Constantly Late and Begging for Applause

Kind of tired of watching big organizations (political parties, churches, etc, etc, etc) look for a standing ovation when they finally come around on an issue (doesn’t matter what it is, pick your favorite).

No, sorry, you don’t get credit for being a late follower. If you project an air of infallibility and want everyone to believe that you’re on the side of truth and justice and love and all that other good stuff you say you believe – YOU’D HAVE BEEN EARLY TO THE PARTY. You should have helped organize it.

You don’t get to show up at the last minute after people have spent decades fighting your lies and pretend that this is some great thing you’re doing. You’re LATE. You were on the wrong side the whole time and don’t even have the courage to admit it other than a couple of trite press releases written by your lawyers and a couple of donations to charities that helped all the people you hurt.

You get no credit. Screw you.

Welcome to the party, but we were just wrapping up. There might be a couple crackers left. Sorry, but all the dip’s been eaten and we’re out of wine. Feel free to make your own.

Stories from the March: Impressions from the Front Row

I had a front row seat for a miracle Sunday night. I went to the Trinity Methodist Church and heard from two dozen women of all ages, colors and backgrounds who marched in DC and Savannah the day after the inauguration. It was inspiring. I cried several times, laughed twice as many times, and came away feeling recharged and exhausted at the same time.

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The stories weren’t all focused on the march – they were as much about why these women marched, which ran the gamut and some of the stories are too sacred and personal to even attempt to restate here. If you can carve three hours out of your day, I highly recommend watching the video. I hope it captures some of the spirit of the event and what we felt in the room.

It felt like the beginning of something much larger than a trip to a protest. And to explain why, I think I need to take a step back and explain Savannah, at least my understanding of Savannah, a little bit. Savannah is a city of silos that have been built up over almost 300 years. They’re well guarded and imposing, but invisible to the casual observer. They keep us separated by race, class and industry without most of us even knowing they exist.

But, in and around those silos exist a lot of energetic, creative, passionate people doing good important work in the community… and until the march, I think a lot of them were unaware of each others’ presence or their common cause. The march brought them together and introduced a lot of them to each other for the first time, and then the energy grew.

Sunday night, all those powerful nasty women came together again to show us the power of those new connections and share that energy with all of us. I wish you could have been there. It was electric. It was positive and full of love. Even when an unplanned speaker said very unplanned things, the audience was respectful and quiet (and uncomfortable). And when it was clear she was unwell and something needed to be done, a woman near the rear of the chapel stood up and started singing Amazing Grace. We all joined in. She was gently led away from the podium and off the pulpit and then wrapped in loving embrace by some of the very people she’d just insulted.

It was something I’ll never forget, that energy of being around committed women of conviction and energy, surrounded by art and the sacred (and just enough of the profane to make it interesting).

But.

Sunday wasn’t the end of something. Sunday felt like the beginning of something larger than a single march. I sat next to a woman I’ve known for years, but had no idea she’s involved in an organization that works to get women elected to local and state office (and, fingers crossed, national). I sat in front of the first African American woman to be elected mayor of Savannah, and got to listen to her affirm what the speakers said with a simple “Alright” or “That’s right.” This is a woman who’s seen some things, who’s been through more than most of us will ever understand. The way she said it was so loving, so full of understanding. I’ve never heard anyone utter single word and have it feel more solid or understood.

Where do we, where do I, go from here? For a long time, I’ve felt what I can only call a calling to run for public office. After Sunday, I came to a realization – in order to make our representative democracy actually representative of all of its citizens, it needs to look more like America. White men make up 30% of the US, but make up over 60% of Congress. It doesn’t need another white guy, not even one as handsome as me. It needs more powerful women and people of color. So, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to work with organizations like Georgia’s WIN List to get more women elected. I’m going to continue the work of breaking down, or at least infiltrating, Savannah’s silos and cause as much #goodtrouble as I can.

There’s good work being done. We don’t need to start something brand new, but join efforts led by women and people of color already in progress and lend a hand. We need to change our perceptions of leadership. Men, white men especially, don’t need to lead everything. There are more, and more effective, ways to lead an organization than the way we’ve done it in the past, and the way we’re watching our new President do it in the White House.

Last topic, and it feels unrelated, but it’s not. I talked to a wise friend yesterday about Sunday night and tried to make sense of my feelings and what to do next. He mentioned to me that the pastor of the church that hosted us put himself on the line. He asked if I’d be willing to join, and do more than just show up on Sunday, because those churches can’t survive to do good work if no one’s in the pews on Sunday or filling the collection plate.

I left my church in 2008 over California’s Prop 8 because they asked me to do something I felt went against the core tenets of our faith. I think a lot of people my age and younger have drifted away from religion as their churches became less about loving our neighbors and more about what our neighbors do behind closed doors. I never imagined I’d consider going back, but what if there’s a place for progressive worship? What does that look like?

My friend asked me to think about it, and I am. If the church can feel like it felt on Sunday night – a place of love, inclusion and action, then I could see actually putting on a tie and showing up.

Religion has done a lot of harm, and I don’t want to minimize the pain its caused, but it can also be a place of refuge. Throughout history, churches have sheltered the weak, weary and afraid from the angry mob. They’ve also been places communities have rallied around to change the world for the better.

I can’t think of a combination more needed today than that.

Savannah’s own First African Baptist was a stop on the Underground Railroad and a place where civil rights leaders and their allies could meet and plan: one of the first truly desegregated places in Savannah.

Parishioners like Bob and Philippa Paddison and many others at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation were pivotal in the early days of Savannah’s civil rights movement.

First Presbyterian Church on Washington Avenue has harbored and hosted refugees for decades. Their story is one of quiet steady persistence. The Catholic and Jewish communities of Savannah each have stories of welcoming people forced from their homelands by prejudice and injustice.

That effort isn’t free, and can only be undertaken with the consent and financial support of the congregation. It was risky dangerous work, undertaken with the full understanding of the potential consequences.

There are pastors willing to take those kinds of risks for justice today – but if their congregations aren’t on board, they can’t.

I’m not sure where my heart is right now on this, but it’s worth thinking about. If we can build a worship that’s more Beatitudes than brimstone, and more Samaritan than Pharisee? Is that worth giving up all my anger and joining? What can we accomplish working within the body of the church that we can’t working outside of it, or against it?

I know that’s a lot of questions. I don’t have the answers – but it feels like finding them is vital to making progress.

To wrap up, here’s a list of ideas of things to do to get some energy and make some progress. It’s not comprehensive. It’s just a start, but it’s better than nothing.

  • Get involved with organizations that are working to elect women and people of color to local, state and national office. The League of Women Voters is a great place to start. For me, I’m going to ship an email to the local head of Georgia’s WIN List as soon as I finish up here.
  • Pick one or two things you really care about and find an organization that works on those things. Join the fight. If we all pick one or two things and put in the work, we can collective work on all of the things. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the undertaking, but if we can all collectively make progress by each picking those one or two things, we make progress on everything.
  • Go be around passionate people. I’m an introvert, and even I felt completely energized by the event on Sunday.
  • Be kind to yourself. No one can do this alone, and no one expects you to. Bring a friend. Bring lots of friends.

I’ll leave the last word for Annie Dillard, who is more eloquent than I’ll ever be:

Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can.

Stop Spreading Hate

When you share ignorant myths about trans people, minorities, share racist, sexist, xenophobic memes, support politicians who advocate (and sometimes pass) legislation to push already-marginalized people out of public life, you’re encouraging people with just slightly less self control than you to hurt other people.

When you support bullies, strongmen, and bigots, you’re continuing the cycle that ends up in people getting hurt and killed.

Stop and think about the people affected by this stuff. They’re actual real human beings with families and friends who will miss them if they’re gone.

I’m tired of losing friends and having friends afraid to go out in public as themselves because some asshole might kill them just for being who they are.

These people are fighting for their rights to be seen as full members of society. You’re fighting for your right to continue to keep them in the closet (which isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, one that we should all be willing to give up so others can enjoy the same rights we do), and to not have your precious beliefs challenged. There is a huge difference.

History is not on your side, nor will it be kind.

We’ll Never Understand

So far, I’ve seen statements from at least 3 politicians, who have no problem expressing strong opinions about people outside their religion and race; who never let their own ignorance keep them from pronouncing judgement on others, say today that we’ll “never understand the motivations” of the monster who killed 9 people last night in Charleston.

Why reserve your whip-smart judgement now? Why be so “sensitive” and offer your “prayers”? Could it be because your ignorant ramblings maybe inspired this guy?

Media figures and politicians demonize entire races and religions all the time, saying, like Glenn Beck did, that people are “willing to lay down their lives” for whatever batshit crazy cause they’re spouting off about. And then, when some crazed lunatic actually DOES WHAT THEY SO SLYLY SUGGEST, they clasp their hands and say they’re praying for the victims and say we’ll never understand what drove them to do such a horrible thing.

We know. They were inspired by parents, by the talk radio hosts they listen to, by the politicians that pander to any loony zealot who will vote for them (or give them money), by the mentally unhinged bastards who say we’re at war with everybody.

So, maybe instead of just praying for the victims, we should stop being such assholes and preach the religion we say we follow? Preach peace. Preach understanding. Preach forgiveness and humility. Teach your kids not to be racist. Teach your kids to love their neighbors (no matter who they are).

These tragedies are avoidable, and praying for the victims is the least you can do. Condemn violence. Condemn racism. Condemn those who make targets out of innocent people. And if you are one of those people, stop it already. You’re the problem. Be a part of the solution.

Question Authority!

I watched the documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition about the LDS Church’s involvement in getting California’s Prop 8 passed. It was depressing as hell, no lie, and I felt like I had just watched a movie about the holocaust. I encourage you all to watch it too.\
Non-LDS should watch, and then speak out about the church’s tax-exempt status. They clearly overstepped the lines in this case and it’s disappointing that more people aren’t outraged.\
LDS should also watch and ask their leaders for an explanation about the backroom shenanigans. I don’t care about what the LDS Church preaches to its own members or the reported strong-arm tactics of getting people to donate money, but all that sneaking around and manipulating and outright lying to the voting public is inexcusable. That is not the way any organization purporting itself to be of God should behave.

My International Day of Awesomeness Manifesto

Today is the third International Day of Awesomeness, a holiday I invented back in 2007. For the past three years, I’ve tried to perform a “feat of awesomeness” to commemorate the day. The first year, I dyed my hair blue, something I’d always wanted to do but never had the guts to actually do. Last year’s was less obvious, but there was a huge layoff at AOL the day before, so I wrote LinkedIn recommendations for all of my friends that got laid off instead of doing something else. This year, I walked around Forsyth Park with my friends Murray and Tom (something they do three times a week at 6:30AM), poorly organized a lunch at a brand new restaurant downtown, and am now doing part three – writing a manifesto. I wanted to write down, for the world to see, what I believe in and what I aspire to be. But, I remembered this TED Talk from Barry Schwartz and realized that he sums up most of it in 20 minutes of eloquence. So, watch it, and then join me down below.

He talks quite a bit about “moral heroes” and celebrating them. My moral heroes are pretty simple: Mister Rogers, Elwood P. Dowd and Jesus Christ. All three men (fictional or not) contain the attributes I aspire to. They’re kind, empathetic and gentle.\
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my kids to learn from me, and here’s the (very short) list I’ve come up with:

  • Be kind to everyone.
  • Do no harm.

I think that if I can live those two things, everything else that I could do that would be considered good or worthwhile will follow naturally. As Jesus said, “And the second [great commandment] is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39). Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist in Harvey said it like this, “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’ – she always called me Elwood – ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I don’t know about choosing between being smart or pleasant. I hope it’s possible to be both.

And, I obviously stole the second item in the list from the Hippocratic Oath, but I think it applies to everyone, not just doctors. To me, that means not just avoiding physical harm but emotional. If you’re kind and empathetic, you’re not going to intentionally cause any kind of harm to anyone else – and you’re much less likely to cause it unintentionally.

The world is full of well-meaning people who forget about empathy. We hear it every day: “I can’t imagine anyone living like that / doing that / feeling that way / loving that person / doing that to themselves / etc.” That shows a problem with their imagination, not with the other people. The things one person can’t imagine are held deeply by others. The things one person thinks are disgusting are the deepest feelings of another’s heart. We try to legislate away everything that makes us uncomfortable. We try to push deep down inside us those feelings that we can’t express because we lack the imagination to invent the words for them.

I refuse to believe that there is too little imagination in the world for us to accept each other. Being “tolerant” isn’t good enough.

If the second great commandment is to “love thy neighbor as thyself”, then nothing else can trump that, not the Old Testament, not Paul’s epistles, nothing else in Christian scripture beats Jesus Christ telling us to love each other (if you’re a Christian that is – if you’re not, that’s fine, the golden rule is a fairly universal concept – see the Charter for Compassion).

If my kids learn that from me, then I think I’ve done my job. It doesn’t matter what else they learn from me. If they grow up to be gentlemen, in the truest simplest definition of the word, then I’ll be happy.

How are you supposed to end a manifesto? I think I’ll end it with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, who is on my “expanded” list of moral heroes:

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, or retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

A Divinely Inspired Lack of Historical Perspective

“During my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly,” Oaks said. “Atheists and others would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation.”\
That’s a quote from LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks that I found in this lovely article from the Salt Lake Tribune via this post on blurbomat. In a speech given at BYU Idaho, Oaks said:\
bq. These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of “violence and intimidation” are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation. (emphasis mine)\
The “incidents” you speak about are isolated and rare, especially when compared to the violence and intimidation inflicted on the gay community by supposed people of “faith”.\
Your two statements are connected, Elder Oaks, but not in the way you think. Why have we lost respect for religion in public life? Why have we lost respect for religious leaders of most denominations? Because they say blatantly stupid things in public and then stand behind them. They ignore Christ’s teachings and support persecuting the different, weak and those in the minority. They incite hatred, persecution, inequality and show no empathy. They use phrases like “alleged civil rights”. I don’t understand the Church’s support for Prop 8 at all. It’s hypocritical when you look at our history as a people. The early members of the Church were actually persecuted for their beliefs – tarred and feathered, shot on sight and driven across the country – not yelled at or protested against. Why? Because they were different. Because they believed in a different interpretation of marriage than the majority of the country. Does that mean the early Saints were wrong? Does that mean that outlawing that form of marriage was just or right?\
No\
It wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now for the majority to inflict its imperfect morality on the beliefs of others – especially when those beliefs, those claims of rights, have absolutely no impact on the rights of others. Has the entire church forgotten the second great commandment the Savior gave, to “love thy neighbor as thyself”? If it wasn’t right for the government to outlaw polygamy, then it’s not right now to outlaw gay marriage. That’s showing a shocking lack of empathy.\
And you expect people not to be angry when faced with your hypocrisy – with your persecution of the different? You claim that people who want to deny others their right to the pursuit of happiness are being persecuted by the very same people you’re persecuting? And then, to top it off, you equate the fight against your campaign against others’ rights to the fight for civil rights by a truly oppressed minority? Divinely inspired lunacy is the best thing I can think of to say about it.\
I would have been fine if the Church had said nothing. But, the Church asked members to donate to Prop 8 organizations and donated an unknown sum of money itself. That support is why I stopped going to church – and you’re not making me doubt my decision, Elder Oaks.

Going to raspberry the world

Months ago, Kevin and I decided to stop attending the LDS Church over their support of anti-gay rights legislation. This probably doesn’t come as a shock to most of you, but it actually is a really big deal.\
We talked to the kids about this and they understand as best as they can. We are planning to continue to pray when we want, draw inspiration from the Scriptures, abstain from alcohol, disavow divorce, avoid sleeping with hookers, refrain from becoming crack addicts, and basically try to be good people. We told our families and the news was probably met with much disappointment. (My parents aren’t members of the Church but I know they are saddened to hear about our struggles.)\
We have been struggling with this particular issue for years. The Church isn’t going to change its mind regardless of what we think. While the Church has seen numerous changes in the past, its handling of this issue seems different.\
I joined the Church over 15 years ago and expected it to be a lifelong commitment. There have been times when it has been rough and times when it has been great. It is difficult to do everything the Church asks, but it felt like a worthy struggle. Kind of like marriage. Or, the typical idea of marriage where there are fights and happiness and bad times and good times and all that. (Kevin and I aren’t like that though, and marriage has been much better than I ever anticipated, but that is a post for another day). Since my commitment to the Church was supposed to be lifelong… I sort of feel like I am getting divorced. As much as I decry divorce in most cases, there do exist times when it is acceptable and even prudent.\
So, blah.\
I hate the idea of being ex-Mormon. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. But, I can’t stand the thought of continuing to attend and support the LDS Church.\
Objectively, I am thankful that the Church got me through my college years. Maybe I just needed it then and “don’t” now. (Though I am not sure it is possible to not need a church, a community.) It helped me make decisions that kept me safe. It gave me many opportunities to grow and lead and learn and teach. It gave me friends who felt like family and family who felt like friends. It gave me purpose and direction in my life at a critical point between adolescence and adulthood. It led me to Kevin.\
I don’t know what this decision means for my future, my marriage, my kids’ futures, and I am honestly worried about it. I don’t know how to teach the kids to abstain from premarital sex and alcohol without the Church to back me up. It’s not that I think either of those two things are inherently EVIL! Just that… there is just so much unnecessary heartache attached to those two activities that I want to protect my kids from.\
So, yeah.\
I can’t imagine going through something like this without Kevin feeling the same way I do. I am not sure how that happened, but I am really grateful for it.\
ETA- Some people/media are choosing to bring up other issues with the Church, since it is a hot topic right now. I don’t like this and don’t want to hear [other] bad things about the Church.