The past few years have been a particularly challenging and stimulating time for me, and one of the most exciting aspects of this dynamic period in my life has been my growing interest in spiritual matters. Having experienced a period of early cynicism, I have come to value and cultivate an active spiritual life. Recently, I have felt increasingly compelled to pursue these activities in a more structured environment.
I hope that participating in the Certificate of Theological Studies program will enable me to explore and focus these energies, and to channel them in a way that may ultimately benefit others. I have experienced in a small way that service brings me closer to God, and that I can enrich my own spiritual life by sharing it with others. My current personal goal is to become a more conscious instrument of God’s will in my community, and look to the program at Pacific School of Religion to help me define the next steps on this path.
Earlier this year, my father died after a long illness, and I was asked to speak at the memorial service. In spite of the sadness of the occasion, I am glad that I was given the opportunity to share with his friends and family some of what he had meant to me. My Dad was not a religious man; far from it. As the survivor of a strict Catholic schooling, he had placed his faith in his intellectual ability and his capacity for hard work. If he had a personal philosophy, it might be characterized as a sort of rational skepticism. By profession a psychiatrist, he was both deeply compassionate and accustomed to maintaining an attitude of detached scientific inquiry toward others. And yet in his own way he was a deeply moral man, perhaps more so that he would care to admit. Although he might be surprised to hear it, he taught me by his example to approach my fellows with tolerance and love.
I mention my Dad’s memorial service here because honesty compels me to admit that I enjoyed the experience of speaking before a group about his life and character, and I was grateful for the chance to draw some lessons from them in public. My own activities on behalf of the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, both as a supporter of the congregation and volunteer on the Development Committee, have enriched my life immeasurably. And again it is with some embarrassment that I confess I like to get up on stage and read from the Scriptures during the service.
Pluralistic nature of today’s world
There is a tradition in my family of going around the table at Thanksgiving and saying what we are thankful for, and I always welcome it as a time for reflection and sharing. This year, I was particularly aware of the way that experiences which may be painful at the time can often have unexpected benefits later on, so I tried to express my gratitude for the “gifts in disguise” that had come my way. When I first came to terms with my own homosexuality about 20 years ago, I thought it must inevitably divide me from my family and exclude me from enjoying full and free membership in the adult world as I saw it at the time. Needless to say, I have come with growing maturity to value and indeed celebrate the differences that make each of us unique. Likewise, I thought that growing up in an alcoholic family had handicapped me and kept me from realizing my full potential. And yet it is the legacy of alcoholism that led me to the warm fellowship of twelve-step recovery programs and encouraged me to develop a rewarding relationship with a God of my understanding. Perhaps the greatest challenge I have faced was losing my chosen partner to the terrible ravages of AIDS, but only through this process could I experience the true preciousness of life on earth, and discover an inner strength of which I was unaware. Today, all of these things have contributed to the rich tapestry of my life, and helped to make me a more open and understanding person. Many of the prejudices of my youth have fallen away, and I am able as a result of my experiences to appreciate others more freely for who they are.
For the past several years, I have served on the Al-anon Committee for Living Sober —Western Roundup an annual conference held in San Francisco, which hosts some two to three thousand gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of AA and Al-Anon. The largest conference of its kind, Living Sober is made possible by the activities of hundreds of volunteers in various stages of recovery and personal growth. I have come to appreciate the very real spiritual dimension of this type of commitment, which has challenged me to work together with many kinds of people, in a spirit of cooperation toward a common goal. This year, I had the honor serve as Co-Chair for the Al-Anon musical, always a high point of the conference and a lighthearted way to spread the message of recovery from the disease of alcoholism. A member of the Steering Committee had urged me to accept the position, and once again I found that with God’s help I could do things I had never dreamed of accomplishing. I enjoyed being in the show and exploring my own creativity; I was surprised to find that what I had envisioned as a dreary round of bureaucratic details became a joyful means of self-expression. Rehearsals were held at The Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts, a small performing arts organization serving my community. I became intrigued by the Sims Center and accepted a position as Treasurer on the Board of Directors. At one of their concerts this Fall, I looked around the room and saw young people, old people, people of various abilities with different physical challenges, black, white, Asian, Latino, men and women, all engaged in making music together. I am proud to contribute my talents so that they could express themselves through pursuing their art, and consider myself privileged to act as their trusted servant.
Critical Issue: Stewardship of the Environment as Spiritual Exercise
It is a common truism that the world is becoming a more crowded place, and with increasing speed as the twenty-first century approaches. As the number of people on earth continues to expand, environmental issues become increasingly urgent. Projected worldwide population growth and increased industrialization in developing countries demand a new attitude toward the natural world and our place in God’;s creation. How are we as Christians to enjoy the use of God’s earth during our stay her in a responsible way, passing it on to the next generation in a healthy state? We are enjoined to treat one another with respect and love as children of God; should we not extend this sense of responsibility to ALL of God’s handiwork? Respect for the earth comes naturally here in California, surrounded as we are by the beauty and wonder of His creation. Most of us have probably enjoyed a time of quiet contemplation alone in the presence of God, marveling perhaps at the awesome power of the creative force. To love God is in effect to love His creatures. For a long time it appears that man has simply assumed we are His favorites, yet do we really earn that favor? In poisoning the earth we harm one another and treat God’s bounteous gifts with contempt. Would we not be much better advised to use our energy for good, participating in God’s creative action, rather than continuing in our current habits of thoughtless destruction?
The Buddhist teacher Thich Nat Hanh emphasizes the principle of universal compassion as a way to expand our consciousness and bring us closer to God. He urges everyone to pray for or neighbors, our community, our country, our earth, all living creatures and for all of God’s creation. This practice of expanding consciousness enables us to feel compassion for our fellow men and eventually for the world itself, and our compassion will inevitably lead us to act in a more mindful manner. By doing so we can act like God in the sense that we will be constrained by our new awareness to become loving stewards of the earth’s resources. Each and every one of us has the ability to be a force for good in the world, if we apply our Christian ethics to our everyday lives. Taking care of the environment and caring for one another in small daily ways can make us better Christians and lead to spiritual growth.