Friday, June 28, 2013

I’m a priest and a person part 2

When I wrote about being a priest and a person last week, I didn't realize there was going to be a Part 2, but here it is. One of the things I said was, "I'm never pointed out because I'm a man," and frankly that continues to be true. Something else I said, though, was "I vehemently oppose people with a 'priest' profile and a 'real' profile — the priesthood is part of my real life, and everything I post on Facebook is a reflection of my priesthood." I stand by that, and I want to elaborate on it a little bit more than I did last week. Rationale later in the post.

If one scrolls through my Facebook feed, this week's news — Fisher, Shelby County, Windsor, and Perry, along with Wendy Davis — are pretty prominent. (It's been a busy news week which is why I haven't written the blog series that I will write next week about transformational change and the Good News as I've lived it. It will elaborate on some other thoughts in this piece.) So this week's news has been high on my agenda on Facebook, and that's clear.

What's also clear, usually, is that I'm a priest. It's front and center on my "About" section that I'm a priest associate at a parish in the Diocese of California. I post musings from a Christian perspective often. The pictures of me in vestments or a clerical collar are legion. My liberalism is unabashed, as are my Episcopalianism and gayness. These things are all part of how I live as a priest-person.

I try to keep these things integrated online for a few reasons, some of which have only come to me after the fact. My learning about myself and discovering myself has largely happened online. At my bachelor party the clear theme was that people from all over the country I'd either met online or maintained a friendship over years and distance with online. I am a digital person. I realized much after the fact that not splitting myself up like horcruxes online better enabled me to be myself in person. That is, I'm much more comfortable saying "I'm a priest" at a party with boldness and no discomfort because I've engaged so many other aspects of my life alongside my vocation online. 

I think that having one online presence can help fight clericalism, too. Someone on Episcopal Cafe commented that clergy haven't been made any more holy or something. That commenter may believe that, but as long as clergy let themselves be boxed off — and collude with the boxing — they have an additional burden placed on them as Professional Christians. Nothing says "Holier than thou" like having a Facebook page devoted entirely to one's sermons and God-dy blog entries while keeping a secret one for your friends where you tell dirty jokes about college. Online integration keeps standards of appropriate behavior consistent, I think.

So in my online integration I don't face being pointed out because I'm a man. When I'm with the gays, as I said, I often get a lot of questions about being religious. While in my last entry I noted that my parish, cat, and husband all know that I'm gay and a priest, this week has crystalized for me that there's another group watching — southern Christians who tangentially know me. They may have gone to church with me when I was in the fourth grade; may be friends with extended family; may just see some of my comments on a mutual friend's posting.

This is where I understand the exhaustion of not wearing a collar to the grocery store, and yet on I go. Twice this week, at least two other times in the last six months, I have gotten Facebook messages asking me about being a cleric and gay. Most of them have actually been pretty open to discussion or are just asking. Using the word "justify" is a bad start, but asking out of curiosity is something I'll engage. I make clear that I'm not interested in debate or argument or trying to be converted. I'm past that point.

So I try to be happy to answer those questions. But like comments from people about being a woman cleric (I imagine) it gets to be exhausting. I want to give a "let me google that for you" link with their exact question or just reply with a link to something from SoulForce. I often do include a link to something from SoulForce as a resource, but I don't let it stop there — because Jesus didn't stop at referencing the rabbis' commentaries or the text it self, he told stories.

I'm a priest and a person, and I have stories about the Good News of coming out to God and to others. I have Good News about being set free of bondage that held me, not as those on the right say to my sexuality, but bondage of lying to myself, shaming myself, and feeling guilty. I get tired of telling my stories, but we're a story-telling people as Christians. I've taken vows to proclaim by word, deed, and example the Good News of God in Christ and to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship.

I'm not the token woman cleric in a small town, but I'm realizing I'm the only gay cleric — or even Christian — that many people from much earlier in my life are even tangentially acquainted with, and they're curious. More to come next week on how much grace was a part of my coming out (or maybe I'll write it tomorrow for pride). 

Without the personhood of my priesthood I would not be able to share the Good News; I wouldn't be able to talk about how I know God's love. It is exhausting. Dear Jesus does saying the same thing to people I barely know get exhausting. I have boundaries around it, too. It happens on my schedule and I'm upfront about what is and isn't okay. Only six months in and I'm thankful for the grace to boldly proclaim the gospel of salvation. I know the importance of this office and believe I have been called — and strengthened in ordination and the sacraments — to do this proclamating among all with whom I work...which means telling stories to people on Facebook and in the grocery store and the bar.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I'm a priest and a person

Last week Heidi Haverkamp wrote about why she can't bring herself to wear her collar to Target. As the Facebook friend who posted this said, I'm not moved. The friend who posted this's major objection was the way Haverkamp sees herself as a priest to her people but not others. I have other issues and am moved not by her writing but by my experience thus far wearing a collar.

I joked in the fall with the Bishop of California (for whom I work) that Thursdays were apparently street chaplaincy days. As I would get off the BART and climb Nob Hill, for weeks in a row I encountered people who needed a chaplain. They didn't want money, they didn't want food, they saw my collar and wanted someone who would value their personhood by listening to them. Many of them would walk with me along my walk and turn off when our paths actually diverged. Some of these were homeless people facing addiction, others were union workers who were waiting for the next job — so they could have a good time with their children. I made a choice to wear my collar on my commute by car, transit, and foot in part to be available for those who need a priest.

Unlike Haverkamp I do not face the same kinds of issues — I'm never pointed out because I'm a man. If people have an image of a cleric, it certainly is physically more like me than her...until I'm with a different set of my people. Not the congregation with which I am associated, but the gays. I live in the San Francisco suburbs but am moving in to the city shortly. If I go to a bar after work, I do not have time to change into something else, I hate the way a clerical shirt looks without a collar, and I don't take my collar off.

A friend of mine had a negative experience of someone fetishizing his collar when he wore it to a gay bar, so he does not anymore. My first time wearing clericals to a gay bar was Maundy Thursday last year after hours at church. I went to my regular bar, where no one there was surprised to see me in a collar because they all knew I was a deacon, and before I was a deacon they knew I was a seminarian, not just a run of the mill grad student. There were times I listened to people talk about spirituality, there were times I said "Actually, this isn't the kind of relationship we can have, but let me refer you to someone," and there were times I said, "I'm not here to priest. This would be a lively discussion over coffee, but I want to sing right now."

My clerical collar is an invitation that sometimes I'm not prepared to be the best host to entertain, but it is a part of my vocation. A turn of phrase I've approached lately is "I'm a priest, not a prude." I can open up the library and read someone just as quickly as I can invite people to examine their lives through the lens of the baptismal covenant and ask how they're proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Sometimes that Good News is as simple as "Oh, wow, not all churches are anti-gay, and this is one that has one in leadership."

Seeing a collar in a grocery store, gas station, or restaurant in Illinois may be unusual. With the exception of Nob and Cathedral Hills in San Francisco I'd wager it's even more so. But whether I'm wearing a collar or not I'm a priest and a person. There isn't a distinction there. I was no less a priest on Sunday in an orange polo, jeans, and flip flops when I presided at the eucharist for my parish's retreat than I am in a chapel at Grace Cathedral in a conical chasuble — with a collar underneath.

My living of my priesthood and how I wear a collar (writing this from a shared working space in SOMA) are comparable to my approach to social media. I vehemently oppose people with a "priest" profile and a "real" profile — the priesthood is part of my real life, and everything I post on Facebook is a reflection of my priesthood. That keeps my standards up, but it shows my non-religious friends and acquaintances that people of the church aren't just obsessed with hot button issues or on the far Right of them.

Wearing a collar in public is a way of bearing witness to my call. How I bear that witness is different in every situation, but there is another of my social media philosophies that ties in here. Many people are hesitant to embrace social media use for their churches because they think that no one at their church is on Facebook or Twitter (I encounter that less and less daily, thanks be to God). But I think that's myopic. What about the people on Facebook and Twitter who aren't in your church but might be called there, nonetheless?

As Patrick Malloy says about presiding at small gatherings or offsite in plainclothes, your people know you're a priest; a stole doesn't make you magically authorized to preside. The people at Christ Church and DioHouse know I'm a priest. My husband and cat know I'm a priest. The people at points in between and in other encounters usually don't, but I'm available as a priest for them too whether I like it or not. Long-term pastoral presence? Maybe not. Present to publicly say that I have good news? Definitely.

So regardless of if I'm in a purple checked Bonobos shirt or a clerical shirt from Wippell, I'm both a priest and a person. I am a full person with a full-life of Instagramming books about funerals and taking shameless selfies. That's all a part of priest life (which I'm now tagging all my Instagram photos with). I'm not questioned about being a cleric because of my sex, but I am questioned about it because of my sexuality and my age.

My personhood challenges the image of the nicely greying man with thoughtful red sneakers with all blacks do, too.

UPDATE: The Bonobos link is a bit of humor after a friend commented elsewhere, " The new superman movie has 130 million dollars of product placement in it yet somehow Joseph's bonobos promo is 10x more effective." Meant to be more self-deprecating and humorous than consumerist.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Keeping Captive Audiences Captive

A few weekends ago I went to a pretty good presentation that talked about ministry of leadership in changing times. The presenters were very hospitable and knowledgeable, and they’d come from far away to talk to people in the Dioceses of California and El Camino Real.

When one of the presenters saw my name he said, “Aren’t you changing the world?” I was taken aback and asked for some more information about what he meant he said, “Young, fabulous, and trying to get the church into the 21st century.” I said that, ha, sure, yeah I fall into that category and that’s me!

A few minutes later I got to talk with the other presenter about some of the things I am doing in the Diocese of California and some of the things I hope to be doing in the next year or so. It was a great little conversation and I felt really good about what I’m doing and what I want to do. It built on some feedback I’ve gotten from congregational leaders this week too.

Before we started though, I had a surprising interaction with one of the facilitators. I asked if someone had the Wi-Fi password for the church hosting us. The presenter said, “We do. But we aren’t giving it out because people will do other things during the presentation, so we’ll give it out at the end. Nice try, Joseph!”

This facilitator echoed some concerns that had been raised at Episcopal Communicators in early April. If people are looking things from the sermon up as preachers are giving it then they may know what the preacher is saying that isn’t accurate. This already happens. My mom’s pastor has been reading his sermons from a website the last two years. My mom googled a phrase and found out and now she follows along. Every week.

Rather than fearing that people can do that, this access to information challenges preachers (and all kinds of presenters) to be better at what they do. I don’t think that it’s always a good thing for everyone to be online all the time. I do think that avoiding access so that those in leadership aren’t accountable is a worthy defense, though.

Much earlier this year I went to a presentation where our presenter asked us to put our computers away because we wouldn’t need them. She lied. Her presentation was awful, and yes, I wanted to escape her awful presentation into my work email or the Twitterverse. Should I have stayed engaged? Yes. Should she have been better prepared and less hokey? Totally.

The presenter wouldn’t give me the Wi-Fi password on Saturday for fear that people would do other things. He had a captive audience that he didn’t want to escape. That was an unnecessary fear and anxiety though — his presentation was great. I was (clearly) really annoyed by this — the presentation was on the church changing, and I’d just been complimented for the work I’m doing that involves electronic communication, but he didn’t trust me to stay engaged…and he took the choice away from me.

What do you think? Is having outside access a good or bad thing? How do you navigate this in your ministry setting?