By Stephen J. Zwettler
“Solidarity With the Marginalized Especially Our LGBT Sisters and Brothers”
It is good to be together on this beautiful autumn day to celebrate the Eucharist and to support each other in prayer. I am always moved by the beauty of the two maple trees at the top of the parking lot when I pull into the Monastery grounds-such brilliant red and orange and golds. What a gift for us!
Many of you know that in preaching I often lean on the arts to provide strong images that connect with the Scriptures and give flesh to their meaning in real life. Today is no different-for the performing and visual arts-music, dance, poetry literature, painting, the theatre and film all bring meaning, wisdom, inspiration and healing to our human experience. So a story from the theatre today to connect with our scripture.
In 1980 a powerful play called the “Elephant Man” came to Broadway. It was later made into a movie starring John Hurt. The play is set in the late 1890’s in England and it is the true story of John Merrick, a young man suffering from a rare and unusual disease commonly known as “Elephantitis.”The disease is very grotesque in its symptoms, creating huge tumors on the legs, arms, chest, and often on the face of the person rendering the person extremely deformed and frightening to view. The story portrays Merrick’s journey from isolation, loneliness and fear to claiming his innate goodness and humanity.
One powerful scene from the movie takes place in the train station in London. Merrick has just been integrated into society by a caring doctor and saved from the traveling circus freak show. John is returning to London from a trip to the countryside and he gets off the train and is confronted by a group of bullying teenage boys who begin to abuse him verbally. They chase him, they throw stones at him, they spit on him. They corner him in the men’s room of the train station and beat him with sticks. He is struggling to breathe as he holds onto the water pipe of the urinal on the wall.
But he suddenly gathers his strength and wheels about and faces his tormentors and screams with all of his passion and might: “I AM SOMEBODY. I AM A HUMAN BEING!”
He frightens the boys away by his screaming and the force of his grotesque face and is left panting on the floor of the men’s room as the scene ends.
I remember sitting in the theatre and being so moved by this scene. I found his scream to be a Primal Scream for everyone who in our society who is abused, or victimized or isolated or violated because they are different.
“I AM A HUMAN BEING.” “I AM A HUMAN BEING.”
This Sunday in October, we here at Holy Wisdom Monastery annually celebrate “Solidarity Sunday”-a time when we unite ourselves with Christian Communities throughout our country in proclaiming our Solidarity with our Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bi-sexual brothers and sisters in their struggle for justice, equality and wholeness in the Human Community.
Today, we say loudly and clearly, that Holy Wisdom Monastery and the Sunday Assembly strive to be welcoming communities for all of our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community. This is said not in charity (although charity is always important), but our of justice, which is a cutting demand of the Scriptures and our Faith. And even more simply-because we are human beings together on this journey of life.
All are welcome at Holy Wisdom. As the Rule of Benedict so clearly states: “Welcome All As Christ.” And as the words of Jesus, which are chiseled in stone above the outside entrance to this chapel state: “That all may be One.”
Our Scriptures today are powerful indeed as often is the case I find a conundrum. Namely, that there is so much upon which to reflect and we cannot deal with everything the Scriptures offer us today. The Gospel today about the rich young man and the cost of discipleship deserves great attention, yet, God forgive me, but I am going to leave the gospel behind and focus on the Prophet Amost, in light of Solidarity Sunday.
Amos, the prophet, delivers a scathing attack in the first reading against the social injustices of his time. He lived in a time in Israel’s history when an oppressive social pyramid had been constructed and the poor were being victimized by the powerful and rich.
He calls us from ages ago to: “Seek good and not Evil-that you may live!” He challenges us to “Hate evil and to love Good and to establish justice at the gate.”
The call from Amos to hate evil, to love the Good and establish justice can take many forms in our society today—–and it certainly pertains to the issue of Justice, Equality and Wholeness for our LGBT brothers and sisters who have been violated, hated, abused and tormented for centuries by both Society and unfortunately by Religion and the Churches.
So Today, I would like to make three brief comments that I believe need to be made regarding Justice and Equality for our Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Bi-Sexual Sisters and Brothers:
- All are created in the Image and Likeness of God. This is a basic teaching and premise of our Judaeo-Christian tradition. There is a spark of Divinity in each of us and as a result, all are to be cherished. We may be different in race, creed, sexual orientation, gender, physical or intellectual abilities-but all are children of a loving God, and make up the Broken Body of Christ. ALL ARE SACRED!
- As a Christian Community We need to consistently challenge and deny the false and literal interpretation of Scripture which has been used by Christian Churches to condemn Gays, Lesbians, Transgender and Bi-sexual brothers and sisters for centuries. This interpretation of Scripture has promoted hatred, violence, murder and fear and is an Evil which must be contested over and over again. So, for example, while I applaud Kim Davis, the country clerk in Kentucky, who refused to sign marriage licenses of Gays and Lesbians, for her courage to be civilly disobedient for her beliefs-I reject and abhor her theology! The Word of God cannot provide justification for hatred, violence, fear and abuse of others!
- As Christians, we are called in Justice and Love to do all we can to stop the Verbal and Physical Violence done in our culture to our Brothers and Sisters who are Gay, Lesbian, Trans-Gender or Bi-sexual. I sometimes wonder-and cannot begin to imagine-the pain and suffering which many of you present her this morning, LGBT members of Holy Wisdom, have suffered in your journey toward wholeness and integrity. I often wonder what your story is—and what your journey has been like? Today, we acknowledge your Courage-and hear your pain-and walk with you as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Three weeks ago, a young teenage boy named Skylar Lee, a student at West High School, committed suicide in Rennebohm Park, just a few blocks from where my wife Barbara and I live. He was a transgender teenager who died of clinical depression. But I wonder what was the root of that depression? I can only imagine the pain, the suffering, the isolation and the loneliness and confusion Skylar must have experienced as a result of his sexual orientation. The pain runs deep. Studies show that LGBT teenagers are 3 times more likely to commit suicide that heterosexual teenagers. The pain is profound. The pain is real. And the pain is close to home. We can in little ways, help to stop the violence toward our LGBT sisters and Brothers.
So, today, on this Solidarity Sunday, we proclaim our commitment to walk with our LGBT Sisters and Brothers in their struggle for Justice and Equality. We say loudly and with pride, that “Together We are Human Beings. We are somebody. And we are the Body of Christ.”
I leave you with the words of the famous spiritual writer Thomas Merton, from one of his books. He comments on the virtue of Compassion: “The whole idea of Compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of human beings together-which are all part of one another and involved in one another.”
Indeed, we are Human Beings. We are part of one another in Christ. And we must care for one another.
I wish you God’s Peace.