A Message to the Boy Scouts at Jamboree

Dear Boys,

I’m sorry.

I know you didn’t quite understand what you were watching the other night at the Jamboree.

I can imagine the excitement of the moment, the energy of being with that many others who love the Scouts as much as you do, and what it must have been like to have a President actually speaking to you in person. I bet it was like a rock concert; with the noise and the lights and the crowds—and it can be easy to get caught up in that.

I understand that then as always, you looked to your adult leaders as a cue on how to respond in that moment; that you applauded when they applauded, booed when they booed, laughed when they laughed. It wasn’t wrong. That’s what good Scouts do. That’s what good young men should do: they trust adults around them to show them the way. I wish they had done better.

I know that you probably didn’t have any clue what the President was saying as he pinballed from talk of loyalty, to stories of cocktail parties, to rants about fake news, to asking “Who the h*ll wants to talk about politics?”—to then immediately talking about politics. I’m sure you were wondering what it all was about as he rambled on and on about Hillary Clinton, and news coverage of the crowd, and of his critics. I was wondering too. Lots of adults were. We all felt uncomfortable for you. 

I know you likely don’t understand what Obamacare even is, or what stopping it has to do with you upholding the values of the Scouts. (The President doesn’t understand what it is either—and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Scouts, by the way.) It should have never been mentioned here. This night should have been about you and all you’ve done and what you are becoming—but he made it about himself. Insecure adults tend to do that, you’ll find. They will mask their insecurities by bragging and bullying and seeking attention, and you should resist doing this as it never helps anyone. When you know who you are you can rest in that, without needing to prove your importance or belittle someone else. That quiet confidence is a priceless gift, so seek after it. Humility is always the posture worth taking toward people, especially those who have less than you, those who are vulnerable or hurting, those you might fear or dislike. Treat them all as worthy of the same respect.

You may not know this, but President Obama was a Boy Scout too, and he understands why you do this, how much it matters to you, and just how much you love your country. He loves it too. He believed in the things you believe in. That’s why he tried to make sure everyone who gets sick can have the same chance to be well. That’s what Obamacare is, in case you still weren’t sure. Ask your parents about this.

I know the oath you take to God and country, to others, and to yourself. I understand that as a Boy Scout, you strive every single day to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful,thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent—and you should.

That oath matters and those aspirations are the right ones. They are more needed and more rare than ever. As you grow and find your place in this world, you will be called upon to live out these ideals even when it is most difficult, even when it seems like no one else is, even when the biggest rewards seem to be for those doing just the opposite. Some days the crowd may be ugly, and you may feel like no one else cares to do that right thing: keep doing it. Integrity isn’t always popular—it’s just the wise choice. You don’t owe the crowd anything.

As you become adults, you will be challenged to be men of decency and goodness and honor, despite the fact that it is often the less traveled and far more treacherous road. Trust me though, it is the road that leads to the best version of yourselves there is, and it will make this world better—which is why we’re all here. We’re on this planet for a few brief moments, to try and leave a legacy that will help others. That’s why you’re a Scout, so build your legacy starting with this day.

I don’t want you to feel bad about the other night, in fact I wanted to apologize for the way you got stuck between lots of adults who weren’t giving you their best, who weren’t thinking of you as much as they should be, who made it all about themselves. We adults get it wrong sometimes too, when we get caught up in the noise and the lights and the crowds. We sometimes fail to be our best selves. Hopefully when we do, we try to own our mistakes instead of blaming someone else.

Keep thinking about that oath, keep striving to live by those laws, and challenge one another to make this world more compassionate, more kind, and more honest than you found it. Lead well, by refusing to be anything less than you are capable of being. You are a once-in-history human being, so live accordingly.

That’s how you’ll be a good Scout.
That’s how you’ll be a light in a dark place.
That is how you will make America great.

Keep going.

 

 

Please Stop Calling Suicide Victims “Selfish” or “Weak”

Soon after news broke about the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, amid the flood of condolences and the raw expressions of grief and shock—came the others; the ones who are never far, always hiding just out of view, ever ready to crawl from out from the cracks.

In moments like these, they surface to offer flippant, callous, armchair sermons about how selfish suicide is, about how cowardly the dead person was, about why he or she should have thought of their children, spouses, loved ones.
They add insult to fatal injury by heaping shame upon a suffering that had already proven to be too much to bear for someone.
These people somehow feel fine critiquing dead strangers, before they’ve even been buried.

I’ve come to realize that there is only one kind of person who says things like this about those who take their own lives: a person who has never been where Chester Bennington was in his final moments, or where Chris Cornell was, or where 121 people in the US are every single day—where many are in the seconds it takes for you to read these words. The people who say such things, are those who’ve never (because of mental illness or acute trauma or severe addiction), been pushed to the precipice of their very will to live. They are people who (fortunately for them) have the luxury of their ignorance, who’ve never walked through this unrivaled internal Hell and wanted nothing more than to get out.

When you are in that desperate, frantic, lightless moment of despair—reason fails. There is no processing of things that seem so clear to people sitting calmly in parks and at desks and living rooms offering detached, knee-jerk commentary; those in their right minds, unclouded, lucid, and sober. That is what mental illness does, that is what addiction does, that is what depression does: it convinces your head that nothing matters, that this terrible moment will not pass, that nothing will get better, that you are fully, irreparably, and permanently f*cked. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t require objective proof, and it has no need for logic—you just feel it. In those moments the only thing you want is escape—and the choices people make in those moments are beyond what any of us have the right to criticize from outside of it.

I’ve never battled substance abuse or addiction, but I have carried depression for a couple of decades that has at times been terrifyingly heavy. And despite prayer and counseling and meditation and medication, there have been moments when the sadness became so overwhelming that nothing helped; not my career or my family or all the objective data I had that everything was good and that I should just feel better. I wouldn’t have said I was suicidal then—I just didn’t want to live. What got me through and what gets some people through when others fall is one of the greatest mysteries of this life. Some people make it and some people don’t—and the former aren’t any wiser or stronger or better, just very fortunate.

Suicide isn’t cowardly.
It’s not weakness.

It isn’t selfish.
It’s born of a hopelessness that can imagine no other way out.
It is a thick, pitch black haze created by powerful personal demons that prevents you from seeing light.

People like to say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and they’re right—but those standing in the darkest places can’t see that from there.

When someone takes their own life, we can view it as a tragedy for their loved ones, as a reason to mourn their leaving, as a squandering of what that life may have one day become, we can even be really angry at the senselessness of the loss.

But we should never use the moment to insult the dead by trying to shame them after they’re gone. Believe me, they really wanted to stay.

They did the very best they could in the worst seconds of their lives. They were as brave and strong and selfless as they were able to be in that moment.

There but for the grace of God go the critics.

May you always be such strangers to the dark.

 

Friend, if you’re struggling with depression, addiction, desire to self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, talk to someone. Help can be found here and  here and here and here and here now. You are worth fighting for.

 

 

No, Being Gay (Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender) is Not a Sin

Being gay is not a sin.
Neither is being lesbian, bisexual, or Transgender.
The Bible never claims that it is.
Christians should stop saying it.

It’s the most reckless, wasteful, irresponsible misuse of religion; the most dangerous kind of stereotyping and license to discriminate—and it’s killing people who are made in the image of God.

Christians love to say that, by the way—that all human beings are “made in the image of God.” Yet they also contend that these same made-in-the-image-of-God human beings, are either created male or female; that any other non-binary expression of gender identity is against God’s will; some unholy bastardization of the original plan.

The problem they have to deal with in declaring this—is God.

The oft-used line from the Genesis creation story, actually quotes God as saying, “let us make mankind in our image”, and this God then ultimately creates both men and women. If we are to (as so many homophobic/transphobic Christians do) take these words at face value, we need to ask the question:

Which ones were created in God’s image, the males or the females?

If our answer is both (which it must be), then God is decidedly non-binary, God transcends a single gender identity—God is by nature trans-gender. We cannot have God be a He and also make women in His image—and we can’t have a God capable of creating men and women, unless God is equally made of both. These Christians wouldn’t dream of excoriating God for the fluidity, would they?

These same folks also want to use the Bible to condemn LGBTQ people and to deny them the rights of marriage and church fellowship, but they have another problem: the Bible. They have all sorts of issues to contend with there.

They’ll attempt to use the word homosexuality (which does not occur in the original texts) as an umbrella term to refer to both gender identity and sexual orientation—when the context of the translated word they’re using and the occasions it appears in Scripture, simply cannot refer to both things simultaneously. Additionally, many Transgender people are in fact, not same-sex oriented, and not accurately described by the same word Christians would use to describe a gay or lesbian person.

They like to say that the Bible declares that marriage is strictly between one man and one women, while the Old Testament, as early as Genesis’ fourth chapter is teeming with bigamy, polygamy, and extra-martial sex practiced by the lauded pillars and Patriarchs of the faith (Abraham, Gideon, Solomon, David)—not as cautionary tale, and not with rebuke, but simply as the story of God’s people. There are no definitive statements on marriage spanning the breadth of Scripture.

They’ll frequently refer to the book of Leviticus, claiming it says that “homosexuality” an abomination (a flawed talking point as we’ll discuss later)—and ignore the surrounding verses commanding that disrespectful teens and those having extramarital sex be stoned to death—along with hundreds of requirements and punishments, most of which they declare irrelevant to their present lives. It’s becomes a highly selective use of the text.

They’ll throw around the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as supposed proof of God’s wrath against the gay community—when in fact, the book of Ezekiel 16:49 declares the former was destroyed because of its greed and disregard for the poor—but you don’t see many of these Christians preaching that sermon, especially not GOP Christians.

They’ll try to say that Jesus opposes the LGBTQ community, when he never once corrects, cautions, or condemns anyone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. In this case, we’re supposed to believe the unspoken damnation is implied, when in reality these people are making Jesus say things he never said—simply because they want him to say it.

They’ll refer to a “homosexual lifestyle,” when the Bible is devoid of such terminology—for the simple reason that the concept itself is ludicrous and nonexistent (as proven by the fact that a “heterosexual lifestyle” makes absolutely no sense when applied to straight people.)

They’ll claim that the term homosexual refers simply to people who have sex with same gender partners, yet will also admit that their own heterosexuality, refers to far more than just their sexual activity, but to their inclinations to love, where they seek affection, intimacy, relationship. They can’t have these words work both ways. They need to decide whether the less than a handful of passages in the New Testament are referring to identity, orientation—or a specific behavior by specific groups of people in a specific context (which is likely). Great unpacking of these passages here.

They’ll quote Paul in Romans Chapter 1, describing people consciously “trading their natural attractions” for same-sex desire and corresponding physical acts), failing to connect the dots, that for most members of the LGBTQ, there is no such exchanging taking place. They aren’t feeling one thing, and choosing an alternative simply to choose. They aren’t acting in opposition to any primary inclination. Their same-sex orientation is their natural. (If pressed, these Christians need to admit that this passage refers to a specific sex act tied to pagan worship practices, and cannot be superimposed over identity and orientation—and it’s certainly not appropriate to use it to categorize committed, loving relationships by people along the full LGBTQ continuum.) When trying to use Paul’s references in this way, they’re trying to separate LGBTQ people from the capacity to love and be in mutually beneficial relationships—and that’s simply wrong.

At the end of the day, the Bible is not clear on these matters. It is cloudy and even contradictory at times. There is no consistent sexual ethic in the Scriptures, no one image of marriage—and no specific condemnation from Jesus or Paul of those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender simply because of their identity and orientation. If we can admit, that LGBTQ people have the same capacity for love, commitment, and monogamy in a mutually beneficial relationship that cisgender-heteronormative Christians do—the text becomes impossible to weaponize as it has been.

And the God of the Bible, as presented in Genesis, is himself/herself/itself an image of the beautiful spectrum of sexuality, and a defense of those who believe we each manifest this complexity in a myriad of ways.

Christians wanting to persecute the LGBTQ community have long claimed that God and the Bible are their justifications, but this simply isn’t accurate—not if they’re to use the reality of God and all the words of the Bible (not just the bits that feel like consent when isolated in social media diatribes and shouted sermons.)

These people are going to have to admit that ultimately the only authority they’re yielding to in these matters is their own (or the teachers or parents who have passed these ideas down to them. ) It is their fear, their prejudice, their lack of knowledge that causes them to lash out in hurtful words, violent rhetoric, and abject cruelty.

More and more Christians are beginning to understand this; that our faith tradition has gotten it wrong regarding sexuality, the same way it has regarding the worth of women, the plague of slavery, interracial marriage, the violence against non-Christians, and on and on. They are seeing that being LGBTQ and being Christian are not mutually exclusive. They’re seeing that a Church that honors God will welcome all people.

We’ve wasted so much time, so many resources, and so many beautiful, God-reflecting lives, because we’ve made our fear our idol and tried to retrofit God into that image. The sooner we can let go of this misplaced fervor and this fruitless fight, the sooner we can live out Jesus’ clear and unmistakable commands, that we love God and all those who share this space with us.

No, being LGBTQ is not a sin.

The sin, is the hatred that refuses to let go of that notion when evidence requires it.

John McCain’s Illness is a Tragedy—and That’s Why The Healthcare Debate Matters

John McCain seems like a good and decent man, and his Cancer diagnosis is horrific. It’s the kind of news that makes you sick to your stomach; a tragedy for his family that rivals little else. It would be horrific, sickening, tragic news even of he weren’t a good and decent man, even if he wasn’t a public figure, even if his name carried no resonance in the larger population. He is a human being, up against an urgent and violent threat—and this should deeply move each of us. Politics and religion should burn away in the light of the fire he is facing, because we recognize how fragile and fleeting life is.

And that’s why talking about healthcare in the wake of this terrible news isn’t disrespectful, it isn’t in poor taste, and it isn’t political opportunism—it’s the goddamn point. The personal hell that John McCain and his loved ones are walking through right now is the point of it all.

These moments are precisely what we’re talking about, arguing about, screaming about:
The atomic bomb of grief that gets dropped on your family when you get the test results and your planet is altered forever.
The abject terror that befalls you when someone you love is facing a literal fight for their continued existence—and all you want is for them to win it.
The swirling storm that rushes in and overwhelms you; a million questions about outcomes and treatments and percentages and nightmare scenarios.
The bottom immediately dropping out of your sense of peace and safety and normality.
Feeling like everything is suddenly caving in—and at the very least, you hope you won’t lose everything you have trying to keep someone you love alive.

This is a universal disaster, one none of us are strangers too. If you’ve logged time here, you have names and faces attached to your terrible stories, to your miraculous recoveries, to your answered prayers, to your endless grieving. This is why this matters.

John McCain deserves life. He deserves to have every available resource exhausted to try and make him well. His family deserves this. His wife and his children deserve it. The people who treasure him deserve it. They deserve it, not because he’s wealthy or known or “important”—but simply because he’s loved by someone who wants more time with him. That’s enough for me. Every human being deserves this. Every spouse and every child and every treasured person.

John McCain is priceless to those he loves and who love him—as priceless as the people you love are to you, as you are to them.
He is a household name, but every one of us is a household name to someone whose life is defined by our presence and who would be decimated by our absence.

Universal healthcare is something we need to talk about now, because Cancer is an equal-opportunity bastard who cannot be defeated without help; because life-threatening illness is a bully that knocks the hell out of you and those who care about you, because we are all terrified of dying and want to know that we won’t be left alone if the shit hits the fan.

I want John McCain to live. I want him to get to spend more time with those who would grieve his loss in ways I’ll never understand. But I want this for you too. I want it for your father and your children and your friends. I want it for those I love. I want it for people I agree with and people I don’t.

We should be for one another. We should fight for each other’s life with all that we have.

This is what America does when she is at her best.