Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

No, My Profile Pic Isn't a Red Equal Sign

And it won't be. I know the Human Rights Campaign wants me to change it. I get it that it would "raise awareness" about the upcoming Supreme Court marriage equality case.

But honestly, beautiful readers, I'm tired. I'm tired of having to tell people about something that has been in the news over and over that they already know about if they generally track current events. I'm tired of having to check boxes to be entitled to civil rights. When is there enough posted on social media? When have I contributed to enough petitions? When have I shared my stories enough for you to understand? (Incidentally, you can still find my stories here. I'm not discontinuing the blog.)

My marriage exists. It's not perfect. No one's is. But I'm tired of checking boxes and having to have, at least in public, a better marriage than my heterosexual peers to be deserving of legal recognition.

The Supreme Court will not be checking my facebook profile in their decision. They shouldn't be. Social media doesn't determine whether heightened scrutiny is warranted, or whether the Constitution promises equal protection, or whether Loving v. Virginia is a reasonable precedent, or if having already allowed hundreds or thousands of couples across many of the states now in question to get married or file federal taxes would create undue hardship if they upheld state level bans on marriage equality, or whether religion gets a say in civil marriage, or whose amicus briefs have it right, or many other things that actually have bearing on this case.

No shade on those who are doing these things. In fact, props for denying cynicism and participating in the process. I voted and won't stop voted. I wrote my legislators and governor, multiple times. My story is here, in digestible installments. I don't know how putting my face in a red box again, like I did for DOMA, will help.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bringin' Civility Back: 7 Phrases/Principles for More Respectful Web Dialogue

I'm bringin' courtesy back, cuz all the social media trolls just don't know how to act . . .

Last year, we used a book called "They Say, I Say" in my Ph.D. program. I wasn't initially sold on it, but I recommend it with some regularity now. I'm drawing somewhat on its formatting style, which is to highlight ways of phrasing statements in academic writing.

Y'all, I've been seeing a lot of facebook threads lately that utterly lack civility. I'm not saying we can't disagree or argue, or that everything has to be perfectly PC, but we also can do better than slamming the other side, generalizing/stereotyping others so that we can dismiss them, and repeating the same tired rhetoric over and over. To that end, here are some statements that CommittingintheMitten would really like to see more often:

1. "Could you clarify that?"

We often assume we know what someone means, even if we don't know that person or their comment is very brief. Instead of jumping to conclusions, ask for more information.  Another version is: "What I think you're saying is . . . do I have that right?"

2. "This has been my personal experience . . ."

If your opinion is based on personal experience, own that. Anecdotes can help statistics come to life. But their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness - if it's your story, that doesn't mean it's been the same for others. Be honest about that.

3. "From my survey of this thread, the big themes I see are . . . "

Oh, to use this one, you have to read the whole thread. If you're interested in engaging, think about what you bring to the conversation. Repeating what pundits have said, especially in cliche form, really isn't helpful. Repeating what has already been said in other comments also isn't helpful. Summarizing your interpretation and then adding your viewpoint to fill in gaps or expand is how to help us all move forward with you.

4. "Thank you for sharing your experience."

One reason many default to rhetoric is to avoid taking the risk of sharing something personal. Or, alternatively, people have downgraded themselves because in the past, no one has shown any sign of caring. If someone has shared something that has helped you understand better, whether it's someone you know or not, thanking them is a way of telling them to keep it up!

5. "I think we've gotten away from the topic at hand."

Everything is connected. Lots of things must be considered systematically. Sometimes, in a thread, another topic starts to emerge, and that's not always bad, but sometimes threads are taken over by discussion of an issue that is more salient/noticeable. Sometimes, it helps to steer back toward the original topic.

6. Ask yourself before you post: "Would I say this to a friend, to her face?"

The anonymity of the Internet does something in our heads, especially in a thread where we don't know most of the people. If you're about to post something you wouldn't be willing to own in an in-person conversation, give it a second look. Could you be kinder?

7. Ask yourself before you post: "Am I trying to find a solution, or just criticize everything everyone else says?"

Jesus rarely allowed Himself to get caught in dilemmas. When facing two bad options, He typically rejected both and found a third one. Many people object to compromise because they feel that ceding ground to the other side puts them in a moral area where they're uncomfortable. Fair enough, but is there a more creative way to solve the problem? Is criticizing the other side, particularly in its entirety, without offering a tenable suggestion, productive? Is there a genuine question you could ask to try to understand better first?

I'm sure this list isn't exhaustive. It's not that I don't want to hear what you have to say. It's just that we're all muddling through this together, and maybe sometimes people should get the benefit of the doubt. Maybe attempting to understand can take precedence over being right, particularly in a social media discussion that isn't deciding policy. We could all use a little more grace in a number of areas.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

In Defense of: Millenials

Full disclosure: I identify as a member of the Millenial generation. 9/11 was probably the single biggest impact on my adolescence, and while I remember life before the internet, I'm a digital native. I'm highly educated, concerned with social justice, and disillusioned with the current political system, which are qualities also associated with Millenials. This post, however, is less about my block of that group and more about my high school aged students who would also count as Millenials.

I know many people feel that my students are vapid narcissists who can't go a minute without checking social media. I know that many people feel that they seem entitled, shy away from hard work, and don't know the value of a dollar. Some people might say that these students are obsessed with shortcuts.

Maybe some are these things, just as members of other generations are. But let me tell you what I see.

My students - in most cases, regardless of their economic background -

are spread like butter over too much bread 

 (to quote Bilbo from Lord of the Rings). Many fight to take the challenging courses they know they will need to prepare for life after high school and then come home to piles of homework that they do well into the night, leaving them running on less sleep, in some cases, than my wife who is a medical resident. On top of this, they volunteer, participate in extracurriculars (yes, usually plural), and/or work part-time jobs (also sometimes at hours that make my head foggy in sympathetic sleep deprivation).

They are pushed to pick universities and careers at younger and younger ages. They understand so deeply that they must get postsecondary training in order to succeed that I sometimes can palpably feel their panic when something threatens that. Many also stare down the monster of a pile of student debt unless they find scholarships from what seems like an ever-shrinking pool requiring ever higher feats of strength or genius.

On top of that, their numbers - GPA and ACT - become an ingrained part of their identity. They judge, from these numbers, whether they are smart, worthy, competent. They judge whether their dreams have merit from these numbers. Many pile test prep on top of these already full schedules when what is really impeding them is the anxiety stemming from them. I wish I could tell every 16-year-old in the country that he/she is so much more than these numbers.

In response to the concern about shortcuts - I've seen these students come up with elegantly creative solutions using their graphing calculators and other forms of technology. They think differently. If we can leverage that, they will solve problems using methods that would never occur to me. They will collaborate to degrees that we cannot imagine. But sometimes they cannot solve the problems so elegantly, it's true. They're young, and the weight on them is great. It breaks my heart to tell you that I have been asked by more than one student what I think of students (without an attention deficit diagnosis or legal prescription) taking Ritalin or Adderall to improve their scores. Most know someone who has done this successfully. My answer is that these medications without the supervision of a doctor are extremely dangerous, and no matter how important the tests seem now, they aren't worth potentially dying for. Once a student told me, half joking, that I was wrong about that. Without getting into my life history, I looked into his eyes and quietly told him that suicide is not a punchline for me.

I love talking to my students about what they intend to write in their admissions essays. This is where I get to hear about their stories and dreams, where their eyes light up with hope instead of clouding with worry, where they realize that someone sees them as more than these numbers. I try not to tell them what they should do, instead asking them what they like to do, what they've considered, where they've visited, what makes them happy. I hope that I am not the only person who tells them that they should do what makes them want to get up in the morning, that they should attend the university that will support their dreams, that it's okay to admit that they don't want to work 100 hours a week for the rest of their lives.

I don't know what the answer is, but I know that my heart aches to see them.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Your Questions: My Answers

This blog exists, like most things, for a reason. Originally, I created it to keep you updated about our first wedding. Now, it has become a place for me to share my story and my heart. You have questions, so many questions, or are looking for perhaps a glimmer of your life or love story. 

I end up commenting on more than my share of articles about the church and LGBT issues. I'm trying to be more discerning in my choices so that I don't get sucked into trolling, mudslinging, personal attacks, etc. I don't always succeed, and I apologize if any of you have not found my responses as compassionate or loving as Jesus' would have been. I hope that you feel convicted - on either side of the aisle - but not shamed.

Some of you may have noticed that I sometimes post links to posts during these online discussions or may refer you to the blog. This is not a shameless plug to drive traffic. I'm always humbled and surprised when there is any traffic to my blog. I'm directing you there because while this question is new for you, or you've been wondering for a while but haven't found someone you felt comfortable asking, chances are, I've been asked your question before. I've heard the doctrinal interpretation condemning or supporting my marriage. 

I'm humbled that you think my story might shed light on your sincere questions. I'm surprised that you think I might have an interpretation worth hearing. I know that it takes courage to ask, to seek understanding and reconciliation on such a contentious issue. 

I've grown open in my life, so open, in fact, that people are surprised at what I'm willing to share, quickly, widely. I do that, readers, because I have heard your longing, my longing with you, for reconciliation. 

Why do I refer you to my blog sometimes? Because I've carefully worded these posts. I've tried to be fair and thoughtful and nuanced. 

And also, readers, because as much as I acknowledge your courage in asking, it took more courage to live my story. As you know, my life has not always been easy. No one's has, but those of you who have heard about my last six years know the pain I've seen. Some of you were there to carry that pain. I love you for that. Many of you wish you had been and have poured out compassion. 

As much courage as you have taken to ask, it has taken to live, it takes to answer. I want to. With all the love I can muster. But it is exhausting, readers, sometimes, to tell the story, to relive the pain, and sometimes, especially online, in a comment thread, I can't. I give myself permission to guard my heart and story in the name of self care. And so I refer you to this blog, to the relevant piece of my heart or story. I ask you to read first and follow up. I ask you to acknowledge the courage it has taken to discuss these things on a public blog for the evaluation of no one and the whole world at once.

If you still have questions, come for dinner at a time when I can prepare to put on a brave face or fall apart in a safe space. If you are remote, we can do Skype or Google Hangouts. I will not withhold my story, but sometimes I must delay, and I must ask for your support and for you to consider how many times I've answered and how much pain may come up. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter and Church Seeking as an LGBT woman

I've had questions from friends and pastors about my church seeking experiences. Some are just curious, and I think others hope to glean something for their church welcome team or environment. This post is intended to be timed to help the latter group out with the Easter crowd - those who have grown up in the church may be more drawn to return during Holy Week, and those who grew up unchurched may see an opportunity to try out something new on this very precious day.

While my experiences should never be taken to explain the entire LGBT community, I have a principle that I believe Hester Wheeler, the head of the NAACP in Detroit, shared with a fellowship program I was in:

At the end of the day, we all want the same things.

Rebecca and I have moved so many times and done so much church seeking in different areas that we have a few litmus tests for whether we'll return to a church. Do I know that litmus tests for this kind of thing are problematic? Yes. However, here is the primary one:

Did someone ask me my name and try to get to know me?

Wouldn't you want that? Even if you're completely the prototypical person checking out a faith community for the first time? And especially if you weren't sure if you were welcome?

Because I know that isn't really the advice people are looking for, I will share a few other red flags that are narrower to the LGBT community.

Please, please avoid cliches.

I don't want to hear you say that "it's not your place to judge," "it's not a worse sin than any other sin," or any of the other things people think are helpful. Most of the time, it tells me either that you've never really thought about this issue, or that you're lumping me into a group without getting to know me.

Okay, so what should I say about the fact that they're gay if I can't use those cliches?

If you're not sure what to say to a gay person you've just met at your church, refer to the litmus test. You just met this person. Would you comment on a straight person's perceived sexual sin if you'd just met them at an Easter service? Would you want to be asked that kind of question? What would you ask a straight person? When I first meet someone at church, I generally ask what they do for a living, or for fun, or how many siblings he/she has, or how long they've been following Jesus. If this person decides to stay, and your church believes in celibacy for the LGBT community (CommittingintheMitten has nothing kind or reasonable to say about the disproven practice of gay conversion - it's dangerous and ineffective), you can discuss that at a later time when you know this person's story. Or during the membership process. Or when that person asks. If you attend a gay affirming church, you still don't need to single out this person or couple. Ask the couple how they met, or where they live, or whether they have pets.

I'm not saying that if your church isn't 100% gay affirming, you should hide that. If the LGBT guest asks, you should address the question, or direct the guest to someone who can. I'm not saying that you have to give up what you believe in or condone a relationship you don't approve of. But you have the opportunity to share Jesus' love with someone who maybe has never felt it. You have the opportunity to share the story of redemption and the cross with someone who has maybe never truly heard it. Today isn't the day to literally or figuratively push someone out the church doors.

I hope that helps, at least a little. As I've said before, if you want more specifics or have questions, feel free to schedule a coffee date or to come for dinner. And if you're looking for a church for Easter, I'd love to bring you to mine. We're not perfect, but we're friendly.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blessed Art Thou - If You Hunger for Justice

 Perhaps because we're into Holy Week now, with Easter so quickly approaching, I've been feeling solemn and reflective. I'm also still heartsick over the RFRA in Indiana, although I'm grateful for the number of friends and churches surrounding me who have asserted, firmly, that they believe in welcoming all who would come. 

In church Sunday, I believe that the Holy Spirit laid a passage of Scripture on my heart. It's well-known, in some ways, but I can't say that I've considered it enough. To be honest, I still think of it in the King James Version, despite having used the New International Version and then the New Revised Standard Version for the past several years. Pondering the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, linked to the Bible Gateway chapter) feels like a throwback to MAPS Bible study early in my college career in the Mason basement, sitting with a circle of women seeking relationship with Jesus and fellowship with others. Today, I'm sharing this passage in the New Living Translation. Although I know many consider this translation less rigorous than some others, I find that sometimes hearing the Scripture in more modern English hits me harder. Feel free to use the Bible Gateway link to toggle to your preferred translation.

The Sermon on the Mount

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
    for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.*
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

*Emphasis mine 

Some of these goals seem conflicting in the current cultural climate. It is a challenge to hunger for justice and work for peace. Jesus is the greatest representation of that - I think we often forget how confrontational He could be while at the same time seeking reconciliation for all to God. It is also easy to forget that our current struggles, persecution, and troubles, via gossip, political judgment, lack of civil rights, etc are nothing compared to the glory of God's kingdom of justice, mercy, grace, peace, and holiness coming, both on Earth and when we join our Savior in heaven.

I hope that reading this passage today will both convict us and lift up our faces.

P.S. I haven't forgotten that I promised a post about church-seeking, including the LGBT community in services, and evangelism to the LGBT community - and I'm still hoping to get it out in time for Easter. I just need to ponder a little more.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Normal Stress and it feels so Good

For those of you who have known me a while, you know that the last few years have been filled with more than a normal share of stress. The year Rebecca finished second year and we relocated to Wyandotte for her to start her clerkship, our pastor mentioned a survey that essentially quantified how stressful individual life events are, and then provides ranges of how stressful a person's life in general is. When we added mine up - graduating, getting married, moving, multiple new jobs, death of an immediate family member, poverty, death of chosen and extended family members - I was sitting somewhere around double the threshold for "very stressful." Some of these things are normal life events, of course. But piled up like that was overwhelming. And Josh's death wasn't a normal life event. Add in the stress of a same sex wedding my family didn't support and that wasn't legally recognized, combined with doing all of those things in the middle of the Recession, combined with changing providers and a med regimen that left me wiped, and pretty significant gastro problems, and well, to be honest, I barely survived.

But I did. And I gained perspective. So much perspective.

I just, this past month, finished my first peak season as a full-time test prep professional.  My "gay agenda" included lots of teaching, tutoring, paperwork, driving, student contact, parent contact, etc. Also eating, sleeping, trying to see my spouse, and . . . well, a whole lot of normal things. I was bone tired from working more than 60 hours a week. I missed my spouse because she too was working a lot, and not always the same schedule. I was stressed from the number of responsibilities. But really, it was invigorating. I was fulfilled. I was living the dream - making an honest living doing something I looked forward to. Making a difference for at least some of my students, I hope. My stress was for something that seemed to make sense, seemed to be moving forward.

And I realized something. This was what normal people (whatever that means) mean when they say that they're stressed, or "crazy busy," or tired. Not that their medication leaves them in a fog. Not that they wake up in the morning and realize that they will never see their beautiful brother's face light up. Not that they fear coming out at work, or having a health emergency while essentially uninsured, or watching their spouse be forced to go to "work" (unpaid) for more than 80 hours some weeks.

And it felt good. It felt good to be normal stressed and know that I could survive, and even thrive, in the face of challenges.