I've been watching America's response to recent bullying-related suicides closely. People seem quite shocked by the cruelty that's happening in our schools. I'm confused by their shock. I'm also concerned about what's not being addressed in the proposed solutions to this devastating problem.
The usual response seems to be that we need to better educate students and teachers about what bullying is and how to react appropriately to it. You can't argue with that. But on its own, it seems a little like bailing water frantically without looking for the hole in the boat.
Each time one of these stories is reported we tend to say some version of "Kids these days -- they can be so cruel." But I think this is just a phrase we toss around to excuse ourselves from facing the truth. I don't think kids are any crueler than adults. I just think kids aren't quite as adept at disguising their cruelty.
Yesterday I heard a radio report that the students most likely to be bullied are gay kids, overweight kids and Muslim kids.
I would venture a guess that gay adults, overweight adults and Muslim adults feel the most bullied as well. Children are not cruel. Children are mirrors. They want to be "grown-up." So they act how grown-ups act when we think they're not paying attention. They believe what we believe. They say what we say. And we have taught them that gay people are not okay. That overweight people are not okay. That Muslim people are not okay. Through our words and actions we send the message that these people aren't equal and they should be feared. We know that people hurt the things they fear. What kids are doing in the schools, is what adults do in the media. The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeterias while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative benches and in one-liners on sitcoms.
People are heart-breakingly sensitive. If enough people tell someone over and over that he is not okay, he will believe it. And one way or another, he will die.
So how is any of this surprising? It's quite predictable, actually. It's trickle-down cruelty.
I don't know much. But I know that each time I see something heartbreaking on the news, each time I encounter a problem outside, the answer to the problem is inside. The problem is ALWAYS me and the solution is ALWAYS me. If I want my world to be less vicious, then I must become more gentle. If I want my children to embrace other children for who they are, to treat other children with the dignity and respect every child of God deserves, then I had better treat other adults the same way. And I better make sure that my children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in God's and their father's and my eyes, they are okay. They are fine. They are loved as they are. Without a single unless. Because the kids who bully are those who are afraid that a secret part of themselves is not okay.
Whoever you are, whoever you become. You are loved. You are a miracle. You are our dream come true.
Chase, here is what would happen in our home if one day you tell your father and I that you are gay:
Our eyes would open wide.
And we would grab you and hold you tighter than you would be able to bear. And while we were holding you we would say a silent prayer that as little time as possible passed between the moment you knew you were gay and the moment you told us. And that you were never once afraid to tell us. And we would love you and ask you one million questions and then we would love you some more and finally, I would likely rush out to buy some rainbow t-shirts, honey, because you know mama likes to have an appropriate outfit for every occasion.
And I don't mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated. People, every person, Is Divine. And so there would be celebrating. Celebrating that you would be one step closer to matching your outsides with your insides, to being who you are. And there would be a teeny part of my heart that would leap at the realization that I would forever be the most important woman in your life. And then we would tell everyone. We would not concern ourselves too much with their reactions. There will always be party poopers, baby.
We just wanted you to know this, honey. We've worried that since we are Christians, and since we love The Bible so much, that there might come a day when you feel unclear about our feelings about this. Because there are a few parts in The Bible that discuss homosexuality as a sin. So let us be clear about how we feel, because we have spent years of research and prayer and discussion deciding.
Chase, we don't believe that homosexuality is a sin. Your parents are Christians who believe that the Bible is inspired by God, just like people are. And since the Bible is a living thing, it is in its very nature to evolve toward becoming more loving. We are to interact with it, to interpret it with our minds and hearts and souls. We are to consider the culture and time in which it was written and then consider the progress humanity's made since then. We believe that when those two things conflict, we are to consider the spirit of the law before the letter of the law. And to always choose mercy over judgment. Sometimes this means that we appear to be picking and choosing what we believe in the Bible. It's not really that, exactly, but it looks like that. And many will tell you that this approach to Christianity is scandalous and blasphemous. But the thing is, honey, that the only thing that's scandalous about this approach is admitting it out loud. The truth is that every Christian is a Christian who picks and chooses what to follow in the Bible, in one way or another.
Several years ago I was in a Bible study at church, and there was some talk about homosexuality being sinful, and I spoke up. I quoted Mother Teresa and said "When we judge people we have no time to love them." And I was immediately reprimanded for my blasphemy by a woman who reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 which says that none of the sexually immoral will inherit the kingdom of God and includes "homosexual offenders" on a list of those types of people.
But, I was very confused because this woman was speaking. In church. And she was also wearing a necklace. And I could see her hair, baby. She had no head covering. All of which are things that are sooooo totally against the Bible Rules. * And so I just assumed that she had decided not to follow the parts of the Bible that limited her particular freedoms, but to hold fast to the parts that limited other people's freedoms. I didn't point this out at the time baby, because she wasn't a bad person. People are doing the best they can, mostly. It's best not to embarrass people.
What I'm trying to say is that each Christian uses different criteria to decide what parts of the Bible to prioritize and demonstrate in their lives. Our criteria is that if it doesn't bring us closer to seeing humanity as one, as connected, if it turns our judgment outward instead of inward, if it doesn't help us become better lovers of God and others, if it distracts us from remembering what we are really supposed to be doing down here, which is finding God in every human being, serving each other before ourselves, feeding hungry people, comforting the sick and sad, giving up everything we have for others, laying down our lives for our friends... then we just assume we don't understand it yet, we put it on a shelf, and we move on. Because all I need to know is that I am reborn. And here's what I believe it means to be reborn:
The first time you're born, you identify the people in the room as your family. The second time you're born, you identify the whole world as your family. Christianity is not about joining a particular club, it's about waking up to the fact that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who's in and who's out at all costs. Everybody's in, baby. That's what makes it beautiful. And hard. If working out your faith is not beautiful and hard, find a new one to work out. And if spiritual teachers are encouraging you to fear anyone, watch them closely, honey. Raise your eyebrow and then your hand. Because the phrase repeated most often in that Bible they are quoting is Do Not Be Afraid. So when they tell you that gay people are a threat to marriage, honey, think hard.
I can only speak from my personal experience, but I've been married for nine years and barely any gay people have tried to break up my marriage. I say barely any because that Nate Berkus is a little shady. I am defenseless against his cuteness and eye for accessories and so he is always convincing me to buy beautiful trinkets with our grocery money. This drives your sweet father a bit nuts. So you might want to keep your eye on Berkus. But with the exception of him, I'm fairly certain that the only threats to my marriage are my pride and anger and plain old human wanderlust. Do not be afraid of people who seem different than you, baby. Different always turns out to be an illusion. Look hard.
Chase, God gave you the Bible, and He also gave you your heart and your mind and I believe He'd like you to use all three. It's a good system of checks and balances He designed. Prioritizing can still be hard, though. Jesus predicted that. So he gave us this story. A man approached Jesus and said that he was very confused by all of God's laws and directions and asked Jesus to break it down for him. He said, "What are the most important laws?" And Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and love others as yourself." When in doubt, Chase, measure all your decisions and beliefs against that. Make damn sure that you are offering others the same rights, courtesies, and respect that you expect for yourself. If you do that, you can't go wrong.
Chase, you are okay. You are a child of God. As is everyone else. There is nothing that you can become or do that will make God love you any more or any less. Nothing that you already are or will become is a surprise to God. Tomorrow has already been approved.
And so baby, your father and I have only one specific expectation of you. And that is that you celebrate others the way we celebrate you. That you remember, every day, every minute, that there is no one on God's Green Earth who deserves more or less respect than you do, My Love.
"He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." - Michah 6:8
P.S. We thought we should mention, honey, that if you're straight, that's okay too. I mean, it'd be a little anti-climactic now, honestly. But your father and I will deal.
P.P.S. As daddy read this essay, I watched his gorgeous face intensify. He teared up a little. Then he slammed the letter down on the kitchen table and said emphatically and without a touch of irony, "DAMN STRAIGHT."
Which, when you think about it honey, is really the funniest possible thing daddy could have said.