Since my most recent blog postÂ I’ve been thinking about, well, a follow-up to that post. It was the most popular post I’ve ever written. I think it’s safe to say it resonated with a fair number of people. And in some ways, I think I am no closer to resolution than I was two weeks ago.
But I have another thought that I wanted to share. I’ve been sitting in this Bridgehead, one of the only queer-friendly businesses in Ottawa, for a couple of hours, sketching and journaling and reflecting about this, and I was feeling just about ready to start writing it when I opened my Facebook and saw the news out of Orlando.Â And then I thought to myself, “God, I can’t share these words right now.” But then I felt something stirring inside of me, saying, “No, you need to share these words right now.”
So I’m sitting here, now in downtown Ottawa. Twenty hours, 2200 kilometres from Orlando. I’m sitting here with a tea in my “queer” jacket, the denim one with lots of patches and buttons, and a sticker on my laptop that says “all cis people look trans to me.”Â And this isn’t to say that I feel 100% safe in Ottawa. I’ve written about prejudice here before and I’m sure I will again. But I will say that I have never, ever been afraid that someone in Ottawa would shoot me. Me and a hundred of my LGBTQ2SIA+ family (at the time of writing this post, the death toll was at 50, with another 53 critically injured). This afternoon, I am safe. Safe enough, anyway, to sit in public with obviously “gay” attire and to have, so far, anyway, evaded harassment of any kind.
And because the Anglican vote on same-sex marriage is rapidly approaching, I’ve been thinking aboutÂ that vote a lot lately. About what I’ll do if the vote doesn’t come out the way I desperately, desperately want it to.
And as usual, whenever I want to express myself on the internet, there’s a fair number of caveats:
– I don’t represent everybody. Actually, I don’t representÂ anybodyÂ other than me. And because there’s a risk that what I want to say in this post is going to come off as disgustingly martyr-like and holier-than-thou,Â pleaseÂ understand that that isÂ definitely notÂ what I am trying to do. I have read blog posts like the one I am writing right now, and I have rolled my eyesÂ hardÂ and thought, “that person is so out of touch with reality.” And if you think that about me, I respect that. Hell, I’ll probably go back to thinking that about MYSELF fifty more times before this vote comes out. But this is where I’m at today, it’s where I’ve been for the past few weeks, anyway, and I wanted to share it, if it could do any good.
-Â Me feeling this way does not mean I disagree with how you feel about this.Â This is not a zero sum situation. This is not black and white! I am vast, I contain multitudes, and so do you. I expressed one feeling true to me in my last post and I am expressing another true feeling in this one. I’d love to hear how you’re feeling, or about your feelings, plural, in the comments below.
– and finally, I do notÂ in any wayÂ want to demean the suffering of LGBTQ people. Let me be unequivocal here: fearmongering queer people, misgendering trans people, inciting hatred for gay or bisexual people, erasing intersex people and people of other sexual minority identities, discriminating against us in work, in housing, in life–these are all violent acts, regardless of whether or not you have a gun in your hand.
Let me be unequivocal here: fearmongering queer people, misgendering trans people, inciting hatred for gay or bisexual people,Â erasing intersex people and people of other sexual minority identities, discriminating against us in work, in housing, in life–these are all violent acts, regardless of whether or not you have a gun in your hand.
In the face of tragedies like Orlando there are no words. I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack lately as I started writing this I put “It’s Quiet Uptown” on repeat.Â There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is suffering too terrible to name.Â I will never be able to put fully to words the complex and painful emotions associated with hearing about the largest mass shooting in American history, andÂ knowingÂ that it was homophobically motivated. That it was a known safe space for QPOC in Orlando. That it was Latin night. Knowing that wild, unsubstantiated speculation is going to rain hatred down on my LGBTQ Muslim siblings. There are wounds beneath wounds in this tragedy. There are layers and layers of garbage, of putrid shit to try to sift through and swallow.
And I had this thought I wanted to share, but in the wake of Orlando it felt disingenuous. It felt false, it felt demeaning, it felt like it could never help anyone.
But something stirred, something stayed, and so here we are.
In OttawaÂ there’s recently been a group started called “Generous Space.” It’s part of a broader ministry spearheaded by New Direction, a ministry for “sexual minorities” in church groups. I first heard about this ministry when I was in BC and visited a local youth group to do one of my workshops, and my email was passed along and passed along and it turned out that they were launching a chapter in Ottawa and would I like to come?
I was added to a Facebook group–a few of them, actually–and didn’t think about it much until the night of the first meeting. But on the bus downtown I started thinking about it a lot. And the title of the group–“Generous Space”–became a stone in my stomach. A hard piece I couldn’t arrange myself comfortably around.
I couldn’t put words to what was bothering me during the meeting, which was perfectly lovely and I think has a lot of potential to be meaningful for me and others in the community. But on the way home and into the evening my thoughts fell into place. Here was my problem:
I was tired of the inequality of graciousness that the church was asking of me.Â As queer Christians we are so often told to be patient, to be gracious, to practice the fruit of the Spirit when engaging with our homophobic or misguided siblings in Christ. That it was part of living in a community. That we were all struggling.
And time and time again, that response just didn’t cut it. I was being told to be patient aboutÂ human rights issues,Â and they were being told to be patient about what, to them, was an intellectual disagreement about theology that had no direct, personal impact on them. I was being told to bide my time, that the change would come, that being angry and emotional would change no minds–and them? Well, just try to remember, Eliot, it’s tough for them too.
In other words: I’veÂ beenÂ generous. I’ve beenÂ so fucking generous.Â If there were a Generousness Olympics, I’d be a fucking gold medal winner. Bigots generosity is Little League compared to my World Series graciousness, and fuck you for even suggesting their intellectual issues are on par with mine.
So I had a knot in my stomach, and a hard place in my heart, that night at Generous Space. And I still do. I really don’t know that it will ever go away. I cannot forget the wrongs the Church has done me. And I cannot always put myself in positions to be hurt again.
But lately I have been feeling something else, next to that hard place. Something soft and smooth and cycling. And that thought is this:
I do not want to respond to hate with hate.Â
Today, this moment, this second–I do not want to fight fire with fire. I am making a conscious choice instead, to love.
This morning at church we talked about the Parable of the Two Debtors.Â For the uninitiated, it’s a Parable Jesus tells in answer to Simon Peter being kind of a dick to this unnamed woman who is so grateful to Jesus that she literally washes his feet with her tears and her hair. Simon Peter thinks this this woman is a sinner, is below them, and certainly below Jesus, but Jesus responds with a typically opaque story about two debtors, one who owed 50 denarii and one who owes 500. If both debts are forgiven, who should be more grateful? And Simon Peter, doing some basic arithmetic, says, well, the guy who was forgiven five hundred denarii, of course.Â
I struggle with this passage for…. a variety of reasons, really. There’s the awkward, weepy, spineless female character. There’s Simon Peter being a serious asshat. There’s this competition of debt where someone with a 500 denarii debt has more to be grateful for than a person with 50 denarii debt, which has always felt weird to me because if you can’t pay the debt, it’s kind of immaterial how big the debt is. If you can’t climb, it doesn’t matter if the holy is five feet or fifty. If Â you don’t have a plane, it doesn’t matter if the distance is 50 km or 500. You can’t walk it. You’re screwed either way.
But today a different part of this story lept out at me than usual. Part that I think I’ve probably missed every time I read it, because I’ve gotten caught up in all the things I just listed about this story that make me feel weird.
After Simon Peter says the man with the five hundred denarii should be more grateful and Jesus gives him a little headpatt, there’s an exchange about how this woman has given up everything for Jesus. She had no water, so she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. She took this expensive perfume she had and put it on Jesus’ feet. She did everything she could to mark him as important–none of which Simon Peter did, even though this whole interaction is taking place in Simon’s house and it would have been culturally appropriate for him to give Jesus water to wash his feet and oil to anoint his head.
But there’s a particular line in that exchange that stuck out to me today. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgivenâ€”as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.â€Â (Luke 7:47). Whoever has been forgiven little loves little. Whoever has never done anything wrong, has never been on the outside or been alone, doesn’t love the same as someone who has been isolated and alone.
Our priest asked us today: is it harder to forgive, or to be forgiven? Is it harder to be the lender in this story, the one with the power, or the debtor, the one with so much to lose? It’s not a perfect metaphor–let me be unequivocal,Â queer Christians have not done anything for which they need forgiveness–but Â something in that phrasing stuck with me today.
Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
So in the wake of Orlando. In whatever happens next month with the gay marriage vote. When things become awful and too much to bear and I can’t imagine another day with these people who don’t want me to live, to love, to be…. I will try to choose forgiveness. I will try to choose love.
I won’t be perfect. I’m really very impatient. My partner will tell you I can be stubborn as a mule about the most ridiculous things, and then in the same turn be unable to express myself about things that are actually important. But I will try. Whenever I am able, I will choose love.
I want to leave you with this anecdote from the Generous Space meeting I attended that has stayed on my mind in the two weeks since.
Because it was so heavily on my mind, I brought up the politics in the Anglican church at this group (which, to clarify, isÂ notÂ Anglican-specific, it’s a non-denominational Christian group). I expressed my frustration at the systems for change and how much I was struggling to remainÂ generousÂ in my interactions with people who didn’t agree with me. And after railing in particular about the mechanisms for change in the Anglican church, specifically, the “2/3rds majority in all three houses, three times in a row” thing, my friend Kathy said:
“The church is set up like a government, which is a worldly system. I think we need to be less of a government, and more of a table.”
Isn’t that the perfect picture of Jesus’ relationship with us? Give everyone a seat at the table. Enough with this bureaucratic crap. Everyone should have a place to sit. We should all have access–even people we might butt heads with or disagree with.
This isn’t easy. This isn’t black and white. I don’t promise that I will always be able to do this. I sure as hell won’t always want to. But I want to choose love. I want to choose patience. I want to take my knowledge of being hurt, of being on the outside, of being “in debt”–and I want to choose love.
As hard as it will be, I’m going to do my best to have a seat at my table for people who don’t agree with marriage equality. Not always, not everywhere. But I will not start backfiresÂ at the risk of my Anglican family. I will try, when it’s appropriate, and safe for the people who need to be protected, to choose love.
I will not respond to hatred with more hate. I will choose love.