Leading with Love: Part 2

Last week I celebrated. This week I am looking at the more difficult things I encountered around the marriage equality decision. I find myself struggling to find the words to describe how it feels to see friends on Facebook express their dismay that marriage has been deemed a right for everyone. In my experience, the polite-acceptance-despite-this-being-an-abomination-to-god has caused more harm than the violence that comes at those of us who are gay or transgendered. It’s fairly easy to blow off the ugly venom from the likes of Fred Phelps. He’s an extremist that gives gay people a good name.

Far more damaging are the subtle silences and disapproval that come from those who love and like us as individuals. Very often their words are framed as “God’s word.” You all matter. Your quiet disapproval goes inside too easily, it carries too much weight. I know because have taken it in–until way to recently. I have agreed with you and wished I were worthy of your love–as if your love were more legitimate, more important than my own. You have the power to harm and you have used it–with or without understanding the impact you were having.

I haven’t always known how to hold my heart open and make room for those who do not see as I do. If I didn’t shut people out in righteous anger, I slipped silently away to protect myself from anticipated pain. I have struggled not judge those with whom I do not agree, to figure out how to share my experiences of how what they have expressed has impacted me. I have excised my voice to keep peace, to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

Writing my blog posts in the aloneness of my living room is my first step toward speaking instead of disappearing. If I can break my silence in silence, perhaps I will find the ability to speak directly to the people who posted the things that struck me in the heart.

So here’s what I believe. To say LGBTQ folks are unloved by God is harmful. Invoking “God’s judgment” when it is really just a person’s own, takes a huge toll on those of us who have felt the longing to be a part of God’s love. Being straight is not a choice. Neither is being gay or bi or trans. Embracing those who are–or refusing to–is. Many Christians and other people of faith have claimed that being gay and choosing to experience the beauty of the love and sexual expression that grow out of that is an abomination to God. Just as many people have seen LGBTQ people’s right to marry as coming into alignment with the love of God.

What I want is for the people who are comfortable in their belief that God has no room for the LGBTQ community to go within and struggle with their beliefs as we have struggled with ours. We had to create lives of meaning and joy in the face of being told nearly everywhere we turned that we had no value. Some of us couldn’t do it. We have lost so many precious lives to drugs and suicide; we have lost too much light to lives lived in the shadows. We need you to go within and really know that your beliefs have the power to devastate the lives of LGBTQ people. You have a choice. You can make a difference. Use your power for love.

Leading with Love

I’ve experienced so many emotions over the last couple of weeks as I poured over the news of the murdered men and women in Charleston; the validation of the ACA by the Supreme Court; and the announcement of marriage equality. In the midst of all that, I watched Out in the Night, a film about four young black lesbians from New Jersey who were jailed for defending themselves from attack, and read Dream Things True by Marie Marqhardt, a young adult novel about a young woman in the United States illegally since being brought here from Mexico at the age of two.

With all of that swirling around inside me, I just want to focus on the celebrations for a moment before we all head back to the work yet to be done.

The eulogy by President Obama for Reverend Clementa Pinckney was powerful. If you haven’t seen it, please go hear it for yourself.

I am so pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the ACA. Too many people have not had the safety net that this insurance measure provides. It may not be perfect, but it is better than the nothing that we have had for those who do not have insurance through an employer. That system just doesn’t make sense. As long as you are healthy enough to work–and are working a substantial enough job that insurance is provided rather than three or four jobs that don’t net you any insurance–you can have insurance. But get sick enough for long enough, lose your job and all of a sudden, just when you need it, no insurance.

And then came marriage equality. It was such a wonderful feeling when I heard the news. Not being able to marry someone I love has never felt like a big loss for me personally. But for many people I know and love it has. Despite my lukewarm feeling toward marriage, this ruling filled my whole body with joy. For far too long, the way love and desire works inside me has been deemed an abomination by my government. Not any more. It is interesting what an impact that has on a person–being different and welcome, versus different and tolerated or even rejected and deemed as not being worthy of basic rights. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure equality–and welcome–across the board for all who live in this country. We aren’t done, and won’t be until it happens. With love leading the way, it is bound to.

One of the most heart-warming things for me around the marriage equality celebration was seeing how many of my straight friends were celebrating the SCOTUS decision. Many of them were friends from my childhood or college years that I have had no contact with outside of Facebook since. Mixed in with my joy for this is also a sadness. My choice to slip silently away rather than risk being known–and possibly embraced in full friendship–has robbed both my friends and me of richer relationships. I owe each person that I never personally came out to an apology for not seeing you accurately, for not trusting you to love me and make room for me. I also owe you an apology for projecting my own inability to embrace myself fully onto you.

You all look beautiful in rainbow.

Black Lives Matter

When I heard the news that nine people had been murdered in Charleston, SC, last week, I was riding the bus home. As I sat next to strangers, I was overwhelmed with grief. At our Sunday morning service, we a spent a moment in silence after the name of each person was called and their picture shown on the wall. Taking in those beautiful faces, knowing that they are no longer here with us, I felt the loss again.

It is time for us to say “No more.” No more violence, no more fear, no more refusing to see the value and beauty in every person in this world.

What can one person do? I am surely not the only one who has asked this question. I am surely not the only one who has felt too small in the face of so much. Perhaps I cannot change the world, but I must change myself–and that is no small thing. When I skirt around the edges of despair at just how huge this problem is in our country, I keep coming back to LOVE. We have got to breathe through our fear, our despair, our anger–whatever it may be for each of us–and see with the eyes of love.

Last month, Natasha Ria El-Scari spoke at CSL about living the Science of Mind principles in the face of racism. One of the many things she shared that touched me was her story of being shoved by a white man at the gym where she was exercising. He had clearly gone out of his way to do it. She followed him and asked him why he had. At first, he denied having done anything. She held firm and calmly replied that it was clear that he had, and she asked again what had led him to behave that way. He finally apologized and she accepted it. To us Natasha said that she was aware that there are two acceptable ways for a black person to address racist acts–one is to pretend it didn’t happen and the other is to go into a rage. Neither works for her. If she remains silent, she becomes complicit with the act of racism. If she responds with rage, she is dismissed. Either way, the behavior itself remains unchallenged. Her approach, instead, is to “get all up in people’s faces with love.”

Speaking up has always been my struggle. I have not known how to address things that felt wrong to me. Stuck between two choices–fly into blaming, shaming, righteous mode; or remain silent–I have not spoken. I feel in the turmoil of my soul that my silence–our silence–makes it possible for horrendous acts of violence against black people to continue unchallenged.

Natasha offered a very clear alternate path. Love wants to speak through me. I may not feel that I have the power to change the world, but I can open my mouth. I can set my fingers to write when my throat won’t loose the words inside me. I can let Love speak through me. Doing so will change the world.

Bearing Witness

I watched Bryan Stevenson’s 2012 TED Talk, We Need to Talk About an Injustice over the weekend. I consider myself to be a fairly aware white woman, but Stevenson pointed out a number of things about the experience of black people in this country that I simply have not fathomed.

For instance, Stevenson notes that terrorism did not come to this country with 9-11, [or even the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City]. It existed for years before slavery was abolished and for years after–when a black man could be lynched for simply failing to move off the sidewalk if a white man or woman was on it. I know that it was not safe for black people if white people took exception. I know that it still isn’t. Yet the disconnect between my thinking and my understanding is undeniable.

Stevenson gave voice to what I have not been able to articulate in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and countless other black men and boys. We have created a society of fear that justifies anything that happens to those we fear. White people for the most part don’t question it–if we are even aware enough of all of the atrocities perpetrated on people of color to question it.

In his talk, Stevenson said, “we have in this country this dynamic where we really don’t like to talk about our problems. We don’t like to talk about our history. And because of that, we really haven’t understood what it’s meant to do the things we’ve done historically. . . . We have a hard time talking about race, and I believe it’s because we are unwilling to commit ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation. In South Africa, people understood that we couldn’t overcome apartheid without a commitment to truth and reconciliation. In Rwanda, even after the genocide, there was this commitment, but in this country we haven’t done that.”

When I have been deeply upset about some way I have been treated, there is one response that evaporates my anger or pain, my holding a person out as if they don’t matter to me. It’s not an apology, which so often come without any real meaning. Apologies are often offered as a way to get away from uncomfortable feelings and back to equilibrium in the relationship between two or more people. To be honest, I have often not even involved the other person in my truth and reconciliation process for fear that the bonds between us would not be strong enough to hold me in my hurt. In an attempt to preserve some degree of relationship, I have tried to do all the work myself–and in the end lost the friendship anyway because it could not hold up under the accumulated weight of my feelings.

However, when I have been met by a heart willing to feel the pain that has been touched in me, my feelings of pain and anger have evaporated. Not diminished slowly, evaporated. When I have been able to look a friend in the eye; when they have found the courage to tell me that this thing that I did confused or angered or hurt them; when I feel the pain that I have caused and own that I did not act with integrity or courage, I have felt the anger/distrust/pain evaporate and trust renew and deepen.

It takes courage to see ourselves capable of harming another. It takes courage to see how we have contributed indirectly to the harming of another through our ignorance, through our unacknowledged history, through the privilege we are afforded by an unjust society that values “us” over “them.” Stevenson states that we cannot be “fully human until we pay attention to suffering, to poverty, to exclusion, to unfairness, to injustice.” He is aware of the challenge in paying attention to these things. It will break our hearts to do it, but reconnecting our hearts to our minds will heal our world. It may be the only thing that can.