Wednesday, February 11, 2009

black cat bar

Tonight, on the 42nd anniversary of the protest, I attend a commemorative event at the site of the Black Cat bar in Silver Lake. Now operated as Le Bar Cito, and still a gay bar, in 1967 this was the site of a massive protest against the Los Angeles Police Department and its treatment of gays and lesbians.

On New Year's Eve, 1966 going into 1967, the Black Cat bar hosted a New Year's eve party. The LAPD sent undercover cops into the bar, and at midnight when the men celebrated the New Year by kissing each other the cops arrested 14 men for "Lewd Conduct." A semi-riot followed with men beaten and fleeing to a neighboring bar ("New Faces" now the site of Circus of Books). But a month and a half later, on February 11, 1967, 600 gay men and lesbians and their supporters staged a protest in the street in front of the bar.

On November 8, 2008, just 4 days after the election that saw the passage of Proposition 8, the Black Cat was designated Los Angeles Historical Cultural Monument #939. Tonight, on the anniversary of the protest about 200 men and women crowded into the bar for a little program celebrating our history. Rodney Scott, of Christopher Street West (the organization the puts on the annual gay pride parade) mc'd the evening. He introduced Troy Perry, the MCC founder, and Neil Thomas, the current Senior Pastor of MCC-LA. Wes Jo, the SIlver Lake resident who shepherded the process of having the bar designated an historical cutural monument spoke briefly and thanked his husband. LA City Council President, Eric Garcetti spoke. Several folks were honored including Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons who wrote the book, Gay LA, which is where I first heard of this story. Mr. Timmons couldn't attended as he suffered a stroke a y ear ago and is still recovering.

I was pleased and impressed at the turn out and at the mix of folks present. Leathermen, suits and ties, a couple of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a good percentage of lesbians, neighborhood folks. I had never been in the bar before. It's a nice space. Now it attracts a mostly Latino crowd and features drag queen shows. After the presentation a man came out dressed as Shirley Bassey in a feather boa and lip sync'ed to "This is My Life."

Monday, February 9, 2009

sign the marriage resolution

I'm not the type to sign online petitions. I don't add my name to open letters, at least not very often. I don't forward "this important message" to all of my friends. I seldom call the governor's office and punch numbers on the automated phone system to register my support or outrage about some crucial issue. I've almost never written a letter to my congressman, except in those cases where someone at the social justice table at church has made it ridiculously easy for me.

Spiritually I just don't want to get that worked up. I have a limited amount of passion resources and I don't want to squander them by keeping myself anxious about everything day after day, week after week. Spiritually I'd rather take a walk outside, enjoy the sunshine, or the rain. I'd rather think about theology than legislation. I'd rather read the newspaper than the latest emotional plea from a non-profit, social justice, advocacy group in my inbox. The truth is I'd rather take a nap then go stand on a street corner with a sign. I'd rather stay at home, sitting on the couch, watching Grey's Anatomy with my husband.

So I understand people's reluctance to get involved in the marriage equality movement. It happens to be an issue close to my heart (see the above reference to sitting on the couch with my husband) but I hardly expect the same issue has risen to the top of every person's social justice agenda. But I've also learned something concerning this issue that makes for very effective social justice action and that fits very well with my reluctance to add my name to lists and forward petitions and contact my elected officials.

I'm absolutely convinced that the greatest contribution I have made to the marriage equality movement is that I have been openly gay, openly partnered, and openly in support of this issue. I've shown people who know me: my family, friends, people at the church, even sometimes people I barely know at Starbucks and the gym and the barbershop, that I'm a person who knows about this issue and cares about this issue in a personal way because it's actually about my life not some abstract principle. I have also, on this issue, taken more deliberative and pointed actions in support of marriage equality. But more effective than any of that I've simply lived my life as a married gay man (sitting on the couch watching Grey's Anatomy and so on) and whenever it was natural and appropriate I wouldn't be shy about letting people know about me and see that side of my life.

It's a lot easier to be against "gay marriage" than it is to know me and be against "Ricky's marriage." It's hard to match any of the rhetorical arguments against marriage equality with the actual experience of knowing me and my husband and who we are and how we live our lives. So I don't sign online petitions but I do have a website for my ministry where you wouldn't have to search too long to discover I'm a married gay man, and I'm happy to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. I don't sign open letters or forward emails to all my friends, but I am who I am on my facebook page and when I send an email to my friends and it mentions my husband they know who that is and why our marriage is important and worth protecting. I don't call the Governor very often but I call my folks every week and I ask about their marriage and they ask about mine.

I hope a lot of people are spending this week writing and calling and speaking out and marching or sitting and forwarding and adding their names and so on. God bless you. If you're the type here's a link to an online resolution that the Freedom to Marry folks are encouraging everyone to sign and email to their friends. Do it. I did. It wasn't too hard and I didn't have to get too worked up about it.

But also consider outing yourself as a marriage equality supporter and using all the regular places that you call and write and stand and speak out to announce your position on this issue. Don't shove it down anybody's throat but find a way to bring it up. "You know I actually know a gay couple who got married last summer." "I can't for the life of me imagine how anyone could object to my friend's marriage." "My church married a lesbian couple last month and it was beautiful." Update your face book status to say, "... is celebrating Freedom to Marry week." Write a blog post about the lesbian couple who lived down the street from you when you were a kid. Get a new bumper sticker supporting marriage equality and stick it over that John Kerry bumper sticker that won't come off.

Then go watch Grey's Anatomy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

dog on the balcony

yesterday morning I sat in my office working on my computer, reading blogs and online newspapers, checking my email, also playing solitaire and looking at You Tube videos. My office is on the second floor of our house and there's a set of french doors that open on to a balcony over-looking the front yard of our house. The whole time I was at my desk my dog sat outside on the balcony, flopped on a pillow, enjoying the southern california weather. Instead of sleeping she was quite alert. Her head was up, looking around, her ears twitched at different sounds from neighbors and the street. And especially she kept her nose up and I could see her catching smells that I couldn't sense.

It occurred to me that she and I were doing the same thing, I with my computer, her with her physical senses. To keep me entertained and informed it took advnaced technology and an internet connection that gave me access to the entire world. She needed only her body and a balcony opening on to her own front yard.

Understanding and appreciating the greater consciousness available to me and the gifts the capacity for complex thought give to me, I also looked with jealousy at how simple and self-contained my dog's world could be. It made my long for a monastic kind of life. How nice to be content with a world the size of a front yard and a single pillow in the sun.

minister in charge

Last night I went to see my brother-in-law sing at a local club. After the show we went backstage to the green room to give him our congratulations. While we were there a young man from another band that was performing that night, and that nobody in my group knew, had some kind of loss of consciousness episode. We heard a loud bang as he suddenly dropped to the floor. His girlfriend immediately shouted for help and said he had "passed out" but that he hadn't been drinking. She attended to him with another friend while the rest of us stood around wondering what to do.

It seemed to most of us, myself included that we should call 911. But instead, for several minutes we deferred to the girlfriend. I felt a conflict of who was responsible in this situation. As a minister, people often look to me for decisive action in these sort of situations. My friends know I'm a minister, but no one else in the room did. And the girlfriend in this case had more knowledge than the rest of us (she later indicated he had some sort of neurological problem), as well as more responsibility for dealing with the consequences if she called 911 unnecessarily, or didn't call 911 and it turned out she should have. So for several minutes we let her attempt to care for him, including involving the club management, but waited for her OK before we made the 911 call.

Eventually we did call 911. And then the management asked us to clear the room and we ended up leaving the club before the paramedics showed up, so I don't know what finally happened.

Are we all equally responsible for each other? Or are some people (minister's, friends) more responsible than others, and how then do we rank the gradations of responsibility so people actually get the care they need?

word of God

My father forwarded an email conversation about homosexuality he's been having with a woman who writes a column for the local newspaper in Western North Carolina. He asked her to explain for him how one can justify enforcing some Biblical laws but ignore others, and then asked for my help in responding to her answer. She wrote:

As for your second question about scripture, it could encompass so many passages and become an in-depth discussion of biblical interpretation that I have to guess which passages you're addressing. I think you're especially referring to the Old Testament which prohibits homosexual acts in the strongest terms and also prohibits other actions, such as sex during menstruation and other behaviors considered unclean. There are people who explain this Old/New Testament relationship much better than I can, but in essence, the guideline many Christians use is whether the prohibitions are repeated in the New Testament, indicating they are matters of morality rather than just ritual practices relating to the issue of clean/unclean. Homosexuality is addressed in both testaments. The statement against homosexuality in the Old Testament (and don't some people love to self-righteously spout that passage about abomination) would be easy to dismiss as part of the legalities of the old law if that were not so. More critically, Scripture as a whole seems to indicate the sexual relationship should be within the bounds of marriage, and marriage only. My gripe against so many conservative Christians is that they waste an inordinate amount of time on the issue of homosexuality when the greater threat is simply the cheapening of sex into a form of recreation, whatever one's sexual preference.

Here's what I wrote to my father.

I don’t believe any passage of the Bible is “the Word of God” not the Jewish Scriptures nor the Christian scriptures, neither the stuff that I happen to agree with, nor the stuff that I don’t agree with. All of the Bible, every word, was written by human beings. Every word is the product of a certain person with all of their individual concerns and limitations, living in the midst of a particular culture at a particular historical time. No matter how much they may have been inspired by God in the first place, God’s word has to be transmitted through an imperfect means and we have no way to judge whether the resulting word is from God or from the imperfect context.

So how do we know what God wants from us? Kathy Ross’s test is whether a commandment from the Hebrew scripture is repeated in the Christian scripture. But what this position admits is that either God’s commandments can change over time, or that people can misunderstand the will of God. If eating shellfish was once an abomination and it isn’t any longer, then why isn’t it possible to say that homosexuality once was an abomination (in Paul’s time) but isn’t any longer (in our time)? Or if eating shellfish never actually was against the will of God then why couldn’t it be that homosexuality was also never actually against the will of God and Paul simply got it wrong?

Christians might argue that scripture was sealed after the New Testament and no changes are allowed any more. This is religious imperialism in that it say it’s OK for Christians to change clear Biblical teaching from the Jews but no one can change Christian teaching. And it ignores the truth that in fact we have rejected many New Testament commandments (such as concerning slavery and the role of women in the church) precisely because we realize now that those commandments were culturally based, not the will of God.

So how do we know whether some religious rule is really the will of God, or a cultural construct? Well it’s impossible to do that with 100% certainty, but the best approximation we can come to is by realizing that God speaks constantly through millions of different voices and we should try to listen as broadly as possible. Scripture is one source of insight to God’s will but it must be balanced with a living religious tradition that speaks new words for new circumstances, religious voices from outside one’s own tradition; the application of human reason and the discoveries of science, and also, and I think most importantly, we must listen to the people who are actually living the experience that we would wish to judge.

It is my lived experience that gay and lesbian couples can form relationships that are just as holy, just as personally fulfilling, and just as beneficial to the larger community and to the achievement of God’s goals for humanity and the earth, as can heterosexual couples. No pointing at 2000 year old scripture will ever convince me otherwise because Paul’s words can always be debated while I live my truth everyday. It’s offensive to me that people would rather defend Paul and cause human suffering, then reach out in compassion and trust to their own family members and neighbors.

I believe Kathy is correct that God calls all persons to sexual morality. I also believe that the commitments of marriage are the best context for sexual relations, and that sexual relations should be respected as a form of intimacy and spiritual deepening and not merely as recreation. Thus it seems hypocritical to me to forbid marriage to same-sex couples and then condemn us for having sex outside marriage. Our religions have made sexual orientation the defining line between holy and sinful instead of drawing the line between respectful or abusive sex. Let’s encourage all couples to form healthy committed relationships and allow gay and straight couples to work together against the real problems of promiscuity, adultery, exploitative and selfish sex.

Monday, February 2, 2009

evolution sunday

I preached a homily yesterday on the compatibility of religion and science. As the first Sunday of every month is a multigenerational worship service in our congregation we shortened the sermon and increased the elements of the liturgy that better speak to all ages: story, ritual, music.

The theme of the day was Evolution in recognition of the annual Evolution Sunday project promoted by Prof. Michael Zimmerman of Butler University. Prof. Zimmerman wanted to create a liberal religious balance to all the conservative religious voices speaking against evolution. He produced a clergy letter that has collected over 11 thousand signatures from Christian clergy (now there's a Jewish version of the letter and a Unitarian Universalist version that I encourage our clergy to sign). And when Charles Darwin's birthday rolls around every year on February 12 (this year is the 200th anniversary) congregations are encouraged to create an event promoting the compatibility of good science and healthy religion.

For our service our DRE, Lynne Webber, read a children's story about the Big Bang called The Everything Seed. And we divided the story in two parts with a ritual in the middle. For the ritual, Lynne had prepared a glass bowl filled with yellow streamers each of which was attached on one end to the bottom of the bowl. The bowl sat on the altar in the middle of the worship space with the congregation all around. We had people come up to the bowl and take a streamer and then unroll it as they returned to their seat until the whole space was filled with yellow streamers connecting everyone back to the center point.

Then we had one of the kids dressed as a demon come into the space and with a pair of scissors start attacking the streamers. We flicked the lights on and off the pianist strummed inside the piano and I beat on a drumto make scary background music. The demon went all around the altar cutting every streamer. When the demon had gone I talked about the spiritual situation of feeling like we're isolated from each other and from God, like we're holding the broken pieces of our lives and don't know how to recreate that connected feeling that is spiritual health and that we know is our true situation. But, you know, religion means to "tie again" so then we had everyone take their streamer and tie their ends to the ends of the people sitting on either side of them or behind them, or back to the center altar. It was beautiful.

And then Lynne read the rest of the story. And I preached.