Lynn Osterman and a Moving Moment for Minnesota

Yesterday, the senate judiciary committee of the Minnesota State Legislature approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, moving it forward to a full congressional vote, likely to take place later this spring.

Sometimes I get moved by political events, both of Obama’s inauguration’s for example. And last Tuesday, there was this one testimony from former Republican state congresswoman, Lynn Osterman, that really did a number on me.

In the few minutes of her testimony, she wept and her words were stifled. It was a plea to pass the bill, but more to the point, it was her unfolding story as a woman seeking forgiveness from families and friends that she had a cast a vote against early on in her career. Her vote for the Defense of Marriage Act was one of political expedience, and ever since, she has lived in constant regret over it.

As she explains, she is the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister and knows every Biblical argument in the Book against gay folks. Yet, she made this compelling, and simple statement- no one had ever questioned the love of her parents as being something sinful. That love was never sinful. It was beautiful.

 

Maybe this moment hit me so hard because her tone was taken in that familiar Minnesota mom jargon heard around here by the local ladies baking bars or exclaiming in Uff-da! Perhaps, it was because growing up gay, I never thought anybody felt anything for me. That no straight white middle class Minnesota Republican woman would ever stand before the world, weep on my behalf and ask for my forgiveness.

It was powerful and dripped with authentic sincerity. And, as the blogger, “Slacktivist” notes,

 

“I have never seen anyone who described their former support for marriage equality as an oppressive weight or burden that they were later joyously relieved to be rid of. I have never seen anyone weep with remorse and regret for the votes they cast or the words they once spoke in support of equal rights. I don’t recall seeing anyone moving in that direction at all.

 

Instead, what I have heard from those who remain opponents of equality are their descriptions of the discomfort and reluctance they feel from taking a position they often say they wish they didn’t “have to” take — their half-apologizing assurances that they wish they could say otherwise, but that as much as it grieves them they are bound by an authority that supersedes their personal preference, their conscience, their sense of what would be more loving.”

 

Thank you for bringing this conversation back to people Lynn, for bringing it back to me. From one Minnesotan to another, you’re amazing. From one Christian to another, you’re a saint.

 

RR

A Language Lost

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Last year at the University of Minnesota, PBS hosted a conversation between David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch.

Rauch and Blankenhorn are friends and nobody is sure why.

Rauch has long been a major player in the fight for marriage equality and Blankenhorn has been the thorn in his side, advocating for the traditional family and the mother-father parental model.

For years, these two have traversed the country while tearing into one another over their opposing beliefs. Rauch has called Blankenhorn a bigot.  Blankenhorn has called Rauch a radical.  The two were camped in polarizing places, maintaining a gridlock that would make congress blush.

 

But then something happened.

 

They grabbed coffee.

 

Through the honest hours of humanity that they spent together, a friendship was born.  Shortly after, Rauch wrote the preface for Blankenhorn’s book- a book against gay marriage. Rauch called it the best argument he’s heard yet.

The bond that blossomed between these two didn’t derive out of a change in belief (although, Blankenhorn eventually did). It came from changing the language. At the height of their mutual hostility, they experienced a crinkle of the conscience, one that begged them to be better. This epiphany awoke a newfound desire to disagree with dignity again. They had grown tired of demonizing one another, so they started an organization and co-wrote literature and connected over the ordinary in their lives.

Looking through the lens of how the real world works, this relationship is rare, if not impossible. But have we ever truly tried? Have we ever wondered whether we were simply situating ourselves in the tribes society told us to?

Let’s imagine for a second that there’s this Church function.

In attendance is George and Evelyn, an elderly couple from the rural parts of Pennsylvania. With a little grit and grace, they raised eight children on a paycheck-to-paycheck budget. They also happen to be Franklin Graham diehards and down ballot Republicans.

Across at their table sits a newlywed lesbian couple, just on the cusp of parenthood.

Through a little nudge and a proper introduction, a lay out of lives begins. The two catch a glimpse of anxiety and fret filling the young ladies faces- looks they know all too well.. And like the proud parents they are, they lean in and offer a few tricks up their sleeve. But then things get a little of hand. An hour passes and coffee is spat out of mouths during another hilarious trip down memory lane. Exhausting the stories the couples somberly reflect on how life is never what we expect it to be.

Is it possible that inside those intimate exchanges, nostalgia and naive dreams could collide and cross over… into closeness?

Call me an idealist or a dreamer, but I don’t think this is farfetched for us. Rauch and Blankenhorn did it because they reclaimed that redemptive lost language. The one that speaks to the soul, not the soldier.

The lost language beneath the wreckage of wrong worldview and cultural caricature is found in our shared humanity. Too often, instead of excavating what bonds us, what truly matters, our sharp tongues reflexively strike, injecting toxic turns that wither away whatever was growing.

But our stories disarm. In our familiarities we find ourselves unfilled and wanting more. Our differences don’t dissolve, but they become quieter and petty, unwanted interruptions of something valuable we have stumbled upon. Empathy is found in people we do not expect to find it from. Through stories of different characters, but similar sentiments a brave bond can be formed.  This is the language of lives lived.

Somewhere between Stonewall and Proposition Eight we lost sight of the stories beneath the banners. It was all about winning for us. We stroked our pride by pledging allegiance to the propaganda of our cause. Crimes were committed, to be sure, but the brush we painted the other with was too broad, too simple and completely dehumanizing. And as a consequence, we buried the language that bonds us.

If we could resurrect those refrains of common courage and struggle and hope and faith, maybe we could unearth what has been lost. Maybe we would hang on tighter to the words of Mother Teresa who said

“if we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Could what divides be overcome with what bonds us?

The Kingdom tells us yes.

RR

Doubt and Civility like Coffee and Cream

Hand Pouring Cream into Coffee Cup

This post is born from this mornings read by one of the most empathetic intellectual thinkers in America:

David Blankenhorn is the President of the Institute for American Values who has long been an advocate against same-sex marriage. He has recently changed his mind, which surprisingly, has no bearing on my positive feelings towards him. Influential gay writer and one of the first proponents of marriage equality, Andrew Sullivan, wrote,

“He is perhaps the most clearly decent, intellectually honest, non-homophobic opponent of marriage equality.”

On his blog, Blankenhorn wrote a piece that is one of the most redemptive efforts towards reconciliation. Titled Doubt, Sweet Doubt, the content surrounds the necessity of uncertainty. It is about why doubt and civility are so intertwined with one another. Why there is no reason for disagreements to become disagreeable when there is an acknowledgment of our inability to be certain. This is such a breath of fresh air in every political and theological conflict that occurs today. It is healing and harmonious. Redemptive. Reconciliation-centric. He is tackling something that we all know too well, but never discuss.

This excerpt isn’t packed with an emotional punch, he’s an intellectual after all. But follow the link at the bottom to see the video that shows the beauty of bonding despite disagreements.

I won’t steal any more of his thunder, here’s an excerpt and a link to the full post:

“But at bottom it seems to me that, for the certain person – the person who is typically confident that he or she knows the truth of the matter – civility is mostly a question of good manners, or of moral correctness, perhaps also mixed in with the strategic recognition that demonstrating civility is tactically helpful as one seeks to persuade others of the true position.  In other words, for the certain person, civility tends to be behavior that is largely (though perhaps not entirely) selfless, essentially a matter of correct conduct and good deportment.

 

But for the doubting person – the person who is typically uncertain that he or she is right – civility is still correct deportment, but it’s also far more.  For the doubting person, civility is like oxygen.  It’s personally necessary.  Why?  Because without it, I can’t get what I need.

 

What I need as a doubting person is the wisdom of the other.  I need what the other has to offer, to correct my own acknowledged noetic shortcomings and to help my own views (which I know are always partial, we see in a glass darkly) become truer views.  As a doubting person, civility is more than being nice.  Civility is part of what allows me to eat what I must eat and drink what I must drink.

 

So that’s why I say that doubt and civility go together naturally.  But if you’ll indulge me, let me say a bit more, in praise of doubt. I’m 57, and I used to know much more than I do now.  As I get older, I find that I grow in doubt, and I’m grateful for that.  Intellectually, I depend on doubt.  Doubt is my friend.  I don’t mean that I’ve stopped having beliefs, or stopped being passionate about those beliefs; it’s just that I’m more and more certain, when it comes to the free life of the mind, of the importance of uncertainty.”  (Bold Emphasis Mine)

When we acknowledge that our convictions may be incorrect, we inevitably need the relationship of the other. We need the friendship. We need empathy to explore what life looks like in the other’s shoes. We require their company.

In discussing his relationship with marriage equality advocate Jonathan Rauch, especially while he was still opposed to gay marriage, he speaks to how intellectuals dismiss friendships and experiences as subjective, irrelevant and unreliable in the formation of convictions. But, the error that Blankenhorn points out is that when we sit in our studies drawing out theories of belief about the other’s positions, we build “barriers to belief”. In other words, we become creators of caricatures.

If you want to watch more of this reconciliation in color, here’s a video of his sit down with Jonathan Rauch, on Krista Tippet’s website, On Being.

RR

Unsung Heroes: Hagar’s Story

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For the life of me I can’t remember learning this story in Sunday School. I remember being bored by tales of the Old Testament, but never inspired, excited or moved. Maybe it was because after you hear the story of Christ everything else feels like commentary. A way to fill up the pages.

But even my college Bible class seemed to gloss over it. They focused so much on the leading man and woman that they never paid tribute to the girl that went through hell.

Everyone knows the chronicle of Abraham and Sarah. The mother and father of Israel. We know how God showed Abraham the stars and said his descendants will be greater in number. We know about Sarah laughing when she finally became pregnant in her old age, a reminder of a God that surprises. And we know about, Hagar, but that’s more or less commentary.

When I first heard about Hagar, I was told she was more or less a mistake in Abraham and Sarah’s past. That she was an example that although Abe and Sarah were chosen to lead this generation, they too were imperfect folks.

Abraham was a hero of faith to be sure, let’s not forget God’s heartbreaking command to slaughter Isaac. Sarah is less easy to eulogize, so I’m not going to.

God gave Sarah and Abraham everything under the sun, except for a son. Despite the promise of a long lineage, Sarah still couldn’t conceive. And when God reassured them he would, they didn’t trust him. No, Sarah didn’t trust Him. Instead she recruits her slave Hagar for the job.

But calling this a “job” would imply that a choice was involved. There wasn’t. It was written in the law that Hagar was Sarah’s property and tasks like this weren’t too out of the ordinary.

True to the meaning of her name, Sarah is a princess. The haughty kind, like Victoria Grayson (Revenge reference). One case-in-point. God pays a visit to Abraham and tells him again that Sarah’s going to get pregnant! Eavesdropping on the conversation, Sarah snickers at the suggestion. Obviously, God hears it (He’s God) and calls her out. Sarah lies. In a simple, yet perfect response, God says, “yes you did; you laughed.”(Genesis 18: 15) I envision a lot of head tilting and brow furrowing.

Hagar was an Egyptian. A slave to Sarah while Abraham and her stayed in Pharoah’s palace. When the two got the boot out of Egypt, Hagar was packed up like luggage and carted along with them. Away from everyone and everything she ever knew.

She was a minority in every sense of the word. Her gender, race, nationality and social status put her in the bottom of the barrel. Nothing more than a means to an end. Something to be traded, used and discarded. Born to be little so her master could be great, her existence nothing more than a sad roll of the dice.

Approaching Abraham with her proposition, Sarah actually says, “Maybe I can get a family from her.” (Genesis 16:1-2)

In the aftermath of conception, Hagar understandably feels a sea change in her role. Carrying another’s child has to have a psychological impact. For the first time since Egypt, she felt a part of a family. Her family. Little by little she was rising out of the refuse.

But her changing heart wasn’t lost on Sarah. She noticed. Seeing the foggy morality with any violent action against her husband’s concubine, she tells Abraham she’s gonna teach her a thing or two and God will judge her if she’s wrong. To which Abraham responded with, “your maid is your business.” (Genesis 16:6) A verbal declaration of cleansed hands.

And thus begins a cycle of domestic abuse. Sarah terrorized Hagar for her uppity attitude. With an iron fist, she intended to make her fall in line. Under this oppression, with no soul to count on, Hagar does the only thing anyone could.

She runs.

The pregnant slave girl found herself beside a spring in the desert, collapsing in tears. The geographical route she took has led many to speculate she was headed back home to Egypt, the only place she ever belonged. This life was a train wreck and about to get even worse. The baby within her womb was soon to be separated from her forever. She was to be stripped of any acknowledgement as the child’s mother- wiped completely from his memory. And if that wasn’t devastating enough, she had to hand him over to her predatory abuser.

Hagar’s heart was not driven by self-preservation; it was sacrificial love. Love for her boy.

And then someone finds her.

In an incredible twist of this epic tale, an “Angel of the Lord” (commonly understood to mean God in the scriptures) shows up. Joining her beside the spring, He gives dignity to her story and becomes a confidant for her to speak of her turmoil. Her story. A life as someone else’s thing.

But whatever hope she had of escaping this life vanished when God told her to return to Sarah. Maybe Hagar wasn’t really surprised. Always the means to the end. How could He see a survivor in the skin of a slave?

Yet, God wasn’t finished. He continued to tell her of a wonderful road ahead. That this was only the beginning of it. That the hand she had been dealt would one day win. A dream Hagar probably never allowed herself to hold on to was suddenly promised. “I’m going to give you a big family. Children past counting.” (Genesis 16:9-12). He tells her to name her son Ishmael, which means God has seen your humiliation. God had seen her distress. Her life as a doormat.

And in a response that could only be said through sobbing eyes and trembling lips, Hagar cries,

“You’re the God that sees me!” (Genesis 16:13).

Imagine the significance of this moment. Think about the whole of Hagar’s life. The context she arose from gave her a gross depiction of God. In her eyes- God belonged to Sarah and Abraham. He was confined to their altars and private exchanges. They were the chosen ones. Sarah was the chosen one. All of them except her. Hagar was just the tablecloth they talked over.

Imagine for a moment how Sarah symbolized God to her. He was someone who would never accept her. Never find favor in her. Never love her. Never see her. Never notice her.

And all it took was a trip to the desert. An evacuation of the oppressive system she was a slave to. A liberation from her life as a doormat to find that God did notice. That God loved her. That people like Sarah make for poor missionaries and doormats like Hagar can be card-carrying disciples.

Heading home, her heart beating with humility, Hagar became a doormat once again, but with a “soon enough” story to hold on to. After a decade of thankless service, Sarah kicks her to the curb. Rationale? Ishmael teased Isaac. Heartbroken, at his wife’s heartless response, Abraham grieves to God. God responds with promises of protection for the two. Abraham had to let them go.

Both were banished and left to wander into the wilderness. It had been several years since Hagar and Ishmael’s first venture into the shadow lands but this time, no spring was there to save them. In another devastating chapter of the story, Hagar places her dehydrated son beneath the shade of a tree and walks away, unable to watch him die. And in a parallel moment of desperation, God shows up again.

“When the water was gone, she left the child under a shrub and went off, fifty yards or so. She said, “I can’t watch my son die.” As she sat, she broke into sobs.

 

17-18 Meanwhile, God heard the boy crying. The angel of God called from Heaven to Hagar, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy and knows the fix he’s in. Up now; go get the boy. Hold him tight. I’m going to make of him a great nation.”

 

19 Just then God opened her eyes. She looked. She saw a well of water. She went to it and filled her canteen and gave the boy a long, cool drink.

20-21 God was on the boy’s side as he grew up. He lived out in the desert and became a skilled archer. He lived in the Paran wilderness. And his mother got him a wife from Egypt.” (Genesis 21: 14-21)

With a word of encouragement and a well built by a miracle, Hagar and Ishmael are saved.

~

What stood out in this story is not that the Bible edits out the inconvenient. Clearly, the source here is the scripture. What stands out is how this story is told. Or rather not told. It taught me that taking to task the tellers of the Word is an imperative placed upon us all. When we do, we find it is not simply for instruction, but for empathy and inspiration. I was never told this story. I was never told the Eunuch’s story. Or the story of Cornelius in Acts.

And yet at the same time, should we really be surprised? Church history has traditionally trashed Hagar as an example of the sinful. Of the fallen. And within the same breath, they say Sarah is an example of the heavenly. Augustine compares Hagar to the city of the Earth and Sarah the city of Heaven. Aquinas separates the children of Sarah and Hagar into the “redeemed” and the “unredeemed”. Even Paul, in the very same Holy text, suggests the same assertions. So what do we make of it? Racism? Sexism in a male-dominated history? I’m still sorting it out, but it baffles me.

What I do know is that there is a whole reservoir of runaways like Hagar in both the Old and the New Testament. And yet, we still remain dumfounded by the rap sheet of Christ’s Chosen twelve. When people looked past the fisherman and tax collector, Christ saw them. Outer perfection is of no interest to our God, he seeks the humble hearts. The meek and weak. Those that are cast out, he brings back in. Lepers, Samaritans, slave girls, and gentiles. Our God does not carry a guest list!

And the best part about this is that he meets them where they are. Where we are. He is a seeker, a searcher, the God that sees. That is the God we are dealing with. One who dwells amongst us. One who doesn’t define us the way people do. He values us because we are his. The imperfect rubric of the world is of no relation to him. He does the opposite of conventional wisdom, touching lepers and washing feet. He honors the unusual and the unattractive. He cracks open a corridor for the exiled to sneak in and shows us that only the humble are truly heroic.

RR

A Year Ago Today

So a year ago today, at 10 PM, in my parents’ bed, I came out of the closet.

It’s funny how fast time has flown since then.

On this day, I can’t help but think about my life before. Today makes me remember all of the miserable mornings that paralyzed me beneath the sheets. It brings me back to a time when the only prayer I could muster up was for strength to walk out under the sun. I am pulled back to the world of my thoughts where I played both patient and therapist.

that cold and cruel closet…

Up and down the walls were scrawled the maddening lies that kept me.

“You are disgusting” one said.

“No one has to know” said another.

In big bold letters, “take it to the grave”

“If you love them, you’ll save them from this” printed on the doormat.

And above the door hung the words “Emergency Exit”, glowing in red.

For sake of space, I won’t delve into all of the details of my departure, I’ve written about that in previous posts. But I will say, that night was one of the most loving experiences I have ever had.

After I made the “great leap” to my folks, I was met with shock, tears and then the gift of unconditional love. The single most important development after I came out was the fact that my folks still loved me. Just me. The same way they always had.

Looking back now it all seems so ridiculous to think that they wouldn’t, but when you’re in the dark, you can’t see truth. The only thing I could see was that they loved the boy they raised. The little boy they watched grow up.

But what was unseen was unlovable,
whispered the writing on the wall.

Their declaration by way of words and kisses and hugs, made love truly real for me. For the FIRST TIME, I believed that maybe God extended his unconditional love to me too.

I have spent the last twelve months sharing the secret I had buried for the last decade. There have been days when the weight of it all has left me undone. But those days, echoes of my time in the closet, have become few and far between. The intellectual and spiritual tug-of-war still rages on inside my mind. But the war is now more or less food for thought as I am able to focus on other areas of my life. Feeling the exposure of my shame still stings a bit, but it isn’t deadly like it was a year and a day ago.

Today is my anniversary. It is the day I celebrate my own emancipation proclamation. It is marked in my memory as the day I finally found freedom.

And I’m letting freedom ring..

I have been on the receiving end of so much blessing this past year. Christ once said, if someone asks you to walk a mile with them, walk two. Those in my corner have bent over backwards to try to better understand, stood by my side through all of my breakdowns and refused to ever let me give up. Christ said two miles, they’ve gone two thousand.

I don’t stand in the shadow of this past year, this past year is my own shadow. And it makes me look so tall, and to be honest, I feel really tall today. I cannot stop smiling! Everything good that has happened has taken me by complete surprise. I never thought I would be here. Never thought this life was really possible.

But the reality of all of it is that I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for Christ’s furious pursuit of my soul. He has taken me through fire and he didn’t let me get burned. It is his light that shines ahead and casts the shadow of my testimony behind me.

I stand on the cusp of another year with more excitement than I expected to have. Over and over I have fretted about the future and how it would look for me. Checking the calendar today, I can see how wrong I was. I’m still here, I’m still standing and I’m still wrestling with my savior. I look forward to so many things in these next twelve months, but honestly, the answers to my questions about my sexuality are not one of them. What I look forward to is more questions and more throw downs with God. No more do I worry about my life in five or ten or thirty years because the reality is, I don’t know if I’ll have tomorrow, or even the next ten minutes. In year two, I plan to accept every sunrise I am given.
And at this moment- here are some memories I am holding on to.

~a few of the best moments of the past twelve months~

It was only a few weeks after I came out to my parents that I told my best friend. Her immediate reaction was a gasp, but, without missing a beat, she leaned in and said, “nothing’s changed. I can’t explain it but you look no different to me than you did a minute ago.” She is one of the most life-giving people I have ever known. It’s pure providence that this friend entered into my story. Perhaps she was called for “such a time as this”. In any case, she has carried me. She doesn’t know how to judge or reject. She doesn’t know how to not care. She can’t leave a conversation with me without pulling me close and whispering in my ear, “I am so proud of you.” She has, more often than not, been the answer to my prayers.

Months later my brother spoke to me about a book he had picked up, one that stepped directly into the conversation regarding reconciling homosexuality and faith. The book, Love is an Orientation, made more of an impact on me than most things in my journey. It offered me the grace and peace I needed. It assured me that there were others out there, other gay Christians, trying to figure out how to approach this area of their lives in light of the Good News. It told me it was okay to be unsure.

My mom and I took a trip to Chicago to visit the Marin Foundation in search of the one thing we both desperately needed: Empathy. There is no greater feeling than empathy. And as we sat around the tables with others, it was intoxicating. Being able to stare down the lie of being alone with the faces of fellow travelers provided an inexpressible peace that I couldn’t possibly explain in 10,000 posts. Taking the time to sit with my peers, my fellow runaways, old, young, men, women, gay and straight, seemed to rip open my heart in the best possible way. I asked them questions, they responded with their testimonies. I asked, “how do I know who to tell?” they shared stories, some of rejection but most with good surprises. They told me to look for people of character and trustworthiness. One said that I had to consider the responsibility I had to tell my story, for the sake of my LGBT brothers and sisters. All of them encouraged me to pray my heart out to Christ.

Perhaps what struck me most that night was how proud I was of my mom. As people emptied out their baggage, she moved into the mess. With pen and pad in hand, she jotted down notes and questions. Immediately following a story of a woman afraid to tell her family, she choked up, looked her in the eye, and said, “I just want you to know that they’re going to love you. Just knowing you now, I know they will.” There was another mom there too. She saw the grace and perspective that my mom was raining on the room and turned to her to ask questions that only a mom would ask. It was weird, and she’ll think its weird that I write this, but she seemed more comfortable in this crowd than any I had seen her in before. But that really shouldn’t surprise me, because that’s her heart. And I’m not just talking about the heart of a mother, but an indelible mark of her maker. Her conversations with the others in that room reflected Christ’s compassion in it’s truest form. The grace that spilled out in her words and tears flowed down to the deepest parts of their lives. I love this woman!

A month or so ago I began writing this blog. It has been a way for me to share my stories and engage with fellow travelers in the blogging community without having to make the “great leap.” I’m not sure if remaining here, out to some and closeted to others, is the healthiest way to go, but I still don’t feel ready. I’ve been affirmed by many of you that it’s okay to not be.

For those that remain in the dark, I want this space, this blog, to be an open place for you to feel freedom. For you to hear my stories, and those of others, and gain courage to keep moving forward. You don’t have to be out to ask advice from me, or from others on the many other blogs out there. I realize that for many of you, coming out is actually a dangerous thing depending upon your circumstances, I hope that you will reach out to the many resources being offered out there. For those that are sitting in the Christian circle afraid to speak up, realize that the armageddon that you’re anticipating is nothing more than a funhouse mirror reflecting your worst fears. More than anything, dark forces at work want you to remain silent, for this to eat away at you, and for you to be convinced that your life will be over once you’re out. Don’t buy it. Be brave and strong, and understand that despite the fact that this will probably be the hardest thing you ever do, it will also be one of the best things.

It really does get better my friends.

To those that are in my inner circle, that know who I am and have walked with me through all of this, you have truly been Christ to me. In one way or another, each one of you have saved my life.

To all those that have written to me (I’m thinking of you Julie! Kate! Survivor Girl! Mike! Jordan! Aiden!) I have been moved more than you could possibly know. I hope to keep these friendships alive and thriving!

All of you- I love you.

RR

Context is not a Paper Trail

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The work day begins and I’m already exhausted. A good night’s sleep just doesn’t cut it anymore. They file in, take their seats, trade complaints over the homework they never did, and I just sit and stare in amazement. Maybe it has something to do with being removed from the identity of a student or perhaps this is a view of life post-coming of age. But from my vantage point, it is hard to watch young men and women throw their lives away on a daily basis.

With one hand I cup my mug of coffee, with the other I squeeze the stress ball.

Most mornings, these two are all that keep me going.

I work with teenagers cut from the coarsest cloth. They are stubborn, hard-hearted and all around pain in the ass two-year olds. Everyday, it seems, I watch them approach the schoolhouse door, laughing in their little cohorts, innocently roughhousing, only to transform into something sinister as they part from the outside world.

But what they lack in manners they make up for in shields. Through their eyes- teachers are out to get their students and their friends have their best interests at heart. There is more than a poverty of income in today’s low-income kids. There is a poverty of trust.

The other day one of our worst was well, at his worst. He was pulling kids out of class, shouting slurs into his cell phone, and came close to damaging school property. After each incident I would ask him what made him tick, or more specifically, what the hell did the world owe him? He would respond, every time, with a smirk and an, “everyone here knows I’m a pain in the ass, get used it.”

Sip the coffee.

Squeeze the ball.

Try again.

I pursued him, peppering him with questions, but trying not to be interrogatory. That didn’t work so I presented the problem to members of the staff. I wanted to know why he wasn’t in some form of therapy to harness in his bad behavior and why the teachers were letting him act like an animal rather than demand a little discipline. What they went on to tell me made my jaw drop.

A few weeks ago, this kid had gotten arrested, not sure what for exactly, but something happened in the trailer park where he lives to land him in jail for the night. The community expressed their concern in one of the cruelest ways possible. They told his family that they had to choose whether to pick up and leave together or kick their son to the curb. And what should have been an easy answer ended up being the cause of this kid’s spiral into desperation. His own folks threw him out.

It wasn’t easy to digest this. I guess it never should be. But suddenly, this kid was not a pain in the ass, the world was.

The following morning I returned with a resolve to pay more attention to his needs and to what he wasn’t saying. Standing in the hallway, sipping on my coffee, squeezing my stress ball, I waited for the teens to come piling through the door in no more than 5 minutes. These five minutes were mine to muster up motivation. Mine to remember why I was doing what I was doing.

Hearing the handle turn, I looked up, and instead of a storm of students, I saw a little woman shuffling towards me . She was carrying a large number of envelopes.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“I’m ______’s mom, here’s his mail. Um, I was also wondering how he’s doing. Do you know?”

I cringed as I told her how he had been acting up and seemed distracted from his studies. She then asked where he was living. I told her that as far as I knew he was staying in his car. She left. I cried.

What I really wanted to ask her was- how dare you? Who the hell told you that you would be a good parent? By my definition you are negligent and an abuser of one of the finest privileges mankind has- tell me, how do you sleep at night?

This mother intentionally drove to her son’s school to arrive early enough where she wouldn’t have to see him to drop off his mail and make a brief inquiry into what his homeless life looked like. I don’t know if she was more ashamed of herself or her son.

What I have been trying to do on this page is elevate the importance of stories. Of people’s histories. Of life behind the facebook feed, drug habits and criminal records. The experiences of  roofless nights and ruthless days, of heartbreaking betrayals and brutal beat downs. What I call the complex context. The parts that aren’t put down in paper. Those throbbing places in between the lines that we never see until we ask.

Our records, failures, and achievements reflect a fun house image of our real lives. She may have been a mother on paper, but she was no mother. He may have been a criminal and rebel-rouser, but that didn’t mean he lacked a conscience. His story, her story, are both ones of free will, but also cause and effect. I once mistook him for a troll, but now knowing his complex context- I can’t see anything but a kid who got a dealt a shitty hand of cards.

I wonder what I would see if I saw her hand?

More than anything what the past several days have shown me is my continual need for perspective. The outlook of others makes me remember my blessings, and also the tendency of my fists to close at begging hands. Catching a glimpse of life through another’s eyes reminds me of the importance of storytelling. Why we all need it. Why we need the mess and complexity to understand empathy. Why empathy is Kingdom Come. Why when I cried for the kid I felt more human than I have in a long time. Those tears were a way to worship. But after worship comes the word, and after the word comes the work. And the work may be the trickiest task of all.

Here’s to seeing.

Here’s to hearing.

Here’s to trying.

RR

Photo Credit

“I thought I walked”

SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU ARE PLANNING ON SEEING THE FILM, LAWLESS, DON’T READ.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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“Jack, we’re survivors, we control the fear, without the fear, we are as good as dead.”

Of all the Wild West films I have seen in my life, the latest flick by the Weinstein brothers, Lawless, may have just made it to the top of my list. It follows the real life story of the three Bondurant brothers, famous moonshiners in the period of prohibition. In all of their dangerous exploits with the shadiest of characters, they always survive unscathed. Their hometown held the eldest of the brothers, Forrest, to be someone or something… different. Only in whispers would they confess their belief in his God-like indestructibility. And it’s not surprising! Forrest is played by Tom Hardy (remember Bane), a man built like an ox with fast reflexes and a deep deep voice. Brave men trembled when they crossed his path.

But one day he meets his match, in the slim and decked out, chilling Charley Rakes, special agent from Chicago.

Rakes had heard of the Bondurant brothers’ success and demanded a cut in their earnings. If they didn’t, then they would pay dearly.

Standing outside his bar, Forrest stood inches away from Rakes, stared deep into his beady little eyes, and whispered low,

 “We don’t lay down for nobody.”

And so starts the incredible, and unnecessarily gruesome, war between Rakes and the Bondurants.

In the most dire moment of the movie, I watched, through the slits between my fingers, Forrest stepping out of his bar into the cold dark night. Things had been violent between the two camps lately; Rakes had killed many of the Bondurants allies and the Bondurants still resolved to stand their ground. Walking towards his vehicle, he suddenly stops in his tracks. Out of the hood of his car, he sees a few stray wires hanging out on the side. Naively, he bends down and drums his finger on his chin. At this point I am whisper-screaming “ruunnnn Forrrressst ruuuunnnnn!” Then in a flash, he is jumped by two of Charley’s men. One stands him up, grips his hair to hold back his head, as the other brandishes a knife and begins to saw open a huge gaping holein Forrest’s neck. He falls to ground, hands clenched on the severed skin as blood gushes out (too much? I thought so too.)

As if this scene isn’t enough to turn over your stomach, his girlfriend Maggie, arrives at the bar a bit later looking for him. Not noticing his writhing body beside his car, she enters the dim saloon and calls out his name. She thinks she sees him as a figure emerges from the shadows. She smiles. Until he is actually they and a hand extends out holding bloody knife. As they grab her the scene fades to black, and we are led to believe she is raped. (Thankfully, they do not show this part.)

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Forrest survives. In the following scenes, he lies in a hospital bed with a stitched up neck resembling a choker necklace and we hear the doctor say, “he just walked in!”. The hospital was 20 miles away from the bar. As expected, folks in Franklin no longer whispered about his invincibility, they had their proof.

As the movie comes to a close, we find Forrest in his bedroom, frantically suiting up for one final showdown with Rakes. Maggie rushes into the room, crying, pleading for Forrest to stay with her. She tells him that she cannot watch him die. Not again.

Forrest’s ears prick up.

Not again?

 

Yes, not again. It was Maggie who found him outside, after she was raped by the two men, and it was Maggie who held her hand over his throat while she drove him to the hospital.

Taken aback, Forrest utters:

“I thought I walked.”

What the Bondurant brothers expose in this film is our absurd belief in our independence and invincibility. We have all these titles we take upon ourselves. Surnames like survivor, superman, and success story. But the reality is that behind these names is a community that gave us the boost. The God that gave us the boost.

And when we choose to move into our own islands, believing that we built this and that, we neglect Christ’s call to carry one another’s burdens. Our independence is completely antithetical to the gospel story. It actively stunts Kingdom Come. Today, It is so paradoxical, yet so prevalent, for Christians to boast in their own accomplishments as they look back at “how far they’ve come”. When they reread their personal history, they remember the things they learned, but they forget those that taught them. The pain that was felt clouds out the cushion that was provided. In essence, because of our worst days, we feel entitled to a title. We believe that we are the sole survivors.

But the fact remains, your success story, my journey, your climb, might be nothing more than imaginary.

If you really look back, thoroughly, you may be surprised to see the loved ones that prayed for you in secret, cried for you behind closed doors, supported you, loved you, and drove twenty miles with one hand on your artery and the other on the wheel.

When I saw this movie, it became clear that Maggie was the unsung hero of story. The Christ-figure if you will. She set aside her life, her rape, her pain in order to care for her love on life support. Even when Forrest was in the middle of his miraculous recovery, she didn’t say a word about what happened, her focus was Forrest.

Thinking about your own rise out of the rubble, do you often forget those that threw you the rope? The unsung heroes that patiently put off homework, their job, dinner, down time, so they could be a rock you could rely on, a provider of perspective, the holder of the Kleenex, the back rubber?

What I hope to grasp, and I hope all of you will grasp, is that we are here because of those between the lines. Those that placed all their bets on us even after we folded.

We are not the survivors

We are the rescued

The Maggie in my life (not in a romantic sense mind you) is my very best friend.

Every time I hit rock bottom she dried my tears with her encouraging words. Even though she was in the midst of her own dilemmas, she chose to bring all of herself- all of her energy, grace, know how, and love- and pull me out of my spiral. Even though she couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to be gay and Christian, she still showed me how hard she was trying. One time, she even said:

“Every time I leave our conversations, I pray for God to give me your pain. To let me feel what you feel.”

That is the definition of empathy folks. That is carrying one another’s burdens. That is walking two miles when you’re asked to walk one.

This one is for the unsung heroes.

Recognize your rescuers today.

RR

 

*Photo Credit

Killing Time With a Vote

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On the morning commute that I travel every day, I pass a sign that reads:

Marriage: One Man + One Woman.

Vote Yes!

I put pressure on the gas.

Then I pass another. And another. And another.

Immediately my mind goes to the water cooler conversations these folks must take part in. I hear “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” and “can you imagine being attracted to guys? How gross!” I see them sitting at home, sending out emails about Sodomy. I see people that really don’t like or love me.

And this may not be the case. There are hateful bigots who say hateful things and do hateful things and love hateful things. But there are also good and Godly people who simply believe in traditional marriage. We should always give those with the yard signs the benefit of the doubt.

Yet it’s still hard. It’s hard because every time I see a sign, read a tweet or watch a commercial in favor of the amendment, I feel like I just got cut from the team. Words, whether written or spoken, can rip at the core of me. When the faith that I so strongly believe in elevates one characteristic about myself as its default punching bag, it makes me feel like damaged goods.

The vote has hurt me more than I expected it to.

Now, before you write me off as just another marriage equality supporter, keep in mind a few things.

1) I am gay.

2) I am a devout Christian.

3) I don’t know if God does or does not bless same-sex relationships.

The journey I am on will likely be a long one. Quite honestly, most of the time it feels like I’m hollering over a crowded room to Jesus, trying to read his lips. Daily, I wrestle with the words of scripture. I read and pray and talk to others and I STILL cannot say definitively that I know where I stand. Or where God does.

So much has been learned and so much let go. And on this road, I was once close to giving up the search.

Thank God I didn’t.

There was a night when the world seemed to be throwing its full weight upon me. I tossed and turned and after several hours, I still couldn’t sleep. Moments before I had hit the pillow, I caught the evening news playing a story about a pastor in North Carolina. He was calling for my imprisonment in a concentration camp. Just a couple days before I watched another pastor say my parents should have beaten me.

I got up. I walked outside, and I wept.

Hard.

Looking skyward, staring at the stars, I asked, ”How could these men speak for You? Could they possibly be right? Are you even there?”

I buried my face in my palms.

And then, I heard it.

In my heart of hearts, five words consumed my being.

“I am not like them.”

It took a moment for me to grasp what had been spoken. And then it sunk in. Every mold I had made of the distant Christ came crumbling down.

The wind hit my face, and I knew he was there. An owl hooted, and I knew he was singing. A star shot across the sky, and I knew he was dancing.

He was real.

For the first time, he was real for me.

He told me he wasn’t like them, and now I know to never mistake the will of the majority with the will of God.

Even though there is definite daylight between hateful pastors and principled supporters of traditional marriage, between the good and the Godly and the hateful and heartless. Even though I know not to mistake the two, why do the signs and the sermons hurt me all the same?

Why do I feel like those people would be ashamed to call me their son?

The vote itself feels like a punch in the gut. It feels threatening.

It confirms the fears of my folks about the world I am entering.

It makes me think the darkness behind the closet door is still safer than the darkness on the outside.

What Minnesotans should know is that a vote for this amendment doesn’t just hurt same-sex couples. It hurts single gay people. It hurts celibate gay people. I am even willing to bet it hurts “ex-gay” people. It hurts children that are told their family is not a family. It hurts people with LGBT friends. It hurts teachers of LGBT students. It hurts seniors with LGBT caretakers. It hurts bosses of LGBT employees. It hurts straight couples looking for a church home to love. It hurts gay couples looking for a church to love them.

And if the yeas have it, they may stop searching.

Don’t mistake my words as a full-throated endorsement of same-sex marriage. Like I said, I still wrestle with this. But when a group of leaders in my home state decide to hold a public roasting of a particular demographic, I cannot stand idly by. This is not a vote for or against gay marriage. If the nays win out, gay marriage won’t be legal on November 7th.

The only thing that will happen is the defense of dialogue. Christians may have to ask themselves what it means to be a citizen, a Christ-follower, and a loving neighbor. LGBT folks may have to engage with and learn from people that hold a different perspective. Christians may stop calling LGBT people special sinners and gay folks may stop calling Christians Biblical bigots.

A cease-fire is possible here.

But it can only happen if you vote for more time.

If you vote for dialogue.

If you vote for reconciliation.

If you vote to take that morning commute with me.

If you vote no.,

RR

 

*Photo Credit

Walking like a Runaway

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As a Christian sexual minority, I have found that the most powerful way to move forward in life is to share myself with others. Sharing all of my past, especially the painful parts. When the road I was traveling was nothing more than a treadmill. When I didn’t feel safe until I heard the close of the bedroom door and felt the covering of blankets. When the journey took me to the heart of the junkyard.

Making these moments transparent is how we truly find liberation. Liberation from shame and self-neglect and liberation from the lies that pursue us on a daily basis. In the weeks following my coming out, my Aunt and Uncle asked me out for appetizers and beer. They wanted to hear my story. They wanted to be let in. The testimony I gave them was the authentic product of my acrimony. Simply put: fate cheated me of life. My white picket fence future was disappearing in the distance. The God that made (or allowed) me to be gay was asking much more than he should. And when the shit inevitably hit the fan, my world would descend into a catwalk through gossiping circles. My friends would be long gone and I would be forgotten.

They didn’t take the bait to break apart my hypothetical future with happy verses nor did they offer their condolences or call me courageous. They just sat with me and appreciated my vulnerability. Refusing to interject their own personal feelings was their way of honoring my story. And I felt honored.

On the ride back, my Aunt, for the first time ever, let me in on her own adventure as an outcast. I remember her, continually clearing her throat and reining in tears. Here’s a paraphrase of what she told me:

“You know, I don’t in any way try to compare my story with yours. They are vastly different and come with their own set of complications. But I have felt the burn of the scarlet letter on my chest and heard voices hush when I entered a room. I’ve been there, maybe not where you are, but I’ve been there.

When we roll up our sleeves and trade tales of our bruises, we deny the lie that we’re alone. My Aunt’s life has not been a cake walk, but she has found the clearing in the woods. Thing is, she chose to not emphasize that part, and I think it is because she understood that I didn’t need to see the photo finish. She saw it is better to pass peace through the touching of scars than flashing the before and after shots.

Sometimes, its just enough to know that our fellow runaways have already trampled before us. It’s enough to know that the thorns in their soles cleared the way for thin-skinned soldiers like me.

Walking till the gravel turns to grass,

RR