On Vulnerability, Competency, Usefulness, Brokenness, and Strength.

I could and should start by busting out some Brené Brown. That’s a good twenty minutes of fascination and making us all feel better. She’s great.

I had a phone meeting today with an out-of-state colleague about some technological comparisons in our respective areas. It went well until the last few moments.

“Can I offer some advice?”

I could hear the deep inhale on the other end.

“Okay.”

“Everything that you’ve been through…you’re really comfortable talking about it.”

“I do talk about it a lot. It’s sort of what’s going on…”

“You ever worry that people are defining you by it? Maybe you should put a cap on it on social media. You don’t want to be the amputee, or diabetes guy, or something like that. You’re so much smarter and better than that.”

Pleasantries continued. I said goodbye. I went out to see Purple Rain. And I moped.

Every day, when I assess the missing parts of my foot, or I’m just not feeling well, or I get that look from my family and coworkers and colleague that assesses my illness and fragility first and my talent and dignity second–I think about this.

And the thing is, I’m not going to shut up about what’s happened to me, or what I’ve learned, or what’s about to happen. Editing our truths and feelings for a sense of complacency or an illusion of wholeness is profoundly destructive to both ourselves and who we love and interact with. If we’re in the process of telling our stories for the purposes of lessons and knowledge and strength, we have nothing to fear. I don’t see myself as a victim, and I hope the people I encounter don’t see me that way, either. Then again, I need to accept I don’t have much control over that.

I firmly believe we minister from the places we’re wounded worst; this ordeal has given me strength. Leonard Cohen and Rumi hit it on the head: “Everything’s got a crack in it; that’s how the light gets in.”

I’m not going to accept that I am permanently branded as less useful by a few missing chunks of skin and bone. I’m not Superman, either. Striving towards perfection is boring and impossible. Knowledge and betterness from the events that should’ve broken me? That’s interesting. That’s useful.

At least, I like to think that’s so.

The Essential Nature of Empathy and How the Internet Screws It Up.

If you ever want to feel bad about yourself, hang out in the comments section of any website.

After sitting amidst the maelstrom of pieces on Prince’s death yesterday, I clicked on the comments section of a piece on NJ.com. I’m not going to link to it. It bummed me out in its racist, queerphobic litany. So I closed my browser and went on with my day.

When my Guardian piece was published last June, I soared over how it seemed to resonate with people and how often it was shared…and then I read the 1000+ comments on both the site and on Facebook. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t Christian enough. I wasn’t gay enough. Everyone had a prickly opinion on me and my faith. I thought I was tough enough to take it. I was and I wasn’t; going back and reading some of these today really hurts.

Two days ago, the brilliant, open-hearted writer Stephanie Wittels Wachs published an amazing and stirring piece on the dangers of the internet and how it deadens empathy, framed around the death of her brother, television personality and writer Harris Wittels. I wept a little when I read this, and its companion piece from almost two years ago about Harris’s death.

She nails it:

Maybe people are just shitty. Or maybe it’s the internet’s fault. Or maybe people are just shitty and it’s the internet’s fault.

Regardless, it’s time to resurrect the Golden Rule. Let’s all take a breath, shake it off, and declare a do-over. Let’s start listening to each other, especially when we disagree. Let’s value our differences instead of vilifying each other for them. Let’s be inclusive and kind. Let’s be compassionate and empathetic to the plights of others. Let’s be human beings. Because we’re never going to get anywhere if we continue to treat each other like garbage.

A wise man who I loved very much once said: “Let’s stop finding a new witch of the week and burning them at the stake. We are all horrible and wonderful and figuring it out.”

It’s so easy to roboticize our personalities and those of others on the internet; I read those comments on my piece and I get my Irish up, ready to say unconscionable things to people who might feel comfortable calling me a faggot and worse from the comfort of their laptops, wherever they may be. And sometimes, those comments are deleted, and sometimes they aren’t. I can’t control that. But I can control the context and level of response and adherence to the Golden Rule, if I so choose.

So, let’s be better. That’s the root of the root and the bud of the bud of all of this.

Purple Reign.

Prince died today. A lot of us are torn up about it. As am I.

Prince’s turn to faith became a bit of a punchline in the last few years; he was openly and unapologetically a Jehovah’s Witness. Side note: if you try googling “Prince and Faith” you’ll get many fan sites for Broadway star Faith Prince, which is not what I was looking for, but I welcomed nonetheless.

Anyway.

He was raised Seventh-Day Adventist, and converted to Jehovah’s Witness in 2001–apparently, he was spotted going door-to-door in 2003 in Minneapolis, distributing copies of The Watchtower.  And there’s no shortage of commentary and criticism that has trouble reconciling the guy who wrote “Dirty Minds” with this part of his life.

Breaking the mold is sort of the point; there is no such thing as the archetypal follower of Jesus. And Prince put that out there.

I think the most fascinating exploration of Prince and his faith comes in Kevin Smith’s story of what happened in a week spent at Paisley Park filming a documentary. His fannish admiration of Dogma is pretty cool, as is the stuff he found in there that the director didn’t entirely intend to plant. There’s more to the story, but the interesting parts start there.

The way this story is told, and indeed, how Prince talks about God and Jesus, really speaks to how the Gospels are presented–four perspectives, some radically different from one another, to allow for discourse and shading and contrast. We live in the controversy of differing interpretations; that’s a big part of our story.

Give it a play; we love and will miss you, Prince.

Persecution and Victimhood are Different Things, Gang.

The bogus and creative reclassification of Christianity as a persecuted body on the run in America is goofy, and wrong, and infuriating, and absurd. This isn’t debatable, as far as I’m concerned.

For those of us who might’ve missed SNL this week: click play.

This is a spot-on riff on the trailer for “God’s Not Dead 2,” which, in its glib tone and bizarre sense of confidence, comes off as a parody all its own…but it’s not. And Pat Boone is now leading a rallying cry that SNL’s parody is offensive to everybody: Jews, Christians, homosexuals…yes, Pat Boone is calling out a perceived slight to the gay community. That is pretty much the elusive unicorn of mock outrage, right there.

I’m sick of outrage culture, that every self-ascribed categorization is subject to a sense of righteous indignation and bullied victimhood. As George Carlin put it: either everything is funny, or nothing is.

If our beliefs aren’t strong enough to stand against satire and parody of their exaggerated, most-questionable aspects–well, that’s a problem with the belief structure, not the comedy at hand.

…You know, “God’s Not Dead 2” went into wide release on April 1. Sometimes, the jokes just write themselves.

Six Months Later.

So, I took a hiatus.

The last six months have included eight surgeries and a total of seven weeks in the hospital. The long and short of it is that a diabetic infection set in to both my feet; I lost much of my right foot and three toes. If I’d dawdled any further, as is my custom, I would’ve lost my leg or very likely my life.

But that’s not how this story goes, should we end it sometime around here.

Today is my first day back in the office following two weeks of medical leave after a skin graft. My relationship to God has changed; my perception as someone or something new has also, largely, changed.

Cynicism is a gross thing. I’m trying to scrub myself of it. It has little use when it comes to prayer, self-perception, and forward motion. I know this.

I’m still relearning how to walk. Today is the first day in which I can legitimately say I’m not in pain. That’s a span of October 20 to April 18.

I worry I’m less funny than I used to be; God gives me many things, but I’m bereft of good humor and humor in general today. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to laugh at what happened to me, and I’m coming up extremely short today.

That will change.

I’ve returned here to document this process, and to continue talking about my status as new in my relationship with God, and the peculiar and infuriating and glorious moments that honor and color that.

So, here’s to day one, all over again. Down a few parts, but attempting, as best I can, to be new again.

Anniversaries (1 and 15)

There really aren’t any coincidences.

On October 11, 2000, National Coming Out Day, I came out to my freshman floor at TCNJ. Slowly, half-jokingly, without much confidence…but I did it. I’d come out to a few folks on the floor beforehand. and I’d been out to a few friends in high school,  but this was my first real step into owning this as a part of myself worth too much to hide.

On October 11, 2014, National Coming Out Day, I was baptized and confirmed at Grace-St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mercerville, NJ, as part of a “two-fer” ceremony, in which my baptism was the sidecar to my amazing priest’s Celebration of New Ministry. It was one of the scariest and most exhilarating days of my life.

My sexual orientation and my faith are huge keystones of my identity; they’re not the only ones, to be sure, but they are absolutely giant parts of my perspective and, in turn, how I’m perceived these days. And that’s not an accident. My profession, my vocation, my gig with The Guardian…it all circles back to these points.

And of course, I’m going to write about this more in the future. I’m so grateful that I have no problem these days living boldly into these parts of my life. I wish and want that for everyone; the parts of us that make us special and weird and different and noteworthy really start to suck if we hide them under a bushel.

So, I plaintively say, for all of us: Don’t. Celebrate the weird, within you, without you. Let it come out. And tell that story.

Sara Ramirez does this way better than I do, in song:

The Dangers of Casual Terminology.

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.

Why Smug Christian Navelgazing Pisses Me Off.

 

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.

Poop Progressive Christians Say.

I’ll just leave this here.

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?

Unpopular Views: Wedding Cakes, Same Sex Marriage, and How We’re Supposed to Behave.

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.

He writes:

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.

Love wins. Especially when love is fabulous.