Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Affirming Transfiguration

If you missed Robert Ashton's reflection from Transfiguration Sunday, Feb. 23, 202, you can read it here.

Transfiguration Sunday is when we remember how Jesus was changed in front of the disciples while they were on the mountain together.  Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white and he transformed right before their eyes and they didn’t know what to make of this experience.  Jesus was different and he was accepted – there was no judgement.
      
Two years ago, Kanata United Church embarked on an educational discernment process exploring becoming an affirming ministry – today, we witness that we are no longer the same congregation as we were.  We’ve been challenged in our understandings, the vocabulary we use, our worship traditions, how we welcome others, a greater appreciation of the LGBTQ2 community and their unique set of challenges – we have at times been uncomfortable, had to be empathetic and stretched our understanding.  Last week Cindy illustrated what the church would be like if it did not change or evolve – many of us probably wouldn’t be here if we were stuck and static and maintained the status quo or held on to broken traditions – how out of touch with reality and society would we be with no change?  Change is difficult and there are some that will resist the current and be slightly hesitant – to those individuals I say thank you – we need you, your insights, sober second thought which makes us go cautiously into the unknown and your voice is important and often of good reason or questioning.  What an amazing amount of progress we’ve all made in such a short amount of time.

Things change.  Traditions evolve.  New patterns and trends emerge.  Society moves along.  You and I grow.

In a few weeks, Kanata United Church will make a decision on becoming an affirming ministry or not.  If the decision is in favour, this will allow us to continue to expand our understanding and broaden our connections with the LGBTQ2 community and ensure we are recognized as a safe space.  People are searching for a Christian community that welcomes all through inclusivity and celebrates diversity – affirming ministries is a good news story and I’m hopeful it’s something we will be able to share.  I cannot underline how very important a decision this is for the congregation, future Kanata United Church generations and the community.  Today, I would like to expand on why. 
I often wonder if put in a position of decision around affirming ministries, what would Jesus do?  What advice would be offered?  Do we contemplate when making decisions on what Jesus would do?

Repeat after me:  Anxiety.  Depression.  Bullying.  Loneliness.  Homelessness.  Suicide. 

What do these words have in common?  All of these are significantly more prevalent within the LGBTQ2 community than faced by my heterosexual brothers and sisters – most alarming, in Canada, LGBTQ2 youth are 14x more likely to attempt suicide or have substance abuse issues than their heterosexual peers.  A true shocker, 77% of transgender people in Ontario have seriously considered suicide and 45% have attempted it – if almost ½ of the people in church today had attempted to end their own life – look around – just visualize that for a moment – if that happened here, what would our response be?  Non-acceptance and the aftershocks, especially for LGBTQ2 youth are a societal crisis.  Jesus hurts.
  
I understand, it’s them, it’s not me, what more can I do?  Legislation has been passed to protect, money set aside for programs, adoption and marriage rights extended, hate crime units established, gay-straight alliances formed, affirming ministries created, gay pride week, fancy rainbow decorations and public opinion is solidly on my side – one just needs to watch TV to see there’s an LGBTQ2 character in practically every show – thank you so much Ellen – so haven’t we already done enough?  Well if we’ve done enough, why do these numbers continue to increase?  Why do so many hurt?  Do you know somebody of the LGBTQ2 community that has attempted or ended their own life?  I do, and I need more than one hand to count the acquaintances and friends lost to suicide.  In my humble opinion – it comes down to one word – acceptance.

By a show of hands, how many people have successfully tried to change the colour of your skin?  How tall you are?  Some of us have been successful to change our weight, myself not so much for the better.  Now hair colour that’s an easy change – how many have tried that?  Is it permanent?  For us extroverts, could you imagine being asked to do everything you could to be an introvert?  Have you ever been asked to change your sexuality or hide your gender identity?  How difficult could that be?  The majority here today are heterosexual – could you imagine being put into a nurturing program to eradicate how you identify or love and being educated to turn yourself into a positive homosexual?  Well conversion therapy might be right for you.

Since it has therapy in its name, must be good right?  Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change an individual's sexual orientation using psychological or spiritual interventions. Now modern conversion therapy has gotten a bad rap, so has gone underground and can be found under new terminology: reparative therapy, talk therapy, aversion therapy, cure therapy or gender coaching – all are equally damaging and prey on the most vulnerable – mainly our youth.

Facing the awakening of sexual identity and the confusion that comes with teen years, LGBTQ2 youth that are not part of a supportive family, or have access to resources or are told that being gay is a sin are very often given a stark choice – do conversion therapy or face judgement and abandonment.  Scared, youth will often then turn to their key influencers for guidance and support and in many instances confused parents will support conversion therapy.  Needing acceptance, facing homelessness and not wanting to disappoint their parents – conversion therapy appears to be their only choice.  Jesus cringes.
  
If youth do not know that they have loving support from family and friends or safe spaces in their schools and churches and do not receive positive responses to coming out which means true acceptance – conversion therapy on the surface looks like a quick ticket to salvation.  What follows however, is a lifelong sentence. 

The Williams Institute, which is a public policy research institute at the UCLA School of Law in California, estimates that almost 700,000 LGBTQ2 adults in the United States have received conversion therapy, that 20,000 youth will receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional and that 57,000 youth will receive conversion therapy from a religious or spiritual advisor before the age of 18.  It is heart wrenching that our youth will be subjected to this by their churches – there is nowhere in Jesus teachings that this would be accepted. 

The Canadian Psychological Association, warned in a 2015 statement that, conversion therapy can result in negative outcomes, such as hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicide, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, self-hatred, hostility toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self and a loss of faith.  There is nothing in that list of outcomes that aligns with acceptance, affirming, love, positivity or support – why are we subjecting our youth to this so-called therapy?  Jesus weeps.

BUT conversion therapy only occurs in the US bible belt, right?  FACT CHECK, in Canada, only Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario have banned conversion therapy.  The federal government is exploring slowly a full ban and municipalities are starting and the United Church and Affirm United have been raising awareness.  Exposing and banning conversion therapy is the new frontier for LGBTQ2 allies.  It is why I am passionate about making Kanata United Church a safe space – if we can make the difference and demonstrate radical acceptance for one person, one youth, one future child – we’ve made a positive difference to them and their family.

It does come down to acceptance.  In June I lost my mom to cancer at the age of 70.  She was my biggest champion, advocate and supporter – in later years of high school I first came out to Mom – I was able to talk to her about everything and I now realize it must have been so strange for her back then in southwestern Ontario in the early 90s as a single mom, strongly rooted in her church, but with confidence and a smile she offered her love and unconditional support – which as a gay teen you fear losing the love of your Mom the most – she demonstrated true acceptance and created a safe space.  I appreciate now that things could have turned out so differently for me.  Mom became an early advocate ensuring that others when speaking of gays and lesbians did so with respect, she lost friends over it and I know she helped many other parents whose children have had the very same discussions helping them through this transition.  For a child – the security and absolute knowing that you are loved and accepted comes from a parent – I’ve in a way lost that now. 

From time to time that teenage angst and insecurity of feeling and fear of being alone and vulnerable rises within me – where will I be accepted or loved – so I long for what was and I search for the next best thing – which is right here in this space – my Kanata United Church family, where I want to know that there is acceptance, that there is a place for me and who I am, that a rainbow can be viewed with pride and love and that this be an affirming and safe space.  I want that for other people too.  It should be easier for them.  Ask yourself, was Jesus really accepted?  Wasn’t he different?  Aren’t we all different?  Don’t we all belong and deserve acceptance?  How do we let others know they have a safe space right here?
  
So on this transfiguration Sunday and with Jesus revealed in a new light – is Jesus really different or do we just understand him better?  Are we wanting to embrace the message that we are all God’s beautiful children and that full acceptance and love is the clear path?  The end of March presents a fork in our journey as a congregation, like transfiguration, some of us may need extra time, some may not be ready, I pray that the spirit will move you to a future even if scared or unsure or not comfortable and that our decision will be a radiant sign to those in our congregation that are marginalized and afraid, to those in our community that are suffering or searching for a place to worship, to the youth who need our love and protection more than ever and for future generations that should only know acceptance within their church family and the full love and grace of Jesus – Kanata United Church deserves this.  Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

After announcing to the curling world eight years ago that he's gay, Peterborough, Ontario native John Epping sits down with TSN’s Bob Weeks to discuss what his life was like before making the announcement, why he made the decision to open up about it, what the reaction was from the curling world, and why it was important for him to tell his story. 

 

 

Listen to his interview on TSN.

https://www.tsn.ca/video/epping-opens-up-about-his-decision-eight-years-ago-to-announce-he-s-gay~1906283


Monday, February 17, 2020

A Survivor Talks About Conversion Therapy

On CBC Tapestry, Dev Cuny talks about Conversion Therapy. Conversion Therapy does not change LGBTQ2+ people and can do great harm.




To hear about Dev's experience, you can read the article on the Tapestry website, and listen to the broadcast.

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/it-was-devastating-queer-evangelical-survives-gay-conversion-therapy-and-helps-others-heal-1.5464893

Monday, February 10, 2020

LGBTQ2+ - What does the B stand for?

The “B” stands for “Bisexuals”. This refers to “people who are attracted to more than one sex or gender”.1 This much is usually understood but do we know anything about life’s challenges for those among us who are bisexual?

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Ontario), “The “B” has often been left out of LGBT research; studies that lump together LGBT people when comparing them to heterosexual people often overlook the unique experiences of each population, particularly the “B” and the “T”.  Research that does explore the health of bisexual people indicates that bisexual people often have poorer health outcomes compared to both lesbian and gay populations and the heterosexual population.”.2

There are clear reasons for this. The Rainbow Health Ontario website states: “Bisexuals may experience biphobia, negative attitudes and discrimination from LGBT2SQ communities, straight communities and the health care system.”3 So bisexual people are generally potentially vulnerable.

To see Rainbow Health Ontario’s anti-stigma videos, please see: https://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/bisexual-health/

“Erasure” is a very common experience for bisexuals. Erasure is when people are not known for who they truly are because they fear revealing their identity. For example, a bisexual person is assumed to be heterosexual if they have an opposite sex partner and if they do not feel safe in being known as bisexual. Likewise, if their partner is of the same sex, they are assumed to be homosexual. Coming out as what they are – bisexual – is usually risky in either case because of stigma. Some people who are bisexual do not even tell their partner about it for the same reason. Depression can result from hiding their identity or being excluded from community if their true identity is known.

For a Ted Talk on this subject, please see: “Bisexuality: The Invisible Letter "B".| Misty Gedlinske, TEDxOshkosh at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa6AnOCQD50.

Happily, more is being learned and understood about bisexuality - a biological phenomenon in the same manner as heterosexuality and homosexuality. The more that communities can learn and understand about this and all the LGBTQ2+ communities, the better for everyone.



1 Re:searching for LGBTQ Health. Bisexual Community. CAMH. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Ontario). https://www.lgbtqhealth.ca/community/bisexual.php
2 Re:searching for LGBTQ Health. Bisexual Community. CAMH. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Ontario). https://www.lgbtqhealth.ca/community/bisexual.php
3 Rainbow Health Ontario, Sherbourne Health
https://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/bisexual-health/

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Prize Winning Starbucks Ad

Annual reports,  a presentation for the annual meeting, and making sure we are ready for the Special Congregation Meeting has taken a back seat to the blog lately. We will try to get back to once a week postings.

As an uplifting first post of the new year, here is a commercial that won Starbucks a diversity award in Great Britain.

https://youtu.be/pcSP1r9eCWw





Starbucks comment on the commercial was this:

At Starbucks, writing your name on a cup and calling it out is a symbol of our warm welcome. It’s a small gesture, but it's symbolic of what we believe in: Recognition and acceptance, whoever you are, or want to be. We welcome everyone. 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Advent 4 - Love

Love is a flame that burns in our heart.

I have been a member of the United Church of Canada since birth.  The most important lesson I have learned from the United Church is the challenge to
Love God, Self and Neighbour.

When Robert Ashton called for people to form an Affirm team, I thought long and hard.  For all my life, good friends, close relatives and supportive coworkers, who identify as LGBTQ2, have been an important part of my life.  But I have always been a quiet companion.  I thought, Kathy, sometimes you need to step up, stand beside your friends and not be so quiet.  I realized now was the time! 

Being a member of Kanata United’s Affirm Leadership Team has and is the best and most worthwhile initiative I have been part of over my 66 years with the United Church of Canada! 

So why did I join?   I joined to learn how to be a more accepting person, to be a good ally to LGBTQ2 folk, help build an accepting community, be a member of an intentionally inclusive church that welcomes all!

When I had the honor of walking with many United Church folk in the PRIDE parade this August, one church member had a sign that read
Love is Love is Love!

I believe God wants me to Love God, Self and Neighbour.  And Love is Love is Love!

Love is a flame that burns in our heart.
Jesus has come and will never depart.*

* "Hope is a Star" - by Brian Wren, Voices United #7

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Advent 3 - Joy

One of the scripture readings for this third Sunday in Advent is Isaiah 35:1-10. It is all about joy.

The reading reminds one of the joy of this year’s Pride Parade. Contrasting with the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ2+ people - having to avoid holding hands or share a caring and loving glance - at the Parade everyone was wearing bright colours and singing and dancing, so happy to celebrate being themselves - no shame, no fear, just being.

From Isaiah 35: 1-2, “...The desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing".

We United Church marchers with church banners flying and ministerial collars showing, saw a great welcome at Pride- so many people thrilled to see a church that welcomes them, accepts them as they are. What a joy to humbly do as Isaiah asks in 35:4, "Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.'"

God of joy and exultation,
you strengthen what is weak;
you enrich the poor
and give hope to those who live in fear.
Look upon our needs this day.
Make us grateful for the good news of salvation
and keep us faithful in your service
until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives for ever and ever. Amen*

*Vanderbilt Divinity Library. The Revised Common Lectionary. Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent. https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=3

Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn,
Telling the world that the Saviour is born.*

* "Hope is a Star" - by Brian Wren, Voices United #7