Simplicity on the Other Side of Complexity: Haikus from a Churches’ Forum on Homosexuality in Northern Ireland
Sometimes, I take notes in haikus. John Paul Lederach taught me this, though I’ve never met the man. In his brilliant book The Moral Imagination, he writes of the art of haiku as the art of finding simplicity on the other side of complexity. I have found that listening at conferences or meetings through the filter of haiku forces me to listen for rhythm and complex simplicities. We tend to only hear 10% of what’s said anyway; haikus are an honest way of acknowledging and embracing our discriminatory listening by naming and engaging it from the get-go.
Twice now in Northern Ireland, I’ve used haiku to express my listening. The first time was in 2013 at a conference called Genderpeace; the second was today at a forum of churches in the North. Both involved my good friend Pádraig Ó Tuama, who was invited to address the relationship of churches to LGBTQ people. I want to share some of those haikus here, followed by a few lines of context.
(Haikus are three lines of poetry, following a syllable count of 5-7-5.)
“You need brain surgery.”
Panic. Tears. What shall we do?
“Oh, it’s not you.” Whoops.
Context: A woman shared of the terrible fear when doctors told her she needed brain surgery after her examination for migraines. After a weekend filled with dread, tears, and prayers, she received notice from the hospital that the surgery notification was meant for someone else: she was fine.
“My school was all boys.
We called some of them ‘homos.’
Maybe we made them…”
Context: A older man addressed Pádraig, a gay theologian. He told Pádraig that during his primary school, “there weren’t really gay people. We called them ‘homos.'” He then wondered if Pádraig thought single-sex primary schools, like the one this man attended as a child, was in any way responsible for “producing” more gay people. Pádraig spoke about the limitation of questions of causation, because of their direct relationship to questions of “cure.”
A “therapist” said:
“You don’t have, you give girls sex.”
That’s when I walked out.
Context: When Pádraig was nineteen, it was “strongly suggested” that he attend “reparative therapy” for his sexual orientation. Scared and keen to keep his connection with his faith community, Pádraig attended sessions for one year with an individual with little theological and less therapeutic training. It took language to save Pádraig from this “hell,” as he described it with great deliberateness. He confessed to his “therapist” that he didn’t know what there was to “repair” as he had never wanted to have sex with a woman. In fact, he would find it dishonoring to a woman to have sex with her only to prove his masculinity. The “therapist” replied: “Ah, but see–you don’t have sex with a woman; you give a woman sex.” This verb choice opened the gates of hell so that Pádraig could walk free.
“Have you ever considered
That you might be wrong?”
Jesus asked, “And what
Were you arguing about?
And who bled from it?”
Be care-full with words;
They may feel like theory, but
People go home to bleed.
Context: Pádraig explained that Snoopy is one of his favorite theologians. In a comic strip once, Charlie Brown said he hoped Snoopy had a good title for the theology book he was writing. Snoopy said his title was perfect: “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?” At the invitation of the forum, Pádraig invited the gatherers into a generous space of discussion about the inclusion of LGBTQ people in their churches. As a foundational text, he used Jesus’ question to his disciples in Mark 9: “What were you arguing about along the way?” The writer of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t use the word “way” exclusively in reference to physical roads and paths; rather, he uses it more broadly as well, in reference to the journey of life and discipleship, a way of being. Pádraig proposed a theology of argument: In addition to
what we’re arguing about along our Way, it matters how we argue. Pádraig spoke of beatings, exorcisms, and curses he’s endured in his life from Christians because his capacity for romantic love had different recipients than theirs. He’s had friends who have died, friends who have bled. He wondered, if Jesus were to enter the halls of our churches, might he ask us, “And what have you been arguing about along the Way? How did you argue about it? And who bled because of it?”
An Irish proverb translates, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” The Irish word scáth, translated here as shelter, can also be translated shadow: sometimes, we are shelter for each other; sometimes, we shadow each other. Disagreeing with each other is grand; it keeps life less boring. But how do we disagree and still seek each other’s safety? How do we differ and still offer shelter? Pádraig is uninterested in colonizing difference to create conformity. Difference fascinates him. He finds it far more important to work on how we argue and less on what we argue about. I tend to agree. I want to argue–moreover, live–in a way that doesn’t make people bleed. I find it despicable that Christians have spoken of and to LGBTQ people in such a way that those people do not feel welcome in the halls of their own faith, safe in the streets of their own cities, comfortable in the fabric of their own skin. To bludgeon others with our own convictions of the morality of their identity is a deep act of violence, and those of us guilty of such violence must engage in even deeper repentance.
So, at the end of my Wednesday, these three questions move in my gut:
And what were you arguing about along the Way?
Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?