The Sin of Sexualization

I’ve written before about my thoughts and feelings around dress codes and the way they are unfairly enforced against girls and are rooted in patriarchy and misogyny. I was thrilled when Seattle Public Schools announced they were abolishing most of the dress code guidelines which had previously focused almost exclusively on what the girls were wearing.

This week, we have a news story blowing up about a female swimmer disqualified from her race because her school-provided suit did not cover enough of her butt. I’m a USA Swimming Official. I have a competitive swimmer. You think I don’t have things to say about this?

This post, however is about why fighting against this matters. Fighting against this kind of discrimination (which local parents feel has elements of racial as well as gender bias) is necessary because it addresses a sin (yup, I went there) in our society that is so pervasive many don’t even realize they are doing it. I’m talking about the sin of sexualization. Sexualization is focusing on a person only as their sexual nature, ignoring the fullness of their humanity; effectively robbing them of their sacred worth.

The reason why we have to focus on the damages of sexualization is precisely because of how indoctrinated it is, even among women. I hear it frequently at the pool regarding girls swimsuits. Swimsuits are made to be tight. They are meant to reduce the friction of water across the body. But I think the most significant way to analyze the impact sexualization has on young women is to not talk about girls at all. Let’s talk about the boys.

Many male swim suits can be measured in INCHES of fabric. Very little of any competitive male swimmer body is covered by anything. Many males wear “jammer” suits that extend down to their knees, but by the time they are racing in high school or at upper level meets, about half of men (seems to change from year) wear small race suits like these:

This picture of Olympian Ryan Lochte shows how small race suits can get.
This picture captures how thin the fabric is, and that it’s reinforced across the pubic area.

Coverage isn’t the only discrepancy. Like girls’ suits, they are intended to compress. In the photo of Olympian Ryan Lochte above, the suits dig into the flesh at both waist and legs. They strap tightly across the butt and just as tightly across their penis and testicles. The fabric is thin enough to be see-through on the legs, but has a double-layer across the pubic area. The nature of what can be seen through these suits is one of the reasons USA Swimming bans all cameras and cellphone use behind the starting blocks and in locker rooms. But no one, anywhere, ever says a word about these suits being inappropriate or disqualifies the men wearing them.

Which is not surprising because our society has not conditioned us to sexualize men, adult or youth. To see only body parts and sexual gratification instead of the the totality of his humanity. We don’t experience advertising that only shows a guy’s “package”, forcing our gaze there. We don’t have kids clothing designers intentionally cutting pants to augment the crotch on boy’s Tuffskins. Parents don’t have to worry about if the outfits they buy at Target will “cover enough” of their boy’s body to meet most school dress codes. And even if you encounter advertising or movies that *do* focus on male anatomy or present men in a sexual way, society *still* regards that as positive. We don’t regard male bodies and male private parts as anything other than worthy of pride for the implied strength and virility.

At the end of the day for this story, we are really talking about why this swimmer was punished for something she cannot help. Her suit was given to her by her school. The suits are meant to be worn tight. And her body is just a body.  The flesh on the butt is the same as it is on the thigh and back. The only thing that makes that flesh “sexual” or “obscene” is our cultural objectification of the area and the fact that we objectify women’s body parts while also shaming them for having them.

There was a time when women couldn’t expose their ankles because that was too “sexy.” We don’t care if women expose them now. We changed. And we can change this by one simple thing: Stop looking at women, no matter their age, as sex objects! Stop parsing out pieces of the female body as the loci of male sexual pleasure while disregarding the whole woman. Stop defining a woman’s value, rightfulness, goodness, appropriateness…essentially her humanity,  based on what her body makes *you* think about.

This is true for men. It’s true for women. It’s true for parents. It’s true for teachers, cops, sports officials, directors, photographers, pretty much everyone. We must stand against clothing discrimination in all forms, even if the clothing makes you personally uncomfortable. Because this issue is not about one high school girl and how the swim suit fit her body. It’s about the fact that seeing a few inches of her bottom mattered more than the fact that she is a powerful, athletic, human being who won her race.

No Lies at 2am

My mom worked the night shift as an ER nurse while I was growing up. She used to tell stories of the absolutely crazy stuff that happens in a big city ER in the middle of the night. One of the axioms she shared that I still carry with me is, “There are no lies at 2am.” Even as a child, I understood that the events lived in the deepest darkness are also the most real, most raw, most human. When I worked overnight shifts as a hospital chaplain, I sat with a woman who had been abused by her mother all her life. As we watched her mother’s body shut down and die, I watched as Truth poured out of every second of that encounter and as I crawled back into my bunk at 0330, those words echoed again: “There are no lies at 2am.”

In our current world, I’ve started to feel as though 2am lasts all day. The stories that keep flooding our news, Facebook pages, twitter feeds, and tumblrs are full of people sharing their stories, or exposing the lies that have been wrought for far too long.

This past week we have encountered the brutal truth that education may not be the great equalizer we have been taught on both the national stage by the college admissions scandal and at the local level, a story from last fall exposing the huge monetary disparities in Seattle Public Schools, revealing that money is still the most prevalent form of redlining, even in “liberal” Seattle.

We have also again been confronted by the evil of white supremacy and the bitter rampages of gun violence. And we have witnessed the best in people and the worst in people as Christian white folk strain credulity to avoid owning our racist past while people of color and people of faith grieve yet again.

The hardest part of living all day at 2am is that you know it’s possible to be overwhelmed by the darkness. That when the world presents itself as just a little too real, we want to turn it off. A friend posted to her FB page after word of the murder of Islamic worshipers in New Zealand hit as we woke up, “Don’t you dare look away.”

That’s the challenge of 2am. Because all of us want to go to sleep and wake up when it’s all OK again. What we must do is learn to lean on one another. To keep facing the truth, keep loving ourselves and each other, and yes, stay woke. God stands closest to us in the dark. Jesus weeps hardest at 2am. The space between the divine and the human is thinnest when Truth crackles in the air like static. It’s a space worth inhabiting and we don’t need to fear. God is with us.

My good opinion, once lost….

“My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” ~Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

This line from Jane Austin’s classic novel has always stuck with me. And not only because of the quiet austerity with which I first heard it spoken by Colin Firth.

I’ve been confronted with this reality enough times in my life that it seems a good time to reflect on it. Some of the truth in these words, for me, come from episodes where trust was broken. Someone does or says something very hurtful and they are immediately transformed into someone I no longer trust with the intimacy of my heart.

Other times, I’ve found myself standing up for someone else I believe is being treated unjustly. For whatever reason, God put a whole lot of fight in my amygdala and not much flight.

Sounds good right? Especially in our current age, the call to justice echoes all around us. The painful examples of racism, homophobia, classism, sexism, xenophobia litter our news and our every day existence that to not participate in the fight truly makes you complicit in the oppression. It is necessary.

What never makes it into the heroic stories of good triumphing over evil is the toll it takes. In real life, when you chose to stand up to power, you will experience isolation and grief. Power fights hard and often dirty. Power wants you to feel alone. Power wants you to bargain away your ethics and will accuse you of malevolence when you don’t.

See, there’s a difference between reconciliation and acquiescence. Reconciliation means that power has to acknowledge that injustice has occurred and they caused it. And in my experience, power will just not do that. Instead, power will blame you. Power will tell you that if wasn’t for you and your disruptive opposition, everything would be fine. That things are not peaceful because *you* are the one who refuses to reconcile.

But they don’t actually want your reconciliation. They want you to apologize to them for daring to call attention to their abuse of power. They will call you unfeeling, stubborn, and hard-hearted. Those they hurt have already been pummeled into silence, or more likely, shoved out the door, so they must erase all evidence of what they have done. To everyone else they will blame you for the ramifications their abuse has caused. While also creating a cautionary tale of what happens to anyone who dares oppose them.

And that’s when I go full-on Darcy on your ass. It’s not about a refusal to reconcile. When you show me who you are, I promise, I will believe you. Whether it’s an abusive boss, an ageist community board, or a cruel president, injustice looks the same. Planting yourself “like a tree in the river of truth” is only unyielding to those who refuse to swim.

It’s not about forgiveness either. The very reason why the gospel has always resounded so loudly to me is because Jesus was unequivocal about justice. Those who have been wounded and marginalized are those with whom he sided every. single. time. And he stood so firmly against those who abused their power that the only way left to silence him was to kill him. Those who seek to get away with their injustice will demand your “forgiveness”. Even Jesus knew that was God’s alone to give.

There is often little peace in a commitment to justice; whether in an office, on a pool deck, or from the pulpit. There’s lots of grief and plenty of loneliness. And I’m quite certain the word “stubborn” will be etched on my gravestone. But I’d rather that than bear the shame of knowing I should have stood up for someone and didn’t.

“I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created, was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created.”

“I am,” said he, with a firm voice.

Lesser Courage

I have this on my wall at work. I reflect on it nearly every day. It’s rooted in Micah 6:8, which is what I think of as my “life verse”. I read it all the time because in the past year, I have needed its strength.

The point of this section of the Talmud is to encourage those who are called to the work of God. Inherent to this understanding, however, is that the world will make you weary. That the darkness, the injustice, the cruelty, the hubris, the unmitigated trauma this world inflicts will lessen our courage.

People of faith know (or have been taught anyway) that the hope we cling to in our moments of grief is that God will stand with us in our grief and suffering. That the unexplainable lift within our hearts comes from the source and creator of all love. Traditions across the globe promise that God’s redemption will prevail in some way. And until that day, we work. We act for justice. We love with mercy. And we do not seek to out-pace the Divine.

Merriam-Webster defines daunted as “to lessen the courage of”. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel as though the world’s grief has lessened my courage so much as it has emboldened my rage. Children sobbing uncontrollably over their missing parents. Health benefits being silently and systematically stripped away from those who need them the most. Lies upon lies being perpetrated by our government. People of my own faith lauding and excusing cruelty after cruelty to the point where our nation can simply say we no longer value human rights or freedoms or even due process.

I am daunted by members of my own religion. How did we stray so far away from the Gospels, from the Commandments, from the challenges of our prophets, scribes, and the inspiration of the Wisdom of God? More importantly, why do we allow evil to take root around us and thrive so fully? We’ve allowed the corruption of the Gospel of Christ to teach that deep love between two men or two women is sin but lying to mothers as their children are stolen away is somehow not. We allowed this not only in the past two weeks, but in Jesus’ name many, many, times. We allowed it in Africa. We allowed it throughout Asia. We allowed it as we “tamed” the nation we now call America. We allowed it after bombs dropped on Oahu. We allowed it throughout South America, even as priests were slaughtered for daring to say “this is not of Christ.”

I am daunted when I see holy scriptures used to justify abuse, hatred, xenophobia, and murder. I am daunted when I see my religion’s icons used to threaten, intimidate, and serve as the backdrop of White supremacy. I am daunted when my denomination can barely come together in agreement that these are, in fact, atrocities, because we fear alienating our “conservative” members.

I am daunted by the label of “Christian.”

We must not allow practitioners of our own faith to lessen our courage. We must confront the truth of our calling. We may even be called to schism: To break away from those who have corrupted the message of justice, love, mercy, humility, and faith. To stand firmly in opposition and declare ourselves as followers of the Jesus of scripture, of history, of truth and not of an anti-Christ who is cruel, nationalistic, abusive, and racist. To continue to proclaim the truth of the Mountain top, where God’s voice echoed across the land, “This is my son…Listen to him!” To forever preach and live the two commandments we were given by Jesus: to love God with our hearts, minds, and souls and to love one another as we have been loved by God.

In all these things, we cannot allow our courage to be lessened. Our rage, our fear, our heartache, our disgust, our shame, and our resolve are the gifts we have been given to inspire us to action and remind us of our obligations when the scales have tipped towards evil. We are not obligated to complete the work, but nor are we free to abandon it. #RebellionsAreBuiltOnHope

The Truth in Dying

Next week will be my one year anniversary of working in Adult Protective Services. It’s been a long year mostly because I hadn’t really believed I would last a year in this job. I figured I’d have found a pastoral call by now. But as often happens when following Jesus, where you are needed isn’t always where you expect to be going. One of the challenges of living a life of faith is that God has this habit of calling you into spaces that are uncomfortable, risky, scary, and actually dangerous.

My job has forced me to dust off my old domestic violence advocate skills, remembering things like how to approach a door before you knock on it, how to be aware of what people are doing and where they are in the room. And how to listen to that internal voice that lets you know when to get the hell out. My job means I get yelled at, called names, threatened, and my de-escalation skills are getting a workout they haven’t seen in 15 years. I have to step into spaces that others, including me a lot of the time, don’t wanna be. But I have to because a victim needs me to be stronger than my fear, more solid than my disgust (one of my trainers still teases me about my screaming when the rats ran out at me in the worst hoarding home I’ve ever encountered),  and to have calm in the face of an abuser that wants me anywhere but his living room. I do this work because it is where I am called to be for now. But the truth is, it’s depressing, it’s volatile, it’s filthy, and almost never fun.

As I reflect on my job and my feelings about it, one thing that has come up for me over and over, especially this week, is that out of just under 200 cases, the number of non-white victims I’ve encountered fits on one hand. Seriously. Less than five of my victims have been a person of color. It’s a fact I’ve noticed since the beginning. And I’ve reflected on why that is. It’s not because of the racial percentages of people in the city in which I work, which is a major metropolitan city, has the diversity that goes with most cities. Statistics from where I live show both police engagement and CPS cases have the same disproportionately high number of people of color that is systemic in our racially biased system, so I highly doubt that APS is suddenly the one  department that has figured out how to manage that issue.  I suppose it’s possible that when elderly people of color are being abused or exploited, that the system of mandatory reporters just doesn’t care enough about them to make an APS referral, but I don’t think that’s it either.  I honestly believe it is cultural: People of color take care of their elders.

Go visit any nursing home, assisted living facility, or adult home and you will see mostly white people. That is both a reflection of whites being able to afford such facilities but even more, I believe, it’s because as a culture, whites see placing our elderly in a facility as preferable to having that elderly person in our homes. We regard caring for our elderly parents and grandparents as a limitation of our freedom to live our own lives or spend our money as we want. There is also the truth that caring for someone who has dementia or has lost bladder and bowel control or can no longer bathe themselves is very unpleasant. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of people who’ve said to me “I could never do that job” for either my current job or when I was a hospice chaplain.

It turns out that my work has given me a window into a microcosm of race relations in our culture that is painful and sad: white culture doesn’t know how to die.

We don’t know how to literally help our elderly die and we don’t know how to let the worst parts of our history, traditions, and beliefs die. White people would prefer to not have to deal with the harsher, more painful, and yes, grosser, realities of the human existence. We have pushed the hardest aspects of our lives to people of color; manual labor, cleaning services, food services, caregiving…white people have the privilege of being able to put that on someone else to deal with so we can go about our lives without ever having to deal with the unpleasant things.

For generations, we have put the weight of dealing with our nation’s racism on the shoulders of people of color. Nazis and KKK aside, normal, everyday, white culture has refused to do the work of letting our privilege, our nationalism, and our belief in our superiority die . We know it must happen, but we’d much rather stick these issues in a White Culture Nursing Home until someone calls to tell us they died peacefully in their sleep, preferring to let people of color do the equivalent of changing the Depends on our withered, failing, Uncle Supremacy, all while demanding they grant us infinite patience, eternal forgiveness, and constant understanding for all the pain *we* are going through. “Beloved Uncle Supremacy is dying! Can’t you feel our anguish?”

That has to stop. It is the responsibility of white culture to take our own racist culture off life-support; to untangle the web of tubes and machines and usher it into the hereafter.  It’s our job to wipe up the feces, blood, and vomit of its final death throws. Yet in death, God promises new life. The hope of the Ressurrection is that the evil that dies is replaced with love, grace, and eternal life.  Yes, this work is sad, depressing, and definitely not fun, but it is the work before us and we cannot abandon the call.

Error Message

Oh, my dear Presbyterians. It’s been 6 years since 10A passed, two since 14F, and we still can’t deal with it well. This week proved how fractured we continue to be and how painful the wounds still are.

Rev. Eugene Peterson gave an interview this week where he was asked about the LGBT congregants he’s shepherded and like any good pastor, he loved them. He was then asked if two same-gendered people from his congregation asked him to perform their wedding, would he do it. He replied he would. The religious internet proceeded to blow-up. Shouts of Hallelujiah rang out from the queer-Christian ranks and threats to pull his books and bible translations “The Message” from religious book stores loomed large. So the Reverend retracted his statement. For me personally, this carried the immediate memory of when World Vision announced a few years ago that it would stop discriminating against queer people in their employment practices until their anti-gay donors threatened to pull their money, so they reversed their position.

Now, we could talk a lot about the role money plays in both these stories, but for now I’d rather focus on the emotional impact on the queer community and what these moments are saying about pastoral integrity.

Prior to July 6th, the queer community didn’t think to much about Eugene Peterson. That’s because we’ve grown up knowing “the church” doesn’t love us, doesn’t value us, and doesn’t want us. The rejection is something the queer community is wholly used to and while we work hard to change that reality, there is no effort really to change the mind of any particular theologian or leader because frankly, oftentimes, that’s just wasted effort.

However, when someone of influence makes a change on their own, of course we will celebrate that. That was the energy around Peterson’s original interview. He’s well-known and regarded as a pastor and theologian so for him to make those statements was an affirmation of continued effort. That’s all. There is no one big “get” that the queer community will ever have that marks our full acceptance in the church. The affirmation of LGBT worshippers, elders, and pastors has been happening for over 50 years and continues to grow church by church, denomination by denomination. Each one is great, but they are simply pieces of a whole. So for Peterson to back-track two days after his “explosive” interview doesn’t exactly set us back as a movement.

What it does do, however, is remind us that those who hate us will use all their tricks and tools to try and continue to subjugate, marginalized, and yes, even encourage our deaths. It serves as the gong that reverberates across the world that the power structures are still against us. We cannot rest in our spaces of acceptance because there are still far too many spaces that don’t. And for many who have endured deep spiritual wounds, this week simply tears off another part of the scab that never quite heals. For queer kids who were handed The Message as their first bible in church, this reminds them that his bible wasn’t written for them. For young adults who studied his books in small group, they had hope of an inclusion that was dashed. So this hurts on a personal level, even while it’s not much more than a blip in the movement overall.

That personal wounding is important because it is the mirror of Rev. Peterson’s statements themselves. In his rescinding of his statements, he indicated that the questions posed to him were hypotheticals of personal interactions. That’s not entirely true. The original interview had him speaking about LGBT members of his congregation and staff. He spoke of them positively. As he should. Being a pastor means getting to know and care for your congregation and your staff. It is with this backdrop in mind that he is then asked the hypothectical question about what he would say if asked to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony for people like those he knew from his congregation. And to that, he said yes. It was an honest and PASTORAL response. It is the loving response. And it’s supported by the Book of Order. Even at 84, he’s still able to pass his polity exam.

The conflict this generates inside him, to me, is revealed in the part of his second statment where he says, “”I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding. I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked.” If he is so firmly convicted of this position, why would he hope that? Could it be because he knows himself well enough to understand that if he had two people whom he had been pastoring through their spiritual walk and they asked him to be a part of this significant, religious ceremony in their lives, that to then tell them “No” would be hurtful, scarring, and unloving?

Regardless of Eugene Peterson’s personal pastoral sensibilities, there is something important here for all pastors to own up to: If you reject the LGBT community, say so, loudly, for all to hear. Put it in your PIF. If you’re a pastor who doesn’t want to be put in a position of having to tell two gay congregants that you won’t marry them, put that on your Pastor’s page of the church website. Otherwise you are creating a pastoral form of “catfishing” and queer people, especially queer kids, suffer from it.

If you are a congregation that rejects 10A and 14F, don’t put on your welcome page that you “Welcome All Believers” because you don’t.  If your church won’t accept queer inquirers or candidates under care, put that in your Christian Education Parents Newsletter. Be honest and forthright about what your church really believes and allow the queer community and their allies to stay away from you.

But we know you won’t do that. The reason you won’t is because you know that will mean your church has taken a stance that is in violation of the command of Christ to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Rev. Peterson couldn’t stand so firm in his opposition to the LGBT community that he would kick out lesbian congregants or fire his gay music director (good luck finding a replacement that *isn’t * gay), nor could he, in his first and most honest response, tell two of his hypothetical sheep that he refuses to marry them. Pastor’s take vows to “further peace and unity,” “to serve the people with love,” and “to show the love and ministry of Jesus Christ”. (BoO W-4.4003g, h, i(3)) This issue has created pastoral dissonance for a reason: The religious position against LGBT persons is unloving. It is rooted in fear, hatred, jealousy, and ignorance. None of which are fruits of the Spirit.

I believe that this week, God sent a pretty clear Error Message to those who hate in God’s name. Who is listening?

Harry and Mike Are Wrong

“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” ~Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally

I was a senior in high school when that movie came out and I knew Harry was full of shit. And so is the Vice President.

In Kindergarten, Phil and I would run around the playground at recess pretending to be The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man, making the “nun-nuh-nuh” sounds as we ran. Other days, we’d tie our hoods around our necks (back when coats had those strangle-your-child cords in the hoods), arms out, our coats flying behind us like capes and be Superman and Wonder Woman.

In Second Grade, I played Princess Leia at school, at the park, with my cousins…we never played anything but Star Wars for two years straight (yes, it was in theaters that long), and being the only girl, I was rather type-cast. I wish I’d had the prequels cause I’m *totally* Jyn Erso.

In third and fourth grade, my BFF was Jamie. We played at every recess. We made up stories, we played in the woods behind our school, we talked about our horrible little sisters (I love you now, sis! I swear!)…but that’s also the first year I learned that something about this was seen as wrong.

“Jamie and Jeny, sitting in a tree…” the taunts would start. It was very clear that we were not *supposed* to be friends. At the end of fourth grade he moved to Canada. We’d talk on the phone. He invited me to come visit, but I wasn’t allowed to go. Our friendship fizzled over time and distance.

In middle school, it got worse. There were guys at church I was friends with, but it was always about who liked who. I’d still go hang out with a few of the boys, watching dumb comedies (my devotion to 12 year-old humor lasts to this day), and playing video games (I sucked, but didn’t care). They would tell me all about their crushes, and I’d give them advice on girls (like I was an expert).  It got harder and harder to do that though, ’cause girls would get jealous and boys would feel awkward.

In high schoool, I was a football and wrestling trainer and they told me EVERYTHING. I became a go-to-gal for dating and sex advice. I think in part because having a nurse for a mom, I knew actual facts about sex and birth control and they trusted me with their questions and fears. I’ve also never been particularly embarrassed about talking about sex, so that made me a safe person to talk to. But a lot of the time, their girlfriends didn’t like it. Or my boyfriends wouldn’t. Those boyfriends didn’t last.

As an adult, I continued to foster male friendships, yes, even after I got married. Since I married a man I’d been friends with in high school, he knew this aspect of me from the get-go, but I wouldn’t have married him if he told me I couldn’t maintain those relationships or tried to control new ones.

I met a man through my daughter’s swim team who was hilarious and full of energy. I quickly discovered he’d lived a most incredibly diverse life, so I asked him to go to dinner with me and tell me his life story. Over a long evening of beer and pizza at one of my favorite bars, he shared tales of adventure, sadness, perseverance, and integrity.  He is one of my favorite people ever and when he sees me, he calls out, “My Jeny!” as he greets me with a smile and a big bear hug. The richness of his life and experience would have been lost to me if either of us (or our spouses) were so narrow as to prevent us from going to dinner together just because we are the opposite sex.

There’s the man I’ve known since high school. He’s *my* friend, not my husband’s. They weren’t really friends back then, though they are friends now. When he hit a very rough patch of life, we would talk on the phone, go out for lunch or dinner, text and email, all to help him process grief and pain. I’d call him out when he was acting like a tool and held his hand when he was hurting. He sent me flowers in gratitude. At a time when he needed me, I could be there for him, and it never occocured to either me or my husband that I wouldn’t be.

And there’s my Emergency Back-up Husband. My family has lived next door to his family for eleven years now. We travel together, we stay up late playing cards, or talking by the campfire. Yeah, most of the time, the four of us do things together, but there are times it’s just him and I. I’ve argued with him, seen him cry, and we flirt ’cause it’s fun. He is one of my best friends, a second dad to my kids, the guy I turn to when I need computer help, and whom I can *always* count on to have his mind right down in the gutter with my own. We have the same tastes (not so much music, but pretty much everything else) and we both love his wife very much.

My life has been far more fabulous because I never allowed my friendships to be limited by genitalia. Fully half of the people you know are of the opposite sex and could be giving you perspective, history, insight, experience, beauty, humor, and above all, LOVE. Why on earth would you deny yourself that?

Not only can men and women be friends, they *should* be friends. The world is broken in part because somewhere along the way we decided to see one another as sex objects first and people second. We only come together for courting, marriage, and mating, otherwise keeping to our spheres. At one church I worked for, the kids were separated by gender in Sunday School starting in third grade. Bible studies stayed separate until high school and college, y’know, when you need to find your mate. Adult bible studies were once again segregated in order to “avoid temptation”.  There’s also the diabolical heteronormativity of all of that which is even more disturbing.

Intimacy isn’t sex. And intimacy isn’t wrong; it’s actually the goal. We are called to live in community. Jesus did, with men and with women. We are called to love each other fully, which means knowing our stories, sharing our pain and our triumphs and that only comes from talking one-on-one, building trust, sharing a meal. Believe it or not, even if sexual urges do develop, they don’t have to be acted on. You can be close friends with someone you are attracted to by choosing to see them as more than their sexuality and managing your own urges.

Today I read on Facebook someone saying that social rules about men and women for Christians are important because we hold ourselves to a higher standard. I agree. My standard is that my intimate friendships are built on the beauty of one soul connecting with another, regardless of the body that soul is housed in. I don’t mind being held to a higher standard. I mind being held to a lower one.

Lightbulbs and Hammers

This fall, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As a member of a Reformed tradition, I hold that moment when a theology nerd stepped up and nailed his questions to a door with some reverence. Luther wanted to debate ideas but in the spaces of power at the time, his questions led to resistance, retribution, and revolution. It’s kind of amazing how often ideas do just that.

Ideas are good to talk about. Opening ourselves to the possibility of more than one idea is what keeps us connected to one another. And it keeps us from becoming too focused on ourselves, letting others teach us and expand our worldview. This is a very good thing.

Some ideas, though, feel dipped in poison. What if your idea is that I’m less than human and that allows you to believe you can enslave me? What if your idea is that my sexuality is sinful and that allows you to believe you should kill me? What if your idea is that my religion is violent and that allows you to believe you can lock me up? What if your idea is that my gender is for your pleasure and that allows you to believe you can use me whether I agree or not? Are those ideas still worth talking about? Or can we agree those are horrible things and thus not up for debate?

What if you think I’m less than human, but all you want to do is pass stricter sentencing laws that disproportionately effect my race? Or you only want to keep my sexuality from being in your church or in the classroom? Or you just want to control my health care? Or keep me from entering this country? Do I now have an obligation to debate with you simply because the stakes to me are less? Personally, I don’t believe I do.

Which is not the same as my willingness to be in communion with you. And that is something that is not recognized enough. When Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, it was their Muslim neighbors who worked to fix and protect them. Those two groups have thousands of years of disagreement, yet they could still recognize the neighbor in one another enough to know that act was not about ideas. It was an act of hatred and fear.

And that is something we must pay attention to. Not because it we need to open ourselves to hate and fear’s world view,  but because we have to keep engaging them if there will ever be hope of them going away. Now, I’m not saying I’m necessarily going to engage those things in ways you like. I will write blogs. I will link articles on Facebook. I will preach about what Jesus says about hatred and fear and our call to love. I’ll talk with you about where the fear comes from and help examine the vestiges of the hate we didn’t even know we learned. I will examine their sources, their legacy, their effects, but I can’t help you validate their existence.

See, ideas are imaged as light bulbs for a reason; they illuminate the world around us and provide insight into one another’s experiences. Hatred and fear are hammers that smash those bulbs and seek to return to the darkness. And we are allowed, actually we are morally obligated, to point out the difference.

This is What Allies Gear Up For

Last week, Rick Tyler paid for billboard space as part of his congressional campaign that read “Make America White Again.” Tyler is running as an Independent in Tennessee’s 3rd District, which contains the city of Chattanooga. The last time he ran, he only got .4% of the vote and clearly neither major party wants much at all to do with him.  His billboards were not only taken down by the billboard company, but a GoFundMe campaign has been set up to raise funds to run billboards in the same spaces with messages of peace, love, and anti-racism.

To many, many people, that’s pretty much the story. Don’t feed the trolls and they go away. And indeed, while many of my Facebook friends expressed disgust when the pictures of that billboard starting popping up, I also noticed that most white people took the stance of “Ignore him. He’s not worth the time even arguing with him.” The idea is, that by even talking about him, we are giving him juice. And yes, most people across the country now know his name, so his hate-tactic worked if his goal is notoriety.

But what if it’s not? See, I think “Ignore Him!” is the most dangerous thing we can do.

First, I think we need to examine the message itself: “Make American White Again.” Inherent in that statement is that America is not White now. Which is not only a bald-face lie, it’s the entire problem. From industry heads, to congress, to governors, to movie studio executives, to police departments, to local civic entities (social workers, etc) the majority of those in power are white. White culture and narrative drive everything from The Big Bang Theory’s renewal to Donald Trumps’ nomination. From costly housing markets to “Oscars So White.” While some changes have been made, power and control over most of  society still rests in white hands.

So why would anyone feel compelled to launch a campaign to make America what it already is? For the same reason that a recent study found that if a crowd is 17% women, men will perceive it as 50-50 and if the crowd is 33%, they will report there are “too many women”. And the reason that Hillary Clinton possibly choosing a female running mate is considered “daring” when men have had male running mates in 54 out of 56 elections. Or that people laughed when Justice Ginsberg, when asked how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough, answered “Nine.” When you are used to everyone looking just like you, then your attention is heightened when you encounter those who are not like you. Tyler’s campaign is a RESPONSE to the idea that “white privilege” no longer exists simply because the voices of people color have been shouting long enough they can no longer be fully silenced.

The most important reason why we can’t ignore people like Rick Tyler is because to do so is to utilize the exact same privilege that creates him. See, white people have the luxury of being able to ignore Tyler because he is of no danger to them. But he, and others like him, are of great danger to people of color. Those who want to “Make America White Again” deeply believe in their cause. But do you know who they *won’t* blame for the failure of their message? White people. They won’t say, “Gee, we couldn’t convince other white people, so maybe we should think about that.” No, they will take their anger at their own failure out on brown bodies. Wanna know how I know that? Because a woman was killed for refusing a man’s advances.Because a man was attacked in Seattle for being transgender. Because John Boyega received death threats for being black and the lead hero of Star Wars at the same time.

See, they don’t take their anger to white people who have their same privilege and power but disagree. Why? Because those white people just dismiss and ignore them.

Which also means that those white people who do disagree are allowed to believe that those “racist nutjobs” are as rare as a Strawberry Moon, when in fact, people of color experience racism every single day from people who aren’t in any way a “nutjob.” White privilege is what gives you the ability to say, “ignore it and it goes away” when that has never worked in any cause of social justice. Instead, what happens is that you stop seeing it for what it is. You don’t witness the social, cultural, financial, intellectual, or literal lynching, so it must not happen. Until it does, like in an Orlando nightclub or a church in Charleston, and then you say it’s extremism or mental health, or just another nutjob and your head falls safely into the sand once more.

My dear fellow white peeps, if you really want to be as non-racist as you can be, then you have to stop ignoring these things. If you call yourself an ally in the fight for justice and equality, this is the moment you suit up for. Wanna know what happens when you stop ignoring racism? You see it EVERYWHERE. The same is true for homophobia and sexism. When you wake up to the Matrix, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist anymore. And honestly, I believe that is exactly why white people take the “Ignore it” stance. Because once you’re woke, the reality of the hate that happens in the world scares the living shit out of you. And it should.

In Your Face

danny & ethan (2)Have you seen these men before? If not, you’re clearly not a fan of teenage-monster-soap-operas. This is Danny and Ethan, from Teen Wolf. They fell in love in Season 3.

download (2)You probably recognize these two men though. Right? Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston? They are currently playing Robert and Sol on the new Netflix show Grace and Frankie.

doctorIf you’re a Dr. Who fan at all, you know this is David Tennant making John Barrowman’s entire Comic-con. Seriously, he swooned after. It was adorable.

mcdanno (2)And this is a fake photo that a fan made because Steve and Danny haven’t been allowed to be gay on the show, even though Scott Caan is totally down with that idea. There are lots of manips out there for similar ‘ships but I used this one because the actors are on record as being OK with it.

So, I gotta ask…any of you feel like opening fire? OK, that’s a bit too on the nose perhaps. Are you feeling uncomfortable?

 kissing (2)headphone kissing (2)interracial (2)How about now? These are just some of the first pictures that come up in a Google Image search of “men kissing”.

Supposedly, one of the things that set-off the Orlando shooter was that he’d seen two men kissing. My first thought when I heard that was, “WTFever. Get the hell over yourself.” I mean really. It’s 2016. My nightly news has shown men kissing for heaven’s sake.

And then I had occasion to listen to a 90-year old man tell me that he understood the shooter in that. He said that seeing two men kiss would have shaken him too. He wasn’t trying to justify it or in anyway say someone should kill over it. It was just an honest statement, expressed with thoughtful quietness, of his perspective and reality. It’s his experience.

But it has left me thinking. As a out-and-proud fangirl, I’ve been a slash shipper since I watched Starsky and Hutch as a little girl, so the idea of two men falling in love in my favorites stories is no big deal. But I also know that for every new male-slash ship that comes up, there is an army of men on the internet (and in real life) who will say, “Shut up with your stupid ships! Not everyone is Gay!” And even shows that do have gay characters, they seldom kiss and rarely have love scenes. Studios won’t approve it, markets will refuse to broadcast the episodes, and we are told that characters can be gay but they shouldn’t be “in your face” about it.

The fact is that never once has the lead of a show that wasn’t originally created to be a gay character ever fallen in love with a male co-lead or character. Even though real life demonstrates that people discover/accept their queerness at all times of life, including after marrying and having children or living as “straight” into their 40s, 50s or older. Critics decry that fandom’s “making everyone gay” instead of accepting the truth that just as with female characters, a male character’s chemistry with another male character may develop and evolve over time. And bisexuality is an actual thing. People can feel attraction and love for both men and women, but that’s another rant.

Rarely in television and movies, will you see two men kissing. Yeah, you can see it in some shows, but it is nowhere near as constant and prevalent as men kissing women, which happens All. The. Time. Even Captain America had to have his “No-Homo” kiss with Sharon Carter because in a movie where he basically goes to war with the entire world and most of the Avengers to save Bucky Barnes, you needed to have him kiss a girl he’s had maybe 6 minutes of screen time with just so everyone is clear that he’s only motivated by FRIENDSHIP with Bucky. It was a throw-away, meaningless moment that left even his first-movie love interest, Hayley Atwell  calling the kiss “disrespectful”.

What the shooter in Orlando and the genteel elderly man have proven in the past few days is that we need more men kissing. We need it in every show and movie. We need it in every franchise and summer blockbuster. We need male characters to fall in love, or have a “gay thing”, or just freely kiss their best friends as sign of affection. We need to saturate the media with men kissing other men until it’s no longer shocking. We’ve managed to de-sensitize ourselves to graphic hetero-sex and bloody violence thanks to HBO and the Walking Dead and no one says a thing. So let’s put that to use where it might actually do some good. Show men kissing. Show men falling into bed together. Show men the morning after.  Show men kissing good-bye. Show men kissing hello. Y’know, all the stuff you’d see straight couples do watching any episode of Arrow or Empire or Dallas. Show men kissing other men until it is no longer shocking.

Because the fact is, saying “As long as they don’t throw their gay-ness in my face” isn’t just a problem, it kills people.