Kirkridge panel about the future of our movement.
When witnessing disaster, the spiritual sage Mister Rogers would say, “Look for the helpers.” A corollary I would add is, “Look for community.”
As hurricane Irma passed over Atlanta, I was reminded of hurricane Opal, which did far more damage to our neighborhood. Though without power, what I most remember is the fun we had afterwards alongside our neighbors cleaning up debris in the street and yards, sharing what food we had in potlucks, grateful that none of us had sustained unrepairable damage or loss.
Of course I realize that those with more devastating losses caused by Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida, multiple hurricanes in the Caribbean, and the monsoon rains in South Asia may not have such a rosy response, but my cousin and family rescued by boat in Beaumont may have appreciated “community” in a more vital way.
Some years after Opal, the Atlanta tornado barreled through the adjacent neighborhood of Cabbagetown. Its “sound of a freight train” caused us to shelter in our first floor garage briefly that night. On our walk the following day we witnessed the community helping one another pull trees and branches off cars, houses, and streets, while the Carroll Street Café provided free coffee.
Historic Oakland Cemetery also got walloped, and out of respect for the dead, whose bone fragments got pulled out of the ground by uprooted trees and whose headstones got toppled by forceful winds, community members worked for months to restore its quaint beauty and solemn dignity.
Wade and Hobbes and I met a woman whose top floor flat’s roof had been taken off, and she was distraught over her lost puppy. A few days later, invited to dinner by a lesbian couple, we told them about the encounter. “They found the puppy!” they told us, “It was on the news. It was hiding under her sofa!” One of the better purposes of media (including social networks) is that they help community form.
Irma arrived in Atlanta the day after I returned from another community, one formed in the more disastrous days of homophobia and heterosexism. During its 75th anniversary of spiritual and political activism, Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center celebrated its 40 years offering sanctuary to LGBT people who struggled with the church and society’s rejection and violence. It was true joy being with people I have known and loved for decades. At one point, an actual rainbow graced the skies outside our meeting room.
I am looking forward to a more broadly interfaith and ecumenical gathering of LGBT saints in St. Louis October 31-November 2, “Rolling the Stone Away.” I hope you will consider attending. You can help young activists hear the stories of earlier generations in the LGBT movement by making a donation to their scholarship crowdfunding:
The Bible is, among other things, a reminder of how communities respond to disaster, hardship, and suffering.
In Coming Out as Sacrament, I suggested that it is in such vulnerability that we may experience God coming near to bring deliverance, healing, and resurrection—often through one another, often through one another’s stories.
The book included this wonderful story from holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:
In The Gates of the Forest, Elie Wiesel tells the story of a rabbi who averted a disaster for his people by meditating at a certain spot in the forest, lighting a fire, and offering a prayer. The next time catastrophe approached, one of his disciples went to the same site, offered the prayer, but did not know how to light the fire—and still miraculously avoided disaster. Later, another rabbi went to the sacred spot, but knew neither the prayer nor how to light the fire; yet it was enough to save his people. Finally, another rabbi, in a similar desperate situation, knew neither the prayer, the fire, nor the place, but he could tell the story, and that retelling again prevented calamity. … Wiesel concludes, “God made [human beings] because [God] loves stories.”*
Throughout its history, Kirkridge has been the “campfire” around which activists of all kinds have told our stories, including those in the LGBT Christian movement. St. Louis will prove to be an even more expansive opportunity for LGBT religious activists to shape community and share stories.
This is vital as we resist renewed attacks on us, and transform a world that does not yet view us favorably.
In facing disaster, look for helpers and for community.
Meet me in St. Louis!
P.S. Like scripture, we have our own “begats.” Stony Point Center’s 2015 “Rock Stars and Prophets” begat Kirkridge’s “40th Year Celebration of LGBTQ Lives” which begat St. Louis’s “Rolling Away the Stone.” For a video of my personal narrative recorded at Stony Point, go to: https://vimeo.com/172131713
Related Post: You Can Walk through a Storm
*Page 50 of Coming Out as Sacrament, paraphrasing Elie Wiesel in The Gates of the Forest (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966).
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