Saturday, February 10, 2007

Elegy and Epithalamion - A Reflection on Prime Mates

This picture was taken at the Twelfth Night Party in 1973 at St Mary's Episcopal Church, Manhattanville, on West 126th Street in Manhattan. At that party, the people who find a bean in their cake are designated the King and Queen. This morning after church, I mentioned to my friend Janet that I was going to post this picture today and she said she remembered that party well, but she did not recall the picture. When I described it, she said something to the effect that “that just about sums it all up.”
This picture is laden with significance for me and for people who were at St. Mary’s at that time and even for others. First let me get the personal significance out of the way.

The King and Queen were Rex Slauson and Jane Dudley. Rex is holding a just off the press copy of Women Priests: Yes or No? by Emily Hewitt and Suzanne Hiatt.

Rex was my partner (we called it "lover" then) and had been since November 1958. Rex brought me to the Episcopal Church and to St. Mary's. Five weeks after that party, on February 11,1973, Rex was the intercessor at St. Mary's. (That was 34 years ago today.) The next day Rex had a massive heart attack and he died on the operating table on February 13. Rex was 46 years old.

Jane was 10. Two years later, Jane's mother Liz and I were married at St. Mary's. Our reception was held in the same undercroft where this picture was taken. We celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary this past Thursday.

Emily Hewitt was one of two women deacons then at St. Mary's. Emily and Carter Heyward (the other one) were two of the Phildelphia 11 who were ordained to the priesthood in July of 1974. Carter, whose book A Priest Forever I mentioned in an earlier post, later became a colleague of Sue Hiatt at EDS. (Liz had been a year behind Sue Hiatt in college.)

Now, 34 years later, Jane is my daughter and has been for 32 years. She was married just before this past New Year.

The St. Mary’s significance is harder to define. Everybody at St. Mary’s at the time knew that Rex and I were partners. I suspect most people there didn't think very much about the fact that we were partners meant that we were gay – or “practicing homosexuals.” But I’m sure a lot of St. Mary’s people were surprised when Liz and I announced our engagement.

In 1973 some St. Mary’s people had trouble with women’s ordination – and I know there were also folks there who had difficulty considering gay behavior acceptable. Around that time, our rector Neale Secor conducted a seminar on homosexuality. I don’t know how many minds were changed or how many people at the time connected the -isms.

Now fast forward. After she graduated from college, Liz had gone to Union Theological Seminary for one semester. Liz went back to Union in the early 1980's and completed her MDiv. She went into ecumenical work and now in her retirement she is chair of the board of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, which was founded by Arlene and Leonard Swidler. Leonard Swidler is still the edtitor of JES today. One reason I did not go to the Urban Caucus in North Carolina last week was that Liz had a Board meeting in Philadelphia on Friday.

As I was researching via Google for this post today, I discovered, first that Arlene and Leonard Swidler were the editors of a 1977 book Women Priests which can be found here. Then I discovered a remarkable and powerful open letter written in September 2004 to Josef Ratzinger by Leonard Swidler. MadPriest might call Swidler’s letter LENNY TELLS OFF the future BENNY. The letter is in response to a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World. I want to lift up one paragraph:

I have to say that you have made the most fundamental mistake possible in writing this letter, namely, that you, a male, write it, telling women what they should and should not be. One of the first things I learned from Arlene decades ago was that, because the essence of being human is the freedom and responsibility of defining oneself, that essence includes women and paramountly so, because for eons they have suffered the oppression of being defined by men.
I submit that everything Leonard Swidler says about men speaking of women applies to straights speaking of LGBTQ people. People have the right to define themselves.

On Friday, Mimi at Wounded Bird asked ”Why is it that GLTB Christians are repeatedly called to defend their desire for full inclusion in the life of the church by their fellow Christians?”
In the comments, Tim Chesterton said “I have read and considered very carefully the arguments of those who believe that the church's traditional interpretation of scripture on this issue needs to be changed. I personally would be a lot more comfortable if I could make myself believe it. But I can't. I'm not convinced.” The whole thread is worth reading.

And on Wednesday, Josh Oxley asked for help because “I cannot in good conscience yet assert homosexual relationships to be the ideal of human sexuality in the eyes of God. I can't deny it, but I still can't assert it. “ Josh goes on to say ”I find it tough to entirely skim over the few mentions in Scripture of homosexual activity as sinful, to throw away a part of Scripture I'd like to entirely forget exists. It does, and I think chalking everything up to "culture" that we don't favor in both Old and New Testaments is a dangerous cop-out.” In the comments MadPriest called him on that word “ideal.” and Josh gave a good answer. Again, the whole thread is worth reading.

As I was thinking out how I might contribute to the thread on Josh’s questions I was reminded of Bishop Gene Robinson’s words last Monday about “us” and “them.” If you have ever experienced being one of “them” I think you have a built in predisposition to understand and empathize with other outsiders. As I didn’t post in response to MadPriest’s Thought for Today, this empathy is why we get upset over things that don’t directly affect us – of course we are indirectly affected by injustice to others (because all isms are connected), much as John Donne, in Meditation XVII, wrote “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

The Gospel for this year C is Luke. Today we heard the beatitudes and woes from the Sermon on the Plain. Three weeks ago we heard Jesus say, after reading from Isaiah, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In next week’s psalm we say to God, “O mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed righteousness and justice in Jacob.” I believe the primary message of Jesus is about justice. In today’s epistle we heard in a message to the first century Corinthians,“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” I believe that the message to twenty first century Christians is “If the Incarnation and Resurrection are not about justice, our faith is futile.”

That accounts for some of the trajectory that has led me to the struggle against injustice based on race, gender, religion, and other isms. But that is not all of the story, for I am still a gay man. So here are some further thoughts. (This is a little rough, but I feel some urgency to get this out today):

A question many gay and lesbian persons ask themselves is “Is there something wrong with me?” I’m 70 years old – when I was a teenager the word “gay” had not yet entered the general vocabulary. I was attracted to other boys and not to girls. The words I knew were “queer” or “fairy” and later “faggot.” At some point I learned the word ”homosexual.” It’s hard to recapture the thoughts of my youth, but anyway...

1. I feel that I am basically acceptable. (Of course I had bad moments but I know now that I was fortunate that as a teenager I had an intact sense of self worth.)
2. The Bible says that certain behavior is not acceptable.
2a. The Bible says that I may not have sex with another male.
2b. The Bible says I may not masturbate.
3. It is not possible for me not to masturbate. I cannot overcome the desire to have sex with another male.
4. Finally, I do have sex with another male. I am fortunate in that I quickly find a life partner. At that point I know for sure that I am acceptable and that I do not have to act contrary to my nature to be acceptable.
5. This leads to an inescapable conclusion – I must reject the biblical teaching the I may not have sex with another male – and indeed the teaching that I may not masturbate.

If I reject those biblical teachings, where does that leave me? It doesn’t help that the text that seems to condemn masturbation is not in the New Testament, because of the New Testament texts that seem to condemn homosexual behavior. So now I have a different problem – a problem of hermeneutics. How should I read and interpret scripture? That’s a big question, but one for another post. MadPriest has a simple answer having to do with the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels, but I have problems with that too – but I repeat, that’s another discussion for another time.

I hope these thoughts are of help to people on the journey towards full acceptance of LGBTQ people without reservation.

Back to St. Mary's Undercroft
This morning our resident punster, Jim White, asked "Why do the Primates make so much ado about a person's prime mate?" With Jim's permission I pass this on.

Unfinished business
Last Monday I promised to get back to my account of Bishop Robinson's talk at Columbia. Mimi just reminded me. And I will.


Josh Oxley said...

Fantastic. I appreciate your story and your comments, and I can't tell you how much I loved getting to hear so many well thought-out reflections. Grace and peace!


MadPriest said...

Do you mean 1973 not 1963? Is 1958 correct?

Morningsider said...

Thank you, MadPriest. I did indeed mean 1973 and I have changed it.

And thanks, Josh. I've added you to my blogroll. I hope my comments are of some help to you, no matter how your thinking comes out.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Allen, that's quite a story. Thanks for telling it. How sad for you to lose your partner at such a young age. I'm going to be posting a story in a few days that I think you will find interesting.

That you came to be so strongly centered at a young age is amazing. Basically, I came to a similar conclusion about Christian gays and lesbians. God created humans, and he called his creation good. It did not seem logical to me that he/she would create humans with strong desires and not expect them to have fulfillment of those desires, ever.

My way of dealing with hard passages in the Bible, both OT and NT, is to read all of them through the lens of the Gospels. For instance, the passage in the Psalms which speaks of "dashing infants against the wall" is most difficult for me.

However, I don't conclude, as some do, that those parts are not inspired, rather I look upon them as passages to be wrestled with and struggled with. In my lifetime, I may not come to a satisfactory conclusion, but I can't just throw those parts out.

The Bible is God's living word for me, but the Gospels are at the heart of it.

I know that my method may tend to drive Scripture scholars crazy, and I may seem all over the map to them, but it seems to work for me.