, and souls, all the while those who are doing the kicking are repeating: JESUS, JESUS, JESUS, seized with anger or laughter or just plain blank-slate horror in the name of the Lord.

And the Saints stream in from all times and from all places, singing in the name of LOVE. 

And they know. 

They understand. 

They in glory shine. 

They have seen what there is to see. 

And they have overcome.

By and by, when the morning comes. When the saints of God are gathered home. We'll tell the stories of how we've overcome. And we'll understand it better by and by. 

"Festival of Lights," © 2000 John August Swanson

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Remembering October 11, 1998

Part of why I always get a little sick this time of year is what happened 14 years ago. I'll never forget sitting in the little room I was sleeping in then in Manhattan, thinking about the boy who was dying in Laramie. After he died the next day (October 12, 1998), signs went up all over the West Village/Chelsea that said "Bring Your Anger." At the time I thought that message wrong, but in retrospect, I've rarely been angrier than I was when Matthew Shepard was beaten to death. That night there was also a peace march held around Union Square, which I missed, but instead I had my own peace march up 8th avenue, and the candle somehow stayed lit.

So much has happened since 1998, but in some senses, little has changed. The fight against Gay and Lesbian families in Minnesota with the marriage amendment is a classic case of how it is still acceptable to find any rationale necessary to try to defame, diminish, and even destroy us. But our humanity, and the integrity of our families, triumphs over the darkness contained in chants of "religious liberty" and "protect our children," because the One who created and unites us also gave us those parts of ourselves that are most human. And for me, like for Matthew, that part is gay.

No matter what some Christian voices say, God loves what God created, and nobody, of no denomination, of no ranking, of no nationality, of no level of wealth, of no language, political persuasion, education level, or any other factor can separate us from the love of God.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stop Sacrificing "Fem" Boys

The following article appeared in yesterday's New York Times opinion section, written by Moroccan-French writer Abdellah Taïa.  It outlines one young man's experience of growing up in a strict Islamic society and being effeminate, yet it resonates so closely with a similar experience in our own so-called "Christian" culture.  This article can be found here.

Morocco was the most sexually complex environment I've ever been in, now 14 years ago, and only briefly. I met a young guy like Abdellah when I was there, not long after I came out in my own world. I can't say I can't imagine his fear. I think a lot of gay men and lesbian women can relate to a fundamental lack of safety, to being sacrificed to an ideal of religion or society that demanded someone had to die. 

Yet, in our own culture, the hatred by gays of "fems" is not uncommon. "If I wanted to date a girl, I'd be straight," is a line that all of us gays have heard, or said, at some point or another. 

Although bands of drunken "straight" men might not come to our houses and call us out for sex in the US (*this* is akin to sodom, not same-sex couples who want to get married), they do throw us against lockers, down stairs, and tie us to fence-posts. They do lust after us, while hating us and our "sin," mocking us, and making us at times kill ourselves, while wanting to get off on us. They make some of us *want* to sacrifice ourselves. 

But we who are gay do that to ourselves as well--we beat up each other and ourselves for some of the same reasons. We eat our own, as I've heard it said. And I'm not beyond reproach in this. Such is the price of being marinated for years in a culture of homophobia--we all come out smelling the same.

My heart breaks for all the boys who still endure this here and abroad, and for the boy that I was who ignored what other boys did to one of us who was effeminate, who couldn't "pass" as I could, the boy I was who was perhaps glad that someone else was getting the torture. 
Never again. The world, starting with me, and I hope with you as well, must support and protect them.  We must stop sacrificing them and encouraging them to sacrifice themselves.  Nothing is worth that sacrifice, certainly not ideals of behavior and religious principles.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We are All Made of Stars--a Reflection for Ash Wednesday


A report came to me on the way home from Ash Wednesday service at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis about another two journalists being killed while reporting from Syria about the brutal crackdown of President Assad.  In some ways, it was hard to tell at first that they were talking about one of these reporters’ deaths, because they were saying how funny she was, how caring and full of life.  

But you knew what they were saying.  Marie Colvin was dead, killed in the line of her duty, while being a witness of violence against one’s own people in a part of the world that has seen much violence.  As one mentioned, she was covering this story, and had now become part of it.  

“You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Marie Colvin was not dust yesterday.  At least nobody would have said so.  

Today, hearing these words, “you are dust,” sounds demeaning, diminishing, depressing, and final.  But I am here to hear them said, and here to pronounce them:  Child of God, whether or not you believe in God, however you believe or not, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Some days, it is true, I do not feel much above the level of dust.  I don’t know what I am doing, where I am going, how I will bring my life to amount to much more than a pile of dust when it is all said and done.  

Sometimes, it seems like all my dreams are but dust, all my accomplishments, dust to the wind, all my caring for others, dust to brush off one’s sandals.

Sometimes, dusty roads are the only ones that seem to lie ahead.

The problem with that is--whenever you try to hold on too tight to a handful of dust, it breaks free and takes to the wind.  Dust calls to dust at the thunder of dustbowl storms, and all the dust has gone over us.  

Because we are all made of stars.


My ancestors fascinate me, because they are now dust, and yet they blipped across the screen of the world for some great moments.  I have images of some of them, back about 130 years at most.  

These ancestors were made of stardust, and part of my image of them is that once again, their souls returned back to the stars, to the structure of space that is all in God.  My dust comes from them, and theirs comes down a path that extends billions of years into the past.  And the past extends to the maker of what is, was, and is to come.

Pages on which information about my ancestors is written crumble, as do their pictures.  People who do not value these things throw these pictures away, and the ground or a fire claims them.  They were somewhere, and now, like my ancestors themselves, many of these mementos of them are also dust.  

In some time, objects and humans come to resemble each other.  But although we are made of stars, we’re made of more than makes up our things, mementos, pictures, records of our existence.  

We are also made of memory, and possibility, made of hydrated dust, but also of the starlight of life that shines from God through the prisms of our bodies, and into the future. 


The message of Ash Wednesday, which pronounces such harsh words, also calls us to release our tight grip over the dust of our lives, and not to worry so much about where we will go when we return to dust, because all of that dust is in God.  

“People they come together, people they fall apart...”

Moby’s song “We Are All Made of Stars” says it all.  

Christians turn again to the face of God explicitly on Ash Wednesday, but each of us must to daily, hourly, practically by the nanosecond, given our instinctive need to turn away from God, to run right straight into the sun, and experience all of the separation and desolation that our desperate hearts can give us.  

But those hearts are made for loving as well; they are filled with the water of oceans as well as the dust of stars.  God would not give us lives to live if all they were is dust.  We would have stayed in the stars.  

Today is another day to live, to struggle with continuing to live in the face of trying conditions, to mourn those who are not living, to anticipate the day when we and our loved ones will not live, and yet, to live with all of the strength in us that fights to keep the flame of life alive, set ablaze by the spark of God's love.   

Blessed friends, we are all made of stars.  Let your star shine with the internal light of love given you before the ages began, and the eternal light of the one who made this universe and everything in it.