I arrived home yesterday from Rome, although I was very happy to see my beloved Marjon as well as my friends, Frederick and Edward who came to visit from Malta, my spirit was still somewhere in Rome. I was still savouring the conference and the wonderful speakers, amongst whom a Catholic priest who has celebrated something like two hundred same sex marriages even though it is strictly forbidden. Yes, you read correctly a Catholic priest in Italy who celebrates same sex marriages.
The conference was very intense and full of passionate speeches by no less than 12 speakers from different denominations as well as different nationalities. I cannot possible repeat anything that was said, it would be impossible for me to share it in the same way. So many stories and reflections were shared by men and women who clearly have spent years studying the Bible, questioning and deeply reflecting upon it. http://www.euroforumlgbtchristians.eu/index.php/lgbt-events/euro-pride/66-euro-pride-2011-rome-italy-euro-pride-2011-rome-italy/75-conference-glbt-people-and-christian-churches-in-europe-fears-and-opportunities-for-full-acceptance-and-inclusion
The highlight of the conference was the end prayer, we sang songs and read passages from the Bible (Psalm 86, 8-13, Matthew 11, 25-30). The most amazing and unbelievable part of this, was that even though we were one of many tents in the park and there was a cacophony of noise and music hitting us from all directions, it was as if we were in a cocoon. It was as if we were the only tent in the whole park, all we could hear was the sound of the guitar and each other singing and praying. I was looking around me, realising how strong the power of prayer and singing can be. I was extremely moved and once again I could not help but cry. I was certain that the Holy Spirit was amongst us, that our being there was God's work and that we have absolutely nothing to fear.
One of the songs that we sang was Kyrie Eleison and those who wanted to, could say a personal prayer. Even though I was crying, I felt a strong need to pray for those LGBT people who feel rejected by the Church. I asked God to let them know that they too could experience togetherness and acceptance. I prayed that they come back to Church because they have every right to be there and that they too are loved. I wanted them to know that in spite of all the oppression and fear that they might experience, loving someone of the same sex is sacred and holy. I was absolutely convinced of God's presence and that He/She was listening to each and every one of us.
Yes, I know I am repeating myself and I will keep doing so as long as there are people around us who try to instil fear, instead of fill us with the love of God. There are people around us who claim to know God's word simply because they have read the Bible from cover to cover, countless number of times. There are people who carry the Bible in their hands all day, become evangelists, start their own ministry and claim to know the absolute truth and nothing but the truth. Whilst I admire the verve with which they preach the word of God, I do not admire the way the Bible is used to patronise others, especially the LGBT community. Can one use the Bible in this way, can one really claim to know God's word without having first spent years of research and reflection?? What is the point of quoting it without having reflected upon it?
In my opinion last Friday's episode of Xarabank, (Friday 10th June 2011), was a clear example of this. (Xarabank is a Maltese programme where people are invited to form part of a panel to discuss a particular issue). Last Saturday evening I decided to watch the afore mentioned programme, one of the guests in the panel was Pastor Gordon John Manche. I thought to myself, let me see what this man has to say, I wondered if he would come across in the same way as the many speakers I have listened to so far.
Pastor Gordon John Manche has read the Bible from cover to cover, but does he really know the Bible? Unfortunately, even though it is clear that he does love the word of God, he was not convincing. He did not convince me that he has spent time in deep prayer and reflection. On several occasions during the programme, when confronted he could not answer clearly. When asked to interpret a verse from Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 14:34-35) his interpretation was shaky and doubtful. Many times during the programme, when challenged, he was evasive. However what struck me most was his inability to stay calm, on the contrary very often he became aggressive. It was as if the only way he could convince the audience as well as the panel was by becoming angry and by shouting. This lead me to think that he too is not really convinced other wise he would not react in that way. On the contrary, Mario Gerada, member of Drachma LGBT Christian group remained serene and humble when he answered questions. (Thank you, Mario, for being so positive, for being a true a witness for all Maltese LGBT people and for giving them hope).
My experience of other speakers is quite the opposite, last week I had the privilege to listen to and spend time with Fr. John McNeill. A gay man and ex Jesuit, who is the author of several books, The Church and the Homosexual, Freedom Glorious Freedom, to mention a couple. A few times during our conversations, I challenged Fr. John, I challenged his thoughts and ideas and every single time he answered me with quiet conviction. He answered from a place that clearly showed knowledge, research and deep reflection. He never felt threatened, he remained calm and the look in his eyes was serene. He was not afraid.
Winston Churchill once said, 'all we have to fear is fear itself'. Overcoming fear is not always an easy task especially when we have to contend with persons who try to instil it and take us to our own place of doubts. How can we overcome these fears and doubts? We are surrounded by authors who can answer many questions, people like Fr. John McNeill, Sr Jeannine Gramick, Sr. Margaret Farley, James Alison and many others. Read, read, read their books, read the Bible, reflect upon it, get together and discuss it. Reach out to others, reach out to Drachma LGBT Christian Group (http://www.drachmalgbt.blogspot.com/), do not struggle alone. I know that asking you to not be afraid is sometimes difficult, however I know that if you dig deep into your hearts and souls, you will find that God is there. If you allow Her/Him, She/He will guide you to a place where your fears will be chased away.