There is Only One Thing Needed

This is my sermon from this evening at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. 

The Lectionary Texts for the day (Track 2) can be found here. The stories I reference are the  Genesis story of three visitors to Abraham and Sarah and  the gospel story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha (I strongly recommend reading the stories at the link above in order for the sermon to make sense.


Today’s gospel text does not immediately inspire me. I need to be honest about this. Weeks ago, when I first read the lectionary texts for today, I grew frustrated. I may or may not have emailed Mother Sara (which is to say, I definitely did), whining about the Old Testament texts, wondering if I might substitute these “track two” readings with the more directly prophetic “track one” readings that we won’t see until we read this gospel again in three years.

And If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard readings of today’s gospel that villainize Martha for working instead of sitting demurely with Jesus. You might have heard more redemptive readings of the text, focused on telling you that Mary’s actions and Jesus’ invitation to Martha are humanizing ways of overturning a cultural situation that said women existed to serve, rather than be equals or be taught by a Rabbi.

And all of this is well and good, but I cannot avoid the fact that I am reading this text in the context of a majority white, progressive congregation of people who are swimming in the grief, frustration, and sadness we feel when we look around at the violence, shootings, terror, and fear in our world. And most of us only know these terrors secondarily. Most of us, but not all.

We see news of Black men criminalized and killed by police for being Black men. We see terrorists attacking the holy sites of our Muslim neighbors while they’ve been celebrating the fast of Ramadan. We remember that we are just past a month since the shooting of the Latinx LGBTQ community at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a year since the death of Sandra Bland, two years since the acquittal of George Zimmerman for his murder of Travon Martin. We hear and don’t hear of the violence against Native people, immigrants, women, and transgender people.

And we are supposed to do what with this text? Stop working and sit quietly with Jesus? Are we supposed to say to our siblings on every side that they can just walk away from the work of survival in a system of oppression and simply trust Jesus to make it all better? Because it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.


And another thing. I don’t like how the Hebrew Bible reading for today cuts off in the middle of a verse, and in the middle of the story. It seems too gentle. Too clean. Too very Euro-Anglican demure. This passage from Genesis can actually help us read this gospel text if we let it exist in the entirety of it’s messy completeness. Picking up where the passage left off, it reads:

Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

And in this movement of the story, we are given a gift. We see that if Sarah is anything like Martha–the one subjected to the servitude of what her society has said about people of her gender–she is also like us, acquainted with personal sorrow and the resignation that some situations seem impossible to change.

And in this moment, she laughs. And it doesn’t seem to be the laugh of mockery that some folks read into this passage. Instead, it seems to be a laugh of shock. The laughter that brims with tears, because it borders on waking up hope in the parts of our hearts that we have sealed off to protect from being torn open over, and over, and over again.

       Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

Will anything ever come from the labor for survival and justice? Because it doesn’t seem like that’s possible.

               At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.

We are so far past the time that such hope was due. What of all of the children who have been murdered?

But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh.” for she was afraid.

God, I do not know how to hope, because I am afraid.

               He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

And it is these words that we hope. Words that name the pregnant possibility of hope in the raw, human pain of being alive and surviving trauma in a system that destroys children and crushes hope. Hear that there is tearful laughter to be had, for those unable to work an ending to these systems of oppression.

And it is with these words that I re-read Jesus’ response to Martha–not as a condemnation of her labor—she is working at tasks of hospitality, welcoming Jesus into her home. Instead, Jesus says, Martha. Martha. He says her name. It is a tender reminder of her own humanity. Martha. You are worried and distracted by many things.

Another way of rendering these Greek words would be to say, you are deeply troubled by the things that you care about and you are terrified; stricken with panic. In this reading, I see Martha, like Sarah, and like many in our own time–not worried by household tasks–but weighed down by the labor of trying to offer hospitality and kindness while suffering under terror and grief.

And in this moment, Jesus sees her humanity. Like the visitor who says to Sarah, with a wry smile, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” Jesus says, Martha. Martha. Like the mothers and siblings and children and fathers and communities of color that keep begging for us to say their names. There is only one thing that Jesus needs of her–for her to know that she is seen.

It does not mean the work goes away. It does not mean we stop engaging the work to end violence–the work that causes us to be deeply troubled; the work that seems to have no end and seems to drain away our hope for ourselves or for the next generation.

But in this work, there is one thing that is needed: To see and be seen.

To see each others’ faces. To say one another’s names, offering back the mirror of hope.

Oh yes, you did laugh. Oh yes, I do know your face. Oh yes, your name will be spoken. Oh yes, I can see the fragile, absurd, laughing-through-tears hope that stubbornly persists despite lifetimes of reasons to believe that it shouldn’t. Oh yes, you are afraid, but you did laugh, all the same.

And this laughter is the sign that our grief and our hope are bound together. We grieve the loss of what we desire. Our hope and longing are shaped by the holes carved out in us by sorrow. We grieve because we see violence and oppression defacing people around us. And we cry-laugh our broke-down longing for justice.

Yesterday I watched footage of 15 year-old, Cameron Sterling, grieving his father’s murder at the long arm of our collective violence against Black and Brown bodies. And with his face in front of me, I heard his young voice begging that we come together, see one another, and end our violence. There is only one thing that is needed.

And so, I find myself wondering where I am in this story. Where has my own pain and labor and suffering led me to lose hope? And I wonder whose faces; whose humanity I am called to remember both by speaking their names and by joining with them in their work and in their tearful laughter?

            I invite your own reflections on these texts, my words, and intersections of human grief and hope in your world today.

 

 

In Spite of a Long and Steady Violence

This post is specifically for my LGBTIQA friends.

I’ve written extensively on this topic–the texture of going through life receiving messages that say “your body is wrong–your experiences don’t count.” I’ve  spoken of the need for dialogue, grace, and non-violence. I will keep at building this slowly growing body of work. Why? Because it matters.

But let’s be so very clear. We do not need LGBTIQ Christian Apologetics. We don’t need to strive for acceptability.

We need to practice–within and among ourselves–radical hospitality;the warm embrace of our differences. I love living my life. I love who I become in the beauty of loving tender relationships with all people, and I love the gift of my sexuality and how I grow in love, compassion, kindness, strength, and openness through giving and receiving love with my whole self in relationship with a partner of my own gender. I love the parts of me that are butch and the parts that are femme. I love my queerness. This is the shape of the life that I have been given, and I have no life energy to waste on trying to make sense of this for people who hate me. I will love them, but I will not strive for respectability from a social system that devalues who I am–that is toxic.

I have learned to love, seek justice, offer compassion, and build peace in a world that has handed me trauma. The violence of last week’s hate crime/gun violence/massacre of LGBTIQA people (and mostly people of color) is just the breaking of one wave of violence in a lifetime of tides that have crashed against us.

Bernadette Barton writes about the slow and steady violence of cultural bias, discrimination, and violence in her book, Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays. In November, I presented a paper in response to this book at the American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta, GA. It’s a bit heady and academic, but it’s my exploration of trauma, prayer, and my experience of becoming more alive despite having grown up in a culture that seeks to erase me. For those that it might open space for, I’ve included a copy of the paper here:

We Pray What Our Bodies Know – Tidwell

Eventually, I’ll start putting together some of this work into more readable posts. But in short, my hope is that we stop arguing about texts and justifying our existence to people who don’t want us to exist, and instead move forward with our own work of healing, repair, and living full lives.

May we seek to understand what the long and steady violence of oppression has done to our bodies, our souls, and our relationships, and may we learn how to let our bodies pray and lament, play and make love, grieve and grow towards more wholeness. This is God’s gift to us. Our gifts to ourselves, our lovers, and one another. And ultimately, this is our gift to the world–living the fabulous lives we’ve been given to live.

To get real Biblical, this is the whole fucking point of Romans 1&2, to get us on to Romans 12 where Paul writes:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We don’t need to explain, yet again, why the Bible doesn’t actually condemn us. We can simply live our lives in the freedom and goodness of our particular giftedness. It’s not our fault that people read the bible to support hatred rather than love, and it’s not our responsibility to persuade them to do otherwise. The apostle Paul basically wrote the whole letter of Romans to correct the beliefs depicted in Romans 1, the extent of my responsibility when other Christians try to perpetuate those views is to basically shrug and say, “Just wait until read the rest of the book, it’s a real plot twister.”

Yes, people will keep doing violence against us. In the poignancy of murders and in the banality of persistent bigotry. But, babes, let’s live our lives well. This is our calling and our gift. Let us love. Let us weep. Let us dance. Let us shine with the goodness we have been given.

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Things I am proud of

It’s June. In USAmerica, that means it’s LGBTIQ Pride month. Here’s a list of some of the things for which I am proud.

Loving people.
Getting good at real apologies.
Learning to play new instruments in my 30s.
Forgiving myself for holding onto survival strategies too long.
Playing.
Staying curious.
Letting myself feel my feelings and learning to recognize and talk about a growing range of emotions.
Actively combating shame by opening up to let others see me.
Loving myself.
Stepping in to stop violence.
Making it through adolescence without giving in to the lie that I shouldn’t exist.
Walking lightly on the earth.
Daily practicing the work of staying aware of my privilege and working for justice.
Learning how to breathe.
Creating healthy boundaries with people and institutions.
Opening myself up to receive the goodness of my family of choice.
Risking to let myself feel my desire for goodness in the face of shame and despair.
Eating ethically.
Drinking responsibly.
Learning to sail.
Practicing alternative economics.
Slowing down.
Telling the truth.
Saying yes and saying no.
Reading carefully.
Listening to peoples’ stories.
Letting go of unrealistic “life plans.”
Leaving fundamentalism rather than simply switching fundamentalisms.
Embracing fallability.
Wearing what I want to.
Not taking on every fight worth fighting; letting myself be human-sized.
Being Queer as f#ck.
Hugging my grandparents who wouldn’t talk to me.
Wanting to be a dad.
Grieving.
Answering clumsy questions with honest generosity.
Wearing red.
Asking for my fair share.
Taking up space without manspreading.
Laughing and crying—sometimes in response to the same situation.

Thriving.

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Gratitude Is Broken

I am running around the yard the day after Christmas. I am running around the yard playing Peter Pan with two precious boys that I would die for, if need be. I am running around the yard, and they are wielding toy weapons that a grandparent sent.

This is not my choice. I would rather be inside playing a board game. I would rather they were playing with something besides weapons. I would rather I could breathe easier, instead of gasping after air–the result of my slow recovery from pneumonia a few weeks ago.

I do not think children should have toy guns (to be clear, their weapons are nerf bows and arrows–even so, I am wary of what this is teaching them about how to engage conflict through play). When I was 5, my grandfather and father went in together and bought me a rifle.

I am running around the yard on the day after Christmas and the children that I love are running recklessly, wielding toy weapons. And not for a single moment do I pause in fear that one of them will be gunned down by a grown man with a badge, so socially conditioned to fear and suspect them for the color of their skin that he will shoot them before he has time to say “hello.”

I have the luxury (should I so indulge) of being grateful that these boys will never have to face this kind of danger. Their relative safety comes at the expense of grown men with weapons channeling aggression and prejudice towards their brothers and sisters with darker skin. This is not okay.

It’s not just that this is not okay. This is royally fucked up.

I do not think that children should have toy guns. I do not think that our society should be flooded with guns. I do not think it takes a semi-automatic weapon to hunt a deer or even a bear. I do not think a basement arsenal of heavy weapons could ever protect you from government forces that wield drones and missiles and atomic bombs. That’s a stupid excuse for deep-seated insecurity.

I do not think that grown-ass men with uniforms who are supposed to “protect and serve” should be pulling guns as their first action. I do not think that our nations political system, justice system, law enforcement, economy, or penal system has been designed or implemented to protect or serve anyone outside the white, owning class.

In our country we see white adults walk through stores with fingers on the triggers of actual loaded weapons and law enforcement “protects their rights” to do so. We see hundreds of white teenagers rioting in a shopping mall and dozens of police respond with no arrests and only minor injuries reported. Meanwhile, we see individual black men, women, and children gunned down for standing still or walking away from police officers, for holding toy weapons (sometimes in toy aisles filled with toy weapons), and being brutally beaten to death or dying while in police custody. We see justice systems charged with investigating these deaths and public servants blatantly saying that they will not question the actions of the police.

Our system is (we are) fucked up. There is no pretty way to say it.

It is the day after Christmas and I am running around the yard, playing with two beautiful little boys, wielding toy weapons, and I will never have to think twice about their safety, because the color of their skin is white and the police were made for protecting and serving them.

And two days later, Tamir Rice’s murderers are left to walk free, not because we don’t know exactly what happened. But because he is black, and they are wearing police badges, and he is not who they believe they are supposed to be serving and protecting, and the prosecutors and grand jury cannot bear to look at how fucking broken and racist we are.

Word of this vile decision comes on the day that the church marks the feast of the Holy Innocents. This is the day we remember the children killed because those in political power were afraid that just one of those children might one day try to reach out and take part in some of that political power. The parallels would be striking if they weren’t so nauseating.

I cannot be grateful for something that I have that is of value only because its worth has been paid for in the blood of innocents.

It is Christmas, and I am tired of toy guns, and real guns,and light sabers, and drones, and suicide bombs, and politicians scaremongering for votes, and people clinging to weapons that kill tens of thousands each year for the sake of protecting against overblown threats that kill less than a hundred annually.

It is the day after Christmas, and the children I love are running around in the yard without fearing for their lives. And this is not something anyone should ever have to be grateful for. And tens of millions of children in our country do not have this basic freedom.

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Photo taken at The King Center, Atlanta, GA.

There is no more innocence. I do not know how to be grateful if we don’t have the humanity to do the basic repair needed to lay down our weapons and our fear, and fix our individual and collective self-identity that has been centered around self-protection through annihilation of others.

And I get the feelings of rage. I want to blow up the system. I want to rip the guns out of ignorant racists’ hands. I want to seize the wealth of every last corporate fleabag who fancies himself a philanthropist for tax-sheltering his fortunes in a charitable foundation when every dime he made was through exploitation, slavery, pollution, extortion, and purchasing our legislatures.

I want to play my own grown up fantasy game, wielding a toy sword, and running around the internet liking protest videos, and signing petitions. I want to fight an epic battle and win, defeating evil and setting the world to rights.

And whoever lives by the sword must, in the end, die by the sword.

I do not think that I should have toy guns. Or real guns. Or missiles. Or drones. Or nuclear bombs. Or police who serve and protect me from my darker skinned neighbors who might want economic, political, and social justice, or simply to exist in their own yard, or in a store, or in a park (maybe even playing and holding a toy gun).

I am not grateful for these instruments of violence–these tools meant to protect me from the difficult work of figuring out how to resolve my own conflicts, share resources, and get along with others.

It is the day after Christmas and I am running around the yard, searching for enough imagination to find a different way to play together, that doesn’t involve harming one another. And instead of gratitude for this skill, I am heartbroken, because we have grown so practiced in making war that we have slaughtered imagination and love, and forgotten how to make justice and peace.

In Stillness and Song

In the past months, I’ve been sailing on Puget Sound, changed jobs, continued work in my doctoral classes, travelled to a conference and presented a paper, celebrated holidays and a birthday, worked on a long-term writing project, spent a few weeks sick, and now—suddenly—we’re at the end of the year.

It’s not that I don’t have lots to say. There are so many things that need saying, and there are also so many people saying so much and so little about all the much-ness that’s happening in our world right now. Truly, I’ve found it hard to keep up with the constant stream of shootings, bombings, and acts of violence in our world. Not a day goes by that if I log into social media I won’t see video of police assaulting or killing an unarmed person of color. Not a week passes that I don’t hear about a suicide, or experience of violence against an LGBTIQA person. Globally, we’ve come to live with war like it’s a given law of the universe; as if we weren’t collectively feeding it with every choice we make, dollar we spend, and vote we cast.

And in all this, I have found myself turning to music and to silence. These two things open up such space for grief and room for imagination towards peace, hope, kindness, gentleness, and humanity. In the past year, I have taken to silence—whether on the water, at home, or sitting for two hours at a time with the good folks at Underhill House (a drop-in center for quiet, meditation, and prayer, open weekly on Thursdays in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle). I find that the stillness and quiet is much needed to listen to what is stirring up in me.

And in these months, I have also taken to music. In the past year, I’ve acquired a baritone ukulele, a banjo, a banjo-lele (that’s right a banjo body with a ukulele neck and tuning), an autoharp, a couple melodicas, harmonicas, a travel guitar, a drum or two, and a bugle. This might be a little excessive.

As a child, I was gifted and cursed with the capacity to become dramatically proficient in a lot of areas. Visual art, logic, spatial reasoning, and math came early. After a few early failures, cooking and writing followed. What this meant, however, was that I expected to be able to be quite good at a thing without having to work for it—exhibit a: standardized testing.

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So, when it became apparent that beyond singing melody, I was going to have to work for music, I quickly gave up. I spent my adolescence quietly simpering along trying to hold the melody while my father and older sister played guitar and piano, singing harmonies around me. It was a world that I loved, but one that I had to work for. I had a passably pleasant voice, but I wanted to be a star—which was not going to happen.

I had an early attempt wherein I assaulted our dog’s sensitive ears with my saxophone squawking. It was the one and only time I ever heard that dog howl, and her tortured bellow mirrored my own disappointment with my failed music making. I wanted my body to usher beauty into the world, and just wasn’t coming easily to me.

Although a baby grand piano sat in the center of our house for a decade, I didn’t dare touch it until my sister had moved out of the house. Only once she’d gone away to college, did I finally ask her, on one of her visits home, to explain to me how to form major and minor chords, and finally, I tentatively began to hammer out chord progressions into some halting resemblances of songs.

My father gave me a guitar one year for Christmas, and I fumbled my way through the chords of D, G, and A for a year before my sister saved me from humiliation by graciously permanently borrowing the instrument from me.

I dedicated two years of church attendance to focusing in and only listening to harmony lines—using my time running sound to isolate the mic’d voices of tenor and alto singers and sing along with them in my headphones. In choir, I’d get stuck on Tenor II because it was most often on melody. To sing anything else, I’d have to sandwich myself between two people with stronger ears.

It wasn’t until college that I’d finally worked enough and internalized my high school choir director’s wisdom to “listen louder than you sing.” Come to think of it—using my body to make music wasn’t all that different than my experience with sports and physical activity.

I always loved and envied the grace filled movements of the athletically inclined. I always grew extremely frustrated when my father or a well-meaning friend attempted to explain the mechanics of a backhand swing, a layup, a backstroke, or a perfectly thrown spiral. I understood the physics, the mechanics, and the math of it all. I could diagram, draw, or explain the motion.

The trouble was getting the strange and squishy of my own muscles and bones to cooperate in a way that would bring beauty, rather than shame or despair, into the world.

From a young age, I’d learned that my body held secrets that it wouldn’t be safe to disclose. My secrets were too big and unwieldy for my home or my world to handle. My church pews and dinner table couldn’t bear the fleshy questions contained inside my skin. So, it was with a necrotizing guardedness that I sought to move and make music in the world.

These things couldn’t come easy, because I knew that I couldn’t do them perfectly—not just in the sense that it took practice to learn and grow in skill, but because my intonation; the swish of my hips or wrist; the quickness of my tears might serve to unleash the secret that my body had to keep contained in order to stay safe.

So, by and large, I learned how to hide and seek in a world of words and ideas—things I could process and control how they came out. It’s much easier to vet emotion in a paragraph than in a sweaty victory dance or a raucous jam session. To allow my emotions to flow within my body might mean being seen and known; to be found out.

Two years ago during Lent, a year post-divorce and coming out to my parents, I invited friends to give me music to which I would dance. Forty days of dancing repentance. It was a continuation of a beginning of telling truth with my body; righting the world—or at least myself in the world—by living into a fragile freedom.

No one was ever born to hide inside their own skin.

Thus, I’ve not written as much here in the last several months. Instead, I’ve taken the grief and hope that wrestles in my body and I’ve sat with it in deep silence, allowing myself to feel rather than articulate what’s going on in me. And then, I’ve clumsily caught up strings and keys and fumbled my way into music that’s less pretty than it is emotionally honest. And this feels like a way forward.

When I am swept up with sorrow and desire for myself, my neighbors, my family, and the world, I have other options than to try to tell with words a way forward through the mess. Other options besides arguing or clamoring for my voice to be heard. Instead, where I feel the weight that’s sunk down like a rock in my gut, I can feel face and limb tremble, and let tears and song swell.

I needn’t fight to be understood or bury my body in a tomb of silence. Instead, out of deep soul-quiet, I can let it out—in all the imperfections—my tender trying.

It’s with our bodies, that we make and heal the world; in our practice of showing up when it doesn’t come easy just showing up in our own skin.

“How Dare You!”: De-centering whiteness from Bernie to Stonewall

“How dare you!?! How DARE you?!? How dare you call ME a racist!” These words echo through the crowd in the shaky, cell-phone videos of Black Lives Matter activists who took over the podium at last week’s Bernie Sanders event in Downtown Seattle.

When I first heard about the event takeover, I cringed. Not just because of how I knew it would be perceived and received my the majority of white liberals in Seattle. No, I cringed, because this tactic offended my sensibilities. In my head I was already mansplaining why this kind of incivility isn’t changing the conversation for the better–isn’t shifting conditions for Black people; isn’t addressing the heart-change that needs to occur hand-in-hand with systemic change.

I think like this, because I have been taught to think that I own the system. I have been taught that I know the best way, the right way, and that my version of what keeps me comfortable in crucial community conversations is the definition of civil discourse.

The cardinal sin of the two Black Lives Matter organizers was that they did the one thing worse than being an actual racist–they called people racists. Horrors!

There is no worse possible crime in the small, fragile world of our white social consciousness. And the worst way to commit this crime is to do so while expressing authentic emotions of pain, suffering, and anger at a lifetime of oppression. Add on top of this being black women, taking over a microphone and platform reserved for a white-haired, white, male politician, and cue up the outrage.

I say this sarcastically, and I say it in all seriousness. This feeling that I have of being offended because they’re derailing the best current hope for significant political change, just goes to show that my rubric for change is centered on me in my privileged experience of whiteness. Change for who? I’ve been troubled by Sanders’ apparent expectation that his past record working for civil rights should be enough credibility around race in today’s climate. But the whole enterprise of whiteness in our political system is set up to make me think that Bernie’s the good guy.

But a USAmerican president needs to be able to listen to, and engage in the complexity of this USAmerican problem. I honestly think that Bernie (if not completely hogtied by an obstinate congress) could make things a lot better in this country–by my standards. But my standards don’t take into account that we don’t talk about having jobs crises or income inequality as national problems in this country except when they occasionally creep up as problems for white USAmericans. Then they become center-stage issues.

Why? Because white guys own the center stage, that’s why.


Meanwhile, in LGBTIQ-land, part progress and part commodification as target audience means another meaningful moment in our queerstory is finally being told–only, of course, it’s being told as his-story, as per usual.

And by his-story, I mean the story of a white dude. Sure he’s gay, but this is still USAmerica. I wasn’t alive when the riots began at the Stonewall Inn. But, through digging, and searching, I’ve learned the stories. Trans women of color threw the first bricks and fists. While white folks in suits and dresses had marched in tidy lines with polite picket signs, seeking to be treated with respect and civility, those whose bodies and lives would never be “civil” enough took to rioting in the streets. So why has Hollywood decided to tell the story of Stonewall as if it were primarily about the experience of a white man?


And here’s where our language exposes us: those who are unable to be seen as civil–that quality of never bringing discomfort to those in power–are, by definition, un-civil-ized; savages. It’s the myth that “our” way is the “right” way, and the way of those “not like us,” is less than. This thinking runs so very deep in white culture. It is this systemic, linguistic, and internalized bias that makes us ALL racists.

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And why is that SOOOO offending to be called a racist? Because it’s uncivilized to call someone a racist–which is to say, it makes me question my status as basically decent, and thus it makes me feel feelings that hurt, and so I get uncomfortable. And in that moment when I feel bad, that’s mirror neurons firing. And that’s empathy for another human being trying to take hold. But I’ve been told that my comfort is more important than your oppression, so I dissociate from that human feeling of empathy and double-down on the assertion that being called a racist is a worse offense than me staying cocooned in my comfort and not addressing my actual participation in and benefits from a racist system.

The reality is that if I choose to listen to the empathy, this uncomfortable task is never going to be done, no matter how many civil rights movements I participate in throughout my life.


I know that white people experience hardship and oppression. God knows, I seek out films that have positive gay protagonists–films that don’t depict gay white men that look like me as werewolves, or serial killers, or monsters. But I don’t get to re-write the events of our common story to put someone who looks like me at the center of our real-life story when that’s not really what happened. Tell me why there’s uproar over Black Santa and Black Spider Man but only whispers on the edges of the conversation when a cute, young, white man is placed in the center of a real-life story that wasn’t his?

If it is true that all lives matter, then there should be no problem whatsoever with shouting at the top of our lungs–for as long as it takes to bring equity–that Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter. Brown Lives Matter. Native Lives Matter. Female Lives Matter. Trans Lives Matter. Immigrant Lives Matter. And yes, of course, White Lives Matter. None of these truths cancel out the others. It’s just that only one of these has been codified in our constitution, in our customs, in our language, in our economics, in our religious institutions, and in the fabric of our society. So, there is serious inequity (a word that shares roots with the word iniquity), and that doesn’t get changed by pretending everything is equal without taking the time to understand and change things in reality.

This truth must be acknowledged, confessed, felt, and brought forward for accountability,  by those of us who are white: white male lives have long held militarized power in center stage and oppressively forced our definition of civil-ized discourse on our society.

Debates are won by the party who defines the terms of the debate–Especially when that same party has controlled the labor that built the house, held the pen that signed the laws, carried the weapons that enforced control, written the checks, and monopolized the airwaves. Just because something is civil in terms of what keeps me comfortable as a white man, doesn’t mean it isn’t also heinous and unjust.


I don’t know the best way forward. That’s the only place that I know to start from.

I can’t keep operating out of the implicit messages of society that tell me I am right, just because I happen to have been born on center stage, with all the gun-rights, privileges, and conversation-defining responsibilities thereof. My white penis doesn’t make me the most human human. It just makes me unfairly advantaged at this point on our collective timeline.

Hear this, my fellow white folks: being ignorant of our biases is not the same thing as being objective. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore the voices of those who point out our errors. And it is inhumane to cling to our comfort through dissociation from feelings of empathy that could lead us into curiosity and compassion when we hear others tell us that we are part of a problem that is causing pain and suffering for our fellow human beings.

While I like the post-modern socialist idea of disassembling the stage altogether, I recognize that that’s the equivalent of blowing up the ice cream truck as soon as I finish standing at the front of the line and sampling all the flavors. Maybe it saves everyone from getting diabetes in the long run, but in the immediate reality, I’m the only one with any calories in my stomach.

So, perhaps what I need to do is feel my uncomfortable feelings when the discourse feels uncivil. Those feelings might be telling me something about my biases and blind spots. And if I listen, I just might learn some new ways forward through this mess, from people who’ve seen it with more clarity than I have.

The Church and The Flag (Confederate and Otherwise)

While I have long advocated the removal of the confederate flag, the reality is, growing up in the States of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, my life path could have easily veered and led to me driving a Chevy pickup down a backroad with a gun rack and 10-foot flag flying behind it.

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(image of author as a child, waiving a USAmerican flag)

It seems far-fetched, but it’s not so hard to believe. I remember when Georgia governor Roy Barnes pushed through the ugliest flag in the Union in order to try, as a compromise, to remove the confederate battle flag (though the new flag still had a smaller version of the battle flag on it). And there was significant outrage among the rural white people in the state. And then, 2 years later the next governor pushed through a change to another flag, which still flies today, this time, the confederate national flag instead of the battle flag.

I have heard the most elaborate arguments about heritage, symbols of states’ rights, and honoring war veterans. I’ve heard these words from politicians, neighbors, and relatives. But I never heard these arguments made in church. Thank God. Perhaps, in the shadow of the cross, there was enough decency and humility to be honest; to say that symbols that evoke hatred and racial oppression are important to study and remember so that we do not forget our shared stories of trauma, but they do not belong as symbols to be revered. Perhaps. Or perhaps there was just enough honesty to feel ashamed, and thus to seek out another symbol under which to lay claim to power.


Every church of my childhood had a cross and two flags. The Christian flag (did you know we had a flag?!?!) and the flag of the United States of America. I learned the Pledge of Allegiance and said it each week in church. On Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Independence  Day, we recognized and applauded military personnel. I’ve been in church services where people ecstatically raised their hands in worship as the congregation reached the chorus of America the beautiful: “America, America, God shed his grace on thee. . .” Even as an adolescent, it was not lost on me that these people were literally singing a worship song to a nation state that they primarily revered for it’s military power.

The confederate battle flag (and national flag, for that matter–here’s looking at you, Georgia) is inarguably a symbol of racialized oppression and disunity, with concrete historical ties to slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. But make no mistake, “Old Glory” is every bit as blood spattered and represents a heinous history and ideology:

  • Genocide of dozens of sovereign nations of indigenous people
  • Continued second-tier status for U.S. owned territories
  • Exploitative global capitalism
  • Military oppression around the world
  • US Exceptionalism
  • Using the myth of the merit of citizenship to oppress, exploit, underpay, imprison, and then export immigrant workers and families all to subsidize our capital corporations

And while there are those who would argue that a flag is a symbol of our ideals, not our shortcomings, I have to ask, at what point do we finally admit that our nation-state does not, in fact, provide “liberty and justice for all”? Or perhaps, what should be clear, in the case of the US flag and the Confederate flag, we are willing to stomach just about anything as long as it is a symbol of our own supremacy.

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(image of author, age 11, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA, wearing a USA hat)

It is this dynamic that is at play when mass media refers to African American, Latino American, Native American, and Asian American communities, crime, problems, etc. But does not discuss White American communities, crimes, or problems–problems like white supremacy, rabid defense of gun ownership and access that is irrevocably linked to mass shootings the vast majority of which are committed by white men. When it is convenient for white problems to disappear, the word “American” means ever citizen of every race. But when it comes time to assert white supremacy, “American” becomes an implicit stand in for White Americans, by use of racialized modifiers to single out “problems in the Black Community.”

It’s this “American” means everybody when it’s time to take responsibility, but “American” means white when it comes time to determine who holds power, that makes this word, and this flag, so slick with blood.


This is why I detest the Confederate flag; this is why I detest the American flag.

I do not pledge allegiance. I do not stand, I do not place my hand on my heart. I do not sing the national anthem.

My allegiance and my heart belong to my human brothers and sisters. I do not give a damn what nationality they are, and this country and this flag represent a nation that has grown up out of racialized oppression, beginning with the genocide of this land’s first inhabitants and growing from there.

As a Christian my faith compels me to follow a God who moves towards all people to bless our differences and bring us into community. The heart of my faith, as taught by Jesus is to love God and love my neighbor. And from everything that I can see, the flag is a veil that is meant to obscure–to hide bloody truths, to shift directions with the wind of convenience, and, because I am a white USAmerican, it is meant to enforce my power in this world, over and against my neighbors. And that is not a poison that I am willing to ingest.


People of a faith that’s most important tenant is love have a responsibility not only to demand the removal of symbols of inequity from our houses of worship. We are also faced, in the faces of our brothers and sisters, with the call to repent of our allegiances to the symbols and ideals that callous our hearts to the lived realities of oppression. As the book of Common Prayer leads us, we must “repent of the evil that enslaves us; the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”

The flag–like military force, police brutality, privatized ICE interment camps, the stock market, and unmanned drones–is an abstraction that allows us to think of ourselves as loving and good, while enacting evil on our behalf. Removing the veil from our eyes and de-sacralizing the symbols is only a first step that opens the wound so that we can do the difficult work of repentance.