Eulogy

“Life is difficult.”

With these three words begin a book called The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. It is a book that literally has helped me change my life- and the lives of countless others.

Today, especially, these words ring true.

Life is difficult for us- who have to try and make sense out of the pain and frustration and difficulties that he faced almost constantly.

Life is difficult for parents, teachers, family members and friends who may feel as powerless as I have felt this past week.

Life is difficult when pain overcomes all the loving words and gestures of family, of friends of therapist, of rabbis and priests- life is especially difficult then.

But how does this happen? How can we address it?

I wish I knew.

My faith tells me that we are all- all of us doing the best we can from our particular point of consciousness. My heart knows this to be true, but my brain often needs more evidence. It keeps telling me that I failed. Some of your brains may be saying the same thing.

He struggled with depression, gender identity and, quite frankly, with being an adolescent- a difficult enough endeavor without adding on the extra baggage. And I thought things were going okay- not perfectly, but there are wonderful parents here offering support and encouragement, supportive professionals taking an interest in helping, friends who do what friends do- remind us that no matter what it seems like, we are not alone. I hoped- I prayed- that he would be okay. Would come through this process with the perspective of a champion- a champion who addressed each struggle as skillfully as possible and never (or seldom) gave in to fear.

Here’s the problem- I’m always underestimating fear. I’m always underestimating the power that potential futures have of paralyzing, shutting down, creating a reaction instead of inviting a thoughtful response. Fear drives us out of our minds and out of our hearts. It’s a powerful thing. It can take the truth and twist it. It can take love and make it insufficient. Fear can make us question the unquestionable- knowing that there is never a satisfying answer- but still, trying to do SOMETHING.

And for a kid who kept things tightly held, who was a perfectionist, whose beauty was seen by everyone else- but not by the one who most needed it- fear was the final distortion.

He knew it- we talked about it- but there was still a desire to be more than just “good enough”- he wanted to be stunning. And those of us who love him saw that stunning quality. We can still see it.

Life is difficult. This is one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know life is difficult- once we truly understand and accept it- then life is no longer as difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters. It’s something everyone has to deal with. It’s not just me. Or you. Or them. It’s us.

Peck ends his book with this:

“The universe, this stepping-stone, has been laid down to prepare the way for us. But we ourselves must step across it, one by one. Through grace we are helped, and through grace we know we are being welcomed. What more can we ask?”

I believe he is being helped, he is being welcomed- and yet most importantly for us today- he is being dearly missed. Because that’s the only way to respond to the loss of beauty in our world.

And how have we failed?

We can’t if we loved.

What I Learned In Therapy

This is written by a patient and shared with permission.

I feel like I could make this a super duper short thing, a medium thing, or a super looong thing. I’m going to aim for some happy medium, though.

For the tl;dr crowd, here is the distillation of what I learned and what I apply in challenging moments: Ask yourself: What do I want? Be honest (about what you want). Be kind (to yourself and others). Tell the truth.

“Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome universe which dwarfs – in time, in space, and in potential – the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.” ~ Carl Sagan

By the end of 2010 I was a worn-out husk of a human. I’d managed to leave my job gracefully, but not without paying a price. I’d lost all my self-confidence. I didn’t trust myself. I thought I was just exhausted and needed to rest. But after two years, it became apparent that rest wasn’t the only thing I needed.

I knew I was having problems when I was interpreting everything with the same level of fear. It didn’t matter what it was. My internal sense of things was waaaay off, but I could only tell by extrapolation. So I found a therapist.

There were many things that I worked on over the almost two years I worked with G:

Read the rest here.

Transgender Day Of Remembrance Prayer

I was asked to give the opening prayer of the TDOR at MSU this evening- it was a memorial- it was a celebration.
The truth sets us free….

Loving God,

You have created us all in your complicated image.

But the love you ask of us is not complicated.

It is universal.

It is unconditional.

It is simply and perfectly- love.

With no distinctions or preferences for

gender, sexuality, race, religion, geography, education,

wealth, social status, language, practice or belief.

I have to believe that you are sad that we must gather tonight to remember

your children who are and have been victims of violence and ignorance.

But I also believe that you are delighted to celebrate the great courage of

your trans* children- and the courage of those who love and defend them.

They are the bravest and most wonderful people I know.

Made in your image and likeness, God.

Forever and ever.

Amen.

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.

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.

 

Being Gay or Lesbian Isn’t a Crime! It’s Time to Pass SB 107!

Action Alert! From The MHRN today:
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Senate Bill 107, carried by Missoula’s Sen. Tom Facey, was tabled by the House Judiciary Committee today on a 12-8 vote.
We need you to take a moment and contact your Representative immediately and ask them to support the “blast motion” on SB 107 to put this bill on the House floor for a simple yes or no vote! Click here to email representatives in your area, or call 406-444-4800 to leave messages for up to five representatives in your area!
This bill would finally remove unconstitutional language from Montana law that labels gays and lesbians felons, punishable by fines of up to $50,000 and/or up to ten years in jail. It was ruled unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court in 1997, but remains on the state’s law books because of homophobia and fear. Despite perennial attempts to eliminate this hurtful language from our laws, and the passage of this bill by the full Senate this session and back in 2011, we consistently come up against a brick wall in an ideologically driven and extremely conservative House committee.
But this is not the end of SB 107 this session! 
We think there are reasonable members of both parties on the floor of the Montana House that believe language criminalizing gay and lesbian relationships is wrong! We want to see this bill move forward with a “blast motion,” a special procedure that allows a bill that has been tabled in committee the chance to have an up-or-down vote. The catch?We’ll need a supermajority of legislators to agree with us – and that’s why we need your help! 
We need you to take a moment and contact your Representative immediately and ask them to support the “blast motion” on SB 107! Click here to email representatives in your area, or call 406-444-4800 to leave messages for up to five representatives in your area! 
 
Call the Capitol Switchboard at (406) 444-4800 to leave a message for up to five legislators in your area at a time. 
Thank you for your continued support for equality.
Sincerely,
Jamee Greer
Montana Human Rights Network

Today’s Must See: Alfredo’s Fire

“It was the Italian Stonewall, absolutely, the Italian Stonewall…”

 

About The Film

ALFREDO’S FIRE is a powerful and timely documentary that tells the forgotten story of Alfredo Ormando, a gay Italian writer who set himself on fire at the Vatican to protest the Church’s condemnation of homosexuality.

As Pope Benedict XVI resigns this month, the time is ripe for dialogue aimed at building a more open and inclusive Church, in the hope that no more lives are extinguished by the effects of religious intolerance.

With successful backing, the film will be finished in the next few months. We expect it to premiere in a major film festival in the U.S. and in conjunction with Italy’s National Pride celebration, this year in Alfredo’s hometown of Palermo.

For more information about the project visit: www.alfredosfire.com

Alfredo’s Story

On January 13, 1998 Alfredo Ormando, a 39-year old Italian writer, arrived in Rome just as the sun was rising. After a long journey from his native Sicily, he found his way to the empty plaza of St. Peter’s Square and, facing the entrance to the Basilica, knelt down as if to pray. He made a rapid hand gesture and suddenly was engulfed in flames. Before the Church and God, Alfredo Ormando had lit himself on fire.

Not long afterwards, and overlooking the spot where Alfredo had set himself aflame, Pope John Paul declared that “homosexual acts are against the laws of nature.” Pope Benedict XVI has even more vehemently advanced anti-gay rhetoric and policies.

Shaped by Alfredo’s manuscripts and letters, as well as rich cinematography, and provocative interviews with Alfredo’s friends, family and intimate companions, our film reveals Alfredo’s longing and the struggle to reconcile his own faith and sexuality.

My Story

As someone who has similarly struggled to reconcile his sexuality and spirituality, I became obsessed with Alfredo’s story and his choice of fire. Alfredo’s gesture was simultaneously a self-annihilation, an expression of pent-up passion and rage, a communion with God, and a dramatic “coming out.”

When Alfredo lit himself on fire at the Vatican, he hoped that his protest would be witnessed everywhere. Instead, his story was silenced by the Church and downplayed by the media. In death, as in life, he was made invisible. With our film, I want his light to reach millions worldwide. It is a flame by which to remember, witness, and come out of the dark.

Watch the video here.