Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Redeemed from the Pit

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

We were in Chile this time last year, visiting wineries, trekking the Andes, biking Santiago, and walking the shore. But the emotional highlight of the trip—one that brought tears to my eyes—was the rescuing of the miners trapped two months beneath the surface of the earth. Their families, wives and lovers had set up camp near the opening of the mine in solidarity, creating a community to welcome them home. Chile mobilized to save the thirty-three, bringing in experts in drilling, survival, psychology, health, and encouragement to see them through their ordeal. National flags flew everywhere in support of the effort, reminiscent of the U.S. after 9/11.

One morning I turned on the news minutes after the initial breakthrough of the shaft that would serve as an exit for the trapped men, and waited with the world as miners were brought up out of the mine one by one over the following two days. Our B&B was next to an elementary school, and each time a miner was brought up we could hear the children shout for joy and sing the national anthem. When the last miner was brought up, our hosts took us upstairs to their apartment and flung wide their windows overlooking the Santiago rooftops so we could hear the church bells ringing across the city in celebration. As one NPR commentator said later, the elation the world shared was akin to Americans landing on the moon, adding, in that week, we were all Chileans.

In a way, the miners served for me as a metaphor for Chile itself, emerging in recent years from the Pit of a dictatorship that severely restricted the people. We saw evidence of this newfound freedom in the experimentation and openness of architectural design in Santiago and the increase of public art in the city and parks after a period of utilitarian design and official distrust of artists.

Over and over again, in my heart, I heard the Psalmist proclaim:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
      and all that is within me
      bless God’s holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul…
who redeems your life from the Pit
      who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy…
The Lord works vindication and justice
      for all who are oppressed.  (Psalm 103)
My reading for the trip were several books by James Baldwin, an iconic gay African-American writer. In The Fire Next Time, he described, using different words, how difficult it is for the privileged to understand what it means to be in the Psalmist’s Pit, what it means to be oppressed. In 1960, Baldwin advises his nephew, “There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them…with love. … If the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers [and sisters] to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it.”

Our trip coincided with International Coming Out Day, October 11, in which LGBT people and their allies are encouraged to self-identify, to paraphrase Baldwin’s words, forcing others to see us as we really are, forcing others to see their own homophobia and begin to change it. I could not help but imagine how wonderful it would be if the world mobilized its leaders and experts to come to the aid of those in the Pit of the closet, proudly flying rainbow flags in solidarity, and that, for every person who came out, families would eagerly embrace them, school children would shout and sing with joy, churches would ring their bells, the media would positively report it, and the world would rejoice!

Coming up:
Wilmington, Delaware, Oct. 9: Chris will preach on the parable of “The Wedding Banquet” during the 10 am worship at Hanover Street Presbyterian Church, 1801 North Jefferson Street 19802 and offer “A Brief History of Marriage” for the noon adult class that follows. The day’s theme is same-gender marriage.

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 23: Chris will speak at the Rockville United Church, 355 Linthicum St. 20851 at the 9:30 am morning class on “Claim the God in You as a Progressive Christian” and his sermon title during the 10:45 worship will be “Jesus Was Not a Literalist.” Lunch follows with a question-and-answer period with Chris.

No comments:

Post a Comment