Volume 2 Book 8 Part 9 of "Living In The Bonus Round"
The Online Diary of Steve Schalchlin
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Chalked on the sidewalk in front of the Zion United Church of Christ
was a mural that says, "Peace With Justice."
October 15 - 21, 2001.
Finding Greatness.I was so happy to be invited back to Henderson Kentucky for the second year in a row to sing for the Peace With Justice Weekend at the Zion United Church of Christ. And I'm using this entry to close out Volume 2 Book 8, Modern Mutuality, because it was at this event last year that I learned the concept of "mutuality." It just feels right.
I arrived on Thursday after a long, depressing airport/airline experience at LAX. I woke Jimmy up at 3:15am so that we could leave at 3:45 in order to get me to the airport by 4:15 for my 6am flight. I arrived at the Northwest Airlines terminal to find (literally) HUNDREDS of people waiting in the dark.
The desk terminals were dark, there were no employees anywhere in sight and there was only the slightest of illumination coming from dim light fixtures scattered in the ceiling. So we all stood there in the blackness in something that vaguely resembled a line. And the clock ticked. And the clock ticked. Next to me were four sports fanatics who were on their way to a professional football game . They loudly discussed the relative merits of every single team in the league while the rest of us sat on the floor waiting for something to happen.
Finally, at 5am, three people filed behind the ticketing counter and the lights suddenly flashed on. So now there were three women trying to process hundreds of passengers -- and I was at the back of the line. Miraculously, they gathered up the folks on my flight and processed us first. So I just made it onto the plane.
In Memphis, I ran down the airport hallway, changed to a two-engine prop plane and flew into Evansville, Indiana where I was picked up by a smiling Judee. I was never so happy to see anyone in my life. All I wanted, after the hours in line and then the hours on the plane, was to find a bed and take a nap.
Unfortunately, my nap was interrupted -- well, not interrupted really -- you see, on the day before I flew I went into the bookstore to find something to read on the flight. By sheer chance, I found the paperback edition of a thriller novel called "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown. Dan Brown is a friend of mine. I knew him when he was an aspiring songwriter back in L.A.
Well, this book! Talk about your "hanging onto the edge of your seat, cannot put it down" book. I couldn't stop reading. It was SO TENSE and so tightly plotted (with a story that covered everything from science versus religion to anti-matter to the Vatican and the election of a Pope -- and, of course, murder by an ancient anti-religious terrorist group) that I could NOT put it down. After I finally finished it -- and the ending came as a complete surprise, well-earned and plausible -- that I dashed off a note to him, cursing him for being so talented because now it meant I'd have to work harder just to rise to his level. (Thanks, Dan. I hate you.)
Henderson Kentucky is a tiny little town in the heart of some beautiful woods right on the Ohio River. The place they had for me was some housing they (the Zion United Church of Christ) had recently renovated as a part of their AIDS ministry called Matthew 25. Three beautiful rooms with a small kitchen, comfy bed, and bathroom with tub.
My home for three days. I stayed in the front apartment.
An elderly woman lives in the rear.
After spending several hours in the house I decided to go out for a little stroll. The streets were lined with trees well into the fall season. Bright yellows, oranges and reds were all around me. The air was cool and comfortable and dry; perfect fall weather.
And though Dan Brown's novel was struggling to pull me back into its pages, I let the beauty of this countryside pull me around instead.
In keeping with a new tradition in this diary, if you click on the picture of the yellow leaves, it will take you to a larger version -- yes! a free bonus desktop image for your computer of the beautiful Kentucky fall.
The Ohio River waterfront in Henderson Kentucky.
You can't see it but there was a train speeding across.
I wandered down two blocks from my "home" to find the little church. It was just as beautiful as last year.
Next to the church with its spire reaching into the sky, is a community meeting house, which is an outreach of Zion UCC, called Paff Haus. There they house a rural AIDS ministry called Matthew 25, the Henderson/Evansville PFLAG, Amnesty International, Paff Haus Press, Peace With Justice Week and a local chapter of the National Organization for Women. Pretty radical for a buncha country folk, huh?
The slogan for this year's conference is taken from the writings
of the slain El Salvadoran priest Father Romero:
"Planting seeds that one day will grow.
Watering seeds already planted."
I went back to my cozy room, cuddled up with Dan's book and slept like a baby. The next day we all gathered for lunch and our guest was the Imam of an Evansville mosque, who explained how evil it was in the *true* Moslem religion to take even a single human life.
After a break, it was my job to open the weekend with a concert. The only that kept reverberating through my mind was a saying from the Tau Te Ching. A saying about war -- and maybe one that goes against the grain of the jingoistic fervor that has overtaken our country in the wake of the 9/11 bombings. It's not that I think war isn't sometimes necessary; this country would not exist if the colonists had not risen up against the oppressive policies of the king of England. Slavery was defeated in this country with the Civil War...
As I took my place at the piano at the front of the church and looked out over the audience packed into the pews I said, "I would like us to open with a moment of meditation." Then I opened my little pocket Tau (which I almost always have with me) and read from number 31 (translation by Stephen Mitchell):
[A decent man] enters a battle gravely,Then I began to sing. The Closet, then Near You and Beyond The Light. (Link to music). Then, after that quiet moment, I ramped up into Preacher and the Nurse, Somebody's Friend, Going It Alone, At Least I Know What's Killing Me, Friendly Fire, Gabi's Song, William's Song -- on and on through nearly every song. The audience was laughing, dancing, singing along -- they knew my songs almost better than I did! It was a joyful celebration.
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
Gettin' ALL excited!
Zion United Church of Christ is the home of many happy people.
I played for at least an hour and a half -- and the room was so electrically charged and the people so thrilling -- I didn't want to quit. The standing ovation was thunderous and then Glenda Guess, who is the person responsible for bringing me in, asked me to sing A Simple Faith. In introducing the song, I recalled that my first church concert after 25 years of not going near a church was upon invitation of a United Church of Christ minister, Rev. Jerry Alan Smith (then) from Rochester New York but who is now outside Boston.
I told the story of how Bro. Jerry invited me to his church on sheer faith, from reading my diary and listening to my songs even though I told him I felt more like an atheist than anything else. But he trusted me and that little grain of trust made a huge difference in my life. Sometimes the best faith is the faith we give to each other.
This is a shot of the church building interior. All around the sanctuary they hung liturgical stoles of GLBT ministers who had been driven from their congregations because of their sexual orientation. It was quite moving to see the representations of the lost ministries and lost chances for service.
The next day we all gathered together, formed into little groups and told each other our stories. It was great to hear the individual stories of nurses, housewives, mothers, students and PWAs just talking about what motivates them to learn about the world and try to make a difference through activism. These were the faces from my group. Our "talking stick" was a water nozzle.
This was the group around my table, all holding our talking nozzle.After that, I slept all afternoon. I hadn't realized how exhausted I was from the many weeks of recording. And in the little guesthouse I was staying at there was (thankfully) no phone line and no television. I was blessed with the silence of the countryside.
That night we had an awards banquet for some very worthy people who have devoted their lives to working for Justice and Peace, but I had heard a rumor that we were going to be facing protesters. Protesters?? Out here???
Protesters across from us in Henderson KY.
The sign in the middle says, "Dykes Are Satan's Whores."
On the end, "Fags Burn in Hell."
Behind them: "SALE ON MATTRESSES."
And sure enough, there they were across the street in front of the tiny church holding signs that said, "GOD HATES FAGS" and "DYKES ARE SATAN'S WHORES" and one with a little arrow pointing at the church that said, "THIS WAY TO HELL." We were told to ignore them but I couldn't help myself. I HAD to go.
As soon as I reached them, they surrounded me and started in on trying to pound me with Bible verses but I wasn't going to let them lead the conversation. The first thing I asked the little nub of a "pastor" -- they had come from an independent "Baptist" church, of course. (It doesn't take much to call yourself a Baptist -- just hang a sign and pretend you know everything).
I said, "So, do you have a ministry in your church devoted to gay people?"
He looked at me horrified and said, "No! We don't want them in our church!!"
I asked, "Are you affiliated with Exodus International?"
"Nope. Never heard of them."
I said, "Well, they're the umbrella organization for exgay ministers. Do you have any exgays in your church?"
I said, "Have you ever 'helped' a gay person go from being gay to exgay?"
"Nope." At this point the tiny preacher was starting to get agitated. They don't like it when you take control of the conversation. All they want to do is throw Bible verses at you like throwing planes into buildings.
"Have you ever even MET any exgays?"
"Nope." Now he's getting nervous and even a bit convicted. I could see that I was throwing him off his game.
I said, "Have you ever MET anyone who knew anyone who went through the process of going from gay to exgay?" (Okay, that was a smart ass question but I couldn't help myself).
I said, "Do you know the process that people go through if they DO choose to go from being gay to exgay? Have you read anything about it? Do you have any knowledge on the subject at all?"
"Then what gives you that authority to stand out here with these signs and pretend that you care enough to minister to gay people if you've never met one, never ministered to one, don't know the process and don't have a place for them in your church if they DID decide to follow your theology???"
Now he was sputtering and fuming. His skin turned absolutely red. (The Christian Taliban of America hate it when they're confronted with their own hatred.) About that time some other person came on to the sidewalk and he corralled that person, leaving me as far behind as possible.
Realizing they were through with me, I went back to the church and did something very naughty. My 16 year old friend Sarah (who had joined me on the sidewalk) and I found a piece of poster board and created a new sign. It said, "Would Jesus Hold That Sign?"
Sarah holding our sign.The awards banquet was stirring and though I didn't stay for the whole thing -- went back and went to sleep again -- but I was particularly moved by Marino Cordoba, president of AFRODES (Association of Displaced Afro Colombians), a group of black Colombians from the northern Pacific region who are being displaced by paramilitary violence. Marino takes his life into his hands every single day.
The next morning we had the most beautiful celebration of all, Sunday morning church service. I arrived early because I knew Pastor Elizabeth wanted me to sing "Where Is God?" and I wanted to rehearse it a bit. I sat at the piano and began singing alone when I noticed a dapper, well dressed man came into the sanctuary, sat at the back and listened. I sang, "James Robison" and several other songs. He applauded quietly and we exchanged some smiles. Then we stood out on the stoop and talked about the protesters from the day before.
Turns out he was Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary for the World Council of Churches -- funny who you might meet in Henderson Kentucky -- the group responsible for the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. He said, "Back in the 50s, there were people like them who condemned us for our translation of the Bible -- it was the McCarthy era -- and to make matters worse, our first cover was red. They were convinced Jesus used the King James Version and that the RSV was Communist."
The church service was amazing. My favorite singers were the kids, led by Carol Johnson followed by two sisters from Evansville, the Browne Sisters who basically raised the roof with pure Gospel. I loved it all but my favorite moment happened just before the sermon by Dr. Edgar.
The people in the congregation were given the chance to tell what "gifts" they had received during the weekend. People stood up and told of being inspired, loved, filled with joy, learning, etc. And they went on and on about how beautiful the whole event had been. I sat there wanting to say something but I couldn't. I had tears in my eyes from witnessing such gentle kindness, such honest happiness. The mixture of music and love, self-sacrifice and spirit of mutuality spread throughout that room. But I had no words.
Not until I got back on the plane did it come to me what I would have said if I had had the words then.
I would have said, "Now I know what it's like to be in the presence of greatness."
Hmmm. Sounds like an idea for a song...
END OF VOLUME 2 BOOK 8
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