Dead Air

Sorry for the lack of posts- I decided to take a few days away from computer, phone and my house. I was in Seattle for a week- last Wednesday to Tuesday. Ken joined me Friday. I didn’t check my email, facebook or, in fact, go online at all for 5 days. I worked on a poem, visited friends,  had a wonderful dinner out with my “family”, attended some Seattle Pride events, a great house barbecue where I made a wonderful new friend (HI MaryEllen!). In short, I just relaxed.

And I feel good.

If you’ve never taken an internet vacation, I’d highly recommend it. I’m deeply grateful that so many of you want to read what I write. I’m just glad I don’t feel bound or hindered by it. This site was created to be a fun, educational, insightful and helpful forum- with a healthy dose of perspective- from author and readers- thrown in. And so it is, still. Just another reason to not give in to the constant need for drama which can be addictive and anxiety-provoking.

The world will not go away. We, however, can for a time.

Facebook Plea

Also published at Bilerico.com

National HIV awareness organization Who’s Positive is launching a ten-day effort to promote HIV testing by taking a Facebook group viral.

“Just like a successful attempt to bring Betty White to Saturday Night Live, Who’s Positive encourages people from all over the World to join a Facebook group called “ANDERSON COOPER or Dr. SANJAY GUPTA – PERFORM LIVE HIV TEST ON AIR on 6/27,” said Tom Donohue, Founding Director of Who’s Positive.

“Yesterday was not soon enough, tomorrow is too late to bring much needed attention to this epidemic” says Donohue. “We need to respond to the HIV epidemic with the same urgency as our nation has to the H1N1 virus. I’m hopeful that this Facebook group will become viral and Anderson and Sanjay will step up to dedicating a small part of their nearly daily appearance on CNN to getting tested and showing how painless and simple being tested can be.”

Painless and simple, right?

Not really.

Who’s Positive is a great organization – I subscribe to their email newsletter, have been inspired by the stories of members, and used their resources for my clients and HIV+ support groups. But I wonder if the message is just getting lost with all the other distractions of Pride Month.

Like many others in HIV prevention work, I see the uphill battle every day. I see the LGBT kids who have little or no self-esteem, the married men who are secretly having unsafe sex on the side, the middle-aged out-and-proud gay men who are tired of condoms, and the HIV positive people who are worn out from rejection, hypervigilance, economic worries and fear of the future. I see them all. I’ve staffed the HIV booths at Pride festivals, I’ve handed out condoms in parades. I’ve watched the glazing over of eyes when talking about HIV to high-risk groups. I’ve worked my ass off. Often it makes me physically and emotionally very tired- and sometimes very cynical about the ubiquitous pairing of HIV and Pride.

Let’s face it, denial in the form of colorful parades, drunken revelry and hot bodies is much more attractive than the reality of an HIV wake-up call.

Don’t kill the buzz, dude.

But I take a breath, reinforce my belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity and soldier on – like thousands of others.

Like Tom Donohue.

It’s people like him who can take that cynicism and turn it around. ” A facebook group, well why not?” Maybe people can click a link in between sewing sequins on their g-strings and waxing. In fact, maybe we could make it sexy. “Join this group while naked!

However it works, it can only help. But only if people join.

Personally, I did it while wearing my sequined g-string.

The Unhappy Monk

The young monk was troubled.

He knew that he was meant to be a monk from a very young age, and yet, life at the monastery was not satisfying anymore. He noticed his own anger at silly things. His impatience with himself and others, his petulance, his fear, his sadness- all seemed so overwhelming. He had trouble remembering why he was here. He resolved to see the Abbot.

The Abbott had been a monk for over sixty years, and had a reputation for great kindness and great wisdom. He saw the troubled monk at once, listening with patience as the brother poured out his heart.

“And so, I fear , Father Abbot, that I am not a very good monk,” the troubled brother concluded. “What should I do?”

The Abbot took a slow, deep breath. “Is there any one here, one of our brothers, that you find it very difficult to love?” he asked.

The brother, slightly stunned by the question, thought for a moment. He thought of Brother Lee. Ever since he had been at the monastery, Brother Lee had galled him. He didn’t know whether it was real or imagined, but he always thought Brother Lee was mocking, uncouth and patronizing. And he smelled funny.

“Yes, Father Abbot, there is one such brother.”

“Then, my son, you are assigned to be his servant. You are to share work and meals and prayers next to him for the next ten days- but he is not to know that this is an assignment from me. You and I are the only ones who will know. Then in ten days, return and we will talk.” The Abbot then left the room.

The young brother walked away, noticing some anger in his heart, and realizing that he was shaking. Was it anger? Was it fear? Was it excitement? “I don’t know, ” he thought. “I can’t just leave,” although part of him wanted to. “I can’t just ignore the Abbot’s order,” although, again, part of him wanted to. “I really want to be a good monk, but I’m not sure how I can do this.”

As he rounded the corner, there was Brother Lee, struggling, carrying two large pails full of water. Immediately, he said “Brother, let me help you!” The older monk looked surprised, but the pails were heavy and he allowed the young brother to take a pail. “We’re going to the herb garden,” Brother Lee said. “Some of the more tender herbs need a little extra water this morning.” The younger monk followed, carefully carrying his pail of water to the herb garden. “That’s fine,” Brother Lee said. “Just set it there. I can handle this now.” Setting down the pail, the young monk looked around. He wasn’t allowed in the herb garden normally, that was the province of Brother Lee, but since the Abbot’s order….

It was beautiful. The herbs were in neat rows and obviously carefully tended. Little signs carved in wood named each row of growing thing for the uninitiated, and some of the larger plants and shrubs as well. It was very quiet and peaceful. And the smell! The lemongrass, the feverfew, the basil, echinacea, chives, thyme, rosemary all made life inside the monastery seem suddenly very rich.

“I said thank you.” It was Brother Lee’s voice. “You can go now.”

“Oh, sorry, certainly. It’s just…Can I ask you something?”

“Of course. Can’t guarantee an answer,” Brother Lee said. His face and voice seemed to squint a bit.

“Well, I’ve always wanted to see the garden and now that I’m here, it seems a shame to leave so quickly. I have no other chores this morning, may I help you with the garden?”

Brother Lee looked at him more intently. Then suddenly, he straightened up and said, “Well, could use a bit of help. My back isn’t what it used to be. Why don’t you start by bringing a couple more pails of water from the stream. then I’ll show you how to tend the rows.”

The young monk emptied the pails into a large tub by the potting bench and ran to the stream, carrying the two pails back easily.

“Where should I put these, brother?”

“Bring one of the pails over here, and take that ladle off the potting bench and bring it with you.”

The young monk did as he was told and Brother Lee showed him how simply dumping water on some of the plants would create damage to the plant and erosion to the soil. Especially with the younger, more sensitive plants, a gentle hand was needed. “We gently use the ladle, just until their roots grow strong, you know,” Brother Lee said. The afternoon passed quickly, and before he knew it, the young monk heard the bell for prayer. “You seem to have a knack for this, young brother. I will ask Father Abbot if you could assist me in the garden- my last helper found me disagreeable and is now cleaning out the stables. Hmph. Well, would that please you?”

“Yes it would!” The afternoon had flown. The work was interesting, and so was Brother Lee. Over the next week, he learned that Brother Lee had been a soldier before entering the monastery. He had seen lots of human tragedy. “I didn’t want to see any more murder and revenge. I wanted a place of quiet and peace. A place to cultivate compassion and patience- I’m still learning,” he said with a sly grin. “But I hope my contribution will balance my prior violent actions.” Brother Lee was fascinating- he had a lot of stories, and he knew so many teachings. The young brother found himself excited to see him in the mornings and learn from him in the garden each day. He loved the garden, and the plants, and he loved Brother Lee. Like a real brother. He didn’t even notice that there was anything strange about the way he smelled, because he smelled of it, too. Compost. Food for the life of the garden. He now loved that smell.

One day, the Abbot’s messenger arrived to summon the young monk from the garden. “The Abbot wishes to speak with you,” he said. Had it really been ten days already? The young monk shook his robe, washed his hands, and followed the messenger to the Abbot’s room.

“My brother,” the Abbot said, “It is now ten days since you came to me with your troubling problem. How are things going since we last spoke?”

“Oh, Father Abbot, it’s wonderful! Brother Lee and I are getting the gardens ready for the late spring plantings, and it feels so good to see the earth and the flowers and growing things every day and hear Brother Lee’s stories and listen to his wisdom. He’s really been through a lot, and it’s amazing that he could be such a good monk after being part of so much violence and pain. I’m learning a lot, and I really feel as if I belong here now.”

“But I thought you didn’t like Brother Lee. At least the assignment was to work with one you had difficulty with.” Were his eyes smiling?

The young monk paused. “That’s true, but I was wrong. I couldn’t have disliked Brother Lee, I didn’t know him.”

“Ah,” said the Abbot. His eyes were twinkling! “I see. So, now that you are actually following the Master, let’s see what we can do about making you a good and happy monk.”

~D Gregory Smith

Friend

Who do you find me to be?
Or, maybe I already understand the answer
without the questioning eyes you try
to love me with (bad sentence, are you judging?).

Where do I go for the truth?
Or, maybe you have found that place I know
to hide in when the Nazis threaten to take
my family,or, -did I do that again? Do you care?

What I know is this:
Your, mine- and maybe we can say our-
Vision catches the sparkle at exactly the
Same time and it’s done exactly right, right?

It happens regardless of grammar and syntax.
It just does. And maybe we can’t help
but grab at water and look for air
Despite knowing, but still wanting

To hold, to touch, to see, to taste
Not only with my senses but yours.
Because it’s fun and scary and senseless, maybe,
And that’s the only thing that works. Right?

~D Gregory Smith

A Warning Shot Across The Bow….

Today I received in the mail (at my home address no less) an unsigned, unmarked theological terrorism note.

When I collected the mail, I looked through it all as usual, tossing the “immediately recyclable” pieces into the bin, and taking the personal correspondence, a catalog I like, and a bank statement to my desk. I had a birthday card from Calgary (Thanks, Nicole!) and this strange white envelope addressed to “Fr. Greg Smith”.  I was puzzled. I looked more closely at the envelope. My name and address beautifully written (in pencil) across the front of the envelope. No return address. Postmark: Omaha, Nebraska. The back flap was taped for extra security.

Now, when I receive anything marked “Fr.” or “Rev.”, I usually toss it straight into the bin. Experience has shown me that those are either a solicitation or an assumption about my political preference. For some reason, I didn’t do that today.

I grabbed the letter opener and slit the envelope open. Inside were four photocopied pages and a smaller slip of paper. I opened the pages. At the top was the heading “J.M.J.” Uh-oh. Every Catholic school child (at least of my generation and before) knows what that is. Although the protection and intercession of Jesus, Mary and Joseph may be very useful during an exam or for a term paper, it doesn’t bode well in correspondence.

I was right.

The pages were a photocopied story by a woman whose life and marriage (“like a fairy tale”) was founded in the Gospel and about her friend, a Lesbian, who was a “miserable” person and “really messed up” because she wanted to be with another woman. It went on to describe how the natural law was ordained by God and how same-sex attraction was going against “His will” and could only result in disaster and eternal tragedy….

Oh, God. And there was more. The pages had handwriting at the end, the same beautiful handwriting in pencil from the envelope.

“Like many great men before you, you have been given the opportunity to be a fine teacher of truth, if you use it for that. Your experiences were not intended to be a tool for the destruction of souls, but to lead them into truth and light because of it.”

And the little slip of paper had definitions of love from the Biblical Greek, and its correlation with the truth. Summary: “What is true simply remains true all the time and for everyone”, despite the different experiences of persons, and the Church is the only authority capable of that determination.

I threw it away. I thought “I don’t need to bring this patronizing, arrogant energy into my house.”

It was too late, I already had. I was fuming. So I went to the recycling bin, fished it out and read it again.

The letter was arrogant, it was naive, patronizing and theologically unsophisticated. It was judgment and intolerance disguised as concern. And I couldn’t allow the coward who wrote it to have the last word. And maybe I could change that nasty energy. It worked before. So here goes…..

Dear Anonymous,

I received your letter today and am puzzled by the tone. You imply that I do not know who I am, that I am misleading others, deceiving myself and on the way to becoming (if I haven’t already) a threat to society, christianity and general morality.

You did not sign your name, tell me anything about yourself or in any way invite me to dialog. That tells me you’re afraid. I want to invite you to step outside your fear of me, and be open to my experience. I am gay. I have known that for a very long time. I have spent a significant amount of time in self-reflection and prayer. I am also a licensed theologian, so please don’t insult my intelligence by quoting scripture, defining Greek or quoting popes and theologians out of context.

I would invite you to study the role of the “conscience” in the church as well as the “sensus fidelium”- both are important and fundamental concepts, conveniently forgotten by those who simply want to obey the rules and blindly do whatever they are told to avoid the threatening punishment of hell by a God who only cares about the rules. I happen to believe, as did Augustine, Catherine of Siena, Theresa of Avila and a host of other saints and authorities, that God is loving and generous and kind, and is interested in my personal experience and my desire to live authentically. This I believe I am doing. I pray every day, I live a reflected life, and I am not ashamed.

I understand your fear. It is the fear of difference. It is the fear of change. It is the fear of discomfort. It is the fear of being wrong. It’s the fear that your whole moral structure could be founded on something unstable. I understand your fear, and I recognize that you are speaking to me from that fear, not from a place of love or understanding. This position of fear is held by most people who refuse to listen to the experience of other persons, favoring instead principles, dogmas or laws. If you think carefully, you might remember that Jesus taught against that kind of blind obedience. You speak from fear and I understand that. But I also know that fear wants to perpetuate itself, so I must refuse to buy what you’re selling. My integrity demands it.

In closing, I will say this: You said that you will pray for me. I will also pray for you. Every day. And maybe one day you can sign your name so we can actually talk.

Sincerely,

D Gregory Smith, MA, STL