“Where Jacob Wrestled with God” Father River Damien Sims M.Div., D.S.T.
P.O. Box 642656,
San Francisco, CA 94164
JOURNAL OF AN ALIEN STREET PRIEST
Recently with the developments on marriage equality and the Sr.,Helen Prejean Event coming up I wrote the following book review, and several people have made positive comments and so I felt it appropriate to print it here for this month:
By Kevin Kline and Daniel D. Mauer
Far Away is a book about the Reverend Kevin Kline’s year on the street as a sex worker in 1975, with two young hustler friends who died on the streets, and about the “pimp” who brought him there. This is the story of a young man dealing with coming out in an age, a place, St. Louis, Missouri, where it was difficult, if not impossible at the time to find role models. He grew up in a typical suburban family, and being gay was not a part of the equation.
He had a sexual experience with a young friend, who then introduced him to a ‘pimp” as a “friend”, who had sex with him and for whom he had feelings, and then the man took him to Forest Park and basically “pimped” him out. He met two other young men, two street hustlers, with whom he became close friends. He had never been truly open with any of his other friends, they accepted him for who he was, and so that was the lure that kept him coming back to the Park that summer with the “pimp”. He saw the reality of prostitution—lawyers, policemen, politicians, the wealthy—who used young males for their satisfaction. He experienced the brutality of the police, and one policeman brutally beat up one of his young friends, who later committed suicide, and finally his other friend died a violent death as well. He returned to his suburban home, went to school, and was haunted by these experiences, and now they still touch him, and the deaths of his two young friends haunt him. His sexuality has been deeply colored by these experiences. And he suffers from PTSD from that summer, and the experience in a closeted society. They were the best friends he ever had. He is now a successful, openly gay pastor, his scars have healed like the scars on a piece of fine wood, and have made a piece of art out of his life.
For me this book took me back to that year. I was just beginning seminary serving a church fifty miles away. I was deeply in the closet, my former denomination is not even now open to people who are gay. I remember that year a young man coming to me struggling with being gay, and I, being the traditional pastor, gave him the answer of the church—it is a “sin”, and you need to find a therapist, stay celibate, and keep this a secret. He went to another church and they kicked him out because of his sexuality, and he committed suicide, and to this day I am haunted by this young man, haunted by how I let my own fears, lead to basically turning him a way , and I still feel as if I help put the gun to his head.
This took me back to my own coming out, and my years in prostitution. It brought home to me how those three years on the street are so hammered into my DNA that there is no way I can deny them, nor would I want to deny them. I am still a part of the street. I feel more comfortable on the street. The best friends I have ever had were those young guys I worked with—for we had no one else, and we had to be completely honest with one another—and it is still the same. The people I feel the closet to are the street kids, and they respond to me in the same way, for we know that we cannot pretend to be what we are not, and we accept each other for who we are. They know they can call me day or night and I will be there, they know they can stop by and I will feed them, and they know that I will not bring judgment of any kind on them—for that was my experience on the street as a hustler, I was accepted for who I was. A young man, whose name is “Gault” was eating with me in the Haight, and he said, “I have never told you this, but I knew the first time I met you, you were one of us, you hustle like all of us, and you know what it means to have people look down upon you, and try to “fix” you, I knew we were “family” that first day. “ And we are family.
Dorothy Day said that the system was “dirty and rotten,” and it is—it sets itself up to take care of people on its own terms, and that is why so many fall through the cracks. Its one motive is profit, and which leads to tangible results. That is why I live between the “thin” lines—I work with the system where I can, I work it, I use, it, I “hustle” it, and I live with my mentality on the streets. I suffer with those who are victims of the “system”. The Crucified One stands with them outside the gates. Over my desk I have a painting of a person who has a bleeding heart, and over it the words “counselor”, and that is what I do, I bleed with them. We are all called to bleed with each other, it is in the bleeding that we find our humanness. The Velveteen Rabbit is my favorite story, for he does not become real until he is worn out.
People often asked me when I am in my street clothes if I am in my role as a street priest, and the truth is that is no role, I dress for other roles—in a suit, in dress shoes, in my yuppie clothes, when I am raising money, but my street clothes are my clothes, they are who I am—they are no role. I have experienced deep pain, deep scars as a result of homophobia, and of being a sex worker, as well as my years of ministry on the streets. I have PTSD as a result of the closeted environment I was in as a young man, I have PTSD as a result of the years of being on the streets and of working on the streets. I make no bones about it. There are nights I have night mares, I am haunted by fears, and as I have worked through them I see them as a reality that come from living, and also as scars that have healed and are healing in a piece of wood, that becomes a beautiful piece of art. I see life as art, and as art you have scars and in God shaping those scars he creates beauty, a beauty beyond compare. For example people are always asking me if I have ever wanted an intimate relationship, and I give my standard answer of serving God, but the reality is that the homophobia in which I was raised, and what I have gone through broke me in a way I did not want an intimate relationship, but I believe that God has used this to call me to the ministry where I have served thousands. Through the pain, and the healing of the scars I have been privileged to enter into a fuller relationship with Christ. And as I look back this was the calling for which I was born to in my mother’s womb. Through the suffering and pain God has called me to the ministry for which I was called in my mother’s womb. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!
Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 PHILIP WORKMAN INTERFAITH EVENT with Sister Helen Prejean
3:00 p.m. Service and Giving out of Pizza at Haight and Stanyan
6:00 p.m. Philip Workman Interfaith Service of Worship “Against the Death Penalty” at
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 1755 Clay Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
7:30 P.M. Reception and Book Signing
$100.00 Suggested Donation at door. It includes book Dead Man Walking, signed by Sr. Helen
Light Hors D ’Oeuvres and non-alcoholic beverages will be served
WE ARE BEGGARS
We asked your help in providing food, harm reduction supplies, pastoral care, and socks to nearly 1500 people each month. We live simply, we beg, and we trust in your God!
You may send a checks to:
Temenos Catholic Worker
P.O. Box 642656
San Francisco, CA 9416
Or make donations through PayPal on http://www.temenos.org
If you would like to donate to the Helen Prejean Event or would like an autographed book than designate on your check.
All gifts are tax deductible.