21 December 2012

On a dark day

This is the gospel, the good news: You are loved. No matter what.

These are the lost, in need of good news: Every single one of us.

This is the Church, the Body of Christ: Those who embody the gospel by loving the lost.

This is the bad news: If the gospel is not embodied, it is bullshit.

Usually I'm all about robust exchange of ideas. But right now, if you're inclined to demonstrate the wrongness of the above claims, you can shove your theological debate up your ass. Doesn't mean I'm laying claim to Truth; just that I'm fresh out of f$cks to give at the moment.

There's some rude armchair theology for you, on this dark day.

05 July 2012


Preach it, Rufus.*

In case you can't read the image above, it's a quote from Chris Rock's character Rufus the Apostle from the movie Dogma.  Says Rufus: "I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier. Life should be malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant."

I think Rufus is right on.  I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I really want to work hard to not have beliefs.  This might sound strange from someone who identifies fiercely with the Christian Church - and it may well sound strange to some of my friends within the Church.  But upon much reflection, I really just don't think that "beliefs" are a very good idea.  I'm trying to do my darnedest to avoid them.

So, for example, I'm not interested in saying, "I believe there is no god", as an atheist would (though I will have to confess a lack of belief in any concretely-imagined concept of a divine being).  But nor am I interested in saying, "I believe God is One in Three" (though I find very rich and helpful symbolism in Trinitarian thought) or "I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God" (though I remain a devoted disciple of Jesus as the ultimate - for me - image of Love in human form).

So you're probably saying - well, it sure sounds like you have beliefs.  And maybe I (along with Rufus) am just arguing semantics.  But to me, "belief" means something like "coming to a conclusion about something for which there is insufficient evidence to decide".  That just seems unwise to me.  So instead, I try to have other things instead.

I have ideas, like Rufus suggested.

I have conclusions based on scientific evidence.  Due to the nature of science, these are of course provisional.

I have opinions.  I support marriage equality (even though I think that "marriage" as we know it is a hot Constantinian mess) and I think the indefinite detention provisions of the 2012 NDAA are a horrific idea.  For example.

I have heuristics.  Rules of thumb.  Things that I think work well a lot of the time.  The Sermon on the Mount, for example, is full of those.  I'm a fan.

I have hunches.  For example, I have a hunch about the thing that happens when groups intentionally seeking discernment have moments of clarity that lead them to helpful and healing action - which Christians often attribute to the Holy Spirit.  I have a hunch that that's a real thing.  Perhaps "Jungian collective unconsciousness" or "adaptive social sensitivity" or something is a better interpretive construct for that sort of thing than "the Holy Spirit".  I'm not super-concerned about interpretive constructs.  I think that for many phenomena that we don't understand very well, there's a wide variety of interpretive constructs/images/symbols that might be productively used to talk about them.  I think when we latch on to those constructs and make them "beliefs", they can (but don't necessarily) become harmful.

(Another example might be mental illness.  As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, I actually think that the ancient interpretation of some forms of mental illness as "demon possession" was not as ridiculous as it may seem.  That's a pretty apt image for what it's like sometimes.  But when you take that too seriously - and morally judge someone for "dealing with demons" - or prescribe exorcism instead of psychiatry - then it becomes harmful.)

I have hopes.  For example, I have a hunch that there's no continuity of consciousness that survives death.  But I have a hope that I'm wrong.  I also have a hope that the human race's future might be characterized by lots more love and grace (what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God), rather than by various forms of human-made apocalypse.  I don't expect God to just take care of that for us while we sit back and keep screwing things up...nor do I believe that the "myth of progress" will inexorably march us to that outcome.  Yet I persist in this hope.

All these things, I have.  All these things are provisional.  My dear friend Deanna once described belief as a "stake in the sand" - something you put down in order to function in the world, but could pull up easily when appropriate.  Something provisional, in other words - like Rufus's "ideas".

I suppose many of my "other things" described above could be called "beliefs" in this sense.  Maybe I am just quibbling about language.  So be it.  But I guess "belief" is just not a word I'm finding very helpful right now.

*The above image is credited to The Interwebs.  I don't know who made it, and since they amusingly credit it to Chris Rock a line that was written by Kevin Smith, I'm not too concerned about the image creator chasing after me for lack of attribution.

03 July 2012

A short thought about maturity

This is a thought I had, following Wild Goose Festival (East) 2012 and my experience there both with friends, and reflecting upon a number of talks which touched on recovery from traumatic experiences:
It's a rare and precious thing to be capable of coming alongside someone as a friend without needing to explain them to yourself - that is, to offer your presence while allowing your friend to maintain their own mysterious integrity, free from your need to fit them - and their thoughts, actions, motivations, joys, passions, and sufferings - into categories that make sense to you and make you feel comfortable. I hope to grow in this capability.
I posted this in an online group, and my friend Janine responded with the following:
I'm with you, Mike, hoping to grow in this capability too! Perhaps non-dualistic thinking is the basis for being able to grow in this way. Seems to fit with Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation for today:

"Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (GOAL). 
"Reality is “not totally one,” but it is “not totally two,” either! All things, events, persons, and institutions, if looked at contemplatively (non-egocentrically), reveal contradictions, create dilemmas, and have their own shadow side. Wisdom knows how to hold and to grow from this creative tension; ego does not. Our ego splits reality into parts that it can manage, but then pays a big price in regard to actual truth or understanding. 
"The contemplative mind will be at the heart and center of all teaching in our new Living School. Only the contemplative mind can honor the underlying unity (“not two”) of things, while also work with them in their distinctness (“not totally one”). The world almost always presents itself as a paradox, a contradiction, or a problem—like our themes of “action and contemplation,” “Christian and non-Christian,” or “male and female” first did. At the mature level, however, we learn to see all things in terms of unitive consciousness, while still respecting, protecting, and working with the very real differences. This is the great—perhaps the greatest—art form. It is the supreme task of all religion." 
~ Richard Rohr, June 2012
I have to admit that I was surprised and a little proud to be tracking so closely with thoughts from Fr. Richard, whom I admire very much.

image: Attribution Some rights reserved by janiebug2010

16 May 2012

Modern and postmodern cultures, and individuality

Here's a half-baked thought that I recently posted on my church's Unauthorized Theology Pub (a Google Group).  I'm not sure how solid my reasoning is, but my friend Maria wanted to refer to it online, so I'm posting it here, too.  Enjoy, and feel free to push back.

I was thinking - and a lot of this thinking came (as good things so often do) out of a conversation with my friend Maranda - about "modern" vs. "postmodern" Western culture.  I'm using those terms in an extremely colloquial sense - not at all an a technical or academic sense - and not really in a sense that has direct relation to philosophy or literature.  More in the way that "emerging church" folks tend to casually toss the terms around as descriptors for the cultural shift that (a lot of us think) has really been gathering steam in the Western world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  Just for the sake of argument, let's suppose that those terms are adequate to designate the "pre-shift" and "post-shift" flavors of Western culture.  If you haven't been in on this kind of "modern vs. postmodern" cultural conversation, then this is probably not going to make much sense to you.

So an interesting aspect of this particular cultural sparring match is that both "sides" seem to think that the other "side" is scandalously individualistic.  It's dogma among folks who consider themselves "postmodern" that individualism (at the expense of community) is one of the hallmarks of modernity, and that "modern" culture glorifies it in the forms of things like consumerism, self-sufficiency, suburban isolation, unlimited entertainment choice, judgmentalism, etc.  On the other hand, many "moderns" regard "postmoderns" as selfish brats who glorify their own personal pursuits and passions at the expense of any concern for the common good.

How can this be?  Are they both right?  Well, pretty much, IMHO.  I really don't think that the modern => postmodern shift has much to do, in itself, with a shift from individualism to communalism or vice-versa.  Rather, it's a difference in how community is conceived, and that difference is both one of scale, and one of direction.

Regarding scale (to vastly oversimplify), "modern" favors big fishes and big ponds.  It favors the successful individual in the large-scale, institutional setting (the nation, the corporation, the school board, the megachurch).  "Small fish" individualism is promoted as well, as long as it's a) within the well-worn channels (both network and cable) ;-) carved out and prescribed by the big fishes and the institutions, or b) the sort of minor "safety valve" protest that lets off steam without actually threatening the institutional systems (like when the Architect created the One to keep the Matrix in balance).

By contrast, "postmodern" favors small fishes and small ponds.  The most significant community is the immediate community - the circle of friends, the "tribe", the club, the house church, the meetup, the cohort, the class or workgroup.  Small communities claim the ability to set their own values and priorities, and individual "small fishes" are encouraged to explore their own individual journey and passions as long as it's in harmony with the values and needs of the community - and often with little regard for the standards of the larger, institutional systems.

Regarding "direction", I just mean that in "modern" cultures, "community" is defined through membership in top-down hierarchical institutions.  In "postmodern" cultures, "community" is more likely a flat organization of equals, horizontally networked with other similar groups.

As I write that stuff out, a lot of it sounds like gross oversimplification, among other forms of egregious BS.  But my whole point is:  I really don't feel like one type of culture is more individualistic or more community-oriented than the other.  It's just a matter of how "community" is defined, and therefore which "community's" standards the individual is expected to live in harmony with.  The nation, or the neighborhood?  The church denomination, or the neo-monastic group house?  The statewide school board, or the democratic classroom?  The Fortune 500 company, or the open-source development workgroup?  Etc.  In many ways, individual freedom can be much greater - and much more encouraged - in a "postmodern" paradigm.

So in many ways, we "postmodern" people really are selfish brats.


I think the image, from the seminal film Monty Python's Life of Brian, is copyright Sony Pictures, all rights reserved.  Go buy or rent their awesome movie.

25 April 2012

So I bet you thought I was straight

(Quick note:  With the help of dear friends and family, I've been in pretty intentional discernment about doing what I'm doing right now - that is, coming out of the closet - for about six months; and I've been in "passive" discernment about it for much longer.  So the timing of this has almost nothing to do with the fact that Dan Savage called out people like me on his podcast this week.  But in any event:  there you go, Dan.  One formerly closeted bi guy, joining the fight.)

Unless you have specific reason to think otherwise, I'm guessing this post's title is fairly accurate.  Further, I imagine that's true if you've known me for years and years, or if we're just acquaintances, or if I'm only somebody you decided to follow on a social network.  Why?  Because we're culturally conditioned to assume that everyone is straight, cisgender, and mono, unless we have serious reason to believe otherwise.

Which is pretty much the reason I'm telling you otherwise.  (Well, that, and because the cultural assumptions of "normal" - and the bullying that helps to enforce those assumptions - sometimes provoke kids to kill themselves.)

So here are the facts, at a certain level of detail:

I've been married to an amazing woman for 17 1/2 years.  (I've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for 11 1/2 of those, which is proof enough of "amazing", I think.)  Our married relationship has always been monogamous, and I've been faithful to her throughout our marriage.  Also, on the very rare occasions that the subject has come up, I've generally not corrected anyone's assumption that I identify as straight.

If you know me well enough to know all (or much) of this, I certainly don't blame you for thinking I'm straight.

More facts:  before I was married, I didn't have a whole lot of sexual experience.  However, I did have sex with more than one person, and not exclusively with women.

Let's take a break to review some helpful tools:

- The sex researcher Alfred Kinsey first published the Kinsey Scale in the 1940's.  It's limited, but it's a useful shorthand.  It rates sexual orientation on a scale from 0 (100% heterosexual) through 3 (50/50 bisexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual).

- Fritz Klein added some nuance to Kinsey with the Klein Grid, which rates 7 categories related to sexual orientation on a scale of 1 to 7 (roughly corresponding to Kinsey's 0 to 6).  It also takes into account change over time.

So, the scoop?  The common assumption, based on my long-term, monogamous marriage and the general cultural default, would be that I am a 0 on the Kinsey Scale (exclusively hetero).  If fact, I am a 1 - 2.  Taking into account the Klein Grid categories, my responses vary a bit in the different categories, and they are definitely weighted toward women, but I am not exclusively hetero in any of those various dimensions.

The final row on the Klein Grid is self-identification.  (So here's what I came to say.)  I've spent most of my life failing to correct the default assumption that I am 100% hetero.  It's easier that way, for sure.  Being married to a woman, I can easily pass as straight.

But I don't want to do that anymore.  I want to stop doing it for the sake of my own authenticity.  And I want to stop doing it in some small hope of helping other folks - especially young folks who also don't conform to the cultural assumptions regarding sexual orientation - to feel authentic and valid in their own skin.

So for the record, here's how I would prefer to identify, in regard to sexual orientation.  I'll give you several options, in order of preference.

1) Pansexual.  This is the most accurate and authentic label to describe my sexual orientation.  Essentially, it means that my potential ability to find someone sexually, physically, personally, and emotionally attractive is not automatically limited by their biological sex, gender expression, or gender identity.  (Please refer to the Genderbread Person if a reminder of what these terms mean would be helpful.)  My attraction is weighted toward women, similar to the way in which some people might be especially attracted to redheads, or to tall people, or to extraverts, without that preference in any way ruling out their attraction to folks with different characteristics.

2) Bisexual.  You can call me bi.  It's totally OK.  The distinction that's made between pansexuality and bisexuality is that "bisexual" implies that gender/sex is binary, while in fact there are lots of possibilities in between and perpendicular to "male" and "female", including genderqueer, intersex, and much more.  That said, the vast majority of folks who identify as bi are absolutely not trying to say that there's no way they could be attracted to someone who isn't 100% unambiguously male or female, as sometimes seems to be implied by writings on pansexuality.  So you can call me bi.

3) Queer.  Don't think I'm listing "queer" third because I don't like it.  If you call me queer, I'll take it as a compliment (unless it's not one).  It's an appropriate label.  The only reason it's my third preference is that it's so general.  It doesn't convey much information.  I can be more specific, and that seems helpful, so I will.  That's all.

4) Straight.  Most people who don't read this will probably continue to presume that I'm straight.  That's OK.  I rightly pass for straight, and have done for most of my life.  In the future, if someone explicitly mentions making this assumption, I'll correct them.  But it's not as if I find the label inauthentic, inappropriate, or offensive.  It's reasonably accurate for me.  It's not like I'm a 6 on the Kinsey Scale, or a 4, or even a 3.  However, if you have read all this and are having trouble dealing with it and would just prefer to think of me as straight, my request to you is this: If I am someone who is important to you, please try to grapple with this part of my identity.  I would be grateful.

So, um, that's it.  I'm not as straight as you probably thought I was.  My hope is that, by rejecting that assumption (and continuing to do so going forward), just one other person - possibly a young person - who is also outside the sexual "norm" will feel just a little more OK with who God made them to be.  And in any case, this means that I'm just a little bit more transparently who I am.  I feel as if that's worth something.

12 January 2012

Help the Nuba people of Sudan

So I was contacted late last year by Jessica Dotta, who is working with an organization called Media Change which (in Jessica's words) works "with non-profits that serve orphans, widows, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted, and those who are counted as the 'least of these.'" Jessica's been rounding up bloggers and asking us to be on a mailing list to post occasional features that get out the word about folks in need, and what God is up to via the non-profits trying to serve them. This post is my first one from Media Change.  (Fellow blogger friends, if you want to participate, here's where you can sign up!)

So, please read on for an opportunity to help the Nuba people in North Sudan.  (The rest of the blog post is taken directly from Jessica's version, 'cause she said it better then I could.)

Have you ever wondered what you would have done had you been alive in 1940 and were one of those who knew about the Holocaust?

Would you have been a person of action or a person of silence?

It is perhaps one of the most important issues to wrestle with. More than once in our lifetime we will find ourselves at a crossroad, one where the decision we make will reveal as much about our character as our convictions.

There is a genocide happening right now in Northern Sudan. The government is eradicating their own people. If we don’t speak up and help, no one else will. Each time North Sudan launches an attack to kill their own people, and we in the Western world remain silent, we give our permission to continue.

It is easier to overlook what is happening to our brothers and sisters in Sudan because the task feels overwhelming and thinking about it can make us feel helpless.

The truth of the matter is that one person alone cannot save the Nuba People. But a community of people acting in unison can.

One of the most extraordinary acts found in mankind is when a member of the human race deliberately goes out of his way to help another. It is love in action. It is loving your neighbor. It is doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

This month, The Persecution Project Foundation has launched a campaign called Save the Nuba. In order to prevent another genocide, they need the help that only a community can offer.

For those who can afford it, the need for food and medicine is desperate.

For those who have little to give, they’re asking for petitions signed, for awareness to be spread through social media (Facebook, Twitter and blogs.)

For those who are passionate about this cause, they need your help raising awareness.

Will you join us in speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves?

Please visit www.SavetheNuba.com to learn ways you can help.

30 November 2011

Mac rant

OK, so as of this year, I'm a fervent Mac convert.  Dyed in the wool, drank the Kool-Aid, bought the t-shirt, dyed the t-shirt with Kool-Aid.  Whatever.  Not going back.


The way Macs do window and app management is boneheaded.  (Disclaimer:  I'm still on Snow Leopard, but I don't believe Lion has improved this stuff - I'd be glad to be wrong.)

In Windows, here's how you need to think about managing your windows and programs - opening things, finding things, managing what's eating up your resources, etc.:

1) Is the app open *or* pinned to the task bar?  Great!  You can find it in the task bar.  Always, always, always.  Doesn't matter if it's closed and pinned, open and minimized, open and in the foreground, or open and hidden behind another window.  Always in the same place, in the task bar.  If you want it, you know where to find it.  And it'll be clear whether it's open (which means its eating up resources) or not.  Hint:  if you close it, it's closed, and not eating up resources.

2) Can't find the app in the task bar? It must be neither opened nor pinned; you'll need to open it from the Start Menu or something if you want it.  If you use it a lot, you might want to consider pinning it so you only ever have to think about #1.

Here's how it works on Mac (Snow Leopard, anyway):

1) Is the app open and in the foreground?  Yay!  You can probably find it, because you're looking at it!  Also, because you're looking at it, you know it's open and using resources.  That one's easy!

2) Is the app open and hidden behind some other window?  Good luck finding it.  There's no indicator in the dock that it's open. (You might be able to tell from the little glowy light that it's *running*, but that doesn't tell you whether or not you've actually got any windows open.)  And if you try to click on the app icon in the dock, very often nothing will happen.  What??  The window's already open.  So it's behind another window.  Not MacOS's problem.  Start pawing around in Exposé or whatever, or dragging windows around.  Good luck.

3) Is the app open and minimized?  OK, *then* you get a little window icon on the right side of the dock (if you've turned that feature on).  Make sure you keep careful mental track of which of your windows are minimized and which ones aren't, so you'll know whether looking down there will be of any use to you.  And don't try clicking on the main app icon in the left-hand part of the dock to get back to something you've minimized.  That doesn't do anything, silly!  You're supposed to click on the one on the right!  Did you forget it was minimized?  You need to keep better track of that stuff, in your brain.

(I know that's because you might have multiple windows.  But if you've only got one, why not open it?  If you've got three, why not bring them up in Exposé?  Really, "do nothing" is the best you could manage??)

4) Is the app *running*, but with no windows open?  This state is visually indistinguishable from "running with a window hidden behind other windows".  So make sure you keep careful mental track of whether you've got any windows hidden behind other windows.  Also, as a special feature, most Mac apps will happily keep running (and eating up resources) even if you don't have any windows open (and even if they don't have any legitimate background work to do).  I'm always running around looking for rogue glowy lights in my dock so I can close programs that I'm not actually using right now.  On Windows, almost always, the little X means "If this is the last/main window for the app, close the app - don't just close the window and keep the app running and eating up memory."  On a Mac, the little red circle usually means, "Close the window, but even if this is the last/main window, keep the app running, because lightning-fast startup is more important than ongoing performance of the apps you're actually using."  No, it's not.

5) Is the app actually closed - no little glowy thing on the dock?  OK, then you know where you stand, and it's as convenient as Windows - open pinned apps from the dock; for other things, head to your Applications folder.  But once you open it, make sure you keep careful mental track of whether it's:

- Running (and eating resources) with no open windows, or
- Open and minimized, or
- Open and hiding behind another window, or
- Open and in the foreground.

One of the few things I miss about Windows is that in Microsofty-land, the first state mostly doesn't exist (unless there's a reason for it), and the second, third, and fourth are visually identical:  wherever your windows happen to be, you can always find them in the task bar.

23 September 2011

My new tat

Hey y'all - check out my gawjus new tattoo (above).

See the chalice in the middle?  See what it's sitting on?  You know what that is?  That's a Common Table, yo.  :-)

Here's a pic of my amazing tattoo artist, Amy X (aka Ax), working her magic:

If you live in the DC area and are thinking of getting some ink, you'd be a damn fool not to talk to Amy.

Photo credits go to my tat buddy, the lovely and labyrinthine Maranda Tennyson.

And a big hat tip to our extraordinary friend Amy the Moffitt, who introduced Maranda and me to Ax!

18 September 2011

Live Lectio/Flash Fiction - Exodus 12

This is a fictional response to a reading of a passage of scripture during Common Table's Sunday morning worship service on retreat at Shrine Mont on 4 September, 2011.  It's also a cross-post from our shared Common Table blog; please see the first post in this series for context, as well as the biblical passage being responded to.


It was only an hour before the appointed time, when the Lord would send his angel of death - the angel with the flaming sword that would cut out the heart of each Egyptian family.  Rachel snuck out while her father was bundling their few possessions, and her mother was cleaning the remains of the tiny leg of lamb they’d been given by their next door neighbor.

She moved quickly down the street, careful not to slosh the blood in the bowl she carried.  At each Egyptian home she reached, Rachel dipped her rag into the bowl, and hastily dribbled blood on the doorframe.

She kept on running into the dark, painting hope on as many doors as she could reach, until the dawn broke, and Rachel heard the first wails of anguish from the homes further on down the street.

image: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by panavatar

10 August 2011

Queer Theology Synchroblog #SCEP

UPDATE: I added the current list of synchroblog participants at the bottom.  I'll try to update it later in the day.  Peace!


So first, Jules threw down a double-dog dare.

Then (or actually, maybe it was first), Brian put out a Call for a Queer Theology.

And then Shay, the Anarchist Reverend, said, "let there be a synchroblog about this stuff", and lo, there is a synchroblog.  I think this will be part of it, though not a big part.

(And all this is part of the Sanctuary Collective Empowerment Project, which is being dreamed up as we speak by the folks I just mentioned, and others!)

Shay's challenge to straight, cisgender folks (like me) is this:  "If you’re straight and interested in solidarity I want you to share how being in relationship with queer people has deepened your faith and spiritual practice."  I'm finding that both an extremely easy charge, and an incredibly difficult one.

Queer people who are dear to me have had a huge impact on who I am.  In particular, my friendships with a bisexual woman named Jennifer, a transsexual woman named Perette, a bisexual woman named Rachel, a gay man named Ben, and a lesbian woman named Sarah have been, over many years, a huge formative influence on my life - and my faith and spiritual practice are a huge part of my life.  But to tease out those connections seems challenging - and perhaps needlessly so.  How much have Peri's spiritual openness - combined with her skeptic's impatience for spiritual bullshit - influenced my own combination of openness and cynicism in matters of faith?  How much have Jen's insights on the intersections between issues facing different oppressed groups (Jen also happens to be disabled) informed my own (limited) appreciation of the complexity of social issues that I (and the faith communities I am a part of) try to engage?  How much have Rachel's spiritual gifts - her heart's seemingly bottomless capacity to embrace, love, value, and offer hospitality to others - challenged me to open up wider myself?  How much have Ben's commitment to service and Sarah's joyful approach to life brought me hope for the future?

I think the answer to all of these is "lots and lots".  There are many other people who identify as LGBTQI who have helped to form me, and many other ways in which the dear friends I mentioned have touched my life.  There are also many people who do not identify as queer who have had a huge formative influence on my life, faith, and practice.  Is it the queerness of my dear LGBTQI folks that makes them, and their impact on me, special?  No (well, not just that)...and of course!  Queer folks are not the only people who have been a deep part of my formation as a person of faith.  But queer folks have been HUGE in my formation - and in ways I could never count or enumerate, they have impacted me.  They've impacted me in the manner that everyone who has been dear and influential to me has done that - by being themselves, by sharing of themselves with me, by loving me. Their queer identity is a part of what has made each of them the beautiful person they are - and, in turn, has become a huge part of what makes me who I am, too.

For that, I say:  Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!


Here is the list of participants:

Shay writes Queer Theology Synchroblog home.
Brian writes “Why Queer Liberation Must Be Queer Led”
Cindi writes Queer Theology From a Reluctantly Queer Theologian
Gabe writes The Queerness of Christ: And over Or
Christians for Justice Action write “Imagine the Possibilities Four Years From Now”.
Darrel writes “Queer Theology: Outside the Box” at the Blog of the Grateful Bear.
Ken writes Queer Theology.
Peterson writes Lazarus Come Out!
Mike writes Queer Theology Synchroblog #SCEP.
Cindy writes Creative Differences in the Image of God (this link opens a PDF)
Jules writes Being Queerly Forward
Vince writes Loving Promiscuously: A Queer Theology of Doing It
Alison writes Why I’m Queer Too
Sonnie writes God Made Me Queer
Ellen writes Through A Glass Queerly
Steve writes In Solidarity
Matt writes A Love That Goes Beyond Welcome

26 July 2011

Radical inclusiveness, "safe spaces", and other mythical beasts

Wow - the interwebs (or at least the corners of them webs that I tend to hang around) are really abuzz with questions of inclusiveness (can communities and gatherings be radically inclusive and welcoming to absolutely everybody?) and "safe space" (can those same communities and gatherings be places where folks - perhaps folks with a given identity - can go without fear of feeling threatened or unsafe?).  The grand prize, of course, goes to the community or gathering that can achieve both:  inclusive to absolutely everyone, and at the same time safe for absolutely everyone.

No, of course I'm just kidding.  That last one is absurd.  Not gonna happen, this side of "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

But what is possible?  What's worth shooting for?  Obviously (to me, anyway) inclusiveness and safety are both Good Things worth striving for.  Obviously there's inherent tension here.  How might we try to navigate this tension?

One of the first - and best - posts I saw recently on this topic was Katie's blog on Safe Space.  I highly recommend that you go read it.  Katie has more wisdom on these tensions than you're going to find here.

Then, I ran across an excellent point/counterpoint on these subjects.  Neil Christopher, in Can Christians Truly Be Inclusive, argues for erring on the side of safety for some folks (specifically, some historically oppressed folks).  Matt Scott replied with On (False) Inclusivity, in which he calls us to err on the side of radical inclusivity.  (These are my own ridiculously oversimplified reductions of their articles - please go read them and let them speak for themselves.)

So mostly because all of these folks - and many others among my local and global friends - have got me thinking (and because sometimes I do this weird exercise in which I think out loud in public on this blog) I thought I'd noodle a bit on this tension myself.  Because I can feel myself tending toward long-windedness already, I think I'm just going to rattle off a bunch of bullet points.  These are not facts; they are opinions that I throw out there for potential discussion.  They aren't even necessarily opinions I hold tightly.  I'm probably wrong.  That's OK.

Anyway, here goes:

  • There is no such thing as safe space.  (Just ask Katie.)  There is also no such thing as perfect inclusivity.  Just as these values are in tension with each other, each is also impossible to achieve as a standalone value.  Sorry.
  • That said, it is worthy and necessary to attempt to create "safe spaces".  We need to enter into these spaces with eyes open to the fact that they cannot be perfect.  (That's why I put the phrase in quotes.)
  • We also need to realize that "safe spaces" can only possibly aim to be "safe" for some folks - not for all folks.  A space cannot simultaneously be "safe" for both LGBTQI folks, and folks who are powerfully threatened by / threatening toward LGBTQI folks.  There cannot be a space that's "safe" for both atheists, and folks who are powerfully threatened by / threatening toward atheists.  These are just examples; the same would be true of any other potentially controversial aspect of someone's identity: orthodox Christian believers, political liberals, Rush Limbaugh fans, homeless folks, etc.
  • Now before you get all bothered about my previous bullet point, let me clarify.  I'm defining "safe spaces" as places where a particular category of people (or multiple categories, but never all categories) can go without (much) fear of feeling threatened.  I'm sorry, but this simply cannot be a space where folks who are threatened by / threatening to the "safe" categories of folks are also welcome.  Not all communities/gatherings should strive to be "safe spaces" in this sense, but we do need these, especially for folks who have a history of being oppressed.
  • Other communities/gatherings will not (and should not) strive to be "safe spaces" for certain categories of people.  These spaces (if they are Christian spaces) should instead strive to be radically (but not perfectly) inclusive.  Why?  Because Christ crossed every boundary and invited every last goddamn one of us sinners to the table.
  • These radically inclusive spaces cannot be "safe spaces" in the sense I defined above.  They must remain spaces where feeling threatened is a real possibility - for everyone.  (Feeling threatened is possible in "safe spaces" too, for they are never perfect, but it's more likely in these radically inclusive spaces.)
  • That said, in these radically inclusive spaces, it is possible (though HARD) for folks who are  threatened by / threatening to one another to be in community.  How is this possible?  Not by excluding people - not at first, anyway.  Instead, by establishing a firm community ethos - and consistent messaging from community members and leaders - that certain behaviors are not acceptable.  These are behaviors that are abusive, dehumanizing, and/or excluding to other people in the space.  Did I mention that establishing and maintaining this ethos is HARD?
  • It bears repeating:  this is really, really hard.  I think it's especially hard in spaces which are too large for everyone to know everybody else.  Because all a bully needs to practice his or her abusive craft is a little bit of secret space, out of the sight of the rest of the community.
  • Inevitably, there will be folks who cannot abide by this ethos, or who feel too threatened to stay.  These folks will either decide to leave, or (if they have been abusive or exclusionary) they will need to be confronted within the community, as outlined in Matthew 18.  This is why radical inclusiveness can never be perfect inclusiveness, even in spaces that do not attempt to be "safe" (as defined above).
  • So what should most Christian communities and gatherings strive for?  It's up to the particular group and their particular composition, gifts, and sense of calling.  Some should definitely strive for "safe space" - the Metropolitan Community Churches, and their particular calling to be a "safe space" for LGBTQI Christians, are a beautiful thing, for example.  Many traditional Christian churches are, de facto, "safe spaces" for orthodox, believing Christians in their particular tradition - which means that they are not "safe spaces" for folks who are threatened by / threatening to people with those beliefs.
  • Many "emerging" Christian communities - as well as many more traditional ones - are striving for the sort of "safe-ish" radical inclusivity in which everyone is welcome to the table.  Places where atheists and Muslims and Buddhists are just as welcome as orthodox Christian believers - although (in contrast with, say, many Unitarian-Universalist congregations) the overall character of the community remains Christian.  Places where LGBTQI folks, and folks who do not believe that God is OK with folks being LGBTQI, can both come to the table together, pray together, eat together, sing together, serve together, laugh together, weep together, lead together.  Etc.  I think the community that I'm a part of, the Common Table is that kind of community.  It is not a place where any particular group of people - be they orthodox Christian believers, lesbians, atheists, etc. - can feel completely "safe" from words and behaviors that they may find uncomfortable or even threatening.  It is a place where all of these folks should know that behavior that crossed the line into abuse, exclusion, or dehumanization would not be OK - from anybody.  It is messy.  It is also beautiful.
  • We would all be a lot happier, I think, with a lot more up-front, open discussion about these issues in our communities and gatherings.  What kind of space are we striving to be?  "Safe"?  For whom?  Inclusive?  What does that mean?  Can we please talk about this shit, rather than set folks up for (even more than the usual) nasty surprises?
OK, them's all my bullet points.  I knew I was gonna be long-winded.  Holla back, y'all, if you have any reactions.  Peace!

25 July 2011

The mother lode (of resources for folks wanting to work in solidarity with LGBTQI folks)

So Shay (the Anarchist Reverend) got sick of having the same conversations over and over again and created a resources page   It's full of good stuff (including lots of stuff I previously linked to, and lots of stuff I hadn't seen yet).  It's a great meta-resource - thanks, Shay!

A couple of other resources folks have put in my path:

10 Ways to Be an Ally, via Adele

And finally, a post (via Shay) that asks, Can we stop using the term ally?  I find its argument pretty persuasive, so I'm personally going to try to stop applying that term to myself.  It didn't feel all that comfortable a fit, anyway.

Thanks, all!

image: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by kfwk_lobo

20 July 2011

A challenge to Emergent leaders who are allies to LGBTQ #21LGBTQchallenge via @mojojules

My friend Jules has thrown down a gauntlet.  Check it, y'all:

If you are an emergent leader, have organized gatherings, and you are an ally I dare you to do a C21 part 2. You say your an ally and you want to actively support those of us in the conversation (and those not in the conversation) who are queer put your actions where your mouth is. I challenge you to organize an event to highlight LGBTQ as the voices who are speaking. 21 LGBTQ, 21 minutes to speak. Use your power of influence to finally show that you aren’t just talking this stuff, but you mean it. I dare you. I double dog dare you!

Read her whole post.  Do eeeet!

Pretty simple, no?  The time has come, no?  It would be a good step forward in the direction my new friend Brian Gerald Murphy points toward in his Call for a Queer Theology.

The time has come, yes!  Emergent leaderly, conferency friends, let's get this done.  Soon.  How's 2012?  I'm not callin' y'all out by name - yet.  (I'd do it privately, don't worry.)

My dear friends, we have been dared.  Not just dared, but Double Dog Dared.  There is only one honorable response to the Double Dog Dare.

Let's get this done.

17 July 2011

More resources along the way toward becoming an ally

Well, if you've been reading my blog (that is, on those rather rare occasions when there's been something to read), you probably saw a couple of recent posts where I referred to my intention - laid within me, egg-like, by a certain Wild Goose - to open myself to being formed as an ally for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer-identified (LGBTQ) folks, especially within the Church.

I said I wanted to use this blog as a place to record helpful resources, and thanks to some awesome folks I met at the Goose, especially Anarchist Reverend and Brian Gerald Murphy (there are a couple of awesome bloggy resources right there - check out, for example, Brian's post A Call for a Queer Theology), I have a bunch of items worth recording.  So here they are:

First of all, a couple of items written for white allies confronting racism (their own, and others') which are excellent and helpful:
Next, a couple of community projects:
  • Sanctuary Collective - they're currently rebooting their online presence, but you can check out their excellent collection of YouTube videos
  • The Gay Christian Network - if you're a Christian who's interested in formation as an LGBTQ ally, I highly recommend joining.  It's an incredibly welcoming community, and I'm pretty hopeful about the potential for forming friendships with folks there
Finally, a couple of extremely helpful documents for straight and cisgender aspiring allies of LGBTQ folks:
OK, one more.  Katie's post on Safe Space is incredibly insightful.  It might merit a blog post of its own from me (well, it merits a lot more than that, but I may or may not get around to a blog post), but I wanted to list it here.  Check out Katie's blog.  You'll be glad you did.

That's all for now.  You got more good stuff for me?  Please share! Peace!

photo by abeams (rights) // kittehs can be allies too!

30 June 2011

Preaching gently to the choir #WGF11

The following is a re-post of a comment I left earlier today on Peterson Toscano's blog. Peterson is a Quaker performance artist and activist. He grew up within the conservative evangelical church, and spent 17 years in various "ex-gay" programs, trying without success to change his sexual identity. After coming to his senses and coming out as a gay man, Peterson (who is one of the funniest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting) turned his painful history into a comedic one-man show, Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo' Halfway House - How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement! which exposes some of the suffering inflicted by that movement. When the time came for him to move on from re-living that part of his life, he set about working on self-formation as a strong and eloquent ally for transgender folk, many of whom still suffer more constant, serious oppression than their lesbian, gay, and bisexual brothers and sisters - and sometimes face discrimination and ignorance from LGB folks themselves. Among other things, Peterson began combing the Bible, together with trans* Christian friends, and found gold nuggets of story that could be interpreted - at least speculatively - in a trans*-positive way. These became Transfigurations - Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a new piece of comedic performance art. Peterson has also done a bunch of other cool stuff. He performed and spoke this past weekend at the Wild Goose Festival, excerpting from both of these works, and he rocked my world.

The post on which I commented was called What I carried into Wild Goose, and in it, Peterson confesses his frustration with Christian leaders in a conservative evangelical context, who privately sympathize with the plight of their LGBTQ sisters and brothers, but who are not willing to take the risks involved with publicly saying so. Go, read it, and while you're there, check out some more of Peterson's wisdom, witness, and humor. My comment follows:

Peterson, thanks for this. Your thoughtful, faithful honesty and courage continues to humble me. I think a related – yet not identical – problem is people like me. I’ve never been part of the conservative evangelical world. I grew up outside the Church, and I’m now a part of two churches: a middle-sized, traditional-ish Episcopal church, and a very small (30-40 adults plus kids) trans-denominational “emerging” church. Both of my church communities are very progressive, open, and welcoming, with LGBTQ folks demonstrably welcome (including in leadership positions), though neither is by any means perfect. As an individual (and, to some extent, a leader) in these communities, I have always been open and honest about my unequivocal belief in equality regardless of sexual or gender identity – but it has been far too easy for me to act as if there’s no particular need for me to do more than that. I mean “the Church”, for me (that is, the rather open and progressive communities I’m personally a part of), is doing OK, right? This boat’s not in need of rockin’. We’re all equal and welcome and loved, and all’s right in the world.

And this, while I’ve also campaigned for years for the idea that we need to think and act and connect outside our parochial little tribal worlds – that the Church is so much bigger than that. This, while I’ve been a part of a community that, despite its small size, incarnates that idea by including and celebrating folks of so many different church backgrounds – Anglicans and Methodists and Charismatic/Pentecostals and Brethren and Catholics and agnostics and Lutherans and Presbyterians and atheists and Baptists and, yes, Evangelicals coming together as one Body of Christ – not uniform, but together in community. This, while I’ve been active in Emergent Village, which in this respect (ecclesiological diversity) looks like my little church writ large. So what exactly is my excuse, living as I am within these larger, ecclesiologically diverse contexts, for thinking and acting on such a small, safe, limited scale when it comes to the place of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters? Well…er…um…it sure has been easier for me that way….

Well, brother, all I can say at this point is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve been so silent for so long. But I hear you loud and clear, and you (along with many other folks I was blessed to spend time with at the Goose) have finally spoken to me with words and witness that have managed to penetrate my thick head and heart – words and witness that the Spirit has been trying to get through to me for some time now, I believe, though I’m well-practiced at ignoring her. I’ve begun work in allowing myself to be formed as an ally. I hope I’ll be led to ways I can help. And I thank you, again, for your witness.

(And if anyone else reading this is like me – straight, cisgender, liberal, progressive, living and perhaps leading in liberal/progressive contexts, preaching gently to the choir, enjoying the safety and affirmation of that situation, and feeling OK about our place in this changing world – can I suggest that we ask ourselves, our LGBTQ friends, and the Spirit if that’s really all we’re called to at this moment in history? The Body of Christ is bigger than our little progressive ghettos, and the Church as a whole is responsible for great pain and suffering, every day. Are we being called to help do something about that? Are we listening?)

photo by celebdu (rights)

The Wild Goose is not safe #WGF11

This past weekend, I attended the Wild Goose Festival, in Shakori Hills, NC, with something like 1700 other...I dunno...misfits for Jesus? Something like that. It was "a festival of justice, spirituality, music and the arts...rooted in the Christian tradition and therefore open to all regardless of belief, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, denomination or religious affiliation." It was amazing. For four days, we camped, walked, talked, listened, sat, ate, drank, hugged, laughed, prayed, sang, danced, and wept together.

The Wild Goose is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit. She blows where she will, and (like Aslan in the Narnia books), she is not safe. I have felt her gentle breeze before, as it gently grabbed me by the ankle, turned me upside down, and banged my head repeatedly into the ground, after repeated attempts to whisper vital information into my ear and heart had proved noneffective.

I can't speak for any of my fellow Goose people, though I suspect I'm not alone. I don't really know if I went to this gathering - a gathering named for God's dynamic Spirit - expecting to come home unchanged. All I know is, that's not what happened.

I'll be a while sorting out all the ways this past weekend has affected me. I'll probably follow up this post with some more reflective posts on that topic. For right now, I'm actually using my blog (which I haven't used much, lately) for a very practical purpose.

The one thing that I feel clearly seared into my heart following my experiences at the Goose - the one thing that is prompting me to begin a process of formation leading (relatively quickly, I hope) to action - is a much-belated conviction that I have been a piss-poor ally (really, not worthy of that title at all) to my Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender sisters and brothers, despite the fact that I am a card carrying member of the institution that is doing more than any other to cause pain, suffering, and injustice for folks in those communities - that is, the Church.

I have many people to thank for this change of heart - long-time friends and folks I'd never met before this weekend. I won't try to list them all here - many of them will probably turn up in future blog posts - but I do want to mention my dear friend Rachel Swan. (Who will probably be like, "wha??" since she and I hardly talked about these issues at all this past weekend, despite spending lots of hours together and in company with others who were discussing these topics.) I want to mention Rachel, because just about all of the Spirit-leading I experienced at the Goose - in this area at least - flowed in one way or another from our friendship. Rachel, dear, thank you for being you - and thank God, too, for making you that way. :-)

In light of my experience, I am beginning an intentional process of opening myself to formation as an ally - one who actually uses his voice, risks and spends his privilege, and potentially helps make a difference in the world (and more specifically in the Church) in solidarity with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

As I begin that process, I think I'll use this blog to record resources and stepping stones I find along the path that seem helpful. I'm doing this for my own accountability, and also as a potential resource for others who might be feeling this particular call from the Wild Goose of God's Spirit.

So here's one, via Brian Gerald Murphy: a challenging talk from Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones on "6 rules for Allies". (Thanks, Brian!)

More to come, Goose willing....


I've never participated in a synchroblog before, and this post was not originally intended to be part of a synchroblog, but now it is, and I think I'm supposed to (and it's my pleasure to) link to the host of amazing folks who are also blogging about the Goose:

  • Anna Snoeyenbos – Wild Goose Festival – A Spirit of Life Revival

  • Lee Smith - Goose Bumps: Opportunities Everywhere for Offense. A Fair and Objective Review

  • Ryan Hines – 30 Years Later – “Controversy” at Wild Goose

  • Karyn Wiseman – Flying With the Goose

  • Kyla Cofer – I went to the Wild Goose Fest and came back in love

  • Brian Gerald Murphy – Born Again (Again) at Wild Goose

  • Chris Lenshyn – Chasing the Wild Goose

  • Cherie at Renaissance Garden – Wild Goose Return

  • Deborah Wise – Wild Goose Chasing

  • Custodianseed – “every day they eat boiled goose”

  • Will Norman – Back from the Wild Goose Fest

  • Martin at Exiles in NY – Greenbelt and the Wild Goose

  • Kerri at Practicing Contemplative – Waterfowl in My Life

  • Allison Leigh Lilley – Chasing the Wild Goose and Catching the Wild Goose: Thanks and First Thoughts

  • Abbie Waters – Jessica: A Fable

  • Steve Knight – Why Wild Goose Festival Was So Magical

  • Tammy Carter – Visual Acuity and Flying

  • Michelle Thorburg Hammond – I heart Jay Bakker and Peter Rollins

  • Matthew Bolz-Weber – Remembering Wild Goose

  • Paul Fromberg – Celebrating Interdependence Day

  • David Zimmerman – Wild Goose Festival: A Recap

  • Dan Brennan – U2, the Wild Goose, and Deep Freedom

  • Mike Croghan – The Wild Goose is Not Safe

  • John Martinez – The Table

  • Callid Keefe-Perry – Gatekeeping the Goose

  • Eric Elnes – The Inaugural Wild Goose Festival: Recovering Something Lost

  • Shay Kearns – The Power of a T-Shirt, Apologizing to Over the Rhine, and Public vs. Private (Part One)

  • Glen Reteif – Duck Duck Goose

  • Peterson Toscano – I’ve Been Goosed, What I Carried Into Wild Goose, and What I Blurted Out at Wild Goose

  • Seth Donovan – About More than “The Gays”

  • TSmith – What I’ll Take From Wild Goose

  • Dale Lature – Wild Goose Reflection

  • Steve Hayes – Wild Goose Chase?

  • Minnow – Grace Response

  • Christine Sine – Encounters With A Thin Space

  • Jeremy Myers – Giving Up the Wild Goose Chase

  • Robert – Thoughts On the Inaugural Wild Goose

  • Anna Woofenden – Slippery Slope Reflections

  • Wendy McCaig – Loosing The Goose

  • Joey Wahoo – Into The Wild

  • And also (unofficially) my amazing friend Rachel!

    Rachel Swan – Goosed


    photo courtesy of Kirsti Reeve, used gratefully with permission