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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why Becoming Gay Affirming is not a Panacea for the Evangelical Church

Recently, I read an article, probably on Think Progress, about a group that is pushing for evangelical churches to become gay affirming, or at least Third Way (basically agreeing to disagree and putting love first). Both of these things are good things, and I do hope more churches will do them.

However, there was an implication in the article that this would fix all that is wrong with the evangelical church. I contend that it will not cause millenials to come pouring back in, convince everyone to behave in line with every moral teaching of the church, or otherwise heal the gaping wound in US society. Neither will glossy flyers, snappy logos, slick slogans, or flashy PowerPoint.


The answers are complicated, but I will do my best to explain succinctly.

The ways gays are treated is symptomatic of a larger problem. On the continuum of mercy and justice (or grace and punishment), the church has swung very far in favor of justice in many cases. In the case of same sex marriage, this has led to a dogmatic insistence that gays cannot be married by their ministers. Many people refuse to even consider the situation or truly learn about the relationship before passing judgment.

But this is not the case only for gays. I have heard similar reactions for people getting divorced. For that matter, the attitude about sex outside of marriage generally seems to be an all or nothing proposition. Either people (especially girls) wait until marriage, or they are shamed and judged, told that they are dirty and ruined. 

Let me be clear. I am not saying that it is the church's job to look the other way or condone all sin. But, as Relient K once so aptly said, the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair. Or if you want even more authority, look to Jesus' instruction that he who is perfect should cast the first stone. This is followed - followed - by an admonition to the woman to go and sin no more. No shame. Just love, and direction to move forward in grace humbly striving to be more like him the next time.

I could list many more factors that I've seen in churches, but I think issues of honesty and authentic community stem from having a balance of mercy and justice. When people know that others will try to understand and support better choices, they open up. They feel that they belong. When we follow the greatest commandment (to love the Lord and to love our neighbors), we tolerate different viewpoints (particularly those on tertiary doctrine) and are willing to examine what our religious text and church history actually mean, rather than repeating interpretations that haven't changed significantly since childhood Sunday school, because we value others and want to grow.

I have had to examine my beliefs and consider whether the way I was treating the gay community was consistent with the life of Jesus. When I found that it was not, I also realized that there were a bunch of other people I wasn't loving very well either (as discussed in previous posts, I will never claim to be perfect now).

What happened when I moved away from justice toward mercy? People opened up to me. I believe that this is because many of them want someone who will not throw stones, but who believes that there is grace to go and sin no more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Q Word

A friend and I were recently discussing slurs. I mentioned something about feeling that the word queer feels like the N-word to me. His response paraphrased a comedy sketch about midgets: the difference between queer and the N word is that I'm willing to say queer.

I don't identify as queer. In fact, I will use the much longer "LGBT spectrum" to describe myself. As I've said before, if you want a more specific, nuanced view of how I identify, private message me or better yet, tell me when you want to come for dinner.

Why don't I identify as queer, when the LGBT movement has worked hard to reclaim the term? One reason is that as a child, a homophobic family member used it (another also implied more recently that even the word gay is almost a swear word) to refer to gay people.

The other is that to me, it still implies othering. The opposite of queer is perhaps straight or heterosexual, but on a deeper connotative level, the opposite is also normal. As I've said before, I don't consider my relationship abnormal. Unless I am hyper sexualized so that only what happens in the bedroom occasionally matters (and even then, I'm not sure othering is appropriate), my marriage is as normal as any marriage ever is.

I am not disparaging those who do identify as queer. I understand the reasons for wanting an umbrella term. I'm just not at a point where I'm comfortable with that (and I hope to get up a post about discomfort soon). For straight people who use this term, I encourage you to educate yourselves about the history of the term and what it currently means before applying it to someone.

Friday, October 3, 2014

MI Love: Fabiano's

Located right next to the Soup Spoon on Michigan Ave in Lansing, Fabiano's is an absolute gem of a candy shop. At Christmastime, they still make handmade candy canes in dozens of flavors. Their selection of truffles and other chocolates is varied and scrumptious, and the prices are the most reasonable I've ever seen.

Fabiano's holds a special place in my heart for another reason, though. The last time I saw my brother was shortly after his birthday and at his graduation. He was a beanpole- always has been. I had Fabiano's fill up two half pound boxes (one for birthday and one for graduation) of what I hoped were his favorite flavors, based on childhood memories. Buttercream and praline and maple made strong appearances - these were not my favorites, but it didn't matter what I wanted. He asked if there was a "map," and I responded with a Forrest Gump quote I knew he loved: "Life's like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

He died a few days later. I must have done okay, because he had made a significant dent in them.

A ritual I have undertaken the last two years around the day of his death is to go wait in the long holiday lines at Fabiano's, inhaling the aroma and strategizing. I try to pick flavors he would have liked, as before, but I eat them myself. If, as David Phelps says, "life is a church and these are the sacraments," this is a way I share communion with him. I have been surprised, sometimes, at how much I enjoy flavors I never would have picked for myself. (If you haven't tried a dark chocolate praline cream yet, a visit to Fabiano's is definitely in order.) And maybe that's a lesson for me. I hope I am learning to be more empathetic and to try new things. Even if they are seemingly insignificant. After all, life is like a box of chocolates.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Choosing Love Now: Loving Unconditionally

Like many women, I have entered into past romantic relationships with the notion that if I could just fix a few things about my significant other, everything would be perfect. I believed that I could essentially choose to love the future version of that person I had crafted. I think part of me thought that loving that future person would somehow make everything okay. Not surprisingly, some of those relationships blew up in my face. I have asked myself since if I truly loved those people. The only honest answers I can give are that I definitely thought that I did at the time and that perhaps I had no idea what love really meant. (If you are one of those people, and you are reading this, I sincerely apologize for not loving you better.) I often see relationships like this now, both in my own life and in relationships around me.

I am not claiming that now my views on love are perfect or that I always love perfectly. That would be far, far from the truth. I enter into this post with as much humility as I can muster, in the hopes that sharing these observations may refine my perspective and perhaps offer clarity to others.

I have noticed a great deal of conditional love of the LGBT community. In the movie Milk (a very worthwhile film, if you haven't seen it), a character asserts that she loves gay people enough to tell them the truth about their sinful lives. I find this to be overly patronizing, particularly in this context, because often people who say this (and I have heard more than a few) have never gotten to know a gay person before judging them. And in the case that people do know the LGBT person they are judging and claim to love, I often find that the (often unintended or unexamined) implication is that if the gay person were just straight/cis, he/she/ze would be loved more or better.

This cuts the opposite way, too. I believed for a long time, and others have suggested the thought also, that my family would "come around" to my marriage, accept Rebecca, realize that they are wrong, etc. Some of them have known for years now, long enough for things to change. A few people have perhaps grown in some way, but not nearly to the extent I have hoped. Loving them unconditionally does not mean loving the future accepting/affirming version of them that may or may not ever exist. It does not mean that I cannot protect my marriage or make decisions that disagree with their beliefs. It does not mean that I would allow them to share these beliefs with my future children. But if I believe that they should stop trying to "fix" me, or that churches should in general give up reparative therapy, then I also must choose to love people who have not arrived to the same views as I have.

I will leave you with a question: Whom do you love unconditionally? How do you know?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Choosing Love: The Sequel

A couple months ago, I wrote an exceedingly popular post about choosing love, even when it was hard and I didn't feel like it. My conclusion was that when we choose love, we are blessed, even if our situation doesn't change externally.

I haven't posted about this before, because I was still processing, but it's time to say something. My paternal grandmother is dying. Not like we're all dying, where of course it's coming. She's now on hospice care, and we probably have a week or two left. She has been sick for a long time, and it has gotten increasingly difficult for her to breathe. She is not anxious about dying, really. She looks forward to going to Heaven to be with Jesus and the family members that are already there. I, in some ways, welcome her peace and healing, and I believe that we will see her again someday. Please don't ask if I'm okay. This post will tell you everything you need to know about how I'm doing. (For more on my perspective on grieving, this post is for you.)

But we will miss her. I can't say that I agree with everything she's said or done, but she is a woman of deep, active conviction. She taught Sunday school and VBS for years. She volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center after she retired. Even when it got difficult to get out, she opened her home. For any of you who have been to dinner at my house and liked my entertaining style, know that I learned it from her. She's an amazing storyteller. The best whistler I know. To hear her talk about a Vernor's Boston Cooler with Sander's ice cream, you would think she was telling you about the finest French pastry.

So about choosing love. My family is a family, so by definition it's dysfunctional. I get that, but these are the moments when everyone should rally together. Yet there is a great deal of discord, some of which I fear will not be surmounted in time. I am still frustrated with what happened last December. And I said that I would not attend events that Rebecca is not invited to. But refusing to see my grandmother at this point isn't going to change what happened. That rule is for my protection and benefit as I make difficult choices about where to spend the holidays, not to punish my family. And I know that I will never regret sitting with Grandma, or bringing her ice cubes, or rubbing her back, or discussing the proper way to make a Boston Cooler. I cannot see a way that I will regret making her dinner. I also won't regret being there to provide even a small amount of relief for the family members caring for her. I'm sure I won't regret validating their decisions to grieve the way they need to or to do self-care.

My family may regret boycotting my wedding. They may not. I don't know. But I know that I will not regret choosing love or choosing to extend the small graces that I have available to me in this present moment, even though I am concerned that Rebecca may not be invited to the memorial service when I really will need her with me for support.

The pastor shared this passage from 1 John 4 yesterday, and I found it incredibly convicting:

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.

I hope that all readers will choose love with me today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Being a Unicorn

Readership on this blog is higher than I ever would have expected. Last I checked, it has been viewed more than 8,000 times, mostly in the U.S., but also far abroad in countries to which I've never been. I've asked myself why this is and had conversations with a few people recently. Posts on my personal story have consistently been more popular than cooking posts or restaurant reviews - for my theory on why, read this post on the power of personal narrative.

Everyone has a story, though. Certainly, not everyone blogs about theirs. But even of the people who do, not everyone sees any kind of viewership. I can't claim that my blog has risen to extreme popularity, but it's been interesting to have conversations with people who read it.

Readership seems to span many spectra - atheists, very religious people, academics, non-academics, the LGBT community, straight people . . . and as I said, there are views from places I've never been, including 30 from Latvia (shout out to whomever that is).

Why is my story interesting? Why does anyone care about my perspective?

I've come to conclude, through conversations with a few friends,


that I am a unicorn. 

Before, when I fit into a clear box - Millie from Freaks and Geeks, for instance - my story lacked plot and substance. My views were flat and undeveloped. When nothing bad or unexpected happens, we don't have a narrative (thanks, Profesor Ulchur of la Universidad San Francisco de Quito for that mind-blowing insight in your Boom de Literatura Latinoamerica course - my life will never be the same).

Now, many terrible and complicated things have happened to me. In some ways, I'm the same person as before, and in others, I have grown immeasurably. Why am I so rare/mythical?

1. I identify as LGBT, but not necessarily as a specific letter. 

(Ask me about that in person if you have questions.)

2. I regularly attend religious services at a relatively theologically conservative place of worship. 

While more progressive than the United Methodist and Baptist churches I've attended in the past, they are not really "gay affirming" as some other denominations are. People find it interesting that Rebecca and I have never been to a majority LGBT church in Ferndale, a nearby suburb. My perspective at this place of worship sounds highly valued - I have even been invited to speak with the elders, although this hasn't yet materialized. I've had conversations with other ministers about my church-seeking experiences (I mention one in my post on choosing love). Recently, a family member invited me to share my story at a retreat where issues of same-sex love will be discussed - I am unable to go, and unsure whether I would if I could, but the fact that my views were elicited is interesting.

 3. I sincerely believe that my relationship with Rebecca is Biblical, 

and I can articulately explain why, but I do not condemn those who currently sincerely believe that it is not. Some people may be critical of this, but as discussed, I was once where they are. I cannot say that I condone recruiting people to these conservative churches with the plan to "fix" them or at least convince them to be celibate, but neither do I think that excluding them from meaningful conversations will advance the kingdom of God.

4. I have had exactly one sexual partner in my life, 

breaking stereotypes many people have about the LGBT community. I feel this, and some of my other behaviors, render me "respectable," in much the way that Rosa Parks was found respectable enough to cause the Montgomery bus boycott when another woman also refused to give up her seat prior.

In Conclusion

I am definitely curious to find out why else people may think that I'm a unicorn (or other reasons people have been reading this blog). I cannot promise to address every question people have, but if there are facets of my perspective that haven't been addressed that are appropriate for this forum, let me know. I'll do my best.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Power of Personal Narrative

When I was young, I went through apologetics training at church. While I question the value of some of what I learned, the basic notion of learning how to have conversations that bring people to new understanding is a welcome one.

For me, the most currently relevant topic was that the most powerful tool we had is usually our own story. While people may argue with philosophical reasons, Bible references, and other attempts to persuade, and sometimes statistics feel cold and impersonal, personal narrative gets around that. It is difficult to argue with a person's story, assuming that they seem trustworthy and the story is honest and heartfelt. 

This blog has been a good lesson in that for me. As you know, I write posts on a variety of topics - some personal narratives, some recipes, product reviews, etc. When looking at statistics for readership, the personal narratives are almost always the most visited and often also the most shared. This doesn't mean, for those of you enjoying the recipes, that I will stop posting them. It does confirm for me, though, that the value of this blog is not really in them.

My story is a complicated one. Some parts of it are not for public consumption just yet (which is why a post on self censorship has languished as a draft for quite some time - and yes, I see the irony in that). When I meet someone who can listen to my whole story without judgment, or for whom I hope my story will expand understanding, I share it. But as with many stories, mine is better told in person. I wish I could meet with each of you to share stories over coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls. (If you will be in the area, let me know.) In the meantime, if you're interested in more specifics, feel free to email or private message me. I'd love to hear your story, questions, and perspectives.