My Complicated Relationship with Survival: Twenty Years with HIV

I have a complicated relationship with survival.

That relationship involves monumental loss, and deep love. It is the space where heartbreak and resilience live. The very space that makes me me in so many ways.

Twenty years ago today I was a 28-year-old who was far too young and far too old at the same time. On July 15, 1995, I was sitting in the health department in St. John’s, Newfoundland, listening to a doctor I had never met coldly tell me that I was HIV+. This was a time just before effective medication. HIV was still a death sentence. I knew that, deep in my bones, because I had buried friends and acquaintances and would bury many more over the years to come. We were all too young and too old at the same time. Continue reading

Categories: Compassion | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Priests and Police: The Role of Good People in Ending Systemic Sickness

I was raised Roman Catholic at the tail end of an era of seeing priests as infallible, as inherently good. It was unthinkable to question a priest’s motives or moral authority even if my own survival depended on it.

In the article “Ex-Cop to Americans, ‘I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and this is the Real Truth About Race and Policing’” Jay Syrmopoulos mentions a recent Gallup poll where Americans rank police in a list of top five ethical professions which also ironically includes clergy. The irony feels meaningful.

Do I think that a majority of priests sexually abuse children? Heck no. I believe an overwhelming majority answer the call to the priesthood to do good work. A very small minority of priests actively hurt children, but—and this is a big but—the system protected that small minority in such profound ways that it forever altered the system for the worse until it became impossible to see any good. For the Catholic Church to harbor the insidious evil that it did and to do the damage that it did, it required good priests and non-clergy to ignore the un-ignorable over centuries. Continue reading

Categories: Activism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Spiritual Practice of an Open Heart

This joint sermon was delivered at Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA, on August 3, 2014.

You can listen to an audio recording here (in my opinion, the audio recording is much better than the written word—I swear! We’re more charming in person).

Teo

We aren’t taught in this culture to be openhearted. There’s no lesson. And I came to openheartedness as central to my spiritual practice the hard way. Whether it was the violence I was growing up with, the shame and the struggle around being queer and being gender nonconforming, whether it was being 28 years old and being diagnosed with AIDS at a time before medication was available.

Every turn I came to in life there was a reason for me to armor up. There was a reason for me to not let anyone near me. Because the outside world was telling me that if I wanted to stay protected I needed to curl in a ball. The last thing I ever needed to do was leave myself vulnerable. But at the same time that the world was telling me that, there was always this soft, loving voice of the beloved telling me that that was not for me. That I was meant to be openhearted regardless of the information I was getting from the outside world. Continue reading

Categories: Compassion, Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dear Liberal Religious White People: Stop Using #AllLivesMatter

I have seen and heard a lot of white liberal religious people saying All Lives Matter as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and it causes my heart and my soul pain.

From a spiritual place, All Lives Matter says that we need to emphasize our same-ness instead of our difference. In the context of a political moment that seeks to call attention to and rectify state violence against black people, All Lives Matter is a colorblind approach and stance. Among other things, All Lives Matter says that deep down we are all the same, so differences shouldn’t matter. It says that calling attention to difference is wrong. This is a problem. Continue reading

Categories: Faith, Identity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I upset a white woman today

So I upset a white woman today. A straight, white, able bodied, cisgender woman. I did this by saying her professions of being colorblind, or more accurately “I treat everyone equally; we are all the same under our skin,” were offensive.

Here’s what happens when you are a marginalized person immersed in communities largely populated by people with dominant identities. The upswell of support for this white woman was immediate and fierce. Her hurt feelings and bruised ego necessitated calls of “explain yourself!” directed at me. Continue reading

Categories: Activism, Identity | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Bearing Witness: A Thanksgiving Letter

I was five years old when I was taught the myth of Thanksgiving. I remember the “Pilgrim hats” and “Indian headdresses” made out of construction paper. I remember drawing turkeys using the outline of my hand.

I remember a story that Christopher Columbus discovered America and proved the Earth was round and then the Pilgrims arrived and met the Indians. Life was hard for the Pilgrims and the Indians helped them survive. They celebrated their friendship with a big feast, and ever since we give thanks for the founding of our country by celebrating Thanksgiving.

~

It was a long time before I put two and two together and realized there were 130 years in that story of my country’s origin that were plumb unaccounted for. I wasn’t taught about the invasion of America and the enslavement, infection, and genocide of her peoples. Continue reading

Categories: Activism, Reverance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Choosing Heartbreak

My name is Alex, and I am white. And for two days a part of me wanted to avoid social media so that I could avoid the heartbreak of another young black man shot to death. Feeling guilty about that desire, I was then tempted to post the first good article on the topic I saw and walk away, not thinking about it anymore. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because it would be too easy for me to shut my eyes and ignore the pain, not wanting to take on the heartbreak today. I couldn’t because the ease with which I could post someone else’s words about racism felt like a disservice to how horrific the impacts truly are.

It would be easy because of my race. I have the privileged choice to not have to think about Michael Brown and not have his face haunt me, infect me with worry for myself, my spouse, or my children. I have the privilege to be able to avoid the heartbreak. Continue reading

Categories: Activism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liberation: Why “Equality” Isn’t Enough

This sermon was delivered at First Church Unitarian in Littleton, MA, on April 13, 2014.

I want to come out to you about something, and that’s this: I am not an advocate for equality.

That might sound a bit odd, and it is a bit odd, because it’s not that I don’t think all beings are equally divine and have equal worth and dignity. And I can assure you that I don’t think there should be undercastes and overclasses of people in this culture and in this world.

But I am not an advocate for equality. I am not an advocate for the way that we have come to talk about equality, the way that the United States mainstream culture has started to define equality.

On June 26, 2013, a sea of red equal signs took over social media like a tide. Do you remember that? Those equal signs, the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, this country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender political lobbying organization, have become strategically synonymous with the concept of LGBT equality. And on June 26, as the Supreme Court was ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, the message was clear: marriage equality equals LGBT equality.

But what is this equality? Continue reading

Categories: Activism, Faith, Identity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Queering Family

Teo

Whenever I am asked if my boifriend and I are married, especially in LGBTQ space, I feel unwelcome pressure to define my relationship so that the asker of the question can translate my answer into dominant culture’s terms.

This is the same pressure I have felt around gender. All of the questions about anatomy and my experience can feel like an assessment of which pre-existing “knowable” box to put me in. This is especially true for my boifriend and our relationship to one another. His genderqueer prancy femme boi self cannot be neatly summed up in dominant culture’s language without being dulled in the translation.

What we are to each other does not play by the binary rules the language of marriage requires. How we love and live cannot neatly fit into the “degree of commitment hierarchy” that the State’s definition of marriage requires. Continue reading

Categories: Identity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why are We Trying to be Multicultural?

Alex

Today begins a month-long spiritual journey on the topic of love and justice, led by the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. For the next thirty days I will be joining hundreds of people in reflecting and sharing about how love and justice and faith intertwine in my life and in the world.

Today we are invited to reflect on the question: Why are we trying to be multicultural?

The slightly different question I regularly ask myself and strive to live out in the world is: “How can I most honor the inherent multiculturalism of life itself?” The question “Why are we trying to be multicultural?” makes me think about the way I have been taught about culture: that there is one best, most normal, “default” way to be that everyone either fits into or is striving to fit into. That there is a need to “try to be multicultural” by changing things up and forcibly diversifying this default monoculture, instead of what is, to me, actually called for: stripping away the glasses that we have been given, through which everything appears in black and white, and seeing once again what we once saw and knew—the brilliant colors of life, more colors than we remembered were possible.  Continue reading

Categories: Faith | Tags: | 1 Comment

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