Tag Archives: straight ally

Courage

I have had a very moving day, in so many ways. Today was the 20th anniversary celebration for Courage. Courage is a Christian organisation which works with lesbian, gay and bisexual men women, as well as being a safe and open place for their friends and families.

I have been involved with Courage since about 1996 when my friend Simon (who obviously at one point I thought I was going to marry because he is lovely!) came out to me. As a very naive 20 year old I didn’t really know how to deal with it, despite wanting to support him and gain some understanding into what he was going through. I was trying to reconcile my faith and beliefs with what Simon was experiencing and my brain was a bit fried really. Simon got involved with Courage and he introduced me to Jeremy Marks, the founder of Courage who offered me an amazing amount of support, helping me to try and understand what Simon was going through. At this time Courage was an ex-gay ministry; they believed that it was possible for gay men and women to change, either to become heterosexual, or to live a life of celibacy but not necessarily changing their sexual orientation.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, due to personal circumstances I stopped going to Courage for a while and when I went back in 2000-and-something I found that they had changed significantly. Instead of being an ex-gay movement Courage had transformed into this wonderful ministry; affirming gay men and women and encouraging them to be real and honest about their personal journies.

Today’s celebration was a very moving and emotional experience. I saw friends I haven’t seen for years and years (including the lovely Maris who still gives the best cuddles ever) and as part of the service we heard testimonies from several people who shared their stories of faith, recovery and hope and the ways in which Courage and Jeremy had helped them. I unashamedly wept throughout some of these stories as the individuals shared about their brokenness.

Having had a train trip home to reflect on today, and the last 12 years, and once again I realised that it is such an awesome privilege to have shared the journey with these men and women. During the service I stood alongside my friend Simon and some of my other close friends, and as we worshipped I know that I have such a depth of connection with them. Despite the fact that I am a straight woman, my journey with these guys has run a parallel course with their journies, intersecting at various points along the way. The pain of their brokenness and the ways in which their churches have treated them have increased my passion for those who are disaffected by our religious institutions and leaders. My desire to stand up for their rights as individuals who are loved by God, to be a straight ally, is undiminished. This role has been costly, being seen as an outsider is difficult, no matter the reason you feel excluded. Indeed being seen as an ally has put me at odds with church groups and leaders, and at times even my family, and yet, I hold onto the belief that this is a place that God has called me to be.

Would I have chosen a different journey if I had known that it would be painful along the way? I doubt it somehow. Their experiences, and mine, have brought such a richness to my life. They have challenged me out of my middle-class, self-righteous, charismatic, straight, evangelical, know-it-all roots.

These days I am happy to live with the not-knowing, with not being able to make things OK for them. I am happy to not have all the answers. I am content to be a safe place for them to come home to. I delight in being a refuge for them when everything is confusing and difficult and I am grateful that they have shared their lives and struggles with me. The extremes of emotions that we have shared is extraordinary and I laugh and cry more with these people than almost anyone else.

These people have made me who I am today.

Thank you.

DSCN5056
DSCN5050
DSCN5049
DSCN5048

The weeping woman

DSCN5008There was one other thing that was a little unexpected for me last night. As I sat and listened to Peterson’s presentation I was thinking I was home and dry – it wouldn’t affect me as I had heard it already….. or not, as the case may be.

I was listening to the end of one the extracts that Peterson was performing, talking about Lazarus coming out of the tomb and being carefully and gently unwrapped by the disciples. I found myself weeping at this story, recognising that for me part of the role I feel fulfill for my gay Christian friends is this unwrapping. Helping them to reveal their true self; the authentic, congruent, honest, genuine, open, gentle, beautiful self that God has truly created them to be.

This story has helped me to see more clearly that like the women who stood at the tomb and wept over Lazarus, the depth of sorrow that I feel for my friends who suffer in the tomb of their denial and fear is just as profound. So often I question my place to stand alongside people, knowing that I haven’t faced the struggles they go through, that I cannot possibly understand the complexities of emotions and their fears. Yet, I cannot deny that God has called me to such a place as this.

Helping to unwrap the grave clothes of an individual does not mean that we know what the person is going to look like underneath, but God doesn’t always tell us what to expect when we follow his instructions. For me, the call has been to stand alongside, to be supportive and often to painfully reflect back honesty and truth with love, compassion and integrity.

On the website Beyond Ex-Gay Peterson includes a poem he wrote called Grave Robbers. He concludes his play Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House with it and says “I end the performance by reciting this poem dedicating it to all the people who helped me to become me.”

Whilst these are Peterson’s words, they are also my story.

Grave Robbers

Lazarus came forth, gleaming white,
A pillar wrapped tight outside his tomb.
Jesus looked at us, “Take off the grave clothes,
And let him go.”

Panic twisted my gut like a wet washrag
Wringing out courage.

Who knows how to undress a mummy raised from the dead?
Does one start at the heart or close to the head?
We circled him as if he were a bomb to diffuse.
Then we began in earnest,
Unbinding, tearing, speaking comfort as we went.
The crowd pressed in hurling advice like stones.

Lazarus stood like marble, cold from his grave,
While we sweated in the cruel sun,
Unwrapping his trappings.
But suddenly, (or did it take years?)
It was complete.
Mary and Martha washed their brother in tears:
He was free — naked and in his right mind.

Definitions

I found a brilliant definition today from a woman called Abigail Garner. She is well-known author and advocate of children of same-sex partners.

She describes herself as “culturally queer, erotically straight” or as a “culturally queer heterosexual woman”. Kind of reminds me of myself really!!

Grace

71 Last night I had the most amazing conversation with my younger sister. At times she and I are like chalk and cheese and yet last night I feel as though we met in a much more honest and emotional way than ever before. She had been reading my blog about my recent weird God experiences and she started talking about the fact that for the first time ever she is finally beginning to understand what grace really means.

It seems to me that grace is one of those theological concepts that we feel we should understand, and yet it is a slippery little monster to get to grips with. Over the last few years my understanding of grace has been one of the most sustaining things for my Christian faith. Where the church has failed in so many ways, the knowledge that no matter what I do God still loves me passionately has continued to hold onto me. Finally my sister is starting to understand what this means, and yet it seems to be rocking her world. I am not entirely sure that is a bad thing either, but it is distinctly uncomfortable for her.

In the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? a Christian counsellor David Seamans is quoted as saying

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of the most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that love, forgiveness and the grace to other people… We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions.”

There have been three books which have shaped my view on faith, and in particular my understanding of grace; The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. I read all three of these books quite close together, and in particular the Nouwen and the Manning books really challenged my viewpoint of myself, and how I believe God sees me.

The other interesting thing about our conversation is that I was trying to explain to my sister that one of the reasons I feel so comfortable in the queer Christian community is that many LGBT men and women have good understanding and experience of what grace means. It would seem that for the first time ever my sister may understand why my attraction and inclusion in that community is so important for me. For those people who sit outside of perceived social norms and expectations, especially in the church, grace is vital. Not only it is about grace being directed to other people we meet, but also the ability for individuals to direct grace towards themselves. There is nothing quite like sitting in a large group of people, sharing communion, and knowing that their struggles are held together by grace. I don’t get that in church, but I do get it at Courage. The knowledge that none of us are there because of who we are, but because of who God is is overwhelming.

So why is grace so hard to understand? Is it that we all live in a world which is obsessed with achievement and results? Is it that we all have such low self-esteem that we don’t believe we are worth being given things we have not worked for? I am not sure, but all I know is that my faith is built on grace. Without it I have nothing, and failure to get to grips with it will mean that I will burn myself out, trying so hard to pursue the ideal but gaining nothing of substance.

Grace. It’s more than enough for me.