I Contain Multitudes

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
~ from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Dang it, dang it, dang it. In a post I wrote a few days ago, I said Kim Davis is a person of worth and courage and integrity. And now I’m wishing I’d just kept quiet.

But, because I have an intense fear of being disliked, I don’t want any of my more conservative friends thinking I’m all “Down with Davis.” So I’ll reiterate: She does have worth. (We all do.) She seems courageous, given her defiance of a court order. (Courage and stupidity: two sides of the same coin.) And if you define integrity as sticking to your moral standards, she certainly has that going on.

But (again with the fear of being disliked) I don’t want any of my progressive friends thinking I’m all “Hooray for Davis.” Which seems to contradict what I just wrote.

Here’s what’s going on in my head: Yesterday, I watched this video of her, and for the teeniest moment, I wanted to retract the kinder things I’ve said about her. And then I wanted to throw something at her. (It’s not as violent as it sounds; I’d very likely miss.)

It was this declaration that got me:

“I just want to give God the glory; his people have rallied, and you are a strong people.”

I am a “God’s people,” and I’m a “strong people,” and I’d really rather not be lumped in together with Mr. Huckabee and Mrs. Davis and the throngs of people cheering her on while waving white crosses on sticks (What in the world?) and the people who are saying she’s a victim of religious persecution and Mr. Graham, who says Mrs. Davis “has shown the world how true Christians should stand up for their convictions.”

I am a “true Christian” (I’m trying to be anyway, and it’s stupid difficult and, to be honest, a little irritating—and I’m thankful that Jesus loves me even though I just said that out loud). I’ve stood up for my convictions. Except my convictions and the Huckabee-Davis-Graham convictions don’t exactly jive. So, what is the world supposed to make of that?

It’s really no wonder Christians have such terrible street cred.

Except Mrs. Davis’ arrest really had nothing to do with her convictions. She was jailed because she was in contempt of court. Mrs. Davis was not jailed because of her Christian beliefs. She made a decision based on her beliefs—which landed her in jail. The end.

And yet, I feel a little sympathy for her. This isn’t what she signed up for. She’d been in the clerk’s office for longer than two decades before she became County Clerk in January 2015. She took an oath to discharge the duties of her office before said duties were in violation of her religious beliefs. (Except I’m still turning that one around in my mind, because she would’ve given marriage licenses to people getting remarried, and her religious beliefs should be in opposition to that, too. So I’m confused.)

I also feel sympathy for her because the media has put her personal life on display—largely, it seems, for the purpose of stirring the pot. She’s on her fourth husband and there’s a bit of paternity scandal, and that’s caused people to cry, “Hypocrite!” Except she didn’t decide to follow Christ until 2011, long after all that was going on, so that’s not fair.

Also not fair—or legal: Denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

I’m not pro-Kim Davis. But I’m not anti-Kim Davis, either. It’s messy. Maybe that’s wishy-washy of me, but that’s what happens when you throw human beings in the mix; I have a terrible time trying to be either fully for or fully against people. (Even Trump. God help me.)

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Dark and Other Not Okay Things

Thumbs Down

Awful things are happening in the world right now–truly terrifying, heart-breaking, overwhelming things. I can’t really process any more of it today, and so I’m going to write about less serious things. I recognize my ability to turn off the noise for a little while is evidence of privilege. Please don’t take my need for levity as evidence of an uninformed or cold heart. I won’t stay turned away. I just need to breathe tonight.

A Semi-Random List of Things That Are Not Okay

Premature Election Coverage. Too early. Too much. Too ridiculous. I mean, Donald Trump is still in the race. (I don’t particularly care for Donald Trump’s ideas. I know some people do, and if “some people” includes you, I’ll still love you. But please don’t try to convince me to vote for him, because that’s simply not going to happen. It’s not. So let’s talk about something else.)

Red Velvet Oreos. In 2012, Nabisco decided to diversify. I’m a purist, so I’m all about regular Oreos. No, not even Double-Stuf, because gross. Just two chocolate wafers and a thin disk of sugar + vegetable shortening for me, please. I kept silent about the non-traditional flavors as long as I could, but I cannot stay quiet about something so egregious as Red Velvet Oreos. Buttermilk and vinegar, people. Buttermilk and vinegar. Red Velvet anything is disgusting.

Including Red Velvet Candy Corn. Seriously, Brach’s. That’s only slightly less gross than the Strawberry Shortcake ones. Keep it simple, I say: Regular and Indian Corn is all that needs to happen. (Is “Indian Corn” even politically correct? Honest question.)

Red Velvet M&Ms. As it turns out, the whole Red Velvet takeover is Mars, Inc.’s fault. It launched the Red Velvet M&M in 2014–available only at Walmart and only around Valentine’s Day. Let’s be clear: The only proper flavors of M&Ms are plain and peanut. No, not peanut butter. Those taste too much like…

Reese’s Pieces. Ew.

Holiday Confusion. Labor Day is different from Memorial Day.

Using Any of the Following Words or Phrases. “For all intensive purposes.” “I could care less.” “All of the sudden.” “Irregardless.”

Dark. It shouldn’t be dark at 6 pm. I mean, I’m already in my jammie pants by then (the Dallas Cowboy ones, thank you very much), but that doesn’t mean I want it to be dark. I just want it to be elastic-waist-pants time. It’s really not too much to ask.

(Writing this post is taking much longer than I expected it to—mostly because I keep thinking of serious things that aren’t okay, and I can’t put “concealed carry” on the same list as Reese’s Pieces. Oh, whoops. Did I say “concealed carry” out loud? *ducks*)

House millipedes. One came out from underneath my toaster not too long ago. Have you ever tried to kill an insect with a toaster? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Warning: Some viewers will find this photo disturbing. Also not okay: cave crickets. Springy, sneaky jerks.

Soprano clarinets. 

Putting the cereal back in the pantry when there’s a tablespoon’s worth of Frosted Flakes silt in the bottom of the box. No bueno.

All right, that’s enough. I’ll be back to taking myself too seriously soon. Thanks for indulging me a bit of a respite.

And

A few years ago, I had an ampersand tattooed on the top of my right foot. You know… one of these guys:

&

Aside from being my favorite typographical symbol (What? Doesn’t everyone have one of those?), it’s also a succinct way of describing my philosophy of humanity:

There’s always more to the story.

I’m obnoxiously empathic. Obnoxiously. As far as character flaws go, I’d argue that having too much empathy is better than having none at all, but, as people who are constantly exposed to my persistent, “Now wait a sec. Have you thought about it this way?” my family would disagree.

Case in point: When my girls complained about a bully in middle school, the first thing out of my mouth wasn’t, “Oh, honey. That sucks.” It was, “Oh wow. Do you think she has a tough home life, maybe?” Eventually, Emily began starting her stories with, “Okay, mom. I’m going to tell you about a mean kid, and I need you to take my side this time. Seriously. Please.”

Here’s another one: On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I was sitting on the living floor talking with my husband (of three months) about the terrorist pilots who destroyed buildings and lives and families and our country’s sense of safety and security. Before I could choke back the words, I heard myself say, “Those men are someone’s sons!” Jack’s mouth dropped open. “Are you seriously feeling sorry for the terrorists?!” (No, I wasn’t. Well, not exactly, anyway. I was feeling heartbroken for everyone.)

And another one: Jack and I were sitting at a little cafe in August of 2014, talking about the rioting, looting, protesting, fire-setting, tear-gassing, and general melee happening in Ferguson, Missouri. I can’t remember what I said exactly, but it must’ve been a doozy, because Jack shook his head, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “You’ve gone too far. You’re so open-minded that you’ve come all the way around to close-minded.”

Ouch.

I can’t help it, though; I’m naturally wired to see the other side—or sides—of a situation. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is just what I do. I guess I simply can’t stand to think that there are truly “bad” people in the world; I just know there’s a reason for their behavior, and I want to find it and understand it. Without exception, there is a why. There is always, always more to the story.

He’s a hateful and arrogant man and his father beat the hell out of him, his mom took his dad’s side, and he spent months on the streets before his aunt and uncle finally took him in.

She’s promiscuous and her mom was an alcoholic who had multiple boyfriends, one of whom repeatedly sexually abused her.

They stole cigarettes and they were trying to pay off the landlord so they wouldn’t be evicted.

She lost her job for no-call-no-shows and her husband was killed in an accident three months ago and she just can’t seem to get it together.

They drive a Benz to the food pantry every week and it was paid off when she lost her job, and they sleep in it sometimes when they can’t scrape together enough for a hotel.

And. And. And.

More than 20 years ago, I heard someone end a story about a new neighbor with, “I have no use for her.” Just typing that phrase makes me cringe. I don’t care if the neighbor’s a foul-mouthed, chain-smoker who keeps parking her car directly across from my driveway and lets her dog leave gifts on my front lawn. No human being should have a “use” to anyone. She’s not a commodity. She’s a human being.  And there are likely darn good reasons—or at least a compelling explanation—for her decidedly non-neighbor-ish behavior.

I know there are dangers in thinking this way. Sometimes I’m just flat wrong. Sometimes, rather than just seeking out an explanation, I wind up making excuses. I get taken advantage of. I get hurt. I spend too much energy trying to fix what’s not mine to fix. And that sucks.

But so does missing the rest of a good story.

We Belong to One Another

Saint Louis Arch

Okay, it’s like this:

Deb and Adam have four children: Sam, Julia, TJ, and Sara. They’re 14, 11, 8, and 6 years old, respectively. They’re bright, artistic kids. Parent-teacher conferences are a breeze, and, more often than not, their chores are done by the time Deb and Adam get home from work.

If you ask them which kid is their favorite, they’ll smile and say, of course, “We don’t have a favorite!” They love them equally (or equally-ish, because, if they’re being perfectly honest, Julia is pretty skilled at finding their last nerve, putting on her soccer cleats, and stomping all over it).

They make sure all their kids’ basic needs are met, to the best of their ability, at all times. They’re all well-nourished, they all have a warm bed in which to sleep, and they’re all clothed in relatively weather-appropriate attire.

Now, let’s say TJ gets sick. Really sick. It seems to have come on rather suddenly, but looking back in his records, his doc now sees a pattern emerging that began quite a long time ago. How might Deb and Adam’s parenting shift in light of his illness?

My guess is that their energy and attention will be directed more toward TJ than toward their other three kids. They’re not ignoring their other three kids. They still tuck them in and remind them that they’re worthy and loved. But the parents’ focus, for a season, is on the one who needs them the most right now.

That makes good sense, right? Of course it does.

And this, my friends, is why it’s okay to say, Black lives matter” and just stop right there—with no qualifiers, disclaimers, or additions.

TJ’s life doesn’t matter more than his siblings’ lives, and no one’s saying Black lives matter more than any other lives. Rather, the Black Lives Matter movement is attempting to focus our political and social and ideological attention on the Black community, because that’s the part of our human family who could really use some heavy-duty care right about now.

And let me unwrap this metaphor just a bit more: Our loved one has needed attention for a long, long, long time—all the way back to when he was labeled 3/5 of a human being. Back to the time he was trafficked. Ever since his home was burned down and rocks were thrown through his windows and he was hanged for the color of his skin.

We thought this was resolved back in the 60s. (Well, I did anyway, as a naive, overly optimistic, white, middle-class woman.) But the dormant symptoms of systemic injustice have resurfaced and, as is often the case with a recurring illness, they’ve come back stronger. And so we must re-double our efforts to treat not only the symptoms—but to actually eradicate the underlying sickness.

In so many ways, we’ve not treated the Black community as if their lives do actually matter. And by “we” I don’t mean you and I specifically; this is so much bigger than one person’s treatment of another one person.

Let me say that again:

This is so much bigger than one person’s treatment of another one person.

This isn’t about how many Black friends you have or how you personally treat people. I’m not accusing you of racist behavior. I’m talking about the metastatic maltreatment of human beings at a systemic level.

No, it’s not our fault. But it is our fight. We belong to each other. Mother Teresa said it, and I feel it to my core. And maybe you do, too. But not everyone does. And the system—social, legal, economic, political—surely does not.

***

I wish I could claim this analogy as my own, but I borrowed it from my friend, Pastor Willis Johnson. I’ve sat at Starbucks with Willis for hours at a time, asking him all of my ridiculous and potentially offensive questions and listening to him share his perspective on everything from white privilege to the state of the Church. Just yesterday I was blinking back tears as he talked about our responsibility to care for one another—completely and sacrificially. Willis recently co-founded the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice; you’ll find them on the web and on Facebook. Big things are going to happen through him, his co-conspirators, and the Center. I hope you’ll follow along or, even better, join his efforts. 

Chief Opinion Holder

At my last job, my favorite unofficial title was Chief Opinion Holder.

I’m not especially confident about most things, so I invoked it regularly. If I was asked to weigh in on a decision, one of two things happened: Either I said, “I don’t have strong feelings either way,” or I’d share my thoughts and then hurriedly add, “But remember—I’m just the Chief Opinion Holder.”

Translation: “You can’t hold me accountable for anything I just said, because I was sharing my opinion, not my expertise.” 

The true, buried-deep-in-my-subconscious message behind my beloved title didn’t occur to me until relatively recently, and my Aha Moment was sponsored by, of all things, Facebook. Yes, Facebook–where I see hundreds of people writing vile, hateful, arrogant, cold-hearted, void-of-all-empathy status updates, often beginning or ending with the phrase in my humble opinion—as if such a disclaimer absolves the writer of all accountability for the effects of his or her shared “humble opinion” which, let’s be honest, is rarely actually humble and rather than being written in an opinion-ish sort of way is instead presented in an I’m-right-and-you’re-an-imbecile sort of way.

What are the kids saying these days? Oh yeah: I can’t even.

I’m abdicating my Chief Opinion Holder title right this very moment, because it’s nothing but a cop-out. I want you to hold me accountable to every word I’m about to write.

Here’s our reality: Horrible, awful, stomach-turning things are happening right now, and actual people are being affected. People with hearts and minds and worries and troubles and birthdays and families and preferences and perspectives and dreams and hopes and emotions and value and worth. Just like you and I have. 

There is not a single issue about which we’re pontificating that’s easily solved. Not a one. The complexity of the problems plaguing our world–plaguing our neighborhoods–are like massive Jenga puzzles in which solving one problem creates 14 more, and we’ve managed to shove one another into these ridiculous either-or-shaped corners where we feel forced to say disgustingly dishonoring, devaluing, and dehumanizing things for the purpose of protecting our fragile egos because we’re so damn unwilling to say, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” Hell, most of us won’t even say, “That’s an interesting perspective. Let me think about that.” Wanna know why we don’t say that? Because it feels dangerous, so we busy ourselves formulating our defense instead of listening. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of humility.

If we listen, we might have to consider the reality that Kim Davis has worth and courage and integrity and so does the same-sex couple standing in front of her–regardless of our own convictions and our own definitions of right and wrong.

If we have real, thoughtful conversations we might have to concede that #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter are not antonyms. 

If we listenreally listen, rather than just seeking information that validates the opinions we already hold—we might discover that it’s entirely possible for Planned Parenthood to be doing incredible good and have some questionable practices worth investigating.

If we’re willing to even try to understand another’s point of view, it might dawn on us that transgender people aren’t just trying to trick their way into the opposite gender’s bathroom and that it’s not quite as simpleas much as LGBTQIA advocates want it to beas,”Well, if she says she identifies as female, she gets to use the female locker room.”

If we stop arguing for just a moment, we might realize that, in many ways, we’re being pitted against one another by a media empire whose very survival depends on the if-it-bleeds-it-leads principle and we depend on that same industry to help us understandand even influencewhat’s happening around us.

If we stop and take a deep breath before we open our mouths, we might remember that when we say nasty things about a group of people, we’re quite likely unknowingly talking to someone in that group–or, at the very least, to people who care deeply about someone in that group.

If we all put away our bullhorns and soapboxes, we might come to understand that my experience–which is different from your experience–doesn’t make either of our experiences “wrong.” And oh my goodness, what might happen if we stop othering one another? 

Let’s try an experiment. Sometime in the next week, have a conversation with someone who has a different opinion about something—anything. Start small, if you have to: You can talk about Arby’s v. Lion’s Choice for all I care. Just intentionally find a point of disagreement and see if you can drop yourself into the other person’s perspective for a minute or two. And remember, you don’t have to agree with an opinion to affirm it.

“Oh, I think I see it now. The type of bun really matters to you, and you have a tough time with those onion buns at Arby’s. I’m not exactly sure how that feels, but I can tell it’s a big deal for you.”

Yes, okay: That’s a ridiculous example. Just try it, and let me know how it goes, mkay?

And if you ever, ever hear, “in my humble opinion” come outta my mouth, stuff an onion bun in there, would ya?

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

It was October or so—a little brisk, but not yet parka weather—and I’d just picked up my girls from preschool. I was a single mom, I worked as a case manager for families receiving government assistance, and I was perpetually exhausted. Still—and this will come as a shock to those of you who know me well—I more often than not managed to muster the energy to prepare reasonably nutritious meals. (I mean, I’m counting breakfast cereal as “reasonably nutritious,” and it does too count as cooking because the proper milk-to-crunchberry ratio is tricky. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi.)

Anyway, on this particular night, I couldn’t imagine doing anything kitchen-ish, and I knew we were out of cereal (except for Grape Nuts, which, let’s be honest, could double as fish tank gravel or the stuff they put under swings on the playground). I said a prayer of thanks for whoever invented drive-thrus, and I swung into the line of mini-vans at McDonald’s.

“What toys do they have, Momma?”

“Looks like a princess Barbie or a Hot Wheels car.”

“Yay! I want the car! Can I have the car? I really want the car! I can use it on my new track! Can I play with it when we get home? Can I take it in the bathtub? Why do they call them Hot Wheels anyway? My chicken nuggets will be hot, so I’ll have to blow on them. Can we go swimming tomorrow?” (Little kids are so great.)

We pulled up to the speaker. “I’d like two chicken nugget Happy Meals, please.”

“Boy toys or girl toys?”

“Your toys have genitalia?”

No, I didn’t actually ask that question. I said, with only the tiniest hint of self-righteous, feminist snark, “Ummm. Well, they’re girls. And they would like the cars, please.”

I wouldn’t let my girls grow up thinking their playtime, interests, and career aspirations should be limited by their gender. I didn’t actively prevent them from playing with dolls and kitchen sets and sparkly things; but, I also didn’t actively prevent them from playing with dump trucks and action figures and water guns. (Except not the water guns because guns are bad.) (That’s not the focus of this post, though, so no fair arguing that point.)

And no, I’m not being overly sensitive. Our kids learn through play. They develop their world-view through play. They come to understand relationships through play.

So, as you might’ve guessed, I’m cool with Target’s decision to remove gender-specific labels from toy shelves and bedding aisles. Apparently, some people are not cool with it though, and have, in fact, added this decision to their List of Infuriating Things. I’m trying to understand that reaction. I really am. But I can’t quite get there.

As far as I can tell, here’s what happened:

1. Target decided to remove some signs. Like this one:

2. Some people made lots of assumptions, took social media posts as truth without verifying facts, wrote nasty things to Target, about Target, and about the LGBT community—even though the company’s decision had nothing whatsoever to do with sexuality, and then vowed to never-ever shop there again. 

And here’s what did not happen:

1. Target issued a statement denying the very existence of “boys” and “girls.”

2. Target announced a plan to merge the men’s and women’s bathrooms and mix all the boy and girl clothes together in a big pile in the middle of the store, where busy parents will have to dig for hours to find what they came to purchase.

3. In a private conversation with Franklin Graham, the company confessed its plan for world domination: Eliminate pink and blue from the color spectrum, effectively shutting down gender reveals and leaving parents hopeless to determine their child’s sex. Mayhem! Pandemonium!

4. Target R&D has developed eye-scanning, laser technology that will penetrate our kids’ brains and mess with their sexuality if they gaze too lovingly upon the “wrong” linens. A girl’s eyeing the TMNT pillow cases? Zap! Lesbian. A boy’s thinking about the ruffly, lavender bedspread? Zap! Gay.

I know what you’re thinking: She’s blowing this waaaaaaay out of proportion. I wish I were. Those examples up there? Those are based on actual Facebook comments I’ve read over the last couple of days. People are truly convinced that Target is pandering to a small, vocal, ultra-liberal group of hippie parents, and by taking down their gender-based signage, they’re contributing to ‘Merica’s moral decay.

You guys, if this is what’s getting our panties in a twist (which, if you believe the Facebook comments, will soon be incredibly difficult to find in the new store layout), we’re in a heap of trouble. And if you’re all wound up from a biblical perspective, I think I can help out: Jesus doesn’t care if our sons are marching around with tiaras on their head, a stuffed unicorn in one hand, and a nerf gun in the other. Jesus doesn’t care if our daughters’ Christmas list included a football helmet, tickets to the drag races, and a My Little Pony tshirt.

Here’s what I think Jesus does care about: That our kids are kind to their friends who play football and to their friends who love ballet—without regard to gender.

That’s our job, you know. With or without Target.

This is What Theology Looks Like

There’s a decent possibility that this post will contain stupid, offensive, or disappointing content. Please know I’m absolutely open to being corrected. Please, please remember we’re friends and this is the place where I think out loud.  Also, I conceal discomfort with humor, which is rarely appropriate and often not actually funny. Grace, please. 

At the top of my bucket list, I’ve written this: Get arrested for civil disobedience. Weird, right?

A number of years ago, some long-time friends of mine were arrested at a protest in Washington, DC, and I was more than a little jealous. From that moment forward, they had the perfect response to those “What’s the most interesting thing about you?” ice-breakers. I could see their kids on the playground: “Oh, yeah? You think your mom’s tough? Has she been arrested? I didn’t think so.” *Drops mic.*

Beyond jealous, though, I was inspired. These friends of mine believed in something so thoroughly and passionately that they were willing to get arrested for their cause. How many of us have convictions that strong?

People who are aware of my desire to get arrested offer suggestions on a regular basis, usually for lame things like leaving a garage sale sign up too long or jaywalking (which, you’ll discover, is beautifully ironic). My response to such suggestions is, “Nah. That’s not worth it. If I’m gonna get arrested, it’s gonna be for something huge.”

(An aside: I can’t use the word huge anymore without hearing Bernie Sanders in my head. He drops the entirely, so it’s more like youge. It’s a Brooklyn thing, and I’m adopting that pronunciation because it sounds sort of mafia-esque…which may increase my chances of getting arrested.)

The Voiced Protest

Anyway, a couple of days ago a friend and I decided to participate in a peaceful protest in Ferguson, MO, organized by The Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, Jr. Neither my friend nor I had ever done such a thing before, which put this opportunity squarely in the Adventure column. We do love an adventure.

This is where the disclaimer up there kicks in.

We met at Wellspring Church in Ferguson, received instructions, walked to the protest site, and soon joined our voices with other demonstrators. And by “our,” I mean “everyone else’s,” because I wasn’t saying a word. Why? Because I couldn’t be certain I could participate authentically. Why? Because I wasn’t sure I agreed with some things being said. Why? Because I haven’t had enough conversations about Ferguson and racial injustice and militarization and all those tough things we’ve been talking-but-not-really-listening-about for a year now.

So I was in a dilemma: “Should I just go ahead and voice these chants, even though I’m not sure I agree 100%? Am I over-thinking this? Is it rude to just march without shouting? Should I fake laryngitis?” Then, and here’s the kicker, “Maybe I should lip-sync.”

Yeah. I know.

I’m going to be completely transparent (offensive, stupid, disappointing) here: I considered lip-syncing because there were sundry news channels and indie film crews shooting footage, and I didn’t want to be caught on film as a sweaty, confused-looking, not-participating white chick. Also, I didn’t want the Black guys watching from the sidelines to think I was one of those white people who just doesn’t get it. Actually, any time I’m with someone from a marginalized group—people of color, people from the LGBT community, people with disabilities—I’m afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. So afraid, in fact, that I get all weird and awkward and end up saying or doing the wrong thing. So, all of this is going through my head as I’m not-chanting down West Florissant Avenue. In other words, at this point, my participation in this peaceful protest was about me, rather than in support of the community.

Yeah. I know. 

(Another aside: When I told my mom about this experience, she asked, “So, what exactly were you protesting?” Great question, and it may be one you’re asking, too. I was protesting systemic, racial injustice, and I was doing what I think Jesus would be doing—walking alongside people who’ve been deeply affected by said injustice. But here’s yet another moment of transparency: Being able to say, “The other night when I was protesting up in Ferguson” feels edgy and daring and aren’t I soooo coooool? Ugh.) (Transparency sucks.)

Okay, back to my ridiculousness (because what I just wrote wasn’t ridiculous?)… Luckily, the chant soon switched to something I could get behind without hesitation (or lip-syncing): “This is what democracy looks like! This is what the clergy look like! This is what theology looks like!” I especially dig the theology one, because it gets God out of our heads and into our hearts and our voices and our feet.

The Street

That went on for a while, we did a u-turn and began marching back in the direction we’d come, and then during a brief pause in the shouting, I began hearing a new bit of instruction: “Form a single-file line at the stoplight.”

Oh. Oh no. I know what’s about to happen: We’re about to block traffic. It’s not I-70 or anything, but it shares some similarities. Like, you know, cars.

I turned to look at my friend. “Are we really gonna do this?” she asked.

“Ummm, I dunno. Maybe? Let’s see what Willis does.”

The stoplight turned red, our signal turned white (Why isn’t it green?), and, because Willis began walking, so did we. A woman at the front of the line barked directions: “Stay in the crosswalk. Single-file. No clumping! Single-file! Slowly. Walk slloooowwwllly.”

Fortunately, we got to the other side of the street before the light turned. Unfortunately, my sigh of relief was interrupted by, “Loop back around. Keep walking. Slow down! You must stay in the crosswalk.” (Is the crosswalk the civil disobedience safety zone?)

Since we weren’t allowed to “clump,” I could no longer see my friend’s facial expression, but I suspect she had the same question I had: “So, what happens when the light turns? Are we then no longer ‘peacefully’ protesting? And are people irritated enough that they’d consider plowing us over?”

Normally when a crosswalk signal starts flashing its red hand, people take a light jog to get out of the street before the stoplight turns green, right? Well, “normally” doesn’t apply here. As I feared, the light turned green, and we just kept on walking sauntering back and forth across West Florissant Avenue. A pile of police officers stood in a nearby parking lot, watching us rather intently.

Cars began to honk and edge forward. Suddenly I wasn’t really all that interested in getting arrested—a terribly disappointing turn of events. (I fancy myself a bit of a rebel, but I don’t like getting in trouble for real.) I looked at the light, the cars, the protestors in front of me, and the cops. And I began to laugh. Right there in the middle of the street.

Yeah. I know. I’m fully aware that laughing was completely inappropriate for the occasion. It truly was nervous laughter, if that makes it any better.

This went on for several light cycles before a St. Louis County police officer approached Willis. Although I couldn’t hear their conversation, it seemed cordial enough—but nevertheless ended with the officer asking Willis to bring our demonstration to a close. Which he did. And suddenly we were done.

Afterthoughts

Since I’ve rather successfully made this thing all about me, I’m going to switch gears and make it about you instead.

It’s difficult to see things from a distance, and with the ocean of information we have available to us, it’s nearly impossible to tease out what’s real and true and what’s just speculation or even outright lies. The only way to know for certain what’s really happening is to go there.

If you do, you’ll process the media coverage differently because you’ve stood right next to that McDonald’s. When you’ve walked past a group of young, Black men in a parking lot—faces partially concealed by bandanas—you’ll be surprised to discover that what you’d really like to do is turn back and hear their stories.

At first, maybe you’ll make the experience about you, but then suddenly, because you’re there, you’ll realize how much Ferguson truly matters and you’ll feel the injustice and you’ll see the human beings—not “thugs”—who are suffering because of it. And then you’ll want to—have to—do something about it.

Which, incidentally, is what theology looks like.

*Poof*

What does one do when she rather abruptly quits her job, writes a blog post explaining why, and experiences a 20,000% increase in blog traffic because of said post? Well, she capitalizes on the wave of attention and writes another piece the very next day.

And then she publishes something new every day hence.

Unless, of course, “she” is me. In that case, she completely ignores her blog, works 14-hour days for three weeks straight in attempt to leave her job well, then gets on a boat to Alaska and disappears. *Poof*

When she returns, she can’t convince herself that she has anything remotely compelling to write, even though the world went bonkers (or, more accurately, bonkers-er) while she was eating Dramamine like candy and “OHMYGOSH”-ing over breaching humpback whales and calving glaciers.

She has opinions, as one might suppose, about Planned Parenthood and Boy Scouts and Donald Trump and gun control and billion-dollar sports stadiums. But she can’t seem to type more than three words before her right ring finger slams down on delete.

She reads Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird for the umpteenth time in an attempt to flatten her insecurity. This doesn’t work, because she does what she often does—which is to compare herself to Someone Else. Who? Oh, I’ll give you a hint: her initials are Anne Freaking Lamott.

The next best move would have been to read something terrible. You know—to lift her spirits and maybe stump her wicked-mean internal editor. But no. That’s not what she does. Instead, she visits John Pavlovitz’s and Rachel Held Evans’ blogs—both of whom have already written every brilliant thing that could’ve ever been written about all the stuff.

So she writes a post in which she refers to herself as a third person pronoun and vows to try again tomorrow.

(I’ll try again tomorrow.)

All of Us

Hope

In the 19-ish hours since I first posted about my resignation, I’ve been called a lot of things: Brave. Courageous. Bold. Hero. A whole lot of people—some of whom I’ve never even met—offered support, told me they’re proud of me, applauded my integrity, said they admire me. I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement and love.

But. Please, please let’s not lose sight of this: It’s not about me. It’s about all of us.

It’s about all of us deciding enough is enough—that we will not tolerate the mistreatment of any human being. Ever. 

It’s about all of us pulling our assumptions and biases and prejudices out from under the moldy tarps in our heads and looking at them in the light—critically, honestly, and completely.

It’s about all of us deciding to see the sacred in one another. When we move about the world wearing those lenses, we can’t help but love people. Yes, even the ones who make us absolutely crazy with their ridiculous opinions and stupid voting decisions and illogical conclusions and horrible, horrible taste in music (I’m looking at you, Nickelback fans). Because there’s sacred in them, too.

It’s about all of us coming to this radical, paradigm-shifting understanding: We don’t have to agree with one another to love one another. In fact, I can’t think of a single pre-requisite to loving someone. My friend, Jennifer, demonstrated that so profoundly today. Her response to my post was a simple, “I love you, Kelley.” She could’ve added a dozen qualifiers… but she didn’t. There’s just nothing more life-giving than pure, unconditional love.

It’s about all of us being broken, right out in the open. We’ll be so much better off in a “Me too!” culture than in this mask-wearing, facade-bearing thing we have going on right now. Not a single one of us has it all together. (In fact, I’ve decided that the plural of person might as well be mess.) We can “get” each other—we just have to be willing to show ourselves first. 

It’s all about of us raising our hopeful voices (thank you, Glen Hansard). Something amazing happened today, friends. By participating in our conversation—through likes or shares or comments—you inspired hope. And I, for one, was in desperate need of that.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s keep talking, okay?

 

*The photo at the top of this post is of a necklace my dearest friend gave to me tonight–as a reminder that there is hope. Our world can be different—better—and we can help it along. I will probably wear it every day for the next three years. Don’t judge me. Also, please take a peek at thegivingkeys.com. The company employs people transitioning out of homelessness (LOVE!), and you might just find a key for someone who needs it.

No Tent Big Enough

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.”

The week before Easter, I received a text on our church’s Google Voice line:

“Hi. I am looking for a church to attend. We are a same sex family.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d received a text like that, and I had the same response both times: absolute paralysis. I wanted to reply, “No worries. You’re welcome at our church” or, “We’d be honored to have you as our guests,” or even, “We’re a safe place.” But I couldn’t, because while those statements are true to a certain extent, they’re true… to a certain extent. I couldn’t figure out how to approach the text honestly without sounding horribly judgmental:

“We’d love to have you as our guests! But you should know a few things before you visit. You’ll never be able to hold a leadership position, you won’t be permitted to become an actual member, and our church’s doctrine would say your relationship is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ But, you’re welcome at our church.”

Ugh.

To soften the blow, I considered adding, “By the way, I don’t personally agree with any of that.” But then I imagined the person asking, “Well, then why do you work there?”

Oh.

That’s a fair question—one I’ve asked myself 100 times over the last several months. I’ve had many rounds of difficult conversations with Jimmy, my boss/pastor:

  • Even if homosexuality is a sin, why does it seem as though some denominations are elevating it to The Worst Sin Ever?
  • Why does it seem like the Church at large is okay with interpreting some scripture through a cultural and historic lens (e.g., women in leadership and divorce), but won’t apply that same interpretive logic to the passages about same-sex relationships?
  • Why do I see angry, greedy people in leadership positions in all sorts of churches, but they won’t ordain people who are gay?
  • Doesn’t the Church at large see that we’re saying, “You’re welcome here” and “You’re not good enough” in the same breath?

The outcome of these conversations with Pastor Jimmy was always the same. I’d feel grateful he was willing to have them–over and over again. I’d go home and write a rant about the Church and homosexuality, and Pastor Jimmy would allow me to publish it on my blog–something I suspect many Lead Pastors would forbid. I’d feel nauseous and helpless. I’d cry. I’d lament to my husband. I’d consider quitting my job. I’d justify not quitting by convincing myself I could be influential somehow. I’d do some reading on both “sides” of the debate. Meanwhile, I could feel my integrity slipping away as I continued to invest significant time, energy, and resources into a denomination that’s systematically marginalizing an entire group of people.

Then the Supreme Court went and legalized same-sex marriage, and Facebook exploded.

I have gay friends for whom the SCOTUS decision was life-changing, and I wanted to celebrate with them. I have straight friends who’ve been tirelessly advocating for the LGBT community, and I wanted to high-five them. But our church has social media guidelines (that I wrote) calling for “appropriate caution” from our leaders when it comes to controversial topics. Typically, “appropriate caution” has translated to “complete silence,” and I’ve honestly been (mostly) okay with that.

But on that Friday morning, I began to wonder what “appropriate caution” really means. Is it “appropriate” to keep my mouth shut about injustice? Is it “appropriate” to let people assume they know my opinion, by virtue of my position on a church staff? Is it “appropriate” to say nothing when other people are running off at the mouth, spewing “us v. them” language instead of extending grace and mercy and love?

No. It’s not.

It’s at that point I decided I was willing to get fired for celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision, and I “liked” a variety of status updates that morning—gay friends who were thrilled to have their relationships recognized by the Court, straight friends who felt justice had been served, and friends who disagreed with the decision but who did so with a posture of humility.

In the end, Pastor Jimmy didn’t fire me or even call for my resignation. But last Monday morning, I submitted my notice.

I’m not mad at him. And I’m not really even mad at the institutional Church. I’m just… sad. Pastor Jimmy has frequently remarked that he wants to build a church whose tent is big enough for all sorts of opinions and perspectives, and I fell in love with that vision. The problem is, there’s no tent big enough for them all. At some point, his perspective—as a Lead Pastor who is rightly honoring the vows he took at ordination—prevails, and that’s going to leave some people standing outside. I get it. My tent will only stretch so far, too; after all, I’m leaving a staff position and a church I love because my tent requires full inclusion of people in the LGBT community.

Let me say it again: I’m sad. Sadder than I thought I’d be. I’ve found meaningful friendships at The Way, and I’m afraid they’ll disintegrate–either because we disagree about homosexuality or simply because we won’t be around one another as often. I’ve been proud of how The Way is trying to push beyond our walls and truly love our neighbors. I’ve seen people in our church community becoming more generous and more compassionate. In other words, they’re looking more and more like Jesus, and that has been incredible to witness.

Please know I’ve not made this decision easily or carelessly. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. (I do that a lot lately.) I’ve talked. I’ve listened. And the outcome is always the same: I want to be an advocate and ally for marginalized people—not only those in the LGBT community, but anyone who’s looked upon as less-than: people of color, people without homes, people with mental illness… and I can’t do that, authentically, without saying some hard things. Some controversial things. Some decidedly non-cautious things.

So, heartsick and poured out, I’ve resigned from my position at The Way. I’ve only just begun to experience the fall-out of my decision—or rather, the fall-out for the reason for my decision—and I’m sure there will be some ugly stuff down the line. I’m a people-pleaser, so that’ll be painful. But the pain of staying has become greater than the pain of changing.

And it’s time for me to go.