Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Xena and Gabrielle and the Boss and Me

I was on hold the other day and heard this song:

Come stop your crying, it will be alright
Just take my hand, hold it tight
I will protect you from all around you
I will be here, don't you cry

For one so small, you seem so strong
My arms will hold you, keep you safe and warm
This bond between us can't be broken
I will be here, don't you cry

'Cause you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on, now and forevermore

You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
From this day on, now and forevermore....

This lyric is by Phil Collins, and is from the soundtrack to the Disney animated film "Tarzan." So naturally I was plunged immediately into memories of Xena, Warrior Princess. Not so obvious? I will explain.

About ten years ago I became acquainted with a wonderful, charismatic, and, to me, utterly mysterious woman, a local minister. I had met her at a community-wide educational event, and then began attending a study group of which she was a part. I liked her. She intrigued me. I was attracted to her (though, in my married fog, I didn't get how I was attracted to her, precisely). I decided to go to her church one sunny Sunday in October. It was World Communion Sunday.

Something happened to me during the service. I fell head-over heels. It had something to do with her openness, the embrace in which I felt myself enclosed. I spoke to her afterwards, and said something very much like, "Now I get it. Now I get you."

Not long after I attended her church I had an opportunity to begin working there. She became my boss. I loved my job, I loved the people in the congregation, but the dynamic between us changed. She became more guarded. She became more elusive. We worked well together, but over the course of several years, my attraction waned, mostly out of lack of information (I had no idea whatsoever about her sexuality), but also out of familiarity. You know how that goes.

Eventually it was time for her to move on to another call. A month before she left I bought tickets to a concert as a going away gift. We planned an evening out, including dinner, and I felt myself growing excited and agitated all at once. I realized that the old feeling was re-surfacing.

That night in the car she came out to me. We ended up back at her house, talking for hours about her life, my life, the closet, marriage. I shared with her my painful and unrequited love (Delta) of a few years earlier. And then, she told me about Xena.

Xena, Warrior Princess. And Gabrielle, the bard, her side-kick. The mid-nineties syndicated TV show out of New Zealand, largely schlock, off-spin of the Hercules show... except... the show had begun to attract an interesting audience, an audience of lesbians, who believed they saw, in the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle... something. Something more than simple friendship. And, in response to this interested following, the producers began throwing their audience a bone here and there. A scene of Xena and Gabrielle bathing. A kiss between a man (whose body was "possessed" by a comatose Xena) and Gabrielle. Intense conversation between the characters about their devotion to one another, their love for one another, the way in which they were soulmates.

And then, the fan fiction started. One woman, who went by the penname Merwolf, created an entire "Xenaverse" in which Xena and Gabrielle's love left the realm of subtext and became "maintext."

So I began reading these stories. And guess what? My boss was Xena, and I was Gabrielle, and the stories, which I read for hours on end, at night, on the computer, opened the door to a life of fantasy that was both thrilling and painful.

About that same time my children were still heavily into the Disney catalogue, and after seeing the film of "Tarzan," I bought the excellent soundtrack. As I listened to that song, I began to translate it into a kind of anthem for Xena and Gabrielle (read: Boss and me).

Why can't they understand the way we feel?
They just don't trust what they can't explain
I know we're different, but deep inside us,
We're not that different at all.

And you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on, now and forevermore

You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
From this day on, now and forevermore....
My boss left. Our relationship changed again. I left Xena behind, after about a year's indulgence, because, why torture myself with the fantasy of a world I would never inhabit (and I'm not referring to the nifty body armor)? And a few days ago, a song heard while on hold, brought it all back with a poignant immediacy.


My denominational body is finally going to be confronted with the issue of LGBTQ ordination, beyond the theoretical. A case is coming before the powers that be about a church, which desires to ordain two members (one gay, one lesbian) to church office.

I think my region has been a kind of don't ask, don't tell area. so it's been difficult to tell who among my colleagues believes exactly what. I read an email from a colleague last night that spoke of "homosexuals." My immediate thought was, "Uh oh."

Am I way off base, or is the use of the word "homosexual" in this context a total giveaway that the person is opposed, opposed, opposed?

It took me some time to ferret out why I reacted so strongly to reading this email (which was, on the whole, written more or less dispassionately, offering an interpretation of the church constitution as it now stands about which many people, approximately 51% of the people, would agree). It was that word. I am not aware that there has been a consensus culturally about this, but my reaction to the use of that word, in that phrase, "the ordination of homosexuals," was a dead giveaway that the author was opposed.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Read it and Weep

Thanks to Elizabeth Kaeton at Telling-Secrets for pointing me to Chuck's Laird68.com, and this list of punishments throughout the world for people who are LGBTQ.

Anyone who thinks ENDA is "special treatment" should read about LGBTQ special treatment around the world.

On Fire

I have been following news coverage of the California wildfires, as have many of you. It is heartbreaking and frustrating. There was Our President, hugging people in the debris, because that's how we know he cares. There were commenters on Flickr, having a bitter argument about the environment, fatalism and the hand of God. This argument started when a commenter said, essentially, What do you expect? Build where there is not enough water... which is the southern California story for nearly 100 years now... and where the Santa Ana winds blow, and you will certainly see your home go up in flames eventually. And someone else added, This is Gaia's revenge. These people deserved what they got. And someone jumped in to say, You heartless bastards. I'd like to see your homes burned to the ground. And they were off.

They say that a surprising percentage of firefighters are actually firebugs, people who are obsessed with fire and want the opportunity to fight it or to be a hero or simply to be in its presence. Fire is fascinating. Who is not entranced by even a small flame, a modest blaze in a fireplace, a bonfire, or an inferno? Brush fires are a normal part of the ecosystem in some areas. I have read that there are some seeds that germinate only after a burn. That is small consolation to someone whose entire life seems to lay in charred ruins.

And of course, as is always the case in disasters, the poorest of the poor are the most vulnerable. Four bodies, believed to have been immigrants, were found near the Mexico border. Two more, a couple who were evidently trying to feel their home, were found at the top of a hill. Injuries to firefighters have not been reported as yet. Though the winds have subsided, a third of a million people are yet to return to their homes.

We Christians have multiple layers of meaning associated with fire, some of them quite positive. Of course, there are the fires of Gehenna, a narrow ravine south of Jerusalem where refuse was burned, used by Jesus and taken, down the ages, to signify hell. And then there is "hellfire and brimstone," a phrase snatched from a 17th century preacher who thought the best way to win souls for Christ was to quite literally scare the hell out of them. And then there is the flame of Pentecost. The Spirit of God, coming to rest on human beings in a way that evoked fire and flame... not hellish, but heavenly.

Prayers for the victims, and there are many. Prayers for the rebuilding, and it will be long and arduous. Prayers for the heavenly fire to take hold in our outreach to those who suffer.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

There's Something About Dumbledore

Cecilia to Clever Daughter: Dumbledore is gay! I'm not kidding you!

Clever Daughter to Cecilia: I have to say I'm shocked, but he did wear those amazingly stylish glasses and long robes all the time...

Saturday, October 20, 2007


So, the nominee for Attorney General does reject torture in the abstract. He simply won't say what it is. And whatever we are doing, he says, that's not it.

A friend who works with college students as a chaplain tells me that "better than" 50 % regard the use of torture as necessary, "these days," and approve of it. This is at an elite, liberal arts institution. These are students who profess to be Christians, talking to their pastor.

What's a Christian to do? What's a Christian pastor to say? Who has some suggestions on preaching texts for this unholy mess of a topic?

What has our nation come to that this is not a no-brainer?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Here's What Happened

I started what might have been a long post on Eucharist this morning. Then I accidentally hit some combination of keys that resulted in my opening sentence being posted as a blog entry. I read it, decided I liked it, and let it stand.

I suppose for me it all began about ten years ago with Monika Hellwig's book, Eucharist and the Hunger of the World. It started me thinking about the connections between people via the chain of production of our food. Now thanks to various documentaries every high school student knows that what McDonald's puts on its menu has enormous sociological implications, everything from what varieties of potatoes will be abundantly available to what various groups will eat to the amount of refuse generated. But when I read Ms. Hellwig these things made up a real revelation to me. Food and how we use it (more complicated than it seems) ends up at the intersection of health, economic justice, and environmental justice, to name a smattering only.

I take communion to folks who are homebound because of health issues. Another church officer normally accompanies me. The people I see are hungry... they are hungry for community, for touch, for a sense of hope and healing. They are hungry for a church community they are not always confident they are still connected to. An Amazon reviewer says of Hellwig's writing, "For Ms. Hellwig the Eucharist is not simply a linear production of the body and blood of Jesus Christ; it is a command to go out and seek the other who is hungry." In my small, relatively short visits to bring the sacrament to those who cannot join the body at the communion table on Sunday morning, I see transformation that happens when the spirtually hungry are fed. I see it all the time. I see people go from being inert and exhausted to refreshed and renewed. I see people get color back in their graying cheeks. I see people who are grateful that they have not been forgotten, that the church is extending itself to them in this act of table fellowship.

To put it another way, here is a sentence from a recent communion service:

"As this bread is Christ’s body for us, let us be Christ’s body for the whole world."

We (by which I mean the institutional church) say these things all the time. What if we really meant them, really lived them? What if we dared to be Christ's body and blood for the whole broken, bleeding world? What if we reached out the the physically hungry as confidently as we reach out to the spiritually malnourished, knowing that Christ's body is shared in the mac and cheese as well as the bread and wine?

I think the one-sentence post was more articulate.


I am more and more convinced of the need for the communion table as an instrument of radical transformation.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Youth Group Experience

A few weeks ago a friend who is active in the local LGBT activist group called to ask me whether I would be willing to come as a guest speaker for a youth group composed of LGBT youth and their allies.

"Sure," I said. "What do you want me to talk about?"

"They want someone to talk to them about religion and spirituality," she said. This friend, by the way, knows about me, that I am a closeted lesbian. (Maybe that was self-evident, maybe not.)

About a day after I said yes, I contacted her by email. I asked, "How do I negotiate my being in/ out with these kids? I don't want to present them with an unhealthy role model."

She reassured me quickly that this group, of anyone, knows full well the complications/ implications of being in and out. She also reassured me that my choices are not "unhealthy" but simply my choices, and that the group has a strong understanding of confidentiality. So, ok. I went.

I met on a balmy Wednesday afternoon with about ten young people, all identifiying either as gay or transgender or both. There were also two adult mentors (my friend and another woman). I hadn't given a lot of thought to what I would say (because I was assured that they would have questions). To get us started I held up my bible and said, "So, what's a word or phrase that comes into your head when you see this book?"

A young man said, "Confused."

A young transman said, "Angry."

A young woman said, after a minute of body language that showed fairly significant distress, "Don't even get me started."

What followed was an hour and a half of some pretty hair-raising stories. Many of them were about ministers threatening kids that they had to come out to their parents immediately, that they were going to hell, that they were not loved by Jesus if they persisted in their "sin." Many of them were about kids deciding (correctly) that there was nothing for them in those churches. Many of them were about getting kicked out by parents, having plans for education derailed, getting jobs at fast food joints in order to pay rent on crappy apartments.

At a certain point I held up the bible again, and said, "I apologize to each of you, on behalf of the church, for the violence that has been done to you by the misuse of this book." I went on to tell them, possibly not very articulately, that when I read the gospels, and see who is in Jesus' entourage, and who Jesus chooses to be with, I see a great deal of hope in the bible. I see a God who is constantly siding with the underdog. I see a God who says, the crappier life treats you, the more beloved you are to me. But I also see a God who doesn't use platitudes to keep people down... in other words, it's not ok to be treated crappily because of some afterlife hope. I see a God who says "You.... yes, you... you are welcome at this table. You are welcome now, as you are."

I didn't say a lot of stuff that occurred to me later... stuff, for instance, on re-naming. Scripture is full of people whose names change when their relationship with God grows or deepens. With a room full of trans kids, that might be good to talk about. We'll do it next time.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Dream Journal

I dreamed I was looking for a new house.

This is interesting to me, because, though I am not currently looking for a new house, my living space (and whether I want to change it) is something I think about a lot.

Beloved and I can't live together.

There are lots of reasons for this. For one thing, her home is her cocoon, her sacred space, a place that is completely and precisely the way she wants and likes it. It is beautiful. It is immaculate. There is no clutter, there are no piles of paper. There is minimalist furniture, a loft with a mattress, and gorgeous art reproductions (mostly black and white photography).

My living space is... how shall I put this?... different. Different from Beloved's, though fairly typical for a non-housework-loving person with organization issues. Lots of piles, lots of paper, lots of temporary fixes for long-term problems. Lots of art... beautiful colors and textures... not minimalist in the least. Not Beloved's style in the least. Above my bed are a photo of a cavern lit with an unearthly light, which speaks to me of the resurrection; a painting of the women dancing away from the tomb, and a painting of a nude by a local artist. The colors and styles are warm, almost southwestern. Beloved loves them... in my home.

As a couple, we are style-challenged. But that is not the only issue. There is another factor, and that is my desire to keep my house as home base for my children for the next (mumble mumble) years. My kids are not nearly launched. For me to move in with Beloved, or even for us to find a place and negotiate the decorating and organizing, would be a loss for my children, as well as for me, in the way I hope to mother them. This is the home they have been raised in. I want to keep it for them for a while.

But there is another issue still, of course, and that is the fact that I am still semi-closeted.

In my dream I found myself looking at a home that was part of a city street, a kind of townhouse in the Dutch style, looking very much like the homes that line the canals in Amsterdam. Entering it I found myself in a dark room with a fire in the hearth, sparsely but warmly decorated. Around back, there were flowers and a view, improbably enough, of the sea.

Other people with looking at the house at the same time. A child picked up a dish from a stack of china on a sideboard, and threw it, Frisbee style, so that it smashed on the rocks leading to the waves.

I have been longing for home most of my life. Every once in a while I catch a glimpse of something that evokes it powerfully for me in a dream, a place that seems to tingle with the possibility: Is this it?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Late Bloomers

Back in July when I blogged about Desert Hearts, IT mentioned a film in the comments that she recommended I should see with Beloved: the 1996 film Late Bloomers. Friends, she did not lie. It was wonderful.

Yes, there was the naked basketball scene. Which was, truly, lovely and funny and sexy all at the same time. But there was also the un-cocooning of the butterfly motif, in the story of this woman who looks so drab and depressed until she falls in love with the girls' basketball coach. In some ways it reminded me of Lianna, a somewhat earlier (1983) John Sayles film with the same general outline: married oblivious woman falls head over heels with confirmed lesbian (or bachelorette). But "Lianna" is both darker and somewhat less successful a film, artistically. It was ground-breaking when it came out (Beloved saw it with the woman she used to call "the love of my life" until I came along), and has earned a place among the classics of LGBT film. But it is ultimately pretty depressing, with the central character losing, basically, everything. "Late Bloomers", while not entirely plausible (as IT pointed out), still has a ring of both truth and hope about it. Sweet, funny... we laughed hard and went "Mmmmm." That's a good film.

Monday, October 1, 2007

God, Coming and Going

I read the following words yesterday on a blog:

"I love it when I remember to watch people streaming into worship. It's always beautiful."

Indeed. This line took me back to a time when I was still straddling denominations. I had been reared in a high liturgical tradition, and one in which communion was always taken by rising and going to an altar to receive it from a priest. The first time I went to a mainline Protestant church (which happened to be on World Communion Sunday, probably 13 years ago) I wondered at the many stacking trays on "the altar" (not, I later learned, the correct terminology). They looked to me like those food dehydrators one used to see on infomercials. When communion was served to me in the pew, I had a powerful sense of the wrongness of it... and I wondered at that. As I pondered, over the next days and weeks, why it was that receiving communion seated seemed to wrong, I realized that the experience of watching people rise and go forward to receive, the movement of bodies, the flow, was a visual icon for me of the body of Christ. The people were the blood flowing through the body of Christ.

Some time not too long after that I was having lunch with a Presbyterian minister, and I asked him about the tradition of receiving communion seated. He paused and thought for a second, then he asked me this:

"Which would you say is more true: that God comes to us or that we go to God?" I grinned and conceded that, given what we believe about Jesus, I would have to say that God comes to us.

But I am not so sure about that any more. I do believe that God comes to us, in Jesus and in others. But I also believe that we reach out and take steps to bring ourselves closer to God. I know that the Reformers would argue (Calvin most strenuously) that we can do no good of our own accord, the image of God in us is so defaced by sin. And I take sin seriously. (How can one not, reading the news?) But I also believe, as Fox has pointed out, that an original blessing preceded and was not obliterated by the sin.

I am now at ease (and at home) receiving communion in both ways (and giving it in both ways as well). But my friend More Cows stirred my memory of the beauty of that visual icon for me yesterday. I don't think it hurts to be reminded that we are that one glorious body, and that we are less than we could be if that body were unified.