Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Big Fat Greek Wedding - Gay Christian Network style

I attended the Gay Christian Network's (GCN) 11th conference in Portland, Oregon at the end of last week. There were 1300 registered attendees, perhaps 1500 people attending in total, from 46 states and 11 countries. I came to learn about their communication strategies, their pastoral work, and their education efforts, and to network in my role as Director of Communications and Board member of IntegrityUSA. Matt Haines, President of the Board of Directors for IntegrityUSA, attended with me. I also attended with my heart and mind opened by the Episcopal Church and by my heavy participation at All Saints Pasadena.

The conference began under Justin Lee to meet the needs of the evangelical community. When I say evangelical in this context, I am using the popular meaning. I consider myself a progressive evangelical which, to the media, would seem an oxymoron at best, a cognitively dissonant impossibility at worst. But that's what I consider myself to be, as many who attend All Saints Pasadena probably do as well.

The GCN attendance has expanded to attract mainline and Catholic attendees now. Though its prayers sessions have a Baptist or Pentacostal feel, the Sunday communion service was broad enough to offer grape juice as well as wine, and provided a Eucharist for those who prefer consubstantiation as well as transubstantiation.

And that's what made the conference so powerful to me. It was broad and inclusive and completely loving. Rachel Held Evans, a popular writer that I follow on Twitter, has tweeted "I don’t just look to #GCNConf for how to better engage LGBT issues. I look to #GCNConf for how to be a better Christian." This was exactly how many of us felt at the Portland Convention Center. We weren't learning and living and reconciling and sharing as LGBT-only people. We were the church community, all together, whether straight, gay, bi, trans, or questioning.

We were Christians first: Christians who were grappling to live out our calling and faith while living with the reality that we or people we loved are LGBT.

There were astonishingly profound speakers. We listened and wept at the amazing first plenary talk by Jeff Chu, author of "Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America". We listened and wept as Danny Cortez, Pastor of La Mirada's New Heart Community Church, shared his journey from a Southern Baptist anti-LGBT congregation to LGBT affirming. And we listened and wept as musician and theologian Vicky Beeching described her journey, which continues to this day. 

It wasn't a sobfest. We laughed and nodded in understanding at their stories. Those attending seemed to relate at a deeply personal level at the struggles faced. And I got to break bread with many who shared these stories, whether by reconnecting with friends, like H Adam Ackley who I hadn't seen since my wedding, or meeting new ones such as other Episcopalians from throughout this great country.

As a marked contrast to the beauty of this faithful pastoral care for each other, we also were confronted with a well known Westboro protest group from Kansas, best known for picketing at funerals of victims and soldiers. Thankfully, a wall of love was erected by local churches. These churches, having heard of the sound-bite protesters, created by their presence a wall of safety so that attendees could pray in peace. This is love made manifest.

And above the protesters, God brought forth his promised reminder that we will always be loved and never destroyed: an enormous double rainbow that spanned across the whole sky. I won't post a photo of the protesters, as that just affirms and enables them. Instead, I just show the symbol of God's eternal love, a literal wink wink of irony at the scene played out below.

I am deeply happy and a fuller, more understanding Christian to have met so many loving people. The parents and family of LGBT who attended were a clear sign that the Holy Spirit was working her way through us. Near the end of the conference, GCN's Justin Lee unveiled a new amazing, loving program which will invite everyone and anyone, regardless of LGBT concerns, to help find ways to help the LGBT teen homelessness epidemic.

And the best part of it all was that we weren't a monolithic, group-think assembly of people. The diversity was astonishing, whether by ethnicity, age, Christian faith tradition, "outness", or income. I had people asking me about the Episcopal Church and how we handled LGBT. I spoke with people who asked me to pray so that they'll be granted the strength, wisdom, and courage to bring up LGBT issues to their churches. I prayed with those who knew that honesty about their sexuality might risk losing the ministry that they cherished and loved.

It's like that movie that came out in the 90s called My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The romantic comedy played up romance and the wedding of a quiet Anglo-American with a Greek-American from a large immigrant family. Normally, as a Filipino-American, I'm used to being the one who comes from the loud ethnic family and dating someone who comes from more reserved American background. At the GCN conference, however, the reserved Christianity that is often found in the Episcopal Church stood in sharp contrast to the hands-in-the-air families from other Protestant churches. On the face of it, it just seemed like it wouldn't work.

But it did work. And for Christians to live out their calling among LGBT realities, it has to work, every day, in every community. It worked because we were in that thin-space where love washes over every and all wounds.

We are all welcome to the table of love. We cannot choose to eject someone, for the Gospels say that we are all invited. In fact, the least of us are meant to be at the head of the table. The Christian love I found at this conference renewed and filled me in a way as deeply meaningful as my pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.

May all those who walk this journey be strengthened by our Christian love and communities.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Being a Human Being vs a Human Doing

Christmas just ended and our six wise men (yes, six, because for some reason we just find more and more magi in the bottom of our Christmas decorations boxes than we thought we had) finally reached the baby Jesus. Happy Epiphany all!

It's wonderful, really, that Christians choose to remember the pilgrimage of magi who went out there, way out there, to find Jesus. They came from the East, which means anywhere from the Mediterranean all the way to the Pacific. I imagine that they came from somewhere in Jordan, Syria, Iraq, or Iran. I'm partial to Iran, because the word magi originally came from a Persian word referring to a priestly class.

Only the Gospel of Matthew mentions them and yet we've built up a great deal of tradition around the magi. Matthew didn't say they were kings, but we've extrapolated that they were royalty from the Psalms. Matthew didn't say there were three, but we've assumed as such because there were three gifts listed. They likely didn't even visit him in the manger because Matthew says that at some point they visited the house and only Mary was there. In fact, they were at first wandering a bit because they first went to Jerusalem and snitched on Jesus to Herod before continuing to Bethlehem. Or, maybe they weren't wandering though. Bethlehem is in fact only 4 miles away from Jerusalem. It would make sense to get your papers in order before visiting a country.

I mention all this because it seems like an awful long way to go to see a baby, even if the stars suggest that you do so. We've elaborated on this simple story to a great extent because somehow we want more from it. It seems to simple and we probably want explanations.

But that's what makes a journey so confusing. A journey is all about doing. It's all action. It's easy to see because we've all taken journeys and many of us feel as though we are on one now. You walk, you explore, you struggle, you listen, you ask, you watch.

That's a whole lot of doing.

And yet, the reason we take journeys is often less clear. It's not obvious why we yearn for something, why we seek, and how we gather the courage and energy to go out of our way to find something.

And whether that goal is Jesus, self-actualization, nirvana, love, heaven, or peace, it's actually sometimes confusing and difficult to blend a life of so much action with the actual goal we seek. How do we find these lofty goals when we're busy doing human things? The goals are anything but human in so many ways. It seems contradictory because it often is.

Doing sometimes seems easier than actually being. Yes, it's arduous and intense, but doing implies that you've got some compass or guiding star or Camino de Santiago scallops to show you the way. It's actually much harder to "be" and to maintain "being".

I feel as though my life is all about doing. I do a lot. People remind me always that I do a lot. I've always felt the need to do, to keep doing. And maybe it's time to recognize, as journeys often show us, that the journey itself might be masking our ability to be rather than do.

Surprisingly, the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage helped me to see this. It showed me much about the importance of being present and being in the moment rather than to always be doing. I'm keenly aware that in any given hour of wakefulness, I'm reading, writing, walking, texting, photographing, talking, watching, practicing, playing, hiking, planning, meeting, or shopping.

I don't have a new year's resolution to share. But perhaps I have a new life promise that I am starting to understand. And with understanding comes the willingness to share such a promise to myself, to my family and friends, to my community, to my Creator.

It might be time to embrace myself as a human Being more than just a human Doing. After all, isn't that what Jesus is all about? To be human.