And the silence is shattered
Posted 14 March 2010on:
So I know many people have been anxiously waiting to hear from me about what has been happening as I travel for justice. There’s just been so much going on that I haven’t been able to write down my thoughts about everything that’s happening.
Baltimore, Feb. 25th-Mar.3rd
The train took me from Syracuse to New York City and then on to Baltimore, with me being one of the last arrivals Thursday evening. And because doing absolutely nothing all day is most draining of activities I had to go to sleep immediately. Can’t start this wonderful 2 month journey with a sleep deficit can I? Lots happened over that week, but the one thing that I wanted to describe was an exercise that Mel White did with us. As part of our nonviolence exercises we were required to step into the shoes of the most hateful extremist and then interact with another of the Riders in that role. We were required to spew all of those things that we’ve heard in the past at our friends. We got in each others faces. We made each other cry. We made ourselves cry. I actually found it to be more difficult to vocalize that hatred, than it was to take it. Essentially, we’ve grown accustomed to hearing these things, but how can anybody ever spew such hateful things at another human being? If they think that this is Love, then I must conclude that they have never known the touch of Love in their lives. And that is something to mourn.
Valley Forge Christian College, Mar.4th-Mar.7th
VFCC is an Assemblies of God institution near Philadelphia and was our first campus stop on the Ride this year. And what a way to start out. The administration from the very beginning of hearing that we would be visiting insisted that we not show up. They were not interested in having any sort of discussion, and they were insistent that their students not have any discussions with us. Because of the threat of expulsion from the school simply based on talking with us, we unfortunately did not have any face to face conversations with current students. But we could see that students were watching from the buildings and as we left for the day we could see them waving to us. Even if we were not able to talk directly to students, we know that somebody that needed to hear us did so, and hopefully that spark that we created will contribute to the fanning of the flames of this conversation for this community. While we held vigil outside this campus, we also spent the day trying to deal with a group called Repent America. Similar to Westboro Baptist Church, this group travels to many queer related happenings in Pennsylvania and uses their bullhorns and signs to proclaim their hate message. When the members of our group attempted to engage in conversation with them and offered their hands, the response was a refusal to shake and a complete twisting of our words.
Fortunately, our entire time in Philadelphia was not spent around such hostility. Members of the local Metropolitan Community Churches joined us at the College, and then welcomed us into their churches. They fed us, talked with us, and filled up our love tanks, knowing that our experiences in this community would not be the only ones that were less than welcoming. We worshiped at Imago Dei MCC on Sunday morning, which was actually my first time worshiping in an MCC setting. And it was moving. Hearing the word of God from a such a queer perspective and participating in Communion with a primarily queer group was life-giving in a way that I have not experienced in quite some time. And while the MCC is not my home, I greatly appreciated their ministry to me while I was in their midst.
Houghton College, Mar.7th-Mar.10th
After leaving Philadelphia, we headed up to Houghton College in upstate New York, which is my home turf. This stop had the potential to be very triggering for me personally, as I was a student at Houghton for five semesters, a time that I spent deeply in the closet. While I was at Houghton, I struggled greatly with my sexuality, primarily because their was an enormous silence around the issue. Was there really anybody that I would be able to talk to about this secret of mine. Because of my history with the College, our conversations with the administration had been “interesting.” So having been in charge of planning everything my stress level was a bit high going into this visit. But regardless of my expectations for this visit, the reality of that day on campus far surpassed anything I could have imagined. Despite the limited interactions that we were given to have with students, the students came out in force, wanting to hear what we had to say, wanting to hear our stories. Houghton College is fertile ground. We had straight students coming out as allies, we had queer students identify themselves as such to various Riders. After hearing the statistic that 1 in 4 Houghton students “struggles with same-sex attraction” I personally wish that more of those students would have identified, but I know that each of us must go through that in their own time. And even if they haven’t publicly identified themselves yet, I know that our shattering of the silence on this campus has enabled them to move one step closer to living their lives as their authentic G0d-created selves. Whether it was coming out to themselves, coming out to a close friend, or coming out to a Rider, any of these movements is welcome to me, and the smallest shift to them accepting themselves makes the entire experience worth it.
We created a safe space while on the campus of Houghton College, and from the energy that I saw amongst the students there, I am confident that this safe space will remain. Some students have even started discussing the formation of a Queer-Straight Alliance, which would be an enormous step to making this campus safer and more inclusive. While none of us are fooling ourselves into thinking that this will be a college-recognized organization, we must accept the small ripples that we are making. We may never see the change that we want to see, but the only way to get to that point is to make the small changes, and someday somebody will be able to reap the full benefits of our actions. And as long as that happens someday, all the work is worth it.
Knoxville, Tenessee, Mar.11th-Mar.12th
After our time in New York, we made a LOONNGGG journey down to Knoxville, TN where we visited with several Unitarian Universalist churches that welcomed us and once again we had our love-tanks filled up. They fed us with delicious food as we sat and talked with them about the work that we’re doing, and sharing our life stories. After our brief stop we then left for Huntsville, Alabama where I sit writing this. Hopefully as the Ride progresses I’ll be more diligent on recording my experiences, so you’ll get updates much more often and in much more detail.