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.

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.

Here I am, Lord

As a disenfranchised Catholic, I cannot help but be intrigued and even a little hopeful about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.  I do not like Benedict even though I love the church.  I grew up Catholic, was both an altar and choir boy, and even considered becoming a priest.  I can’t imagine how that would have turned out.

English: Pope Benedict XVI in Italy

English: Pope Benedict XVI in Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, the American/Roman Catholic culture became my culture.  My friends were Catholic.  We attended the Catholic grade school and church at the corner of my street.  I later went to a Catholic high school and college (University of Dayton).  I especially loved the new music in the church, and played and sang those songs in a church music group for years.  I even came to appreciate the deep meaning and spiritual significance of the Mass and other Catholic traditions.

I miss those parts of being Catholic because they are so much a part of who I am.  However, like so many others, I can no longer tolerate both the fact of clergy child sexual abuse, and the church hierarchy’s cover up of the same.  Neither can I abide the church’s homophobic positions, philosophy, and teaching.  Did you ever notice when Benedict has discussed these, he does not refer to scripture, nor even mention Jesus, let alone his teachings about love and lack of judgment.  Perhaps this is because the gospels, ostensibly, have also sanctioned the power of the Vicar of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter (“I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it,” Matthew 16:18, New American Standard Bible (©1995), emphasis added), as well as his minions, to assess judgment upon sinners.

Purportedly, this power, conferred by Jesus himself in John 20:23, New American Standard Bible (©1995)  (“If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained”) takes precedent in the minds of the Church over Jesus’ direct order:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” John 15:12, New American Standard Bible (©1995).  And, what about this rather direct admonishment?  “Do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. . . .”  Luke 6:37, New American Standard Bible (©1995).

I have never heard an explanation for this elevation of one of Jesus’ principles over that of others, and would love to read the apologetics which justifies this doctrine promulgated by the self perpetuating (and protecting) hierarchical system known as the church.  But, that is perhaps another matter.

Be that as it may, apparently not all church members agree with these judgmental policies.  “Equally Blessed, an LGBT-inclusive Catholic group, issued a statement upon Benedict’s announcement and said members were ‘grateful that Pope Benedict XVI had the foresight and humility to resign his office for the sake of the church to which he has given his life.’

The organization added that the Roman Catholic Church now has the opportunity to change the church and overturn oppressive, homophobic policies.

‘We pray for a pope who is willing to listen to and learn from all of God’s people. We pray for a pope who will realize that in promoting discrimination against LGBT people, the church inflicts pain on marginalized people, alienates the faithful and lends moral credibility to reactionary political movements across the globe. We pray for a pope who will lead the church in looking the sexual abuse scandal squarely in the eye and make a full report on the complicity of the hierarchy in the sexual trauma inflicted on children around the world. We pray for a pope who is willing to make himself vulnerable on behalf of the voiceless, the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed.’”  http://www.advocate.com/politics/religion/2013/02/11/pope-benedict-xvi-announces-resignation.

I wish I could be as genial and hopeful, but, sadly, I must acknowledge as have others that many of the Cardinals who will select Benedict’s successor (and from whose ranks he will be chosen) were handpicked by Benedict himself.  Thus, it is very likely that they share his views and support his policies.

I pray from the depths of my soul for a pope who will truly believe these words from a popular Catholic hymn*:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart

*Written by Daniel Schutte and recorded by Daniel O’Donnell in 1981 after Vatican Council II. Its words are based on Isaiah 6:8 and 1 Samuel 3. The song was then published by North American Liturgy Resources which later was purchased by New Dawn Music, a subsidiary of Oregon Catholic Press. It’s been used at many Papal Masses.  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Citations omitted).

Imagine There’s No (Literal) Bible

When John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s no heaven . . . And no religion too,” I did not like it, having just been born again.  I had found God, and the English translation, New International Bible was my ticket to keep what I had found.  I loved the Bible, and read each page with fervor.  They told me every single word was literally true, and I believed it.

KJV Bible

KJV Bible (Photo credit: knowhimonline)

Never mind that many of those words were written by ancient Hebrew men for Hebrew men, and other of those words by citizens of ancient Rome; that they were written in equally archaic and foreign languages including Hebrew and Aramaic, and then translated into Greek and Latin; and, that they were written in the context of limited understanding and ancient customs for an audience of people with equally limited understanding and ancient customs; and, that they were later edited by the Catholic Church  during many great councils into what we know today; I believed that those words were actually God speaking to me in 1976, and many times since.  (Yes, I am that old).

I wanted to know who and what God is, and believed those words were the path of discovery.  As intellectual as I can be, I chased that knowledge for many years.  Yet for all that I prayed and read and asked for God’s will in all things, the spiritual life that had once begun so earnestly lay in ruin like a dry rotted old Montana homestead cabin.  Only the vestiges of livelihood remained.  At the end of the day, I was still drunk and demoralized.  I was spiritually dead, and cursed God for all the inherent contradictions in “God’s Word.”  How could I, a God-fearing, born-again, right-wing, Republican Christian be what I was beginning to realize was my true self – a transsexual? That was against the Bible.

But, what if the Bible was not a literal document?  What if it is a compendium of inspired writings about the nature of God, and God’s interaction with humanity and our world?  What if my experience of God was eqaully valied and important, as John Wesley suggested?    What if the bible is not a religious, quasi-legal code book securing the salvation of my soul, as much as it is inspiration feeding the life of my soul right here and right now? When I turned to God with these questions in the pit of my soul, God answered.  God said, “Bobbie, you are a beautiful daughter of God.”

When I was scared and confused about the truths I came to know about myself and who I am, God asked me dance, and smiled.  God reminded me of a simple, yet fundamental truth about God.  God is.  That is all.  It does not matter whether I know or understand who or what God is – just that I know that God is.  Once I cast all else aside, and became open to that single, vital truth I was free to experience God – I mean right here, right now.  God continued to dance with me and smile through every step of my gender transition.

It does not matter that others would say it ain’t so –that I have misinterpreted the will of God.  God speaks to me in my soul, not theirs.  Because I have experienced God there, I know that God is, and that God loves me for all that I am, and exactly  what I am.  Now, that is redemption!  Maybe that Lennon guy was on to something after all.

Being Water

The text of my sermon from The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bozeman yesterday:

Being Water: Flexibility, Change and Following our True Nature

River

River (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. 

Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. 
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. 
The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. 
On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. 

Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 

I am haunted by waters.”

~Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It.

Those words by Norman McLean are famous all around the world. Mostly because they are words that resonate with everyone- on a primal level.

I too, am haunted by water.

Water- perhaps like every other spirit- looms wide in our world- open to the eyes that wish to see it. Or to the mind that wishes to know.

Water holds the vital components of life- we cannot go long without it. But too much and we die.

It is a tremendous force of creation AND destruction, a source of delight and dread.

How many people here do not know how to swim? How many would be thrilled to be adrift on a boat in the middle of the ocean? How many terrified? (Life of Pi)

And yet, do you know the delight of a cold glass of water on a hot day, or a warm bath after a long day of hard labor- or a hot tub after skiing?

Have you considered the water involved in your day- so far?

How much water have you used today?

Is it possible to even calculate?

Water is everywhere. It exists in a variety of states of purity. It is one of a very few elements that transition easily from solid to liquid to gas. It defines places and things on our planet by it’s presence: ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, oceans, glaciers, icebergs, clouds. It defines places on our planet by it’s absence: deserts, salt flats, stalagmites, etc.

Baking doesn’t work without adding and removing water. Neither does fermentation and distillation. And do you have any idea how many gallons of water it takes to make one automobile?

It is an amazing substance, plentiful, misused, often taken for granted, but remarkably resilient- and I believe it can be our teacher.

First, Some Statistics

  • 780 million people lack access to an improved water source; approximately one in nine people.
  • Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from a water-related disease.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.
  • Over 2 1/2X the United States population do not have access to clean water.
  • More people in the world have a mobile phone than access to a toilet.
  • There is more fresh water in the atmosphere than in all of the rivers on the planet combined- but, If all of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere fell at once, distributed evenly, it would only cover the earth with about an inch of water.
  • It takes more water to manufacture a new car (39,090 gallons) than to fill an above ground swimming pool.
  • It takes more than ten gallons of water to produce one slice of bread.
  • Over 713 gallons of water go into the production of one cotton T-shirt.
  • 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk.
  • Roughly 634 gallons of water go into the production of one hamburger
  • The average faucet flows at a rate of 2 gallons per minute.  You can save up to 4 gallons of water every morning by turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth.

When I start looking things up, sometimes I can’t stop. 🙂

So now, let’s think about water and what it does.

What do we use water for? Shout out an answer-

All good things. So we know it’s good for washing, drinking, irrigation, skiiing, snowboarding, fishing. So many things.

What I love about water is its flexibility.

In more ways than one, water adapts to our needs. It also is amazing in its ability to adapt to the environment it finds itself in….

How much better off would we be, if we could naturally take the temperature of the room around us, and, if it got to be uncomfortable, we could just change shape to suit us better? That’s what water does.

In fact, I think it’s what we do, too- if we don’t second guess ourselves- but more about that later.

Water is flexible. It moves over, around, under, through whatever gets in the way. It allows itself to be moved by the things it encounters- making music as it flows over rocks and boulders, whispering gently as it is stirred by the wind. Water, I imagine, is delighted by obstacles, because then it gets to find another way. That’s the first lesson I try to remember form water.

I have a small fountain in my therapy office. I use it to remind myself and my clients that we are mostly water-66-70% -depending on the person and the time of day. As such, we have a right to claim its flexibility. We have the possibility and responsibility to be moved by the obstacles we see in our path- and to respond with our true nature. Gracefully, and honestly and purposeful. Just like the water from the hose does when it’s thrown onto the lawn- it goes where it goes- according to its nature.

We sometimes have difficulty trusting our nature. We’ve sometimes come from spiritual or cultural traditions that have told us that our natures are to be overcome- that human nature is not godly or holy or noble or right. As such, sometimes, I believe we’ve lost something of the power of the voice of our true nature- the voice that knows what to do, where to go when we let go, when we just trust our nature to carry us forward.

How does water know where to go?

As a kid in a farming family, I remember being fascinated out with my grandfather as he flood irrigated the pastures. We used canvas dams and irrigation ditches….

I got pretty good at being able to tell where to place the dams so that it would water the pastures effectively. But there also was a lot of waiting. So I played in the water- I swam in the small creeks and noticed the plants that lived in the still waters, like cattails and arrowroot- and the water birch and cottonwoods that grew nearby. The red wing blackbird nests in the cattails, the fish and crayfish and insects and animals- and me. All brought together- all linked by water in some way or another. All following our nature- more or less.

One of the most amazing things about water, is that it changes according to its environment. If the temperature drops, it freezes, if it raises to a higher level it melts. Higher still, it evaporates. It knows how to adapt. I’m not suggesting that this is conscious process, but I think the lesson is clear.

Most of human suffering, I believe, is about not changing with the temperature of the environment. Much of the suffering I’ve encountered in others -and noticed in myself is about not recognizing that I’m not suited to the environment in my present form- and believing that I can’t change.

That I shouldn’t have to change.

Let THEM change. 🙂

Does it sound at all familiar?

It does to me- almost painfully.

But the lesson of water is about the infinite ability to change. To live in one form or another according to the temperature it finds itself in.

We can do that, too.

And we won’t lose anything by doing it- except maybe our suffering. And I want to distinguish between suffering and pain.

Pain is real. Pain is important. Pain tells us when something needs attention. Could you imagine life without pain? I wouldn’t want to. It’s a valuable tool.

But suffering is something else entirely. Suppose I kick you in the leg- would you feel pain? Hopefully. But when does the suffering begin?

Suffering begins when you start to think “Greg shouldn’t kick me like that- what a jerk! Wow- that really hurt, I can feel it throbbing now and I ought to just get up and kick him right back because I wasn’t doing anything and he just kicked me and…” you get the idea.

Suffering is about embellishing the present with past pain. 

It’s about losing the present moment in the “should’s”. My Dad always said “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself- it’s a waste. It’s better to say ‘Next time that happens, I’ll pay closer attention.’”

Smart man, my Dad.

If we let go of suffering, and just allow the pain to inform our true nature- then what happens? We may stop interpreting, may stop judging the truth or the justice of the pain and simply allow the experience to inform us.

Especially if we remember we are water. Verse 8 from the Tao Te Ching is one of my favorites:

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.

Just like water, we encounter resistance and move around it, over it, under it, through it- whatever is patiently allowed.

Pain is simply information- an obstacle, a barrier maybe. An opportunity to adjust our perceptions, change course and keep going.

Water always knows where it is going, because it trusts its nature. It is a reminder to me to trust my goodness and the goodness of all those around me.

Do you think you have a good sense about the importance of water to you now?

In the time it’s taken me to speak to you today, we have all exchanged water vapor in this room through the inhalation and exhalation of our breath. It’s inescapable. We’re all part of each other through water.

And I love that. When you gather next in this room, try and remember that.

When you have difficulty with the person across from you, remember that you are filled with them, and vice versa, simply by breathing.

Isn’t that wonderful? It’s hard to be angry in the face of wonder. Or sad, or ashamed or afraid for that matter.

I believe that the greatest lesson water gives us is wonder. It is the gift of seeing ourselves in the breath of another.

It is about being haunted- by an inspiring spirit that teaches us to be flexible, to trust that we know where we’re going and that we can change if need be.

So for a moment, I’d like to just offer you a brief meditation….

We are water. We are fluid.

We are mighty, we are rough;

we are gentle, we give life;

We are vapor, we are ice, we are snow.

We are the glaciers carve mountains, the springs that provide cool relief.

We make thunder and lightning

and rainbows and oceans.

We are perfectly adaptable, infinitely flexible and amazingly resilient.

We are grace.

(Audio is here: http://uufbozeman.org/audio/2_3_13_Smith.mp3 )

World AIDS Day Candlelight Vigil

(click for link to Facebook Event page)

MT Pride 2012 Presents Kathy Baldock: The Argument For LGBT-Inclusive Christianity

I’m really very excited. Here’s why:

My friend Kathy Baldock will be journeying to Montana from Reno this week to join us for MT Pride 2012. She will be here to speak to faith leaders, join her LGBT brothers and sisters for Montana Pride and will present at least twice. The first is at the Bozeman Public Library on Tuesday.

Entitled “The Argument For LGBT-Inclusive Christianity”, Kathy will share her story (which is really remarkable) and her conviction that there is nothing that prevents Christianity from openly embracing and affirming LGBT persons. Here’s the blurb:

Kathy Baldock, a straight, Evangelical Christian and Executive Director of Canyonwalker Connections, will offer the public a chance to consider, discuss and debate the arguments for a Christianity that is welcoming and affirming of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered persons.

For More about Kathy and her experience, please visit http://canyonwalkerconnections.com/about-2/ .
This forum is presented By Montana Pride 2012.

Kathy will also present a workshop at Montana Pride 2012. Talking to Churches and Faith Leaders- How Do We Start? Evangelical Christian and LGBT ally Kathy Baldock will offer some guidance and understanding about creating a conversation with Christian faith leaders. She will share her experiences in changing hearts and minds about LGBT persons in churches and faith communities. She will also address the topic of creating “open and affirming” churches.

She will be hanging out with us all week and will be marching in the parade and participating in the Pride Interfaith Service, Sunday June 17th , 10 am at the Holiday Inn.

Kathy is also available to the faith communities of the area during the week she is here. If you’d like to speak to her, please contact me at dgsma@hotmail.com.

To my mind, equality will be won when we do two things:

  1. Win over the churches, and
  2. Engage the families of LGBT people in our struggle- especially the moms.

With Kathy’s help, we’re going to do our best to win over some churches in the next week- and maybe a few mothers….