Monday, June 29, 2009

Who Deserves to Eat? Who Dares to Serve?

On June 27th members of The Gathering met at the Wesley United Methodist Church to provide and serve lunch at "The Daily Bread Soup and Lunch Program. Just over 100 adults signed in to receive lunch, but there were also a number of children served, and likely a number of adults who did not sign in.

Executive Director Mary Hankins indicates that the number of people showing up hungry has steadily increased over the last 18 months. A year ago the number of folks wanting lunch ranged from 70-100 people. Now there can be between 110 and 140 people who regularly come for service and fellowship. The economic disaster that now plagues the world’s economies is usually called a recession, but by others, an out and out depression. Whatever it is called, hard times have come to many.

Likely most of The Gathering volunteers Saturday have not gone hungry in a very long time--if ever. So, the experience of offering service to individuals who are less provisioned is not only an encounter with homeless persons and the working-poor, but perhaps more powerfully, an encounter with one’s own anxieties about entitlement and well being.

How many of us have ever spent face-to-face time with the question: who deserves to eat and who does not? Is it moral for any person or any government to determine (by omission or commission) who has food to eat and who doesn’t deserve it? There are many more hungry people in San Angelo than 110, and yet, there are no other daily meal programs in the city. Can we infer that this attitude of neglect or disinterest in San Angelo says tacitly that if one cannot provide for self and family than one is deficient and not entitled to be free of hunger? The Daily Bread program is wonderful and it’s important that we participate in its ministry, but I wonder if it’s also just a token framed in the larger picture of the community?

In America we are drowning in a sea of food. We not only consume food and throw it away at incredible rates, but likely we do so wrapped in the cocoon or illusion about our own security, entitlement and deservedness. And wrapped in that entitlement we become blind to the hunger and dysfunction around us.

For those of us who have never been truly hungry, can we know the impact upon mind and soul to have to seek out a meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter? Is it possible to have any idea what it feels like in the gut to wake up daily on the margins? What messages are given and taken about the worth and value of the one when so little is done by the many? Perhaps the lesson for reflection is to realize how removed from fear and suffering we are in our privileged lives.

So the Gathering’s commitment to the practices of integrity and service in this context require deep consideration of not just the issue of feeding the hungry, but how to address the specter of hunger for the marginalized. Take a breath, drop your energy into your center and look for a first step.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Movie Time!

While San Angelo bakes under 100+ degree heat, the Gathering will meet Sunday to view the documentary "The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry." Join us at 5:30 pm at United Campus Ministries at ASU.

"The Earth is a spiritual presence that must be honored, not mastered."--Native American belief

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Difficult Choice of J.W. Lown

San Angelo Mayor J.W. Lown resigned to help his male partner, a citizen of Mexico living in the U.S. without documentation, enter America legally. Lown is now on the outside looking in, as the picture symbolizes. J.W. wears the blue shirt. He works from Mexico on behalf of his partner.

This act prompted much reflection and many conversations about both marriage equality and US immigration laws. As an Open & Affirming congregation, The Gathering encourages such discussion. Friend and colleague Lou Kavar is living with the complexity of these issues, and I asked him his thoughts. They follow.

The Difficult Choice

The Rev. Louis F. Kavar, Ph.D.

I knew other couples who faced the difficult choice. While I had a great deal of empathy with them, I also wondered why they hadn’t thought about the problems they’d face from the beginning. I thought that I was smarter than getting myself into this kind of situation. Was I ever wrong!

It was early in 2003 when we began to correspond. We got to know each other, our interests and our dreams. I wasn’t sure where it would lead. While we seemed to get along, I was cautious because we were from different cultures. Yet it seemed as though we had known each other a long time. It wasn’t that wild, crazy kind of love portrayed in the movies. It was more like putting on a comfortable, familiar piece of clothing: it fit just the way it should and felt right.

He’s from Hong Kong and a British citizen. I’m from the United States. He came to the United States on a student visa. I wondered: what if this really worked out? Would we be like those other couples I knew in the past in which each member held different citizenship – in which the non-US person could no longer stay in this country because of our arcane immigration laws?

I have traveled to several countries in the past. While I wasn’t sure that I could adapt to life in Hong Kong, I thought I’d do just fine living in Canada, England, Australia or New Zealand. I think I’m just too old to learn to function well in a second language every day. But leave the United States? Well, I didn’t want to give up my citizenship, but all these other countries had some form of immigration program for gay and lesbian people. I could make it work.

Believing I had considered all the possible problems, I allowed myself to commit to my partner. We’ve lived together as a couple for six years. I can’t imagine my life without him. In many ways, he’s brought the best out of me.

Two years ago, our lives changed. My mother, who previously insisted that she would always remain in the home of my youth, suffered an unexpected stroke. She lost her eye sight and could not live alone. Her long term care insurance was inadequate to provide the care she needed .She feared the possibility of a nursing home. With no other option, my partner and I agreed that she could live with us.

My life has changed a great deal. I have given up pastoring and traditional ministry in order to work at home online as a university professor. I’m my mother’s primary care-giver. My partner has completed his graduate degree and is frantically searching for a job to support a visa to stay in the United States. With luck he will find one; perhaps he won’t.

My partner has been active in my mother’s care. They’ve grown to love and depend on each other. Mom enjoys when he makes certain Chinese specialties for her, like congi – a rice porridge – and home-made egg rolls or dumplings. (Because of her salt free diet, her food often needs to be made separately.)

My partner and I agree: she would not adapt to a nursing home. While many people do well with institutional life, Mom just wouldn’t be one of them.

While my partner and I would have no difficulty living in another country if he doesn’t find a job to support a work visa in the United States, the reality is that any country we could go to would not admit my mother because of her health. Given this situation, I am facing a very difficult choice: caring for my mother and possibly giving up my partner or institutionalizing (and abandoning) my mother to leave the country to be with my partner. It’s all because we, as a gay couple, are not recognized as a couple for immigration purposes. While in a heterosexual marriage, the U.S. member of the couple can sponsor a spouse for immigration purposes, I cannot – not even the one who not only is committed to me but also cares for my mother.

On June 3, the Senate judiciary committee convened hearings on a bill known as the United American Families Act. This bill would recognize couples like mine to utilize the existing immigration process used by heterosexually married couples. This bill has been introduced in both the Senate and House’s judiciary committee every year since 2001 and this is the first time hearings have occurred. It’s clearly progress. But no one expects the bill to get out of the committee this year. The best one couple hopes for is that next year it would be part of a larger immigration bill. But even then, such a provision would be in conflict with the Federal Defense of Marriage Act which proscribes that the Federal government and all of its agencies must define marriage as one man and one woman. It’s going to be a long road to change.

So what about me and my family? We’ve discussed the possibility that my partner could live in Canada, perhaps in Vancouver, and mom and I could move to Seattle. He could live in work in Canada and visit us on weekends.

Or he could pursue another degree – one that he doesn’t want. But we already have student loans for his graduate school. How much more in debt do we need to go just to maintain our family?

The problem isn’t a new one. It’s faced by gay and lesbian couples around the country. It’s not that we want special treatment, just equal treatment. Perhaps one day immigration laws will change and gay couples will also have the legal ability to marry. But it won’t happen soon enough in the United States to be of any real help to us.

The Rev. Louis F. Kavar, Ph.D. is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ living in St. Louis, MO. He is faculty in the school of psychology at Capella University.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Work Group-a-palooza!

We'll explore The Gathering's possibilities this Sunday. We meet to recap and celebrate the efforts of the Open & Affirming Workgroup, the Logo Design Workgroup, and the Community Connecting Workgroup.

Working together with the Spirit, these groups helped us traverse the "community-in-development" path. It's time to evaluate and again evolve, so in our collaborative style, we'll gather to explore possible next steps. All voices are valued. Come ready to participate!