Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Martin Smith: "Become More Outspoken"

Tommorrow, I will attend an Advent Clergy Day at the Cathedral. We will be offered meditations from the Reverend Martin Smith, a well known retreat leader and author.

Although he doesn't know it, Martin has already played a significant role in my own spiritual journey. In 1985, a wise priest suggested that I consider making a "life confession." This involved prayerfully reviewing my life and noting those moments when I had fallen short. As a resource for this spiritual exercise, I used Martin Smith's first book, Reconciliation; Preparation for Confession in the Episcopal Church.

I highly recommend this volume to anyone considering such an exercise. Under his guidance, and after about a month of reflection, I made a "life confession," which to this day remains an important turning point in my own spiritual life. The road leading to that point had been a bumpy one, including being homeless and incarcerated. By identifying the ways in which I had sinned, rather than blaming others and justifying my behaviors, the healing of my past was initiated. That healing may end up being a life-long process. But when I look back, I believe it began with that first confession.

The Daily Episcopalian is currently hosting an essay by Martin Smith entitled Matters of Life and Death. It is a must read. Here's part of it:

I was walking along P Street in Washington, D. C., the other day pondering a phrase our Presiding Bishop used in a recent webcast, when she spoke of the need for the church to move on from the controversies surrounding sexuality to “refocus on matters of life and death like starvation, education, medical care.” I know she was using “life and death” to mean “of the highest priority.” But for gay people it’s hard to hear straight folks using language that, even inadvertently, seems to imply that the struggles we must undergo are not matters of life and death. In fact they are—sometimes in the most literal way. Ironically, I found myself halting outside the paint store on the corner of 15th Street NW. It was here that my partner and I experienced the second of two attempted gay-bashing assaults...

...As I paused outside the paint store, I realized I had never told the story of the two attempted assaults from which I had narrowly escaped to more than a few friends. I didn’t want to worry my family, and these are grotesque stories for a middle-aged clergyman to recount. Yet the real reason is that most gay folk are trained to take their vulnerability for granted. We suck it in. But maybe we must change that. Straight people enjoy innumerable unearned privileges denied to gays, just as white folk have unearned privileges denied to people of color. We shouldn’t add another one to the list, the privilege of being spared the pain of hearing about our wearying and incessant experiences of being attacked, condescended to, marginalized, insulted and patronized.

No one looks forward more eagerly than gay folk to the day when issues like the eligibility of partnered gay and lesbian priests for the office of bishop will sink to a lower place in our order of priorities. But in the painful meantime, while the progress of equality in the ministry is temporarily halted, the task of making sure that the life and death stories of gay and lesbian people are heard grows in urgency. And gay and lesbian Christians will have to become more outspoken, not less, even in the face of pressure from those who seem to be signaling that it is high time we fell silent again.

My avoidance, my silence, regarding the ways in which my own behaviors contributed to the traumas of my youth had blocked the way to spiritual wholeness. In a similar manner, when the Church advises silence on matters that are literally life and death issues to her members, the Church is blocking the way for real reconciliation to occur.

We can pretend that the Church has no role in these attacks and insults directed towards some of our members. We can imagine that the silence from the Church does not encourage those disturbed individuals who seek justification for their violent acts. But that would be less than honest.

We need to hear from our victims. They must become more outspoken, if the Church is to ever stop pretending, imagining and blaming others, and finally face the ways that we have fallen short.

Will such outspoken voices further threaten our unity? Perhaps. But a unity gained by muzzling our victims would be an ugly distortion of the intended outcome, it seems to me. True unity can only be achieved when honest confession is an integral component of the healing process.

J.

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