I wrote yesterday about smugness and elitism as a weird sub-quirk of progressive Christian internet culture, and I’ve been thinking a lot about language as a key factor in this.
The other night, I had a chat with a friend of mine with whom I’ve got a unique relationship; we alternately treasure and infuriate one another. We’re both smart, overly educated, loud, passionate people. And we love one another very much. But man, are we good at pissing each other off about the small things, and stimulating one another to new places of thought (which, let’s face it, often looks like pissing one another off). What started as a chat about the nature of class and free refills on soft drinks (really) took a turn when he used the term “white trash” to describe one of the individuals in an anecdote from his day. And it’s a term that gets my Irish up; I went down a conversational rabbit hole in which I posited that “white trash” is an inherently racially-incendiary term, because it implies that white people are inherently better than everyone else, until we choose to devalue ourselves as “trash” and thus denigrating a white person to a place of lower status. Basically, a piece of casually inappropriate terminology from him activated a whole bunch of jargon-y speak from me, when “dude, think about what you just said” would’ve done the job.
What we say matters; likewise, what we default to, when we’re not thinking about what we’re saying, matters just as much, if not more. Jargon is what we substitute for actual, intentional thought; it’s shorthand for when we don’t care enough to invest in being understood. Modern Reject has a great piece that hits on this.
I work for the Episcopal Church; that said, I’m also REALLY NEW to the Church, and a lot of highly-specified language gets thrown around every day. “Catechumenate.” That one trips me up every time. And then we get to the essential definitions of mission and discipleship–which we really can’t function without–and we find ourselves almost unable to say, in plain speech, what these terms mean. We get tripped up by the necessities of our own terminology.
What it comes down to: we have to be aware of the history and tripwires in our casual speech; we have to be aware of when phrasing or terminology becomes automatic or lazy or stale; we have to be careful of using terminology that becomes hard to simplify or define, even as it becomes ubiquitous.
I took a break for a while because I had no interest in the Kim Davis quagmire that seems to have overtaken every erg of contemporary Christian thought. I’m calling an end to that, so I’m back.
I’m coming up on a big anniversary this Sunday, and I’ll write more about it then; I also plan on writing daily or close to daily from there on out (we’ll see how that goes).
Meanwhile, I find myself soaking in the odd jargon of being an Episcopalian, and the general–I wish there was a better word for this–smugness of a certain type of Christian on the internet. More than occasionally, I come across a piece of writing that earns accolades from people I respect, but I just don’t get it. Here’s an example. “Early Warning Signs of Adult-Onset Calvinism.” I get the intellectual leanings of the piece. I also get why and when it’s trying to be funny. But it’s also just lazy bunk, through and through. There’s something off-putting about this sort of writing and its proliferation, as if it’s meant to show off a cheeky sort of elitism about our faith. It makes me sad and it pisses me off.
Maybe if it were funnier, I’d let it go, but it’s not. The point of all of this is that optimism has to be cool again, and this flies in the face of that.
Yeah, I laughed. Yeah, this is on point. But the big shot across the bow of this amidst the chuckles is: there’s still a ton of group-speak and specialized language and weird academia, even as we aim for progressiveness. We’re shooting for openness and accessibility, but maybe we’re trading an older set of difficult language for a newer, somehow cheaper, and just as inscrutable set.
What else is getting in the way of us actually communicating with each other and the world at large?
I love “Full House.” It’s been a problem for about two decades now. And I know I’m not alone; how many of us can recount the adventures of the Tanner family by heart? Remember when Stephanie drove the car into the kitchen? Or when DJ developed an eating disorder via a steady diet of ice on a stick? Or when Pappou died? Formative moments, each and every one. I won’t even talk about the finale, which involved a horse and an accident and memory loss.
Okay. Maybe we watch that real quick.
Anyway, all of this ties back into a bizarre and surprisingly familial attachment to the show’s stars; we all know what happened to the Olsens, of course, but here I’m talking about Candace Cameron, who played DJ. Now she’s known as Candace Cameron Bure, which I keep misreading as Candace Bergen, which causes all sorts of problems, and I am so far off topic right now.
So. On The View this week, Candace Cameron Bure (she of former child stardom and current outspoken fundamentalist views) and Raven Simone (she of former child stardom and current angry baby bird haircut) got into it about same-sex marriage.
What really grabbed me about this conversation is that Raven clearly looks at a business denying services for a same-sex marriage as discrimination and/or bigotry, and Candace invokes the first amendment; she also cites that this business has no problem serving LGBT customers, but specifically refused to cater a lesbian wedding.
And here’s where I’m sort of surprised: I pretty much side with Candace on this one.
I have plenty of friends with deep theological underpinnings that allow them to love me deeply, and for us to be good friends to one another, and yet–they also view marriage as a sacrament and designed as between a man and a woman. I can understand this and also be hurt by this, because of who I am as a gay man and an Episcopalian; I also have to accept that it has very little to do with me, and a whole lot to do with a set of deeply-ingrained traditions and beliefs.
We don’t change hearts and minds by vehemently decrying situations like this and espousing contempt for hatred in others’ hearts, because really, this isn’t about hatred, or even discrimination–it’s about change.
I’ve received two lessons on this front recently; the first came in a pastoral letter from my bishop, The Right Reverend William (Chip) Stokes, about what happened at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. One of the most talked-about changes at this convention is The Episcopal Church’s adoption of same-sex marriage rites–and the ability for dioceses and priests to conscientiously object to these rites.
I rejoice that marriage equality is now the law of the land and authorized by our church. Many of our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community have been waiting a long time for this. Countless numbers have lived lives of faithful commitment and love, longing to have their relationships legally recognized and accepted by society and blessed by the church. That day is now here and for that I give thanks. Even as I rejoice, however, I recognize that there are those who in good conscience and deep faithfulness do not agree with or support the decisions made in Salt Lake City. It should be noted, Canon I.18 as amended states: “It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.” This does not represent a change. It has always been the canonical prerogative of any clergy person to refuse to perform a marriage for any reason, including reasons of conscience. This continues to be true. No clergy person will be punished or sanctioned for exercising his or her conscience in this matter. I do direct, however, that, in the event an individual clergy person in the Diocese of Jersey is approached by a same-sex couple who wishes to be married, if that clergy person feels that he or she cannot in good conscience do this, he or she is to refer the couple to a clergy colleague within the diocese who can support the couple in their desire to be married in the church.
What Bishop Stokes does here, in a way that is sensitive and nuanced, is admit that change takes time. And I agree with him. My LGBTQ brothers and sisters, we’ve won some hard-fought battles in the last several weeks. And there are people on the other side of the conversation who are hurting, and scrambling, and feeling like they’ve lost. Well, you know what? Their kids and grandkids are going to play with our kids and grandkids. Because the next step for us is to not cry bigotry every time a bakery or pizza parlor refuses to put two grooms on top of a cake or pie–it’s to live our lives loudly and proudly and calmly, using these rights we’ve affirmed to be the best Americans and Christians we can. And we’ll be on the right side of history; we’ll win out, because when you get to know us, and when we’re living our lives next door to you, we’re pretty lovable.
That’s our next mission: live our lives and create change through the simple advocacy of being good neighbors and citizens. I mentioned Bishop Stokes as one of two recent lessons; the other is my grandmother, who, at 92, is an active member of The Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, MA. I have memories as a kid and young teen of my grandmother making curious and difficult comments about homosexuals; she was raised in southern Virginia in the 1930s, and the marks of that upbringing occasionally popped out amidst amazing Saturday morning breakfasts featuring the best blueberry pancakes on the east coast. I learned to shrug it off, and danced around the topic of my sexual orientation for much of my twenties as I assumed it would be a sore spot with someone I loved dearly.
Boy, was I dumb and wrong on that one; several years ago, The Parish of the Epiphany called a new priest, The Reverend Thomas James Brown. Father Thomas has a partner–The Rev. Thomas N. Mousin of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlestown, MA.
Two episcopal priests named Thomas, committed and married to one another, came into my grandmother’s life, and now their some of her dearest friends. She has dinner with “the boys” all the time, and cares for them in a way that is surprising and delightful and moving. And she firmly believes in their love and right to be married.
That’s the lesson from my grandmother: if, in her nineties, the demonstrated love between two decent men helped her accept the sanctity and validity of same-sex marriage, then, well, there’s hope for all of us.
So, Candace and the objecting bakery: I hear you. I understand that you’re not quite ready for this yet. For the moment, there are plenty of bakeries and celebrities that are. But I’m not going to call you bigots and beat you in the ground. I’m going to be warm and happy and loving and fabulous, and eventually, you’re going to come around to this.
Maybe that’s more than a week. It feels like eleven and a half years, it’s been so chock-full of stuff. A lot can change in a week.
On Friday, June 26, my gay brothers and sisters had our right to proclaim and honor our love for one another sanctified by the highest order in the land.
On Wednesday, July 1, my church, The Episcopal Church, voted to offer a marriage rite for us, so that when I find someone foolish enough to consider marrying me, we may do it proudly in the church I’ve come to love.
Have faith. Speak faithfully. Love unapologetically. Remember that delays are not denials. And love always wins in the end.
It must really stink to be on the opposing side of love. It’s like that team that plays the Globetrotters. No chance.
It’s important for me to start that way, because personally, something big happened in the middle of that; The Guardian published a piece by me, on converting to Christianity in my early thirties–as a gay, open-minded, reasonably liberal guy who is trying his hardest to reconcile that big C-word with the other parts of himself. It got a bit of a response–from my friends, from my colleagues, from strangers–and if you want to both laugh and cry, check out the comments on the article.
This is a big part of my life–my faith and my sexual orientation. The former is brand-spanking-new (I was baptized and confirmed in October 2014), and the latter I’ve had some time to get used to (gay since…well, 1982/birth, most likely, but out since 1999).
Here is where I’m going to talk about these and other aspects of my life, and how they all bang against one another like angry and articulate pinballs. Sometimes, my writing elsewhere will be informed by and inform this work; I’m hoping to write more for The Guardian and other publications.
Like I said, it’s been a big week-plus, and there’s a lot to say and do and talk about and bounce off.
We haven’t even mentioned what happened this morning with The Huffington Post, which was a roller coaster ride of YEAH-no!-YES-WOMPWOMP-hey!-AWWWWW.