A Language Lost

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Last year at the University of Minnesota, PBS hosted a conversation between David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch.

Rauch and Blankenhorn are friends and nobody is sure why.

Rauch has long been a major player in the fight for marriage equality and Blankenhorn has been the thorn in his side, advocating for the traditional family and the mother-father parental model.

For years, these two have traversed the country while tearing into one another over their opposing beliefs. Rauch has called Blankenhorn a bigot.  Blankenhorn has called Rauch a radical.  The two were camped in polarizing places, maintaining a gridlock that would make congress blush.

 

But then something happened.

 

They grabbed coffee.

 

Through the honest hours of humanity that they spent together, a friendship was born.  Shortly after, Rauch wrote the preface for Blankenhorn’s book- a book against gay marriage. Rauch called it the best argument he’s heard yet.

The bond that blossomed between these two didn’t derive out of a change in belief (although, Blankenhorn eventually did). It came from changing the language. At the height of their mutual hostility, they experienced a crinkle of the conscience, one that begged them to be better. This epiphany awoke a newfound desire to disagree with dignity again. They had grown tired of demonizing one another, so they started an organization and co-wrote literature and connected over the ordinary in their lives.

Looking through the lens of how the real world works, this relationship is rare, if not impossible. But have we ever truly tried? Have we ever wondered whether we were simply situating ourselves in the tribes society told us to?

Let’s imagine for a second that there’s this Church function.

In attendance is George and Evelyn, an elderly couple from the rural parts of Pennsylvania. With a little grit and grace, they raised eight children on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. They also happen to be Franklin Graham diehards and down ballot Republicans.

Across at their table sits a newlywed lesbian couple, just on the cusp of parenthood.

Through a little nudge and a proper introduction, a lay out of lives begins. The two catch a glimpse of anxiety and fret filling the young ladies faces- looks they know all too well.. And like the proud parents they are, they lean in and offer a few tricks up their sleeve. But then things get a little of hand. An hour passes and coffee is spat out of mouths during another hilarious trip down memory lane. Exhausting the stories the couples somberly reflect on how life is never what we expect it to be.

Is it possible that inside those intimate exchanges, nostalgia and naive dreams could collide and cross over… into closeness?

Call me an idealist or a dreamer, but I don’t think this is farfetched for us. Rauch and Blankenhorn did it because they reclaimed that redemptive lost language. The one that speaks to the soul, not the soldier.

The lost language beneath the wreckage of wrong worldview and cultural caricature is found in our shared humanity. Too often, instead of excavating what bonds us, what truly matters, our sharp tongues reflexively strike, injecting toxic turns that wither away whatever was growing.

But our stories disarm. In our familiarities we find ourselves unfilled and wanting more. Our differences don’t dissolve, but they become quieter and petty, unwanted interruptions of something valuable we have stumbled upon. Empathy is found in people we do not expect to find it from. Through stories of different characters, but similar sentiments a brave bond can be formed.  This is the language of lives lived.

Somewhere between Stonewall and Proposition Eight we lost sight of the stories beneath the banners. It was all about winning for us. We stroked our pride by pledging allegiance to the propaganda of our cause. Crimes were committed, to be sure, but the brush we painted the other with was too broad, too simple and completely dehumanizing. And as a consequence, we buried the language that bonds us.

If we could resurrect those refrains of common courage and struggle and hope and faith, maybe we could unearth what has been lost. Maybe we would hang on tighter to the words of Mother Teresa who said

“if we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Could what divides be overcome with what bonds us?

The Kingdom tells us yes.

RR

Flaunting Sexuality

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I remember the date I attended that service, because it was 3 months before I came out. The message was a continuation of a series on sex and gender roles and what each means for the committed Christian. It actually wasn’t that conservative of a conversation. Open minds were presented and the words submission and purity weren’t drawn on like arrows to a bow.

But during the Q & A, a certain question came up; one that everyone was thinking because this was CHURCH and we were talking about SEX.

What about homosexuality?

“Well… um. hmmmmmm… ha.

The Christian Sex Expert conceded the floor to our pastor who had a not-so-thorough but nonetheless, gracious and nuanced response.

“Exactly” chimed in the Expert, “exactly and, like, I don’t walk up to strangers saying, ‘Hey, my name is Jane and I’m a heterosexual.’ That’s just not how we introduce ourselves!” She stepped back, folded her arms and beamed around as if she had just steered us somewhere satisfactory. And all I thought was, wait… where exactly?

It’s an age old tradition for the Church crowd to level complaints against others that are…. ill-fitting.

Like when they’d say, Women are just so shrill and simple and emotional”

Or, Black folk are always out take what is mine”

More recently, “Them illegal’s are trying to take away English from our country”

Right now, “Those gays are so in-your-face about their sexuality”

Its safe to say this Expert was operating under the old assumption that gay people put way too much of an emphasis on their sexual orientation. That somehow our sexual identity supersedes the spiritual one. And in a perfectly uncomplicated world, I could sympathize with her. That being said, her answer reflects a common misunderstanding about who LGBT people are… something I would hope a Sex Expert would have some knowledge of.

First and foremost, women, racial minorities and religious identities are never asked to silence their stories of struggle or to cover up the marks that make them different. We tried being colorblind, but that almost erased the progress we made towards healing old crimes. We tried to not see gender, but then things got complicated because women wanted equality not worship. We tried to not see religion but with that came a compromise of conscience for those of us that hold our relationships with a higher power to be the most significant aspect of our lives.

At some point down the road we realized that it would be wrong to become blind to the beautiful blemishes that make us rare to the regular. To do so would be a betrayal to the “come as you are” culture we have sought to emulate.

We should also consider who the typical talkers are when it comes to this. Not necessarily at the pulpit, but in faith culture and the public for sure.

After all, it is typically conservative Christians who insert LGBT issues into constitutional ballots and it is usually conservative Christians who show up to protest the Pride parade. When Christians go to vote, abortion and gay marriage tend to be the two issues that their decision hangs upon. Now that I think of it… Christians may chat about this more than we do. And it’s okay.

But when my gay brethren bring up their love life it’s suddenly in your face?

Spare me.

Maybe the reason this kind of thinking exists is because perception from a distance makes misconceptions feel like observations. Basically, you havent sat in our stories.

And if you did that, with ears and hearts wide open, you might get a morsel of understanding. When you grow up in a hetero-normative culture that calls you a contradiction and an abomination, this important piece of who you are becomes magnified over endless years of closet living. It’s all we thought about and hated about and finally accepted and appreciated about ourselves.

And then when you’re out… (snap) just like that, everybody talks about it, and soon, you become someone’s “gay” friend to pull out at parties (like an accessory).

But when we, the experts of our own unique experiences, talk openly about them, we are crassly throwing it in your face.

We are making too much of ourselves.

Just because we’re not cut from the same Wonder Bread doesn’t mean we are without sustenance.

So give us our dues and let us share our stories. We aren’t pushing an “agenda” any more than the Sisters giving sermons are propagating feminism. We aren’t crashing a party any more than the black folks in the pews are disrupting white homogeneity. We are not obsessed with our sexuality, but we get that we’re different. A significant and inseparable part of a body built on diversity.

RR

The Church is a Whore

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I know firsthand how cruel Christians can be.

After all, it was Christians that told my Dad that he made me gay. It was Christians that asked me to recite a creed—out loud, that said that it was the devil and not God who gave me my attractions. And just last spring, it was a Christian that said all the gays should be killed while another called for fathers to beat their effeminate sons.

Shouldn’t forget yesterday, when the Christian media machine screamed “for shame!” over a speech in which a man told me I mattered.

And, obviously, this sucks. There are many moments when abandoning the faith completely is only a breath away.

But then I remember my brother—an employee of a church here in Minneapolis, saying something to me that at the time, changed everything:

“The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

These words from Saint Augustine carry the reminder of a debt owed. For all of her thistles and weeds and bullying and whoring, she kept the gospel from flat lining. She kept its’ essentials fresh.

And I love her too much to let her destroy herself. I love her for who she truly is- the body that is e pluribus unum. The one that is organic and diverse and skeptical, just like all of us.

But does this mean we simply, live and let live? Leave one another alone? Let the space between us grow larger?

Hell no. There is a far better way.

And it’s found in my story.

And yours.

And theirs.

Stories are so sacred. They put flesh and bones beside unchallenged beliefs so we have to deal with this life directly. We exchange our jagged caricatures for real faces and names and narratives.

As a consequence… the Kingdom expands a few acres.

Every one of us has a story, and until we share them, our projections of the other will dominate the dialogue. Stories bridge our souls over what once kept us apart; letting those things flow away like the water beneath us. We all share this space, this hallowed ground, where different lives meet on the floor of grace.

Here, we pay attention to one another and we affirm one another even when we diametrically disagree with one another. Here, we understand that Christ’s call for Kingdom Come wasn’t a command for top down conformity. Here we know that picking and choosing the conscience of our convenience is not the echo of a pursuit for truth. Here we listen and we learn and we walk together towards wherever God is leading us on this.

We share this space because it’s God’s.

And God isn’t the guest list type.

RR

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

I asked and you answered… Now let’s keep this thing going.

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So tonight, we had our first LITT (Living in the Tension) gathering and, I think, we are off to a wonderful start. There were perhaps 12 of us there, and within this number, there were vastly different views represented. It was beautifully tense you might say. Passions flared for but a moment, which is good because that means people care A LOT about this group, and then we huddled ourselves back around the fire of love and community and Christ.

We got this, I know we do.

Earlier in the day I solicited advice from my friends on twitter about different questions/topics/approaches/etc to make this group be something spiritually redemptive. A success for both the church and LGBT community. A place where we can feel brave enough to wonder out loud and safe enough to share the most vulnerable parts of our story.

I have absolutely incredible people in my corner on twitter. Seriously. The responses I received meant the world to me.

But. I don’t want it to stop there. We have to keep talking about this.

46thpsalm, the blogger behind Radical Grace:

“I think the best approach is to make church members recognize commonalities. People like to suppose #LGBT are different.”

“Emphasize that God’s love is for all, and that respectful disagreement is even OK, so long as it’s done with dignity.”

“I would stress that our job as the body of Christ is to show God’s love, not presuppose his judgment.”

“can’t make everyone agree with us or condone something they don’t approve of. But you can demonstrate our inherent worth.”

“I might also use examples of Jesus associating with people the “average person” doesn’t accept, such as tax collectors, etc”

Charlotte Norton, the blogger behind Middle Ground:

 

“how to make ministry/worship welcoming to LGBT people. How to translate theory/belief into practice that honours personhood”

“lots of thoughts…1. language used . People need to know appropriate terms for describing/speaking to LGBT people “

“2. dialogue. people need to know it is possible to co-exist with someone who has a different opinion “

“3. outreach. the LGBT community needs to know you are there for them”

“4. needs. the LGBT community has specific needs and “issues” – how to deal with someone who has previously been hurt? “

“5. relationships. LGBT people need to be supported and befriended as they are.”

“6. Related to 5. LGBT people come in couples and many need support like straight couples. How will church deal with this? “

“the main thing is that the church needs to decide what the vision is before figuring out how to implement it (to avoid giving the “wrong message” about itself to LGBT people and its own members)”

Julie ( 🙂 ), the blogger behind Incite Faith:

 

“Let everyone speak from experience. Everyone will have different denominations and beliefs. Creates productive dialogue.”

“Let them speak in the 1st person– and from personal experience. “I feel,” “I believe” are good prompts.”

“Have others share their stories and empathize the space is safe to share their thoughts and opinions on their sexuality.”

“Facilitator should focus on healing given the emotional pain inflicted by the Church w/o making them feel like a victim”

Rohan Salmond, blogger behind Hey! Crunch King!:

 

“My major thing is making sure Side B folk don’t let properly homophobic rhetoric slide when it’s in the news etc…”

“I’d like to challenge the notion that LGBT folk aren’t able to lead small groups etc too.”

“Is barring us from broader theological conversations in that way actually healthy for the life of the Church?”

“Questioning the narrow definition of masculinity churches hold would be good. “Men’s retreats” are always about sport etc.”

“Asking how to encourage a safe environment to be questioning would be a good broad question to ask too!“

The dynamic duo, Tony and Jordan, bloggers behind gaysubtlety:

 

“Sorry, late to the party (was playing soccer). Story based to start (allows people to feel heard and known, prevents eventual disagreement from being mired in ignorance. Practical, local initiatives you could partner with.”

“And I agree with Charlotte Norton that the church should come up with a vision statement that the whole church has access to.”

“Important that this not just be a side-group to discuss LGBTQ things, but a think tank for the church body and its future.”

Amy Mitchell, the blogger behind Unchained Faith, offered some much needed encouragement:

“I will continue to pray for grace and love in the conversation.”

In the air tonight, as we reached the end of our time, was a palpable understanding that we were headed for minefield. We agreed that we can only cross it if we do this together. But only if we choose to love and learn from one another. Something noticeably absent in the broader church and cultural dialogue.

I am both hopeful and nervous.

And your responses have made a HUGE difference. I am showing these to my Pastor leading this thing.

There is a clear consensus for ensuring a safe space where love is emphasized and stories are valued. That is what will lead us forward. That will be what fuels us.

But, now, I must call on your services again… We are looking for topics to cover in our gatherings. Things like bullying, gender identity, progressive revelation are a few on my mind.

But do you have any others? What are some topics that we can start with that will set us on a firm footing? Ones that aren’t emotionally explosive? We’re new at this and the last thing we need is a nasty fight.

Any good Bible Stories that can relate to gay folks or reconciliation?

Any excellent books that we could read?

Any movies or documentaries?

Any tough but critical questions?

 

What about those who are curious about the LGBT community?

What questions do you have?

What is the best way for you to learn more about us?

What do you want to know?

How can we help you?

Again, I don’t care if you are LGBT, a woman or a man, old or young, black or white, conservative or liberal, Christian or not, I want your input because you matter to this conversation. And you most certainly matter to me.

Fill me in!

RR

A Person not a Position

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Last night, Andrew Marin and Michael Kimpan stayed over at my parent’s house. Yes, you read that right. The two are here to speak at my brother’s church about the work that the Marin Foundation is doing and how the congregants can join in the effort.

Their timing couldn’t be more perfect. Minnesota is still reeling from the exhausting and absurdly poisonous “dialogue” that took place leading up to the November Marriage Amendment ballot initiative. I voted against it for the same reason many of my peers did- we wanted to give dialogue another shot. We recognize that we still have much to learn from God and one another and it would be shame if we effectively cut out a whole group from the conversation.

Over coffee this morning, Michael, my brother and myself, spitballed about how to facilitate a conversation between the church and the gay community without letting all hell break lose. At my brother’s church, they had already tried this over the marriage amendment issue. It didn’t really work out that well. The attendees had come to throw bombs, not extend hands.  Some folks showed up with their opinions literally Sharpied all over their shirts.

It’s important to note, Michael explained. This is the most emotionally charged issue of the day. Defusing those emotions can only occur if we change the way we relate to one another.

He relayed to us how he could see the avid intensity behind both sides. You hear a Church is talking about building bridges with the gay community and a conservative Christian may feel the need to bring a Leviticus 18 sign, in the name of slowing down the slippery slope and out of love for his church. But the mom of recently out gay kid may going to go to try to find some affirmation of her son’s sexual orientation, out her love for her child.. Get those people into the same room armed with prepared talking points and close ended questions, and the beautiful reconciliation bubble may burst.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said,

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

Michael reminded me of the purpose of this foundation in the first place. So often as Christians, we look to the definitive answer on this issue through books, pastors, culture and the wells we drink from. Rarely do we ever simply sit back and watch Jesus walk. He was a relational being. There was no place he wouldn’t enter and no person he wouldn’t touch. He lived and breathed reconciliation. The end result of his journey was to square us away with Him. For eternity.

If we start removing the weight of the issue, the insult of difference, the mark we place on those who disagree, the names we call them, where we make them sit… when we finally stop projecting our own fears and prejudices against the other, we may actually get somewhere. We may start seeing the person instead of the position.

Our discourse has become so dysfunctional.

But it’s a wound that I know Jesus can heal.

If we let him.

RR

Pride?

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A grandpa of a friend mine wrote a letter to his family about why, as Christians, they voted Republican.

Listening to it read aloud, one passage pricked my ears.

“gays are so sex obsessed. They’re like animals!”

Nods of agreement all around.

In the same minute that I muster up the courage to call them out on their bigotry, they turn on the TV and call their first witness. Drifting across the screen is a float carrying a couple of nearly-naked dudes grinding on each other to some techno jams blasting away in the background.

They are followed by ten more doing the same.

There is hooting and hollering and kissing and… more than kissing

And… just barely murmuring through all noise is… some sort of spontaneous frenzy… like reminiscent of the people of Tokyo in the shadow Godzilla… We strain our ears and crawl over to the speakers just to make it out

a chorus?

No, a mob- A mob made of moms and dads frantically calling for their kids, placing their hands over their eyes, preserving what innocence they have left and then… running like hell for the hills.

In this moment, with both convictions and pride on the line, I cannot bring myself to hum and sway along. I cannot shoo them away with my hand while whispering, “it’s fine by me- you intolerant pig.” I just can’t. It would defy my conscience. It would be dehumanizing. It would be calling pornography art. It would diminish the debate of equal rights.

Because what we’re watching is not a response to injustice,

Nor is it a celebration of diversity.

it’s just a sex romp.

My mind travels to the clientele regulars leaving the strip club only to cross paths with the old lady crying, “that is someone’s daughter in there!”

When was the last time we called out a Pride Parade like that? I’m speaking to the Christian LGBT folks and allies alike. How is the parade reflective who we are? Better question- How does it reflect our faith?

I know what you’re thinking and you’re probably right, if I looked like a J Crew model I too would be tempted to show off my tip-top bod via form fitting jeans and topless jogs. Really, I just might…

But if I believed that this was all I had to offer, wouldn’t you call me shallow? Moreover, wouldn’t you tell me that I am selling myself short?

I hope you would. I’d do the same for you.

Even if the conversation was completely limited to my sexual orientation, do you think I would define myself in such a slutty way? What If the tables were turned? Would you say the same for yourself?

The blogger at Gay Christian, Very Anxious gives a more generous description of what it means to be gay than I have seen any other Christian, gay or ally, do:

“My sexuality has allowed me to have uncomplicated friendships with women, deepened my empathy for the marginalized, and strengthened my faith through intense, personal questioning. It amounts to so much more than attraction to other men, which anyway is as emotional and spiritual as it is sexual. Christians ignore that, because they focus so intently on gay sex, moralizing a very minor component of homosexuality.”

I wish so much that this was the perception of every gay person.

But then I hear the battle cry rolling down the streets of Pride telling me that it is my body that is my best. That I can only know how to exist when someone else wants me in bed. That I am a body with a soul and not a soul with a body.

More than just clothes get stripped away when we reduce ourselves to sex toys. With the shirt goes our dignity and with the pants what’s left of our pride.

And with the parade, goes the perception of us all.

But I sympathize with these kids. They have been told for far too long that all they are is their sexuality; a lie said enough for them to start believing it. And it may surprise you, but it’s a lie that leads us back to the conservative church community. It is a weird circle, but a circle nonetheless. For those already inside, the Church encourages suppression creating a time bomb of affections. Attention is drawn to one detail and it becomes the whole painting. It becomes the prison. An iron mask. For those on the outside, the church accuses them of being sex-obsessed and animal-like.

The parade is an upper cut swing to the Church’s low blows. It is a mirror reflection of how the Church has whored itself out to the lowest common denominator through hateful rhetoric and prejudicial politics.

One calls the other perverted imps.

The other freaks out the faithful through naked float grinding.

It’s a boxing match.

~~~

I am all for living openly and authentically, but the Pride Parade just doesn’t fit that definition for me.

I want this community to be more than that.

Save your six-pack, I want to see your soul.

And hear your poetry. Your songs. I want a testimony told through blood, sweat and tears. The true one. The battle scars. The worst days and the best. Everything besides what your body looks like.

Despite what the media, LGBT friends and allies, and the church may tell you, who you are is not where your attractions lie.

As the sea change gets stronger in both the country and the church, I am praying that my LGBT brothers and sisters enter with a sense of grace and self-respect. We owe at least that to ourselves.

RR