The Bishop and Us

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we had had more than enough of contempt…
– Psalms 121, 122, 123

Bishop Gene Robinson spoke here in Toronto yesterday morning at St. James Cathedral around the corner from our place. The excerpt above Robinson found particularly potent. I had a hunch it would be an eye-opening and inspiring morning and it was.

At the coffee, before the talk, I met a tall man, maybe 50s or early 60s, with solid mustache; he and I began debating about which muffin to take. Chocolate, carrot?

Making small talk, I asked if he was a member of St. James. No, he said. You probably know me, I’m the famous Jim Ferry. As regularly happens to me in Canada, I am ignorant of a great deal of official and unofficial histories. Jim Ferry is an ordained Anglican priest who was stripped of his license to preach and thus his livelihood by the Bishop of Toronto because he was living with his partner. In 1991! It’s incredible that that late in history, priest were still being de-licensed for being open about their sexuality and relationships. I was a little deflated; he shared his story.

Most attendees were older, gay men (Vajdon said he thought he was the youngest one there [37]; he was also the only brown person in the audience. There were a couple of non-whites helping in the service.) Clearly, we are of a generation who have had to fight hard for civil rights, here and in the U.S.,piece by piece as well as confront the apathy our U.S. communities embraced in the mid-90s. Only late last year we won Hate Crimes protection. It is so inspiring to be in the company of gay people, especially those who think critically of power structures and homophobia.

There is an amused sacredness and seriousness of purpose to Bishop Robinson. He has no pat answers, preferring to seek his answers in the ceiling and letting answers emerge from the atmosphere around him. He’s relaxed and genuine, juggling his hand gestures and a cup of Starbucks. He told us of his journey; born & bred in Kentucky to a fundamentalist family, realizing his difference at 12 or 13, being fed up with his church of origin and after college finding his way to seminary and then the ministry.

He married, letting his wife know beforehand that he had impulses that didn’t fit in with heterosexuality. They were married for 13 years until, together, decided to separate and divorce although as a team. Yesterday, Robinson said his divorce was, “the most healing thing that’d ever happened to him.”

In the Q & A, he took a variety of questions. One man disagreed with Robinson’s analogic comparison of LGBT people today, to that of the Jews in Exodus. This man, a Buddhist more than anything, said that he thought the life of Jesus was a more apt analogy. Robinson, finding his answer in the rafters, said that if his metaphor didn’t work for him, then he had to find one that did. We all have different understandings and isn’t that wonderful? I’m not doing his answer justice but it was anything but a pat, non-engaged response.

I raised my hand and, when Gene called on me, I skooted up to the microphone.

“I have a tactical question,” I said. “Toronto is, uniquely, although Canada is too, a safe haven for queers. We exiles have built a community, know each other’s faces, socialize together and offer each other support. We’ve marched a few times in front of the US embassy here, blog, write letters and so on. What else can we do, as exiles, in our unique position, to move things along (in the US and elsewhere). Do you have any wisdom or strategic advice?”

My voice was getting shakier with nerves as I went along. This is, for many of us, one of several questions able to shake us to the bone. Again, after consulting the ceiling, Robinson’s answer was a solution hidden in plain sight. Although, one couldn’t say I am not well-versed in the politics and consequences of Gender, his answer was obvious but had never occurred to me in regards to my condition as an exile.

“Dismantle Heterosexism” is the short answer. He had taken a circuitous route in his effort to do justice to the question (as he did with all of the inquiries), but that’s the nuts and bolts of it. Of course that’s the answer, I thought. Duh!

In his answer, he also noted that our worldview changes our experience. When faced with the cognitive disconnect imposed by their world view, the bigoted are faced with two choices: denial or a revision of their worldview. He broke down Heterosexism, racism, sexism other discriminatory “ism”s into this formula: Prejudice + Power = ism.

While I have not been a fan of the s/s marriage movement swallowing the whole rest of our struggle, Gene’s response allowed me to see that marriage may be neither here nor there but that, as an institution, it maintains itself, and the injustice we face, through heterosexism. By storming the barn, we are in effect landing a blow at the very foundation of heterosexism.

And I reminded myself that heterosexism is the thing that informs all of my creative work: Alice Michell, Frank & Mary and my current novel, The Drifts.

Robinson also noted that he found this excerpt from Collossians 1:24-2:7 potent:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

While I am not religious, I found the three lines prior to this last excerpt even more apt:

I am saying this so that no one may deceive you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith…

It is the spirit of gratefulness and ‘thanksgiving’ that offers me the courage to seek wholeness, fun and connected-ness that I found running deep through the Bishop. Meeting Robinson and getting a hug, without his bullet-proof vest (!), was eye-opening and inspiring.

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~ by Thom on January 10, 2010.

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