Wednesday, March 28, 2012

pondering stereotypes and real live conversation

I've had two very interesting conversations in so many weeks.

Conversation number one ...

I have this sticker on my car:  

While waiting in the carpool line recently, a woman with a pronounced southern accent struck up a conversation that went something like this:

"Wuz Amendment One, again?"

"I'm glad you asked!" I halfway lied, worried that this wasn't going to go well. I rebuked myself for being so closed minded, and continued. "On May 8th we'll be asked to vote on an amendment that states the only legal union to be recognized in North Carolina will be a marriage between a man and a woman. This will strip straight unmarried couples, as well as gay couples, from basic rights and benefits as partners and parents."

"Oh ... (thinking) ... you sure people of faith is AGAINST that?"

"Well, I am (smiling). I think it's wrong to put civil rights up for a popular vote. As for my faith, it motivates me to want to support and encourage other families, not make life harder for them."

"Oh kay... I can see that, I can see that.  (thinking some more)  I was wonderin, cause I was going through it in my head, like ... was this the one about the right to bear arms, or what?"

"No - this would amend our state constitution, which has never before been amended in a discriminatory way. That's something the be proud of, especially here in the south!"

"Aw right, I see what you mean.  (pausing to think some more)  Well, they say you gotta learn something new ever day.  I learned something new today, didn't I?  (smiles) Thank you, ma'am."

"Thank YOU" I replied, smiling to myself.  
 I'd learned something new that day, too.

Conversation number two...

I keep this button on the outside of my purse (gave up wearing it because most days I'd forget to put it on).

While in Starbucks today, a well dressed professional looking gentleman walked up to me and asked, "So what's amendment one?"

I casually began to answer when his entire posture stiffened, as though a lightbulb had gone off in his mind, reminding him that he'd heard about this but hadn't put two and two together.  He cut me off,

"Oh - I'm voting yes!"

"Okay (I nodded)... well, did you realize that actually-"

"I said I'm voting yes! I don't think they should be together at all!"  He seemed angry.  I was genuinely taken aback.  (I decided not to mention that I thought people like him were supposed to be boycotting Starbucks)

It obviously was not a wise use of my time or energy to converse with him any further, so I smiled and warmly replied, "That's certainly your prerogative."

As we both waited for our lattes, he remained tense - almost visceral.  Meanwhile I relaxed even further, as I wondered how exhausting it must be for him to carry all that around inside him all the time.

"Soy caramel brulee latte - no whip!"

"Well, that's me.  Nice talking with you.  Enjoy the rest of your day!" I offered.

"Huh? Yeah... uh ... you too."

Could it be?  He seemed ... I mean, maybe I was fooling myself ... but I almost got the sense that he was feeling a little ... conflicted.

Hm .... who knows?

Two conversations.
Two stereotypes shot to hell.
Three people left with more to ponder....

Monday, March 26, 2012

pondering a letter to the editor

To John Deem, Editor of the Lake Norman Citizen:
I read Mr. Hall's letter to the editor concerning your coverage of our recent peaceful counter-presence at the Tony Perkins rally.  Mr. Hall wrapped up his thoughts with this paragraph:

Mr. Deem denies a relationship between homosexuals and pedophilia. Really? Tony Perkins is right about this, and Mr. Deem needs to look at the data. The scandal at several Catholic institutions a few years ago were clearly homosexual misconduct. Likewise the Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

There's a scene in The Shawshank Redemption, where Red warns Andy that The Sisters have noticed him.  Andy says, "I don't guess it would help to tell them I'm not homosexual?"  Red replies, "Neither are they.  You have to be human first, and they are not human."

The abuses that have taken place in the Catholic Church, at Penn State, and all around this world have nothing to do with someone being (or not being) gay.  They have to do with people who have ceased to be human.  Child abuse and molestation are evil, whether inflicted upon same or opposite sex victims.  While I certainly can't understand someone's motivation to do such things, it has been explained to me that these individuals feel entitled to pleasure themselves at the expense of anyone who is "beneath" them.  It has everything to do with status and power, nothing at all to do with sexual orientation. To dare equate such atrocities with the sacrificially loving relationships my gay friends share is so unthinkable, it causes a holy anger to burn in my belly. 

Any time I even begin to consider that maybe, just maybe, those who support this amendment have some semblance of a valid point, comments like this one remind me that they, in fact, do not.  Not in any way.  This agenda is driven by ignorance and fear.  At the risk of revealing my true level of nerdiness, I do think Yoda said it best, Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

To reiterate my point:  scripture teaches us that Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Amendment One will do harm to many wonderful, generous, kind, considerate, dear people in North Carolina, who are right now being maligned, completely unfairly.  Lied about.  Misrepresented.  
All in the name of protecting the sanctity of marriage.
No.  It's wrong.  It can't continue.

And I won't stop saying so.

Michelle McConnell (or McGonnell, whichever you prefer) ;)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

pondering hate

A sweet friend who I dearly love sent me a note yesterday morning, reminding me that not everyone who will vote for Amendment One will do so because of hate.  She mentioned this because in my previous post I shared words from Pastor Nancy, who used that word:  hate.

I thanked her, and promised to ponder this reminder; for the last 24 hours, I've done just that.

Some things have come to mind...

I don't like the word hate.  It's inflammatory.  It seems unnecessary.  It makes me think of the lyric from Mumford and Sons, "Darkness is a harsh word, don't you think?"

And yet... I'm not sure that's a good reason not to use it.  Maybe we need to be jarred?  Maybe the conversation should be awkward/uncomfortable?  I don't know.  Maybe.

I know many wonderful, generous, loving people who will likely vote in favor of Amendment One.  They would never bully anyone.  Yes, they believe homosexuality is a sin - but they love sinners, all sinners.  I mean this sincerely - they love.  They won't vote yes because they hate gay people.  They will vote yes because they believe it's the right thing to do. Because they believe their faith, and their convictions about the Bible, are being called to question - that they must take a stand for truth and morality, even if its unpopular.  They will vote yes, not out of hate for gay people, but out of love and allegiance for God.

However... I believe they are misled.

Because this amendment isn't about that.  The language doesn't read, "Do you believe homosexuality is a sin? Check yes or no".  If it did, that would be a very different question - a question for churches and congregations, not citizens.  To answer that question "yes" is not hateful - it's a personal conviction.  I know some of my friends "on the other side" may be the ones shuddering now, but it's not hateful to believe that.  If that were the question posed, and yes was their answer, I would disagree with anyone who attributed the word hate to that.

However ...

To take that belief, and wield it as a civil weapon against a group of people, in the form of a vague, over-reaching amendment such as this one, is - in my opinion - hateful (even if you don't intend for it to be).  And that is precisely what the NC Legislature is asking us, as citizens, to do.

A vote is a powerful thing - it is literally a tool or a weapon that each of us has at our disposal, in this society.  It can be used to serve and protect self, or to serve and protect the other.  I truly believe that the "Christian" leaders calling their followers to vote for Amendment One are challenging them to protect themselves - protect their families - protect their way of life - defend their turf.

And I ask myself - is that the Jesus way? When did He ever model that?

Which leads me to another question: where did we get the idea that the danger lies outside ourselves? As if marriages are ending at the same rate within the church as without, because of some external force of evil baring down upon us?  No. The threat doesn't lie with gay people or society or the world.  Where did Jesus teach us the danger lies?  Within us.  It is not what goes into the body that defiles it, but what comes out.  We are a threat to ourselves - principalities and powers war for our very hearts.  And to wield power over the other, sinner or not, does nothing to protect us.  Nothing.  In fact, it does the opposite - it tears us all down.

"Darkness is a harsh word, don't you think?"  Hatred, as well?  Yes, harsh indeed - but maybe with good reason...

Doesn't history tell us the story of a long line of people who wouldn't have said (at the time) that they hated anyone?  We only see the hate in hindsight.  If they were blinded by fear or a sense of protecting the status quo, who's to say we can't be, too?  We can demonize history's villains, place them in a separate category from us so that we don't have anything in common with them, but that is foolish.  We are the same:  just people, doing what seems right at the time.

I'm no psychologist or sociologist - I can't eloquently define hatred.  But, as I've pondered it the past 24 hours, I can only conclude that hatred is contrary to love.  "Love does no harm to its neighbor", scripture teaches us. Hatred does harm to its neighbor.

Hatred does harm.
Amendment One will do harm.

Because amending the constituion won't make the gay people go away.  They exist. They are here. Their families are here.  As are the thousands of heterosexual couples who currently receive benefits even though they are not married.  If this amendment passes, our state won't be rid of their "sin".  Their lives, and the lives of their children, will just be harder. 

I believe the world is ripe for kindness from Christians.  Jesus-y sacrificial kindness, mercy-rich love that is bold enough to stand before an angry crowd and dare one of them to throw a stone at the "sinner".  Go into all the world and teach them to do everything I commanded you ... that's our mission, right?  Obeying that shows allegiance to Christ.

Well, how do we do that?  What did He command?

He commanded Love.

Love does no harm to its neighbor.  
Amendment One will do harm.

Monday, March 19, 2012

pondering two very different pastors

Yesterday, Pastor Nancy came down from the altar - stood at floor level with the rest of us - and gave this fiery sermon.  She was wearing one of those clip on microphones, but you couldn't tell.  Her voice, strong and passionate, resonated off the walls of the small sanctuary, not from some speaker.  

I confess, I had a fleeting thought of, "Wait - is she really going to use the sermon time to talk about this?" But a smile crossed my face, as that thought was quickly replaced by visions of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Later in the service, she said, "I've been ordained for over 30 years - not once have I used a sermon to tell people how to vote. But this is different - this is not a partisan issue, this is about justice." Read on to the end - you'll be surprised to learn which pastor would agree with her!

From one wilderness to another

 March 18, 2012 Numbers 21:4-9

It all started in the wilderness. That’s where they coalesced as the people God chose. That’s where they learned to live in relationship with each other and with God. Now they were people who shared a common story and a common purpose. And it happened while a generation was getting its act together, wandering in the wilderness. It wasn’t always pretty. But it never is when people are stripped of their idols, when they can no longer cling to what once brought them security and their defense mechanisms no longer work.
When I think of the wilderness, I always think of a thick forest teaming with wildlife. But in Biblical times, the forest was synonymous with the desert. It was a desolate place where finding food and water was a daily challenge. The perfect place, really, for God’s people to learn to trust him.
There’s a peculiar wilderness account in Numbers 21 that talks of faithless people being bitten by poisonous snakes and the cure God provides. It’s so peculiar that at first it may seem to have little to do with us. But any wilderness story deserves a closer look. Because the wilderness of Moses’ time wasn’t by any means the last wilderness God’s people have traveled. In fact, our path has repeatedly been forged through the wilderness. And, although the circumstances that bring us there may change, the task of the wilderness for people of faith is always the same. It’s the place where we learn how to trust God.
Martin Luther walked through the wilderness. So did the Europeans who first came to this country to escape religious persecution. And our ancestors who endured the War-Between-the-States. And those who marched in the streets for women’s rights, and for civil rights. All of them made a way through the wilderness.
Today, we’re living through a wilderness time as people of faith in North Carolina. Last week, I saw a photo online of a woman who was at a protest. She was holding up a sign that said, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting against this *stuff*” [paraphrased]. Many of us feel this way about the fight for equality for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. We’re so over it that we can’t believe it’s still such a big deal to so many people around us. Although we may have moved on from the wilderness, in our minds, we’re still very much in the midst of it. It’s all around us; we can’t escape it. We’ve been reminded of that by the proposed Amendment to the state constitution that the people of North Carolina will be voting on May 8.
Bringing this amendment to a public election came to us in an underhanded way. It’s my prayer that the people of North Carolina will have enough sense to put an end to this nonsense. And I have to believe that if they are presented with the facts, that’s exactly what will happen.
Here are some of the facts.
The amendment reads as follows:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
People who have been led to believe that they will be voting on gay marriage are going to be surprised when they step into the voting booth and actually read Amendment One.
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
This says nothing about same-gender unions. What it says is that the only people in domestic partnerships with any legal rights in the state of North Carolina are couples consisting of one man and one woman who are married.
Now, that certainly affects same-gender couples. In the state of North Carolina, there are approximately 27,000 domestic partnerships between same-gender couples. So, that’s a lot of people.
But there are over 200,000 domestic partnerships between opposite gender couples who are unmarried. That’s a huge amount of people.
No doubt you know couples who are living together without benefit of marriage. They may be opposite gender couples who have chosen not to marry for any number of reasons. Or they may be same-gender couples who haven’t had any choice in the matter. Not legally.
If the amendment passes on May 8, none of these unmarried couples will have legal rights.
Legal rights, like what?
• Like child custody and visitation rights that seek to protect the best interests of children. You and your partner have parented a child together, but because you’re not married, only one is legally the parent. Suppose you split up. Too bad for the child who can be cut off from the parent who was never legally recognized.
• Like invalidating protections against domestic violence. You’re being abused? Sorry, unless that man is your husband, we can’t help you.
• Like interfering with end-of-life arrangements such as wills, trusts, and medical powers of attorney. If you’re not married, you have nothing to say about it.
• Like invalidating partner benefits currently offered to same-sex and opposite-sex couples who aren’t legally married. In Mecklenburg County, along with many other parts of the state, it would become illegal to offer partner health benefits even if the employer wanted to continue them.
• This would also take away the courts’ power to enforce private partner benefits.
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And it’s a craziness that extends beyond the borders of North Carolina. In fact, we’re the last remaining state in the South that hasn’t passed a law like this. They’ve all been a bit different in their wording. North Carolina’s is the vaguest and it opens the door for more damage. But all of these laws come from the same place, when you come right down to it.
They come from a place of hatred. And isn’t that the ultimate wilderness we’re called to travel through as God’s people? The wilderness of hatred?
This is not a case of liberal vs. conservative. It’s a case of extremists trying to control the masses with fear. It’s about imposing their homophobia on the rest of us. If you ask them why this amendment is necessary, they will tell you something about how people who aren’t allowed to legally marry in North Carolina will go to another state to marry and then think they can come back here and have all the rights of married people.
Now, I know some of you have done that. You’ve gone to another state to marry. And what has that done for you in North Carolina? Absolutely nothing. Because here’s the deal. It is already illegal for gay folks to be married in North Carolina. If that’s what some people are afraid of, it’s already been done. The amendment is redundant.
It’s both unnecessary and extreme. Really. An amendment to the constitution? This is so wrong that it’s hard to know where to begin. How can it be appropriate to write discrimination into the founding document of our state? And how can it be appropriate to bring such a decision, one that would impact so many of our citizens, gay, straight, children and adults, in such a damaging way --- how can it ever be appropriate for a majority to vote on the rights of the minority?
North Carolina has a rich heritage in that regard. It was one of the last states to sign the United States Constitution because North Carolinians were holding out for a Bill of Rights to be in place. They were concerned about protecting the rights of the minority. This anti-gay amendment would be the first time that our state has amended the constitution in order to discriminate against specific individuals. Amendment One flies in the face of our state’s tradition.
And all of this is happening at a time when our leaders should be worrying about the economy and jobs. It’s bringing division among people when we should be pulling together. It’s a distraction that is keeping us from the business we need to be about. This shouldn’t be happening right now. Or any time. We shouldn’t be voting on this. It’s a grave injustice and just plain wrong.
This is a wilderness time for us. And it’s beyond discouraging.
But there’s something to be learned from the story of God’s people in the first wilderness. Theologian Phyllis Tickle offers some insight into Numbers 21 worth considering.
“What the story recognizes is that all of us are going to be bitten—painfully bitten—in this life. Most of us learn that truth fairly quickly just from experience. But, according to the story, it is not the being bitten that we in this imperfect world can do anything about; it is only the how we respond to being bitten that we can control. When we look up, usually we are saved by that very act of faith for it is when we look down and struggle with what is tormenting us that we most often empower it by the very attention we are going to give it."
Surrounded by poisonous snakes, they had every reason to despair. The only cure was to look up.
That’s how God’s people make their way through the wilderness. It would be so easy to look down but we look up instead. We look up and see a God of resurrection who saves us from despair. We know that evil will not prevail. Hatred will not win the day. Darkness will not overcome the light. We look up.
I don’t know how the vote will go on May 8. But for God’s people, that’s almost beside the point. We will emerge from this wilderness. If not sooner, then later. As Theodore Parker once said, and Martin Luther King, Jr, after him, “The arc of the universe always bends toward justice.” That’s the direction we’re always headed as God’s people. History bears that out. This will be no exception.
No doubt, when we have finally emerged from this wilderness, another one will be ahead. It’s the way it always works for God’s people. We travel through the wilderness. It’s the only way to get from one place to the next. Scotty can’t just beam us into our new reality. We have to do the hard wilderness work. And we continue to move forward by looking up.
Pastor Nancy Kraft
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Charlotte, NC 

Well put!  And guess who agreed with her...  Someone who, years before, had actually condemned Dr King's involvement in what he referred to as the "civil wrongs movement".  This pastor later apologized for having said things like, "If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never had been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line." 

That pastor not only changed his mind about segregation, but he also said this, 
"I may not agree with the (gay) lifestyle, but that has nothing to do with the civil rights of that part of our constituency... Civil rights for all Americans, black, white, red, yellow, the rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, et cetera, is not a liberal or conservative value. It's an American value that I would think that we pretty much all agree on." 

Who said that? The late Reverend Dr Jerry Falwell, my childhood pastor, who had seemingly begun to soften his position late in life.  Mel White says that if Jerry had lived longer, the gay community would have gotten an apology from him the same way the black community had decades before.  Mel has more reason than anyone not to believe that, but he does - and I've always liked that about him.  

Based on this quote, it seems he was right.  In fact, and I certainly cannot speak for him, but based on this quote, if Jerry Falwell were alive today and if he were a citizen of North Carolina, one can conclude that he would vote NO for Amendment 1 on May 8.  

The question is, will his "followers"?  Like Mel, I want to believe the best about people.  I want to believe that if they know the facts, they'll vote NO.  I want to believe that they'll actually read the words before they punch in their answer.  I want to believe that they will think.

But even if they don't... I'll stand with my brothers and sisters, as we remind each other to Look Up.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

pondering at the well

My favorite spot at the Well of Mercy is a little side porch off the prayer chapel. Not because it has an amazing view – it really doesn’t.  Well, not unless you happen to be sitting here at sunrise; it faces due east (clearly intentional).  But the rest of the day, it’s simply a small porch nestled in the woods. The creek isn’t even nearby.  

I love it because it’s private. No one ever walks past. And the prayer shawls are here, in the chapel.  I love wearing one while I sit/write/commune.  I wonder about the person who made it, praying all the while for the souls it would one day embrace.  I am one of those souls.  Last time I was here (my first visit), I told myself I’d learn to make them myself.  That hasn’t happened.  Then again, I still don’t know how to play the guitar either.  My guess is the guitar is far more likely, so I’ll stick to appreciating the work of other prayer-shawl-makers.

It’s my second visit to The Well, and I’m staying in the same room.  I didn’t request it, it just worked out that way.  I flipped through the guest book to find my entry, and was surprised to learn that I’m here during the exact same week. My entry was made on March 12, 2011.  Today is March 15.

(I wonder what it is about this time of year that makes the urge to “go” so strong that I can ignore it no longer?)

Has it only been a year? So much has happened - so much has changed.  I remember that visit, vividly.  I remember my core question:  

“Am I wandering from the faith, as some caution? Is my hope heresy at worst, something to be “kept private” at best?  What is faith, without hope, anyway?”  

And I remember the answer:  LOVE.  

“You will know Me as you live-walk-breathe LOVE for others. No other way. Get out of your head, and walk. Yes, the Bible is important, but you have that base well covered.  Let it nourish you, but the time for walking has come.  Stop fussing over your faith and your hope – leave those worries here. Go. Walk. Love. Just love.”

I haven’t forgotten. But I had a  very naive idea of what “just love” would mean. For one thing, it was foolhardy to dare insert the word “just” as a prefix for love.  As if love is a simple thing. It’s not.

Love who?
Love how?

These aren’t questions whose answers start with “just…”.  Love can be divisive, not because you choose it to be, but because others get pretty bent out of shape when you love their enemies. No. The word “just” has no place in that phrase. 

In 12 months, much has changed. The earth has made a full pass around the sun. We’ve seen seasons come and go – both in nature, in our family, and – to be sure – in my heart.

By October, the path of love was leaving me weary. In fact, I found myself coming to God often over something that greatly troubled me. I’d lost my tears. Women regularly come to me with burdens to share, stories to tell – I pray with them, and my heart swells with compassion. But to my great frustration, I had no tears. It’s simply not right to have a person cry on your shoulder while your own eyes remain dry. What was wrong with me? Had too much head-work numbed my heart? Was I turning cold? I’d lost the ability to cry. This troubled me greatly. I wanted to feel again. 

I hadn’t realized, till I came here – until last night, actually – how recent events have been an answer to that prayer.  See, for the past two months, I’ve had the opposite problem.  Since January 24, it’s been hard for me to not cry. Driving down the road, walking the aisle at Trader Joe’s, kneeling at the communion rail – the need to stifle sudden sobs overtakes me often, and without warning.

It’s to the point that I’ve been concerned about myself. I mean, in all honesty, he was just my sons’ principal, after all. Yes, a friend too, but others knew him far longer and far better than I did.  I really should be over this by now – at least a bit!  What on earth is wrong with me?

It happened again last night. I sat in the prayer chapel that sits directly behind me, now. Sister Donna lit candles, spoke gentle words, and played music.  The lyrics were simple: “I am with you always”. But I didn’t enjoy them. Tears poured down my hot cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I stared hard at a candle with a stone cold expression. 

And I talked to God.

"With us always…

Where! Were! You!?
He loved You!
Where were You? 
When his despair took him from us?
When it killed him?

People tell me You're an on-time God.
Well, guess what.

You were late."

I don’t always hear back, but sometimes I do. Okay, often I do. Think me delusional, I don’t mind. It’s true.I hear back.

I heard:

“What happened, happened. 
Barry is with me and he is whole. 
His story is his and mine – not yours. 
It was going to happen whether you were a part of it or not.
But feel your cheeks.
What did you ask Me for?
Feel your heart.
Is it numb?
Do you not grieve? Are you not moved with compassion as I was?
This is my gift.
Knowing Barry, loving him as you did – that has been my gift to you. What happened, happened to him, not you. But you – you could sit here weeping two months later, or you could have heard about it on the news and forgotten it two seconds later.
I have given you a great gift.”

As a faint ray of understanding pierced through my still confused mind, I managed to bend down and pick a tissue from the box at my feet. I wiped my nose. I softened my gaze. And I replied,

“Thank You. Thank You for Barry. Thank You for not sparing me this. Thank You for my tears. Thank You for all he taught me about people. Thank You. Never let me turn cold. Never.”

So... this year’s question:

"Love who?
Love how?"

So far, the answer: 

With tears ... with tears.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Welcome, New Friends!

I have a few new followers here, welcome! Just an fyi - the comments are moderated, so they don't show up right away. No need to post it more than once, though, I will publish it once it's been reviewed ....

unless, of course, you've made a complete ass of yourself. In that case I'll show mercy, and save you from yourself by keeping your words private.

But I'm sure that will never happen! ;)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

pondering knights and acolytes

Last night Eric and I watched The Kingdom of Heaven.  Based on what he'd heard, Eric thought I would like it.  I'm not usually a big fan of "battle" movies, but I took his word for it.  He was right.

It's quite the ponder-worthy story, with lots of quotes and themes worth unpacking, but one scene did stand out.  Balian had been left to defend Jerusalem, since the new king and his knights had taken off on a foolhardy quest in the desert.  The quality of this clip isn't great, but at least you can get the scene.  Orlando Bloom is obviously Balian (reason enough to watch it, eh?  wink).  The man questioning him is a Priest who repeatedly calls him a blasphemer for desiring peace with the Muslims, and to whom Balian later delivers one of his best lines in the movie, "You've taught me a lot about religion, Your Eminence".

"Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?"


This morning, our 13 year old son Luke had already enjoyed an hour of Sunday School with his beloved Miss Corky.  He has a type of autism, but he's great for her - it's a small class and she just adores the kids.  But he wasn't too excited about going into "church".  I caught Miss Cheryl in the hall and asked her whether or not they needed help passing out bulletins in the lobby.  He perked up at that idea, but she did me one better.

"How about you help me today?" she asked.


"Well, I could teach you how to be an acolyte. We light the candles and take care of things on the altar..."

"Yes!  Yes yes!"

"You'd have to sit with me the whole time..."

"Yes! Yes yes!"

"Mom, is this okay with you?"

"Absolutely, but this is a really grown up job, this is important" (I said, directing my gaze at Luke).

"Well, you know, I am a real teenager!" he stated, proudly.
just his size

They found a robe his size, and I left them to it.  Eric and I joked about the church not getting burned down, but our friends blew it off with, "Eh, we have fire extinguishers!" (liturgical lutheran SO does not equal stiff and formal)

So Luke and Miss Cheryl served as acolytes this morning.  He performed his duties beautifully, but there was an even greater transformation.  He sat perfectly throughout the entire service.  He didn't have any "figures" or "animals" with him, that he typically "can't live without".  He never once laid down or pointed to the door, asking to leave.  He didn't make any odd noises.  He was, basically, perfect.  This has never happened.  I mean, he isn't ever "bad" but is almost always restless.  Wearing that robe - being dignified with responsibility -  grew him up, almost instantly.

practicing before service
"Does making a young man an acolyte make him a better participant in the worship service?"


Best of all, off and on throughout the service I saw him hug Miss Cheryl, or just pat her on the back or the arm.  Warmed my heart to pieces (and hers, too, I could tell).

Today was the longest service we've attended there, since they introduced and welcomed new members and that took some time.  But the handsome, young acolyte enjoyed every minute.

And so did I.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

pondering healthy dialogue

Last night I enjoyed a pre-screening of the movie Blue Like Jazz.  What a great conversation generator!  Really!  I can think of people from all different "places" in my life who I'd love to get together in one room, watch this - then just talk.  It opens in theaters on April 13.  Get a gang together and go see it that weekend!  Great chance to support a low budget, independent, artsy, hilarious yet thought provoking made-by-Christians-but-not-"Christian" film.  (respect the PG13 rating though, seriously!)

It reminded me a lot of the book, The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose, which is basically the same story in exact reverse.  I don't want to give too much away from either one, but the basics are: in Blue Like Jazz a kid from a fundamental upbringing is thrust into the most "secular" environment possible, Reed College.  In The Unlikely Disciple, a non-religious kid from Brown spends a semester enrolled (under cover) at Liberty University.  Actually, I wish they'd make a movie out of Unlikely Disciple, too, because there are people who would benefit from the story who won't read the book.

What I love is that neither story demonizes anyone (in my opinion), which is what makes them such great conversation starters.  Anyone can poke fun, judge, call names -  so predictable and tired.  You won't find that in either of these stories, but both are honest and real.  I can't say enough about how much I think the two of them, taken together, could promote healthy dialogue so needed in our culture today.

I don't get any royalties for this, but I mean it: go read Unlikely Disciple and go watch Blue Like Jazz (the screenplay is significantly different than the book itself, so it's not enough to have read it).  Then purposely go somewhere you know you don't fit in.  Strike up a humble, honest conversation with someone.  See what happens! 

Monday, March 5, 2012

pondering a peaceful counter presence

It's hard to imagine, today - as bud-covered tree branches give way to the cold wind - but last Thursday, I got a mean sunburn sitting outside the dentist's office as our daughters got their teeth cleaned/examined.  For reading material, I'd brought along two local papers we receive for free each week.  Immediately, this headline caught my eye: Grace Covenant Brings DOMA/Gay Marriage Spotlight Here.  As I read the article, I literally felt myself getting a little sick to my stomach.  I can walk to this church from my house.  We have friends that attend there.  I've attended Bible studies there, and our kids have enjoyed VBS there.  The church's "where love touches people" bumper stickers can be seen all over town.  Ugh.  

I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to attend the rally, proudly wearing my "Protect All NC Families - Vote Against Amendment One" button.  Not to cause trouble, just to ... I don't know what, exactly.  I just felt a responsibility to somehow make it known that yes, we are a Christian family, and yes, we get up and drive to a church building on Sunday mornings, but no, Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council do NOT speak for us.  Many Christians in this community will be voting NO on May 8, not in spite of our faith in Jesus, but because of it.

Turns out I wasn't the only one feeling this way, and so a dozen of us met in the nearby Target Starbucks to figure out how we'd stage a peaceful counter-presence.  We decided it was best to stand on the opposite side of the street, so as to not cause any trouble about being on the church's property.  Representatives from the church came out offering us hot coffee, which we gladly accepted - it was COLD!  

The response from drivers was mixed.  We got those "happy honks" that say, "we're with you!" along with thumbs up and other positive gestures.  We got fewer "unhappy honks", thumbs down, and less-than-positive gestures. Folks pulling in to the church didn't quite know what to make of us and I truly feared we'd witness a wreck, as drivers straining to read all our signs nearly rear-ended one another. Thankfully that didn't happen! Not the kind of reaction we were looking for.
What WERE we looking for? As I see it, we had two target audiences.  The first was the community at large:  drivers passing by, people who will read about this in the newspaper's follow-up story, even people who will read this blog.  The message to the community is simple:  not all Christians feel that way.  We stand WITH our gay brothers and sisters (as well as the over 200,000 straight couples currently living in NC in domestic partnerships, who would have rights denied them by this amendment), not against them.  The gospel, to us, is one of reconciliation, not of accusation or division.  We come bearing the name of Jesus, too.

The second audience, and truly secondary, was the church itself.  Our message there, first shared in emails to the pastor, and - that evening - in conversations with members, as we were able, was simple.  "You have a wonderful reputation in this community, one of grace and love, and of putting that to practice in wonderful deeds that benefit many people. But THAT bus is a symbol of hate - there's no getting around it.  Tony Perkins co-opts faith and the gospel to promote his political agenda.  By aligning yourselves with him, we feel that you are - by default - alienating yourselves from many in the community you wish to serve.  Please reconsider."

After standing in the cold for a good half hour, three of us decided to go inside and hear what they had to say:  the mother of a grown, gay son, a self identified former "ex-gay" lesbian, and myself.  As we walked in the door, we were greeted by our old friend, "the man bearing coffee".  I asked if we could come in.  He smiled and said, "Of course, I'm sure yall won't cause any trouble?", leaving that last part hanging. "That's never been our intention".  

Turns out he wasn't the only one who knew who we were.  Beyond the church's own volunteers, there were guys with communication devices in their ears in front of us, beside us, and behind us - just like secret service!  Cool!  They were clearly with Perkins' crew.  Having their full attention was frankly, pretty awesome.  I felt a little bit like Mary-Louise Parker's character in Red.  (I'm sure they thought I had a glitter bomb in my bag or something... )

We took our seats near the back as the praise band was wrapping up my absolute least favorite worship song (care to guess what it is?)  I'd been in this sanctuary several times before; this particular evening it wasn't remotely full.  Both the balcony and the side sections were roped off, and the remaining pews were only sporadically filled.  I'd expected standing room only, for such a famous speaker (not that I was disappointed).

The lead pastor introduced Tony Perkins.  As he took the stage, I was taken a little aback at how alike they look and sound?  Maybe it's just me.  He got a standing ovation.  We kept our seats.  If we didn't stick out before, we sure did now.

He started out talking about his time serving in the Marines.  He asked any veterans to stand, and we ALL applauded them, heartily. ;)

From notes I feverishly took during his presentation:

He's very funny and charismatic.  He's seriously good at this - part preacher, part politician, part salesman.  He mentions Dr. Dobson, which draws another round of applause.  
"the heart and soul of America" and "nothing more foundational than the family" and "a mom and dad and kids" (that last one brings another roaring round of applause)
"it's time we not be afraid to stand up and say so"
"without a moral compass, our nation is lost"
"as followers of Jesus Christ, we aren't going anyhwere" (applause again)
"people call you hateful for speaking the truth, but silence is hateful" (yep, applause)
Ephesians 6:10-18.  Obvious choice. And he's a marine!  What could be more perfect?
"we are not in a political battle, this is a spiritual battle - those on the other side are not our enemy, they are actually being held captive by the enemy... these have become political issues because the church has been silent on them for too long".  I'm beginning to rethink my disbelief of reincarnation - because I have to blink a few times to convince myself that I'm not, in fact, listening to a younger, thinner, less-deep-voiced Jerry Falwell. 
He literally gets down on one knee - "Amens" are flowing freely from the crowd, now - as he says, "we don't wrestle these forces at the ballot box, we wrestle them on our knees before God"
"we are battling for this community and for the fatherless children" - he quotes statistics about how many kids are growing up without dads in the house.  (It's at this point that I felt myself getting HOT.  I mean, my knees were bouncing uncontrollably. I was livid, thinking about the families I know, where gay couples have adopted kids, take in foster kids, love and raise as their own beautiful kids that no one else wanted. I could see their smiles and their tenderness as they walk up for communion together week after week ... I was having to practice deep breathing techniques to keep it together.  We joked, later, that I was worried about my lesbian friend "losing it" - turned I was the one about the lose it in there, and I'm not even gay!)
He continues more about the armor from Ephesians - belt of truth, sword of spirit, etc...
"We must never lay down the sword! We must never walk away from the word of God!" His Bible is held high. Amens resound.  
Now he starts encouraging them that pastors are running for office, taking over school boards and city councils, rewriting textbooks.  Applause. "only 1/3 of citizens who claim to be Bible believing Christians are registered to vote, and only half of those actually do vote" (???) "the NC DOMA has been blocked by the legislature for years - NC is the last in the traditional south not to have one. our winning record is 30-0, let's make it 31-0, because if the other side gets even one victory they'll claim the tide has turned." "some call this a divisive issue, but among Bible believing churches who truly believe Jesus is the way, there is no division on this issue". (really??)
Segues into funny, endearing story.  This one is about a phone call he received from his six year old son asking about a letter he'd found, asking for money. "Why do you need money, Daddy?"  He says he has important work to do for God, and that the people on his staff have to be paid for all their hard work and time.  So his son puts two quarters in an envelope and mails it to FRC.  He says he keeps those two quarters on his desk all the time.  Looking around - I see tissue boxes are in good supply, but fail to find any barf bags.
"My son didn't understand everything about what I'm doing, but he knew his father had important business to do, and so even though he couldn't understand it all, he gave his all.  Are you willing to say Yes to Your Father?  You may not understand all of His business, but will you give your all tonight?  Let's bow our heads and close our eyes..."(This is the first time I really thought about slipping out early. Not the "bow your heads close your eyes" thing.  Anything but that. Later I told my husband that I literally felt like Snape, offering a counter-spell, as I whispered aloud prayers of my own while he prayed.  He never said Amen, which - to anyone who grew up baptist - is a clear cue that the "raise your hand" thing is coming next.  It did.)
"As you keep yours heads bowed and your eyes closed, I'd just like to ask if there's anyone here tonight who would be willing to say Yes to their Father - Yes, I'll give my all to Your work, God - I see that hand, thank you - I may not understand it all but I give myself to You, Father - yes, thank you I see that hand, and that one, hands going up all over the room, praise God...."   
Gives his website address repeatedly. Pastor returns to stage joining him for questions from the audience.  

I looked at my colleagues, wondering if either of them would raise their hand?  Neither of them moved.  And neither did I.  I'd come in ready with a couple of real whoppers, but nothing in me felt compelled to ask them, now.  The questions grew less and less interesting; after two in a row about Obamacare and Muslims, we decided to slip out. I noticed the lobby was full of lap-tops all set to the FRC website. Convenient.

 Coffee-man followed us out, thanking us for not causing any trouble and letting us know that he wouldn't allow us to put anything on the cars.  I told him I did have fliers with me, but that we had no intention of putting them on cars.  As I handed him a couple, I told him that we were more interested in face to face conversations.  The mother from our group spoke up and said, "I actually agree completely with everything he said about the need to support strong families - I just can't understand how this amendment brings that about in any way, whatsoever?"  I commented that his church has a great reputation in the community, that they've done many wonderful things and their bumper stickers are seen on cars all over town, but (pointing) I said, "But THAT bus contradicts all that." He was sort of speechless.  He said something about not hating anyone and being welcoming to all, to which our lesbian friend spoke up and countered that she did not feel remotely welcome.  She told him that if she told him her story of her experience with churches, that he would sit down on the curb and cry with her.  He seemed touched, and agreed that Jesus would share a meal to discuss our differences together.  I'm hoping my diplomatic friend Bill can make that happen.  

All in all, it was really an anti-climactic evening.  I didn't run into anyone I knew "on the other side" (which would have been difficult).  We weren't arrested (ha!)  In fact, all I'd prayed for had come to fruition:  

Peace, Light, Love.  

I see this not as a stand-alone event, but as the beginning of a conversation with churches in this area.  I firmly believe that the lines are being drawn - and if we do not intentionally choose where we stand, the lines will be drawn around us.  Not everyone should stand on Statesville Rd holding a sign or waving a rainbow scarf. Not everyone even has to agree whether or not homosexuality is a sin!  But we do have to think for ourselves, and think hard, about whether or not we want to participate in writing discrimination into our state's constitution.  Because that's what this is.

May conversations continue, and may they be fruitful with the message of reconciliation!

I will hold on hope!