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.