When a Mother, an Immigrant, and a Gay man watched the Inauguration

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As many witnessed, likely from the coziness of your couches, the event that played out today was truly extravagant. It was a day where we commemorated a dream moved closer to reality- the reelection of our nation’s first black President. His eyes and his words and his posture reflected an understood responsibility to make this moment matter. Gray hairs across his head showed us how hard he had been trying. The weight of centuries of oppression sat on his groundbreaking shoulders.

And you could almost hear the cries and claps of Martin and Rosa and Jackie sounding from that suite in the sky.

My mother, my immigrant brother and I, sat together across the couch and watched… completely unaware how personal the political can be.

And through the airwaves came a calling,

“our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”

And my mother smiled and felt special and seen. A woman who chose the privilege of being a mom to five exhausting children. The same one that, after we grew up, went back to work so she could mother other kids as a high school para for the forgotten EBD students. It was in that setting, she met a homeless kid in need of a place to stay…

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity”

And my African born brother beamed and felt blessed. A young man given too heavy a cross to bear- One which would cause the best of us to grow bitter. Amazingly, he took his tears and became captain of the football team, an honor roll student, and now, soon to be a college freshmen to any school of his choice. When unforgivable circumstances led him to homelessness, he moved into a family and met a guy that told him he trusted him. He trusted him, so he told him a story of a different kind of foreigner.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”

And I felt warm and included and recognized. It was a good feeling.

There we sat, three different storylines, written from the deep of the margins. All of us bore bruises and scars by the powers of prejudice. Some from expectations, others from country and a few from faith. Our mementos and meaningfulness were born out of times of desertion.

But, if just for that moment, those few brief sentences, each one of us were basking in the rewards of some sort of redemption. Tied into a few stanzas, a few nods and inflections was a pride that rang from the deserts of Arizona to the fields of France. It was about us.

Written into our stories is the absence of an advocate. We are the invisible few, the Waldos of the Suburbs. Until you look hard, you won’t see us. Nobody ever does. But today, the whole world was asked to search us out and lift us up.

Her and him and me had unexpectedly made it somehow, and perhaps to you, just a couple inches. But hearing him hold up my Scarlet Letter and declare that I am worth more than a second-class citizenship… it made me feel like I belong.

The leader of the free world had not forgotten what it is like in the lower corners of the valley. President Obama, the son of an immigrant with mixed racial heritage, is too familiar with our stories to not speak out and wave us in. Via verse he reminded us that we too belong here. We too are wanted here. Poetically and perfectly he pulled us all closer together, right there on that couch, recognizing the commonality of our uniqueness and the promise of progress.

And with a hilarious final note, my mom stood up, flung out the fist pump and began belting, loudly-

“Women, immigrants and gays! Women, immigrants and gays!!”

Oh, Happy day,

RR

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Unless I Dream

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For me?! Why would he leave it for me?

 

Because unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Last night I watched the Lorax on Netflix and it got to me. Even though I have always been an avid Dr. Suess fan, I don’t remember a time that I ever turned the pages of that book. And I really wish I had.

The scene above is where the Once-ler confesses his story to teenage Ted about how he wiped trees off the face of the earth in his lust for power. The Lorax, (the Once-ler’s friend and liaison to the forest), is heartbroken by the desolation his friend has brought upon the world he loved so much. Before he walks away forever, he etches an eternal word into a stone.

“Unless.”

After several decades It dawns on the Once-ler that the stone was actually left for Ted,

Reaching frantically into his pockets he finds the last hope and tosses it over to him.

The last seed?

 

It’s not about what it is. It’s about what it can become.

Decades ago, long before almost all of our time, one humble and passionate preacher redefined a generation. He led a nation out of a world where everything from job opportunities to the bathroom stalls told us who was human and who was not. He gave us the moral courage to expose our children to others who looked and sounded strange. He gave a little old lady the gall to sit in the front seat of a bus.

Through his proud march down the national mall and those elegant and edifying words, he rebuked the lie that to be different is to be dangerous.

To be different is to be human.
And for so long, him and the rest of the non-white class existed under a system that said they were secondary, less than. It told their children that they weren’t worth good textbooks and the air conditioned schools. It drew lines at every event so the white and the colored wouldn’t have to rub elbows.

 

It was an ugly world that didn’t make sense in light of the Kingdom.

King in his early teenage years was often skeptical of the stories he read, especially since there were certain places where he couldn’t read them. Blacks couldn’t go the white folk church. Thank God King kept the faith.

 

I hasten my fellow LGBT brothers and sisters to stay away from likening the civil rights movement to the gay rights one. We just haven’t had to shed the same level of blood or endure such a dehumanizing system.

And I know that today is the day we celebrate and remember, but its also day for awareness. It is a day that we all take a good look outside our front porch and ask ourselves,

 

“are we living in the world as it ought to be?”

 

If not. Then keep on dreaming

because if we don’t,

nothing is going to get better. it’s not.

 

Unless I dream, youth ministries will be always breeding grounds for bullies, where no gay kid can ever feel safe.

Unless I dream, that baby with no big hands to tuck him in and no large lips to kiss him goodnight, will remain in the overcrowded orphanage… because it was two women who wanted to take him home.

Unless I dream, someone’s sexual orientation will still be just cause for terminating their employment.

Unless I dream, gay teens will still be six times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.

Unless I dream, kids will fail one-too-many suicide attempts before they come out to mom and dad.

Unless I dream, ex gay therapy will still be called “therapy” and fathers will continue to suffer from spiritual abuse.

Unless I dream, Christian colleges will still say gay kids can’t be class President and will enshrine in their “covenants” how they really feel about it.

Unless I dream, my gay blood will still be counted unworthy, even if it means saving the life of my mother.

Unless I dream, “fag” and “homo” and “dyke” will remain regular jargon for playground conversation.

Unless I dream, culture will never ever understand.

Unless I dream, the church and the LGBT community will never fall in love.

Unless I dream, the church will land on its sword of intolerance and a generation will lose out on the gospel.

Unless I dream, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

With a word etched into stone, Dr Suess reminded us of a truth that has survived over the ages. It has been passed on from one generation to the next, like an old hymnal with love and equality and dignity written into the chorus. It sings to us “You are an unbelievable and beautiful masterpiece, polished by the same hands that make angels. I am going to keep you and I am going to kiss you and I am going to hold you when it gets hard, because I love you so much, just the way that you are.”

Unless you stand up for the other. Unless you start seeing injustice and inequality and heartache as a threat to you and your own.. Unless you start seeing conformity as dangerous and different as human. Unless you start seeing the world as it ought to be.

None of us will have had a chance.

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

RR

On Being Stuck in the Mud

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“Wow… these kids are clueless!” – Thinks me.

The end of 2nd Quarter is near and next to none of these teenagers are even bothering to show up. Well, not next to none, but definitely half. There is all this potential underneath so much of their baggage, if only they could see it. Or at least show up and try. But they can’t and they don’t and I’m not quite sure why.

I would like to say I don’t have any favorites here, just like a father who wouldn’t dare pick a favorite child… But honestly, there are select few that I am extra protective of.

One of them, a 16 year old dad, was passing my desk on his way to class, but I told him to stop and take a seat. It was time me and junior had a talk. He had missed the last three days and I asked him why. I asked him why he didn’t care about finishing and getting out of this place he hates oh so much.

“I just… I don’t know what I wanna do.”

“Um.. ever heard of college??”

“Ya… but-”

“Or Tech school?”

“Well I-”

“What do you want to do with your life?!?”

crap.

I stared back at this kid and his face slowly morphed into mine. Were all my frustrations with him really just misdirected mania over my own life? It was possible… Ya, it’s possible that the post-grad freak out has yet to end. Maybe… I am just now I see how completely stuck in the mud I really am… Yep. Definitely. Stuck.

A couple nights ago I went out with some friends. Of the twenty or so gathered, about four or five were actually close ones to me. The remainder were all separated by two or more degrees- friends of friends, you might say. Anyhow, we drank and ate and started a small talk that soon became insufferable.

I heard a lot of my wife this and my job that, and oh listen to me go on about myself what have you been up to? And I tell them I am working a temp job as a para and that’s pretty much it.

Very… cool they manage awkwardly. Without knowing what to say, they pick up where they left off and go on about how they’re moving to that big apartment in that thriving part of town. As they gush, I nod and nod and it all becomes white noise because I need to stroke my ego.

You, you are awesome. You are awesome and I love you. Whispers me to my soul.

And soon I forget that I am the only one of my friends who works by the hour and not by a fat salary. Or that I am one of the few that still lives at home. I also forget about the tens of thousands of dollars hanging over my head and how I have no spouse to help me pay it off like they all do… And I’m no longer bothered the hallow noise emanating from my empty wallet which once was spilling over with 100s of Euros that I spent back in Europe.

Out of sight and out of mind. Until I remember it again. Like now.

~~~

Yesterday morning, I went to a Minneapolis writer meet up at Prodigal Magazine. Sipping on coffee and partaking in conversations with several new faces, I met a woman with a story that made me feel like I still had a chance. Our small talk was what I needed to hear.

She used to be a teacher. She worked in a job she enjoyed, but for as long as she could remember, she craved something better. Something more. Several of her friends told her to go travel if she wanted to. Go see the world, they said. To which she would kindly respond, I do want to but I NEED to have money and health insurance and a home and all the things that everyone else needs too.

And then she started thinking about need means. And the questions got to her- so she quit her job. Liberated, she set off across the country on a road-trip to all 50 states. And then she started writing about it. Her husband followed suit. Then they launched a blog just for friends, which then became popular by everyone. Finding an audience they didn’t even ask for, they realized that others were looking for something more and better too. And then they launched a magazine called Prodigal.

At some point along this treacherous trip, she ended up at a place where she could honestly say, THIS, this is what I NEED.

Currently, she is in the middle of publishing her first book about her life.

I hear her story and I see so many roads less traveled- the ones that separate the strong and faint of heart. This incredible tapestry of ambition and risk and faith that only God could weave together.

And as I sit here, stuck in the mud while everybody else whistles down the same ole wide path of success, I start to wonder if I’m just waiting for my road less traveled. If when the mud dries and turns to dirt, I’ll get out and go the other way to… God knows where, but some place more and better.

Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe I’m not stuck

I may just be patiently waiting.

RR

How are you feeling about your resolutions? Still hanging tough?

Registered Runaway

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It’s almost New Years.

I don’t know of any other worldwide event that holds more hope for fresh starts and also, less staying power.

Don’t get me wrong, I get excited like the rest of them. I make a short list of necessary life upgrades, grab drinks with friends, watch the ball drop and then break for the exits as the PDA bomb explodes.

And I’ll be the first to admit… There is just something to that dawn of January 1st. Something significant. It makes us feel like destiny is just waiting at the doorstep. Like the world is our oyster. A place where anything and everything is possible.

New beginnings are precious to us because they promise our lives will get prettier. What works will remain and what doesn’t will be left behind. We shed old skins for new ones.

Maybe that’s why we love it so…

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Registered Runaway

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One of my favorite attributes of God (apart from him being love) is his artisan spirit. Being alone with God’s Creation is when I feel most intimate with him. Especially at that the magical time of twilight. When light becomes three dimensional bringing all the colors of the forest beyond my front yard, slowly dancing to their last crescendo of day, I need no convincing of the composer. Furthermore, my imagination will take me to how God made this beautiful place we call home. It’s an appealing image thinking of a God meticulously painting the Robin and the Rainbow Trout, giggling with satisfaction at his work. Or even making us, piecing together different parts of who we are, stepping back, stroking his chin, and then curling his lips to a smile shouting “YES!” The God of art speaks deeply into my soul.

The other day, I was researching into…

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Why we all need to laugh for no reason.

Registered Runaway

Packing up our things, we waited for the final word from my therapist. My folks and I were exhausted from the past several weeks. They were taxing, to say the least.

I was graduating from college.

When graduation comes and you realize there’s no return in the fall, the absence of a routine can cause a bit of distress in your mind. I had successfully throughout the year focused solely on my status as a student. Overall, I had achieved straight A’s and glowing references from several of my professors. The success of it all kept me moving forward. To the next project. The next test. The next final. Pretty soon, I was looking at grad schools.

Then I realized I missed the deadline for admission to my target programs.

Seeing the space of time before me, space with no offering of achievement but only… space… It drove…

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A Good Storm

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Years ago, in some school by some suburb, sits my old and bland and slightly grumpy Science teacher. To kick off a semester of pig dissection and significant figures (“sig figs”), he scans across the classroom to find some squirmy and vulnerable freshman to call on for his geeky trick question. It’s his way of fun.

“You… uh, Sir, what is the best kind of fertilizer?”

The question was random and didn’t even sound scientifickish. Not being much a gardener myself, I looked to the left and the right for someone that was. Coming up short, I think I mumbled something like,

“Horse Manure?”

“Sorry! But no.. OF COURSE it’s not horse manure. No, no, no, as a matter of fact, it is lightening!”

A storm is born when a center of low pressure develops inside a system of high pressure. It can bring about a devastation that is all too familiar for us. These terrors shoot with ice and rain and tornadoes and hurricanes, setting forests on fire and flooding streets and collapsing homes and sending death tolls sky high.

But it makes for good fertilizer. It was a tough sell to a class exiting a summer of tumultuous stormy weather. Many of our homes had been damaged due to falling trees and our cars from falling hail. Days of cleaning up the yard had become too routine and fertilizer didn’t feel like much of a silver lining.

But that wasn’t really his point. When lightening struck the ground it gave way to a season of blossoming. Something of a beautiful interaction between earth and sky. And danger, while temporary, was necessary for growth.

For whatever reason, that first class of that first day drifted into my mind the night after our first LITT gathering. Maybe it was a tangent off my anxiety that was telling me I was messing with Mother Nature. I was asking people of diametrically opposed beliefs on an issue, one that has infiltrated both the church and the state and the Boy Scouts and Chicken coops, to sit in the same room, eye to eye, to find new ways to talk. A betting man would say this plane was sure to crash. The souls stamina would stand until the end, while the restless ran for the door.

Strangers are like storms, aren’t they? Foreign beings and their different ideas always hold the potential for danger. They have the strength to topple our towers and leave us broken and wanting. A change of posture can resemble a tsunami and a snap remark an earthquake. With the words they use and the sources they cite, our inner sirens drown them out until they are mimes. We only hear what we fear they are saying. Someone’s two cent’s can land like a clap of thunder in the mind of the other opposed. Their tone carries the same tension as the sky within the eye looking for a forming funnel.

The fear of the different drives us underground. We batten down the hatches, pull the blankets over our heads, and rock back and forth to the sound of our own voice saying, “you’ll be okay, you’ll be okay!”

But then that ominous cloud starts taking the shape of a story. There’s a mother and her son escaping out the doors of a chapel, her hand over his shoulder and his hands over his face. There is the student pacing out in the hall after a professor called his beliefs bigoted, fingers dialing that person back home who knows what to say. There are the turning heads toward the two young girls walking hand in hand through their Church retreat. They put on a good front, but they are breaking apart inside.

And abruptly, we are disarmed and found running out the front door. Into the wind we throw ourselves because we know it all too well. Outstretched hands meet and we enter into the insecurities and isolation of the one we thought was a threat.

Their position, it seems, is just a mirage we imagine because we too fear their humanity. We fear that our justification in their demonization will not be vindicated. They are sinners and bigots first, not mothers and brothers and friends and faithful. They judge, so they must hate. They rebel, so they must not believe. They take when we give. They kick when we are down.

They this and they that…

Friends, I give you our fallenness.

Storms can sink ships and lightening ignite fires. There isn’t always a silver lining in the cloud coming down on us. But every now and then, when forced to face the ones we fear the most, we walk away a bit more than we were. We grow. Convictions become challenged, modesty comes back and soon enough, the equality of our depravity charges in like a long lost friend. We blink away our barriers of belief and start seeing souls again. All of us with roots below and budding new beliefs in the meaning of relationship and reconciliation and what it means to be human and what it means be one of many.

It may be a bit too rosy and idealistic, but that’s the silver lining I see for the season ahead.

Blessings,

RR