Posts Tagged ‘out

05
Nov
21

EST-CE QUE TU PARLES FRANCAIS?

Joan and I have been in the south of France for the past week.

And when I say, “the south of France,” I mean THE SOUTH. As in, imagining we hear banjos and guitars having a pick-off duel as we round every turn in the road. 

In French, of course.

Don’t get me wrong… this is a beautiful place. Full of vineyards, ancient stone castles, quaint villages, winding roads and craggy hillsides. It is breathtakingly romantic and serene.

Except that NOBODY here speaks a word of English. As a matter of fact, I am not sure they know any language besides French even exists.

And so, as we have navigated our way through the amazing little towns of Boutenac, Carcassone, Minerve, Lezignan, and Coulliere, we learned to get by with some quick, seat-of-the-pants translating. When ordering lunch, for example, we had to figure out that it would not kill us to choose something off the Poisson section of the menu. It just meant we would get a nice piece of grilled fish. 

We also learned that adding a dash of cannelle to our morning coffee would give it a flavorful little kick.

Waitresses and hotel clerks and retailers regularly took pity on us and used their back-pocket English when we appeared to struggle. But for the most part, we were a couple of odd ducks wherever we went. Which – I have to admit – was kind of a new experience for both of us. 

Because, you see, most of the time, I am alert, aware, comfortable with my surroundings, and on top of my game. In my native habitat, stuff doesn’t fluster me… unless, of course, we are talking about finding ANYTHING in the grocery store! And so, the experience of being in a place where I am different… where I am lost and unsure… where I am The Other… was unsettling and frankly disorienting.

It also made me realize that it is not necessary to travel in France with a limited-to-nonexistent French vocabulary to feel out of place. Often all it takes to feel like un poisson hors de l’eau is to be a member of any non-advantaged group. 

Those of us who – because of our race, gender, ableness, or economic class – begin life on second base, are told (and believe) the story that we hit a double. We inherited the FastPass at Disneyland and can’t, for the life of us, figure out why everyone else is still standing in that silly line. We get the grades, we get the help, we get the jobs, and we get the dream… in many cases all because of factors we have zero control over. 

And so, it comes as a very unwelcome shock any time we find ourselves standing on the outside – of ANYTHING! – looking in. 

Most of the time when this kind of disquieting, uncomfortable moment happens to us, we moan and wail and kvetch. “This totally sucks!” is one of our more popular refrains.

But what if we used these pinch-point moments for a different purpose? What if we used them instead as a moment of awakening? What if we recognized them as a time when SEEDS are being sown? 

Seeds of insight… seeds of compassion… seeds of understanding.

What if – when the time comes when the cards all seem to be stacked against us, we cocked our heads, opened our ears, and heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV) and paid special attention in that verse to the word ALL?

What if?

That would sure be tres bon, wouldn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

14
Jun
19

Coming Out

hmc_full-color-portfolio-image_585x400I like to sing.

Correction; I absolutely LOVE to sing.

And so it was with real joy and excitement that I accepted my friend’s invitation three years ago to audition for a group called the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC). My friend had just been hired as the new artistic director of HMC. He knew of my love of singing from long-ago church connections and decided to reach out to me.

Heartland Men’s Chorus hails from Kansas City and is a civic singing group which has been in existence for 33 years. Oddly enough, the Chorus is made up almost entirely of males. I say almost because we admitted our first female member two years ago. 

HMC performs three concerts per season, including a Christmas program, a spring show, and a summer show. One of the three concerts is usually a “pops” concert of some kind while the other is often connected with a social justice cause.

An example of the latter was our spring 2017 concert titled “Indivisible… Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” which included the song, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This haunting piece took the actual recorded last words of seven unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers (including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin) and set them to music.

Our concerts almost always include 13-14 intricate, beautiful, harmonious numbers, they last for over two hours with music that is 100 percent memorized. 

All the singers (except for the occasional professional “guest soloist”) are volunteers, yet prepare and perform like professionals. 

Oh… did I also mention that Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus? 

And even though I am a straight, middle-aged, married guy, they have welcomed me warmly.

It may have been that I imagined – when I first began singing with them – that the singers in the chorus would have a lot to gain by singing with me. I am, after all, a pastor, an open, progressive thinker, and a solid lower bass. 

Little did I suspect that it would instead be me who gained the most from our association.

For example, I gained a much greater appreciation of how to blend my voice with others. 

But I also gained an understanding of what it means to live a courageous life… daring to declare your true, God-given identity to the world knowing it might cost you friends, family, job, and even physical harm.

With the chorus I have gained an understanding of the correct way to shape different vowel sounds for maximum clarity.

But I also gained an understanding of the life-saving importance of having a safe, accepting community where people don’t have to guard every word, thought, and gesture.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of work it takes to prepare a performance that people willingly pay hard-earned money to see.

But it has also taught me that a common mission can unify a group of people that once might have seemed impossibly disparate. 

We had an absolute BLAST preparing and singing last week’s concert: “Rock You… a Wild Ride  Through the Music of Queen.” The soloists were absolutely on point. The harmonies were tight and melodious. The backing band kicked serious booty.

But most of all, I was overjoyed to be able to be part of a group of people who had the courage to stand up in front of the world and say, “Check it out! This is who I AM! I am not ashamed of that and you will never convince me there is any reason I SHOULD BE ashamed.”

It is now up to me to continue to live that lesson in my everyday life.




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