All posts by NewGuyattheTable

Comics: My First Church.

The mess of comics as evangelical anti-LGBT propaganda has reared its fanged, pop-culture swaddled head this week.

I’m mad about this for two reasons.

I say that, before I became an Episcopalian, that theater was my first church. This is not quite true. Theater was my second church.

Comics. Comics were my first church.

I like stories. I think that’s no small part of what we love about church, too–that’s what led me into comics.  I was four, and my dad handed me a Green Arrow comic bought at a deli. I’m not a Green Arrow guy–but I was hooked. Fast-forward ten years to my first part-time job at a comic book store, where I dove deep into the world of comics beyond superheroes, and read the work of Neil Gaiman, took in and outgrew the stories of Alan Moore, and then settled into a deep love for Strangers in Paradise.

A friend recommended this comic to me because I wanted something non-superhero, and this fit the bill. It was the story of three friends in love with each other, with evocative, adventuresome art. I fell in, picking up a new issue every month it was published, right on through to the end of the book ten years later.

I re-read the entire series during my month in the hospital last year, and as with anything we fall in love with as teenagers, our adult lives color our perceptions differently. One of the three main characters, David, is in love with Katchoo, a rough-and-tumble beautiful woman with a past. During a confrontation between the two characters in an early issue, David reveals, casually, that he’s a Christian. And Katchoo, through furrowed brow, snarls at him: “You’re a Christian?” This free-spirited artistic woman, our everybody-loves-her protagonist, spits that word out like it’s the new C-word. It’s an instant source of anger and mistrust. It devalues David in her eyes. He is devious at best, weak at worst. And as a reader, as a teenager, I felt the same. It made me like him less, because of the horrific cultural context of what I perceived, as a kid, as modern Christianity.

And then something funny happened: I won’t spoil it, but David’s arc in the book is one of redemption, one of walking the walk and talking the talk, and of allowing his actions and love to speak for him. His faith is mentioned again later by other characters, but is exhibited by him solely in his behaviors and deeds. Of the three main characters, David is the one I really ended up connecting with–which hurt like Hell in the long run.

Gang, you need to read this book.

I’ll talk more about faith and comics later this week, but it was a nice surprise to find, in something I fell in love with two decades ago, a seed of something really whole and open and positive about the faith I came to love later in life.

Comics can be great. They can teach us amazing things about ourselves, which is one of the high marks of art. Strangers in Paradise is proof of this.

Culture, Comandeered

Yesterday, George Takei brought to attention a whole new series of anti-gay propaganda in comic book form, created by a hyper-conservative evangelical sect. It attempts to appear couched and nuanced, but it’s not. This is hate, packaged in an attractive and palatable form.

And of course, Christianity is cited in the above article as the source of this hate. “Why do they have to label Christians like this?” a friend asked this morning.

Well, the dirty truth of it is that those of us who want more from our faith than hatred are getting our butts kicked by louder, more hateful voices, who are willing to fight dirtier and better with marketing and the adoption of cultural tropes and trends.

The time is long behind us when simply being good Christians was enough of an example to quell this sort of disastrous rhetoric.

We have to get better at this game, and soon. I won’t let my faith be used this way. I won’t let my comics be used this way either.

Get Loud.

I have a new piece in The Guardian today. About everything this last year, the health, the ignorance, the lessons, the amputations, all of it.

It’s the most difficult piece of writing I’ve yet to produce. I’m happy to have this out there and I hope it makes a difference for someone.

Our vulnerabilities make us powerful; we’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. Truth turns our wounds into lessons. And then we must find ways to amplify those lessons.

Thanks to The Guardian-US and Kira Goldenberg for believing in me for this.

Hope, Nurtured and Negated.

Christians have a complicated relationship with expectations. And the ambiguity of it–and the wielding of that ambiguity as a defense when goals are not achieved and responsibilities are shirked–drives me a little nuts. I like outcomes tied to inputs–if you do x, you record y. If you spend an amount on an initiative, you should have to justify the expenses in data packaged as either results or lessons.

I feel strongly about the above. But that’s a me thing, and I’ll cop to that; figuring out how to manage expectations and personal achievements and disappointments is a big part of both forgiveness and walking a path towards happiness. I get all of that. In the wake of last month’s heinousness, full of murder and blame and agendas and misogyny and everything else unholy that bruises us in body and spirit, I find myself fussy and agitated. We keep praying. And then we recess back to our relaxed states, assured somehow that maybe God has heard us with enough alacrity this time to not poke extra holes into a whole host of innocent people, when the next opportunity arises.

Gang, I keep saying it: that part is up to us.

Dashed expectations, if managed improperly, lead to resentment. That’s the worst kind of self-abuse: when you keep expecting better of someone who knows this, and continues to not meet those expectations–and then you stick around. That’s not on them. And that’s a harmful kind of love, for both of you. If your gang or team doesn’t meet your expectations, you can adjust the expectations…or you can adjust your team. There’s no harm in that, so long as you don’t bring anger along with you as you swap out your squad for colleagues who meet your high expectations and in turn, challenge you to meet theirs. It’s like @GaryVee says: Stop Hanging Around With People Who Don’t Want to Win. I’d swap “Win” out for “nuture you” or “empower you” or “push you” or a variant of growth, but it syncs up nicely.

In expecting us to try fiercely to love and be better, Jesus has expectations of us; he also knows we’re going to fail greatly. And it’s in understanding that circle in which hope stays alive. We work hard and try to love deeply and understand; that’s where hope comes from, the physical activity of trying, madly, with energy and spirit, to connect in new and better ways. That’s how we nurture it. We kill it when we assume that hope is easy, or just a term, or a faucet that we can turn on and off on a whim.

Belief takes effort, especially in light of the harrowing onslaught of events that work hard to dash it. We have to work equally hard to keep it going.

Compassion as a Fire Hose.

I want black men to not be shot while pulled over. I want cops not to be murdered by snipers during nonviolent protests. I want young men of color to survive playing with friends and growing up and traveling to and from school.

I would make a sizable bet that most of us wish fervently for a world where the above statements are truths and not wishes.

The hair trigger attached to violence in our current climate threatens to undo us all. This is why escalation is so laughably, horrifically commonplace. After the shootings in Dallas yesterday, I had a colleague praise the shooters for “eye for an eye shit.” That this was somehow a necessary and acceptable next step, that cops needed to understand that innocent black men dying would lead to us taking up arms against innocent law enforcement officers. It was a horrendous sentiment, and how it was expressed and crafted will undoubtedly lead to consequences.

The only way out of this is to open up further, be yet kinder to each other, listen harder, and take action to move the ball forward in ways that don’t involve adding extra holes to one another. The only way.

I can’t afford to not be an optimist. We can’t afford to not trade in compassion instead of barbs and bullets. Compassion must be an unrelenting stream from each of us. The inverse is too horrible to reckon. We turn the weapons on ourselves in the exact moments we point them at others.

When those snipers took aim at those cops, they were not of the protesters present. They had a vested interest in continuing a conversation in which bloodshed is the only language spoken.

And we are so much better than that. Resist the urge to hurt. Access your instincts to listen and love. Everything else tumbles forward from there.

 

 

Our White Privilege to Remain Silent Is Over.

I got pulled over yesterday morning for leaving my handicap hangtag on my mirror. I bit my tongue and said some four-letter words and took some deep breaths. And I got off with a warning. I was worried about fines and points and being late to work. At no point did I fear for my safety or life.

I soak in white privilege every day. I acknowledge this. I acknowledge that I benefit from it. I acknowledge that I’m troubled by this.

Black Lives Matter has galvanized and transformed social consciousness and the use of social media. Let’s go further and be real, however; the point of this movement is that the establishment and wielders of power should be the ones thinking more and living in consideration of the disenfranchised and oppressed, and actively working to balance the scales and right these wrongs. It’s sin. Racism is sin, in its overt and subtle expressions.

The onus is not on black people to coach and coddle white people into accepting our outright responsibility for this, nor should they or anyone be worried about our comfort levels or the possibilities of our feelings being hurt as this revolution continues. I believe there are many white people out there who want to provoke further change and are ready for it and willing to help. I hope I am honestly one of them. I get supremely pissed off when it feels like all we can do in the wake of yesterday’s two shootings is to share memes and old photographs and snide jokes and maybe, maybe, pray as hard as we can. I’m sick of most of the above and tired of feeling relegated to just praying.

As with LGBTQ rights and change, I believe many allies want badly to speak out, but don’t, out of a fear of being miscontextualized or misspeaking. Then there are those like me, who don’t know exactly what to do. I worry that leads us to sigh and do nothing, and continue to reinforce structural and pronounced racism in this country via our consciously-chosen silence as unconscious support.

Power only shifts meaningfully when the establishment opts to identify an imbalance and power is relinquished to end that imbalance. We can’t leave it up to Black Lives Matter or any movement comprised of or for peoples of color, to generate a treatise on how us white people need to change or behave. We have to lead it and want it. We’ve done a profoundly lacking job of creating a path to liberation and equality on our own.

I want to do something. I’m starting here and here. I want to learn more and mobilize. I want to be more than an armchair ally.

More to come.

Amplification Nation.

Mass shootings bring out the very worst in groupthink and the strangulation of discourse.

The internet becomes a maelstrom of (even more) terrible things for a set amount of time.

I’m tired of people yelling at one another about action and inaction, and showing off prophectic allergies to action on their own parts.

I’m tired of that, frankly, in myself, as well.

Mostly, I’m searching for a quiet place and method from which to act.

I am not great at finding this right now.

Pride, Before a Fall and After.

We are over a day from this horror.

Two days ago, some of us–or maybe, I’m just speaking for me–had been able to escape the context of the dangers of our lives. In my first sermon a few weeks ago, I proudly extolled the wonders of growing up a happy, well-adjusted, suburban gay kid, as if hatred and bigotry were things I’d somehow dodged. It was an illusion. Pride does not mean we are safe; it means we step out and stand out to connect better with one another, and we choose to be brave so that someday, we might not have a need for this.

I always thought I was impervious to shame slung my way about my sexual orientation.

And then, last night, I watched a man who taught me theater at age 14, who still teaches art to teens, say, publicly, via social media, “Do not trust a muslim.”

I engaged him with a “really?” What followed was a few moments of debate followed by his proclaiming me a “liberal ass hole (his spacing, which led me to respond with an image) faggot” who “didn’t get that these people wanted [me] dead.”

I expected it to hurt. All I felt instead was deep sadness and disappointment.

So, that was fun. And today, I want to do more. Some moments, I’m stuck. Some, I do better.

The vigils cascade forward. We pray. It isn’t enough. We squabble on social media. We are wasting time.

What happens next is essential. It is definitive. We write our legislators; it is not enough. The Onion is pretty spot-on about this.

We assess the statements from some of our allies who want this to be about anything other than it was: an attack on us. Clickhole takes the stuffing out of that.

We make it clear that this was a murder by math: hatred, crazed or otherwise, plus a weapon designed for vivisection by bullet, equals 49 people dead in less time than it takes to listen to a hit single. Gawker spells out the glorious precision, the elegant horror, of the AR-15.

We already feel it–the tug from rusted-out powers that be, the pull to pivot ourselves in opposition to our Muslim brothers and sisters. To respond with hate rather than love.

No, We disarm hatred through listening. We will not be manipulated. This video existed before this conversation. It is essential:

We learn. We share information. We do not back down. We acknowledge that there are those who have a vested interest in us casting aspersions and blame. We do not give in to that. We link hands. We show up. We shout loudly. We fight hard. We love harder.

And we do. not. stop.

 

When Prayer is Vital and Not Nearly Enough.

I spent the entirety of church this morning in the murk of grief and rage, chewing the inside of my cheek raw, thinking about what happened last night.

Today, I await calls from my friends in Orlando, hoping desperately to hear they are safe.

I am praying constantly, for peace, for understanding, for those hurt and killed, for families, for the community, for an end to these stories. And I’m feeling an emptiness in it, a uselessness in it. I struggle with that.

And I hit a counterpoint with myself: right before Communion this morning, I found myself talking to God, asking him why prayers sent twenty-four hours ago didn’t assuage this; why a chance accident involving the firing pin of the gun involved wasn’t able to render this violence impotent, or that the gunman didn’t trip on a sewer grate and break both arms yesterday, or any number of what we might call “God Moments” that affect us each day and offer us grace in near-misses instead of head-on tragedies.

And then I caught myself; we do this. God doesn’t do this. We do this. He is not the root of our suffering, but is present with us in it.

And I took a deep breath. And I wanted and needed to do more than pray. We are called to do more than pray. It’s a start, and it’s valuable, but by itself it will not create a better situation tomorrow.

I talked several days ago about how silence about LGBTQ in the faith community is just as bad as vitriol. It provides a null space into which evil and the capacity to devalue and denounce an entire group of people are allowed to grow. And let’s call that for what it is: evil. Making another person feel less-than because his or her compass rose of love points in a slightly different direction than yours is evil. There is no way that this brand of reckless, blameful behavior comes from God

It’s already started, the social media dark debate about whether this attack was about Islamic extremism or a lack of gun control. Stop. That doesn’t solve anything.

Do something. Stop debating. Do something.

Here’s what I’m telling myself to do:

First, educate yourself about gun violence in this country, and ways to positively invoke change. This book changed how I thought about this.

Second, give blood when you can and when needed. Gay men in this country can’t, unless they pronounce celibacy. That’s gross and wrong. Bank blood to aid in times like this.

Third, understand the major strides and terrible climate in this country for the LGBTQ community, and find a way to fight back. It isn’t about bathrooms, the way it wasn’t about counter space fifty years ago.

Fourth, work harder to make our places of worship homes of inclusivity and God’s love, in real and meaningful ways. Until and unless we do that, we are creating spaces where hate is allowed to grow via silence or declaration. And I refuse to be a part of that.

Fifth, I’m going to love harder. Orlando was last night; there is no guarantee against any of us being in a public place when and where this might happen again.

So I will act. I hope we all will. And we pray, too, because God will hear us. But we have to hear Him, as well, and feel the call to do everything we can to make this a world that looks and feels more like His goals and image.

What Accessibility Is and Isn’t.

Before I worked in church communications, I spent over 10 years in arts management and marketing. At one point, I had a boss who would say, in regards to arts marketing: “I get to lie for a living.” It still bugs me, for two reasons: first, the idea of marketers as liars is about as relevant and toxic as leeches in medicine, thanks in no small part to the work of Seth Godin. Second, the idea that you have to trick someone into enjoying and experiencing whatever it is you have to offer, from the arts to God and everything in between, scares and enrages me, because it implies that you think you’re smarter than the people who might engage with what you’re promoting–and here’s the biggie: it means you don’t believe in what you’re promoting. It means you believe, on some level, that your profession, your vocation, your voice, how you spend your days, is inauthentic. And you’re pretending to be okay with that.

All of this is prelude. I’ll talk a lot more about authenticity and these moments later, I’m sure. This has me spooked because it’s lip service.

I got a call yesterday morning from an old friend who worked in not-for-profit arts with me several years ago; she’s relatively new to New Jersey, and recently diagnosed with a debilitating disease. She wrestles with some of the same issues that I do, in that she doesn’t often look ill but is struggling with fatigue and physical limitations. She was enraged; she was at a conference at Princeton University, hosted by a state-funded arts organization, and found herself guided to parking over a half-mile from the conference center, with a shuttle bus that took 30-45 minutes to the site designated as her only option besides walking. No other options of access were advertised; she felt shamed and excluded by this situation.

She called me because we’d talked last week about some of my struggles with access to churches in both my job and desire to worship. This was a struggle which we’d recently commiserated on together; her rage yesterday was fueled because she’d specifically decided to attend the conference because of a panel on accessibility for patrons of differing abilities to art and arts events; we both found the irony searing and anger-inducing. One of the event organizers informed me later that handicap-accessible parking was available for attendees who requested it; while that’s good to know, it still requires a breach of dignity to make an inquiry about the issue. No access options were made clear in any of the conference advertising or materials. The sadness of this comes in that Princeton has an awesome microsite built just for this; it was an oversight. The kind of oversight that people who organize these events and sometimes run these structures make because they don’t need these resources, and aren’t trained to anticipate or sensitize themselves to these needs.

Which brings us to churches. And my concerns about this. Since I got sick last November, I’ve visited 32 Episcopal churches, both for work and for personal worship; nine of these churches met current ADA standards. At an event earlier this year, I found myself paired with a parishioner using a walker for mobility; we’d met at a service the year before, and decided to spend the day together as buddies. The church we found ourselves in had an elevator (this is good) but to get to the room for the event, we had to take the elevator to the lowest level and walk up three steps. I could do this; it was significantly harder for her. It took physical assistance from me and another friend for her to make it up these steps to get to the event.

At another church, without ramps or accessible bathrooms, I watched a number of apologetic, friendly men lay down a rickety temporary ramp on the steps to assist a man in a wheelchair up the steps and into the sanctuary. It was a process that involved some manhandling and pushing and a tremendous amount of embarrassment. I spent three months in a wheelchair; I thought hard about how this would’ve affected me. If I’d been through that experience, I would’ve let the shame and otherness I’d experienced in that moment get the best of me, and I wouldn’t have come back to that church. No matter the efforts of the folks who helped the gentleman in, the unwelcoming lack of access is built into the bones of the building. And there’s nothing being done about that.

Being authentic and open and true about this issue is the only way we can solve it; none of us can afford to “lie for a living” when it comes to respecting the dignity of all human beings, as our baptismal covenant calls us to do. We have to actually do this, instead of looking enough like we’re doing this to feel better about ourselves. We have to lean into this issue now; as we age, as our bodies find ways to teach us lessons in their spectacular malfunctions, all of us will be drawn into this context in one form or another. We have to be aware of how dehumanizing and alienating these situations can be, and actively fight against them.

The resources are out there. We’re built for compassion and connection. We can do this.