My Fellow Exhausted Americans

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Today I realized how tired I am. I think we all are.

We’ve all spent the lion’s share of this year up to our necks in a swirling storm of arguments and opinions and data and memes and polls and trolls, and we’ve all arrived at this day rightly exhausted. As we stumble to this spot; soundly battered and bruised, many of us are surveying the wreckage of the journey and probably wondering if it’s all worth it.

It is.

These past few months have been costly for most of us. We’ve alienated ourselves from neighbors, reopened scarred over emotional wounds, widened family fault lines, created new tensions where we work, severed ties with friends on social media, and for many of us we’ve seen relationships that really matter to us altered irrevocably—and that’s a fair trade for our fortune.

Friends, this is the cost of speaking your truth. The pushback you receive for being authentic is the tax on the authenticity itself. It is the price of walking fully into the liberty that is America’s calling card. There is no shortcut to it, no life hack to having it. There is no easy way of enjoying the fruits of freedom other than to fight for them.

And yes, that freedom is tangibly fought for by brave men and women across seas and on battle lines and with deadly weapons, but make no mistake it is also fought for in the bloody trenches of the difficult daily lives we live; shoulder to shoulder with our fellow flawed humanity. It is fought for across kitchen tables and in cul de sacs and along church pews and on social media profiles and in awkward gatherings with extended family members you wish you didn’t know so much about and now do.

This battle is waged in difficult conversations you’d rather not have but have anyway, in times you choose to speak when silence would be far easier and fraught with far less collateral damage. It is waged in those moments when you know raising your voice will quite possibly cause every bit of shit to hit the fan—and you hear yourself speaking anyway. 

This fight is the sweet spot of America. This is where the greatness lives.

Our nation’s beauty is in the richness of the palette used to paint us; the breadth of our shared experiences and perspectives and histories. The more diverse we become, the better we become. The more voices we allow, the richer the chorus we raise together. The bigger the table we set, the more we fully share the bounty we have been blessed with.

So this fatigue of the soul that most of us are feeling today is well worth all that we’ve walked through to acquire it. It honors those who came before us; those who endured their own wounds and fault lines and fractures, those who lost lives and family and livelihood, those who paid the price to speak their truth even when that truth was the more painful path.

Regardless of your personal politics, or whether or not we agree on the candidates or the issues or the solutions to all that ails us, we can all find solidarity in our shared exhaustion today, because we have acquired it together; in the messy, disorienting, violent, glorious tempest that is America’s greatness. Yes we are tired, but it is a good tired; the kind of tired you are when you gave a damn about something so worth giving a damn about.

My fellow exhausted Americans, be encouraged today.

We didn’t fight to make our country great.

We fought because it already is great.

Rest well.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Using the Bible Against LGBTQ People is Irresponsible

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Christians will go to great lengths to get God to consent to their prejudices. It’s actually quite astounding and equally sad. 

Every day I watch and read fellow followers of Jesus attempting to use Scripture to discriminate against, marginalize, and condemn people who identify as LGBTQ. They engage in the most protracted, passionate, theological gymnastics, arrogantly and confidently tossing out chapter-and-verse grenades in an effort to make the case that God has a problem with being gay and that the Bible is proof. They do this with great authority, unwavering confidence, and very little tolerance for dissent.

This is one of the most irresponsible things Christians have ever done.

In truth, only a literal handful of the Bible’s 31,102 verses mention what could be translated as homosexuality (an English word first coined in 1946)and in even those few cases the reference is solely to a sexual act, never to anything remotely resembling what we understand as gender identity or sexual orientation. The reason for this is quite simple: such complex ideas were beyond the grasp of the writers, just as the shape of the planet or the inner workings of the human body or the nature of gravity were. This is understandable. They had no knowledge of how the brain worked and so they could only observe behavior and imagine that was the extent of sexual identity. 

This is the greatest flaw in attempting to use the Bible to address the intricacies of human sexuality—that it is woefully inadequate for that specific task. The Bible did not drop from the sky and it isn’t a product of Divine dictation where God took over the faculties of the author. It is a sprawling library of 66 books, orally preserved and then written down over hundreds of years by dozens of disparate and largely unknown, very human authors in multiple languages, during which time the concepts of gender identity or sexual orientation were formed at only the crudest levels.  

The Bible is a product of its time and culture and contains the inherent limitations of its writers. It isn’t an attack or mutiny to admit these things, it is simply being honest with our sacred text. Even fundamentalists and Conservatives understand this. We see it in the way our orthodox Christian understanding and approaches to slavery, women’s rights, mental illness, and divorce have all evolved with what we’ve learned over time. It’s the reason we no longer stone adulterers or accuse paralytics of moral failing or imagine Hell sitting below a flat earth.

This is why arguing incessantly about a handful of parsed out lines of Scripture, as if these verses answer the complex questions of sexuality is such misguided time and such a misuse of the texts themselves. Using these few bits of text to justify discrimination and bigotry is reckless and irresponsible. We don’t rely on the Bible to understand gender identity and sexual orientation for the same reason we don’t rely on a 2,000 year old medical text to understand the circulatory system, or use ancient hieroglyphics to understand the Cosmos. We know that these things are not enough because time has taught us.

When we put our bodies in the hands of surgeons, we want them to bring every bit of study and experience and historical learning to bear, because of the complexity of the task. We wouldn’t accept that what we knew in the first century was at all adequate. In fact, we’d demand that anything antiquated, technologically or intellectually be discarded. That is the only responsible decision when life is in the balance.

In this and in so many other ways, God has given us time as a gift in which to gain understanding about the world and about our bodies and our brains, that we didn’t and couldn’t know two or three thousand years ago. We gladly and wisely use this experience without giving it a second thought, without exception. In every other sphere of life, this is how we live; allowing new revelation to help us make better decisions and to override information when it proves to be incomplete or erroneous.

The damage the Church has done an continues to do to the LGBTQ community by trying to claim the writers of the Bible understood things they simply couldn’t have understood about sexuality, is one of our greatest shared sins. We need to allow all that we’ve learned to inform our faith perspective. We can go to the Scriptures for wisdom and guidance and inspiration, but we should never go to them as authoritative textbooks on biology or anatomy, and never as an excuse to ignore what we’ve discovered since they were first recorded.

If we don’t see and consider the Bible’s limitations regarding the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation, we will continue to try to use God to reinforce our fear and sanction our prejudices, and we will continue to engage in behavior toward the LGBTQ community that makes our violence and mistreatment feel righteous, while not at all reflecting the love of Jesus.

Our Sons Deserve Better Than Donald Trump’s Example of “Manhood”

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My son is 11 years old; bright and beautiful and fitted with a heart far larger than it has a right to be. He’s that kind of brilliantly alive that only an 11-year old boy can be.

And this year, we let him down.

Donald Trump did.
The GOP did.

The Evangelical Right did.
Much of America did.

I did.

This year, while so many people openly (and rightly) lamented the devastating effect Donald Trump’s disgusting treatment of women (and the inexplicable defending of said treatment) will have upon young girls looking on, we all forgot something: our sons were watching and listening too.

I’m not sure we’ve stopped to think about what kind of young men we’re creating right now.

I don’t know if we’ve considered the collateral damage this is doing within the boys in our collective care. 

I don’t think we can fathom what our sons in a Donald Trump America are likely to grow into:

Men with a dangerous sense of entitlement when it comes to the bodies of women.
Men for whom violent, hateful, objectifying words about women are viewed as normal.
Men who believe that money and power and their penises give them license to do whatever they want with a woman regardless of what she wants.
Men for whom the very idea of consent is unimportant.
Men who believe they will get rewarded for their misogyny and sexism and filth, because they’ve watched it happen.

This week my son asked me what Donald Trump said about women, and I did the best I could to relay it all without using the actual words, because to use the actual words Trump used, would have meant subjecting my son to the kind of explicit, angry vulgarity that isn’t normal and shouldn’t be normal for 11-year old boys—or boys of integrity of any age.

The words about women from a man who is now President, unfit to be repeated by a father to his son. Let that sink in for a minute. 

Trying to find any scenario in which any man talking about grabbing a woman by the genitalia and forcing himself on her physically is at all normal or acceptable, underscores the tragic absurdity of it all. It also illustrates the depths to which we’ve fallen and the sickness which is so pervasive; that our politics now so easily trumps our humanity.

The fact that a man with such a well-documented pattern of misogyny was the GOP representative for the highest office in the country (let alone garnering the support of millions of people who claim faith in Jesus) should be an embarrassment to any self-respecting parent and Christian. We should be sick to our stomachs right now, realizing how poisonous this all is to the hearts and minds of our boys. We should be openly condemning it all, if we had any regard for them and any interest in who they are becoming.

That so many fathers (and mothers) are not doing so, means that maybe Donald Trump is exactly the person to best represent us in the world. Maybe that is how low the bar we’ve set for our young men really is. Maybe the support for Trump is a true measure of the hatred so many men have toward women and the self-loathing too many of those women are afflicted with.

I have better dreams for my son than this.

I want him to know that girls and women are worthy of respect and decency and gentleness.
I want him to know that dehumanizing a woman is never normal; not in a locker room or a frat party or a board room or a bedroom.
I want him to know that another woman’s body is not his jurisdiction.
I want him to know that a woman’s outward no is louder than his internal yes.

I want him to know that there is a huge difference between being a man—and being a gentleman.

I believe my son deserves better than this week. All our sons do.

They deserve far better than a Donald Trump presidency. They deserve a higher definition of what it means to be a man, than an insulting, groping, bragging predator who treats women with complete disregard. 

They deserve a Christianity that isn’t as pliable as the Conservative Right and so many professed believers have made it in order to accommodate their candidate.

They also deserve better than to see adults making excuses for the words Trump has said and the things he’s done. They deserve parents, mentors, and role models who won’t sell their souls to align with a party or retain power.

One day my son will be a man, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to ever worry that he’s not a man who recognizes women as valuable and equal and worthy of respect, and I’m going to shout down all the voices that would speak something different into his ears, even if those voices are of family members, friends, pastors, and Presidential candidates.

Rationalizing sexual assault and violence toward women as just “boys will be boys”, is the best way to ensure that our boys grow-up to become abusive men who have contempt for women and believe that to be what all men do. I refuse to participate in that.

At this point, opposing this kind of language and behavior shouldn’t be seen as a political move—but a human decency move. There shouldn’t be an alternative side to choose here; not if we love our sons and daughters.

Right now my son and millions of other bright and beautiful boys with big hearts and bigger questions are watching and listening to Donald Trump, and to us.

He is failing them.

We can’t afford to.

 

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The Day I Chose My Heterosexuality

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I still remember the day I chose to be heterosexual. It was the fourth grade.

I was 10 years old and I already knew all about girls. I knew to take precautions with them. I knew to be very careful.

I knew they all had girl germs.

And if there’s one thing a worldly young man like myself already realized, it’s that you definitely did not want to catch girl germs.

And so I spent every recess sprinting through the schoolyard, tearing around the jungle gym, and barreling through clusters of scattering kids, trying to escape being touched by one of the female runners. It was like the cornfield human round-up in the Planet of the Apes (or maybe The Walking Dead, a few decades early). I did my best to help the other boys when I could, of course, but we all knew that when push came to shove, it was every guy for himself. Better them than me.

We ran for our lives every lunchtime, knowing that to be touched was to be contaminated. But I was super fast. Maybe it was my sweet new pair of Zips, maybe it was my natural ability, or maybe it was Adrenaline and desperation—but I was one heck of a runner.

That is, until Lori Kopcash.

Up until that day, Lori had been my greatest playground nemesis, and her very presence struck fear in my 10-year old heart. She was gross and icky and absolutely crawling with girl germs—and she could run fast too.

One afternoon Lori was chasing me through the blur of the screaming crowd around me, when I suddenly realized I wasn’t running as fast as I could anymore. In fact, I was sort of dogging it on purpose. The truth blindsided me like a truck: something in me really wanted Lori Kopcash to catch me.

That was the day I chose my heterosexuality.

Of course, there was no real decision to be made here; no furious debate in my mind, no great wrestling with the choice at all. I simply became aware that Lori Kopcash made me feel something I’d never felt before. I couldn’t rationalize it or explain it—I just liked her. I just liked girls. My perception of girl and their respective germs was never quite the same again.

We all can point to those moments early in our journey when we realize something true about how our hearts and bodies work. There would be more times, but this was the first.

It wasn’t until later that I learned through the faith tradition I’d inherited, that apparently not all people worked this way. Some people, my Christianity told me, choose to be gay; they reject the very natural reality of what God had hard-wired into them, and make a conscious decision to be a different way. What I experienced without thinking in that playground, they somehow decide. What was an awareness for me, was for them a premeditated choice.

I knew right away how ridiculous an idea that was.

I knew that it was both arrogant and ignorant to imagine that anyone else’s experience of attraction or affection or desire was any different from mine, simply because their conclusion was different. The story that my religion told me just didn’t ring true. It still doesn’t.

Later when I became a pastor, I was committed to remembering how natural what I felt that afternoon for Lori felt, and to work toward a Church that respects that we each have a truest truth; that we should be allowed to live and love and worship from that most authentic place. If God made any of us to naturally feel what we feel without getting to choose it—God created all of us this way.

One of the greatest failings I see in my fellow Christians, is assuming that they can determine what is natural for someone else; what is their real, their truth, that they can decide for another person who they are.

It grieves me when I see followers of Jesus dismissing someone else’s story; their sense of identity, their inclination to love, the orientation of their affections, and the revelation of their own hearts—as if they know more about those people than they know about themselves. It’s the height of hubris.

One of the prayers I carry daily, is that more people who claim faith in Jesus will find the humility to remember what they learned about themselves at some point in their lives, and to allow everyone the dignity of coming to their own conclusions.  

There in the playground of St. Mary’s Catholic school, Lori Kopcash made me stop running. And when I did I woke up to the way my heart worked. I didn’t choose anything, I discovered it.

That is a gift we should give everyone, both inside and outside the Church: the joy of being who they really are and trusting them with their own stories.

We should tell all people that when it comes to how they love and who they love—they can stop running.