… for one of the roof leaks. Let’s see, V=πr2h — volume equals pi squared times height, 4 foot diameter tub, 2 feet deep … about 25 gallons which at 8.34 pounds per gallon will total two hunted pounds? Doesn’t seem like much … The rickety floor will hold.
My husband Paul and I serve together as Peace Corps volunteers in Thailand. We’re happy to work in our tiny community on the rice plains. We’re glad we could choose Thailand. One of the really nice things the Peace Corps has done over the past few years is to allow applicants to choose their country of service.
For openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender volunteers, this means we can avoid being invited to serve in countries where, because of religious or cultural influences, the people we serve could be motivated to attack and even kill us. Or, at the least, we can more easily avoid service where people would suspect in some way that we are worthy of condemnation and therefore decline to work productively with us.
It’s great to be able to avoid heightened risk of attack and murder. However, other lgbt-related pressures still confront us soon after arrival in our host country.
The usual dynamic of any American volunteer immersed in host country culture — looking, sounding, and feeling out-of-place — is magnified for openly lgbt volunteers. Our extra level of minority status, defined by differences in gender roles and sexual orientation, at times leaves many lgbt volunteers feeling like a super-aliens. Much of this distance may be because of host country unfamiliarity with American-style lgbt relationships.
Marriage and personal relationships are a fundamental element in every culture, and are a ubiquitous area of curiosity and discussion. Related conversational exchanges are part of forming personal relationships and are a natural part of bonding with host country friends. Yet openly lgbt volunteers often find these exchanges are unavailable, and such absence can cause loss of opportunity to build close friendships.
It seems to me that the missing conversations likely begin something like this:
- I have a cousin I think you’d like to meet …
- What kind of women are you like to date?
- Are you dating someone?
- How long have you and your husband been together?
- What first attracted you to your wife?
It’s difficult for me to describe dynamics that result from the absence of something. But the dynamics are distancing. Lgbt volunteers describe how such distance creates a steeper climb for them as they work to integrate with their coworkers, neighbors and community. Openly lgbt volunteers of color or with disabilities have an even steeper climb. The volunteer may ask herself:
- Is it just me, or are my colleagues keeping their distance?
- Is the lack of connection because I’m lgbt, or is it because my language skills are inadequate?
- Am I the first lgbt person this guy has met? Does he think I’m strange because I’m lgbt?
In other words, part of the steeper climb involves self-doubt. Self-doubt and feeling negatively about yourself is in no way an unusual dynamic in the history of lgbt people. Historically and even in the present day we have been marginalized, have been treated as criminals, we’ve been brutalized and executed, diagnosed as mentally ill, and regarded as sinners by the majority culture.
We have long felt like super-aliens, even at home. Cumulatively this is quite tiring and when added to the rigors of Peace Corps service, it becomes overwhelming at times.
Thank goodness for Pride! In June 1969 gay men in New York fought back against gay-hating police and lgbt people have celebrated Pride Day annually ever since. During one celebration each year, we show each other our solidarity and support. We feel the safety of our numbers, and the warmth and love of our non-lgbt friends, families and co-workers.
But Pride celebrations aren’t easily found in areas where Peace Corps volunteers work. So when a Pride celebration is available, it’s a big deal for lgbt PCVs. It’s great to feel the support of Peace Corps staff and of US officials at the local Embassy. To those Peace Corps and consular staff who make an extra effort to help lbgt volunteers feel affirmed, supported and loved: thank you.
Suphanburi Province, Thailand
23 May, 2017
Click to view interactively: http://360.io/K9QqrT
Some people believe there’s an Invisible Guy Who Lives in the Sky and who controls our destinies.
God-believers, I have to remind myself regularly, can be really sweet and good and kind. We tend to obsess upon the most toxic of them — the extreme believers — just because they make themselves the most visible.
It’s what shows up in the boldest headlines I see every day. Maybe it’s god-belief in Chechnya that motivates them to imprison people in gay concentration camps. Maybe we see missionaries evangelizing anti-gay hate in Nigeria and Uganda.
Or you can pick from an almost unlimited list of bombings, genocides, and trendy killing techniques like driving trucks into crowds.
Maybe it’s just Frank Graham shooting off his yap in “defense of religious liberty” — not perpetrating violence directly but taking no resposibility for the inevitably foul consequences of his cheap demagoguery.
It’s been good for me to live in rural Thailand surrounded by Buddhists whose moment-by-moment choices are driven by a primary consideration: what is the most kind thing to do?
Even Christian believers, known increasingly for their harshness, can be kind and thoughtful. I find it enormously refreshing and calming to read the thoughts of a rational, gentle Christian believer. I re-post them here:
An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor
Can I call you Frank? This is just pastor to pastor. Feel free to call me Peter. Anyway, I have to say I was flattered when I learned that your Decision America Tour took a detour off the beaten path to call upon us “small community churches.”
We are nothing if not small. We seat 30-40 on a good Sunday. And we are a century old fixture of our small community. Most often we are overlooked and overshadowed by mega-churches and politically influential religious voices like your own. We don’t hold a candle to an auditorium filled with the music of a one hundred voice choir led by professional musicians. We probably will never be recognized in any nationally syndicated media. After all, we don’t do anything really “newsworthy.” We just preach the good news of Jesus Christ; love one another the best we can (which sometimes isn’t very well); feed the hungry that come to our doors; care for the sick; comfort the dying; and bury the dead. So thanks for thinking of us. Rest assured, we are ready to respond to your calls to prayer and action.
I have to say, though, that I was a little confused by your summons. Of all the things that worry me, loss of religious freedom for Christians in America isn’t one of them. I can’t say I have ever experienced anything in this country that could reasonably be called a restriction on my religious liberty, much less persecution.
When you started talking about attacks on Christianity, I thought you might have been referring to the racially motivated slaying of pastors and lay people at Mother Emmanuel church in Charlotte some time back. Or I figured you were referring to the slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt this past Palm Sunday. That’s what I call persecution. But having to pay a judgment for refusing to bake a cake for a same sex couple in violation of the law against discrimination? This you call persecution? There’s a letter in the Bible, written by the Apostle Peter (ever heard of him?). He’s an expert on persecution, having been on the receiving end of it more than once. He says you don’t get divine kudos from suffering the consequences of breaking the law-even if you are a Christian.
Moreover, there is a Christian fellow named Paul (aka Saul) who wrote a letter to a church in Rome nearly two thousand years ago. He said that if your enemy is hungry you should feed him (that’s in the Bible too). So wouldn’t it have been the Christian way to have baked a cake for the same sex couple in your example, even if you deem them enemies (another assertion I don’t quite understand)? I’m confused.
But in any event, Frank, let’s get over this persecution complex. Stop with the drama already! You are not under attack just because you have to follow the rules like everyone else. Look, I understand the owners of this establishment you mention in your speech don’t approve of gay and lesbian people getting married. They don’t have to approve of them. But if they are going to do business in this country, they have to follow the law against discrimination-just like the rest of us. If you don’t like the rules, don’t join the game. It’s that simple. Furthermore, I don’t understand why baking a cake for people whose conduct you find personally offensive is such a big deal. Heck, Frank, if all of us small church pastors refused to bury everyone whose conduct we didn’t approve of, the country would be ten feet deep in corpses!
I am struggling, too, with your claim that Donald Trump is a champion (albeit an unlikely one) for religious freedom. What freedoms are we talking about here, Frank? The freedom to lie with impunity? The freedom to grab young girls by the genitals? The freedom to discriminate against people of color in the sale and rental of real estate? The freedom to refer to women as “dogs,” “fat pigs,” and “ugly”? The freedom to call your opponents “idiots,” “losers,” “liars” and “frauds”? The freedom to slander people with accusations of criminal conduct based on absolutely no evidence? By my count, the above violate at least four of the Ten Commandments (you will find those in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy-both in the Bible). If Donald Trump is the champion of American Christianity, God save it from its enemies!
All kidding aside, you might be right about God putting Donald Trump in the White House-though your reasons for so believing are probably different from what I might conjecture. Still, how do you know that? Where did you get this info? I have to hand it to you, Frank, you sure do have the connections. As I am sure you know, God does not consult with us small church pastors on weighty issues of that kind. So it was kind of you to leak this classified intelligence to all of us who are evidently a good deal further away from the divine pipeline. So let me see if I have this figured out correctly: God doesn’t give a flying fruitcake if we deprive twenty-million people, most of them poor, of access to health care. Nor is God particularly concerned about how men treat women in the workplace, how people of color are treated in the real estate market, how the hungry and homeless are cared for (or not), but God flips out if we bake a cake for a same sex couple to celebrate their wedding? I have to be honest with you, Frank. I’m just not seeing it. Not in the Bible, not in the realm of rational common sense.
Here’s the thing, Frank. At the last judgment, Jesus doesn’t ask anyone about who they voted for, how many times they have been divorced, what their sexual history or orientation is or for whom they did or did not bake wedding cakes. His sole concern is for how we treated the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, those deemed “least” among us. No, I didn’t get that from any private chat with God. We small church pastors have to rely on the Bible for our intel. I got this stuff from the Gospel of Matthew, 25th Chapter to be precise. As I said, that, too, is in the Bible. (It’s a great book, Frank. You should read it sometime.)
You know, Frank, I would like to think that we are brothers. I would like to believe that we are on the same side. I would like to believe that, beneath our differences, we worship the same God and follow the same Savior. But quite honestly, I don’t recognize the Jesus I learned from my parents, my Sunday School teachers, my pastors or my years of study and reflection on the Bible in your angry, fearful rhetoric. Yes, I will answer your call for prayer. But I will be praying for the real victims of persecution-the victims of racial discrimination, sexual violence and bullying. I will answer your call to action. But I will be acting to establish health care as a right for all people; making the college campus and the workplace spaces where women and girls need not fear being called “pigs,” “dogs” or “ugly” nor will they need to fear rich, white celebrity males who feel entitled to grab them by the genitals. I will respond to your call for action by working for a society in which no one needs to worry about where she will sleep at night or where the next meal is coming from. You want prayer? You want action? You’ve got it.
Well, thanks again, Frank, for thinking about us small church folk. I appreciate your concern about our being persecuted and under attack. But don’t worry about us. We don’t have your money, your access to the halls of power or your seeming direct connection to the Almighty. But we have the scriptures, we have prayer, and we are learning every day what it means to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s all we need. You can keep your champion in the White House, thanks just the same.
Christ’s servant and yours,