Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunday in Chennai, and Friday

I woke up this morning to have an early coffee and watch the city wake up from up high in the Marriott.  I remember my father easing us into a trip to India like this, a few nights in a nice hotel.  It is a real treat to travel internationally and not be sick or wreck your back on day two.  Crazy decadent as well, but wow, what a view of the rains coming in over the sea.

This morning I am up far too early because there is only one more full day left here.

First, The Rev. Dr. Monica Melancthon celebrated her first Eucharist last night, and I was honored to be there with her.  She is one of the leading, if not the leading, Feminist OT scholar in Asia.  If you haven't read her work, please do. She will be at SBL in New Orleans next week.  

Second, Elizabeth takes the best photos, so I can't arrange that until she is awake.  Bringing her to India has been an eye opener for me.   It shouldn't have to be her task to pry my eyes open, but hey, I guess that's one of the perks of life long committed? 

For the priviledge of knowing my family, working in the church and travelling outside of the U.S., I slip very easily in and out of the closet.  I haven't thought about it in a long time.  I was excited about this trip because of the newly empowered LGBT movement in India, post 377, and I thought I had thought through all the tricky parts of this trip, but I did not.  I would like to officially blame jetlag (and Satan), but it's probably deeper than that.  

The first days we were here were remarkable for the level of openness and serious conversation,  faithful Indian Christians were having with one another about the human rights of LGBT people in India.  The seminarians were very open and had clearly already thought about these issues, some of them, I assume, were themselves gay,  but there were a number of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant ministers, most of whom work with the most marginalized in some way, who were seriously wrestling with what it would mean to support this movement.  I was and remain deeply moved by the naive (in the best sense of that term) approach.  I know it's more complicated than this, but person after person seemed to say, if these become our commitments, if we believe in full equality, and the term people are using here is full humanity in the human rights context, then we must accept our  LGBT neighbors and make our communities accepting places.

Maybe it is difficult in these settings to talk about how difficult that might be to do, but I suspect that because some of the people we were meeting with have made it their life's work to be with the most marginalized, for some it really was that straight forward.  These are people living in areas that take days in rickety vehicles to find, where the sick are cast out and left to die, where AIDS care centers soon become orphanages for the children of patients dead.  There's not much these folks are afraid of, once they are convinced.  Truly remarkable.

And then, last night, I was at a seminary, and honored to be there, invited by an old friend from Union who is now a great theologian here in India.  Instead of arriving and being introduced with Elizabeth at chapel, strategically avoiding a few details, as usually happens, I was asked a day or so in advance if it would be okay if we were introduced as friends.  I didn't handle it well.  I didn't feel like I could decline the invitation so late, I sympathized with the position he was in, and I couldn't imagine Elizabeth, who has risked much over the years to be out, would find this as easy a place to slip into as I did, though I was secretly hoping she would.

I didn't respond, and she didn't come with me.  I am not surprised by the request, or surprised by anyone's response, but I am surprised by myself and how sad these complicated relationships are.  I'm not going to see my family on this trip for the same reasons.  I think anyone who is out and works in church will understand this place.  I wanted to say what I wanted to say in front of those seminarians. Maybe a preacher's vanity?  Can't say it feels too good today.  If I had responded in some way, maybe we would have had a chance to come to another solution, or at least talk it through.   I can't imagine living my life exclusively in places where I can be out, but clearly, I accept the improbability of openness too easily.  I know there's a a word for that, it's just too early in the morning... .

The coffee is not strong enough for me to laugh about life as an Olivia Cruise, yet... .

Next, Joe Thomas and George Zachariah ended the Sexuality and Faith Conference with a truly inspired visions of a liberal, diverse, rainbow hued India.  Those are all positive words in most of India, where the boys look fabulously butch in all shades of pink.