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Celebrate Life; Celebrate Love

Somewhere this week, possibly tonight and if not Saturday, Amendment 14F to the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order (constitution) will secure the requisite votes to confirm the change to our definition of marriage to be between two persons. Some will celebrate and some will mourn, some will gloat and some will gnash their teeth. Many really won’t care.

I will celebrate.

I will celebrate because God’s covenants are always bigger, broader, and deeper in the promotion of life and love than we like to let them be…

I will celebrate because I believe the primary call of the Gospel is to let the oppressed go free. Oppression exists in so many ways – but none more insidious than the forcing of the other to adhere to a dominant cultural norm. Such dividing walls must be brought down.

I will celebrate because people I know and love will be embraced by the church I know and love and their love will be acknowledged as being lived in God.

I will celebrate tonight – I hope – because I am here at #nextchurch2015 with so many who worked so hard to let this justice and blessing roll down. And there is no greater gift than watching history happen with the people who made it happen… Even if just a microcosm of the larger whole.

I will celebrate because footsteps into the future should be celebrated and appreciated and marked for remembrance.

And then we will continue the work because it isn’t done. The work of listening to the anger and pain of those who do not see God in this. To the anger of pain of those who saw God in this long ago… and this is so so late. The work of loving the walls away, and building up the communities whose seems are stretched by the messy work of being transformed out of our comfort zones. The work of continued listening and openness to transformation, and setting aside oppressive norms and hurtful assimilation. The work friends are doing – and being arrested for – even now back in Idaho as we continue to seek to #addthewords and protect LGBT friends and neighbors from discrimination and oppression. The work of promoting life and love for all people.

I will celebrate, and I hope you will too:

Celebrate life; celebrate love; celebrate each other.

What’s your Salamander: Confronting Fear and Discrimination

So crazy things happen in politics.  Crazier things seem to happen in Idaho politics, did you see the GOP Gubernatorial debate last May?  It went viral around the country thanks mostly to the participation of Harley Barnes and Walt Bayes who are summed up by Washington Post:

With his bushy white beard and khaki shirt, Walt Bayes looked like a slender Santa Claus on spring break as he thundered Bible verses from the podium. And then there was Harley Brown. Clad in a black leather vest, hat and gloves, the engineer biker with a more manicured white beard and missing teeth looked like a bad Santa. And he sounded like one, too. “I’ve got a master’s degree in raising hell” was one of the many gasp-worthy things uttered during the hour-long debate.

So after two years of living here I no longer get surprised with the antics of our legislature and politicians. Not surprised, but still frustrated and saddened.  It struck again this week.  House Bill 1 was being heard by the House State Affairs Committee.  This bill was attempting to have the Idaho giant salamander named as the state amphibian.  8th grader Ilah Hickman was even on hand to present why she thought this was important, and she had the backing of several voices on the committee who tried to move the legislation to be sent to the House floor… but, no.  This is Idaho.  The legislation lost – again.  And then in words I will not soon forget I read the words Representative Ken Andrus said to her:

When I grew up, when I was a young boy, in our swimming hole, there were salamanders, and we called them water dogs… and I learned to despise them. To me, and to my fellow youth, they were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy.  And I’ve not gotten over that. And, so, to elevate them to a state symbol and status of being the state amphibian, I’m not there yet.

Really?  You grew up thinking they were ugly, and 60-70 years later you aren’t over how ugly those salamanders were so you can’t allow this species of salamander, mostly unique to Idaho, to become our state amphibian???

This makes me almost unbearably sad.  I read this the next day and sat dumbfounded and dismayed.  This is where I live?  We are so governed by our fears and dislikes that can’t put aside a childhood impression of a salamander?  How are we supposed to address more engrained problems like systemic racism, gender discrimination, the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors, and religious intolerance?  When I was a child I had irrational fears – it’s part of being a child.  I grew up in an old Midwestern farmhouse with a large unfinished basement.  Like so many kids I was convinced that unspeakable things lived under the stairs to our basement.  We also had playroom in the basement that required me to traverse those stairs daily.  And you know what?  I ran.  Every day I went down those stairs as if the devil was on my heels… because I was CONVINCED that was exactly the kind of plight I was in.

But guess what?  The place under the stairs in our basement?  It was not a den of inequity.  It was not a place of horrible monsters or great evil – I know it, and you know it.  But little Andy didn’t.  I grew up.  I saw the world different.  I learned to confront my fears to gain new understanding and appreciation for that which was outside my comfort zone. In fact that process took me to mission work in the Philippines and chaplaincy in large public (and very urban) hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.  Experiences that became formative, if not fun for this introverted shy boy who grew up in a sheltered suburban community, because they challenged me and helped me grow.  They made me see the world differently and with much more perspective than an eight year old version of myself was ever capable of.  In fact, they made me see the world with more perspective than 38 year old me is capable of, and with more perspective than 78 year old Andrew will be able to manage.  That is why we need community and diversity to help us understand things we aren’t naturally going to know anything about.  This is how we grow, change, and become wiser versions of ourselves.  We confront the other, and become known and we come to know it or them, and our sense of neighbor grows bigger.  Our world becomes bigger.

And we all have such stories.  At least I hope so.  But maybe not.  Maybe we all have some things we can’t, or won’t, change our mind about.  Maybe we all have our “salamander.” Maybe we all have something or someone that we refuse to get to know.  We refuse to let go of our presupposed opinions and allow ourselves to be changed by them.  Maybe Ken Andrus’ statement is the most apocalyptic and helpful words that have come to me in a long time.  Because, you see, he was willing to be unveiled about a “thing” in a way he would never be about a person.  He was able to be honest, because he didn’t have to care about a salamander.  But most of our salamanders are people.  People whose faith we have judged as ugly or destructive.  People who we have decided don’t work hard or well and therefore deserve their lot.  People whose priorities are different than ours and we decide they are dysfunctional or irrational or wrong or… an abomination.  I have heard those words used recently, by a law-maker… of a person.  Talk about your “salamander!”

If there is to be hope in this world, we have got to let go of our unchecked and unconfronted biases and fears.  We have got to sit down with our “salamanders” and learn about them and let them learn about us and find a way forward together.  Most of those biases are not our fault.  They were handed on to us by instinct, by friends or family, by society as whole.  They were kneaded into the dough we are made with and they are a part of us. They are so ingrained into our being that we react out of those fears and biases without knowledge: as one wired to feel and believe certain things without thought.  We should not feel guilty because we have bias toward or against something or someone.

And yet.  Setting that guilty and shame aside, we cannot stop there.

It is when we stop there that we incur responsibility.  When we refuse to confront and learn and do the disciplined hard work of rewiring our biases?  That is on us.  I have never met a person, nor do I ever expect to, who didn’t have some fears, who didn’t have some jaded understanding of someone else, who didn’t have bias.  But I also hope never to meet people who aren’t working to address them. Walk down the stairs, maybe get a friend and go under the stairs – have a picnic there!  Meet people outside your normal network and learn how to care for them as a neighbor.  Make your world bigger, more informed, and more understood by being willing to sit down with “others” and make them companions.   Learn to appreciate salamanders!

Because fear of “salamanders” is leading us down dark roads toward a scary future.  And I don’t want to live in that future! We all owe it to each other to work toward something better: more caring, more understanding, more whole.

What and who and where are your salamanders, and what are you prepared to do about it?

Why Rainbowing the Presby Seal Works for Me

Anytime Facebook gets momentum on profile pictures being changed for advocacy reasons it creates tension.  Last time I experienced this with the red equal signs for marriage equality and I, after a FB exchange, blogged about why I did it, here.

Yesterday, again with marriage equality, the denomination in which I serve – The Presbyterian Church (USA) – made way for marriage equality through two efforts: one immediately allowing pastors to use discretion and perform same-gender marriages, and the other a constitutional change to the definition of marriage affirming its traditional understanding as between a man and woman but also changing to two persons to recognize a larger understanding of marital covenants. Then a lot of Presbys took FB profile pics by storm changing our seal to some version of rainbow.

Image

(Image compliments of Adam Walker Cleaveland here)

Today I heard (indirectly, but I heed her voice) from another person who didn’t appreciate the “rainbowing” of the PC(USA) seal which she felt sent signals we weren’t meant to send.  I respect her views, she is one of the most passionate disciples I’ve ever met and I really wish I could move her to my current church because I miss her presence and her wrestling with God’s word.  And her views are shared by many.  She spoke respectfully and gave voice to frustration – thank you for that.  I should be held accountable, its why I do church – affirmation and accountability. So I am grateful for the opportunity to again be reflective about my choices.  Everyone recognizes that not all of us celebrated this change.  Is it crass to celebrate when that causes further pain?  What about those who have been oppressed and chased from the church by our silence or outright denial of their committed relationships, can we not be happy for them, with them?  How can we give voice to pain, celebrate joy, and still struggle to live together with common cause in Christ?

It isn’t easy.  We are still figuring that out.  But because I think I should have to stand up for why I choose to be “seen” in support of marriage equality and not just do “picture advocacy” here is my response about why I rainbow sealed:

I appreciate your thoughtful reflection. I think your reflection speaks for a lot of people, and it needs to be said. I do not wish to debate the right and wrongness of it – God knows how often I’ve been wrong. But I do wish to speak for myself of why I have a rainbow seal

I see the rainbow seal as appropriate precisely because I am pro gay. Because called to love my neighbor, the stranger, the alien, and the outcast, I am pro humanity. I am pro people who have been denied love and care, particularly by the church. I’m pro being in a church that is trying to cease to be an oppressive force which it has been (and always will be because we see through a glass dimly). I am pro people in their diverse particularity. If you cannot be pro black, pro woman, or pro gay. I do not think you can say you are pro human. Being pro human without supporting people in their particularness is generic and – I’d say – meaningless.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” God loves people in their particularity, this is incarnational theology, and I endeavor to do the same, something at which I do fail, but today I celebrate with a strong sense that the church in which I serve has opened its arms a little wider and loves a little deeper. And when I walk in the Boise Pride parade tomorrow I will do so proud of our church for its stance.

So yes, for today and tomorrow my seal will be rainbow. It could be, and should be all colors and no color and whatever it takes to remind us that God is God of all people, of many covenants, of steadfast love and faithfulness who tends to hang out with the people forced to the margins by the dominant narratives of our corporate life but endeavors to gather us all in celebrating our uniqueness while creating a wholeness and unity in an Acts 2 kind of outpouring of the Spirit. Today’s rainbow may feel like the scandal of particularity (ala Israel itself) to you, and that should be – because that is the way of our God who lifts up those who need lifting, and at one time or another that is all of us.

In the deep and wise words of Bob the Tomato, “Remember kids, God made you special and God loves you very much.”

——UPDATE, only one hour later 🙂

I didn’t get this in oiginally and wanted to do so but I’m not a really a disciplined and polished writer, I’m just jotting down my thoughts and reactions so let me get this in now.  On the question of the rainbow.  I never knew the genesis of the rainbow in support of LGBTQ neighbors until today (or I don’t recall knowing this) when I read this article from Slate.  However, I have always thought of the rainbow in terms of the rainbow covenant which is God’s reminder to God’s self not to destroy again.  It is a deeply theological affirmation of all life, and of love for God’s creation.  Under the rainbow we are reminded that God holds life sacred – our lives, all lives.  I think that works for me too.