A Book Review: Perfect And Forgiven: Discovering Your Freedom From Shame, Guilt, and Sin, by Zach Moldano

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Moldano, Zach. (2019) Not Perfect Just And Forgiven: Discovering Your Freedom From Shame, Guilt, and Sin. Lubbock TX: Zachery Moldano. (NB – This is how the title appears on the book cover.)


I remember reading an extended quote in my final-year high school economics textbook. It was from Gerry Goodman, writing under his alias ‘Adam Smith’, in his classic tome The Money Game. He was writing about how one finds, or retains, their serenity when becoming a millionaire. I don’t have the exact quote, so I’ll do my best to gloss from memory.

He wrote that there are basically two methods for doing this. The first involves lying on a couch, talking about your mother and any other thoughts from your life, recounting your dreams, and having someone sitting behind you helping you understand what it means. Thus, you keep your serenity at the cost of however many sessions it takes you to find this serenity.

In the other method, you make your million and be serene. Thus, you can avoid the cost of however many sessions it takes for you to talk about your mother and interpret your dreams.

This quote came to mind as I was reading Not Perfect Just And Forgiven by Texas pastor Zach Goodman. This appears to be a book written for those who are wracked by guilt and uncertainty concerning their eternal salvation, and it seems to be written as that conservative evangelical equivalent to the therapy that Goodman/Smith describes. Farley’s thesis, simply put, is that being in Christ makes the believer perfect in God’s sight; therefore, the Christian can put aside their anxiety and get on with being the child of God they were always meant to be.

To me, that’s it – simply put. I realize that this is an important message for all Christians to hear, but the style of writing Goodman employs simply does not appeal to me. On many issues, I’m sure he and I would be in great agreement. However, I’m just not captured by his beginning each chapter with a Scripture verse and then going into what I experience as a ‘Rah! Rah! Sis-boom-bah!’ onslaught of ‘How Great You Are, How Great You Are’ (yes, the allusion to ‘How Great Thou Art’ is intentional). There is just no end to this constant avalanche of affirmation, and by the time I got about halfway through the book, it began to feel as though my brain was being whacked with a sledgehammer! By this point, this approach began to lose its effect, and I began reacting mentally with retorts like ‘And?…’ and ‘Your point being? – And I hope you have one!’ Moreover, it seems to me to contribute to the very thing that Moldano rails against, namely, the inordinate emphasis in the conservative evangelical world on sin.

His style of communication, and the sense that he furthers the very thing which he writes against, take away from the intended effect of that thesis. He needs to re-write this book or do a new version with a more nuanced approach. A bit of Scriptural exegesis (not heavy, but enough to show his credentials as a person of some theological education) would be helpful. References to people in the history of theology would show that he’s not just coming up with something ex tempore, literally ‘from his head’. A couple of guys named Luther and Calvin wrote a bit on the subject he deals with; he could quote some of their work. The contemporary work of theologians who start with blessing, rather than sin, as the starting point for creation and the individual, would have been very instructive. And, yes, one cannot deal with the light of the Gospel without spending some time in its shadow side. The reality of sin and evil need to explicitly stated and grappled with, and all types of sin/evil need to be included – individual, corporate, and systemic.

As it is, this is sadly a one-note drone in which the author simply has not developed the chops to shift the basic note even a half-step to give it some variety or elegance. I realize that there are those who are of a theological orientation similar to Pastor Moldano’s to whom this approach will be appealing. I and many others will not be one of them.

If you would like a different approach to dealing with this question, consider works like the classic Paul Tillich sermon, ‘You Are Accepted’. Many of the popular works by Marcus Borg and Rachel Held Evans (both of blessed memory) have worked on dealing with the issues of being formed by traditional religion and progressing through to new understandings. Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions Which Are Transforming The Faith deals with the greater theological questions which Pastor Moldano hints at, in engaging yet accessible ways. Pastor Moldano has not achieved this kind of variety in his writing yet, and it’s going to take more practice before he can get there. He needs to get there, if he wishes to reach an audience beyond those to whom he might immediately appeal.

To those who are concerned about their status regarding their state of separation from the Divine, I’d suggest starting with Tillich’s simple yet profound advice: ‘Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’


A Book Review – Coming In: Gays and Lesbians Reclaiming the Spiritual Journey, by Urs Mattman

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Mattmann, Urs. (2006) Coming In: Gays and lesbians reclaiming the spiritual journey (trans. Urs Mattmann). Glasgow (UK): Wild Goose Publications.


This review is an interesting one for me to write, mainly for the historical context within which it was written and published. Urs Mattmann originally wrote this work in German in 2002, with the English translation appearing, including an introduction by Richard Rohr OFM, in 2006. The year after its original publication came The Queer God, the second of two ground-breaking works by Marcella Althaus-Reid (the other being Indecent Theology (2000)) which are viewed by many as the ‘Ground Zero’ works of what is now known as ‘Queer Theology’. While the focus of this review is on the work Mattmann, the work of Althaus-Reid (who died in 2009) cannot be ignored. Consequently, some element of comparison between their work is inevitable (NB: while I have not read Indecent Theology, I have read reviews and research articles devoted to it, and I have read The Queer God).

Mattmann’s purpose in writing Coming In is stated very clearly in the first chapter, his introduction. His endeavor is to provide ‘a deep mystical perspective’ on being gay/lesbian and Christian. To that end, he is very explicit in giving a series of guided meditations and prayers at the end of every chapter, each one designed to strengthen the individual gay/lesbian Christian in the conviction that s/he is a child of God, one loved by the Divine in all his/her aspects, including sexuality; and a rightful member of the body of Christ. This is a markedly different starting point from Althaus-Reid’s iteration of Queer Theology, growing as it does out of Liberation Theology, which was both a point of inspiration and criticism in her work. As such, there are elements of political, sociological, literary, and economic analysis in her writing which simply don’t appear in Mattmann.

This is not to say Mattmann is above making radical suggestions – far from it. The radicality in his conclusions and prescriptions are rooted (no pun intended!) in this statement:

(E)nough time has been spent in puzzling over how the same-sex orientation came into being or developed. It is now crucial to explore and visualise the purpose for which homosexuality exists, the contribution it can make to a more human world, and how gays and lesbians can integrate and live their sexuality in realisation of the power of God that permeates everything. (from Chapter 3, ‘Homosexuality as Potential’, p.56)

Mattmann declares that it is in effect a waste of time trying to justify ‘why’ homosexuality exists. By inference, this includes eschewing the debate about ‘if’ homosexuality is acceptable or unacceptable from a ‘Biblical’ or theological standpoint. This is made explicit in that he does not use any ink/pixels to discuss the ‘clobber passages’ or to refute theological arguments against a gay/lesbian presence in the church. He puts his writing energies into elucidating topics like the spiritual gifts gay and lesbian persons have (Chapter 4), acknowledging how the wounds inflicted on homosexual persons can be transformed into gifts of healing (Chapter 6), and the inherent goodness of gay and lesbian sexuality (Chapter 7). This leads to the process for which he uses the already-existing label ‘Coming In’, which refers to the process of gay and lesbian persons understanding that they have a spiritual essence which must be tended to and cared for. Mattmann views this as the necessary corollary to ‘coming out’, the process of publicly declaring one’s identity as a sexual/gender minority. In the spiritual exercises he places at the end of each chapter, he is also very specific about framing homosexuality as a spiritual gift, and about relating the meditative aspects very much within the body – even to the point of inviting participants to sense the spiritual energy pulsing within their very genitals.

This willingness to not debate sexuality as ‘an issue’ is a marked contrast to what I often experience in many Christian SGM contexts. In areas where there are marked conservative views, such as the USA or South Korea, where I was until recently, there is a seemingly endless process where SGM Christians, almost of necessity, need to justify their existence to the majority Christian community. I’m of the personal conviction that a whole other conversation can be had as to whether SGM Christians, or Christians in general, can hold on to evangelical/charismatic expressions of faith in a 21st-century world, but that is, as I’ve said, another conversation. The fact is, there have been Christian communities in the United States which have been willing to dialogue with and embrace SGM person for over fifty years. What would it be like if more and more SGM-affirming Christian communities just said to the more conservative Christian communities, ‘We know who we are in the eyes of God – we’re just not going to participate in this conversation anymore’? What would that be like? Mattmann invited SGM Christians to consider this possibility back in 2002/6, and it’s worth considering for many members of this community.

That’s not to say this work is not without a problem – in fact, one very glaring problem. It’s not directly the result of Mattmann’s writing, but comes from the foreword by Richard Rohr, OFM, director of the Center of Contemplation and Action. It can be summed up in this sentence:

Once other believers can see that gay men and women are concerned about the values of faithfulness, and are willing to preserve the normative value of heterosexual marriage for the sake of human life’s continuation, many of their fears will be lessened. (from ‘Foreword’, by Richard Rohr, OFM, p. 10f.)

In today’s SGM environment, falling in line with heteronormativity is simply a non-starter, and this is no different for SGM Christians. In contrast, one of the non-negotiable foundations of queer theology is that one must encounter and take seriously sexual practices which are considered non-normative – in The Queer God, for example, Altahus-Reid considers the work of many classic and modern authors of erotica, including the Marquis de Sade. Moreover, as much as I admire a lot of Fr Rohr’s work, I cannot ignore the fact that he is still a spiritual leader in an organization which views variations from heterosexual marriage as moral disorders. For this work to be even considered by SGM Christians in this day and age, Mattmann has to expunge this foreword and replace it – no other alternative is acceptable.

This one problem with the text, because it is as serious as it is, is unfortunate, because Mattmann’s work, on the whole, is invaluable. Coming In is contemporary with the work of queer theologians like Marcella Althaus-Reid and provides an alternative lens through which to view LGBT+/queer theology and spirituality. It accesses the resources of the contemplative/mystical Christian tradition, values them, and employs them, as opposed to the unbridled, unrelenting questioning of Christian tradition I see in works like The Queer God. In fact, after reading The Queer God, I have begun to ask, ‘Should I take it that traditional theology (which often referred to as “T-theology”) is the mistake while the alternative vision offered by Althaus-Reid is “the true Gospel”?’ That is yet another conversation for another time! Nonetheless, if Mattmann were to revise/update his work, with a new foreword (please!!!), Coming In would provide an excellent counterweight to the works of writers like Althaus-Reid in any university/seminary course which seeks to introduce queer theology.


This is a time of transitions for me.

After being in my latest teaching position for two and a half years, I decided it was time for me to go back to the area of English Language Teaching in which I experienced the most fulfillment, namely English for Academic Purposes (EAP).

After being involved with my faith community in Seoul for five years, four and a half of those in some kind of leadership role, three and a half as the Pastoral Leader and serving as an ordained pastor in the Progressive Christian Alliance, and just over a year as an ordained pastor in Metropolitan Community Churches (during which we’ve had four changes in location), I’ve decided that I have done as much as I can for Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church, and I have resigned as Pastoral Leader to allow the community itself to decide its next steps in its ongoing presence in Korea.

It was difficult to be in a situation where many of the learners I taught were of lower language ability and limited motivation. There are people who can do this well – good on ’em, Korea needs more like them. I’m not one of them. Moreover, there aren’t all that many opportunities to teach EAP in Korea, so I thought I would take the opportunity while it was there.

It was difficult to be leader of a faith community which couldn’t find the combination of factors it needed to grow to a point where it could sustain a regular ministry presence in Seoul. It wasn’t an ideal situation to begin with. I joined a community where the founding pastor was foundering in terms of his faith stance, going between a deep Christian commitment and hard atheism and many places in between, which attracted and repelled many at the same time. I myself was developing a progressive Christian stance in my return to the church after being away for seventeen years, which seemed to satisfy neither the evangelicals nor the atheists in our midst. My not living in Seoul itself and not being a member of a queer community didn’t help either, I’m sure. Our church has been doing our work and trying to grow without a denominational mission support fund or a sponsoring church to help. There was always head office staff support, and they helped us any way they could, but a point came where I decided I need to let go of this role.

I’ve found it difficult to fulfill the implied expectations placed on me as an English teacher in my most recent position. They were there, even if higher-ups might deny this. ‘Keep teaching from the supplied textbook to a minimum’ – well, why have a bloody textbook in the first place? ‘Always incorporate an English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) approach, bringing in things from students’ majors’ – how does that work when I don’t have a background in that major, and I get different majors almost every semester? ‘Ensure students make progress in the levels of the Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR)[1]’ – how is that possible while keeping this EOP focus, when students at many of the lower levels of the CEFR simply don’t have the ability to accomplish tasks which are academically or professionally related[2]?

I’ve found it difficult to understand how it is that many persons of faith in the SGM communities want to hang on to traditional, even conservative, Christian beliefs. In at least one case, an attendee cited my not being ‘traditional enough’ as their reason to stop going to Open Doors. I realize that many SGM Christians of an evangelical background are trying to hold on to what they believe to be the ‘treasures’ of this faith expression while tossing away the ‘garbage’. If there is a way to do that, then bless ‘em – the evangelical world needs more of them. I freely admit that I’m cut from a different piece of cloth. I have always struggled to understand how persons of an evangelical Christian persuasion, regardless of whether they’re SGM or not, can persist in using certain expressions, postures of worship, hermeneutical styles, etc., in the 21st century world. With the election of the 45th President of the US, and the almost unquestioning support he received from white American evangelicals, I think it’s perfectly fair to ask if the evangelical brand has a legitimacy crisis, as some have[3]. Add the SGM element to it and I’m left asking, ‘Is this just wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too? Has the cake simply “gone off” and needs to be thrown out?’ Or to use a more Gospel-influenced image, ‘Should we be forcing new wine into old wineskins?’ I’m not saying people don’t have the right to express their faith as they wish. I am questioning whether the classic expressions of evangelicalism can serve persons of faith well, especially if they are members of an SGM, in a 21st century context.

I don’t know what’s going to come next for me. All I know is that I am in a new country, at a new school, waiting for full-time work to appear sometime (that in itself is another story for another time!). I also know that I have almost a quarter-century of teaching experience under my belt, and I’m ready to offer that, and the skills and abilities that go with it, to those who are willing to take a chance on me.

I don’t know where my next ministry opportunity will be. At this point, I am connecting with an ecumenical, lay-led international church in Hanoi which has made room for me. This may lead into a longer connection, or I may go into new ministry directions that I have not even anticipated yet. What I am assured of is that I will go into the future, trusting in that Love which has not let me go, even when I was a ‘done’ for seventeen years. I will continue to write, including on things MCC and things SGM. And I keep in the forefront of my mind the lines of a hymn from the priest and hymn-writer Herbert O’Driscoll:

‘In (our) agony and glory,

(We) are called to newer ways

By the Lord of our tomorrows

And the God of earth’s todays.’[4]

[1] There were in fact measurable objectives for this goal – at least linguistic ones.

[2] I can’t find the exact source, but I read a table for the expected academic and occupational tasks which people at the different CEFR levels should be able to do, and it was suggested that learners at the lower A1 and A2 levels, where many of the students we have are, are not ready for many of these tasks.

[3] Two of the most soul-searching critiques I have read have come from within the evangelical movement: from author Sharon Hodde Miller (2017, February 19, Evangelicals and the Loss of Prophetic Imagination, in Mere Orthodoxy [online], retrieved 19 September 2019 from https://mereorthodoxy.com/evangelicals-loss-prophetic-imagination/), and Dr Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary (2018, 20 April, Political Dealing: The Crisis Of Evangelicalism, in Fuller.edu [online], retrieved 19 September 2019 from https://www.fuller.edu/posts/political-dealing-the-crisis-of-evangelicalism/).

[4] From O’Driscoll, H ‘From the Slave-Pens of the Delta’, in The United Church Publishing House (1996), Voices United, hymn #690.

A Book Review – Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer, by Fran Pratt

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Pratt, Fran. (2018) Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer. Outpost Press.


The Rev Fran Pratt has been on a faith journey which may be familiar to many Christians. She has gone from the charismatic experience of certitude within the Vineyard Fellowship to a place of doubt and uncertainty, where prayer did not come easily to her. She then found a place within a Reformed Church of America congregation in San Francisco where ordered prayer allowed her to re-experience Spirit back to a place of faith. The experience of ordered prayer became part of her regular spiritual practice (even to the point of buying a copy of the Book of Common Prayer), and now forms part of her ministry at Peace of Christ Church, a church in Texas which is part of the Alliance of Baptists.

She describes this experience poignantly, as a meditation, in the Introduction to this volume, subtitled ‘How Liturgy Saved My Life’. In fact, I found the Introduction the most fascinating part of this volume. This is a Christian who, like many others, has made a transition from certitude to doubt to faith. This journey, though, unlike many others, has not been marked primarily by shifts in theological principles or styles of Biblical hermeneutics (although I suspect these may have undergone change as well). Rather, it is a shift in spiritual practice, more specifically, in accessing the resources of corporate prayer which have been based in Scripture, the heritage of the church catholic, and the strains of wisdom found in modern writers through which the voice of God is heard anew, which has undergirded her faith journey.

I find this inspiration by the practice of prayer and worship to be uniquely refreshing and not unlike my own awakening to the liturgical heritage of the universal church which I experienced as I took the first steps in answering a call to ministry. The only point of caution I would raise concerns her perception of what prayer was like in her former charismatic Christian experience:

I’d absorbed the idea that the best, holiest kind of praying was done extemporaneously – no one ever said this out loud to me; rather it was communicated by emphasis and practice. You stood up and prayed whatever came to mind. Anything else was lesser, emptier, overly formal and rote. (p. iv)

As a person who has ministered and worshiped in places where the evangelical and charismatic strains of Christianity have held sway, I can say with some certainty that the testimonies and prayers which were held up as being ex tempore, or as the participants would say, ‘from the heart and not from a book’, had recognizable stock phrases and formulae (disclosure: I work as an English teacher, and oral discourse analysis formed part of my Master’s degree studies). In fact, in a search I did as part of preparing for this review, I discovered a doctoral thesis on evangelical Christian altar calls[1]. I believe that if we scratch the surface hard enough, there are structures which support and enable these supposedly ‘spontaneous’ utterances.

As worthwhile as these queries are, I must proceed to the ‘meat’ of the text – the prayer litanies which Pratt has written and offers to those preparing for Christian worship. She has organized them into groups – Litanies for ‘Looking Inward’, ‘Looking Outward’, ‘Coping’, ‘Church Rituals’, and ‘Communal Worship’. There are further litanies contained in Appendices focused on ‘Injustice’, ‘Advent’, and ‘Lent’. Tantalizingly, her ‘bonus litany’ is a litany ‘for the Heretics’.

While all of the litanies are meant to be used in a church context, some, especially within the ‘Coping’ section, may be especially appropriate in small group contexts. The ‘Communal Worship’ section appear to be quite appropriate to use as ‘gathering litanies’ for the community as it comes together for worship. The language, while leaning toward traditional formulations of the Divine, is gender inclusive. Though I am reading them as a reviewer and not within a public worship context, I find the most effective litanies are characterized by the following characteristics:

  • Repeated responses – It seems to me that the litanies which contain series of petitions with a single response would allow the individual worshipper to commune with Spirit at a deeper level. For example, in the ‘Litany for Stillness’ (p.12f.) we find:


That we often avoid quiet reflection,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That we often mistake stillness for sloth,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That we often become hoodwinked by our culture of excess,

We confess to you, Oh God.

That intentional stillness often requires great effort from us,

We confess to you, Oh God.


When we are running around, attending to our to-do lists,

It’s you we seek.

When we are looking for pleasure and consolation,

It’s you we seek.

When we are in need of affirmation and success,

It’s you we seek.

When we are avoiding our pain, or nursing our wounds,

It’s you we seek.


When trying to use communal prayer to help the individual experience Spirit, fewer words are often better.


  • Repeated forms – Where a series of thoughts are put together, the use of a chain of similarly constructed clauses or phrases can effectively emphasize and reinforce those thoughts, such as in the ‘Litany for the Earth’ (p.22f.):


Arouse in us a new compassion,

A new willingness to change,

A new excitement to foster community,

A new zeal for establishing the Peace of God,

A new understanding of the connectedness of all things,

A new appreciation of the gift of Earth.


  • Parallelsim – Echoing the Psalms and other poetic parts of the Scriptures, the repetition or mirroring of ideas can be effective. A simple example is found in the ‘Litany for Justice and Equality’ (p.33)


Our way is not of violence and empire, but in the power and beauty of the cross.

Our faith is not in politics, but in the transforming love of Christ.


The expression of our faith is at its most powerful when it enters the realm of the poetic. Echoing the poetry of Scripture can be a most profound tool of inspiration.

This works is not without its places for improvement, though. If there is anything which I find can use more work in Pratt’s craft of litany writing, it is the tendency to split sentences where it reads like a single thought has been ripped in half, making less sense as a consequence. This can happen in juxtaposition to some of the positive elements in Pratt’s litanies, for in the same ‘Litany for the Earth’. There is:

Even now we realize that our home

Is suffering,

Help us to become aware

Of the needs of humanity,

I find that this kind of splitting simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, does this problem render such a litany unusable? By no means! From my experience as a language teacher, I bring the MAD principle into my use of worship materials by other writers – Modify, Add, and Delete. I never treat worship materials as finished works. They are palettes for me to use in order to help create the forms of expression which (I hope) will bring the attendees to the services that I lead into a greater sense of the Holy.

The other area for improvement is in Pratt’s tentative steps toward language which fully affirms sexual and gender minorities. I see from the website of the congregation she serves that it appears to be genuinely affirming[2]. Can that not be more fully expressed in the worship materials she writes? She does hint at it in places, but I see a glaring omission of this respect in her litany written in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando, Florida. She gets full marks for naming terrorism, and I can understand that this litany needs to be anonymized for general use. However, she identified it as being written in the aftermath of the Pulse Massacre. This litany as it stands does not address the reality that those who were killed and wounded were gunned down because they were LGBT or supported LGBT persons. As someone who ministers to persons who are members of the sexual and gender minorities communities, I don’t think skirting around this reality really honors the memory of the forty-nine angels of Pulse, nor does it honor the identity of the sexual/gender minority members and attendees she serves. This being noted, I’m again not going to say this resource is useless because of this error. There’s too much that is good here that should not be thrown away. The MAD principle applies here, as well.

In closing, then, I view Fran Pratt’s Call and Response as a valuable set of resources which can be used in a variety of congregational and group settings for local church worship and prayer. They are informed by the resources of the Universal Church – the Scriptures, the rhythm of the liturgy, and new wisdom. Wherever there are shortcomings, I encourage liturgists and worship leaders to add, delete, or modify as is appropriate to their local situation. I particularly recommend it to those who come from backgrounds which don’t emphasize the corporate nature of prayer. These are resources steeped in Scriptural allusions, carrying with them the best of the worship traditions of the Universal Church.

[1] Bryan, C D (2016 May). “Heads Bowed, Eyes Closed”: Analyzing The Discourse Of Online Evangelical Altar Calls. PhD Dissertation, Middle Tennessee State University.

[2] As noted in the website of Peace of Christ Church (peacewilco.com)

Craig-ey, Are You Queer?

Yes, this is a take-off on that classic 80s new wave tune (it’s too poppy to call it punk) by Josie Cotton, ‘Johnny Are You Queer?’ Let’s re-familiarize ourselves with that tune, why don’t we?

Well, it’s there if you’d like to…

Anyway, in researching the reactions to this song[1], I found out some interesting stuff about various reactions to it:

  • One Christian radio network played the song at half-speed and claimed Josie Cotton was a gay man trying to encourage other men to embrace homosexuality (!!);


  • The Advocate accused her of being a homophobe and the The Village Voice posed a question on its cover, ‘Josie, Are You A Bitch?’;


  • It has been claimed that many people were able to come to terms with their sexuality as a result of the song, including at least one self-confessed ‘gay rocker’, Adam Block;


  • Controversy re-ignited when a new version was remixed by a gay rap duo called Elephant – Josie Cotton was invited to New York Pride in 2010, while one of the original songwriters claimed the song was homophobic.


Some things just tend to naturally attract controversy, I guess…


The reason I offer this as prologue is because of a trend I have noticed in Metropolitan Community Churches these days. A notable number of clergy and lay leaders within MCC have been calling for a renewed emphasis on MCC as a ‘queer movement’, with some saying/writing this was an intent of the original movement as begun by the Rev Eder Troy Perry which has not been focused on as it should be in recent times. I have been part of at least one conversation in one of the leadership fora on Facebook for MCC leaders where a leader has asserted that leaders and members of MCC should embrace the label ‘queer’, in some way, as part of their identity. There was a morning Bible study at the most recent MCC General Conference which had as its focus ‘Queering the Bible’. In the congratulations which were offered recently for the latest group of ordinands in MCC, many people felt the need to highlight the importance of these new pastors-to-be as ‘queer clergy’.


And I’ve been thinking, ‘Uh, is there some kind of subtle (or not-so-subtle), unintentional (or not-so-unintentional) message being communicated to non-SGM persons like me?’


Let me make some things clear. I’m not an expert in queer theology, but I am aware of it and of its roots in liberation theology. I have read at least one of the significant works of one of its major thought leaders, the late Marcella Althaus-Reid[2]. I know that queer theology is a challenge to the Christian church to break out of heteronormative restraints and embrace understandings of God, Jesus, the Scriptures, and theological doctrines that come from below, specifically from the experience of sexual and gender minorities. This is the natural outgrowth of any theology which genuinely sets to liberate.

I’m also aware that the word ‘queer’ has definite overtones of sexual identity and/or gender expression in the community we serve. For many from older generations, it still has the sting of an expletive, meant to demean and degrade. For younger persons, it is a word which is being reclaimed as a source of power and strength. Nonetheless, it is a word which is historically based in non-heterosexual, non-cisgender expressions and identities.

I’m also familiar with the notion of the ‘straight queer / queer heterosexual’[3]. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this means. I find it quite confusing. I can make some claim to being queer because I like to cook? There is some ‘queerness’ in my advocacy for sexual and gender minorities? I have expressed forms of friendly affection with a variety of persons on the sexual orientation and gender spectra – but does this require that I take on the ‘queer’ label?

Why should I have to take on ANY label to sufficiently ‘pass’ within my faith community? The only reason I can think of to do this is if Metropolitan Community Churches is going to make the transition from being a fellowship of Christian churches to being a type of ‘queer movement’, a phrase which I have heard in one form or other recently. It may very well be that MCC will transition into an ‘Association of Metropolitan Communities’. In such a reality, it may very well be that ‘queerness’ will be the identifying feature that binds all members together. But for now, we are still a fellowship of Christian churches. In that context, it’s my baptism which is my ultimate identifier. All other monikers which I may claim for myself, or which others would try to foist on me, are secondary:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

I’ll do my best to speak for myself, but I believe it’s no more genuine for me to try to embrace the label ‘queer’ any more than it is for me as a white person to be singing in a black Gospel choir[4]. The African-American/black gospel/spiritual experience is rooted in the heritage of slavery and oppression, something which I as a white North American male have NEVER experienced – but it’s a situation which I see (sadly) many black Americans being dragged back into, through a combination of a lack of economic opportunities, police brutality, and an oppressive (in)justice system.

I believe Dora Mortimer is onto something when they write:

Queer means lots of things to lots of different people. Its definition defies any meaning that is pinned to it. For many, it is a political persuasion as well as a sexual one…(However), (f)or someone who is homosexual and queer, a straight person identifying as queer can feel like choosing to appropriate the good bits, the cultural and political cache, the clothes and the sound of gay culture, without the laugh riot of gay-bashing, teen shame, adult shame, shame-shame, and the internalized homophobia of lived gay experience.[5]

I am a cisgender, heterosexual man of European heritage, married to a woman. I have also walked down the streets of Wonju (my hometown in South Korea) hand-in-hand with my best Korean friend, another cisgender heterosexual man. In my friendships and my pastoral practice, I regularly share signs of affection with gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and non-binary/genderfluid persons. What the hell does that make ME?!

I remember reading a review of the movie Boy Meets Girl, where Ricky, a transgender woman in small-town Kentucky, has a romantic encounter with Francesca, an almost stereotypical southern belle engaged to an American Marine on duty in Afghanistan. After their first moment together, Francesca tries to make sense of what this means to her. The review recounts the scene like this:

The sweet crux of the movie can be summed up in one back-and-forth between Francesca and Ricky after their first romantic encounter. Francesca wonders aloud if falling for a woman with a penis means she’s gay. “It has to make me something,” she says. Ricky doesn’t skip a beat: “Human?” she replies.[6]

It would be very easy to fall into a very facile, Tucker Carlson-esque ‘Everybody’s human’ or ‘All lives matter’ schtick. If we’re going to use those expressions, we need to very clear about who we’re including under ‘all lives’, and who is truly ‘human’. Talking about being ‘human’ or to talk about ‘lives that matter’ is worthless unless I’m willing to include the entire length and breadth of humanity. That includes racial diversity, including those of multiple ethnicities; everyone from rich to the poorest of the poor; and the entire rainbow of sexualities, gender identities and expressions, and relationship statuses. Anything less is without meaning.

With this in mind, I still must claim room for my voice, as a cisgender, heterosexual man of European heritage. It is only one voice among many, but it is A voice which still deserves to be heard, especially in a church context where all those who are part of the covenant community are equally important. And just because I express myself in ways which do not fit within a stereotypical ‘macho’ male style, that doesn’t mean I have to take on a label which simply doesn’t feel right to me.

In conclusion, then, to answer the question posed in the title, ‘Craig-ey, are you queer?’ I answer, ‘No, and I don’t need to be. I am a voice among the many voices which make up the rich tapestry of humankind. I know other many other voices, especially those from the margins, need to be listened to, and I am committed to making room for those voices, even if it means I need to be reminded to stand aside for a while. But there are also times when it’s right for me to speak my truth, and I’ll do it when the time and the occasion merit it.’

[1] In Fitzharris, D (2010, August 22) Catching Up With Josie Cotton. In Out [online], retrieved 24 August 2019 from https://www.out.com/entertainment/2010/08/22/catching-josie-cotton; and Rockwell, ‘Confessions of a Gay Rocker, in Cateforis, T, The Rock History Reader, (New York: Routledge, 2007), pp. 185-92.

[2] Althaus-Reid (2003). The Queer God. London: Routledge.

[3] One expression of this can be found in Smith, C (1997) ‘How I Became A Queer Heterosexual’, a paper presented at “Beyond Boundaries,” An International Conference on Sexuality, University of Amsterdam, July 29-Aug 1, 1997

[4] I have personally witnessed this in at least one case, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

[5] Mortimer, D (2016, 10 February). Can Straight People Be Queer? In Vice [online]. Retrieved 25 June 2019 from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/avy9vz/can-straight-people-be-queer-435.

[6] Merry, S (2015, February 12). ‘Boy Meets Girl’ movie review: A small-town transgender love story. The Washington Post [online]. Retrieved 20 February 2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/boy-meets-girl-movie-review-a-small-town-transgender-love-story/2015/02/11/d8ff2e1e-ae32-11e4-9c91-e9d2f9fde644_story.html?utm_term=.c9a4c568cf09.


Going Where We May Not Want To Go (A Letter to My Congregation)


I usually don’t recycle sermons for this blog, but I thought I’d make an exception in this case. Many in my congregation have been away from church this past Sunday, and I thought I would adapt my sermon from last Sunday as a blog post here. It holds particular relevance for us who are awaiting the 2019 Seoul Queer Culture Festival, but if anyone else is reading this at a time when you’re not sure what you should be doing in a particular situation, especially where you may expect confrontation or somethings adversarial, you might find it hellpful. Happy Reading!

Dear fellow partners in ministry at Open Doors MCC,

As you know, I’ve posted concerning the death of Rachel Held Evans. This past week, we’ve also marked the death of Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community in France, which became the L’Arche network of communities supporting those with developmental disabilities.  

He was the son of a decorated Canadian military officer from Quebec, Georges Vanier, who was appointed as only the second native-born and the first Quebecois governor general of Canada. Jean, his son, first sought purpose through military service in the Canadian Navy, and then through academia, when he earned a doctorate in philosophy and taught at St. Michael’s College of the University of Toronto.

In 1964, he made a radical decision – he left his teaching position in Canada, moved to a village in France caled Trosly-Breuil, bought a house, and invited two men with developmental disabilities who had been living in institutions to live with him. Other formerly institutionalized persons joined him, other persons came to serve as assistants to them, and it became known as LArche, ‘The Ark’. L’Arche homes and communities are now found throughout the world. He received many honors throughout his life, including the Order of Canada, the Legion of Honor of France, and in 2015, the Templeton Prize. Negative evaluations of his work are rare – in my research for this sermon, I found only one.

The interesting thing to me is that Jean Vanier and Rachel Held Evans, although from different countries, living and dying in different situations and circumstances, gained the same expressions of love and grief. I’ve been thinking about why this is the case. It has to do with more than their fame, or Jean Vanier’s universal admiration, or Rachel Held Evans’ widowed husband and orphaned children.

I’d like to suggest that in both cases, they offered the prospect of relationships with other people. Jean Vanier founded a profoundly successful movement to create communities for disabled persons because its basis was not charity or doing for others – it was about being in community with them, that in assisting them that one could learn from them and find a new way of looking at the world and themselves. In her own way, when Rachel Held Evans was in debate or discussion with those with whom she disagreed, she held out the invitation to relationship, not to confrontation. As her friends and co-founders of the Evolving Faith conference, Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu, wrote so eloquently in their tribute to her in the Washington Post, she should not be remembered as a rebel or a renegade, someone who was ‘against’ something. She was ‘for’ so much – for people, for expressing oneself, for giving, for honesty. As one ‘Bible teacher’ put it, ‘in an era of gross hypocrisy, she was alarmingly honest.’ Maybe that was how she was able to go into places and situations that many of us would avoid.

This ability to offer relationship instead of confrontation or judgment is what I see in two of the readings from last Sunday’s lectionary selections from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel According to John.

We commonly know these readings as ‘the conversion of Saul/Paul’ (Acts 9:1-20) and ‘the restoration of Peter’ (John 21). Well, in the light of the loss of these people who were beacons of the light of faith, I view these stories differently. One made the point that Jesus wasn’t offering Peter forgiveness or a restored position of leadership. He started by offering a renewed relationship – a meal, breakfast, which the risen Jesus prepares, and offers without conditions. As that meal is shared, the relationship is renewed with a simple question: ‘Do you love me?’ That love will lead Simon Peter, Cephas, into some dangerous situations, but it will ultimately allow him to make real the new life that is found in following Jesus.

Likewise, Saul’s calling (not really his conversion) also leads the disciple Ananias to into a situation which he views as dangerous: ‘God, you’re asking me to go to one of our mortal enemies?’ Yet, it is by going to that situation and being willing to engage Saul not as adversary, but as a potential new sibling, that leads to new life for this man who was once a persecutor of the people of the Way.

So, in the light of the examples of Rachel Held Evans (especially) and Jean Vanier, and as you’ve read in my previous post, I’ve decided that my place at the Seoul Queer Culture Festival is not on the festival grounds, but among those whom we would consider our adversaries, and who would consider us ‘enemies of the cross’ – not to denounce or deny, or to meet a fist with a fist, but simply to have conversations, to ask, to understand what it is that drives them to take the stands they take, to take the actions they take, to say the things they say.

Now, that’s where I believe I need to be this year. I won’t tell you where you should be in SQCF this year, but whatever you decide, try to be in the places where you can make or renew relationships, perhaps by helping out at the booth of another group, or by walking in the parade, or by talking to people about this gathering place. Be salt, be light, be yeast – be the presence that brings a new flavor, or illumination, or a new place of growth in people’s lives. That’s how we will be the most effective at SQCF this year, by engaging in relationship with others. That’s how we will bring the light of our Good News into the world.

Waiting for Brigadoon?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I must sincerely apologize. I misread the list of groups given booth space at the SQCF Pride Parade day. The Dding Dong LGBT Youth Crisis Center HAS been granted booth space, and I have amended my original post to reflect this. Again, my apologies for any misunderstanding caused, and best wishes to Dding Dong this year.

That being corrected, please read on:

I’ve been dealing with a significant disappointment in the last few weeks.

Open Doors MCC’s application for a booth at the Seoul Queer Culture Festival (SQCF) Pride Parade Day was unsuccessful, and for the first time in our history, we will not be officially present there.

I was angry enough to spit nails at first, I readily admit that. My congregation was not in favor of issuing a statement indicating disappointment, so I didn’t – that was probably a good decision, since I was too close to my anger and hurt to be constructive. Some friends have tried to convince me that it was not a rejection of us; others have said ‘Saying anything will just make things worse’. I also understand that the Organizing Committee for SQCF has been on the receiving end of some real vitriol from people representing groups who have been part of the Parade Day in the past and are not this year.

I will have no part whatsoever in threats of violence or directionless rage – it’s pointless and makes a mockery of any genuine feelings of disappointment. However, the fact remains that, for reasons I am not privy to, the SQCF Organizing Committee did not deem it appropriate to grant ODMCC booth space. Now that my original anger has mostly subsided, I believe I’m in a space where I can take a critical look at what the net effect of all this is. I don’t mean just criticize, although I will be making some pointed observations concerning what has happened. I mean to take an evaluative look at the situation as I see it, in terms of how it affects me, my community of faith, and the SGM (sexual and gender minorities) communities of Korea, particularly Seoul.

What you about to read may upset you. Some of you may question my right to express any view: ‘Who are you, cisgender, white, heterosexual, married, European heritage, man, to say anything about this? Go back to your corner of privilege!’

I can’t and I won’t. I have invested too much energy and time advocating for SGM persons, not only through my church work, but also by attending countless events for assorted groups held by SGM communities, both in Seoul and in other cities. If I’ve known about it and been able to go, I’ve tried to be there! Participants in our faith community, past and present, have expressed their appreciation to me that we have provided a safe place for them to have a spiritual life. I witnessed on behalf of an inclusive faith in the presence of a so-called ‘Christian’ political party, where I was shouted at and had fingers pushed in my chest. I went to the opening event of SQCF 2015, when there was a debate going on in the community as to whether people should come, and some leaders in the community were saying, ‘Don’t come’. I’ve held my spiritual ground while people have yelled at me (in English, so I would get the point) that I’m going to hell. I’ve marched in every Pride Parade at every Queer Festival I’ve been part of. I’ve been there in fair weather and foul.

Last year I led ceremonies of blessing of relationships when, as far as I know, no other affirming faith community was doing it. By the way, I profoundly disagree with the journalist who suggested to me that this action wasn’t that important because we didn’t call them ‘weddings.’ Poppycock, say I! Last year I held back an anti-Parade protester who was attempting to deface a parade truck while I screamed at police, ‘Get this guy off the parade route!’ To use Bruce Cockburn’s words, ‘I’ve proven who I am so many times the magnetic strip’s worn thin.[1]

Now, what do I see happening with the SQCF Parade Day this year? Well, whether they realize it or not, the Organizing Committee have made choices about what will be highlighted in the SGM community in Seoul. Many people simply aren’t aware of other events considered part of the SQCF. For many people, what they see on Pride Parade Day will be all they experience. What has been highlighted in the selection of booths is predominately Korean-speaking. In terms of direct advocacy groups, I’m glad to see legal, transgender, and parents of SGM persons (PFLAG Korea) included this year, including Dding Dong, the support center for SGM teens. There are some religious organizations, and some international human rights organizations, but they’re all being channeled through a Korean lens. ‘Well, use Korean!’ I’ve heard people say. I understand where they’re coming from. However, even if I were perfectly bilingual (which I’m not), English would still be my first language to talk to God in, to discuss matters of Spirit, and to talk about rights. English is also the ‘lingua franca’ between most of the expat/migrant groups here.

This year, though, for English-speakers, who have been ardent and supportive allies of/accomplices with the SGM communities here, there are two groups which reflect them – a burlesque group and an English-speaking queer/trans group, led by a well-known activist who has done very important performance art and drag performances here. Now let me say clearly – burlesque, performance art, and drag are all important parts of a positive, sexuality-affirming, pro-SGM scene. But is it the whole scene? Call it ‘sour grapes’ if you wish, but as far as I’m concerned, what the Organizing Committee has constructed, intentionally or not, is incomplete.

A more interesting point about all this, though, was raised by a friend who expressed their shock over and disagreement with the Organizing Committee’s decision to not grant booth space to ODMCC. They raised the question, ‘What has the Parade Day become?’ This is from an SGM person who is a veteran attendee of several festivals, who has seen it grow to the levels it has reached of over 100,000 attendees.

Well what HAS it become? Let’s consider that. For safety reasons, the booths have to be in an enclosed space – fair enough, the security is needed. However, does this enclosed space create a situation where SGM people and those who support them wait for the one day of the year when they can be who they are? And do SGM persons end up thinking that’s the only day they have?

That’s why I use the legend of Brigadoon, the legend of a Scottish village which appears only once every 100 years, as a metaphor. I’ve been an ardent defender of the ‘safe space’ concept. I’ve said in the past: ‘Most people in the SGM communities of Korea spend the other 364 days of the year in fear – fear of being fired from their jobs, shunned by their families and friends, evicted from their homes, excommunicated from their faith communities, and kicked out of their schools. Thank goodness they have this one day to celebrate and be comfortable being who they are, as social, spiritual, political, and sexual beings.’ I still accept that as being a good thing. But if this becomes the only day of the year when that happens, does the Festival Ground become a type of unreal place where for a few hours people can dress up in costume, celebrate being themselves, meet up with similar people, and then go back to their hiding places for the rest of the year? If that is happening to any degree, the SQCF is in danger of becoming a queer version of Brigadoon. If that IS happening, we need to ask what the Parade Day should be accomplishing.

Well, what SHOULD it accomplish? I would hope it can be a place where that safe environment empowers people, so that they are able to ‘come out’, even if it is to one trusted person, and say, ‘Here I am. This is me.’ I would hope it’s a place where people are empowered by networking with others to act and pressure government and organizations to increase the safety and legal standing of SGM persons throughout this country. I would hope this happens in many places at the festival. I would also hope that this can be a place where we act in ways which challenge those who would marginalize the SGM community – that’s what I think we at ODMCC did last year with the blessing ceremonies we held. If these things aren’t happening, the Pride Parade Day of SQCF is in danger of fulfilling the dictionary definition of Brigadoon: ‘a place that is idyllic, unaffected by time, or remote from reality.[2]

I am also aware that the Organizing Committee has organized a ‘Pink Dot’ event for the night before, modeled after similar events in Singapore, offering groups that weren’t accepted at the main festival a chance to have a booth at a pre-event. I suppose there might be a purpose to this, but it should also be remembered that in Singapore, ‘Pink Dot’ is THE LGBT+ event of the year. In other places that have held ‘Pink Dots’, my research indicates they have been single events in larger festivals or ‘Pride Months’. To me, ‘Pink Dot Seoul’ was not presented this way. It appeared to be marketed like a ‘consolation prize’ or even an ‘afterthought’ – ‘well, we don’t think you fit in the main festival, but you can have a guaranteed spot in the “pre-event.”’ It reminds me of what Sir Bobby Robson used to call the UEFA Cup in European football, a competition for clubs that weren’t league champions – ‘the Losers’ Cup’.

People are free to disagree with me, and we can discuss/debate/dialogue concerning the issues which the organization of this year’s SQCF raises. Maybe improvements will be made for next year, or maybe we’ll have the same or worse problems this year. Nonetheless, I raise these questions so that people will think about them and talk about them. Yet, I’m still left with a question: what should I do this year?

If my ministry is not meant to be in the Festival Grounds this year, maybe a better place for me might be outside the gates, meeting with people, especially with those who would consider me an enemy, and inviting them to actually have a conversation about what concerns them and what concerns me. This has been on my mind a lot as I mourn the loss of Rachel Held Evans, the American Christian writer who was unafraid to engage the defenders – ‘the white dudes’, as she called them – of the traditional American evangelical scene she was raised in and eventually needed to leave behind (she was also pro-LGBT+).

Maybe my place is in that much riskier, perhaps more dangerous, place. Perhaps I and the people I hope to talk to won’t agree on much, and I might even need to find a police officer to ensure my safety. However, my response might be the response of the Buddhist monk in Seven Psychopaths when he is told, just as he is about to set himself on fire, ‘This won’t improve our situation.’ He answers, ‘It might.’

[1] From ‘Pacing the Cage’, on the album The Charity of Night (True North/Rounder, 1996).

[2] In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary [online]. Accessed 30 April 2019 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Brigadoon.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I must sincerely apologize. I misread the list of groups given booth space at the SQCF Pride Parade day. The Dding Dong LGBT Youth Crisis Center HAS been granted booth space, and I have amended my original post to reflect this. Again, my apologies for any misunderstanding caused, and best wishes to Dding Dong this year.

In Memoriam: Rachel Held Evans (June 8, 1981 – May 4, 2019)

rachel held evans

I’m heartbroken.

Rachel Held Evans could not survive the reaction she had to antibiotic treatment for influenza and died yesterday.

Her journey from unquestioning conservative faith to being a ‘done’ to a modern, questioning faith is an example to anyone that it IS possible to do the same. She proved that you don’t have to throw out the wineskins with the wine. She demonstrated it’s possible to have a new faith which doesn’t have all the answers but can still help give one’s life shape, purpose, and meaning. She did it with humor and wit, and without malice or hatred. Just in reading her, I could sense her big heart. And yes, she evolved to embracing an affirming stance for SGM persons.  I recommend any of her books to you as important reading if you’re wondering whether faith is possible in this time.

As far as I’m concerned, we have lost one of the great Teachers of the Church of the 21st century. A light has gone out, our world is a little dimmer for it, and it is our duty to shine more brightly to make up for it.

Loss, Part 2

‘A part of my soul has left me.’ – Pierre Trudeau, on learning of the death of friend Gerard Pelletier

This may sound rather melodramatic, but I have reason for starting with that quote.

I experienced another ‘hail and farewell’ gathering for an expat friend of mine a little while back. I’ve been to many of these over the years, one of which was a moment of reconciliation and transformation for me (see The Stories of Women…), so much so that I call it ‘the time Easter came early for me’. This good-bye was certainly not as dramatic as that, but it has had an effect on me in that it represents an accumulation of the feelings of dis-ease that have been lurking under the surface of my psyche.

The person I said good-bye to was heading back to the US with her Korean husband and her two children. I sang with her in the local expat chorus and chamber choir. We still kept in touch after I finished my time with those choirs, and as we conversed about our lives, I found out that she has two uncles (I think) who are Lutheran pastors. I also found out that members of her family are gay. That made for an interesting faith dynamic for her, because she attended a new conservative evangelical church in Seoul. One time she told me she would have to take the pastor aside and ask him, ‘What is  your position on LGBT+ issues?’ I don’t know what or if it happened, but she kept going, so I’m assuming she was able to find some way to continue being part of that church.

The thing I’m most grateful for from her is when she learned about my MCC ordination in April last year. Out of the blue, she volunteered to sing a solo as a musical offering. This offering helped to make my ordination a very special event. I’ve never forgotten it.

It was wonderful to see her before she left, and I was able to wish her health and blessings. However, there seemed to be a cumulative melancholy/blue funk which I began to feel when I first found out she was leaving and hasn’t really left me since. There are other friends and colleagues who have left, and to whom I didn’t get to say good-bye. And since then, there are a couple more people who have left or are preparing to take the next step.

Now, people have left before, I’ve gone to their farewell parties, or at least had a chance to say good-bye to them. Why are these leave-takings getting to me like they haven’t before? It seems as though this farewell represents the beginning of the end of an era, an era in which I experienced Korea in a particular way. They also highlight the loss of contact with other friends, friends who, in some ways, became my family of choice in Korea. This includes the first Korean friend I made here. I got to know him before I met the woman who eventually became my wife. Through him, I met other people – my ‘musical friends’ (thanks for the reference, Bruce Cockburn) who provided a connection with many aspects of Korean musical culture – one of them went on to release albums and become a radio show host!

But for a while, it’s felt like there’s only me. Younger friends have grown up, had kids, become engrossed with elements of their home life, I’ve gotten more involved with Sunday and SGM stuff, and my oldest friend has had to pay a little  more attention to his health lately. Is this just a temporary funk, or does it signal that I need to make more significant changes to my life situation? I don’t know – I just sense that I need to sit with this solitude for a while and decide where the next direction for me is.

Loss, Part 1

Over the last couple of weeks, the SGM[1] community in Korea has been mourning the loss of an ally (I’ve come to dislike this word – but that’s another column!) who worked tirelessly on its behalf…

and I didn’t have good relationship with her.

She did a lot of good work, supported a lot of people, contributed to many causes, and worked really hard to make sure that people were not isolated or alone. In the university where she worked, she advocated tirelessly and endlessly for greater inclusion of sexual and gender minorities through its human rights committee; this extended to the professional organization for English teachers that she belonged to. She also suffered from depression, and in a period where the depths of despair appeared to be too much for her, she took her own life.

And I can hear you asking ‘What’s your problem?! This person sounds like a veritable saint! Why couldn’t you get along with her?’

Well, why don’t oil and water mix?

I wanted to have a good relationship. We corresponded on Facebook, I went to a couple of events at the university where she taught, I became part of a group for SGM teachers. However, when I made certain comments which lampooned the current American president, or used a term which referred to an aspect of fascist government I thought to be parallel to the actions of the current government, she reacted quite negatively.

I consider questions of ‘who was right/wrong’ to be unhelpful. I honestly can’t see how the comments I made were inappropriate, given the nature of the current American administration. I accept that she didn’t hear or view them in this way. However (and I know there are those who will disagree with me violently), I’ve concluded that what I experienced in these run-ins was someone taking herself too seriously. And in my experience, the worst thing you can do in many situations is take yourself too seriously!

It got to the point where I felt the need to keep this person at a distance, so I un-followed her on Facebook. I didn’t banish her completely from my social network circle, but I needed to keep her at arms’ length. I wasn’t alone. I have heard of at least one additional person who had a falling out with her. Regardless, what precious few of us knew was of her struggle with depression. And fewer of us knew the depths to which her last downward trajectory would go. I realize there is some debate around whether Winston Churchill suffered from mental illness[2], but there is little doubt that he would be wary of the visits of his downward mood swings which he termed ‘the black dog’, apparently so much so that he would be wary of where he stood on train platforms:

‘I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand back and, if possible, get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.'[3]

This person’s death has hit a lot of people hard, especially one person who has had a terrible start to their year. They’ve endured loss and trauma (I mean, trauma) in the past twelve months. Coming out as non-binary has led to their being excluded and discriminated by many people, especially the SGM community in Seoul, that they hardly get involved anymore. They were looking forward to having a friend in whom to confide when they moved at the beginning of this year – and that friend is around no more.

These and other stories make it clear that there’s a good reason we don’t speak ill of the dearly departed. Whatever issues I may have had, and no matter how justified I may have been in keeping this person at a distance, that doesn’t matter. What’s more important is honoring the work she did and the lives she touched, as well as caring for those who are affected by her loss whenever and wherever I can.

More importantly, I can follow her example, an example I never really appreciated until now. It seems to me that her work for expat English teachers and for SGMs was endless and public. When it came to the debate around SGM issues in Korea, there was no mistaking which side she was on! It reminded me of a point made by Brittany Ware, the 2018 Ware Lecturer at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly:

‘(An) ally tends to be a self- congratulating, temporary presence, that makes a sometimes effort for something they sometimes care about. Sometimes an ally shows up, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes an ally listens, sometimes they paternalize. Sometimes an ally takes action, sometimes an ally just talks about taking action. Accomplices, on the other hand, choose the risk even though they don’t have to. They’re willing to lay their bodies and reputations and security on the line because they know that’s the only way to properly leverage their privilege. Accomplices stick around. Accomplices are in it for the long haul…’[4]

I think it’s time for me to take a look at my own activism, or lack of it, and ask, ‘Have I been an accomplice? If supporting the SGM community were a crime, would there be enough evidence in my own life that my only option would be to say, “By God, I’m guilty!”?’

I pray that I may have the grace to live a life and exhibit a witness worthy of being an accomplice!

[1] As I’ve written before, the acronym SGMs (Sexual and Gender Minorities) seems much more manageable than the LGBBTTQQIAA, etc, etc acronym that seems to have no end!
[2] Compare, for example, Ghaemi,M (2015, 24 January) Winston Churchill and his ‘black dog’ of greatness, in The Conversation [online] (accessed 6 February 2019 at http://theconversation.com/winston-churchill-and-his-black-dog-of-greatness-36570) and Breckenridge, C (2012) The Myth of the “Black Dog”, Finest Hour: the Journal of Winston Churchill 155, pp. 28-31.
[3] Alluded to in Breckenridge (2012) and quoted from Churchill: Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran, in Ghaemi (2015)
[4] Unitarian Universalist Association (2018-19), WARE LECTURE BY BRITTANY PACKNETT, GENERAL ASSEMBLY 2018, in Unitarian Universalist Association [online]. Accessed 28 August 2018 at https://www.uua.org/ga/past/2018/ware.