Going and Growing

You've got to GO through it to GROW through it


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Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere

I facilitated a dialogue gathering recently at my seminary. One of the participants shared a saying she saw while surfing the web. As she told it:

“I put my finger on a map and asked, “Where do you hurt?”                                                              The map answered, “Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.”

This statement is very telling for the times we live in. Families, institutions and individuals are all wondering what’s going on  and how to manage the chaos that continues to fall around them. I wonder how much different our lives would be if the map were able to locate the source of pain. Would we then be moved to act on that pain and find a cure? An agreement? A resolve?

For LGBTQ+ families sometimes the hurt is…everywhere. Not all families struggle like you may see in the news. Not all families who identify as Christian are kicking their kids out of the house. But sadly, many are. I could easily fill this blog post with scripture after scripture to show the ways in which Jesus himself responded to those whose lives are “missing the mark” or “falling short of the glory” as the Bible states all do.  Our most grievous shortfall is the failure to love. Loving like Jesus loves is hard sometimes, well, often really. I’ll draw a few lines and connect a few dots to reflect how Jesus engaged people of all places and spaces.

For starters He never once required anyone to bow down. Has that ever occurred to you? No, Jesus never said “you must” anything. We assume He did and some Evangelicals may preach he did, but it was an invitation, a declaration…not a regulation.

How we live in this world is invitational as far as faith is concerned. I’ll use myself here because I’d rather throw myself under the bus so to speak, than someone out of thin air. My past few years has been spent in seminary because it came time for me to answer the call into ordained ministry. This call is certainly not for the faint of heart, the haters are everywhere. Plus, my focus is in bridge-building between the Queer community and the rest of the world.

Parents who’ve realized that Jesus calls us to “double down” and love on the least of these are banding together against bullying, all kinds of phobias (homo/trans/bi etc.) and like the map said “everywhere, everywhere, everywhere”…there is pain for this group of folks, everywhere. But, there is also help and healing. We’re taking back our families. We’re taking back our faith. We’re taking back our cities and we’re taking back our very lives. I’m working to preach and teach a message of healing and relationship that looks very different from what you may think of from “traditional Christianity.” Traditions change, societies change, but humanity doesn’t change. We’ve been the most beautiful creations for thousands of years. But we do need some help in locating our pain and our hope.

Got a second? Go look in the mirror. Stare at yourself for a sec. Where do you hurt? Can’t locate it? Everyone hurts somewhere, don’t be shy. Stare. Look into your own eyes. Get real with yourself. Where do you hurt? See your own humanity. Put your finger on the mirror where your hurting spot is. Now, say to yourself, “I see your wound.” Now tell yourself help is on the way, “Love is here (even though you may not see it or believe it, just say it out loud), Love is here, Love is here.”

Just as the map would tell us the hurt is everywhere, we can teach the map about new roads to love and healing. Take a brave step to locate yourself on your map today. Be well.

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“Thou Shalt Not Steal”

I read the most interesting perspective on stealing. It started with the declaration that whatever we have is not ours anyway, so that makes stealing doubly wrong. I believe it’s accurate to say that when we think of stealing, and the fact that it’s considered wrong, we naturally think of tangible objects. We can’t steal stuff from our neighbors, we can’t rob banks, we can’t “sample” fruit from the produce section. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

As I began to travel down the dusty road of my thoughts, I began to think to myself, but what about the intangible things people own: our thoughts, our feelings, our identity. What about that? How do those things fit into the equation of stealing and God and all that stuff. Here’s my thought:

If everything we have  and everything we own is indeed not necessarily ours but on loan, as in it was given to us (a big prim and proper religious term is bestowed upon us) then our identity also is a gift…and given. The ability to be a free thinker is given to us. The desire to love and be loved is a gift given to us. Stealing is not allowed. Who are are, what we stand for, how we see ourselves…it’s all a gift given to us. We are not allowed to steal another person’s identity. Let me be clear here, I’m not talking about their online identity (although clearly that’s wrong too) I’m talking about their gender identity, sexual identity, how they see themselves in this world and how they expect to be seen.

There are lots of hate groups who have decided that to “be LGBTQ” is wrong and those of us who identify under that acronym need to be “corrected”. (For those who are unfamiliar LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer). Folks who align with L-G-B are talking about their sexuality (very different and not related to gender); those who align with T are referring to their gender (male, female, both, neither); those who align with Q could be referring to either their sexual or gender identity. Further information can be found at PFLAG.org or HRC.org because this is not the blog post to go into this in depth.

Back to the stealing thing. When God (however you align with God or what represents a divine authority in your world) says stealing is wrong it is an abomination (another big scary religious word) and God cries. ALL of everything in what we call this world is made from the abundance of a divine authority who far exceeds any human capacity or authority.

When an organization or a person steals the hopes and dreams, the hard personal effort or blood-sweat-and-tears personal commitment from another person, a crime [against humanity] has been committed. We are what we are and have what we have as a gift. None of us owns any of this. We leave this “world” with the same as we came into it with – nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

When a person decides someone else is wrong for living into their full authenticity (i.e. sexual or gender identity) and advances are made toward taking it away, i.e. stealing it, we are no longer living as we are instructed. When someone robs another of a life worth living, a dream and a hope of a better life, a gesture of giving and receiving love…God cries. We are not allowed to steal.

Thou Shalt Not Steal. Not property. Not grapes. Not a person’s identity. Not a person’s joy.

Mind your business. Mind your manners. Mind yourself.


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Twinkies and Chips

Note: I have since moved into a different industry, but this this still good food for thought, pun intended.

Sometimes the food is not so bad at the bottom of the food chain. Sure, it’s not champagne and escargot. But, hey, you need a Twinkie and bag of chips every now and again to satisfy.

I was thinking about this at work today, as the clamor in the office rose up. I work in an often hostile work environment. It occurred to me, on this particular day, that being a bottom feeder is not always a bad thing. Take for instance this newly redesigned database which holds critical information on the taxpayers in my State. The darn thing was full of bugs, as the previous version was written in-house by our IT guys. Nice guys and helpful sometimes. So, as the story goes there was not enough justification to purchase a hi-tech system, one that would allow us to link nationally to a database that would all but eliminate error. So, our IT guys, yes the same folks who wrote the first version, redesigned a new one. Hmmm.

That’s not all. What really causes heartburn is that there was no rollout of static data, we used live data since we had the chance to test multiple scenarios in a live setting. Hmmmm. I sure hope those of you who are Techies are clinching your jaw and are a bit queasy right this moment. Anyway, today, I found a bug or two (yes, in the newly redesigned version) and inquired of the powers that be on how to resolve it. (This is where the Twinkie comes in). In my ignorance of all things IT, I failed to realize how temperamental program writers can be. Turns out there is a certain “personality” written into each program and it behaves differently in alternate settings. As I continued on in my search of the mistake, I asked for help. My co-worker overheard and graciously chimed in. Turns out he has a degree in programming but is not currently working in that role. The writer took issue of the bugs that were discovered and revealed. My coworker took advantage of an opportunity to share some of his knowledge and a few of us were, just there. In the periphery. In my case, looking cute (smiles). I thought to myself at one point, “Oh, how I wish I knew what they were talking about. It would be so helpful to be able to solve some of these issues on my own. Or at least be able to speak some informed words into the issue”. Wait! Stop right there lady. There’s a saying that goes something like this: You can’t be good at everything. I was grateful this day, because although I found the error, my job ended at reporting it. Clearly I have no idea how to fix it. Don’t need to. Not my job. That is someone else’s specialty. Someone else’s talent.

I learned that sometimes ignorance can in fact be bliss. Well, bliss may be an overstatement. But, it can be convenient so say the least. By my not knowing anything about programming, I was able to avoid an office argument, hostile negotiations, hurt feelings, frustration, perspiration, palpitation and provocation. The only real residual harm done to me is that the explosion happened in my office, at my computer where the information was displayed on the screen. There was a bit of clean up from the “food fight”, which is okay with me. I had a Twinkie and a bag of chips in my desk when it was all done. So, I sat back and did what many bottom-feeders do. I ate to my heart’s content. Enjoyed every bite.


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It’s A Good Friday

It’s later in the month, later than I’d like it to be actually. I’ve been waiting for inspiration to give you something I felt was worth reading. It finally came today. It’s true, it’s real, it’s honest. It’s a page from my journal this morning. I know I’m not the only one in this quagmire, maybe that’s why I felt it’s worth reading. Happy Easter to all of humanity.

…..

“It’s a Good Friday!

Abba, so much is changing, but you have stayed the same. The tomb is empty this morning. No one knows where you are or where you went.

This season of Lent has been so incredibly painful. I’ve been so far from you – and so close to you. I’m scared, I’m isolated, I’m exhausted, I’m angry, I’m so incredibly sad. I’m eager, I’m demanding, I’m questioning, I’m forgetful, I’m desperate. I have anxiety; I’ve traveled far and wide to find peace – to create peace – to upset peace – and to enjoy the peace. It’s Good Friday, and like the rest of the fold, I’m seeking because the tomb is empty and I don’t know where you went.

Ferguson is still looking for you. Naples says they have you, the golden roads are supposed to prove that. Nashville sings all about you, but the people are still dying of hunger and thirst.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to see you in everything and be grateful, because honestly, when I don’t get what I want (and the way I perceive I need it to be), I think you either suck or you’re looking at someone else’s life. I mean, there’s lots of us down here trying to figure this crazy shit out. Maybe you got me mixed up?

It’s supposed to rain here Sunday – I’m looking forward to that. Everything is better after some cleansing rain. The sun will surely rise and shine, that’s all it knows how to do. Thanks for that too.

Thanks for never taking your eye off me. I’ll try to reciprocate that a bit better today. I love you.”


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Journey To the Center of My Birth

Happy New Year! For some 2016 has been declared as the turn-around year. For others, it will be a year of traveling in the same direction, only deeper, and perhaps at a faster clip. And, that may or may not be a good thing. Time will tell.

For me, I’m hoping for a bit of both actually. You see, for me, 2016 is going to be a year of great change. And it won’t all be good change. Or will it? Change is one of the only guarantees in the Universe. We can embrace it, reject it, rail against it, work in harmony with it, question it or just observe it. Whatever we choose to do, change is inevitable. In Ecclesiastes 3:4, the Bible talks about a time for all things under the sun. I believe this is true and I also believe that not all change is looked upon as welcomed. For part of this year, I will have that attitude I expect.

We are each on a private journey to discover who we are, in the midst of where we are. Where we are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. We must learn to look upon this journey as a necessity rather than a burden, even when the journey is through a dry and weary land. Being a human being is the most excruciating journey we will ever encounter. This is a strong statement and I admit that. But, selah (from Hebrew, meaning, “pause and think on this”). If we are a people whose belief and trust are in something or someone bigger than us, then we are sure to resonate with that infamous lyric so eloquently stated by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.” Believers in God will undoubtedly admit that there are times we wonder where the hell God is in a particular situation. When we can’t see the forest through the trees. Sometimes we can’t even see the trees. But God has clearer vision. That’s where our hope lies.

The journey to the center of our birth is a requirement for all of us, to figure out where we came from, where we are and more decidedly, where we want to go. In 2016 many of us will travel through fire to get to our next place. For some, a smooth sail down a quiet stream will be in store. Others will be led into a desert and will likely feel the cracked ground beneath their feet and wonder again, where the hell is God? But, have no lingering fear. Notice, I said lingering. Fear is inevitable, even with the good changes that will come our way.

I think it’s fair to say change and fear live in tandem.

(I know you’ve heard of the fear of failure. But, have you heard of the fear of success?)

One important adoption for the coming year of change will be to acquire some type of calming discipline. For some yoga, others running or extreme sports will be needed. Yet for others, prayer and meditation. (Oops! I accidentally typed medication….I corrected the typo, but realized that for some it may very well include medication…and if that’s what it takes, that’s okay too, under a doctor’s supervision of course.) The important thing here is that the journey to the center of your birth will require from you the hardest part of the journey…a decision.

A few years ago a great philosopher gave me some life changing advice (okay, it was my older brother actually). He said, “Everyone else has an opinion, you have a decision.”

Here I am again this year looking at some continuing big-life changes. As I recalled that advice, I believe it is still powerful and still true. My decisions may only make sense to me. Your decisions may only make sense to you. To others they may look like delusion or risky. That’s their opinion. I have to decide what it takes for me to be able to travel my journey (and so do you).

As you look over your new 2016 calendar, you’re only about seven days or so in. You’ve got about another 355 days or so of change waiting for you. So what’s it going to be? Embrace? Reject? Question? Rail? Walk in harmony? Observe? You decide. Let the naysayers and haters have their opinions. Let the loved ones and supporters have their opinions. There’s nothing you can do about what they think of your circumstance or your decision to act (or not).

They have an opinion. YOU HAVE A DECISION.

I’d love to tell you to stand tall and face your fears! To roar like a lion! To fight, fight fight! But, the best advice might just be to shut the hell up and let time pass. To cry and lick your wounds in private. To pray and just keep hoping in a brighter day. See, I just have an opinion too. I also have a decision, and it’s no less scary than yours. Being a writer doesn’t grant me any special passes, only a vessel to talk about my life on a public platform, and hope that another beautiful human is somehow inspired.

The journey to the center of your birth never ends. The journey started before you left the womb and it will continue until you return to the Dust. If you don’t have the moxie to be brave today, don’t fret. Bravery is a relative term (the magazines and media will tell you otherwise though). If you need to retreat today, please do. If you need to run and rage, do so (just don’t hurt anyone else in the process). If you need to stand up for yourself, stand. If you need to sit quietly, sit. There is a time and a season for everything under the sun. Just remember, it’s your journey to the center of your birth. We all have an opinion and we all have a decision. Do what your Spirit calls you to do. Be well. Be loved. Love.

Be the most authentic version of you you can be today. Don’t lose hope in a brighter tomorrow though. Hope is a vital supply needed for the journey. Find your hope, keep your hope. It’s our birthright.


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The Journey

As I drive down the interstate toward Knoxville, I am caught in my thoughts about the inbound traffic directly to my left.

As the cars have piled up, four lanes wide and going on eight or nine miles now, I began to think about what those people think about as they poke along the highway.

The interesting thing is as the newcomers approach the traffic jam, they have no idea of what is in store in front of them. I on the other hand, know full well what is in store for them, because I just spent the last several minutes driving past it. Multiple accidents, police lights, wrecker trucks and lots of people pulled over  every which way.

That got me thinking about life. My life.  Your life.

We don’t know what is ahead of us, but yet we join the traffic in an effort to move forward in our life toward our destination.  We don’t know how long it will take us to get there. And we don’t know any of the future barriers that could try and get in the way of us reaching our destination.

It doesn’t stop us though. We still get in the car, put on our seatbelt, crank up the music and drive. We do it every single day. We wake up with hopes and dreams about what is in store for our day today.

We don’t know any more about our journey today then we knew yesterday. Well, that’s not entirely so. Yesterday is behind us and we can now see the good decisions and the poor decisions that we made that may or may not contribute to today’s journey. That’s part of the human experience. Journeying out, venturing into unknown territory.

Risk is involved and there is no way to get away from it.

That leaves us largely dependent upon our society around us. There is no way to get away from that either; however, it is our responsibility to decide what avenues to take.

Boundary setting is one such avenue. A healthy set of boundaries about what is allowable and what is not will help us determine what type of decision we want to make on our journey today.

And just like the people driving in inbound traffic, we are on a journey of outbound traffic. The journey is still ahead. The signs are posted. The choices are there. It is up to us to put our foot on the pedal and drive. If we take a wrong turn, turn around. If we can’t turn around, we can get off at the next exit.

In either instance, we will have multiple opportunities to change the course of our day.

Enjoy the ride, life is about the journey.


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Vernacular. Respect It, Don’t Correct It

I heard myself telling a coworker about some particular phrases a loved one uses. Every time I hear the phrase something in me twinges. Not because it is offensive, but because it is not what Webster would define as proper English. We, my coworker and I, were discussing vernacular in general and what peculiarities exist within an individual’s world view.

She told me a quick story about her dad’s favorite restaurant; it’s a Mexican place down the road called Sopapillias (soap-a-peeyahs). But, she explained, every time her dad wants to go there he says, “Hey, let’s go eat at ‘soppa-pillas’ (sop-a-pill-as)”. My friend just chuckles under her breath. Her dad is old, so she says it’s cute. We exchanged a few more vernacular faux pas and had a good giggle between ourselves. After the very short conversation, I had a very long thought. In my experience, to hear [what I perceive to be] a skewed version of a word catches me off guard and I sometimes think to myself, don’t they know how to say this correctly? I wonder if I told them the proper way to pronounce this if they would be offended. The more I thought about this, the more troubled in myself I became.

Somewhere in my mind it occurred to me that a person’s phrases are theirs, not mine. Proper English is a relative term. English is, after all, a bastard language. Not much comes up under “proper English” upon a quick google search. In America, we use slang a lot. Our slang is a reflection of our culture, our nature and our nurture. Where someone was geographically raised, the family dynamic in which they were raised and the environment of their community, all play a large role in acquiring their vernacular (i.e. slang). Life is also lived out in the story of our slang. In this instance, when I read between the lines of what I perceive to be improper English, I find that my loved one has seen, heard and experienced things I will never encounter. Much can be learned about life and culture by listening to stories. Stories are how we love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s how we learn to become a more intimate society.

In a continuous effort to live, love and laugh in our lives, we also must learn to respect each other in such a way that allows for the freedom to be different. Imagine a world where everything was a shade of blue. No red. No yellow. No black. No white. Just, blue. Eventually, we would run out of questions to ask. Eventually, we would run out of new things to learn. It is only through the lens of variety that we are able to see our differences and our similarities.

When applying this thought to vernacular, imagine a world where everyone spoke English, with only a northeastern accent. Bostonian to be specific (since it’s my home town…go Sox!). Seriously though, imagine a world where we all spoke that way. There wouldn’t be any “Hey, Y’all!” in the South or “Eh?” in the Midwest. There would be nothing to talk about after a while. No comedy, which we all use as a way to cover up the fact that sometimes we don’t understand what someone’s saying. Eventually, we’d understand each other perfectly and there would be no need to ask any more questions. Eventually, we would know all there is to know, and have nothing new to learn about a person.

We can say that it is only through the lens of vernacular that we are able to see our differences and our similarities. We can say that it is only through the language of vernacular that we are able to learn patience and kindness, and gain wisdom and understanding about culture and society and family and tradition. These social outlets are how we express ourselves and how we [again], learn to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Vernacular, whether understood or not, must be respected. It requires no correction. It desires acknowledgement and appreciation. It encourages friendship and intimacy. It is a catalyst for new beginnings and it challenges us to be a better, more enriched, more knowledgeable version of yesterday’s self.

So, the next time you hear what you perceive to be a grammatical faux pas, and are tempted to correct it, stop and appreciate the moment. For, it is in that very moment you have the opportunity to love unconditionally.