Saturday, October 31, 2015

Keeping the Hallow in Halloween

Dr. Durrell’s Spiritual Prescriptions

Keeping the Hallow in Halloween
A “hallow” is an archaic noun for someone or something considered holy. So, Halloween (a shortened version of All Hallows Eve) is the night before the celebration of All Saints (“All Hallows”) Day in the western Christian tradition.
Of course, the evening before All Saints Day is hallowed in its own right. In Celtic traditions, Samhain (October 31st) is about the midpoint between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It marks the end of the harvest season as people prepare for the upcoming winter. Festivals would include bon fires as a reminder that the warmth and renewal of spring would follow the dark, cold winter.
Samhain (pronounced “Sow-en”) was also a time when the barrier between this world and whatever might lie beyond this life was porous, so spirits could cross from the other world into ours (or so suggested the legends).
Since disembodied spirits could slip through the barrier between worlds on Samhain, people would have feasts and invite the spirits to attend (buttering them up perhaps so they wouldn’t be too mischievous), costumes became part of the celebrations as well (to hide one’s true identity from the spirits in order to prevent future haunting). It was a time of preparing for the harshness of winter, remembering that the abundant life of spring would follow, building community, celebrating life, and even remembering the dearly departed. It was a special, even sacred time.
There are spiritual communities today that still think of Samhain/Halloween as a sacred, hallowed night.
Of course, from a secular viewpoint, Halloween is a time to play, to wear costumes and give candy to children, to enjoy block parties and “haunted houses” and scary movies. It’s become a time of revelry and imagination.
But for me, there is one more reason that Halloween is a special time, an empowering time, a hallowed occasion. Halloween is for many an LBGT Holy Day!
Halloween for Queer folk is a time of theatrically, performance, gender-bending, political expression, overt sexuality, and community revelry. From Dallas to San Francisco to New York to Wilton Manors, I’ve seen some of the most joyous, creative, and life-affirming demonstrations imaginable on Halloween.
Halloween has for decades now brought LBGT people “out” to show the world our flair, our energy, our zest for life. Before National Coming Out Day and LBGT History Month and Gay Pride celebrations in cities of every size, Halloween provided LBGT people an opportunity to laugh, to gather, to create something over the top and utterly fabulous, and to invite the world to watch us celebrate the sacred energy we release into the world.
There is something magical about Halloween. It isn’t that mysterious really, or even scary in my view; it is an opportunity to celebrate life, to express appreciation for gifts of creativity and joy, and even to remember those who no longer occupy physical space but who are very much alive in our blessed memories. Halloween is hallowed indeed, not only because it helps us face darkness and uncertainty with flair and glee, but because it reminds us that in this moment we are very much alive and that is something worth celebrating indeed.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

written for the Florida Agenda

Monday, October 12, 2015

October Calls Us to be Angels in our World

Holy October
             October has become a month that encourages us to celebrate human potential. October challenges us to remember heroes so that we might discover heroic qualities in ourselves. October even calls us to work for justice where justice has been denied. October is a very special month!
            There is a national holiday in October: Columbus Day. However, we now know that it is problematic to celebrate Christopher Columbus as the “discoverer” of North America, since Leif Ericson reached our continent 500 years before Columbus did, and the continent had been inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years. So, Johnny-Come-Lately Columbus was the second European to visit a long inhabited continent. Worse than the inaccuracy of calling Columbus the discoverer of North America, is Columbus’ own brutality. When Columbus landed in the Bahamas he and his crew were treated well by the native residents. Columbus rewarded their decency by seizing their land and enslaving them.
Now many of us call what has been known as Columbus Day, “Indigenous Peoples Day” to honor the peaceful people Columbus first encountered and soon betrayed and tormented. Indigenous Peoples Day reminds us to honor the peace lovers, to value kindness and generosity, and to speak out against injustice.
October is also LBGT History Month where we celebrate heroes from our beautiful and diverse Queer community. We honor such luminaries as lesbian Jane Addams (co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and first American woman Nobel Peace Prize winner), Miriam Ben-Shalom (discharged from the Army in the 1970s for being gay but she won a long court battle which resulted in her being reinstated in the 1980s), bisexual Grammy winner and Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer Clive Davis (who helped the careers of such superstars as Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson, and Carlos Santana), Arthur Dong (Academy Award nominee, Peabody Award winner, gay film-maker who features gay and Asian themes in his work), Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox (transgender actress, producer, and activist), and Richard Blanco (the youngest, first Latino, and first openly gay U.S. presidential inauguration poet – Blanco read one of his poems at President Obama’s second inauguration). We should be very proud of the many achievements that members of our community have shared with the world!
October also gives us National Coming Out Day which encourages us to leave behind closets of fear and shame and to live out loud as the gifted, wonderful members of the human family we are. October 6, 1968 is the founding date of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, reminding us to honor those who battle cancer, to remember those who lost their battle, and to wish and work for a cure. And sadly, October is the month in 1998 when Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard died from being attacked simply because he was gay.
October gives us a lot to think about, and opportunities to renew our commitment to make a difference. So, I call October holy, because in many ways it reminds us that we can be and ought to be angels of healing in our world.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

written for the Florida Agenda

The Q Word

Someone asked today when "Queer" became an acceptable word. Of course, it happened organically and over time, but it has been used in a positive context for well over 40 years in academic, political, and even progressive theological circles, but has even been mainstream for half or more of that time.

Depending on memory alone (God help us), I offered the following response to the questioner:

In social science, queer theory emerged in the early 90s out of the queer studies and women's studies disciplines as a post-structuralist critical theory. Queer theory "queers" (or spoils or reads against or challenges) gender binaries and heteronormativity.

Politically, I remember as far back as the 80s the word being embraced/reclaimed by people to make it a word that instills pride rather than shame, a word that was ours to use happily rather than allow it to be a weapon used against us to victimize us, and to include all segments of the, lesbian, bisexual, straight allies, transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, questioning, etc. Lots of ways to be queer, but an (ideally) unified, Queer community.

In theology, Queer Theology uses religion and sacred texts to affirm and empower same-gender loving people and people all along the continuum of gender and to challenge and deconstruct the ways religion has been used/misused to promote homophobia and intolerance.

So, as an academic, political, and theological term, Queer has been in use for 40+ years. As a 48 year old Queer person, it has been my identifying word of choice for most of my adult life.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

What I Hope the Pope Learns About Family

Pope Francis recently visited the United States. He did what good pastors do: he “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.”
The pope challenged greed, as the Gospel demands. He also called for an end to violence among nations. “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
In the spirit of compassion, the pope advocated for more welcoming treatment of immigrants and refugees.
At an inter-religious service, he prayed not only with other Christians but also with Jains and Buddhists, Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, thus demonstrating that we need not believe all the same things in order to care about humanity and to work together to achieve noble goals.
Everywhere Francis went he blessed children, he showed kindness to the disabled, and he electrified crowds with gentle tones and words of love.
I applaud His Holiness for each of these sentiments and actions. He called us all to a more generous way of living. I certainly find value in that message.
But when it comes to the pope’s rather myopic understanding of family, I find that I must disagree with him.
The pope left unchallenged the sexist and homophobic notion that only the heternormative, nuclear family can be healthy, wholesome, or sacred. I hope the pope will come to consider and declare that love, not biology, makes a family, that grandmothers can raise their grandchildren, that single parents can be good parents, that two mommies or two daddies can provide as much love, nurture and stability as any other caregivers. It is better for children to be loved and well-cared for than for their family model to resemble a 1950s sit-com. It is better for children to see people loving each other honestly and treating others with respect than it is to simply reinforce heteronormative prejudices and assumptions.
Also, I should think that a man who has chosen a life of celibacy would be able to understand that family is more than child-rearing. Some of us are blessed to have or to be loving parents; but, all of us need close bonds, people on whom we can depend, and these groupings are also families. Even a loving and devoted couple, whether gay or straight, whether or not they have children, have started a small but precious and life-enhancing family. All of these family models can be healthy and divinely blessed. The pope is correct in saying that “family” is very important, but I believe the definition of family can be broader and more inclusive than he seems to realize.
The pope appears to be gentler and more welcoming than his most immediate predecessors and I appreciate that; but I also hope he will be open to seeing same-gender loving people not simply as those who should not be harshly judged, but as persons created by God in the image of God to be exactly who they are.
I hope this pope who puts such value on love will come to see the beauty of love genuinely shared by persons regardless of their gender identities.
I hope this pope will come to speak out against violence done to LBGT people, will consider that gender is more complex than simple binaries, and will discover that it is love that makes a family and not dogma or biology.
I do not hesitate to praise this pontiff for the good work he is doing, nor do I hesitate to lift my voice in encouraging him and all religious leaders to become friends, allies, and advocates of the LBGT children of God.
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins is the Senior Minister of Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
Published in Florida Agenda, Oct 2nd, 2015