Monday, August 29, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Communities of Hope

To my great pleasure, my blog entry '"Christian" Communities of Hate,' really resonated with folks at my UU church. Several members began to reflect on their painful experiences in their former religious communities, and this outpouring has helped inspire a renewed thankfulness for the oasis of our local church.

I was thinking about what to focus my second "melancholy monday," post on when I received another touching reflection on the importance of accepting communities from Nathan's partner, Sam:

Two and a half weeks ago, Nathan came home from his workday the way I love to see him arrive - bursting at the seams to tell me about something exciting. And I could tell, this excitement wasn't a program crisis or about some driver with unique navigation skills - but a different sort.

"How would you feel if I said I wanted to go to church this weekend?"

A few hours later, I had regained my faculties and was able to slowly utter the words "go to chuurrrccchhh?"


We've had many conversations about spirituality over the 10 years we've been together. Generally they all left me feeling like discussions of theory. Hypothetical events. We *could* go *someday* if there was an accepting place. But mostly the discussions left me with the same general feeling on the subject. Fear.

Church. In my mind and in the minds of many gay people is sort of like that dark side of town where you don't walk alone. Dangerous. Scary. Gay bashing with words instead of fists. The place that has made my mother, accepting as she's become, believe that she has failed in me.

The last few years' political climate has only made that feeling worse. Now there is even more to fear. The church-goers have the power now. We'll ignore the Jews - they're used to that - and we can be outright hostile to the rest of the unclean - no one will defend them. One nation under a white straight Christian God.

Church. Wow. Now the word has even more power. More fear.

So, as I was saying, Nathan managed to revive me after the C-question. He gave me Aspazia's sales pitch. I began my deep breathing exercises. Breath sweeps mind. Breath sweeps mind. And finally decided, "What the hell." Nathan wants the fellowship of a Church. I could do worse things on a Sunday morning. It's too hot to mow the lawn. And I won't go back if I don't feel comfortable.

We walked up the sidewalk to the Church, and I felt dry in the mouth, and tense all over. Ready to run. Breathe. Breathe.

Then it got weird.

People noticed that we were new right away. This friendly red-headed woman :) makes a point of welcoming us. There's no crucifix. People know each other. Where's the guilt? I came for the guilt!

And so, I got through my first service. And honestly, that's the feeling I had at the end. I got through. It didn't hurt. Like a good dentist appointment. I spent the better part of the week trying to figure out what had just happened. I figured you were on your best behavior because you had guests from _________. You couldn't really be that accepting. That open. One doesn't expect that. Tolerance is just a theory in this land.

And I found myself back this week. People remember us by name. Everyone seems really happy to be here. The formal part of the service is over and there's not a rush to be the first out the door.

I read recently the proverb, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."
I think I must be ready. That you must be here for me. That I have much to learn from each of you.

You have all humbled me. You've made Nathan and I feel welcome. You've made us feel that it mattered to you that we were there. You may not realize how profound and rare that feeling is for gay people in our current culture. I left this week thinking "What can I give to this community?"

Thank you all,


I wanted to share this amazing letter today because it convinces me of the importance of accepting and nurturing communities, the importance of fellowship. For those who do not feel excluded from the religious communities that bash gays and lesbians, I imagine they would defend their church principally because it provides them with the fellowship that many of us search for.

If you are cast out of these sources of nourishment, you are liable to face the "black dog," the Celtic symbol for the messenger of depression (which Winston Churchill made popular). Experiencing isolation, rejection, bigotry, especially from the very communities from which we should draw spiritual strength, is bound to make us vulnerable to depression.

I am always skeptical of ethicists or, more likely, "pop" psychologists who warn us away from antidepressants or therapy, and encourage us toward religion. Generally what they mean by religion is some brand of evangelicalism, which is supposed to be the healing balm of lost souls. And yet, isn't the cure worse than the disease for Nathan and Sam?

Rather than end this post on a melancholy note, I will end it with hope. For those of us who have been wounded enough by religious communities that devalue women, reject or try to convert gays and lesbians, or promote racism, there are still religious communities that will take us in.