December 27, 2008

Photo Album

I'm in St. Louis, visiting family and having some wonderful down time. Because I still don't have a permanent boss to whom I can hand over complete responsibility, I found myself once again in charge of the Christmas Eve service for young families: six weeks of preparation for twenty minutes of memories that young children just love. We had 50 cast members this year (angels, sheep, shepherds and "main" cast) who slowly created a tableau for about 900 people this year. Exhilarating and exhausting. 

Now that I have a few moments of quiet time, I present to you some photos from my album. I have some friends with whom I walk every week during good weather. When that came to an end, we celebrated our collective fitness by having a Night of Chocolate. There was salad around there somewhere, but here is the important food. I highly recommend an event such as this.


When I was driving Ben to school a couple of weeks ago, an airborne river of starlings was pouring across the sky. There had to be thousands of birds in this flock, a few of which perched briefly on a tree. The picture is marginal due to the fact that I was also driving in traffic in the rain at the time, but hey. There is not one leaf on this tree.


Ben's girlfriend invited me (Yes!) to dinner with her dad and grampa. I needed to bring some wine as a host gift. While I didn't select the ones pictured below—ask yourself why—I had to show you what's on the rack. Note which one was selling and which was staying on the shelf.


Ben didn't want to help decorate the Christmas tree, but he eventually succumbed to the Christmas spirit and festively decorated the front entry. Abe, being the humbug he is, quietly took it down. Ben quietly put it back up a few hours later. Abe took it down again. I think it took three tries before Ben gave up. (This is one of the skills he learned in the desert.)


This is the mystery gift I gave my sister. If I can find the one she gave me, I'll put it up too. It took her only eight yes/no questions to guess what it is. Can you?

December 19, 2008

It's Just Not Christmas...


...without certain things we come to expect every year. In our house, we have to view our small collection of Christmas movies. The top of the list for me is "A Christmas Story." Abe can't live without Charlie Brown. We all enjoy three different versions of "A Christmas Carol, " my favorite being the Muppet tale. We've already had our annual viewing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

Movies aside, we've developed a few traditions that some may not have. My favorite is exchanging a "mystery gift" with my sister. All year we're on the lookout for something odd that must be guessed by the recipient. We can ask any number of yes/no questions. If I'm stumped, I can ask what it is after New Year's Day. Not that I ever have. Give up? Never! It took two years to guess the stupid shoe thingy. It gets harder every year as we exhaust gimmicky kitchen tools. Now I've moved on to hunting accessories. (Shhhhh.) Last year's portable spittoon lid for a beer can was a hit. Top that.

December 15, 2008

Framing Your Words

 Concolor, Java's spousal unit aka Superman, asked a good question in his comment on "After The Rallies, Then What?" He wanted to know how a straight ally might also promote gay rights. Here's a distillation of a part of the presentation I made to my pastors, talking about strategy.

A "frame" is a way of looking at an issue. There are several frames from which to choose when talking about gay rights, and all of them are viable for different audiences: politics (civil rights), religion (what the Bible says), and families (the stories of the GLBT community). In reaching the straight, uninformed population, it is the frame of "families" that will be most effective. Straight people need to hear stories and put faces to the reasons behind why we need to fully embrace the gay community, in civil rights and in church.

Before I go further, let's address terminology. There are words that are hot buttons that need to be avoided. As my husband and I discuss the issues, we have reached a terminology truce: I may not say "homophobia" and he may not say "agenda." As funny as that sounds, it does make us think of new ways to express ideas which carry a great deal of negative weight and trigger an emotional reaction. We all must do our best to avoid these hot buttons.

There are other words that the Religious Right has co-opted and now carry a negative connotation to the GLBT community. Because we have no desire to be associated with their message, we must not use their terms.  The word "homosexual" has in the past year or so taken on the status of a pejorative, almost equivalent to the word "fag." In any case, it is a clinical term at best. We must avoid using it in talking with our friends. Instead, use the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," and "transgender" as adjectives only and not as nouns. Talk about PEOPLE who are gay, people who are lesbian, people who are bi, and people who are transgender. After all, they are people first, and their orientation/gender identity is secondary to their personhood.

A note about the word "transgender." You will see it everywhere with -ed added to it. That is an incorrect usage of the word. It is an adjective, not a verb or a noun; it is not something you do to someone and it is not a thing. You may find that using it properly as an adjective will form a different picture in your mind about these individuals. If you have a friend who has confused "transgender" with "transsexual," consider this: "sex" is male or female; "gender" is quality of femaleness or maleness (often applied to nouns in other languages). "Sex" is biological; "gender" is psychological.

In discussing whole populations, you can talk about the GLBT community or gay community. I've seen the acronym LGBT used equally, with a "ladies first" appeal. It's easier to say GLBT aloud, for what it's worth. The phrase "gay community" is interchangeable with GLBT in most cases, and it is more easily accepted since it has fewer political connotations and is self-defined.

Equally loaded terms are "lifestyle" and "family values." If you find yourself leaning toward using those expressions, use descriptions instead. Understand that "lifestyle" implies choice. It is an appropriate term for behaviors but not for inborn qualities. Don't even approach anything that could be mistaken for "family values." The phrase is so corrupt that it brings forth a rush of emotion from just about anyone on either side of the issue.

The sentiment "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is an example of false piety that elevates the one who believes it above her intended target of so-called love. It is an example of barely-concealed condescension and must be avoided, much like "tolerance." Do not mistake tolerance for acceptance. If you tolerate me, you find something about me that is unpleasant but bearable. I am not an ill-fitting shoe to be tolerated for the sake of fashion. I am not a boisterous child to be tolerated because I don't know any better. I am a fully-human being. Lovingly tolerate my bad habits, my mistakes, and my annoying idiosyncrasies; but my sexuality and gender identity are who I am—who God made me to be—to be accepted and respected as a child of God, just as I accept and respect you.

When I was struggling with Biblical interpretations, it was my desire to understand difficult passages in a way that is consistent with my understanding of the nature of God. Being forgiven and loved in all of my complex brokenness, how could God select me and not someone else? My brother who was gay is loved every bit as much as I am. That informs my interpretation as much as the context in which the passages were written, and they are in agreement. Knowing my brother and his friends, however briefly, helped inform my understanding of the Word.

Now that we have the language and the frame, how do we put forth these ideas? I use the stories of people I've met and those I've read on the web from personal blogs. When someone asks about gay marriage, I tell them the story of Jake in Chicago; there is hardly a more poignant cry for why we need marriage equality. (Please note that I said "we" and not "they." It is in everyone's interest for this couple and those like them to be married.) When the topic of gay adoption arises—perhaps with a push from me—I tell the story of Ron and Kevin in NC, who adopted four siblings no one else would adopt together as a family. Again, it is in everyone's best interests for these men and others like them to be able to adopt. When I want someone to understand why our churches must open their doors and arms, I tell them of the incredible young woman who was cruelly rejected by her mother and found a loving home in her church.

Learn the stories and tell them. Talk about people who are GLBT as family. They are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our fathers and mothers. They ARE family, yours and mine, and it's time we welcomed them home.

December 13, 2008

After The Rallies, Then What?

Let me tell you how to reach a straight person on the issue of gay rights.

It isn't with a rally. I say this having protested for the first time in my life in the No to Prop 8 demonstration on November 15. The gathering of like souls who share a common goal serves to bond and empower those who assemble. A rally is a necessary beginning to bring civil injustice into public awareness. Having gathered together and embraced their common goal, those fortified people anticipate the next step.

But the next step isn't another rally, although they continue to empower and channel energy. Rallies serve the people who already agree on what change they desire. The energy rallies produce must be focused into the strength required to shift the fight into a new phase: changing the hearts and minds of those who can be moved.

I think that most of the straight population has been complacent on the issue of gay rights primarily because they think they don't know someone who is gay, and they don't understand how the issue hurts a fellow human being. Catchphrases, shiny mass-produced signs and rhyming chants are not going to positively influence most of those who aren't already in agreement. Straight people need to know the stories behind those signs, songs, and slogans.

After and between the rallies, whether you attend or not, you have the critical moment of public awareness. How do you use it? By telling your story. Not necessarily to the world, although some will take that risk. But step up and tell your story to those who already know you. Tell them what it feels like to be left behind; how it feels to struggle for rights that straight people take for granted like breathing; and what it is to be made to feel less than fully human for being different. Put a face on this issue. Come out, come out, wherever you are. This war will be fought on many fronts, but it will be won in heart-to-heart encounters by people like you.

December 8, 2008

In The Beginning

Woohoo! I'm on fire with the outcome of our meeting this morning. I met with our senior pastor and four associate pastors to tell them what I've discovered over the past year of seminars and conferences. They were attentive and eager to understand. I learned too what our senior pastor has planned.

"Pastor" said he has planned from the beginning of his ministry here to make our church welcoming. When he started here almost five years ago, he said that all are welcome; and he has developed enough history and relationships now to take the first steps of intentionally addressing the GLBT community. Last month he took our governing body, the Session, through the process of discernment to approve the proposed changes in our denomination's constitution, to allow churches to ordain persons who are openly gay. (The fact that we are leaders in our synod may help swing the decision in what is a normally conservative area.)

I learned that in February he will specifically address that issue from the pulpit and invite discussion that evening in a special gathering. I will not be here for that—dang it—but I have been asked to be one of the teachers in a series of classes that month on GLBT issues.

We have just started, by word of mouth, a support group for parents of GLBT kids. It is too soon in the process to advertise in writing, but that will come after the sermon and class series. The pastors are now charged (after our meeting) with finding people whose testimony will show the "personhood" of the community we are intent on welcoming.

I brought about half of my library of resources for them to examine, and Pastor asked me to recommend five or six titles for our church library (which is large and well-used). Those titles are published in a monthly flyer, so subtle clues are being placed here and there as we move forward.

Pastor has taken my action plan and timeline seriously. All of those at the meeting will be reading the book I've asked them to read. All of them have access to my library and see me as a resource to which they can turn.

I'm high as a kite right now. I can't stop smiling. And I remember my brother David and wonder if he can see what is happening. This is for you, David, and for your family of choice, and because it is the right thing to do. I love you.

December 7, 2008

Screw The Green Bike

It was late fall and Ben was eleven ("Almost twelve!"). He had been bugging me for weeks on end to get him this bike he had seen at Target.

"It's green!"

"It's the same size as your own bike."

"It's got hand brakes!"

"I'm not buying you a bike so much like your own. Yours is in fine shape."

"It's not the same! It's different!"

"No way."

This was getting wearisome, but Ben didn't know that we had already bought him an awesome 26" red bike with gears, hand brakes, rack, the works.

Christmas morning. I was right behind Ben as he approached the tree and saw the red bike parked in front of it. From the look on his face, I'm guessing the clouds parted, God rays shone down, and angels sang.

"WHOA! Screw the green bike! This one's better!"

I couldn't believe my ears. "What did you say?!"

He explained patiently, "Screw the green bike, this one's better." Hello. Duh.

"Oh."

I let it go, and he fell to examining all the perks on his new bike.

The next day I took an opportunity to speak to Ben privately.

"You know, yesterday you used a word that I'm pretty sure you didn't understand fully."

"Huh? When?"

"When you said 'Screw the green bike.'"

"So?"

"So 'screw' means the same thing as the F word."

Big eyes. "IT DOES?"

"Uh-huh."

"I DID NOT KNOW THAT."

"I was pretty sure you didn't. Just try not to use it again."

"Yeah! Okay! I really didn't know that!"

* * * * *

Ah, Christmas memories. This reminds me of my own favorite Christmas moment when I was a kid. I also got a bike: a beautiful blue StingRay bicycle. God rays shone and angels sang when I saw the banana seat and high handlebars. I could crank up to speed in two powerful pushes on the pedals, tooling through the neighborhood in the Florida sun. I managed to pop a wheelie a few times, too. I loved that bike past the time I outgrew it.
What's your favorite Christmas memory?

December 3, 2008

I'm Banned From YouTube For Life

Yeah, you read right. 

I'm using Abe's computer while my laptop's in the shop for.ev.er, and since my cookie isn't on this computer, I had to sign in on YouTube. I haven't had to do that in months, maybe over a year. But instead of my account popping up, I got a message on a red bar that read "Your account has been permanently disabled." There was an explanation that this occurs when YouTube finds "violation of copyright laws, community guidelines, or evidence of predatory behavior." They went further to state that I am banned from establishing any new account under any email address, and if I attempt to do so that account will also be banned for all time. Or words to that effect.

WTF?! Excuse me?! ME?! Well, no. Not me. I need to find out how long this has been in effect and for what reason. If it's for viewing something, I need to talk to my son. If it's for uploading or flaming, I need to talk to my daughter and/or her friends. Either way, I'm the one who's banned, for the rest of my life, from having a YouTube account.

I've also been barred from getting an answer from them too, apparently. I cannot post a question because I don't have an account. I tried the phone number, but they gleefully admit they have no live customer service and refer me to the online "Help" menu. 

I can still view videos that do not have a warning or an age requirement. So thank heaven, Barney the dinosaur is still available to me.* But I can never upload (for the first time) or post (again) any YouTube video. I may try a new account, just to see. But can they actually detect my new account through a different email address? Anyone out there know anything?

*Bitter, party of one.

Gay And Christian Online Resources

Below is the list I will be giving my pastors at next week's meeting. Clearly this is not exhaustive and it is intended for where we are right now: a church seeking to start the conversation that leads us to becoming open and affirming to the LGBT community.

PRESBYTERIAN LINKS

ECUMENICAL LINKS
Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church
IntegrityUSA of the Episcopal Church
DignityUSA of the Catholic Church
New Ways Ministry: Catholic advocacy
Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons
Emergence-International: Christian Scientists
Christian Gays: a place to connect
Whosoever: an online magazine for GLBT Christians
The Fellowship: multi-denominational

ACTIVISM and SUPPORT, Christian and otherwise
Heartstrong: for GLBT from religious-based ed. institutions
End The Harm: blog for Faith In America
Youth Resource: Exploring issues of concern for GLBTQ youth
Teach Ministries: to educate against the consequences of homophobia

Updated 3/09/10