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BZN NDO 2NITE!

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Be at the City Hall hearing room by 5:30pm to show your support! Here’s my testimony:

 

I am a native Montanan (4th generation).

I am an ordained priest with 3 degrees in theology and scripture.

I am a licensed Mental Health Counselor.

I am also a gay man, and Bozeman is my home.

Despite the prejudice and discrimination I have experienced in Bozeman, I choose to live here. Despite the stories and concerns I hear from parishioners and counseling clients who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender- I choose to live here. Why? Mostly, because I am now an adult, and I am supported and loved by my family, friends, neighbors and my church.

And I want to ensure that no kid repeats my Montana childhood here. Not anymore.

As a 15 year-old, I attempted suicide because my church and my community called me “disordered”, “unnatural” and a “pervert”. Not to my face- but they didn’t have to. The climate of my community and church and school – where there were no protections against discrimination- did it for them.

I think we forget how sensitive kids are.

But if nothing else happens tonight- I want you to remember just how sensitive kids are.

Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed, but every time I see the obituary of a teenager, I wonder, “Did sexuality have anything to do with this? My God, did a church have a part in this”?

I’m reminded of this verse from Matthew (18.6): “Whoever causes one of these little ones to lose faith in me, it would be better for them to have a great millstone hung around their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Well, the behavior of discriminatory churches is causing a lot of these little ones to lose their faith.

I know. I’m one of the ones they call, in tears and pain, wondering how they can be a Christian if God hates them so much. They wonder what they did.

They did nothing.

And I always tell them God loves them very much- even if God’s people don’t seem to.

Sexuality is NOT a choice. It is a fact. Gender is NOT a choice. It is a fact.

We have to trust the experience of others to help us to see them clearly.

WE HAVE TO.

That’s what civil societies do. We encourage people to tell the truth about themselves- because it sets them free- and maybe the rest of us as well.

This ordinance provides Bozeman with a chance to speak loudly in favor of truth.

Allowing even the perceived sexuality or gender of a child- or an adult- to be the cause of bullying, pain- or even suicide is inexcusable.

It still happens. Right here. There are too many examples to list in the available time.

If any of you would like to speak to me about it, I am available.

Please pass this ordinance.

 

Thank you.

Christmas Sermon, 2013

“I love you.”

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006

Christmas Stamp of Ukraine 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words were tentative, soft and nervous. They were spoken by a third grader- me.
It was the first time I had ever said them to anyone outside my immediate family.

It was a watershed moment for me.

You see, there was this girl who was amazing. She liked all the things I liked, hated all the things I hated, she was smart and pretty and best of all she liked me. She thought I was funny- and cute.

I was.

But I didn’t know what to do about it- I was eight.

I knew that people you liked were kind of like being part of your family. I felt like I wanted to let her know I thought she was awesome- but then I panicked. We were sitting together on the swings after lunch and I just felt the words rising up inside of me.

The words were out of my mouth before I knew what to do.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “What have I done?”

And then- “What if she doesn’t say it back?”

Have you been there?

Lots of rules about relationships.

Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow.

Don’t be insulting. Don’t be demanding.

Don’t say I love you first….

Hmmm.

So. Christmas! I love Christmas. I love the music.

“Joy to The World! ….

“Silent Night….

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing….

“O Little Town of Bethlehem…..

“Angels we have heard on high…..

“O Holy Night…..

“Come, they told me….”

Words and sounds so familiar in this season. I bet as I was saying the words, some of you started singing the tunes.

What’s your favorite Christmas Carol? I have two- My favorite is “O Holy Night”. Mostly because it’s so filled with awe.

“Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….
O Night- divine- O-o night when Christ was born”.

Gorgeous.

It’s a poignant reminder that wonder and awe need to be a daily part of life.

Christmas is a time for Joy.

It’s why I also love “Joy to the World”.
“Let every heart prepare him room…”

Joy is kind of tricky. I tried to explain it to a kid last week who asked, “What’s the difference between being happy and being joyful?”

Like I said- tricky.

I was kind of proud of my answer.

“Well, it’s a lot like like happiness- only better.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I think happiness is about being satisfied,” I said. “Joy is about being loved.”

Yeah. Still proud of my answer.

Today’s Christmas. Tomorrow it will all be over. And millions of dollars will have been spent and tons of food will be eaten and people will still be dying of hunger and disease and only have filthy water to drink.

Except that it’s not over. We forget- Christmas is a season. It actually goes for twelve days- it doesn’t end until January 6th. That’s because the church recognizes that it’s not just a day- it’s a season- and sometimes it takes a whole season to get it right.

So we have presents and food and trees and lights- but that’s not what it’s really about. Not really.

It’s about a story. A story that still is being written.

St Theodore had some very important words to add to this story- you probably remember him-

You don’t remember St Theodore?  St Theodore Geisel?
The world knows him as Dr Seuss. Remember this?:

He stared down at Who-ville!

The Grinch popped his eyes.

Then he shook!

What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

HE HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!

IT CAME!

Somehow or other it came just the same!

And the Grinch with Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,

Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?

“It came without ribbons it came without tags!

“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”

And he puzzled three hours till his puzzler was sore-

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!”

And what happened then…?

Well, In Who-ville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!

And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light.

And he brought back the toys and the food for the feast.

And he- HE HIMSELF…!

The Grinch carved the roast beast.

If those aren’t the words and insight of a saint, I don’t know what is….

Today we are here to celebrate.

We’re celebrating something very special. So with apologies to St Theodore:

We’re not celebrating happiness- although happiness is okay- we’re here

-here as Christians to celebrate JOY.

Joy comes when “I love you” is said and it’s felt,

It comes from the feeling your heart will just melt.

Today is the day that we gather to see

Just how much our God loves us-

Loves you and loves me!

He said it in Bethlehem with a babe in a stall,

He said it real clearly “I love-

love you all!”

But the real trick of Christmas- the thing that we lack

Is the courage all year just to whisper it back.

Sometimes we’re shy and sometimes we’re scared

But the love of this God is just meant to be shared!

He’s saying “I love you” with the birth of this baby

And Jesus still tells us- and he doesn’t say “Maybe.”

It’s true and it’s real- we just have to answer.

It’s not time to dawdle- it’s time to move faster!

Remember that third grade kid at the beginning of this? Me?

Well, she said it back to me. And even though things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped back in the third grade, we’re still in touch. And I still love her..

In fact, she told me she loved me just last week.

And all I can say is it still brings me joy.

Today, we celebrate God saying “I love you.” And it’s meant with deadly seriousness- and complete joy and selflessness. No games.

Today God says “I love you.” And means it.

Always means it.

Even when we don’t say it back.

MT World AIDS Day Award Acceptance Speech

Once upon a time, there was a boy who grew up in a small town- in a time when things were said to be simple- but they were not.

For him.

He was unlike the other kids in ways that weren’t always noticeable to the people around him. He felt things a bit more keenly. He noticed things that other kids didn’t. He wasn’t great at sports, he wasn’t big and strong.

But he was smart.

And sometimes that meant he got picked on even more than other kids.

So he used that.

It made him tough. His parents were good, loving people. His church provided comfort. His books helped him escape.

Maybe it was God, maybe it was chance- it doesn’t really matter what made him different. He just was.

The fact remained that this boy- indistinguishable from a million other little boys- just wanted to be loved, even though he was different.

And when he grew up, he still wanted to be loved – sometimes desperately. Sometimes he trusted people who weren’t trustworthy- simply because the promise of love is often enough to make us overlook danger and potential tragedy.

The promise of love.

That’s what brings us here today.

That’s why I got infected. That’s how I got infected.

The promise of love. Not what you think about when you think of AIDS.

But I want you to think about it.

When I moved back to Montana almost seven years ago, I made a promise: that no gay kid would ever be so starved for love and support- would not be so handicapped by shame- that they couldn’t stay here and have a happy, successful, healthy and safe life if they wanted to. I would do everything in my power to make it happen.

So I came out as gay- and HIV positive- just to show that there is no shame in having a disease. It’s a virus, it’s not a judgment.

A microscopic being that happens to live in my body. And I want to keep it from living in any one else’s.

And so do you, I hope.

This disease  has been around for over three decades. And yet the state of Montana has never allocated state funds for its prevention. Not a penny.

Which begs the question- why?

Is it because of the shame at how the disease is transmitted?

Is it because we might have to talk about sex, needles, addiction and shame and fear?

Isn’t thirty two years long enough to avoid having this hard conversation?

In the Montana that little boy grew up in- that I grew up in- we prided ourselves on helping out where it was needed. We filled sandbags, we stopped when it looked like people were in trouble on the road, we ran to the fire house when the siren rang.

But not for HIV. Not for AIDS. Well, let me correct that.

A few very brave people did stand up. They braved ridicule and stigma to hold candlelight vigils and to hold the hands of people whose parents were too afraid to touch them. I know. I was there. I held some of those hands. And so did Laurie Kops and probably a few others in this room.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but it’s important that we get back to something very basic here in the state of Montana.

Caring for our people.

ALL people.

It’s time to recognize that all people deserve the promise of love in their lives. Deserve the dignity and respect that I believe God gives everyone simply by being born. Deserves the respect of having information and materials at their disposal provided by the state that is charged with enabling public health and well-being.  It’s what I want out of my taxes- I hope it’s what you want from yours.

There are a few legislators here you can tackle on the way out….

My life is good. I have family that love me, a partner who is always there for me and more friends than any man ever deserves.

But it could be better.

Somewhere in the state of Montana there is a kid who doesn’t believe that he’s worthy of love.

And he’s part of our responsibility. Because he does deserve love. And he deserves help to be healthy about it.

Shame is keeping us from health.

Kinda crazy, isn’t it?

It’s time to have those hard conversations.

It’s time to stop shame in its tracks.

It’s time to return the promise of love to all Montanans.

Thank you for listening- and for this awesome award.

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2013 World AIDS Day honorees Stephanie Cole, Chris Gehring, Chantz Thilmony, Greg Smith Lisa Fairman with Gov Bullock and DPHHS Director Opper

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Me and a really cool Governor

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Tiny Westboro Baptist Church Protest Fails Hilariously In Montana, Sparks Huge Pro-LGBT Rally

From the Huffington Post:

In what has become something of a regular occurrence, a small protest attempt by anti-gay extremists of the Westboro Baptist Church on Monday succeeded only in giving rise to a much larger counter-demonstration based on tolerance, LGBT rights and ice cream.

About five members of the Kansas-based congregation showed up in Bozeman, Mont.to picket Montana State University and a local high school over their commitment to teaching students that it is okay to be gay. While the tiny group could have gone unnoticed on its own, their presence brought a much larger spectacle — hundreds of people unified against the Westboro Baptist Church’s message of hate.

Proud of my town- I was unable to be there, but I can’t say enough about the love and support that was shown. I believe that every challenge deserves a thoughtful response- and we had one.

READ IT ALL HERE

 

Letting Harmony Find You

Harmony California

Harmony California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

From my sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Billings yesterday:

 

I love the word “harmony”.

 

Besides being just a musical term, it also describes being in balance.

 

Sometimes it takes some time to find that balance- I’d like to tell you a little bit about the time it’s taken me….

 

I was born in Butte and raised in Twin Bridges. My Dad was a rancher, my mom stayed home with me and my brother and sister. From an early age, I knew I was different. I really couldn’t have put my finger on it when I was young, but I seemed to be more sensitive than other boys my age, more compassionate about things that could hurt.

 

In fact, I actively avoided rough games and play. I liked to read- and I read constantly- often about far away places, places that I might be able to go to when I was older- where people might understand me.

 

It’s hard to find harmony when your insides are saying one thing- and the world is telling  you its opposite. But I did find it sometimes.

 

When I was alone- in my room or in the woods.

 

When I was reading a great book.

 

When I was in the quiet of my church.

 

In fact, church was probably my salvation. I grew up Catholic, and I loved all of the rituals and music of our little church. I loved that the priest took an interest in me, didn’t think I was weird, encouraged me in reading and study and conversation. I felt the harmony.

 

But then, around twelve or thirteen, something happened.

 

I realized that the difference I felt wasn’t just about the way I saw and felt the world, it was about how I felt and saw other people.

 

I learned that other boys my age wanted to chse girls and that other girls my age wanted to chase boys- not that they’d know what to do when they caught them- but that wasn’t what I wanted.

 

It was confusing. I had crushes on older boys. Felt myself looking at my classmates in the shower during gym. And it terrified me, because I knew it was bad. I knew that I was one of those people that were really monsters, freaks. Teachers said so- kids said so- the church said so. “Queer” was evil. We played smear the queer at recess. It never went well for the “Queer”. The word “Fag” was a term of derision worse than “Nazi”, or “Communist”.

 

And that’s what I knew I was.

 

A Queer. A Faggot. And it was bad.

 

That’s when I lost the harmony.

 

It was important for my survival 35 years ago- as it sadly still is for kids today- that I not be detected. That I not be singled out. I had to hide.

 

So I did. I no longer trusted the goodness of my nature. My desires were to be obliterated out of necessity. It wasn’t safe.

 

I pretty much hid my sexuality in high school and college- with brief moments of harmony when I found others like me, but mostly, I was just working hard to keep myself from being fully seen. And that culminated in my becoming a priest.

 

And not just any priest. I went to seminary in Rome. I knew people in the Vatican. I found other gay men who were following the same path I was and we supported each other.

 

Over the years, I’ve noticed that of all the people in seminary with me, the ones that later got into some kind of trouble were the ones who were in denial about their sexuality- the ones without any support.

 

Harmony actually found me again for a while.

 

I loved the work, I loved the people. But it got tiring.

 

I got tired of not being seen for the real me. I got depressed because the official church position on my particular sexuality was that we were all “fundamentally disordered”. It’s hard to believe in an institution that discards as irrelevant your particular, strong and direct experience. It’s hard to maintain day after day the lie.

 

I tried everything.

 

I worked harder. I got a dog. I bought a truck. Nothing helped. Finally, I got counseling.

 

What took me so long?

 

Denial can be a very high and thick wall- especially if you lay each brick in desperation, in fear for your very life. I had denied my experience.  I was hiding from harmony- only I didn’t know it at the time.

 

What brought me out was something ordinary.

 

I fell in love. Hard.

 

I heard the notes of harmony again. Sometimes- when I just let myself be loved by this man- it was more like a symphony.

 

I came to realize that my experience hadn’t conflicted with my faith at all- it just conflicted with the interpretation of that faith by others. In one sense, LGBT people aren’t asked by their churches to inform the faith- they’re asked to stand outside and accept the information given by others- some of whom are hiding behind their own self-built walls of shame and denial.

 

I also realized that I hadn’t allowed myself the common dignity of reflecting honestly on my life before making promises to a church that would never accept me as the man I really was.

 

Ironically, I had preached “the truth will set you free” a million times- but it never sank in until I was freed to be myself. To have compassion for myself. To create a space of understanding in myself.

 

As a therapist, I know the biggest breakthroughs often come from uncovering the lies that we tell ourselves. “What’s the lie?

 

But it has to be done with compassion.

 

I spent years dealing with the fallout of my denial. That initial relationship didn’t last. I spent time doing drugs, having meaningless sex, until I had  spiritual breakthrough just weeks before I was diagnosed with HIV.

 

I’m not sure if we have the time for me to into it here, but here’s what I walked away with: “Nothing can go wrong” (You can read about it here)

 

Nothing.

 

In my best moments, I believe this.

 

In my worst moments, I forget this and struggle to make the world make sense by bending it to my will.

 

The complete opposite of what I should be doing.

 

You see, there’s nothing more important than the recognition of reality. Loving what is- not what should or could be- loving what is. Right here, right now.

 

It doesn’t mean we have to stay in it forever, we just have to let the total reality of the present moment sink in if we want to have fulfilling and satisfying lives.

 

And yes- sometimes pain is a part of the present reality.

 

But it’s always temporary.

 

Notice I said “pain”, not “suffering”. Suffering is almost always optional.

 

Here’s my definition of suffering: “Suffering. Noun. Remembering past pain in a way that traumatizes; imagining future pain in a way that traumatizes; creating stories about pain that doesn’t exist- either from the past or future. Creating or re-creating unnecessary pain.”

 

What do you think of that?

 

I’ve come to understand that it’s not about making things happen, it’s about allowing things to happen- and finding my place in them.

 

It’s not about bending the world to my will, its about truly looking at the world and knowing that I have a place in it- even if it’s not immediately evident.

 

It’s about feeling loved. By everything. There’s music there….

 

How do you do that?

 

Practice. And by listening for it.

 

How do musicians get the feel of harmonizing? Practice. And by realizing they won’t get it right every time. By not needing it to be perfect. You have to stop and listen.

 

Because nothing can go wrong.

 

Today, I have a man that loves me more than anything else in the world. I believe that. And I love him the same way. We have a house and dogs and a very satisfying life together. I work with LGBT people, helping them to be happy. I work with HIV+ people, helping them to be happy and healthy. I’m doing things that satisfy me.

 

Some have said “You’ve overcome so much to get where you are today- how did you do it?”

 

“Yeah, overcoming your own sense of self-importance and shame and denial is a bitch- but we all have to do it eventually. On earth or in heaven, I guess.”

 

It’s not the circumstances- it’s how you see them.

 

I believe prayer is trying to see with God’s eyes, not vice-versa. That’s the only way it makes sense. Why would I pray for anything but to see the truth?

 

Well, maybe to hear the music…. :)

 

We all know the tune- and I believe that we all have the power to discover the harmony. I believe that sooner or later, the harmony will find us- especially if we slow down, quiet ourselves and wait for it.

 

And that music is so beautiful and rich.

 

May harmony find you.

 

Amen.