MSU Lavender Graduation Ceremony

I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the first ever MSU Lavender Graduation- an honor and privilege. This was my introduction (which I loved), followed by the address I gave today.

Fr. Greg Smith, a native Montanan and a licensed mental health counselor has been called the “Gay Godfather of Montana” for his work in advancing LGBTQ rights in the state- especially among faith groups and with spiritual leaders. He has worked for over 25 years in HIV prevention and was an original member of the Montana Governor’s AIDS Advisory Board. Originally a Catholic priest, he now works as an Episcopal priest and therapist in Bozeman where he lives with his husband, Ken and their two dogs, Bandit and Phyllis.

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When Ariel told me that the graduating LGBTQ and allied students had chosen me to be the keynote speaker for this celebration, I asked the question that every gay man asks himself in this situation, “What am I going to wear?”

It wasn’t that hard. I decided to wear my clerical collar.

Mostly because we have been subjected to a lot of hateful and ignorant and vicious attacks from people dressed like me. I’m hoping to correct some of that. I’m hoping that you’ll realize that not all Christians hate you. This gay Christian loves you.

It’s weird, but I remember the keynote speaker at my graduation from Twin Bridges High School very clearly because he was SO boring. I think he was an executive at Montana Power. I also remember the speaker when I graduated from Carroll- also because she was VERY boring.

So I vow to you today- I will NOT be boring….

Congratulations!

Achieving a degree is an amazing thing in our society. Achieving it when you have extra baggage (placed on you by society) is Extraordinary. Many of you have struggles that I personally know of- and many of you have struggles that I will never imagine. But the great thing about struggling with things- wrestling with things- it makes us stronger. But only if we learn from them- and that also means, sometimes, letting go. It is easy to cling to our pain- that’s called suffering by the way- but it’s much more beneficial to take our pain and use it to change ourselves- make ourselves stronger. More on that in a minute.

When I was a kid growing up in Twin Bridges, Montana, there were very few options for a geeky kid like me. I was too awkward and asthmatic for sports. I was allergic to everything in the summer, which meant I spent a lot of time indoors trying not to mucus myself to death. The one thing I always had were books. Because it was a small town, I had read everything I was interested in at the Library by the time I was in 6th grade. But one thing kept me going, and they arrived every month at McAlear’s drug store. Comic books.

I still love comics- not the lame Archie or Little Lulu, but the superheroes: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Captain America, Thor. They usually involved some lame secret identity that covered up the fact that they were fantastic. I call them lame because they were the people I identified with- and I thought of myself as lame because I couldn’t keep up with the other kids my age- and secret because I, too, had a secret.

I liked boys. A lot. And I knew the world wouldn’t approve. Especially my church. So I maintained this secret identity as Greg Smith, but in my heart, I knew I was really Superman. Someday, when all would be revealed, the kids who teased me and bullied me would learn the truth and cower before my magnificence…. It kept me going. Because sometimes, revealing a secret too soon is an unsafe thing to do- so many of us hold on- even after it really is safe to let go.

So, back to pain. Many of us in this room have experienced pain associated with our sexuality, gender, gender expression or just because we’re unusual. Pain is an important part of our lives- without pain, we might quickly die from an injury of which we are unaware. It’s essential for our survival. The only problem is that many of us live in our past pain- and that keeps us from moving forward. The trick here is to take your pain and make it work for you. Take that pain and use it to jumpstart compassion for others in this world- because that’s what we’re made for. Use that past pain to make a better future for yourselves and others. It’s exactly what your predecessors did- what my predecessors did.

I also need to tell you, as a religious leader, please don’t buy into hatred perpetuated by ignorant religious people.

I need to tell you that however or whatever you believe, God loves you very much. Just the way you are. No matter what Higher Power you believe in.

God loves you very much- just as you are. I believe it, because I feel it. And I feel it because it was ingrained in me from an early age- I see evidence all around me.

So the next time you hear some stupid argument about sexuality or gender from ignorant people, I hope you hear my voice in your head. God loves you- just as you are.

Because you are beautiful.

A few months ago, I had the very difficult task of eulogizing a young trans person at their funeral. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Because I know what that pain is like. I know what it’s like to believe that the world will be better off without you.

But as a person of faith I have to tell you outright- that thought is a lie. You were created to be exactly your real selves- the person you are right now.

This world is not better off without you. It needs you. YOU. I believe God made you for a beautiful reason. That’s yours to discover, that’s the adventure of life. It’s yours to create. Believe in your own power.

Why?

Because- even if you have to have a secret identity sometimes- you are heroes.

You know this.

Somewhere deep inside you, you see it. And when you have a hard time seeing it, find those confidants who will remind you. Every Superman needs a Jimmy Olsen, every Batman needs an Alfred. And if you can’t find anyone, call me. I’m happy to remind you.

So, today, as you receive your lavender cords to wear at the official MSU graduation this weekend, know that in my heart I’m officially giving you your capes and golden lassoes and utility belts to go out and change the world.

Please be the heroes our suffering world needs. Be the heroes the next generation needs- and maybe someday somebody will ask you to speak at their graduation!

I believe in you- and so do thousands of others.

 

Congratulations, Lavender Graduates!

A Poem for Daniel Berrigan, SJ

The love of justice and mercy
are inseparable.
The God of Justice and the God of Mercy
are one and the same.

And so,
put on your coat and shoes
to meet
the many kinds of people
that God is in love with-
and know
they may not know it yet.

Be kind and gentle
with the radical and jarring news
of a love beyond imagining.

Because this people may not be able
to see or hear or feel
because of their pain,
be gentle-
yet firm-
with the shocking
good news
of this active and radical love.

~D Gregory Smith

Easter Vigil Homily 2016

Darkness.

Light.

Cold.

Fire.

Fear.

Hope.

Pain.

Resurrection.

 

Christians have gathered for thousands of years on this night to remember the history of Salvation. To remember that no matter how dark and cold the world is, no matter how often we are afraid, no matter what pain we must endure, there is Light. There is Fire. There is Hope. And there IS Resurrection.

We see it- if we look- we see it in the joy of a new mother.
We see it when we refuse to answer violence with more violence.
We see it when those who are wronged refuse to pursue revenge.
We see it in the face of our beloved- a hope that will never die.

We’ve come close to giving in.

We’ve created weapons that could destroy this planet. We’ve created laws based on fear and not hope.

We’ve built walls and fences- both physically and with words of hatred toward one another.

We’ve been victims of fear mongering.

We’ve been guilty of fear mongering.

We’ve looked past those in need because it makes us uncomfortable.

We’ve turned other human beings into evil creatures in our minds.

We’ve created idols.

We’ve become narcissists in the way we feed our egos with the illusions of power and wealth and status. Sadly, I think I have to say we’ve not learned that much in 2000 years.

For example, we have turned the fully human and fully divine Jesus into Superman- someone so far above us that we can never get close. We’ve glorified him so much that the glory of his humility- his humanity- means nothing. If you listen to some of our brother Christians, you might as well believe that some alien visited our planet from Krypton- and we need to be very afraid of him.

I saw Batman vs Superman today. I loved it. Because I love Superman. Always have.

Superman represents the power and strength of hope- the might of the good. And that is helpful and hopeful for us as human beings. He represents our better nature. He also represents a fighter- a soldier- who uses his powers to crush the enemy.

For many Christians, Jesus IS Superman.

But I think it’s worth noting that there can be no comparison.

Jesus forbids violence. Jesus refuses to defend himself. Jesus sits and eats with people who are seen as the dregs of society- people that many of us scorn today. In this town filled with Christians, why do we have a $4 million dollar animal shelter, but no homeless human shelter?

Jesus doesn’t fight for justice- he becomes it. He becomes it by embracing those who are downtrodden, broken, diseased overlooked and alone.

It is no accident that women discover the empty tomb first. Women were among the least of Jewish society- suddenly become the vital heralds of a miracle- exactly what the Kingdom of God is about.

“The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.”

This is crazy talk.

Crazy enough to get you executed. Even today.

We are here tonight to celebrate the light that has come into the world- and we are here also to pray that the darkness will not overcome it.

Because there is no guarantee- that’s part of the definition of HOPE.

If we knew it was all going to be ok, we could just go home and watch tv or Youtube or Facebook and forget that we have a job to do.

We forget often enough anyway. I know I do.

But we do have a job to do. What’s that job? To imitate Jesus. As fully as possible. As best we know how. Because our baptism unites us with him in his pain, his death and his resurrection. It’s not about following the rules in order to get to heaven- it’s about imitating the Master so that we can change the world.

Just like him.

By being crazy- at least in the eyes of the world.

Crazy Christians.

The Biblical scholar NT Wright said, “You can fulfill the commandments of the Bible better by falling in love with God than by trying to obey him. The Christian faith is not a business transaction. It’s not an arranged marriage where you receive a dowry of riches for compliance. Christianity only works if you’re in love.”

And an alien is hard to love- unless you’re Lois Lane.

My point is simply this: Jesus is lovable. And loving Jesus helps us love each other. And loving each other-unconditionally- is what will change this world.

Darkness. Light. Cold. Fire. Fear. Hope. Pain.

All a part of the mix. All meant to be part of our human experience. And resurrection?

Well, that only happens if we sacrifice our egos.

Just like Jesus.

Joseph W Laythe, PhD

When I first met Joey Laythe, At Carroll College Freshman orientation in the fall of 1983, I didn’t like him.

He was loud, he was brazen, he was funny and he had more energy than I did.

Competition.

Because I, too, am loud and brazen and funny.

Later, we became pretty good friends. I would say, that we learned- as all friends do- to join forces.

We had some pretty good times at Carroll College. In particular, was the time Joey almost got us arrested. Another was when he threw a paper airplane in Fr People’s class when Sr Mary Sarah Fasenmeyer fell asleep during Fr People’s tenure check. Behind her head. Right at me.

While she was sleeping.

But I digress.

Joey annoyed me. And I’m pretty sure I annoyed him. Because we were a lot alike.

And I think we really only realized it a few years ago.

Through Facebook.

Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg.

Joe supported me through a really weird time in my life, so I figured it was the least I can do to be here, when he asked me in October.

We saw the world in much the same way. We saw the world as a place in need of education, in need of healing- in need of love. In need of kindness and understanding. That is the pinnacle of my faith- and we connected there.

Neither of us would happily put up with willful ignorance. Neither of us could put up with injustice.

Neither of us could stand idly by when people were being injured, manipulated or exploited.

We mutually liked every Facebook post the other made.

These are the human ties that aren’t maybe created through birth, or circumstance, but by common purpose.

We had some of the same mentors at Carroll- some of the most formative years of my life- John Downs, Fr. Gene Peoples, and although I never took a class from him Dr Robert Swartout- a man who inspired generations of historians. And someone who especially inspired Dr Joseph Laythe- to be a teacher, an academic, and a good human being. They all did. That was the magic of Carroll for me. We were surrounded by exceptional human beings with great hearts- who inspired us to be exceptionsal human beings-stretch ourselves beyond the obvious into eternity.

All I ever wanted was to be a priest. All Joe ever wanted was to be a teacher. A funny, irrepressible academic with the heart to change the manner in which his students would perceive the world around them. And the brilliant brain to teach them the facts that motivated his heart. Along the way, he added some additional wants- being a husband to Chris and a father to Lydia and Izzy.

This was his world.

And now, it’s ours.

“We all have a story. If you’re not friends with your mailman, you’re missing something”- John Downs.

“Jesus was the ultimate example of powerless love”- Fr. Gene Peoples.

I hold these things close in my life today. For me, it’s what Christianity boils down to.

Jesus rejected the love of power for the power of love. He spent time with the small people of society- those estranged and downtrodden and misunderstood. He ate with sinners- prostitutes and tax collectors and Pharisees and common people- they were all the same to him. People who needed to be seen as people.

Today, we make people into things. Murderers, terrorists, gays, Buddhists, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, Hoosiers, Buckeyes, North Dakotans, poor, diseased, addicts, transgender, prostitutes, anything but human.

Jesus makes us see the human.

Joey asked us to please see the human beings beyond the labels. And today, I beg you- please, never forget, we are not things. We are people. It may be the best way to honor our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend.

It’s how I will remember him. Last week at Mass, I came across the following from Bridges of Contemplation- Lent and Holy Week with Thomas Merton, where the author said

“Life and death are identical twin sisters born within every human being. We are all kin as we travel the uneven roads of our common journey through life. Yet being kindred- why are we so unkind toward each other?

Why do we find it so hard to see each other’s dilemmas as being identical to our own? Why do we so often accept unkindness as the order of relations among us? For us to live unkindly to each other is to live unnaturally.

How do we live kindly in an unkind world?

Humility teaches us kindness. Humility prevents our taking the first places at life’s banquet, prevents our excessive consumption of resources while sisters and brothers on other continents or down the street cannot feed their children.

Humility helps us step down from the pedestal of individual destinies to share life with the crowd.

Humility helps us to see how easy it is to lose everything we hold dear in an instant; our house, our status, our families, our very selves lost in the distractions that keep us from realizing our kindness with one another.

Lent is an occasion for us to reorient our priorities, to attend to the least privileged first- to allow the lame lead us in the procession by their slower pace and with rhythms that appreciate how we must all proceed carefully or suffer soul-death alone.”

I will honor my friend by being careful with other humans beings in my life.

I will treat them with respect and dignity and kindness and humor and understanding.

I will treat them with love.

Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

I used to think that really enlightened people took their pain and changed the world; Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Mother Teresa. Vaclav Havel. Peter Abelard. Victor Hugo. Joan of Arc. Francis of Assisi. Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Oscar Romero, Stephen Bieko. Father Damien of Molokai. Dorothy Day. Raymond Hunthausen.

Like I said, I used to think these people took their pain and changed the world. But now, I’ve changed my mind.

I think these people took their pain and changed themselves.

And that changed the world.

That’s what our Joey did.

That’s what we are to do.

We are here to take our pain- a very ordinary part of our human lives- an unpleasant part of our ordinary lives- and change the world.

We are here to take our pain and change the world.

Into something extraordinary.

That’s building the Kingdom of God.

That’s honoring our husband, our father, our teacher, our friend. Because that’s what he did.

We take our pain, and we change the world- by being kind to one another.

Please be kind.

Above all things.

Even- and especially- when people can’t pay you back.

Or even, when they almost get you arrested- especially then- they might become your dear, dear friend.

Be open to surprises.

That’s life.

Amen.

Tolerance

What is it about the “Other” that is so threatening?

In the wake of violent tragedy, can we just put down our own egos for a second and respond to pain, suffering and confusion with true compassion?

Can we?

Some of us can, I guess. But the rhetoric from leaders who wish to respond to violence with even more violence is in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus- and I can’t wrap my head around how they twist “turn the other cheek” and “love your neighbor as yourself” and “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” into “Fight back or you’ll look weak” and “Hit hard, hit fast” and “Give everyone a gun” and still call themselves Christians.

It’s confusing, and I think we have to call it what it is- vengeful and hateful and xenophobic.

Period.

I’m tired of tolerating this rhetoric from “Christians”.

Anybody else?

Christmas Sermon 2014

I wonder how many of you remember Art Linkletter. He originated this program called Kids say the Darndest Things. He would get a child or two or even a small group and ask them questions and the responses (at least the ones we saw) were truly hilarious. I remember two interviews in particular. The first was a little girl about five or six with a heavy Brooklyn accent:

Mr Linkletter: How do you feel about being in school?

Girl: I LOOOOVE School!

What do you think of your teacher?

I LOOOOVE my teacher!

Well what do you think of your mommy and Daddy?

I LOOOOOOOOVE my Mommy and Daddy!

Do you like ice cream?

I LOOOOOOOOVE ice cream!

You seem to love everything I ask you about.

Well, I’m a very loving person!

I love that story because it’s really true, isn’t it? Deep down we’re very loving people. There are things that we love, people that we love, animals that we love, places that we love, foods that we love, seasons that we love, books that we love, movies that we love music that we love- and the list goes on and on.

We love what speaks to us.

The other interview was with a group of kids and Art Linkletter asks them:

Have you ever been in love?

And this boy, who’s probably again five or six says “Oh Yes!”

Mr Linkletter asks “With whom are you in love?” He was very correct in his grammar.

And the little boy, without missing a beat, says pointing to a girl in the group “I’m in love with her!”

The little girl memorably shrieks and starts crying.

Whereupon Mr Linkletter says to the little boy “I’m not really sure, but that little girl doesn’t seem to share your love.”

The little boy says “Well, I’m In love with her, I don’t just love her. And I don’t suppose she can do anything about that.”

Out of the mouths of babes….

Today we celebrate Christmas- The feast of the birth of Christ. The Christ Mass.

The celebration that God’s love for us became manifest in a baby born in a barn. Not a palace or the suburbs or a gated community or a hospital or even a house.

He was born in a barn.

In a country occupied by a foreign power.

To poor parents who probably didn’t really know what they were doing- as most parents of their firstborn will attest.

Born also to a people who yearned for God’s light. And to the whole world as well.

I love the Christmas story because it’s so simple.

And because it’s so filled with complicated richness.

For centuries the Jewish people had walked in anticipation of Isaiah’s words “you who walk in darkness shall see a great light”.

I’ve known a few Rabbis in my life and one of the things they have taught me is this:

For hundreds of years The Jewish people had cultivated a relationship with this God who delivered them from oppressors and violence and injustice and who asked them to wrestle with theology- to get down and dirty with questions and curiosity- because if anyone can take a question God can.

Being an Episcopalian means using our heads as well as our hearts. We get to question things. We get to wrestle with things, just like Jacob wrestled with the angel.

Today, I’m going to ask you to wrestle with this: God is in love with you.

God is in love with you.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Who’s been in love?

When a person falls in love, the world changes, does it not?

And if that love is returned- well, we might even say that we’ve experienced the Divine.

Being in love is not about doing the right things, saying the right things, wearing the right clothes, showing up at the right place, ordering the right food…. Love is much simpler than that.

True love is delighting in the presence of the Other- and knowing that they delight in the presence of me.

This is the essence of Christmas: God delights in us.

I’ll say it again- God delights in us.

Yeah, I know we don’t always get it right, but we’re trying.

And when someone is in love with you, they forgive when you apologize, right?

So does God forgive us.

God delights in us so much that that delight became a person.

It became Jesus.

He is the manifestation of God being in love with us.

Which is pretty amazing if you stop to think about it.

God is in love with you. God is in love with me. Are you wrestling?

We celebrate it in the words of scripture we hear and in the Eucharist- the ultimate sacrifice of someone in love.

Listen to the words “This is my body broken for you- this is my blood shed for you”-

Words of love from a parent to a child. “I give my life for you.”

Words of the lover to the beloved “All that is mine is yours.”

I also want you to remember something else:

God is in love with the people we find it hardest to love- that’s the most important thing to remember.

When you find a person hard to love remember this: God not only loves them, God is in love with them.

God is in love with some “miserable people”.

And sometimes those “miserable people” is us.

And when you have a bad day and feel unloved and find it hard to believe that anybody loves you, remember this: God not only loves you but God is in love with you.

And I don’t suppose there is anything you can do about that.

Except to try and love back.

Like Jesus did.

Amen

PFLAGPNW Conference In Boise Oct 2-5 features Bishop Gene Robinson, Dr Caitlin Ryan

pflagThe 2014 Pacific Northwest PFLAG Conference is inviting people in the Boise/Treasure Valley and surrounding areas to join them on Friday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 in the North Star room at the Riverside Hotel. After a short welcoming speech by Bishop Gene Robinson, there will be a film and presentation by the Family Acceptance Project.

Dr. Caitlin Ryan will provide a brief overview of the Family Acceptance Project’s work to support diverse families and will screen her award winning film – “Families Are Forever” – the moving documentary of a devout Mormon family’s journey to accept and support their young gay son. Mitch Mayne, former executive secretary in the bishopric (religious leadership) of the LDS Church in San Francisco, a national voice on Mormon LGBT issues and a Boise native, will share his experiences supporting Mormon families with LGBT children and will facilitate a discussion with the audience.

“Families Are Forever” has received 18 awards from film festivals across the U.S. and in India, to date. This work is also of important interest in people working in schools, counselors, health care providers, social services and law enforcement. People not attending the conference are welcome to make a small donation.

Bishop Robinson and Dr Ryan will also be presenting in plenary sessions on Saturday October 4th, and we conclude with an ecumenical healing service with Bishop Robinson on Sunday October 5th.

More information on the conference can be found here: http://www.pnwpflag.org/2014-regional-conference/

My interview with Bishop Robinson is here.