May 23, 2008

"I Will Not Be Broken"

That's the title of a new book which, while it is not specifically about the LGBT community, it does cover some topics that are of value to everyone, perhaps every particularly LGBT people. The information below is from the official website for the book. I was contacted and asked if I would post something here about the book, and I am happy to do so.

I Will Not Be Broken: Five Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis is a new book by Jerry White.

Leveraging personal experience and a lifetime of wisdom, landmine survivor Jerry White outlines a very specific five-step program to coping with disaster; to achieving strength and hope; and to turning tragedy into triumph.

From a leader of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning movement to ban landmines and founder of Survivor Corps comes an astoundingly effective guide to recreating a happy and fulfilling life after catastrophe strikes—a book that Bob and Lee Woodruff call “a road map for the individual and their family to re-enter the land of the living.” In I WILL NOT BE BROKEN, Jerry White reframes the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” and asks, given that bad things do happen, how do people absorb the blows and move through them?

Tragedy happens to everyone. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a painful divorce, or a serious injury, we all face unavoidable moments that divide our lives into “before” and “after.” These events take a heavy toll on everyone, but there are those who have muscled their way through tough times and emerged stronger, wiser—even grateful for their struggle. Jerry White is one such example. In 1984, he lost his leg—and almost his life—in a landmine accident, and has personally endured the pain of loss and the challenge of rebuilding.

As co-founder of Survivor Corps, White has connected with thousands of victims of tragedy, and in I WILL NOT BE BROKEN, he shares their collective wisdom, which he distills into an effective five-step program for turning tragedy into triumph:

1. Face Facts. One must first accept the harsh reality about suffering and loss, however brutal. “This terrible thing has happened. It can’t be changed. I can’t rewind the clock. My family still needs me. So now what?”

2. Choose Life. That is, “I want to say yes to the future. I want my life to go on in a positive way.” Seizing life, not surrendering to death or stagnation, requires letting go of resentments and looking forward, not back. It can be a daily decision.

3. Reach Out. One must find peers, friends, and family to break the isolation and loneliness that come in the aftermath of crisis. Seek empathy, not pity, from people who have been through something similar. Let the people in your life into your life. “It’s up to me to reach for someone’s hand.”

4. Get Moving. Sitting back gets you nowhere. One must get out of bed and out of the house to generate momentum. We have to take responsibility for our actions. “How do I want to live the rest of my life? What steps can I take today?”

5. Give Back. Thriving, not just surviving, requires the capacity to give again, through service and acts of kindness. “How can I be an asset to those around me, and not a drain? Will I ever feel grateful again?” Yes, and by sharing your experience and talents, you will inspire others to do the same.

There are testimonials on the website from Lance Armstrong, Bob and Lee Woodruff, Deepak Chopra, Jane Goodall, Queen Noor of Jordan, and others in a very eclectic group of people.

There are excerpts from the book, information about the Survivor Corps, links to purchase it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and more information on the offical website. I encourage you to check it out.

May 22, 2008

Another Ex-Ex-Gay Writes About How His Faith Was Used Against Him

That's my takeaway from this powerful essay written by Noe Guiterrez at Ex-Gay Watch (thanks to Peterson Toscano for linking this story on his blog).

Set against a biblical contrast of right versus wrong, ex-gay ministries often draw a direct link between the quality of a person’s faith and their commitment to make a choice in the “straight” direction. This value system often results in the ex-gay person being caught by a cycle of perpetual self-evaluation. Compelled to dissect every thought, every word, and every deed into these black or white categories, the life of an ex-gay can become all about choosing sides. With homosexuality as the target, the goal then becomes to eradicate all thoughts and behaviors associated with “wrong” sexual attraction. This becomes the “calling” of the ex-gay person who finds their purpose in the process of self re-orientation. I believe this mode of thinking establishes a clear and distinct association between the effectiveness of God in a person’s life and that person’s ability to commit to ex-gay change.

And even as I write this I hear the murmurs of ex-gay promoters and providers accusing me of focusing on the wrong thing, of trying too hard or not enough, of not trusting God or depending too much on God to do what I needed to do. With the Ex-Gay Movement they have an answer for everything but most of these answers boil down to one thing: It's your own fault.

Rather than face reality that I we sought for the wrong thing and that another way exists, ex-gay leaders, pastors, parents and "friends" cling to a faulty series of beliefs and lay loads on people's backs that make them, in the words of Jesus, "twice the sons of hell."

For me I discovered that "change" was not possible, not in the way they promoted it for years. More importantly change was not necessary and to pursue it damaged me significantly, so much so that I had to take nearly 10 years to recover.

I post stories like this, despite how ANGRY they make me, because people need to be exposed to these tragedies. Gutierrez lost over ten years of his life trying to be something different that God made him because leaders of his faith told him he was a sinner, preying on the weakness of someone struggling to discover who he was and, more importantly, who God wanted him to be.

On an earlier blog post, Peterson Toscano was kind enough to mention this blog as one who consistently report on the ex-gay movement. I do that in the hope that someone who is caught in the cycle that Noe Gutierrez was will see his story and realize that there is another choice, that God will love him and accept him as he walks out his life true to the sexual orientation He blessed him with.

I believe it is impossible for anyone to be in full communion with God and be blessed with the fullness of a healthy relationship with Him if we are not honest with ourselves and live our lives true to the way God made us. If I was trying to live a gay lifestyle, I couldn't enjoy a full and honest relationship with the Lord because I would be dishonest to myself.

Dishonesty is a sin, and sometimes the most damage is done when we turn that inward onto ourselves. I pray that there are fewer and fewer stories like Noe Gutierrez's, fewer years lost, less pain endured, as people like him selflessly put themselves out there and share their experiences.

Let his pain help you from enduring more of your own.

Then let God help you put the pieces together His way and show you the fullness of how He made you, not how someone else thinks you should be.

May 21, 2008

Faith Leaders Grapple With California Court Ruling

Uncertainty has spread across many corners of the religious landscape in California in the wake of last week's state Supreme Court decision ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in that state.

This article in the LA Times speaks to that uncertainty and also highlights the wide range of reactions across different denominations. Even those who strongly support the ruling are unclear about the ramifications going forward:

The 4-3 ruling, which held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, has prompted conservative and liberal congregations alike to discuss whether gay and lesbian members will be allowed to wed in their churches, synagogues and temples.

"These are the kinds of issues every religion has to grapple with," said James A. Donahue, president of the Graduate Theological Union, a Berkeley-based consortium of theological schools. "How do you factor in the role of contemporary human rights, civil rights, the data about homosexuality" with "core traditions and beliefs?" All Saints Episcopal Church, the Rev. Susan Russell led a between-services forum on the religious, legal and political ramifications of the court's decision.

"The justices have ruled in favor of the sanctity of marriage and against bigotry," Russell declared, as the audience cheered. "This is good news for all Californians.

"But even though All Saints has been blessing same-sex unions for more than 15 years, the ruling unleashed a wave of uncertainty.

"At this point in the Episcopal Church, our prayer book still defines marriage between a man and a woman," Russell said in an interview. "There's some question about whether we can, within the canons of our church, extend the sacrament to same-gender couples.

"The decision raises questions, too, about what All Saints' blessing ceremonies mean anymore, Russell said. Should couples who have had such ceremonies get married too? Will the civil steps suffice? Or should they go through another church ritual? And what kinds of ceremonies will All Saints provide as it moves forward?

The questions are personal for Russell, who celebrated her union with her partner in an official blessing ceremony two years ago. Russell said she and her partner haven't begun discussing what the new ruling will mean for them. As for her church, she said, "I'm glad we have 30 days to think it through."

William McKinney, president of the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and a professor of American religion there, said the ruling was applauded on his campus, which is a multidenominational, theologically liberal Christian seminary.

Yet he said he felt an element of trepidation as well.

"We're celebrating it on the one hand," McKinney said, noting that San Francisco's 2004 decision allowing same-sex weddings had given many people, both gay and straight, new appreciation for the powerful symbolism of marriage.

"On the other hand, though, this sets us up for another round of the culture wars," he said. "As a straight, married man, I feel for my gay friends whose private life is once again going to be the subject of public debate."

This item from the Christian Post (you can tell the right wing news sources because they use quotations around same-sex "marriage") points out how this decision could have a much greater impact nationwide than the ruling in Massachusetts in 2004:

In a study last December – months before the California Supreme Court began hearing the legal arguments for and against gay “marriage – a study done by the University of California-Davis' Law Review revealed California’s Supreme Court as the most influential in the nation. According to the study, a total of 1,260 decisions made by the California high court have been mimicked and followed by other states, a figure higher than any other state in the union.

Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at the Pepperdine University Law School in Malibu, Calif., emphasized that the California high court’s decision on gay “marriage” would have far greater impact than the similar decision by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts to legalize gay “marriage” in 2004.

“The way the Massachusetts court had interpreted its state law, same-sex marriage in Massachusetts was not available to non-residents,” Kmiec explained, according to Cybercast News Service.

"In California, there's no waiting period, there's no residency requirement, and so yesterday's ruling doesn't just affect a single state with a very large population," he added.

"One of the principal effects of the California decision will be to create large numbers of same-sex marriages that will not only reside in California, but will migrate across the country," he continued. The migration of same-sex couples to other states could then spur the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, he explained.

Keep checking back here for more important updates and analysis on how the faith communities on both sides of this issue proceed.

May 20, 2008

More LGBT Outreach to Faith Leaders and Groups

This article in the Washington Blade discusses a new and, in my view very positive, trend of LGBT advocacy groups reaching out to faith leaders, churches, and organizations. The best way to change someone's mind is to change their heart, and often the best way to accomplish that is by changing the message they hear from the pulpit in their home church.

One of the greatest hurdles to advancing gay civil rights is overcoming religious, anti-gay rhetoric. From Fred Phelps in Kansas to Focus on the Family in Colorado and the late Jerry Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Va., religious institutions with deep pockets and vast political power are more than willing to use their resources to demonize gays.

Recently, however, gay groups have started to respond with programming of their own. The Human Rights Campaign has just announced a new venture for 2009 that will focus on clergy members, and several other gay groups have made outreach to faith communities an important part of their work, including the National Black Justice Coalition, Soulforce and Faith in America.

“We’ve had so many years where the far right has dominated the landscape and claimed a set of values that didn’t necessarily resonate with Americans who also [had a] faith tradition, so I think we’re seeing a reaction to that,” says Ineke Mushovic.

Mushovic, who works with the Movement Advocacy Project, a private think tank that analyzes the work of gay groups, says that one of MAP’s studies showed that 85 percent of Americans say religion is very important in their lives.

“America … is a deeply religious nation, much more so than pretty much any of the other industrialized nations,” she says. “You need to meet people where they’re at, and so that means it’s important to be able to connect with their faith perspective.

”For gay groups that are focusing on religious outreach, however, setting and measuring goals can be an intimidating venture. As one member of a religious-based gay group noted, “it’s kind of hard to measure heart change.”

Rest assured, this is not a quick-fix approach, but I believe it has great potential to bring about real, long-lasting change in our society.

Click here to read the read of the Washington Blade article.

May 19, 2008

Politics and Religion...Strange Things Are Afoot!

I went to church Wednesday night for our weekly intercessory prayer meeting. We have dinner before the meeting and, as I was discussing the politics of the day with a few congregants, they expressed to me their reservations about Barack Obama because of his so-called Muslim background. Mind you, I attend a church with a very progressive leaning congregation, so I was taken aback. I tried to explain that Barack's father had at one time been a Muslim, but that he had converted to Catholicism long ago and Barack was never a Muslim. However, one of my friends said that is how these things start and she's going to have to be very careful about who she votes for in the fall based on the fact that we've had so-called Christian candidates who led us down the wrong path.

I was saddened by my conversation with them for several reasons. First of all, they are ignorant of the facts. Second, that they would really not choose to vote for someone based soley on their religion. And third, that they are so adamant, they weren't willing to listen to anybody disagreeing with them! I was just flabbergasted that they refused to hear what I had to say on the subject. Another friend must have seen my dismay and kept unity in the family by changing the subject asap!

My question is this: Are we still that backwards in our country that we will just believe anything that comes down the pike without questioning it or allowing others to question it? These well meaning women believe what an email blast said about Obama without even thinking it could be a smear campaign. Is it me or have we totally lost our minds in this campaign season??