Sunday, September 23, 2012

Must Read Memoir by Kelly Barth

I went to church yesterday.  Not in the literal, time honored sense, but I finished a book I've been reading and felt as if I had been to church.  The book is ironically named My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus by Kelly Barth.  Told with sincerity, honesty, and humor, this memoir could have been my life on so many levels - not so much in specific details, but in many of the passages Barth traveled on her journey as a gay woman of faith.  I like that better than describing her as a woman of faith coming to grips with her gayness. For while she hesitated to publicly acknowledge it, she always knew she was gay.  Her journey was in discovering how to reconcile that fact with a faith that went through so many permutations, only she and "Imaginary Jesus" could really discover the truth and substance of that faith. 

As I've been reflecting on the book last night and this morning, I've chuckled again at Kelly's ability to describe her experiences with a humor that avoids insipid superficiality.  And admirably, for this reader, she is able to reconcile both her sexuality and her spirituality with a depth that defies many of the more shallow memoirs I have read of late.

Perhaps the most touching moment in the book for me was after she "came out" to her parents, and met with them for the first time after that revelation in her childhood home.  The image of her parents with their "powerful" clipboards of questions, Kelly sitting as a dutiful child in a chair where they "both could see her," and the clinical, yet far more tender way these two parents attempted to both understand and respectfully protect their child after having received news that no doubt turned their world upside down is one of the most moving moments of the entire memoir.  For these parents, nothing changed the fact that they loved their child, and no matter how their previous acts or words may have indicated otherwise and how unsettling the news may have been for them, they ultimately wanted only that their daughter know that she was loved and accepted.  "'You're ours and we love you. Nothing wrong. We just go on from here.' . . . Daddy picked up his clipboard, found a clear sheet of paper, and started a letter to Lisa, welcoming her to the family."

Acceptance by my own family and close friends - many of whom I feared simply wouldn't be able to make the leap - was very similar. As was my partner's.  I had worried overmuch about their reactions and potential rejections. My therapist even suggested that perhaps I didn't give my parents enough credit.  I'm not naive enough to believe all people are so lucky in their coming out experiences.  I know they aren't and that lack of family acceptance is one of the key causes of suicide among LGBT teens.  Perhaps we "late bloomers" have a greater capacity for dealing with the ramifications, or maybe we are just fortunate to have the families we have.  

I'll not say more on the book because I could not possibly do it justice. But this I will say, this book isn't just for gay people of faith - although, it will speak deeply to them.  It is not just for families of gay people of faith.  This is a book that anyone on a faith journey should read.  It is a book about a person. Someone with an aspect of their personhood that isn't readily accepted by everyone else - yes.  But isn't that true of us all?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Saving Face

I listened to two great sermons today - one was live and at my own church - addressing culture's current fascination with the "undead" and using the book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as the springboard for the discussion. The Frau thinks our fascination with vampires and zombies and such is just because they are weird and different, but my pastor, Matt Sturtevant caused me to think about the possibility that our interest in these subjects emerges from a need to wrestle with the unknown of eternity.  I'm still mulling that over, and will likely revisit the idea in a future post.

The second sermon I watched online - an archived message by Adam Hamilton (Church of the Resurrection) which I highly recommend entitled "The Bible and Sexuality" from his series on Wrestling with the Bible.  He addresses a topic I've been "mulling over" for a good many years and has some intriguing insights that are beautifully stated and illustrated. The details he addresses and questions he raises are best for you to view directly as spoken by him - the link is provided above.

I appreciated his acknowledgement from the outset that the issue of homosexuality is one that divides us - as a nation, as communities, churches, and friends and families. He also confessed that it is an issue with which he continues to wrestle. But as a church, they will accept and love everyone, and agree to live "in tension" with one another about their individual interpretation of Scripture. 

That Adam continues to "wrestle" with the issue, and that his personal feelings have evolved about interpreting the Bible in the few verses that address homosexual behavior, appears to be directly related to his actually getting to know gay and lesbian individuals. When "homosexuals" become a face and a family, rather than an abstraction and an arbitrary group, I think we all begin to wrestle with our understanding of how Jesus would interact with, and love, this person. We all have to come to a decision about whether these verses should be interpreted in light of the cultural context, or if they are God's overarching literal intent for all eternity.

My own church is extremely welcoming and loving, too.  And it is such a great start. But there are a lot of those faces out there who want to be fully affirmed by the congregations where they worship and serve.  They feel called as ministers and teachers, they want to stand up with their children when they are baptized in front of the whole church, and they want to be able to make a public and faith based commitment to their spouse before their God and their family of faith. To love us and welcome us but be unable to affirm us at this level is somewhat akin to asking us to sit in the back of the bus, or the church. 

I don't mean to sound harsh. It took me a long time to accept and affirm myself, and it started with my accepting and affirming my gay friends. I first had to personify the abstraction. That was my pilgrimage. When I was able to completely and fully love them and believe that God did the same, then I was finally able to love myself enough to admit, not only how God had created me, but how much God continues to love me.

So I say to my friends who just aren't "there," yet.  I love you; I know you love me; and I know God loves us both. I want to be that face, that personification for you. And I can live "in tension" with you on the subject for as long as it takes. But do know that sometimes it gets lonely in the back of the bus.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Common Core or Uncommonly Curious?

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. ~ Einstein

As any of my cohorts in education are aware, the new buzzword/best practice/bandwagon du jour is Common Core Standards. After an initial superficial glance, I was thrilled that it seemed so much more realistic than No Child Left Behind. Ask any educator in the trenches, and they can tell you that they knew NCLB was doomed from the start.  

Ask any educator . . .  there's the rub. I am starting to question that actual educators working with actual students are ever involved in these conversations. And I worry that Common Core is sliding down that same slippery slope. I spent a good part of our Performing Arts PLC (Professional Learning Community) collaboration time this week in highly engaged dialogue with my colleagues about the value - or lack thereof - of the Common Core Standards and our place in the teaching of same. I played devil's advocate on behalf of Common Core, but I heard the dissenting voice of one of my colleagues, and it gave me pause. This same colleague then forwarded a link to an article in the Washington Post on the topic, and I am engaged in a grand pause, if you will, where Common Core is concerned. It is a good article - you should read it (Eight Problems with Common Core Standards). Bear in mind, I haven't yet taken the time to fact check the claim that "the Common Core was written with insufficient public dialogue or feedback from experienced educators." But if true, I'm ready to raise the red flag of concern.

I won't list all eight of the problems offered by the author of the article - please be curious enough to read the whole thing - but I will share a few that raised my eyebrows and my interest.

#3 - The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

#4 - . . . the main reason for poor student performance is being ignored - a level of childhood poverty the consequences of which no amount of schooling can effectively counter.

#8 - . . . The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness.

I have a lot of friends who are teachers - really, really good teachers. Not a one of us minds being accountable for what we teach. None of us minds hearing about a new "best practice" that might meet the needs of our students. But we see these varying assessment programs come and go all the time, and many of them are the same program with a new name, rolling around again. They roll in, turning all of our professional growth and preparation time upside down in an effort to educate us as to how we may conform to the new program and have that conformity affirmed by our assessment scores. It doesn't leave kids much time to be curious. Did I miss something? Isn't learning about first being curious?

I was ready to jump on the bandwagon, but I'm going to have to think about this some more. I know how to "play the assessment game," and I will do it to the best of my ability if given no choice. But what I really love to do . . . is teach. Wish someone would create a bandwagon for that.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Taking Sides

A non-partisan political post? Well, one can hope.  

After watching the RNC and DNC meet over the past couple of weeks, I can't shake my disbelief that, as a nation, we seem to have moved to a place where to take one side is to alienate oneself from everyone taking the opposing position.  Facebook is rife with posts of derision for those of opposing views, demonizing and questioning the morality and spirituality of those who disagree with our opinion du jour, and these attitudes extend beyond Facebook and other social media into our real life social interactions.

I know some who resolve this by avoiding all political discourse of any kind - the old Hogan's Heroes Sergeant Schultz approach, "I hear NOTHing, I know NOTHing, I do NOTHing." Perhaps, that is a better course of wisdom.  As most of us can acknowledge, I have rarely met anyone whose opinion was changed by the most heartfelt (or vitriolic) Facebook post.  BUT, perhaps if we could discuss the issues that concern us all, and really listen to opposing perspectives, isn't it possible that while our political allegiance might not be changed, our willingness and ability to find some sort of common ground might be?

Perhaps the most disturbing words I have heard from friends of both political parties are, "I am truly fearful for what is going to happen to our country if Candidate X is elected." It seems to me we are bestowing a bit more power onto one candidate than our founding fathers intended when they aimed to protect us with a political system of checks and balances. And since so much of this concern comes from people of faith (on both sides), I question why we don't trust God more to guide whoever is elected, just like God guided Saul when Israel insisted on a king God didn't think they needed.  I don't question the faith of either of the candidates, and I think it is possible for them to make divergent decisions with which I may or may not agree. God didn't agree with Israel's need for a king, but continued to work through them in spite of their decision. Big God always trumps Small People. Sure, I have a preference, but I also know "All things work together for good to those who love God . . ." (Romans 8:28).

And speaking of working together . . . I just wish we would - both parties, all opinions.  And certainly all people of faith.  Not all of my friends agree with my political leanings.  I even have a college friend whose husband is a Senator of the party with which I am not affiliated. I don't always agree with how her husband votes. He has been gracious enough to let me express my views as one of his constituents, and she has never treated me with anything less than acceptance and friendship. They are people of faith, I am a person of faith, and we don't agree on everything and we still like each other. And talk. And listen. And sometimes have to agree to disagree. I have a colleague who usually votes differently than do I. We laugh and tease each other. And listen to each other. And find that there are issues upon which we can agree. And others where we agree to disagree. There are some issues upon which I most strongly believe. In a world full of flawed human beings with varying priorities and beliefs, I think my response needs to be to be a willingness to share my thoughts fervently, live my life with integrity, and listen to the thoughts of others, seeking some sort of common ground. I simply will not get on the merry-go-round of alienation and demonizing.  

I saw a Facebook post this morning posted by the "friend of a friend," that I think beautifully captures this issue. I hope she doesn't mind my sharing it here with due credit to Becky Zahller McNeil:

I am deeply saddened, nearly to despair, not that people whom I love have a different vision of the best path to healing the brokeness in our nation, but that people whom I love would deride and dismiss the faith of others based on their political party. People of good conscience, people of deep faith, people of broad compassion are Independent, Republican, Democrat...It does the Gospel of Jesus Christ nothing but dis-service when prideful, awful, sweeping judgements are made, villifying those whose views differ from one's own. Our nation would be better served by far less ugliness, and far more openness to listening, really listening and caring about each other.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Audacity of Pride - Purveyor of Hope

I had the good fortune several months ago of meeting Dr. Ron Holt and hearing him speak on the biology of gay sexuality, bullying and suicide prevention. Dr. Holt is a clinical psychiatrist who is committed to sharing scientific facts about human sexuality, LGBT health issues, and bullying, and he backs up that commitment by donating his time, speaking primarily to medical and collegiate audiences around the country. You will find a link to his website - Audacity of Pride - on this blog, and I also encourage you to follow him on Twitter (LGBT Shrink - @Dr.RonHolt).

In a day and time when so many young people are striving to become more open about their sexual orientation, I find Dr. Holt a purveyor of hope and vital source of information for anyone struggling with acceptance, health related issues, and non-acceptance or bullying from others. I refer to young people because I work with them everyday, but adults are certainly not immune. As Ron said in a recent Tweet, "Research shows that LGBT youth who are closeted are at greater risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide." He also points out that LGBT youth are 2-4 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their straight peers. Did you know that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and the number one reason is family rejection? As a gay, Christ following teacher, how can I not keep myself aware of such important issues impacting the lives of my students? 

I offer this post primarily as a challenge to all who read it.  Check out Dr. Holt's website, follow him on Twitter, and be sensitive and aware of those around you who may be struggling with issues related to their sexuality, be it acceptance, health, bullying or suicide. You don't have to be an expert on the topic.  In fact, if you do nothing but make the following information available to those with whom you come in contact, you may save a life or become a purveyor of hope yourself.

The Trevor Lifeline:  866-488-7386
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  800-273-TALK