It’s 2020 and the Saints are NOT going to the Super Bowl. It is now just past the Feast of the Epiphany and Mardi Gras is upon us. The world, as our news reports show us, seems to be getting more polarized and divided. The social discourse is virulent and getting more so. Apart from the various wars and conflicts we are involved in, whether geopolitical or economic, we also seem to be engaged in social wars.
“Assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remain at near-historic levels in the U.S. The deadly attacks in synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway have made American Jews feel more vulnerable than they have felt in decades.” — Anti-Defamation League
Not only Jews but members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The number of Americans 18 to 34 who are comfortable interacting with LGBTQ people slipped from 53% in 2017 to 45% in 2018 – the only age group to show a decline, according to the annual Accelerating Acceptance report. And that is down from 63% in 2016.” USA Today
Religious frameworks are also starting to show some wear as well. The Pope offers hope and kindness yet the Curia has not changed doctrine. Bishops in South America are rebelling and calling for the ordination of women. The Roman Church is rocked. Domestically Christianity Today a historically Evangelical news source called for the removal of Trump from office.
“Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency…” Christianity Today
It also appears that in some fashion the United Methodist Church will split, intentionally, over the issue of LGBTQ+ inclusion. They have been wrestling with this topic for quite some time as have other denominations with varying outcomes.
Yet in our own community such things seem to subside, hiding below the surface of our social agenda in New Orleans and, perhaps, the region. We celebrate, as we should, with gusto our common lives. I have had the privilege of engaging with and becoming educated by several LGBTQ+ organizations including social clubs based on preferences, social clubs based on the Mardi Gras cycle (our great Krewes) as well as by attending several drag shows and becoming well aware of the performance requirements and stresses that come from such a life. I have been blessed.
I, and several of my colleagues, have enjoyed great times in local bars, clubs, and pubs. In at least a few of those spots the bartenders or customers know us by name, and yes by cocktail, and I am not sure if that is a great thing. Just kidding–it is a GREAT THING.
Navigating faith, spirituality, or religion is fraught with all manner of psychic peril and payoffs. This just might be the time to try to begin navigating those seas again. Yet, such a mission can be daunting.
I once met a man who is very popular in the community. We ran into each other on several social occasions. Just call me a party animal because we saw each other a lot. Each time we’d do this verbal dance.
“Hey Father why not join me at my table for a drink?”
I would reply with a smile, “Sure if you join me at my house and my table for a drink.”
It was all in good fun.
But, one day he did come to “my house”, the church, to talk about his faith. He had fond memories of a childhood in church. He’d sing and was loved. Then, as he grew older something changed. I believe that when he came into his own and maybe when he came out he (1) felt rejected and (2) saw an abundance of hypocrisy in that little church. He became bitter and left never to return. Yet, he sat there telling me how he was looking for that same warm faith again.
Despite my best efforts to point toward churches that are not only safe, but lack hypocrisy, at least as much as any human institution can, he would push back. Despite my best efforts to point toward real communities of faith that walk the talk he pushed back. He wanted his childhood faith without risk and without even a low-key commitment. I pray daily that he’ll give it a shot. He’s been through enough. I hope that he finds a home that will unleash that spiritual being inside and give him a loving place to be.
I am friends with another delightful man whom I dearly care for; he is such a sweet fellow. He was caught up in an evangelical church. He sang in that church and sang his heart out. His story was that when he sang, he felt his heart in union with God. That is a feeling one cannot understand until you experience it; like a great cocktail, once you’ve tried it, you want more.
Like so many others, however, when he came out, he was invited to leave. That kind of rejection does permanent damage. He is surrounded by folks who do attend a loving accepting church that has no barriers to care and affection. Yet despite the encouragement of not only myself but others, he just cannot bring himself to “taste and see.”
Others are simply so shut down by “religion” that they don’t even want to go there. I understand that. If all I saw was a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, bible-thumping, blaring, racist excuse for religion I’d run away too.
Navigation requires skill, insight, and discernment. By definition, it requires that a course be set and that rocks and shoals be marked and steered clear of. When one discerns a clear passage, however, the benefits are profound.
No one should be put into a box labeled “those queers.” You are you and that is exceptional. In the same way “religion” has exceptional benefits and wonderful gifts to offer, but you need to discern and learn to trust even just a little bit. If it is not comfortable or if it seems off, steer clear. But if you don’t navigate, you go nowhere.
I along with several churches and synagogues offer you not only a safe space but a special place to reconnect with El Shaddai, Elohim, Allah, Yeshua, Jesus, to be taken for who you are, and to join a journey to connect with the divine.
Navigate, get your compass, and know that you are so worthy of love and a doctrine of love, and allow it to pour in. If you need a recommendation or want to talk about reconnecting to a faith tradition that will speak to you, reach out.
I think of myself as much as a chaplain as I do a priest. As a chaplain my job is not to sell you on my version of faith but to help you connect or reconnect with your faith. Faith is a powerful and wonderful thing when it is well worked out.
Navigate and be wise. Remember that even the Jesus story starts with faith followed by betrayal and deceit even in the birth narratives. Yet, the narrative always rises above that fray offering us hope, love, charity, and that thing called Grace. You have an invitation to navigate. And in this world that is seemingly coming apart, perhaps that isn’t a bad idea.