I went to the GLHIJKLMNOP meeting on Wednesday night. Let's just say I'm still not savvy in dealing with groups of people. I don't get it. I don't know what people are thinking or feeling or even what they're saying half the time, and I was so frustrated and pissed after the meeting that I stomped the whole way home on my swollen and split open foot and said I wasn't going ever again. I was THAT pissed. And to top it all off, my friend Kenny was being an annoying jerk all night (he's good at that) and when I was cowering in the corner of the meeting room after the meeting he came over and said "You're acting just like April" (his ex wife). I rolled my eyes and said "You know what Kenny? Good night." And walked home, and later that night he stopped by my friend Jen's house and told her I had "flipped out at him." Yep, that was way flipping out. I DID flip out that night, but not at him, it was later in my apartment when I was panicking and freaking out that I totally flipped. If he thinks that's flipping out he needs to get a clue or two. He's about the most annoying person on the face of the earth most of the time and he needs to fall off the face of the earth as soon as possible. He's a good little button pusher (plus who besides eight year olds insults someone by calling them someone else's name? "Oh YEAH? Well you're like BOB. Take THAT!")
So that was a failure and a half, but the next day there was going to be a roundtable discussion featuring local pastors discussing issues of social justice (all in honor of MLK Jr. weekend) and there was going to be an openly gay pastor from Grand Rapids participating in the discussion, and he wanted to meet with people from DSAGA (the official name of the GLBYOBNAACP group, Diverse Sexuality And Gender Alliance) before the roundtable discussion and just hang out and talk with us. So I forced myself to go despite having to fight to think that people don't hate me and think I'm stupid (my brain likes to tell me that because it thinks if it tells me that I'll cower inside my apartment and not walk out in the cold on my cracked and bleeding feet and yes, before you ask I've tried every foot treatment and lotion that the land of OTC can offer, nothing works). So anyway, I went, and not only did I survive, the pastor was actually pretty cool. You guys know me and my history with pastors...but this one wasn't bad. He seemed nice and personable and human (which is something I admire, though I know they all appear that way before you get to know them and the claws come out). Something new in my "spiritual journey" is seeing pastors as people. It's not something I was used to, I put everyone on a pedestal (which I defend in part because I didn't do it intentionally, and because they were supposed to be speaking for and representing god to a congregation, so I think that invites a higher level of scrutiny) but it's interesting to view it from outside the church (or maybe form my new place inside the church, who knows) and see them as human beings struggling with things just as I do. I can't put it into words but it makes sense in my head; seeing someone who doesn't sit around all day fearing that god hates him but instead works to understand and seek god working from the presupposition that god loves him...I wish I could do that. I want to do that. I've been trying my whole life to do that. and it was inspiring to see.
Then the discussion itself got underway. It was scary to be in a room with that many pastors. No one would ever choose to do that. but they were being remarkably human and that was good to see. I see enough fake people in my life, I'm required to be happy and please customers all day long so I lie my way through many a time I want to strangle people, I don't want that in my church too, I want people to be real. There was a lot of realness that night, and I appreciated it, even when it made my skin crawl (pastors have that affect on me). One of the pastors, Kevin Payne, is the pastor at the Assembly of God church here in Big Rapids, if you guys remember the fun that ensued when I went to that church a few years ago. For those who don't, here's the run down: they had a weekly prayer meeting for "real Christians" and not the "timid, shy, or fearful," I talked to the pastor and protested that phrase being used to describe the prayer meeting, we went back and forth a few times, finally I said "I feel like it's saying I'm not welcome because I'm timid, shy, and fearful," and he replied, "most people don[t realize that shyness is a form of pride, trying to separate yourself from others, and if you're not willing to let god work on that, then we DON'T want you here," so I said "Ok, I'm leaving the church if you don't want me here, best of luck making headway in this area with that attitude" and I never went back. But seeing him there that night reminded me why I stayed at that church so long. He has one of those voices I could listen to for hours, and I believe he's 100% sincere in everything he says, whether I agree with him or not, he believes what he's saying. He's one of those people that you want to listen to even when what they say makes you angry, if that makes any sense. I respect that about him, I always have. The other pastors were a hodgepodge group, two methodists, a UCC trainee, a Lutheran, Pastor Kevin the AG rep, and then our guy, George Miller the openly gay pastor from Grand Rapids. the discussion turned into a debate at times and got heated, and people insulted each other in that nice Christian way where you offer a backhanded compliment like "We love you even if you're gay; your sin is no worse than mine" "but...but...you just presupposed a conclusion in your-" "hush, child, we love you." But somehow the conversation managed to always steer back to the topic of social justice and how we're all trying to live that out in our lives and congregations. It was eye-opening. Not always fun, but then, I find unfun things fun most of the time. The discussion was a bit choppy, and the specific focus on Dr. King seemed a bit forced to me because I don't think Dr. King would have wanted us to be sitting around discussing him, he lived and died for a cause and I truly believe he'd want that cause featured foremost in our discussions so he would be able to see he hadn't died in vain. Or at least that's what I believed. the most profound thing to me about Dr. King wasn't all the good and wonderful things he achieved, the things he helped motivate people to do, because I grew up with those stories as a kid the way I grew up with stories about David in the bible and Samson in the bible, great heroes. then I got older and read for myself and learned that Samson and David did some pretty horrible things in their lives, and I got glimpses of the hope that someday I could achieve something great, too. I didn't really connect with Dr. King's story until I heard about some of his flaws, some things he might have done wrong in his life, because those to me brought him down off the pedestal and made him human. Again I was able to believe that even we flawed and fragile humans can achieve something greater than what we are. To me, that's more inspiring than the most inspiring speech, not that Dr. King spoke, but that he lived what he spoke, every day, in spite of his flaws and humanness, and that he motivated people to change the world.
Here are some of the highlights from the night:
The United Methodist pastor seemed to echo some of my thoughts above when he said Dr. King was a great motivator because he convinced people to do things that would be difficult or scary. "He had to motivate to get people to believe in something that would be hard to do."
The Free Methodist pastor said that it was hard for people to discuss things civilly because they wanted to change people's minds, he said we think "We'll be on the same page as soon as you agree with me."
Wendy Samuels, a social work professor and moderator of the event, said "This is an opportunity for you to be intentional about learning." I love going to conferences and such for just that reason. It's hard for me to be around people, but I know that's the only way I'll learn, so I go.
One of the men in the audience, said that we expect the world to change overnight and we need to be patient and take the time to learn from each other and make things work. He said "We live in a microwave generation. We want our food now, but our food is killing us."
There was some great discussion about churches reaching out to young people and one of the moderators said that until churches accepted youth, as loud and messy as they might be, then "youth ministry" would be just a name. A-fucking-men.
As expected, the biggest clusterfuckle of the night was when the topic turned toward homosexuality, someone tried to turn it away, it got turned back, and it had to be forcefully turned away again because people were about ready to start fires. Or at least I was. I don't mind listening to people, and I'd rather they come right out with their "yes, dear, you're a sinner and if you don't change you're going to burn forever in hell for disobeying god" stuff rather then sitting quietly and pretending they don't think it. It's still hard to hear, though. The pastor from the Free Methodist church told this two million hour long story about this lesbian couple in his church and how he loved them and promised to love them but he told them he can't sit there and say the bible doesn't call them sinners, and why wasn't that good enough for them? Because they didn't want to hear the truth. It's about here that Rev. Miller (Grand Rapids) interrupted and said "Can I interrupt here? I was wondering if we could get back on the subject of Dr. King here, because I was invited here to participate in this discussion and talk about changing the world through a message, and I've just been told I can't be a part of that because I'm a gay man." That hurt. As did his response to my friend Jen when she asked if she could go into any of the pastor's churches and not be judged even if she has scars on her arms or if her friend Kenny is wearing a dress, and Rev. Miller said that sometimes we walk into those kinds of situations expecting others to judge us and that's being judgmental. He's right, I'm not disputing that, but I've been told most of my life that I'm judging people, that I want them to agree with me, and that I hate people who aren't like me, and it's taken years and years for me to be able to understand that no, I don't want everyone to be like me, and I'm even ok with people not understanding me. I don't even understand myself half the time, I don't expect other people to understand me. What I want and need more than anything in the world is to be able to believe that god understands me and that god loves me, and if I can get there, then everything else will be ok. Really ok. I've spent my life trying to change who I am, everything about me, every impure unholy ounce of my being, and this has been going on years and years and years before I ever licked a pussy. My problem isn't about other people, though they will always skeeze me out a little bit, it's about god. I know from the bottom of my heart that I am a sinner and a failure and a screw up of the most monumental proportions. I don't need to believe that I am free from sin or mistakes...but I know there are some things I do that are a part of who I am, and those things won't change. I've tried. I am who I am in spite of that trying. so what I need is to be able to believe that god loves me, not "god loves me, but." I've lived with that "but" my entire life. I want to believe god's love, whatever that is. I will always be attracted to places where people are seeking god because community is part of how I experience god, it always has been and always will be. But I'm not looking for attention, I'm looking for god. I'm not looking for answers, I'm looking for the deity who is the reason my questions exist. I want to find that. Desperately. I'm trying. People can't accept me because I'm weird and different, I have been all my life, and to make that all about one thing, one thing that is the reason I don't fit in is vastly unhelpful to me. So I'm with Rev. Miller that the focus on homosexuality is stupid because it's missing the point. It scares me to be "with" a pastor on anything. I try to avoid agreeing with them at all costs. But I like how he challenged me not to come into situations expecting people not to accept me (yes, he challenged me, me personally, screw those other people there, me me me the center of the universe). I'll have to think about that one. And I'll have to think about this:
"Homosexuality isn't brokenness, it's an aspect of wholeness that we don't understand yet."
Guess who said that one? Yeah, I'll be thinking about that. thinking a lot. I'm so glad I went to this event. I got a little closure with pastor Kevin, and I got a lot of things to ponder.
It's only one more day until D-Day and we'll see if I'll go to church Sunday. God have mercy on my soul.