Something To Celebrate the Impending End of Marriage Discrimination in My State

amendment one protest 2

A marriage equality ally at the Markethouse in downtown Fayetteville, NC.

On Monday a ruling from a Virginia court has sounded a death knell to marriage discrimination in a number of southern states, including my home state of North Carolina.  North Carolina’s discrimination against same-gender couples was actually added to our state constitution a few years ago.  When this was being debated I was pastoring a church in Fayetteville, NC called “Diversity in Faith: A Christian Church For All People”.  My church members were very active in

This is me joining with Rabbi B. Z. Jernigan, a long time GLBT rights advocate in Fayetteville, NC, to speak out for marriage equality.

This is me joining with Rabbi B. Z. Jernigan, a long time GLBT rights advocate in Fayetteville, NC, to speak out for marriage equality.

the local fight to raise a voice against this unjust law.  To celebrate a court ruling which paves the way to the end of this law and of marriage discrimination against same-gender couples in my state, I would like to share the words of a speech I gave at an Anti-Ammendment One rally I and several faith leaders joined in during the debate preceding the state ballot initiative which led to the creation of Amendment One.

Why do I oppose writing discrimination into the NC state constitution?  For me as a Christian minister, my faith compels me to oppose discrimination in all its forms, particularly in the form we see expressed in the proposed constitutional amendment.  My faith compels me for two reasons. First, because this amendment imposes one group of churches’ interpretation of Christianity upon all North Carolinians and my faith teaches me that the state imposing a particular denomination’s view on other people corrupts both the church and the state.  Secondly, because my faith teaches me that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…

gay_marriageThis amendment promotes one particular, very conservative view of the Christian faith above all others, including many non-Christian faiths and even other Christian denominations.  Many religious groups in America, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church, do not oppose same-sex relationships and are refused the right to practice their own tenets by the ban on same-gender marriage.   What’s more, many Christian denominations also support GLBT equality, including the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Church of Christ, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and my own faith family the Progressive Christian Alliance.   What our state is currently doing by banning gay marriage is imposing the religious views of certain religious denominations on all North Carolinians.  By writing this ban into our constitution, we are writing not just GLBT discrimination but also religious discrimination into our constitution.  We are beginning the slippery slope of imposing a few churches’ views on other people of faith and people outside the faith community.  I think all people of faith, and people of good will, ought to stand together against legislation that writes into law things that impose the beliefs of one religious group upon all people, whether they are religious or not and whether or not those beliefs are a part of their faith.

amendment one protest 3My faith also compels me to oppose this amendment because my faith teaches me that injustice against any member of the human family is injustice against all.  What happens to my neighbors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning impacts me directly.  This is the message of the Christian faith throughout the ages.  “No man is an island to himself,” said John Donne, Anglican priest and poet.  Baptist preacher and civil rights leader Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  As the prophet Micah who is held in respect by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike witnessed, these issues of justice for others are at the core of what it means to be a person of faith: “[God] has shown you, O human, what is good.  What does the LORD require of you, but to act justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

religious-discrimination

I thank God for the court ruling, and pray for the speedy implementation of anti-discrimination against GLBT people and their families in North Carolina.  I pray and will continue to work for such equality not just in my state, but throughout the world.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

This is a photo of me giving this speech at the first of many marriage equality rallies in Fayetteville, NC opposing this unjust law.

This is a photo of me giving this speech at the first of many marriage equality rallies in Fayetteville, NC opposing this unjust law.

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A Week in the Word: Reading the Hebrew Bible with Jesus

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Christians often struggle over “how can I use the Hebrew Scriptures” or Old Testament “in my life?”

A mentor of mine early in my ministry, Rev. Jonathan Stepp, wrote a wonderful article about this in the magazine The Adopted Life. I’m including an excerpt of his article below before sharing my reflections on the Hebrew Scriptures for this week. Please bear his words in mind while you read through these verses along with me.

“So from the very beginning, the Church has struggled with the Old Testament and sought to understand it more fully in the light of who Jesus is. Here are some basic points that we should keep in mind as we read the Bible of Israel:
“1. Jesus is the Word. God the Son, in the flesh as the man Jesus Christ, is the revelation of God. Therefore, all other descriptions and revelations of God – including the Bible itself – must be interpreted in the light of what Jesus reveals about God’s nature. Jesus reveals God to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
24 The Trinity“We cannot ever allow any statement in scripture, including the Old Testament, to undermine or undo what Jesus shows us about God. If a scripture seems to tell us something that contradicts the nature of God as revealed in Jesus then we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us see the meaning of scripture that fits with who Jesus is and who he reveals the Father to be.
“2. When we look back on human history, especially as it is reflected in Israel’s experience, we realize what profound blindness has enveloped our human nature in Adam’s fall. We have believed that God is a blood-thirsty ogre demanding his pound of flesh before he will grant forgiveness. But God did not need the sacrifices.
Multicultural Jesus 1“He was accommodating our blindness because he knew that we could not imagine ourselves as loved and welcomed in his presence unless we came bearing such gifts. Even when God was welcoming sacrifice because of our hardened hearts, it was not the sacrifices that made humanity acceptable but the Son of God who made us acceptable.
“3. We know that Adam’s fall plunged humanity into blindness; we also know that the Holy Spirit has been patiently educating the human race about the truth of who God is. This has been a process that has been worked out over thousands of years and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, the light of the world and the healer of our blindness.
“Therefore we should not be surprised if those who lived before Jesus sometimes expressed darkened and blinded perspectives on God. Just because their words are to be found in the inspired pages of the Old Testament doesn’t mean their words represent God as accurately as Jesus does.

“When the Psalmist prays that the infants of Babylon will be smashed against rocks (Psalm 137:9), we know that the Holy Spirit did not dictate those words to the Psalmist. Those words are found in the inspired scripture, but the Holy Spirit did not whisper in the Psalmist’s ear “and now I want you to wish for the murder of babies.” How do we know the Holy Spirit did not dictate those words? Because we know Jesus, and that is not who Jesus reveals God to be! In Psalm 137, as in some other places in the Old Testament, we are seeing the blindness and fallenness of humanity. These words are inspired in the sense that the Holy Spirit has preserved them as a faithful record of Israel’s pain and of her blind and fallen response to that pain. Based on all of this, we have to conclude that every verse of the Old Testament must be filtered through the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We have to look at each passage and ask ourselves ‘Do these words express the fallen human perspective on God’s nature, or do they foreshadow and express the truth that would be later revealed in Jesus?’

As we read through the Hebrew Scriptures together, let’s remember what Rev. Stepp invites us to acknowledge: there is a mixture here of human words and the words of the Holy Spirit. I would go further and say this is also true with the writings in the New Testament as well. This means reading Scripture is not finding a rule book or an exact transcript of what God is saying. Instead it is entering into a conversation, a living relationship, with a living God and also with the saints who came before us each who had their own flaws, insights, and challenges as we do.

Join me in this exciting journey. Let’s open our Bibles and explore its words of promise and challenge together.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

micah spring hat

What strikes me as I read Judges 16:1-14 is that all this talk I heard growing up in the church about ‘sexual purity’ doesn’t seem to be as prized in the Bible itself. Here Samson is with all kinds of women, including a prostitute. Samson may not be the best role model, of course, but look at David and all his romantic dalliances. He is called a man after God’s own heart! The only time he’s condemned for his romantic dalliances with various women, and possibly some men, is when he murders someone to cover it up. Look at Rahab the harlot, held up as a saint in Scripture for trusting God. There’s no evidence I can see that this saint ever quit that job. Look at Tamar who while working as a prostitute is declared more righteous than the patriarch. And even in the book of Ruth it is pretty clear in the Hebrew that when Ruth visits Boaz at night it ain’t to play cards even though they aren’t married yet.

samsonI’m not saying faithfulness to your spouse or partner isn’t important, nor that we should be thoughtless in romance or sex. But examples like this reading and the other saints of Scripture I mentioned make me think that the way we elevate people’s romantic or sexual choices as if they determine if someone is a good or bad person, close or far from God, just doesn’t seem to be how the Bible defines it. The Bible seems to recognize that we are sexual beings and there are a wide range of romantic choices women and men who love God make. Perhaps as believers we need to be less judgmental and invasive of people’s bedrooms and more focused on what the Bible makes clear is the work of a believer: Doing justice. Loving mercy. Walking humbly with our God. And making space for others to do the same, even when the way they do so isn’t how we would.

Judges 17 shows how easy it is to have your personal faith become a matter of idolatry. Micah and his mother begin with a personal relationship with God as they understand God. Yet without grounding their connection with God in relationship to a wider community and those whom they are committed to love, support, & care for around them, this slides into treating God as a possession. This story reminds me that without both a personal connection with God and a community I am living that out in, my spirituality can become treating God as either a distant idea or demand or my possession, both forms of idolatry. ‪

Judges 18 continues the theme of how we can make God into a commodity to be sold or marketed and begin to feel God is our possession. God can’t be bought, controlled, or owned. God isn’t the property of your race or your sexual orientation. God is not the property of America or Israel. God is not even the property of Christians. God is present with, in, and under all and can’t be boxed in by our prejudice. God is with and for all. We should strive for the same. ‪

hannaThe priest’s response to Hanna deep in prayer in 1 Samuel 1 stands out to me as I read it. She is in deep prayer, seeking God in the midst of fathomless despair. The priest mistakes her for one drunk out of her mind, come to make a mockery of the way of faith. How often do we rush to judgment, assuming they can’t be seeking God because of how they look at first glance? Could we be losing out on an opportunity to join with them in their search for the sacred, as a companion on their journey, with our judgment? Might our intervention actually hinder what God is doing with them?

I also think of how great movements of transformation or renewal have been viewed as mockeries at first. Most of the great renewal movements in the church, from the Reformation to the great awakenings to the charismatic renewal movements, all were treated by others as if those involved were making a mockery of the faith. Even today there are those who, as many did in Dr King’s day, view those who use his model of nonviolent resistance to oppose injustice as making a mockery of faith. We need to be careful not to let our tendency to try and push God into a box cause us either to miss an opportunity to join God as God prepares to be revealed in a new way in a seeking person’s life or stand in another’s way from an experience of the living God. ‪

As someone who will likely have to adopt to be a father, Hanna’s response to long term childlessness being broken by the birth of a boy in 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11 speaks powerfully to me. She learns that this child is not hers but sent by God, eventually returning to God. She chooses then to give up control over his fate and devote him to God early. I think difficulty having children can wake people up to the fact that all children are God’s. I’ve seen some couples who can easily have kids just take those kids for granted or even try to live vicariously through those kids, sending the message that only if those kids look, act, or seem a certain way will they be accepted. There’s something to this image of devoting that child to God. Devoting a child to God means recognizing they are precious and not to be neglected or taken for granted. It means acknowledging that they aren’t my property, but sent from God. It’s a commitment to support whoever they end up being or however they end up feeling called to live, even if its so radically different than what I’d do in their shoes. Perhaps especially when it is different. After all, they ultimately have their own calling from God which may be something I could not dream up. I imagine it will be harder work when I have a child of my own. I hope though that I am able to recognize that their unique quirks, gifts, passions, and interests are blessings to be celebrated even when I don’t understand them. ‪

Still small voice1 Samuel 2:12-26 is both a sobering challenge and a promise of hope for me. It shows that our individual calls into relationships with God are linked intrinsically with real points of hurt and need. The priests of the day were fleecing God’s flock, ripping people off, extorting them, and abusing them. So God calls out the name of little Samuel, drawing him into a friendship with God. As much as I love the old Gospel song, it cannot be that it is just “me and Jesus we’ve got our own thing going / me and Jesus we’ve got it all worked out”. It has to begin there of course. Without the deep well of spirituality to bolster you, you will not be able to sustain working for justice. But our relationship with God, like Samuel’s, is a call we receive also to speak up against oppression, to stand against those who fleece God’s flock, and abuse the least of these. That’s sobering. The encouraging part: apparently, whenever abuse goes on like this, whenever the poor are oppressed, minorities disenfranchised, God reaches out, calling out Samuels-to-be. Do they hear? Do they listen? Not always. But this example reminds me that no matter how bad it gets here, God will continue to work to turn it right, and call people to transform. Our job is to listen for that voice, and be ready.

My breath prayer today used Samuel’s prayer in 1 Samuel 3 of  ‘Speak for your servant is listening’ . My experience reminded me that being a person of God is less about doing than being. I have this frenetic drive to be more and do more, as if that is what will make me a servant. Yet it is exactly that drive which I must stop to be able to truly listen as the prayer promises not just to God but others. It is not that doing is unimportant, but without being able to be present one cannot truly connect and share the love without which our doings ‘profit nothing’. Mindfulness practices like breath prayer help me pause the steady torrent of the shoulds, oughts, and have to’s so I can be truly present. It enables me to be more present with God and be more aware of how God is always with and in me through people and things I encounter. It helps me better truly be present with others, hearing them, seeing them, & seeing their hopes, needs, and desires. It helps me connect with myself for its only in quieting the noise to hear my own heart that I can begin to know and be who God always made me to be.

samuelWhat strikes me in 1 Samuel 3:1-26 is what courage young Samuel must have had. A mere boy speaking to the head priest, directly addressing the grave abuse of God’s people. How his knees must have knocked, and how he must have wished to be doing anything else. In the many times I’ve felt called to speak up in the face of injustice, I don’t think a part of me hasn’t felt the same way. I’ve watched some friends this week sought to speak up full of fear and trembling this week. Know that’s not a sign that you lack courage but that you’re human! The fact that you still follow your convictions shows your courage. Oh for an army of Samuels, people willing to speak up against God’s children being used and abused, even though their knees knock with fear.

A Week in the Word: Praying the Prayer book of Jesus

breath prayer

Overall we’ve had a positive reaction to our feature “A Week In the Word”. However, one response I’ve gotten to our Week in the Word feature has been “it’s too long”. I hear you. I want this feature to help make Scripture more accessible to you. Because of that, this week I’m going to begin splitting the feature into three parts spread throughout the week: a week in the Psalms, a week in the Hebrew Scriptures, and a week in the New Testament. Before my own reflections, I will add a quote from some Christian voice other than my own about the readings we are discussing.

bonhoefferToday we will reflect on the Psalms.  Early on in my Christian life, I used to struggle over how to make use of the Psalms in my life. Some of the questions I used to struggle with and the answers I found helpful are included in Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. I’d encourage you to think about Bonhoeffer’s comments and how they connect with these verses you as you read the Scriptures I reflect on along with me . Also, more than anything, take time to meditate on how they can inspire your prayer life. Take time to pray these words with Jesus, inviting a deeper communion with the Father & the mothering Holy Spirit who embraces us all.

“The Holy Scripture is the Word of God to us. But prayers are the words of men. How do prayers then get into the Bible? Let us make no mistake about it, the Bible is the Word of God even in the Psalms. Then are these prayers to God also God’s own word? That seems rather difficult to understand. We grasp it only when we remember that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, from the word of the Son of God, who lives with us men, to God the Father, who lives in eternity.”

jesus-resting
“Jesus Christ has brought every need, every joy, every gratitude, every hope of men before God. In his mouth the word of man becomes the Word of God, and if we pray his prayer with him, the Word of God becomes once again the word of man. All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray.”
“If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”

“If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and then we shall be able to pray them. It does not depend, therefore, on whether the Psalms express adequately that which we feel at a given moment in our heart. If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart. ”

Let’s open our Bibles and explore its words of promise and challenge together.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

micah pic

peaceable kingdomPsalm 104 invites me to see God’s creation in all its natural splendor, including its beauty and cycles of nature. I witness this in the stars at night, in rainfall in summer storms, in the birds that play around my bird feeder. Each reveal God’s presence to me. Yet the cycles of nature in which I’m called to see God also includes the cycle of the seasons, the cycle from birth to growth to midlife to death. It also includes the process of evolution and human sexuality in all its forms. It includes other people with their peculiarities, gifts, and challenges. It includes aspects of nature that aren’t so pretty to me: hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes. This psalm calls me to embrace all of nature as an encounter with God. Where is it easy to see God in nature for you? Where is it hard?

Psalm 113 invites me to praise God throughout all the moments of my day for the ways in which God shapes beauty out of the ash heap of my despair. How do you make space to mark the hours of your day with praise? What are some places in your life where you can see God having turned disaster into the raw material with which to craft great beauty? ‪

Psalm 119 says happy are the blameless who perfectly follow God’s instructions. I wouldn’t know. I have yet to meet such a person. These verses make me grateful first for a forgiving God who does not hold over our heads our failings. Also, I’m grateful for learning in my own Bible study a few years ago that when Jesus said ‘be ye perfect’, the sort of never tripping up described in this Psalm was not what He meant. The word Jesus used translated “perfect” meant full grown, mature, whole. That’s something I can strive to become more everyday. So, Jesus’ perfection is very different than the Psalmist’s. That being said, the heart of this Psalm, if not the details themselves, rings true: having something greater than yourself you believe in that guides your life is a necessary ingredient for lasting joy that our world full of trouble cannot shake. As a believer, I find this in the God of love, justice, liberation, and compassion in its pages. ‪Where do you find that purpose? What does maturity and wholeness look like to you?

When I read Psalm 119:53-56, I am struck by the psalmist saying God’s words in Scripture “have been like songs to” him “wherever” he has “lived as a stranger”. It reminds me again of the call to see ourselves in solidarity with the dispossessed, particularly immigrants. But also I can relate with the psalmist’s experience of Scripture as a song. A good song lifts you up out of your situation. It transforms your vision. It fills you with a bigger picture of life, of others’ struggles, and of your own. What allows Scripture to do this is not that it gives you “rules to live by”, nor doctrines. Nor is it that every word of its song is literally true. But rather Scripture opens you up to truths beyond words, realities deeper than could be expressed in any creed or dogma. I find Scripture lifts me up in this way, wherever I wander, and approaching Scripture as song rather than rulebook truly helps me find my steps in God’s dance.

children cryPsalm 119:121-125 invites us to cry out to God as we face oppression. On the one hand, we are reminded that God cares about our oppression. Don’t just sit on your painful feelings when you are numbered among those pushed down and mistreated. Voice your heartache before God and others in prayer and know God hears. God so cares that when Israel cried in oppression he called Moses to lead them out of oppression. God hears you, me, and all who face oppression. This brings us to the flip side of this psalm: you can’t pray this psalm with a clean conscience if you are either acting as an oppressor or looking away doing nothing to stop oppression when you witness it. Often, your calling from God as a believer can be found when you ask where your gifts and experience can be brought to bear on helping people’s prayers to be delivered from being oppressed be answered. Where is that for you? ‪

Jesus in HeavenI used Psalm 139’s “Where can I hide from your Spirit, Oh Lord, where can I flee from your presence, oh God?” for breath prayer this morning. As I did so, memories came to the surface of singing this psalm as a child and being filled with terror. The pastor at the church I was at preached a God of thunder and fiery judgment, out to get boys like me if they were bad. This Psalm spoke to me of having no hiding place. Yet now my own lived experience of God is of God as One whose presence fills all that live and breathe, One I sense in the rising sun and the call of birds, One I know in the beauty of summer rain, in the beating pulse in my veins, One who is the ever-present giver of all life. My lived experience is of a God who is the voice of love echoing not just in my own heart, but in the hearts of the most broken by life, even in the most violent of criminals, calling out across the desert places of our lives both for us to receive the embrace of love and for us to lay aside our destructive ways and become that embrace of love for others. This God I’ve experienced is not the God I imagined from that fearful preaching I heard as a child, but one whose love and presence are deeper than the oceans, from whose presence I would only want to flee if I did not truly know it was life-giving and of boundless love in the way I have experienced. This experiences calls me not to hide from that time of terror, but face into my own experience of faith being misused to terrorize God’s children, so that through my own experience of healing I can break that cycle in my family and be available as a healing resource for others.

Hinds feet on High Places

There is something to the echoing sound
Of birds song resounding off
Encircling wilderness branches
That sets my soul to roost
High above the fallen decaying leaves
Of regret, fear, and shame
And beyond reach of the rushing waters
Of uncertainty and expectations
Of failure or, worse yet, success
With all the burdens it brings
And all the red eyes from urban forest creatures
Burning into me
Staring at my next step
Ready to pounce on my next fall

Their bird song transports me
Carrying me to sweet serenity
So fleet footed like the deer
I can glide through this present moment
Without fear
At home in the wide wood of the world

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“There is No Strength in Bullying”: A Kudzu Interview with Rev. Katharine Royal

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Two of the features on the Progressive Redneck Preacher which are dear to my heart are Kudzu interviews and Country Fried Chicken interviews, conversations with individuals who are positively changing the shape of the south.

  country fried chicken 2  Country Fried Chicken interviews are with people born and bred in the South who are as southern as fried chicken and biscuits and are applying their experiences in ways that are flavoring their communities in transforming ways.  There are many home-grown progressive voices that have never been heard because of the polarizing highlights to faith and life offered by the media.

     In Kudzu interviews, we interview transplants to the South.  We are so proud of our southern landscape and culture that oftentimes we southerners forget that some of the most beautiful parts of southern life originally came from elsewhere.  Most prominent among these is kudzu, a plant that you see all over the southern landscape.  It is hard to imagine the hillsides and forests I grew up in without that winding green leaf.  In Kudzu interviews, I try to interview individuals who, like the kudzu plant, did not originate here in the south but were transplanted here from elsewhere, yet whose life and work is coloring our southern landscape with beauty.  

Katharine Royal (left) working with fellow ministers Jowancka Mintz (middle) and myself, Micah Royal (right) at a Progresive Christian Alliance church in Fayetteville, NC.

Katharine Royal (left) working with fellow ministers Jowancka Mintz (middle) and myself, Micah Royal (right) at a Progresive Christian Alliance church in Fayetteville, NC.

   I’m blessed to say I know this week’s Kudzu interviewee very well.  Rev. Katharine L. Royal is not just a transformational minister working in the south, but also my wife of nearly 11 years.  So, folks, you can thank me for sweet-talking this wonderful lady into coming and making NC and the South a much better place.  Don’t worry, though.  I’ll try to keep the lovey-dovey talk that might annoy some of y’all more sensitive folks to a minimum.       

     Katharine is a minister with the Progressive Christian Alliance.  In her not-quite-a-decade in ministry, Katharine has pastored multiple churches in California and the Carolinas.  She has been active in advocacy for children, people with disabilities and the LGBT community.  She took an active role in the work to speak up against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and NC’s Amendment One while pastoring two different churches just outside Fort Bragg, NC. She has also organized an online support community called “Operation Bullyhorn” which is supporting individuals experiencing bullying and harassment around the world. While pastoring a church in Robeson County, NC, Katharine wrote Between Two Worlds, a book about her spiritual journey as a person with multiple identities: faithful wife, person with spina bifida between two worlds(a disability that places her in a wheelchair), a bisexual, a Christian pastor, and an advocate for civil rights.  Finally, Katharine has a new blog, You Never Thought of That, where she is blogging about progressive perspectives on current issues.

    Her ministry is truly adding beauty to the diverse landscape around us in the south.   And I’m not just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,   Micah

Katharine, would you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in some of the progressive ministries you’re doing?

     I live in Carrboro, NC, but I grew up in the Los Angeles, CA, area, between there and the Inland Empire area of California a little later.  I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious home.  I got involved with a Presbyterian Church (USA) around the time I was 8, but it wasn’t until late junior high, maybe high school, that I started to become interested in anything religiously and really have my own questions on faith.  It wasn’t until college that I really began to question things and explore what it meant to be a Christian, especially in light of the fact of my bisexuality and working out how to live a life as a Christian.  Living as a Christian who is bisexual, in a wheelchair and feeling called to the ministry left a whole lot to be worked out.

So, it sounds like you’ve been on quite a journey.  What were some of the turning points in all this for you?

The first time I ever picked up a Bible is one thing I remember very distinctly.  Somebody had quoted a passage to me that really bothered me.  I went to look at it because I’d never really read the Bible.  I remember coming into the den and showing my mother that there was a place in the Old Testament where it said that if you had a defect or disability you couldn’t come into the temple.  As a child with a severe disability, I remember that real bothering me.  That sparked my interest in starting to ask the question of “Do we really understand what we say we believe as Christians when we say we believe the Bible?”

"The first time I ever picked up a Bible  somebody had quoted a passage where it said that if you had a defect or disability you couldn't come into the temple.  As a child with a severe disability, I remember that real bothering me. "

“The first time I ever picked up a Bible somebody had quoted a passage where it said that if you had a defect or disability you couldn’t come into the temple.  As a child with a severe disability, I remember that real bothering me. “

I can’t imagine how disturbing that would be, at that young age, to turn to the Bible and see it describing – well, describing you — in that way.  Is that the only time you’d seen that verse used?

That was the first time I’d read anything from the Bible at all.  I’d heard about the Bible.  My best friends’ family were Christians and I’d go to church with her when I was over, but that was mainly watching Veggie Tales movies. I’d never really looked into anything, and never really read the Bible before hearing that verse.

Wow.  Again I say, that’s an amazing thing to imagine facing at such an early age.  But you were starting to tell me where you went with that, and how it caused you to dig.  Can you tell us more about that?

     Well, at that point, every time I had a question about what someone was saying, I would try to find out about it in Scripture.  This actually initially led me away from Christianity.  By the time I was 11 or 12, I was just so fed up with all of my peers who were claiming Christianity and so many people in society I would meet who were claiming Christianity.  So many of the things that they would say or do and explain were because of their beliefs just seemed so hypocritical and inconsistent with the concept of what they claimed was a loving God.  I initially walked away from Christianity because of this. It wasn’t until probably the middle of high school, when I went to an all girls’ Catholic high school, that this started to change.  I didn’t really have a great group of friends there that whole time, just two or three people.  I got close to a few of the teachers and it wasn’t until then that I realized I wasn’t really walking away from Christianity because of not believing in God or that Jesus died for my sins.  I was stepping away from it because I thought all Christians were hypocritical idiots.  I started seeing people who weren’t like that.  People who really stood up for their faith, who really looked at it and weren’t afraid to ask tough questions.  Through them I started to realize you can be a Christian and have questions.  You can be a Christian and not be saying you believe one thing while living a life that’s actually opposed to it.

That’s quite a story.  So many things I could ask.  I’m thinking of all the people who must have influenced you.  You talk about some of the examples of people who helped you see that faith could make sense.  I’m also thinking about the work you are doing.  Could you tell us about some of these examples of folks who showed you that there was something positive in faith?  I imagine you have to lean on some of their examples for the work you do now.    

Rev. Katharine Royal with her high school mentor, Katy Sadler.

Rev. Katharine Royal with her high school mentor, Katy Sadler.

 Tim Pendergast and Frank Dowling were two very influential teachers of mine in high school.  Frank Dowling is one of the people who came out for my ordination.  He is one of the reasons I actually became a Christian and decided I could become a minister.  It was actually in his classroom that I first felt a desire to do that.      He and Tim Pendergast, another of my religion teachers, really impacted me, as did Katy Sadler, the assistant principal of my high school.  These were some of the few people who actually took the time to look beyond me just joking around and laughing, acting like the happy go lucky kid the planet thought I was.  They took the time to really get to know me for me.

That’s amazing.  I hear you saying that they took the time to look past that surface veneer and really get to know you as you.  I think about the work you do and how what they did for you, in many ways, is what you are doing for others.  Would you be willing to share a little about some of the main ministry work you are doing now, and how your journey has influenced it?

abuse 1     Yeah, absolutely.  Back in 2011, I kind of accidentally created what has become an international organization, Operation Bullyhorn.  It started out as a response to an epidemic I was seeing.  I had already been in contact with a number of teenagers all over the place through friends of varying church members we’d had over the years.  It was not uncommon for me to have kids and teenagers messaging me on Facebook, calling, and texting me to ask advice or ask questions, especially if they were members of the LGBT community or if they had disabilities.  I’d already been hearing in the news about the growing number of suicides especially among teenagers and below, many of who were LGBT.  These youth decided that because of what even people in their own families and churches were telling them, they were a mistake.  So many were deciding that, rather than live a life as a LGBT individual, they should take their lives to save themselves and everyone else the heartache of their lives and what they viewed as their sins.

     It was one particular day in 2011 when I received a message from one of the teens who regularly sought me out for help, when everything changed.  They had received a message from a friend’s little brother that he needed to talk.  They said he was very young and wanted to know if I could talk.  I said sure. The next thing I knew I was on the phone with a 7 years old who, strangely enough, was home alone.  That he was home alone at 7 years old I couldn’t believe, and what I really couldn’t believe was that at 7 he ended up home alone with access to a gun.  Over the course of about 15 to 20 minutes, he told me all about how he felt called into the ministry.  He felt called to tell people about Jesus.  He felt called to teach people about God,  but his parents and the church — and really everyone close to him — ended up telling him not only could he not do that, but he couldn’t even call himself a Christian.  They said because of his disability he had obviously no faith because, if he did, God would’ve healed him.  Obviously that meant he was being possessed by evil.

"Pastor Kat" sharing about the fateful phone call that began Operation Bullyhorn, at a rally in Fayetteville, NC.

“Pastor Kat” sharing about the fateful phone call that began Operation Bullyhorn, at a rally in Fayetteville, NC.

     Over the course of the conversation, it went from despair to, within 20 minutes, the trigger being pulled and it was too late.  This is when I realized something had to be done.  Over the course of my life I had already attempted suicide two times by the time I was ending high school.  There are too many of these kids who are not finding people like the ones I found who would actually take the time to build a relationship to get to know them as they are and take the time to help them answer the tough questions and look past the “I’m ok” and joking around constantly to cover up their pain.  They needed people who would not just pass off their questions as if there is no problem, but see these kids for who they really are and see what they really need.

     So, I was originally going to just start a little discussion group on Facebook.  Within a couple of days, it went from a little discussion group to 200 people.  Since then, we are about to come up on our three year anniversary on August 17.  We now have 500 members in about 11 countries.  We have a chapter that recently sprung up that is having some trouble because of the legislation in Uganda.  We have a following in the United Kingdom, as well as Australia, and in Canada.

     So it’s become a major support for many people.  It’s turned into people having rallies around the world.  Several of our members are going into the schools to do presentations.  We’ve been talking to families and school administrators about bullying.  We’ve been talking to doctors about situations of suicide attempts and self injury.  It’s basically gone from a little gem of an idea to a huge network of individuals who do everything from support work to helping kids find homes when parents kick them out for their sexuality, to helping them find hospital and counseling resources.

That’s amazing work you’re doing.  I wonder, what are some key lessons and concerns that you’ve seen that you think other people of faith, particularly in the south, ought to be aware of?

"Above and beyond, if you are going to have a child and be a parent: love them for who they are.  Accept them as they are."

“Above and beyond, if you are going to have a child and be a parent: love them for who they are.  Accept them as they are.”

     I think the prevailing theme I see again and again with these kids is something I’d wager all parents struggle with: when they have a child, they have all of these hopes and dreams for this child.  Sometimes parents can actually end up living vicariously through their kids.  So often the worst difficulties these kids have is that they are not who they feel they have to be in order to be loved by the people around them; whether that is family members giving them a hard time about their weight constantly, leading them to develop an eating disorder or self injury; or an issue of the family not being the same religion and the kid branches out, realizing “I don’t believe the same things as my parents.  I don’t think this is right for me. ” Or maybe the kid ends up being LGBT and they are in an extremely religious family, so their parents end up feeling that’s incompatible with what they believe and say the child is walking in sin.  It seems so many times these kids’ families have a preconceived notion of what their kid should be.  It’s often communicated that they’ve got their whole lives planned out for their kids and, if they deviate from the plan, those kids feel their ability to be loved is threatened.  They feel their ability to be accepted is threatened.  The message they get is they aren’t good enough for their family.

     Above and beyond, if you are going to have a child and be a parent: love them for who they are.  Accept them as they are.  Kids can tell if you have an agenda.  They know if its “I’m going to pretend to accept you while secretly hoping you change.”  They know if they are being tricked.  They know if it’s just an issue of you having a bad day or if you really do disapprove of them.  You really can’t pull the wool over a kid’s eyes when it comes to your feelings about them or their decisions.    More than anything, you don’t have to agree with every decision your child makes.  You don’t have to agree with everything they do.  You don’t have to support everything they do, but it is your job as a parent to support them as people.

 Child Abuse Statistics    If I could talk to that child who is struggling as I did, I would let them know there are people out there for them, who love them and want to help them out.  I’d let them know that they don’t have to fit a mold.  They don’t have to do something specific to be worth being loved.  They don’t have to grow up to be a particular thing, to get a certain set of grades, or a weigh a set amount to be worthy of love.  They are, right now, worthy of love.  They are worthy of love beyond belief for being who they are.

One thing I’m thinking about is that there are a lot of people who aren’t parents or teens impacted by this who are still impacted by what you are talking about – school teachers, coaches, youth ministers, pastors, aunts and uncles.  If you could say something to them about what they can learn from the youth you’ve supported through Bullyhorn, what would you say?

     Don’t just think this is a problem that is just going to go away.  Don’t just say “this is kids being kids”.  Don’t just say they need a stiff upper lip and thick skin.  Don’t just say you got through being called four eyes and having your money taken at the playground, and think that’s all they are dealing with. Times have really changed in terms of the ways that kids and teens interact with one another.  There are very different ways they can get their abusive words out into the public and really destroy each others’ lives.

       This isn’t just something that is a rite of passage that kids have to go through.  This is something that’s causing people’s lives to be lost.  This is something that, whether you’re the parents, guardians or mentors to those being bullied or self injuring; or to the bullies themselves, has to be addressed.  It’s not just something they will grow out of.

How can folks get involved either with Bullyhorn or some of the anti-bullying work Bullyhorn promotes?

 operation bullyhorn    There are several ways people can get involved with our group.  We have our blog site, which has several different resources for parents, family, and individuals dealing with bullying.  It’s operationbullyhorn.blogspot.com.  We also have both a Facebook fan page and discussion group.  The discussion group is our main hub of activity on Facebook. If they go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/operationbullyhorn/ that will take them there.  They can also just search for “Operation Bullyhorn”.  That will get them to all of our pages on Facebook, including all of our resources and hotline numbers.  These include Operation Bullyhorn’s 24- hour hotline number, as well as other crisis lines.  There are lines beyond the Bullyhorn number for veterans, for instance, and for LGBT youth.  We have a wealth of resources we share that help with many of the issues we’ve experienced these youth facing.

 

One of the things we focus on in Progressive Redneck Preacher, in addition to talking about social issues, is discussing the relationship between southern culture and the progressive issues many of us share.  You’ve already told us you didn’t grow up in the south, which would make you a “Kudzu”.  I wonder if you would be willing to share some of your experiences in the south — both some of the positive and negative experiences you’ve had as someone who has moved to the south and is working to make the south a better place. the south 

    I would say definitely the positive is that what I’ve always heard growing up about the south has proven true — there is a lot of hospitality here.  I think of when I lived in Fayetteville, how I would get stuck some places in my wheelchair.  It was especially true in Fayetteville with the soldiers.  They’d see me stuck by the side of the road and would pull over.  They would offer me a ride home or a poncho if it was raining.  Some woman I’d never met gave me a sweater one day because it was particularly cold and wet out, and I’d forgotten my jacket at the house.  That’s the kind of thing I love.  That part was awesome.      The frustrating thing I’ve found is that sometimes the hospitality that’s offered can be very condescending.  There seem to be a whole lot of people who believe that if you see someone in a wheelchair, they really can’t do much.  They act like people with disabilities really need everything to be done for them.  They think that people with disabilities need to be spoken to as if they may not have all the lights on upstairs and cannot understand what you are talking about.  A lot of times, I’ve noticed that they would speak to me as if the minor things I was doing were these huge “climbing Mount Everest” achievements.

"I've  noticed a big emphasis in the south on what different gender roles should be.    There seems to be kind of an assumption a. I'm a woman, b. I'm in a wheelchair, so here's what I should and should not be doing."

“I’ve noticed a big emphasis in the south on what different gender roles should be. 
There seems to be kind of an assumption a. I’m a woman, b. I’m in a wheelchair, so here’s what I should and should not be doing.”

     I mean, I’ve had people stop me in Wal-mart, breaking down crying, telling me how awesome it was to see me out shopping.  People think that’s really sweet and being really encouraging.  It’s actually kind of embarrassing.      So it’s been a bit of a little bit of both for me.       I’ve also noticed there’s a big emphasis in the south on what different gender roles should be.  That may not be just a southern thing, but I’ve noticed it prevalent in a lot of the areas where I’ve lived.  Less so since I’ve moved to Carrboro, but it seems pretty common still in the south. There seems to be kind of an assumption a. I’m a woman, b. I’m in a wheelchair, so here’s what I should and should not be doing.  There are a lot of preconceived notions about what other people in similar situations should be able to do.

This connects with another topic I like to talk about on my blog, which I like to call “slave-holder Christianity”.  It is ways of interpreting the Scriptures and Christianity, and living the Christian life, that are bound up in efforts to oppress and exclude people.  One of the things I like to talk about in my blog is the tension between this approach to the Bible, which southern Christianity is so steeped in, and that other tradition of the civil rights movement which was spear-headed by southern preachers like Dr. Martin Luther King.  I wonder if you have any thoughts about how you’ve encountered this tension?

" As someone with a disability, what immediately comes to mind are the glaring accessibility issues I've faced and that so many people with mobility impairments have faced in varying places all over the south?

” As someone with a disability, what immediately comes to mind are the glaring accessibility issues that so many people with mobility impairments have faced in varying places all over the south”.

     Definitely! As someone with a disability, what immediately comes to mind are the glaring accessibility issues I’ve faced and that so many people with mobility impairments have faced in varying places all over the south — and really all over the world.  So many times, because this is an area where so many people follow Christianity or at least claim it (many people claim it saying “well we don’t go to church but everyone around here is Christian and my people are Christian”), people will say things like “well we don’t have a ramp, and we don’t have a way for you to get in here, but look at the Bible.  They carried someone on a bed and lifted them in through a roof.  We can just carry your wheelchair and pick you up, lifting you over these stairs.

      It’s almost as if they use these stories from the Bible and the ways that people were looked at in the Bible, times when they were begging outside the temple and couldn’t get from the place where they were sitting and go somewhere else or they couldn’t get through the crowd, as ways to make their current behavior sound loving . They use those examples to say ‘look how we are doing this now.  Aren’t we being Christ- like,’ when, in actuality, they aren’t.  In the Bible, we don’t see many examples of people who are told “You can be a productive member of society if you have a disability”.  In the Bible, in essence, people with disabilities are treated by others as untouchables and people to be pitied.  This mindset seems to be something that, in some areas, people can’t seem to break away from.  No, that’s not a compassionate, loving way to treat someone.  No, it’s not Bible times.  It’s now 2014 and, though it wasn’t well known at the time, we’ve already had a president who was in a wheelchair.  We have people who have disabilities who are running major corporations.  It’s condescending to have the attitude of “hey we can carry you around like a rag doll and do all these things for you and that’s helping you to become mainstreamed in our society.”

Kat Royal marching the HKONJ "Moral March" 2014.

Kat Royal marching the HKONJ “Moral March” 2014.

A positive example would be events like Moral Mondays and all the positive work going on surrounding that.  I go back to when Martin Luther King was alive and they had the march on Selma.  I think of how different things were then, how horrible things could be for somebody just simply for having a different skin color. Things are still bad now.  Things are still rough now.  We still have Amendment One in North Carolina.  People who are members of the LGBT community are still marginalized.  Yet we are doing all these things while we have a bi-racial president, who most of society views as black.  This was something unheard of in Martin Luther King’s time.  We have leaders like Dr. William Barber, who is pretty much our modern day’s Martin Luther King, Jr.  He’s an amazing civil rights leader.  We are able to be on the front lines here in the south because, though we may not be there completely with racial equality, we are a whole lot further along than we were 40 and 50 years ago.  Now we are able to start fighting and pushing on these other issues, moving on to include these other areas where people are being marginalized with the same logic that people with different skin colors were then.  We can help people see that , if they realize this was the wrong idea with one group back then, it’s wrong with other groups today.  Discrimination is discrimination, plain and simple.

Pastor Kat joining one of her heroes, Jimmy Creech, in a "We Do" action in Raleigh, NC.

Pastor Kat joining one of her heroes, Jimmy Creech, in a “We Do” action in Raleigh, NC.

Celebrating the Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act

diversity and disability

Today is 24th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I thought it would be appropriate to take time to recognize this on Progressive Redneck Preacher.

Be watching.  I hope to have an interview or two coming up soon about the connection between disability rights and our ongoing theme of the legacy of slave holder Christianity.

Here is a helpful video for individuals, businesses, and churches as they begin to think about how to help improve inclusion of people with disabilities:

 

 

 

My wife, who is in a wheelchair, says she would have suggested some different advice.  Readers with mobility impairments, what would you have added or suggested differently?  Readers with other disabilities, what might you add?

For all my readers, how have you seen the Americans with Disabilities Act affect your life or the life of someone close to you?

I find too often the ADA isn’t followed and my wife and our friends with disabilities have to fight uphill to have basic access. The law makes positive changes to accessibility possible, but I wish for a society where people without disabilities don’t need to be ask society around them to obey the law and change practices; where instead our communities develop the neighborliness to make things accessible simply out of true love and respect for all.

Kat and I are blessed to have a very accessible church to attend in Chapel Hill, but sadly it seems most churches I visit do not prioritize accessibility to people with disabilities and even lack the basics of ramps or accessible bathrooms. Even in churches otherwise ‘welcoming to all,’ people often forget to include those with disabilities. What has your church experience been?

Whatever your experience, I hope you take time this ADA day to consider what your community can do to be more inclusive of all.

And I ain’t just whistling dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

micah spring hat

Southernisms (Our hashtag game)

flowering dogwood

Thanks for everyone’s involvement in our hashtag game this week. We used the hashtag #southernisms and people contributed their own favorite southern phrases — some which were useful, some which were hilarious. All as southern as peaces and cream.

dinner-table-l

I realized as we did the hashtag game this week that this weekly feature is really talking about southern phrases and peculiarities, so I think I’ll begin to call our hashtag game “southernisms”.

 

We are coming just out of family reunion season, so how about funny things that have happened familiy reunions for our next go ’round? Just type a story up, add #familyreunionbloopers, and share it with Progressive Redneck Preacher.

 

Without further ado, here are this week’s “Southernisms”:

keep-calm-and-bless-their-hearts-5.png.cf

‘Bless their hearts’. The one phrase that excuses anything you say no matter how rude or harsh. Cause once you say that, it ain’t gossip.

dooflotchy

“Dooflotchy”. A southern word used for anything at all that you can’t think of the proper word for. “Boy, go get me the dooflotchy from my toolkit what turns the howzits” “Y’all go down dooflotchy road til ya see the big green dooflotchy on the right, then turn left. It’ll be just past the old oak tree by that abandoned dooflotchy factory what Mr. Johnson used ta own. Can’t miss it!” What’s your favorite southernism?

furpiece

fur piece 2“A fur piece” — a unit of measurement in the south. It helps answer the question of how distant “yonder” is. Its much further than a “stone’s throw”. As in “Cali-forny is a fur piece from North Cackalack here, I tell you what”. What is your favorite southernism?

‘Kin’. Folks you know like the back of your hand, who can tell stories on you from when you were knee-high to a grasshopper that’ll make your ears turn red. Folks you bicker and fight with but would still give the shirt off your back for. Also ‘kin’ means to be able to. Like ‘y’all kin getcha some maters from uncle Earl’s garden’

kin“That boy ain’t right” (provided by Richard Allen Jernigan) One of them is from Designing Women. The one where Julia Sugarbaker is telling someone,”I’m just saying that this is the South. We don’t hide our crazy people. We put them on the porch. Here we don’t ask if you have crazy people in your family, we ask what side of the family they’re on.”

My lovely wife Katharine Royal came up with this one: “Jeet?” Often accompanied by “you poor thing. You are all skin and bones”, and someone dolloping food on your plate. 

country fried chicken 2

Chris Tyner offered: “Widja didja?” When you go to a family reunion and someone asks “Brought Grandma widja, didja?”

Richard Jernigan: Here is one that my mom used to use. #southernisms “Well, you ain’t no bigger than a popcorn fart!”

Reckon — That way in which southerners know deep in their soul something is true, feeling it even in their bones. Like how I reckon where the best fishin’ hole is, or that family comes first, or that it will rain today. I reckon so. And so it is. Also, for many southerners proof God is in fact a southerner. After all, Genesis 15 says, “Abraham believed God, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness”. To these southerners, this comes as no surprise. After all, ain’t sweet tea, pecan pie, and fried okra all southern? And, boy howdy, they are good!

Down Yonder–if you have to ask where it is, y’all ain’t from around here!

And finally, the ultimate southernism: the South. Defined here:

Well, folks, that’s all for this week. Until next week, may all your tea be sweet, your chicken be fried just right, may you see the twinkling lights of fireflies dancing through the long leaf pine each night, and may you always know whatever hill you trek up, y’all gotta home down here.

And I ain’t just whistling DIxie,
your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

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