Monday, June 29, 2009

an interview with a gay activist

I was listening to the documentary series, In the Life, "stories from the gay experience." This particular video was celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall. There was an interview with Larry Kramer (the interviewer was Lady Bunny), a long-time gay writer and activist.

"...a huge number of gay people do not self-identify first and foremost as gay. Until we can self-identify everyone of us, first and foremost, as gay, before anything else, we're not going to be able to put a population out there that's meaningful. I consider myself gay first, before I'm a gay man, or a gay Jew, or a gay writer or a gay activist. I am gay. And that dictates everything I do, how I look at things, how I react, how I write."
[Kramer then spoke about gays and lesbians in Obama's Administration.]
"It scared me... That's the new philosophy, 'we're all going to work together on this' and I just almost had a fit. We're NOT all in this together, we're
NOT all in this together! They are not with us! We have to go and we have to fight for us. I don't want you being in the White House and not fighting for us first and foremost (you gays and lesbians who are on Obama's staff)." [The bolding and caps are an attempt to catch his tonal emphasis, and apparent vehemence.]

Kramer, over and over, made a point of using the word, "population" to describe gays, rather than "community." At one point, he corrected the interviewer on this word.

I found this interview interesting on a number of levels, and disturbing in other regards. If I consider how I'd describe myself, I see my identity as a follower of Christ - seeking to live imitating Christ, loving God and others
- as transcending my identity as a woman, a white, an American, a daughter, a wife, a mother, etc. I also see the "church" [ideally, in the power of the Holy Spirit] as transcending, corporately, our human distinctions of gender, racial, cultural, economic, educational, and unique differences.

Substitute "gay" and "population" for "Christ-follower" and "church" and we find that Kramer's claims of gay transcendency over all other aspects of life as not dis-similar to those differences which we hope for in the church.

Here's a difference between us that causes me grave concern as someone committed to be "an ambassador of reconciliation." Christians profess to follow "God-with-us", and to be bearers of Christ, "good news" to everyone around us. [Please note well: I understand that too many "churches" and "Christians" fail to apprehend the justice, mercy, humility and love they are called by God to evidence to the world around them, faithfully. That point gets belabored elsewhere in my blog posts, and is besides this point.]

My point is a question: if Kramer wants to "call out" gays to be a distinct population from everyone else ("they" who are NOT-with-"us"), what would that look like and what would he anticipate the results being? Wouldn't this just result in further fracturing of our society? I don't understand how this kind of response to the majority - "they" - will ever elicit actions of love, goodness, justice and mercy... He sounded much more angry and divisive than peaceful or hopeful in his assertions.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Who is our standard?

I've been writing 2 very different blogs for a while, but life and death have intervened with completing them. So, a few thoughts about what I've encountered along the way, recently.

Jonathan Edwards wrote:
"Resolved...that all men would live for the glory of God. Resolved, second...that if nobody else does, I will."
It seems that humans, in general, respond to the second phrase in actions that reveal, "Resolved, second...that if nobody else does, I won't either." or "Resolved, second...that if nobody else does, I'll make them."
Am I being cynical, or realistic about our power to deceive ourselves in our hearts? hmmmm...

Oswald Chambers wrote:
"We say that there ought to be no sorrow, but there is sorrow, and we have to accept and receive ourselves in its fires. If we try to evade sorrow, refusing to deal with it, we are foolish. Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life, and there is no use in saying it should not be. Sin, sorrow, and suffering are, and it is not for us to say that God has made a mistake in allowing them."
It is really difficult to face, daily, my ability to sin and to cause sorrow and suffering. Repenting is ongoing, confessing is ongoing, grieving is ongoing, facing my sin is necessary to discerning how to love others and to live the truth of God's redemption to them in the midst of their brokenness.

We really, really, really, REALLY, want everyone else to be as dirty and broken as we act and perceive ourselves to be. When confronted with a person who has behaved righteously, we seek to drag them down into our own unrighteousness. We call them "holier than thou" when what we're really saying is, "Your life seems to be lived on a higher plane than mine. Who do you think you are, anyway???" If we see that other people are destructive or critical or abusive toward that person, we rationalize that it must be his/her fault. We will join in with the mob who destroys rather than risk ourselves and our reputations in the face of the opprobrium of the group, to participate in redemption of that person. It seems not to enter into the minds of those in the mob that a righteous person could actually be blamed, ostracized, demeaned, and slandered, much less die, simply for being righteous. It seems not to enter into the minds of those in the mob that, even if the person is unrighteous, we ourselves have become unrighteousness by our participation in their destruction. We neglect to face the harsh truth about ourselves that we will crucify even God's Son. The righteousness of Jesus and the Prophets will make us SO uncomfortable about ourselves that we become the killers of others, including the killers of the prophets and the Righteous One. "Yeah, but," we may say, "we can see that those historical people killed righteous people, but we've never done that!" Do we hear the echo of Jesus' voice speaking to the powerful in Matthew 23:29-36?

Rather, as Christians, we are called to crucify ourselves that Christ may live within us. Will you sacrifice yourself to love another person, today, however "unworthy" in the world's eyes? Will I?

Monday, June 8, 2009

That’s not my “religion”

From Merriam-Webster, here's the primary definition of "straw man." 1 : a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted.

Here are M-W's definitions of "religion":

1 a: the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion> b (1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2): commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance 2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices 3 archaic
: scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness 4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

That's not my "religion"!

I wonder if it's sacrilegious to disagree with the dictionary's definition of religion? Is it indicative of my ignorance and gullibility that I disagree with Bill Maher's take on religion in his movie, Religulous, and find his questions rooted in a modernistic understanding of religion, related to the dictionary's definition? If his assumption is that religion consists of perceiving the supernatural and its intersection with the natural, in addition to "worship" as seen only in the singing, talking or following a particular set of rites, then his foundation for his documentary is understandable. However, he never offered viewers the definition of "religion" on which his questions were based. Thus, the questions he asked of religious adherents seem unanswerable in anything other than a way that elicits superiority and mockery of the respondent.

The arguments over the airwaves, internet and between people, today, seem to be efforts to control what other people think, as distinct from celebrating or decrying how people treat one another, their families, their communities, strangers, and themselves. It seems as if the predominant modus operandi for both religious and irreligious is to mock the other side, to demean the persons whose thoughts are different than their thoughts, to denigrate the literature which supports that system (whether ancient literature or modern scientific material), and to distance themselves from those whose belief systems don't make sense in their own subjective understanding.

That's not my "religion"!

My conviction is that humans reveal their true "religion" in the content of our own and one another's lives, long before we hear it out of mouths or read it in words. (For those who don't know me, our natural and self-protective tendencies to judge before knowing and loving one another, patiently, kindly, with encouragement and grace, may actually obstruct your view of my "religion.") If we won't listen to one another as living documents of our "religion", then the underlying justification and rationale of that religion may sound patently ridiculous. When we tell one another, "I don't want to hear it", are we really saying, "knowing you, why you do what you do, or make the choices you make is irrelevant to my life"? If loving one another is irrelevant, have we devalued the other person's worth in our world? Beyond that unwillingness to know the other, are we questioning whether the others' lives may challenge our own actions, words and choices? How will we respond to those challenges others' lives pose? Will we continue to seek truth, or will we fight against them with weapons of opposition, such as distance, alienation, gossip, slander, or self-justification?

Our culture speaks of human rights rather than human worth. The former language seems more oriented toward the individual ego, and the latter toward the gift of humanity. Most of us simply do not see the people we encounter in our families and our communities, much less outsiders, as gifts. We treat them as obstacles in our own paths, battles to be fought, and challenges to our own self-images.

So, I try to live out this (biblical) definition of religion: The religion of living in a way that sees the others around me, seeks their good, listens to their stories, believes in their intrinsic human worth (God-created in God's image), encourages them through my gifts of valuing them and hearing them, embraces their God-given uniqueness, experiences and gifts, chooses to "die" to my own interests rather than ride rough-shod over their understanding, defines life through being with others rather than in opposition or separation from others, refuses to condemn, demean or mock them even when they've "crucified" me in words, lies, ostracism, or declarations of ignorance, discerns and interprets without judgment (see my blog on judgment v. discernment for the difference) the ramifications of their lived religion, pays attention to the challenge others pose to my lived "religion," remains alongside those who differ from me as long as my presence is not interpreted as condoning harmful behavior to self or community, and ultimately believes in God's power to resurrect me from the grave of silence and denial of worth in which many would place strangers to their personal systems.

Thus, this re-definition of "religion" is not verbal but actual. What do we do? How do we treat the stranger, the brother or sister, the mother or father, the child, the neighbor, the other gender, the other race, another ethnicity or family? Do we divorce those we disagree with or continue to include them in our fellowship? Each of us has a single body, and that single body is a "book of law" which is governed by the unique combination of gender, experiences, love/unlove, culture, education, status and places that body has been.

Some questions to ask ourselves about our "religion": Do we "crucify" others according to our law (verbally, emotionally, physically)? Do we love and remain with others? Does our love nurture, teach and maintain healthy boundaries for self and those who've been entrusted to us? Do we invade another's personhood with verbal, emotional, spiritual or physical violence? Do we seek to dominate or manipulate others through intellect, "religion", words, the oppressive power of a group of people, fear, threats, or force? Do we defend another's personhood against such violence? Do we discriminate and treat with partiality one person/family/tribe over another, educated over uneducated, like-minded over diverse peoples, rich over poor, our race or ethnicity over others?

Mikhail Bahktin wrote: The very being of man … is deepest communion. To be means to communicate. Absolute death (non-being) is that state of being unheard, unrecognized, unremembered. To be means to be for another, and through the other, for oneself. A person has no internal sovereignty, he is wholly and always on the boundary; looking inside of himself, he looks into the eyes of another or with the eyes of another.

I trust God to bring people into my life who will help me grow in love, grace, and wisdom – even those who seek to harm. This radical religion acts with love and in communion with humanity.