Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Giving Up Facebook for Lent

So, this year for Lent I have decided to give up Facebook. If you want to follow my journey I'm blogging about it HERE.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why I took my daughter to a burlesque show last night

My daughter is almost 17 and last night was her introduction to this crazy world I've spent the last year in...the world of burlesque. She's seen drag, my best friend is a drag queen and her sweet sixteen party was a drag show, but burlesque was new and some would say that at 16 and 11 months she's still far too young...heck many in our conventional Christian circles would be horrified at any age much less burlesque as a family outing but those folks can't see outside their conventional boxes the way my kid can. See in our family we have this crazy idea that God is not nearly so narrow-minded as the churches of my youth taught me to believe. We have this crazy idea that if you're looking, God is everywhere, in everyone. Isn't that what Created In His Image means? The Hindu have a word for it "Namaste", the God in me acknowledges the God in you is a really rough translation of it...look it up, that's why God gave us Google. So back to the subject at hand..

I don't know about burlesque in other cities, I've only been to shows in my own, but here in Memphis it is an amazing body positive, all shapes and sizes, celebration of women in all their strength and complexity. Every performer brings her own style to the stage and all are appreciated and celebrated for what they bring. In a world that constantly bombards my daughter with the idea that only women of a certain size and shape are "beautiful" burlesque offers an emphatic balancing statement. The shows I am familiar with are run by women and are showcasing women who are courageous enough to literally stand before an audience mostly naked (in our town its legal to go down to pasties and g-strings in places where liquor is served and to go even further in places where it is not) and declare "this is who I am, in all my vulnerability and beauty" and demand to be seen.

Isn't that what all of us as women long for? A place to be seen? In a world of rape culture where a hashtag campaign #yesallwomen is trying to bring awareness to all the ways we as women must limit ourselves to walk safely in our world there is a desperate desire to have safe spaces to be seen and celebrated. Paradoxically, ironically even, burlesque offers that. And that is why I was comfortable taking my daughter to see burlesque and why I will continue to take her to every show that is in a venue where someone her age can attend. It's why I will continue working toward finding or creating a venue for drag that is open to all ages.

Our young women need places to observe other women owning their own body in an empowered way. Our young women and young men need opportunities to encounter and challenge their own entrenched concepts of beauty and gender and power and grace...and in my own experiences and in my daughters experiences thus far, those opportunities aren't happening in the church. David may have danced naked before the Lord (and everyone else...a fact that gets glossed over in telling that story) but its certainly not something that would ever happen now...we are far more like Michal, his wife, disgusted by his "unseemly" behavior...and we end up like Michal as well, barren, unable to see the beauty before us because of our own narrow perception of propriety and piety.

So I'll expose my daughter to the unconventional. Burlesque, Drag, PRIDE...because I want her ALWAYS to be able to see the God within realize that there IS no "other", there is no "them", there's only "us"...and if she really wants to be a stage bunny like she said after seeing the show last night then I'll find a way to make that happen for her because some of the best sermons I've ever seen have happened in clubs, in bars, in theatrical venues...preached not with words but with simply being who one is in front of God and everybody...and thanks be to God, my kid gets it.

Thank God for Burlesque.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

For Such A Time As This

When Connie called me a few days ago and told me she was ready to finally break her silence about all that happened to her as a cost of loving our LGBT brothers and sisters I knew before she asked the question that I needed to decide whether I was going to tell my story publicly as well. A number of my friends know what really happened to make my family leave Christ Methodist in February of 2010 but now I find myself compelled to join Connie in speaking our truth in the hopes that it will embolden others to do so as well. I write this account with much prayer and no little amount of fear and trembling. And yet to paraphrase Mordecai’s admonishment to Esther, I know that if I keep silent justice for (our LGBT brothers and sisters) will arise from another place but who knows whether or not we have come into the kingdom for such a time as this. And so I tell my story now.

I grew up in a small rural town in Middle Tennessee. I was born in 1968 and I came of age in the height of the AIDS crisis. I am not sure as a child that I realized I knew any LGBT people but looking back now I know that I did. I am choosing not to name names here because I do not want to inadvertently out anyone. The ones who are still living can weigh in once this is published if they choose. It is the ones who are not that first challenged my belief systems. It is appropriate that I am writing this on Memorial Day because their memory is always with me and they are the ones that set me on the path to where I am today. Five years and four graves will get a person’s attention.

I remember when AIDS was still called GRID and when being gay was presumed to be an automatic death sentence. I still catch myself operating under the mistaken assumption that everyone I know in the LGBT world is also HIV positive, which thankfully is no longer the case. My formative years in the ally world were ones filled with death and fear and stupid horrible statements from nationally known “religious leaders” about it all being God’s judgment. It was in this toxic atmosphere that I found myself grappling with what I truly believed about God and grace and salvation and being gay meant in the context of all of that. A wrestling match with God that began the day in 1986 that I got word that the young man who had been my first real boyfriend had been arrested in a bathhouse on a Sodomy charge. For the next decade it would be our shared history that defined my thoughts on the matter. When he died in 1995 of a cancer related to AIDS an ally was born. It would take another decade and a half though before I would find my full voice.

My first few years at CUMC it seemed to me to be a safe place for all God’s children after all the church was running a major ad campaign that advertised the United Methodist Church as being one with “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” I was to find out though that on one subject none of those were true. That subject was homosexuality. I knew that Maxie Dunnam who had been my pastor when I joined the United Methodist church in 1989 and who I deeply admired was a leader in something called “The Confessing Movement” but I had neglected to look too deeply into what it was we were confessing. I’m not sure at that stage in my life if knowing would have changed anything because I had not yet fully grappled with the issue in that much depth. I was still operating and teaching under the idea that of course it was a sin, but no greater sin than any of the others in “the list”.  I do remember discussions of the fact that all sex outside of marriage was defined as sinful and that it seemed to me that the logical answer was to let folks marry. Yep, marriage equality evolved first for me, I mean even Paul said that if you weren’t gifted with celibacy it was better to marry than to burn. I remember that we invited Tony Campolo to come and speak and in his talk he raised the same point, that it was his wife’s position on the issue at that time. I also remember speaking to him after that talk and telling him about my darling wonderful friend’s recent death and him embracing me with tears in his own eyes and whispering in my ear that I was “ten years ahead of the church on this issue”. I had no idea that those words were both encouragement and warning. I was going to find that out.

By 2000 I was teaching youth Sunday school at Christ Methodist and when the subject would come up I chose to direct the focus on the command to love everyone, even “sinners” rather than to step outside the party lines and admit that I was no longer sure it even was a sin. I came up in the age of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and as my beliefs and understanding about what God’s true opinion was of his rainbow children were evolving that seemed to be the safest rule for me to follow.

And then in 2005 Zach Stark, a friend of some of the kids in my Sunday school class, made the national news when he managed, through early social media, to get word that he was being held against his will at a local “ministry” called “Love In Action”…a ministry that Christ Methodist had been supporting for years. Now while I had no issue with adult GLBT people choosing reparative therapy for themselves I had enough of a psychology background to be really concerned about the effects of such therapy on an impressionable adolescent. When some of my kids wanted to join the protest outside “Love In Action” I supported them doing so. That would be my turning point.

I had no choice now but to grapple with what I had avoided. I had to know in my deepest knowing what I believed about sin and grace and the GLBT issue. I read everything I could get my hands on but even as my own views were evolving I toed the party line when it came to teaching the kids. I didn’t feel it was my place to go against the church position publicly. God had other ideas. I began having kids confide in me that they weren’t straight. Nothing in my youth ministry training had prepared me to navigate this. If I encouraged them to out themselves to their parents I had no doubt that some of them would end up just where Zach had if not worse. By now I had educated myself enough to know just how many evangelical kids ended up out on the street when the words “Mom, Dad, I’m gay” were spoken aloud. So I focused on getting them safely to 18 and on continually reminding them that God loved them, and I loved them, no matter what. Publically I was still living and teaching “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.” I was sneaking off once a year to hammer AIDS markers in the lawn at First Baptist and I was passing resources to my kids and their friends but I was not standing publicly against those words, “Incompatible with Christian teaching.” I stood in that tension until 2010.

In February 2010 I “Liked” a pro-gay-marriage page on Facebook. I had no idea what I had just unleashed. I was co-leading a seventh grade D-group at the time and my co-leader replied with “Really? Houston, I think we have a problem.” I was miffed but I figured that a gentle reminder that people of faith hold different opinions on such issues would suffice so I replied: “Yes, Really. Why is that a problem? Christians of good conscience hold all kinds of different beliefs on GLBT issues and the civil rights involved.

I then left my house for several hours with my family and returned to the following response: “and there are plenty of churches where nonbiblical teaching is propagated for people who prefer to make up their own doctrine- ours just doesn't happen to be one of them- So, when in a leadership role in a church such as ours, it would show better discernment to keep these nonbiblical views to oneself if those under your influence have access to these comments.”

At that point I took the conversation to private message hoping to engage in a dialogue about what I had been studying and why I believed that the issue of Same-Sex Marriage was an issue of social justice that the UMC was on the wrong side of…what ensued was a fight…one that ended with her repeating basically what she said above but ending with “There are churches all over this city that believe as you believe. You need to go find one of them.”

In that moment I realized that I could no longer stay at CUMC as long as my GLBT brothers and sisters were looked at as less than, as “incompatible with Christian teaching” At that point I copied the entire exchange to the youth staff and resigned. After a decade in youth ministry the fact that not one of them tried to change my mind told me everything I needed to know about where I now stood. We left the church that day. My daughter lost the only church she had ever known, friends that she’d been with since the toddler years, her entire spiritual support system. All because I dared to believe that “All” meant “ All.” That LOVE truly was what was supposed to show the world that we were His disciples.

I fled to First Baptist that Sunday. A few weeks later I crossed paths with Connie again and found the Outlaw Preachers. In October, with the full support of my new church family, I marched in my first rally for equality. In December I was at the first OP (re)Union. It would be easy to cut my losses and keep my peace about what is happening in the UMC but I cannot. I cannot remain silent when the church that taught me the true depth and breadth of God’s grace continues to deny that grace to his LGBT children. I cannot remain silent while the church where I renewed my wedding vows prosecutes through ecclesiastical courts those courageous members of the clergy that dare to perform wedding ceremonies for their OWN CHILDREN who happen to be GLBT or who do so for others believing as Connie and many of us do that to be forbidden to do so places them in violation of their mission to minister the sacraments to ALL the members of their flocks. I cannot remain silent when the words of the discipline are elevated above the clear command of scripture to LOVE. And so for such a time is this I choose to finally tell my story in the interest of following Micah 6:8’s command to, “Do Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly”. Here I take my stand.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Angry and Ashamed

Images are beginning to come out of Russia that are breaking my heart as the Russian Orthodox population, suppressed and oppressed for decades under communist rule, seems to be turning into the oppressor against their LGBT brothers and sisters. If the rhetoric from the Putin government sounds terrifyingly like extreme right wing religious propaganda from here in the states that's because it IS extreme right wing religious propaganda imported from the states.

The 2014 Olympics are scheduled to be held in Sochi. I think that the IOC needs to bring its considerable influence to bear on this matter and I think that all sane nations need to boycott these games should the Russians continue in their brutality. Especially since these laws do not only apply to Russian citizens. If you are an LGBT person vacationing in Russia right now would be a spectacularly bad idea. Do we really believe LGBT foreign athletes will be safe from persecution, prosecution and detention?

What makes me ashamed, rather than JUST angry is that we, American Christendom, have exported this HATE to our brothers and sisters in Russia. Our graceless, hate filled, anti-GLBT rhetoric is no longer just killing our OWN children in droves but it's now killing people we've never met half a world away. I am concerned that this monster we have created may actually now be too big for us to stop. In Russia, just like in Uganda, the seeds were sown by a hate-mongering "pastor" named Scott Lively. I refuse to link to him but here is the LINK to what the Southern Poverty and Law has to say about him and the damage his "work" has wrought worldwide. He is currently facing a lawsuit because of his "work" in Uganda. Does the "Kill the Gays Bill" ring any bells? That little gem is the direct result of Scott Lively and those like him.

It is VERY easy in a country with constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of religion and speech counterbalanced by the principle of the separation of the church from the state to dismiss and overlook the potential for damage these wolves in sheeps clothing are capable of doing but as we are seeing world wide the time for ignoring these fools and hoping they'll go away is long since over. The voice of a handful of extremist evangelicals like Scott Lively set this mess in motion, the collective voices of the sane majority is the best chance we have of stopping this beast before it becomes history repeating itself in a modern replay of the atrocities committed by Hitler against LGBT persons during the holocaust.

It is time for progressive Christians to stand up and be heard. We are a rapidly growing segment of the Church and we have held our tongues and silenced our prophetic voices long enough. Some of us have been able to see for years where the "hate the sin, love the sinner" rhetoric was going to lead. I have never been more saddened to be right. People. Real people. People created in the image of God and beloved by him JUST AS THEY ARE are once again being persecuted and DYING because of our complacency. It is time to say ENOUGH!

Get involved with Amnesty. Get involved with The Trevor Project. Petition the IOC and the White House about our continued plan to host/participate in the 2014 Olympic games in Russia. Whatever way you can make your voice be heard, do it! Our LGBT brothers and sisters around the corner and around the world deserve no less.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Matters of Privilege

Last night I had the awesome experience of an evening out with the incomparable Miss Bella Duballe (Connie, Connor, Brandon, Karl and Skip...y'all missed out!) and driving home from the club about 1 in the morning I asked, because I am insatiably curious, why drag? In the context of answering the question the issue of empathy for what those of us born women go through to conform to the ever changing ideals of beauty came up and we ended up in a conversation about well, privilege basically.

As a biological male, Slade has things that he never has to worry about UNTIL he becomes Bella. Those are things that I, as a biological female, must always hold in the back of my mind. Things like, "Is it safe for me to walk down the street in this outfit?". Things like, how far is the closest parking to an event space and is that parking going to be safe after dark? Not to mention the thousand little things that just seem to be part and parcel of being a girl. Like shaving my legs and donning uncomfortable support garments, and HEELS (torturous evil things clearly invented by men!) and make-up that can sweat off and leave me looking worse than if I hadn't worn any in the first place (which is why I usually don't) when I go out in public to a dressy event. When Zaria comes out to play and I dance in a public space with my Desert Rose shimmy sisters, we ALWAYS have husbands or boyfriends along with us because some people seem to think that it's ok to put your hands on the bellydancers. We live in a "rape culture" where the responsibility is not on men to not rape but on WOMEN not to get raped. All of these are things that male privilege pretty much exempts everyone with a Y chromosome from.

As a straight person I have things I never have to worry about that must always be in the back of the minds of my LGBT friends. Things like how to provide for my partner in the event of my death or how to set it up so my partner can make decisions for me should I become unable to...that's EASY for came along with the package when I signed for my marriage license. In our state (along with many others) I certainly don't have to be concerned that displaying my partner's photo on my desk (assuming he's fully clothed) could be a firing offense...but my LGBT friends do. I don't have to worry about being denied or evicted from housing because of who my partner is. I don't have to think about how to tell my family that I'm *gasp* Straight. No one is going to send me to "reparative therapy" to try to make me into a lesbian. I'm not going to lose my church family when they find out who I love...O, Wait, scratch that. That one I did have happen...because I love my LGBT friends. Still, by and large, straight privilege, makes a million things easier for me than for them.

Both of us in the conversation are white, educated, middle class. Each of those generates its own level of privilege. Neither of us is overly likely to be shot because we were wearing a hoodie and carrying a bottle of tea and a bag of skittles for example. I live in a predominately black neighborhood. My next door neighbor has three fine sons. I fear for them because of what happened in the Trayvon Martin case. It absolutely PISSES ME OFF the garbage I am seeing coming from my friends celebrating the verdict. Because it shows that they have 1) no basic human compassion and 2) no understanding at all of the privilege that they enjoy simply by virtue of the accident of their birth.

I'm also Christian...and anyone who tells you that there isn't privilege attached to being culturally christian in this nation is an idiot and/or a bald faced liar. I will NOT go on another of my rants about our false persecution complex because it's old news to anyone that reads here. Still too many of my peers are unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge our christian privilege. Yesterday I sat on a panel in a getting started meeting for homeschoolers, SECULAR homeschoolers, and they are not welcome as members of the area homeschooling association because that association is explicitly and exclusively "christian". Which means, in practical terms, that they cannot access the collective power of 3000+ member families when it comes to creating things like band programs and sports teams and political action for their children that the "christian" families of MHEA control. I've been in job interviews where the question "where do you go to church" has been asked (illegal by the way) and the wrong answer would automatically disqualify a candidate no matter what his or her qualifications. So yes, christian privilege DOES exist and because I am Christian I benefit from it.

But I also benefit from a privilege that most WASP's like me don't...In my life I have a Bella Duballe and I have a Slade and an Austin and a Skip and a Kal and a Brandon and a Connor and a Beth and a Jennifer and a Leann and a Jeff (living) and another Jeff (gone but NEVER forgotten) and a Michael and a Jonathan and a Will and, and, and...I could go on and on and on listing the amazing gifts of LGBT friends God placed in my life over the last 4 and a half decades...but I have neither patience or space to do so. And they've been willing to share their stories with me and to welcome me into their lives and to become a part of mine. And I have a Bobby, and a Leon and a YY and a Teena and an Adrian and a whole Men's Athletic Dorm of African American athletes that I lived with (pretty much literally) for 4 years who would plop down at the desk beside my camera station and talk to me about what was going on with them and would let me ask questions that were probably, no in retrospect certainly, stupid and racist...It was Bobby who first taught me about privilege and opened my eyes to its existence.

In the wake of things like the Trayvon Martin case and the unjust verdict passed pronouncing George Zimmerman "Not Guilty" I find myself forced to examine my own privilege and pondering how to create a society where our differences don't define us. I don't have the answers but I think becoming aware of the reality of the ways we ourselves are privileged must be a crucial part of the equation. I also think knowing and listening to the "Other" is critical. It is said that "familiarity breeds contempt" but in my experience familiarity breeds compassion. We need to move out of our privileged bubbles and get to know our "Other" and listen to their truth. It's the only way we're all going to survive this world together. Because we're damned sure not going to survive it apart.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

EC13 - What does Pikachu have to do with Emergence?

Looking over the schedule for EC13 I encountered a term I've seen a couple of times before but never really knew what it meant or for that matter how to pronounce it. It was called Pecha Kucha and, being southern, in my mouth that sounds a whole lot like Pikachu. So the Pikachu presentations they became.

I had a horrific headache by the afternoon of day one, I hadn't slept well the night before, pre-conference excitement, and so when the first set of Pecha Kucha presentations began, I was dozing in the lobby and missed many of them. I woke when I heard my friend Jay Bakker's voice as he started to give his and moved quickly into the cathedral to support him as he spoke and see what he had to say. I can't capture it any better than this blogger did but I will say that the tight format of 20 slides, 20 seconds each worked beautifully. We are hoping to explore this method in the Mississippi River Outlaw Preachers group soon. Anyway, I was awake to hear Jay, Doug and one more which I have now blanked and then to see several of the presentations the second day. I'm hopeful that they will somehow be collected and share either via youTube or somewhere.

In a lot of ways I think the Pecha Kucha is an ideal medium for the message of emergence. We are, to some degree, a product of the digital age and either early adopters or natives of the digital world. Our attention spans aren't quite what they probably should be and if you don't grab our attention quickly you've lost us. 20 slides, 20 seconds each, total talk time 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Its a sermon for the twitterverse...not that that is a bad thing. The beauty of these little gems is that they do lend themselves so easily to our internet world. Also they require us to keep the main thing the main thing. If you only have 6 minutes and 40 seconds there isn't a lot of time for rabbit trails.

Distilling the messages of Emergence: Inclusion, Hospitality, Love, Compassion...into those not quite 7 minutes requires thoughtfulness and focus in order to be done well. Like the 140 character twitter limit requires conciseness of thought in order to communicate effectively. Is it surprising that these are the mediums we find carrying the message of Emergence out into the digital universe?

If nothing else, Emergence Christianity has a higher than usual number of creatives and geeks among its ranks and these Pecha Kucha things appeal to both sets. I got more of a boots on the ground vision of what was going on in the Emergence world through the "Pikachu" presentations than probably anything else the weekend of EC13. The focused passion of the presenters stood out to me. I think we might need to see more of that kind of thing in the future.

Monday, January 21, 2013

EC13 - Beginning to Process

It's been ten days since EC13 and I think I am ready to begin unpacking the event. Having spent much of that time in bed recovering from gastroenteritis I haven't been able to do much other than think about it and read what others were saying about it and marvel yet again how when you put four people together in a room you'll get at least four different versions of what took place in that room. Now multiply those people by 100 and imagine the variations of experience that took place at EC13.

I worked behind the scenes. Sometimes that vantage point is a bit like being behind the curtain with the "great and powerful OZ" and seeing that the wizard isn't all he's cracked up to be. Heck, most of the time that's what the behind the scenes vantage point is to be honest. None of us, not even the wise and wonderful Phyllis Tickle, are without our broken places and blind spots. It is part and parcel of being human. That said, I've been somewhat baffled by the brouhaha regarding the final session. I think many of us are in danger of hearing through our own baggage and perhaps over-reacting to what we think we heard.

Yes, Phyllis did say that birth control radically changed our society in a way that was detrimental to the sola scriptura role of women as the keepers at home. Can we honestly deny that? We know that at some visceral level or we wouldn't be so outraged at the rhetoric coming out of the Tea Party and their ilk as they try with all their might to undo the progress we have made as women by usurping control of our reproductive rights. Whether you liked what she had to say or not it is truth that the advent of legal birth control and later of legal abortion brought about historical change in our society so significant that we are still fighting in 2013 to keep it.

Perhaps if Phyllis had left it at that, if she hadn't tied it into the raising of children and the transmission of the faith, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Something I have noticed though is that a lot of us are ok with women having the right to do whatever we long as what we want doesn't include being a full-time wife and mother. What the Bible called a keeper-at-home. Somehow when that role is the one that is chosen it is seen as colluding with the enemy. For Phyllis to hold up that role as one that perhaps we threw out prematurely in this 500 year rummage sale was tantamount in many circles to raising a red flag in front of a bull.

I am a woman who has chosen the role of keeper-at-home, at least for this season of my life, and I never cease to be amazed at those who say that by doing so I am "wasting my degree", among the kinder of the accusations I have had leveled at me in the last decade and a half when I left the career world to come home and raise and homeschool my daughter. I've had to develop a really thick skin over the past 15 years just to be true to who I am supposed to be at this season in my life. For ME what Phyllis had to say was life-affirming. In a world culture that tells me daily that I am wasting my talents, indeed robbing the world of something it seems to believe it is owed from me, hearing that there is still value in the work of keeping a home and transmitting the faith to one's family was water in a desert place.

So perhaps that part of Phyllis's message was not for the greater Emergent conversation. Perhaps that part was for me and for other women like me that were present in the cathedral that day. Perhaps not. I only know how I received it. That does not make what anyone else received from it wrong. Let us continue to converse and consider this issue with grace for one another, grace for Phyllis who was very ill and grace for this thing we call Emergence that is really still in its infancy and will continue to suffer growing pains as it finds is identity apart from those who have "parented" it thus far. Emergence isn't Phyllis...or Brian, or Jay, or Nadia, or Doug, or is both bigger and smaller than the individuals who have been identified as its leaders thus far and while it figures out what that is lets be patient and gentle with each other. If a message doesn't speak to your reality feel free to let it pass, someone else, a desert rose perhaps, may need it more than you know.