by Rachel Guido deVries
December 12, 2010, St. Lucy’s Church, Syracuse NY
Father Jim asked me to give the homily today, and to talk a little about bullying, and especially the bullying our youth endure.
In this third week of Advent, we are coming closer to the anniversary of Christ’s birth, and, hopefully, we are beginning too to feel the excitement of Christ coming into our lives, through the Eucharist, through our Faith, and through all the messages of our loving God. So it seems to me a particularly good time to think about the way we share that joy. Finding ways to bring an end to bullying is one of the ways we can do that.
I am a poet in the public schools, traveling each week to a different elementary, middle or high school to work with young people. I have seen and heard bullying in all the hallways I walk through, and so many young people are devastated by it. I’ve encountered it as well in some teachers’ rooms. I once heard a teacher in the teacher’s room announce that “all gay people should be executed.” He said this with pride and certainty, and I felt threatened and fearful. I feared for the students in his classroom. That day, his remark was met with silence. No other teacher in the room—including me-- said a word: no rebuttal, no defense, no response to this bully. The silence was almost as scary as the teacher’s announcement. This kind of silence needs to be broken, and it is up to us to break it. It is our call as people of faith. As Jesus walked with and loved the outcast, so should we, so that the outcast—whoever and whatever he or she is—becomes no longer the outcast, but a loved and loving member of our community.
As always, it is the young who lead the way, who ask the questions that must be answered, and who ask in so many ways to be loved. Several years ago I was in a rural school not far from where I live in Cazenovia. We were talking about and writing poems about love. A fifth grade boy, about 10 or 11, raised his hand. “I hear people talking about how everyone finds a soul mate. I wonder what happens if you are a boy and your soul mate is a boy, or if you are a girl, and your soul mate is a girl.” I thought a little before I replied, “Where ever you find love, welcome it, and where ever you find hate, walk away.” I have thought often of that boy, and about the answer I gave him. I wonder if he is among the many gay teens who have recently committed suicide because of bullying. Today, I would change the way I responded to this student, and will come back to that a little later.
I have seen kids bullied who are simply different in some way—those with physical or emotional disabilities, those who are teased and bullied because of poverty, or skin color, or ethnicity. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) teens, and those who are even suspected of being a LGBT teen are especially vulnerable. A recent Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, reports that the LGBT community is the most targeted minority in America. This includes hate crimes, discrimination, and bullying. I think of the letter of James in today’s second reading, and how it urges us to be patient. I think the youth who have been bullied have been so patient…they continue to go to school and come to church, hurt, yet somehow hopeful They have been patient long enough. They are waiting for us—church leaders, parents and family members, friends: all of us--to rise up and say stop, to protect the bullied, and to welcome them. We need to acknowledge the real and profound damage bullying causes, and to respond with love and acceptance, so that all our children grow safe and secure in who they are.
We are committed to love one another, and not to judge. Yet, our own Catholic hierarchy has remained silent, even in the face of a rash of suicides by gay and lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered teens, including Aiyisha Hassan, the nineteen-year-old former Howard University student; Tyler Clementi, the eighteen-year-old freshman whose roommate secretly recorded and live-streamed his private sexual encounter with another man; and Asher Brown, the thirteen-year-old who had endured endless bullying at school, which was ignored by administrators and teachers despite parents’ repeated complaints to the school about bullying. In fact, the hierarchy is operating from the opposite place of love, targeting LGBT youth as those who must be judged and changed, making videos with all sorts of misinformation, and some churches are even refusing communion to anyone wearing a rainbow in support of our youth. This in not the role of the hierarchy, nor is it our role. Our role is to love and welcome.
“We cannot wait for the Catholic bishops to have a change of heart,” said Jim Fitzgerald, Call to Action’s Executive Director. “Our children need to know that our hearts are with them. That is why…we are announcing a call for Catholics to wear rainbow ribbons at masses during Advent….to show our LGBT youth that we stand on the side of love.”
Mary Ellen Lopata, a leader in Fortunate Families, an organization of Catholic parents of LGBT people, which is a member of Equally Blessed, said: “As a parent of a gay son, I see this campaign as a life-saver for many youth who have felt the pain and anguish of hatred and discrimination. This action is a way that we can make the Christmas message of love and hope real.”
Here at St. Lucy’s, those who wish to will have the opportunity to take part in the effort. Rainbow ribbons are available, and will be at every mass during Advent.
Another boy I worked with, a 7th grader who was often teased and bullied, wrote a poem I will share with you today. In the wisdom of the young, he describes how he’s been treated, and what it is he wants.
The Alien in the Hallway
There’s an alien in the hallways,
the hallways in my school.
There’s an alien in the hallways
and the kids think he is uncool.
They all think that he’s crazy,
Oh, yes that’s what it seems
But the truth about the alien
is that he is only me.
I do not have twelve pairs of eyes,
nor tentacles, nor horns
and I cannot fly a U.F.O.
and in an egg I wasn’t born.
I’m not actually an alien
though crazy I may be
and I wonder what the others think
when they look at me.
All I know is what they say,
which much of is not kind.
They call me things that I am not
in front of me and behind.
The thing they need to understand
is that respect is a deserved thing
and it must be given
to every creature living.
So even if I was an alien
with seven compound eyes
I should be given some respect
when I walk through my junior high.
by Andrew Stalker
a 7th grade student, Fall, 2007
(Note: Andrew asks that you do not reprint this poem without permission. You may contact Rachel Guido deVries for more information.)
Respect and love is what he wants, and it what we all need. We talk about it, we hear about it in scripture, and yet it is too often withheld from those who need it most.
Five years ago, after a 35 year absence from church, I came to St. Lucy’s. My faith had till then been a solitary faith. In today’s gospel, we can hear in John a consequence of trying to live one’s faith alone. It is hard, and often lonely. But when I walked into St. Lucy’s five years ago, I felt as though a light shined right into my soul, and in that light I was awash in love. That feeling of being welcomed and loved by this faith community has never left me. I didn’t know that I had been so in need of that light and love, and of the beautiful acceptance that has greeted me and my partner Michele. This is what all of our youth should feel: that no matter who they are, or what they are, they are first and always children of God, and by the God light in us, they are our children too. As we wait these days of Advent for Christmas, let us welcome all of our children and one another into the big, wide circle of love offered us.
Today, if I were talking to that fifth grader about soul mates and love and hate, I would still say when you see love, welcome it, and I would add…when you see hate, greet it with patience and love, and so begin transformation. I believe even the bully needs to be loved, and that somehow, somewhere, the bully’s heart has been broken. I grew up with a bully—my father—who would often resort to bullying his family. In me lives his lesson. In times when I am hurt or afraid, I’ve heard myself use the tactics of the bully—name calling and an intimidating rage. I am blessed to see this in myself, yet I still struggle with it. All of us carry the bully and the bullied in our hearts. It is only through love and forgiveness, I believe, that our hearts might heal and be transformed.
As we prepare for and celebrate the coming of Christmas, we can transform the way we live. I read recently these words by Christine Erb Kanzlenter, and will close with them: “God’s coming….can transform the world into a place where power is shared, and all have what they need, a world in which people can live in relationship, in celebration, in joy, and in peace. As we see the brokenness of our world, may we also see the unexpected chances of change and healing. May this allow us to work for justice and peace in our world.. affirming Jesus’ answers by the way we choose to live: waiting and wondering, hoping and searching,” loving, “ and making a difference.” Amen
Rachel Guido deVries is a poet and fiction writer who works as a poet-in-the-schools. Her most recent books include a collection of poems, The Brother Inside Me, (Guernica Editions, 2008), and her first children’s picture book, Teeny Tiny Tino’s Fishing Story, (Bordighera Books, 2008), won a Paterson Prize for best books for children, K-3) After a 35 year absence from church, she began attending St. Lucy’s in Syracuse, NY, where she offered this homily. If you would like to contact her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org