Friday, March 05, 2010

Another Opportunity for Ministry

My writing for today is an e-mail I sent to a young man in Florida whose story has been told in recent days on Daily Kos, in a diary entitled, "My Nephew Was Outed and Kicked Out of School Today." As the title suggests, the young man (18) was outed as gay and thrown out of his conservative "Christian" high school in North Carolina. His parents tried to send him to the pastor of their evangelical church where he would be told he needed to be "cured."
A similar situation in that church a bit earlier ended with the suicide of a young gay man who was told he needed to be cured from his sinful life. Lots of studies show that tragic story is repeated often among young gay men, especially when they are in unwelcoming contexts.
Instead of going to his church, the young man in the diary hopped in his car and drove to Florida to his aunt and uncle's home. She wrote the diary, and in a follow up, at her nephew's insistence, included his e-mail. I wrote him a brief supportive note last evening, and he wrote back asking a few questions.
Here's what I sent him this morning.

I have heard many others say pretty much exactly what you've said here. The good news is ... well, the good news! The gospel is about God's love for all of creation or it's about nothing at all. As Paul wrote to the Romans,
"Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:10

So when people say hateful things or act hatefully to you in the name of God or the Bible or the church they are simply wrong. They may believe they are acting out of the best intentions, but they are wrong. They're wrong to take the Bible as more important than its message of love. They are wrong to treat you as less than a neighbor to be loved, as other than a child of God made in the image of a loving God for the sole purpose of loving and being loved.
Their Biblical interpretation skills aren't very good either. To begin with, the Bible actually says nothing at all about "homosexuality" because, in fact, the word "homosexual" did not exist in any language until the late 1800s. The writers of scripture simply had no concept of committed, same-gender relationships and thus no word for it. The handful of passages that are used to condemn homosexuality have nothing to do with what we now understand homosexuality to be -- that is to say, those passages have nothing to do with you and your sexuality, which is a gift from God.
There is a ton of Biblical study on this topic, but the best relatively short piece I've come across is actually fairly old (1980s) written by a theologian named Walter Wink. You can find it on line here. The organization whose web site is linked there is called SoulForce, and it was founded by the Rev. Mel White and his partner. Mel was raised in a conservative evangelical household and trained for ministry in the evangelical part of the church. Along the way he worked with Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Jerry Fallwell and other conservatives pastors. Mel is a warm, wonderful, grounded Christian and could be a voice of wisdom for you. His contact information is on the bio page of the SoulForce site.
Beyond the gay-related scripture stuff, I encourage you to read the Psalms. As a straight guy (married with three kids, including a son your age), I've certainly never had to go through what you are in the midst of, but like everyone I've faced difficult times and deep pain. In those moments the poetry of the Psalms has reminded me that I'm not alone, that pain and hurt and anger are universal experiences, that though we walk sometimes through the darkest valleys and feel that enemies surround us, God is with us and God's steadfast love endures forever. The Psalms give voice to all of that, and I believe that's why Jesus quoted them on the cross -- "my God, my God, why have you foresaken me" -- and, hey, if it's good enough for Jesus!
I also highly recommend getting hold of the documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So. It is a wonderful look at the lives of several families who struggle through a child's coming out and their church's response. If you follow the link to the film's site take a look at the statement of director Daniel Karslake. My good friend, the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, interviewed Karslake on her radio podcast, God Complex Radio, a while back and it's a good listen. The religion and faith program of the Human Rights Campaign has produced a study guide for the documentary as well. The Rev. Harry Knox, who directs HRC's faith-based outreach is friend of mine and I'm sure he'd be happy to e-chat with you as well. Harry's going to be preaching at my church in a couple of weeks. He's a warm, funny, faithful, southern, gay man who is just good fun to talk with.
I hope I'm not overloading you with this, but I'm figuring you'll use what seems useful and ignore the rest. I do hope you'll get the sense from this that there are tons of faithful Christians who love God and take scripture seriously (and seriously enough not to take it literally), who also understand that the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks are part of God's wondrous creation and they are beloved by their Creator just as they are. Lots of such folks are, like you and me, southeners, and many grew up in pretty conservative households and churches, and have walked down the road you are traveling. So you are not alone in this, and there is a place in a loving, supportive, welcoming faith community for you.
I've written a note to my friend Michael Adee who directs the More Light Presbyterians network of congregations in my denomination working for the full inclusion and empowerment of GLBT people in the life of the church. I asked Michael for suggestions of contacts in the Tampa area, and I'm sure he will have some ideas that I'll pass along. Michael is another strong, warm, funny, faithful, southern, gay man (who also has a strange sports affliction being a die-hard Saints fan which also deeply offends the Peyton fan in me -- what is it with you people that you cannot see that God loves Tennessee more and that Rocky Top is a hymn in highest heaven!). He's also an accomplished athlete and has competed in the world Gay Games in tennis. I'm sure that Michael would also be happy to connect.
Hang in there through all of this. Keep the faith, and know, above all else, that you are beloved.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

On the Beach

As promised, a few pics from the beach.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

too tired ...

Sometimes it's best simply to admit that one is too pooped to post. Forty straight days of blogging is a long time, and writing today was confined to responding to the backlog of e-mails that stacked up while we were away.
I was planning to post pictures (each worth a thousand words) from the beach, but I'm going to celebrate National Procrastination Week and put it off till tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sounds Like Freedom

Another long day of driving just to get back where I started. It wasn't exactly an Odyssey but it was a round trip with sea creatures -- we watched a pod of dolphins swim lazily by yesterday -- and interesting locales as well.
We went inland a bit last evening to find a place to eat open on a Sunday night off season. We found a little joint nestled down on the banks of some tidal river just around the corner from Poverty Place, a road that leads directly into a trailer park. I kid you not. We left the car in the parking lot of The Place Across the Street, or so the sign said.
As sometimes happens in such out of the way places, the food was excellent and the atmosphere was rural southern. I can drawl with the finest East Tennesseans if called upon, so rural Carolinian is not much of a stretch.
Our waitress asked where we're from and we told her. She told us she was heading to Virginia to visit a friend this weekend and was looking forward to it because she'd never been before. Arlington may have seemed down right exotic to her, although I'm not sure it would be any more strange to her than the back water -- literally -- was to us.
The distance between here and there can be bridged in half a day of driving, but the gap is larger than that in ways that resist such easy measurement. On the other hand, the historical markers here and there along the way remind one of other great distances traveled in these same parts.
The signs tell of Civil War campaigns, including the final march to Appomattox. They also carry place names -- Carolina, Virginia, Plymouth, Chinquapin -- that recall the American Revolution, the colonial era, European settlements and native peoples before.
How did we get here from there? Who along the way would have predicted it? Had those who fought and died in the various wars along the way known what was to come on that ground their lives hallowed would they have thought it worth the cost of those lives?
How strange would the trailer park look to them? How strange Arlington? How strange the road between the two -- Interstate 95, and smaller routes -- and the tens of thousands of vehicles speeding along at speeds unimaginable until quite recently in the sweep of time?
The Marine base Camp Lajeune and its ancillary airfield dominate the landscape along the coast and dozens of miles inland just a couple of miles north of Poverty Place, just as Quantico stands out on I-95 a bit south of Arlington. We saw quite a few helicopters buzzing along the coast over the weekend, and a few military jets screamed overhead this morning. We passed the main gate for the airfield today. Their sign said, "Pardon our noise. It's the sound of freedom."
It sounded a bit more like empire to me, and I'm sure that's not a sound that would have rung familiar to those whose lives are suggested by the signs along the way. But the road? It sounds like freedom, and I think those who came before us would recognize that sound even when it comes from a Harley or an 18-wheeler or the family minivan.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Coffee or Tea?

So now we have a Coffee Party to oppose the Tea Party.
I wonder if this is the next stage in the virtual reshaping of politics and the political sphere that internet theorists predicted 20 years ago. Is social networking becoming a political force beyond being used by the existing political parties and candidates and commercial/political interests?
It's far too soon to tell, especially considering that there's evidence that the Tea Party movement has had considerable corporate push behind its self-professed grass roots populism.
It seems that the Coffee Party, for now, is a spontaneous Facebook phenomenon with no discernible ties to the Democratic Party or to corporate funds.
If that turns out to be the case, and -- a much bigger if -- if the Coffee Party exerts any actual influence on political decision making, then it might be something new under the virtual sun.
Of course, the names of these countering movements indicate their deep roots in American political history, and it is no surprise that the party of tea is the conservative one while the party of coffee is progressive. After all, coffee became the American drink of choice when tea became associated with the British and with Tories -- the conservatives of their age. While contemporary Tea Partiers want to associate themselves with the instigators of the American Revolution, the name they have laid claim to suggests that perhaps they would have been aligned with King George.
Time will tell if the Coffee Party amounts to anything more than a blip, but if it does, perhaps the choice of coffee will come to mean more than merely an alternative to tea. At the very least, the option of mochas could well underscore more racial diversity in the Coffee Party than appears evident in most pictures from Tea Party events.
On the other hand, a cursory look at the Coffee Party Facebook friends list suggests that it's fairly monochrome thus far, as well. Which may simply be because Facebook is among the "stuff that white people like."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Oh, Canada

I'm not hockey fan, but watching the gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada this afternoon was about as much fun as I've had watching a sporting event in a long time.
Watching sports is an interesting phenomenon. I've been a sports fan all of my life, and can appreciate competition in most games even if I've never played the game.
Like hockey.
I can't even stand up on skates, much less try to accomplish anything remotely athletic on them. I can, however, appreciate the skill of the players and the thrill of the game. Not being a hockey fanatic, I could cheer for the U.S. of A., but not be invested in it like it seems all of Canada is. Had the Canadians lost that game winter might never have lifted from the great white north.
Playing a game is still more fun than watching one, although time and aging joints may change that perspective some day. For now, I'd rather play basketball than watch it -- even March Madness or the NBA finals. I'd rather run my three miles slowly than watch the Olympic 5,000 meter finals. I'd rather hit a golf ball into a pond than watch a professional strike one with precision.
But that was one hell of a hockey game.