Saturday, July 4, 2015

WANT A RAINBOW BURGER, A PRIDE BURGER? HELP YOURSELF...

You know, people who have been denigrated and subjugated for a long time may need things like the "Pride Burger" to combat and counteract the negativity which they've internalized. Let them alone. How is it hurting you? I, personally, don't need that kind of thing. But I'm ME, just one person. I won't generalize and say that no one needs it. And in the long run, as people mature, they and others may see how it was just one step in a certain direction.


I want to share just two examples of many possible ones from my long, long life:

The first is a racial thing. Everyone who knows me knows that I am black, and that I grew up in the American South during the 1940s and '50s. Back then, especially down South, society attached little or nothing that was positive to being black. Oh sure, blacks had rhythm and could sing and dance and shuck and jive, but that was about all. Little black kids were warned not to drink coffee, because it would "make you black." And, the ultimate insult that someone black could hurl at another was to call him or her (shudder!) "black." Those of you who've not grown up with that kind of consciousness can't even begin to imagine how that was. But, those of us who grew up black in the South, and are over, say, 60 or so (I'm 74) can remember those days vividly. 

So: As I look back on it, I believe that the loud, aggressive "Black Pride" and "Black Is Beautiful" stages of the 1960s were probably necessary to move American blacks beyond their widespread, horrific negative self-consciousness. Sure, there were --- and are now --- inordinate and inappropriate exclamations of "pride" and "beauty," but overall, that period of in-your-face black pride was necessary to help many people overcome the resistant, intransigent Black-Is-All-Things-Bad-And-Ugly consciousness that even many blacks --- maybe, in the South, most --- had back then. Of course, some got stuck in that place, and even reasoned (illegitimately) that, since Black Is Good, then Not-Black Is Bad.

Now, I happen to think that racial or ethnic pride --- including black pride --- is always a bad thing, and is the root of many, many of society's ills. But I am not going to get into a discussion of that here and now. It is going to take a lot of careful, closely-reasoned explanations of my position on that, and I'm going to be misunderstood anyway, especially, by many younger Blacks and many of my fellow black liberals --- so here is not the time or place to get into that. Let's just say that I'll do some blogposts in the near future which will explore this area of my thinking. Not here; not now.

That said, I believe that the racially turbulent period through which we lived (and many of us were active) in the 1950s - 1970s or '80s was a period in which many of us matured and moved on in our thinking. But I now believe that the period through which we passed was probably a necessary one.


The other example from my life is, not surprisingly, a sexual one. Or, at least, a matter of sexuality.

Most of you know that I am gay, and that I belong to a rather progressive (read: liberal) Episcopal congregation; that progressivism and social activism was what attracted me to St. John's in the first place. It is quite inclusive --- with members from across the spectrum of ethnic, economic, social, sexual, and other positions. I'll have to admit that there are very few members who are openly politically conservative, but there are even a few closet Republicans (it's a shame that they don't feel that they can be open, even if the majority of us aren't on the same page). For awhile, we were widely heralded as one of the most gay-friendly parishes in this overwhelmingly gay-friendly diocese, and we had a rather large number of gays who started attending St. John's who had previously attended St. Thomas' in West Hollywood or All Saints' in Pasadena. What they found at St. John's, among many other things, was that of the twelve members of the vestry (the parish governing body, the parish council) at the time, seven of us were openly gay or lesbian. The parish as a whole had nominated us and elected us by vote to that body, knowing we were gay; it just didn't make a difference. At that time, we had several hundred active members of the parish, mostly non-gay, but the parish was led by a much smaller group, the majority of which was gay or lesbian. Our sexual orientation was a non-issue.

While it may have been a non-issue to us who were active members of St. John's, it sure wasn't to those who swooped in from Pasadena and West Hollywood. They were loud and strident, and in effect, wanted to bop everyone over the head with the understanding that "I'm gay and I'm proud, and you're gonna like me whether you do or not!" When they met resistance from many of us --- including gays --- who had been there, comfortably, for years, they wrote us off as just a bunch of Gay Uncle Toms and Aunt Jemimas, and left. I was one who didn't like their attitude, and I was vocal about it (Surprise! Surprise!). I can name very well-known and prominent members of the L.A. gay community who don't like me to this day because of that --- but guess who doesn't give a damn!

But I just might have been wrong. Maybe some people had to go through that stage in their personal development and growth toward sexual and other maturity. Just because I'd long accepted my sexual orientation and was comfortable with it, didn't mean that everyone else was in the same place. Maybe some of those people needed what the church had to offer, and were desperately looking for something, for anything

BTW, back then we had an assistant rector who moonlighted as a bartender at one of Hollywood's oldest and most notorious gay hustler bars. As anyone who's even remotely acquainted with those places can easily see, most of the male prostitutes who frequent or work out of places like that have lots of issues that they're trying to work through. Many of them are from conservative Christian homes, and have turned their backs on religion. Over time, though, many of them found "Father___," as they knew him, rather easy to talk to, and some did that. If he felt it was appropriate and helpful, he'd invite them to St. John's; some accepted the invitation, and they all felt the same acceptance and love that I have always found there, and a few even joined. I'm probably the only person still alive who remembers that it was in exactly that way that a long-time very wealthy member of the parish, who no longer attends St. John's, was introduced.

I doubt that any of those people would have come to St. John's if it had been more like St. Thomas' or All Saints' Pasadena. For those of  us at St. John's, our gayness was not a frenetic thing around which revolved our whole lives; it was just one facet of our multifaceted lives. And I was comfortable with that.

But not everyone is. Some gays and lesbians need more affirmation of their sexual orientation, so if they seek a worshiping community, it's something more like All Saints' Pasadena or even the predominately gay denomination, the Metropolitan Community Churches. As I've gotten older, I've just come more and more to understand that people will gravitate to where they need to be. It may not be where I feel that I need to be; but it may be where they need to be right then.

So, I'm happy that some fast food places in some places are offering burgers wrapped in rainbow-colored tissue. If it's helpful to some people at this stage of their lives, who am I to judge or object? How is it hurting me?

Now, swathing the White House in rainbow colors; that's another whole story...