I’m going to be live blogging Gene Robinson‘s interview at Greenbelt, which starts in a few minutes. (Live blogging a sermon is an odd experience, given the kind of language that’s used, but Gene’s a pretty unique dude, and a pivotal figure in so much of the dialogue around gay rights as well as more specifically he dialogue between the church and the gay community)
[1.29] Gene is Bishop of New Hampshire, and I’ve really enjoyed all the writing of his that I’ve read. I’m really pleased he’s here at the festival.
Intro by Martin Wroe: there’ll be loads of time for questions at the end. “Rumour has it that bits of the church are upset that a Bishop can be called Gene – some people don’t think Bishops should have girl’s names” (laughter, followed by massive applause for Gene.)
[1:32] Gene starts by praying – standard form for a Bishop 😉
“I’d rather you thought of this as a conversation, what I’m going to say is my own experience. Your’s will be different, and your own. All we have is our own story. We get in trouble when we tell people what their story should be.”
Gene’s Story – how to stay calm in the eye of the storm. The storm in question is when Gene was put forward for ordination, and a load of lies were written about him being involved in porn etc.
[1:39] Anyone attempting to live the Christian life, will get in trouble. The boxes we try to put God in are always too small. If you preach that, you’ll be in trouble.
The beatitudes are radical – all the blessed conditions in the Beatitudes – mourning, hunger, persecution – are things we really don’t want. Why are they blessed? because it’s when we’re stressed and troubled, we know our need of God. We lose our false sense of total control.
[1:43] For Jesus, that mistaken behaviour involved Justice. Good news for the poor, sight to the blind, Jubilee. In the same sermon, he says that God’s love is bigger than just for the people of Israel, he got in trouble – God was too loving, too compassionate, to merciful.
[1:46] Gene starts to describe growing up gay in conservative Kentucky. Homosexual was a word that was only whispered. No Will & Grace, no Ellen, no positive role models, definitely no-one who was Christian and gay. You were totally on your own. There was no way of talking to your parents about it – 2/3rds of the homeless kids in LA are there because they’ve been thrown out for being gay or lesbian.
Gene went through therapy (the ‘ex-gay’ movement), and even got married… stayed married for 13 years, then went back to church to end it, with a eucharist service, asked each other for forgiveness. They returned their wedding rings. A wonderful and healing experience.
If God intends anything for us it’s to live with integrity – for our inside to agree with our outside. If there’s a disconnect, we do God a disservice.
[1:52] It took Gene ages to discover that God’s love could include him, a gay man. God called him to be whole, to come out, to be whole. He ‘knew’ that in 1986 his ordained life in the church was over… until the late 90s, he felt called to put his name forward to become a bishop. He knew it would be difficult… just not this difficult (laughter). Had no idea it would last this long.
He was phoned up by arch-bishops telling him not to do this, but instead waited for God to tell him. He just walked forward, trusting God to lead.
“God calls us on a journey and we don’t have the luxury of seeing the other side (x-ref Moses and the parting of the red sea) – we need to trust”.
The call to become bishop was followed by death threats, which continue to today. When you see the note that has a picture of you and your partner, and they’re covered in letters cut out that spells out ‘I have a bullet for each of your heads when you least expect it” – at his consecration, he and his partner had to wear bullet-proof vests. It scared the crap out of his daughters. He had to tell them that not living your life was a worse thing than death. He didn’t want to die, but if it happened, he would be fine.
“when people ask if I regret what’s happening, I have to say no, not at all. Because when God feels that palpably close, how could you regret that? Learning to count on God was a good thing not bad.
When evil comes your way it’s so tempting to return evil for evil, that the only way to deal with that is to be silent. Rather than resort to that. The Psalms have a lot of this…
[1:10] “my spiritual director told me I talk to much in my prayers. Also made me aware of the possibility of impersonating God’s voice, to get the answers I want. I was encouraged to do nothing, but just imagine being a child of God, being loved, and feeling that love as warmth. Just allow yourself to be loved, let God do what God does best”.
God want to love. all of us. And wants us to love the rest of us. We live our lives with a line drawn around us, separating us from them. What God wants for us is to draw the line ever-further away, until there is no ‘them’ only us. The christian life calls us to treat our enemies like that. to never allow ourselves to treat them as a child of God, no matter how much I disagree with them.
“Our job is to be continually be reaching out to those who’ve been marginalised, disrespected, abused, disregarded, vilified. God is not there to make it easy, but will be with you. There’s no greater reward than that” (massive applause).
[Steve’s note] – Gene talks the language of a bishop, but he brings a message that has its roots as much in the experience and history of Ghandi, MLK, Wilberforce etc… The call within the God-stuff for respect to be extended to those we hate, for dialogue to continue, for acceptance, respect, grace, is SO vital, so important, for all of us, believers, or not, sceptics, doubters, atheists… He’s a pretty radical voice, but one with a soft tone, and an amazing gentle soul. It’s been a privilege to listen to him.