Blog Walk: Whistler, or "The Possibility of Transformation is the Essence of Hope" - John Ortberg

Angel and I went to Whistler, B.C. last weekend with Angel's mom (Kathy) while she was here from Ohio for a visit:

We didn't take many pictures, but we did go on a walk that was a nice opportunity for personal reflection along the lines of what I'm committing to in my OSS membership. (If you're wondering how that's going, it's taking steps along the way. The project is now being 'protected' by our Bishop, I'm meeting w/my spiritual director this Wednesday and will talk about mentorship, and I'll be trolling for interested individuals at our big party this weekend.) It was a generally mellow hike whose destination was Cheakamus lake, which is the only place where we got out the camera:

I wasn't in a particularly talkative mood that day (as usual, I suppose), so I spent a good chunk of the time (rudely?) walking ahead and thinking about my Multifaith Works experience (the place where I work/volunteer and spend my time trying to be a friend--and encouraging others to be friends--to people who are disabled and/or isolated by AIDS). I've had a lot of occasion to reflect on that lately, with 1) getting laid off, 2) attending my friend's birthday party, whose health is in slow but visible decline and 3) helping with the organization of a 'retirement' party yesterday for one of the founders of the Careteam movement, and our long-time program director/advisor Trudy James (who at some point deserves a post and a raving Wikipedia entry). The theme that came up on the walk, and keeps coming up, is transformation.

As a direct result of my involvement with the organization/movement, I spent Saturday night eating birthday cake and talking about cats and sexuality with several old lesbians and a gay male or two, some transgendered folk, a person who marched at Stonewall, and someone who worked at the Kinsey Institute in the early 1970's. After the event, my friend pulled me aside and asked me if the conversation had made me uncomfortable, and I am now surprised to say that I was caught off guard by the question, because (I'm not trying to establish my white-liberal street cred by saying that) I hadn't actually thought twice about it. My response to the question was, that "One of the things I love about the Multifaith experience is that it brings you into meaningful contact with people who you never would have otherwise interacted with, and I love hearing your stories." The principle that lies behind that sentiment is transformation: 5 years ago straight-white-midwestern me would have been scared to death of these people, and would have interpreted their stories through the categories of sin and salvation. 3 years ago they would have made me extremely uncomfortable and self-conscious. Now they're just people--members of a social group that I've stepped into under the auspices of 'help' and have become a part of, at least tangentially.

Yesterday Trudy seeded my thinking about the connection between faith and this transformation with a really interesting point about the paradoxical relationship between religion and homosexuality. Through this work, one finds that the same religious systems that sanctify the ostracization of others based on their sexual persuasion or lifestyle choices also lead individuals to pursue compassion and serve the people they view as sinners. It's true, too. My bias against gay people probably originally arose culturally in small town Ohio, but I'm sure that it wouldn't have hung around as long as it did if I weren't a committed Christian. On the flip side of things, I connected with Multifaith through a church, and now I interpret that work as one of the most important expressions of faith in my current life--a connection to the poor, sick and forgotten following the model of Jesus. You could argue that my religion now is something different from what it was then (fair enough), but the truth is that from the early days many religious people have been entering this work as conservatives in relation to sexuality, and volunteers still come to us from across the religious spectrum. I think that the healthiest of us make the transition to reconcile our belief systems with the realities of human sexuality, but not everyone (not even every good volunteer) comes out of this experience thinking "It's okay to be gay/lesbian/bi/trans/etc." Religion is a truly mixed bag when it comes to sexuality and our relationships with other human beings, along with all other human endeavors.

I'm genuinely disappointed to be leaving Multifaith Works as an employee (particularly so shortly after having started there), but the transition has at least encouraged some disciplined reflection on how valuable my experiences with the organization have been. And, if there's one thing I've come out of this experience with, it's a belief in the importance of community. That's why I need to get off of the internet and use my day off to do some interacting with the world of the physical.

As a parting thought, here's a final shot of Cheakamus Lake, very similar to the first two, one of my 'new liminal places', which I'll probably talk about more in the near-blog future.


wes said…
Transformers? John Ortberg? i.e, The Family t-shirt of '00?
tim said…
That's the one. I still like the quote.
tim said…
that i forced you guys to let me put on the shirts
tim said…
with the cheesy christianized transformers logo
wes said…
I'm glad I could take you back 8 years.

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