Sunday, December 28, 2008

Obama and Rick Warren

I often find myself, as the "gay guy who has worked with evangelicals", being asked my opinion about Rick Warren being such a visible part of the upcoming inauguration. Here are some of my responses:

1. I fully understand the disappointment and anger, especially on the heels of the passage of Proposition 8.

2. I'm not sure it's fair to say that Obama has "turned" on anything as much as partisans on the left (including glbt advocates) were blinded by their own zeal. Obama has been to Saddleback a few times (including HIV testing w/Sen Brownback a few years ago). Obama never said he supports same-sex marriage - in fact he has said the opposite. He certainly never claimed to make gay rights a priority.

3. I'm not sure that Obama is simply trying to woo people who did not support him. Obama won California fairly easily, but Prop 8 also passed. Clearly, many Obama supporters voted for Prop 8. I'm guessing if Obama were more assertive about gay rights, he would have had a narrower victory.

4. On a more "Quaker" level, anger is divisive. Is it our role, as Quakers, to necessarily have to choose sides on this issue, or can we find a more loving response? Rather than lament and fight, what if we were to instead say "this decision has been made. What is ours to do now?"

5. I think the gay community would do well to understand that there have been so many advancements over the past decade that society needs a rest. We are on a positive course without a doubt, and within ten years all will be well. In the meantime, let's step up responsibility rhetoric, rather than rights. An example? Let's step up HIV-prevention. There's too much complacency and even complicitness in the gay bars, pornography, and internet. We cannot simply sit back and blame the government for the continuing spread of HIV in the gay community.

6. Finally, I think the Warren announcement gives pause: let's look at the entirety of this person and of the movement. Much is being exposed. Warren has done a lot for poverty and AIDS. He (and moreso his wife, Kay) have talked of being open and loving to people with AIDS. How does this settle with judgment of those at-risk for HIV: do they need to get HIV for us to care? Warren has also been clear that his belief does come with questioning. In addition, I know many evangelical Christians who are also upset by this announcement, and also many non-evangelicals who have really liked Warren's work and now are re-thinking that because they did not know his stance on glbt marriage. Anything that exposes where we truly are in society, I think is a good thing.

Basically, I think this, along with the passage of Prop 8, are quickly going to be "2steps back, 4 steps forward". We are already seeing this as a new level of dialog has emerged about gay rights, the fullness of people like Rick Warren, how he differs from the Pat Robertson/James Dobson crowd, and the hypocricy of being a "leader" in the fight against AIDS while being against gay rights. An example is Frank Rich's column (12/28/08) where he says: "Equally lame is the argument mounted by an Obama spokeswoman, Linda Douglass, who talks of how Warren has fought for 'people who have H.I.V./AIDS.' Shouldn’t that be the default position of any religious leader? Fighting AIDS is not a get-out-of-homophobia-free card. That Bush finally joined Bono in doing the right thing about AIDS in Africa does not mitigate the gay-baiting of his 2004 campaign, let alone his silence and utter inaction when the epidemic was killing Texans by the thousands, many of them gay men, during his term as governor." Bringing the long needed discussion of the separation of AIDS work from the people who get HIV/AIDS and how they get it to the forefront can only be a good thing.

I think, ultimately, a lot of good can come from this. What will only delay the progress from here is letting anger get the best of us.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reflections on Homelessness at the beginning of winter

On Sunday night I attended the Homeless People Memorial Service in front of Union Station with a group from Alliance Friends Church (Ohio). The memorial service was to remember the fifty people who died on the streets of DC during the last year. The organizations planning the service held it on Sunday night, because it was the longest night of the year. During the service, there were speakers from several organization serving the homeless in DC and former homeless people speaking about their experiences on the streets. The messages themselves were very eloquent.

Attending the service was the last event of the weekend workcamp that focused on homelessness for the Ohio group. During the weekend, we painted at Maurine's house, an elderly lady with an low income, at Friends Meeting of Washington preparing shoe boxes for residents of the DC area homeless shelter and then help serve a Christmas Meal at Martha's Table.

For me this event was a good closing to the weekend, because it serves as a important reminder that I need to do more to help out in DC. It is not enough to serve the homeless, but we need to find ways to help end the causes of homelessness and create a support network to help keep people off of the streets.

The most powerful part of the whole night was the background of this entire event. Behind the speakers, the dome of the US Capitol was lighted up. As one of the speakers noted, the US Capitol is the seat of the most powerful government in the world. On this evening, for me the juxtaposition of the Capitol behind the memorial service further illustrated the injustice that exists in the US. The government has enough money to bail out businesses who went bankrupt, businesses that further the pay inequality between CEOs and their workers and many who still engage in practices that led to their own bankruptcy, but it does not have enough money to house the most vulnerable of the population.

The Moral Majority has said in many ways over the past couple decades that we have a moral problem in the US. I am in total agreement with them, but for completely different reasons. How do we as an nation let people sleep on the streets and die on the streets? We are the richest nation in the world, but we do not want to house and feed everyone. Notice that I said do not want to, instead of can not, because we can definitely find ways and money to house everyone if that was actually a priority in this country. Actually if the US really wanted to, we could fund a global hunger campaign to end hunger forever in this world. It would only cost a couple B-2 bombers.

There are some great ideas to end homelessness here in the District. Earlier this year DC Mayor Fenty introduced the Housing First Initiative. The goal of this initiative aims to end homelessness in DC by housing the most chronic homeless people in supportive housing, mostly apartments. This idea was based off of a program that New York City implemented to help their homeless people. But with the recent downturn in the economic, the first thing cut from the budget was the initiative.

To add insult to this whole issue is the fact earlier this fall, the DC City Government and the Washington Nationals struck a deal on back rent that the baseball team owed to the city. The agreement ended up with the city actually paying for more improvements on their stadium than the back rent the team would pay. This money would have benefited homeless families more instead of helping a team that pays its players more than $54 million every year.

We need to do more as a community and as a nation so that next year we do not have to have another memorial service to mourn the deaths of more homeless people due to the weather.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Something for Me to Do

My internship at the William Penn House will end in January. It has been an amazing 18 months of growing and learning.

I could talk about all the practical things I have done here. That is my inclination- I am a beaver. I’ve folded countless sheets and towels. Washed a lot of dishes. I am now an expert email-writer and phone-answerer. I co-clerked a planning committee for a nation wide young adult Friend’s inter-branch conference. I helped plan a retreat here for young adult Friends who are currently working for Quaker organizations. I’ve traveled to multiple yearly meetings and gatherings of Friends representing the House. I scheduled a multitude of appointments for college groups and then had students following me around DC like ducklings. I have seen a lot of guests come and go. I could talk about all of this “doing” but there is sometime much more important and lasting about my time at the William Penn House.

When I graduated from college in the spring of 2007 I was sure that I was headed for a career in academia. That is what I was comfortable with, what I loved, what I knew. I was the student, and that was all. When graduate school plans were not realized I felt lost and unsure about the next step in my life. Thankfully, in the twists and turns of the internet I found the William Penn House. It seemed like a great opportunity to live right in the heart of a big city, get out of Ohio and doing something related to my Quaker faith.

Those expectations were certainly met in my time here, but there have been other ways being here has changed and challenged me that I did not foresee coming. Suddenly I had free time to fill with things other than homework and studying. Suddenly I was far away from my friends of four years. Suddenly I was living and working in the same place. It was a much larger transition than I had anticipated. Who was I now if I wasn’t a student?

I could not imagine a better place to try and figure out the answers to that question than here at the WPH. With all the skills and gifts I thought I was bringing to the House, the House has been willing to invest in me and my development. I have found work here that is meaningful and fulfilling. I have learned to do small things like laundry and dishes as a meditative practice, instead of as something below me. I have had the chance to try new things- like planning a national inter-branch YAF conference and traveling to difference yearly meetings and colleges to represent the House. I have gained skills in communication and reflection by living with others. Encouraged by my mentors here, I have become more attuned to what I am feeling and needing in each moment. I have been able to put into words what I feel called to do and be in my life.

Dorothea Dix said that “In a world where there is so much to be done, I felt strongly impressed that there much be something for me to do.” That is the greatest gift from my time here. The WPH has allowed me to do deep searching to figure out what I am supposed to do and then as it fits with the mission of the House they have given me the skills, time and opportunity to live that out. For that I am extremely grateful.