Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fruitcake Making, Home, and LGBT Folks in the Church: An Advent Meditation Noting the Total Silence of Pope Francis About LGBT People in Uganda

A brief report to all of you on a dreary post-U.S. Thanksgiving weekend in which we've had enough rain to warrant two arks instead of the single one that Noah built: I've made the weekend brighter by remaining true to my grandmother's tradition of baking her Christmas fruitcakes on or by Thanksgiving weekend. Her rule of thumb was that fruitcake for Christmas needed to be baked by the last week of November, since it required a month in a sealed tin in a dark closet, wrapped in cheesecloth and laved repeatedly with sherry or bourbon, to mature it for eating at Christmas time.

I like the ritual, the carrying on of a tradition that links me to a grandmother I adored as I was growing up — and to all of her foremothers who passed down this tradition along with their love of rich, spicy, dark fruitcake full of candied and dried fruits and nuts and of spices that brought the fragrance of warm eastern and southern countries to people in the British Isles and northern Europe during the cold, dark days of the year. I spent a good bit of time on Friday, as the rain pelted down, chopping my candied fruits and nuts, and then putting them into a huge bowl to soak overnight in sweet wine. 

The hunt for fruitcake ingredients in our kitchen pantry led me to a jar of figs I had dried three summers ago — another grandmother link, since our fig tree is an offshoot of the old tree my grandmother cherished in her yard several blocks away, from which she faithfully made preserves every summer. For some mysterious reason, this past summer, neither we nor any of our neighbors had any figs on our trees. The summer before, the crop was plentiful, but too much rain as they ripened caused the figs to swell, burst, and rot, becoming food for birds and squirrels. 

The figs I had dried three summers ago were full of the rich, dark smell of ripe black figs dried slowly on cookie sheets in our oven, then stored in sealed glass jars so that no pest might find them. It took quite a bit of soaking (for the fig soaking, I used a cinnamon-flavored schnapps someone had given us) to bring them back to life. But the results were luscious, and I'll now think of summer and fresh figs when I allow myself at Christmas time a nibble of the fruitcake I baked yesterday, after the dried fruits and nuts had soaked for half a day and a night in their sweet wine and cinnamon schnapps.

I'm writing this report after we've gone to church this first Sunday of Advent, to the Episcopal church attended by neighbors who had invited us to join them there when we might feel so moved. Before the liturgy began, after a deacon had come out to ask that we sit in prayerful silence for some minutes prior to the choir's procession into the church, I prayed.

My prayer: that my motives for leaving behind the Catholic church home I chose as a teen in 1967 might be pure, unmixed with less-than-noble motives (e.g., with anger and resentment at how that church home has dealt with me). I prayed, in other words, that the mixture of motives I can very well discern in my heart as I turn towards any church home might be taken up by the Spirit and purified — a way of praying I learned in that very Catholic church home I'm now determined to leave behind, from the master of the spiritual life Teresa of Avila.

As I prayed, the thought that came to me: of course our motives in seeking even the best, the most admirable spiritual goals are mixed. Mixed in with our hunger to encounter God is, for instance, a desire to encounter along our spiritual path people who love us and accept us as we are. 

But even when our hunger for what is good is mixed with hunger for something less than the apex of goodness, the good remains the good, and it draws us forward. One of the first things the scriptures tell us, in the creation narratives, is that it is not good for us to be alone. 

God has made  us with a longing in our hearts to be loved and accepted by others. It's good that such an aspiration draws us out of ourselves. 

This is a week in which the chief pastor of the Catholic church has just visited a nation in Africa, Uganda, almost half of whose citizens are Catholic. That nation has considered laws making its gay citizens susceptible to capital punishment. The LGBT citizens of this largely Christian nation are treated with a tremendous lack of humanity.

In his days in Africa, Pope Francis talked repeatedly about the need to build just societies in which respect for others and tolerance thrive. As he spoke such nice words, he could not — not once, not on a single occasion — acknowledge that some of the citizens of African nations happen to be LGBT human beings, and that those members of the human community have been treated and continue to be treated with unthinkable barbarity by their fellow citizens, many of whom happen to be Christian, and many of whom are Catholic Christians.

Not. One. Word. 

Pope Francis spoke not a single world about the LGBT citizens of Uganda as he spoke about respect, tolerance, and human rights. He continued the pretense of top Catholic pastoral leaders for years now that, when human rights and social justice are the topic of conversations, LGBT people simply do not exist. We are not there, not in the room as these matters are discussed.

This . . . oversight? . . . gives a very loud, very clear message to LGBT Catholics that there is no place for us in the Catholic family. So I've at last come to conclude. 

It is not good for people to be alone. It is natural — it's good — that we seek human community,  families (including religious ones) in which we're accepted, welcomed, celebrated just as God made us to be. 

I have finally been able to hear, with ears wide open, the message that the leaders of my Catholic church want to give me, and I'm happy to know in a definitive way that there is no welcome for me and others like me in this church. I do not count as a human being even to the extent that the top pastoral leader of the Catholic church can speak a word — a single word — about the immorality of laws that target people like me as criminals deserving of the death penalty, when he's visiting a nation in which such laws have been openly considered.

And so I'm moving on, as the pastoral leaders of my church have told people like me to do for years now, and I'm actually happy now to have understood, at last, that this is the message those pastoral leaders intend to give people like me. This frees me to seek a church home in which I'll find myself less isolated, ignored, treated as a nonentity, than the church in which I had previously tried to find a home, from 1967 until today.

The photo: the fruitcakes I baked yesterday, ready to have bourbon poured on them, before they're sealed in tinfoil for their month of pre-Christmas maturing (with more bourbon to be added every week or so).

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