Song of the South: Cry of the Cicada (a re-post)

The Cry of the Cicada

cicada 2

Sure footed, eyes ahead, I move forward
shoes plodding onward across asphalt streets
my agenda for the day like shades
dimming my vision
blocking out un-necessary distractions
on the horizon of my mind
until I hear it.

Ebbing low, then high,
a quick rattling
like the pennies in a bottle
my wife used to train her service dog
to not be shaken by the bangs and pops of fireworks

Unceasing, it grows
its metallic voice a whine and squeel of pops
a sound like rain on a hot tin roof
turned orchestral
steady pitter patter
turned explosion of sound

Its voice a roar of wavescicada

overtaking beach
has me in its grip
so I am the sand slipping between your toes
ever moving, sliding as if if into endless oblivion of sea
yet solidly still underneath

Like a sudden burst of fire
it sets the tree beside me to shaking
rising til it reaches crescendo
then fading to silence
for a moment
then trees around me each burst out in rattling answer

burning_bushwith which you call me, no longer a whisper
hidden beneath the noise of my day
but a roar of carapace and wing
so, like Moses on the mountain,
I burn but am not consumed
“Take off your shoes,” the music whispers
“this is holy ground”.
And I do, knowing it always is.

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A Southerner To Remember This LGBT Pride: Rabbi Ben Zion Jernigan

During our time of remember LGBT heroes during LGBT Pride month, I can’t overlook a dear friend if mine who just passed, a hero in the fight for GLBT rights in my home town of Fayettevile  and the surrounding Ft. Bragg, North Carolina area.  Several of us who had joined in the fight for GLBT rights in the area joined to remember him at a memorial service a short time ago.

I feel he is a southerner worth remembering, whose life touched so many, so I am sharing the words I gave at his memorial.  I hope they inspire you and help you get a sense of this great man’s life.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

redneckpreacher

It is hard to sum up in a few words the life of someone who has touched you so deeply. I have to admit I tried several times and the words would not come.

I first met Rabbi Jernigan at a gathering at the Unitarian-Universalist church related to the movement to try and prevent an amendment banning same-gender couples from marrying from being added to the NC state constitution. We struck up a friendship right away. He was full of passionate opinions, full of colorful humor, and incredibly open about who he was. To be honest, at first with his many piercings, tattoos, and colorful stories I did not realize he was a rabbi.
Rabbi and the RevBut rabbi he was. I remember standing with him together, both dressed in the symbols of our faith, myself as a Christian pastor and himself as a Jewish rabbi, speaking together at a gathering organized by the Alliance of Fayetteville and Equality NC, speaking up against the move to discriminate against GLBT people done then by the state legislature.

He spoke of his own faith that day. He talked about the Jewish principle of tikkunn olam, which calls people of faith and of good will to join in the work of “setting the world right”. He spoke of that call of his faith calling him to work hard to help repair those things that are broken and off-kilter, including the way here in North Carolina so many face persecution for who they are. And this is what Rabbi Jernigan consistently did.

I learned so much from his friendship. First of all, he was like family to all who came to know him. He would fill your heart with laughter. He could be fierce in defending those who mattered to him, yet tender in friendship to those close. I still remember the laughing way he would reach out to pet Kat’s service dog Isaiah, or the way he spoke with fatherly kindness to the exchange student who stayed with us one year.

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Yet his example for justice stands out. While his own faith was deep and strong, rabbi Jernigan did not let barriers of culture or religion stand in the way of reaching out. From his example I learned what it means to see all as one people, regardless of culture or faith. He would show up alongside Christians speaking up for GLBT rights, joining arm in arm; among atheists and Wiccans; among anyone on the side of justice. He would speak up for their rights alongside his own. We were all one family to Rabbi Jernigan.
I still remember him saying at one point how much it bothered him that people thought they were being friends to Jews by mistreating Muslims. I have to believe if the shooting of three young Muslim students that occurred where I live had happened in his community, Rabbi Jernigan would have joined the many who stood alongside their families saying their lives matter, and that we are one regardless of our creed or color of skin.

And Rabbi Jernigan was never afraid to speak his mind and to be himself. I remember at one point him telling me, “they’ve been trying to keep me quiet my whole life. My people we tried quiet. Then they gathered us up – Jews and gay people – and put us in camps.” He then showed me a tattoo with the number a relative who was gassed by the NAZIs had. “I will never be silent again.”

I think those words still speak not just to me but to all of us today. Rabbi Jernigan would challenge us – don’t let anyone silence you or make you feel you need to be someone other than who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you to not fight for your rights. Be true to yourself. He would say that the world has had too much of good people being silence.
I think he would remind us that there is still a lot to repair in our world. We won marriage equality but already our state is trying to put loopholes in place to silence those who want equal rights and to make it so in not all areas will counties honor that law. They are trying to build walls to keep gay people out again. I think Rabbi Jernigan would tell us that though he can’t be present to keep this fight alive physically, we can and, if we go remembering him, he is there in spirit continuing the fight.

hATE NO FAMILY VALUE I think he’d remind us to realize we are all family, and to not let attacks on others who are different cause us to avoid being there for each other. I think he’d tell us to treat each other like family.
He’d remind us of youth gay youth, and youth who like these three Muslim youth in my town, who need someone to be the parent, brother, friend, aunt, uncle, that their own won’t be. Who need people to believe in them and say their lives matter.

Then I think he’d tell us a colorful story, or an off-the-wall joke. I think his living life to the fullest, being as fully who he is as he can be, was our good friend’s way of living out the traditional Jewish blessing of L’Chaim. To Life!
Let’s all honor that L’Chaim blessing. And live our lives so we can fully say “To life!”

Southernism: Queer as a Three Dollar Bill

southern easter brunch

I’m re-sharing this, as a celebration of LGBT Pride month.  A few details have changed, such as (thankfully) marriage equality being the law of the land due to the recent SCOTUS ruling.  Also we’ve seen the end of Rev. Carla’s tenure as Southern Conference president.   I feel this post, though, does much to celebrate GLBT heroes here in the south-land.

Please, in the comments, add your stories!

Micah

In Southernisms, we look at common southern phrases, practices, foods, music, or culture, usually after allowing readers to comment using a hashtag.  This began as #youmightbegltbinthesouthif but I expanded it to help reference some of the ways LGBT life is changing in the south.  I hope to next talk about the “new south” and the fusion of traditional southern culture with new trends.  Post a description of something you think of as a fun, thought-provoking, or quirky example of the newsouth with #newsouth, and share it here on this blog post or on our facebook page.

This Easter Saturday, for the second year in a row, my wife Katharine and I were blessed to go to the home of two of our friends in the Triangle area of North Carolina for an old fashioned southern brunch with a twist.  As with any southern brunch, there is rich food.  There are good drinks.  There is laughter, smiles, and humor.  One member of this couple has been known to don a floral apron, engage in serious southern story-telling with a bit of “my word”, “bless their hearts”, and “mercy me” interjected between each story in her rich South Carolina accent which pops up its head whenever she plays hostess. The other busily is making sure there is enough food to eat, plates and seats, and enough sweet tea or drinks to go around, for southern brunch means going home full and happy.  The twist is that I am one of the few straight people blessed to be there each year, as this is called by our hostesses “queer brunch”, a gathering of LGBT-identified friends, neighbors, and their allies.

In many ways this gathering of friends and kin-folk for a casual traditional southern Easter brunch celebrating family, spring-time, & the resurrection of their Lord (for this couple are active church-goers), could not be more traditional.  It is a quintessential part of life in Dixie.  It is what many other families not just across the south-land but across our country do each year regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Yet because it also is hosted by a couple who happen to be two ladies, as a celebration of couples, individuals, and families who either identify as  “queer” or “queer allies” it is in many ways emblematic of the changing place of LGBT people here in the south-land.

lgbt youthInspired by their lovely “queer brunch”, as they call it, I want to talk about the southernism, “queer as a three dollar bill”, and how the idea of being queer is being transformed here in the south.

Growing up, the first memory I have of the phrase “queer as a three dollar bill” or “queer” was hearing some family member with a sneer describe someone as queer.  When I asked what it meant, I was told queer people (pronounced “quar” by at least a few in my extended family growing up), were boys who liked to kiss boys or girls who liked to kiss girls.  This puzzled me.  In the then 5 or 6 short years of my life I had seen aunts kiss their nieces on the forehead, and daddies kiss their sons on their forehead.   What was wrong with boys kissing boys or girls kissing girls?  I didn’t see the harm but I could tell by the way my relative described it that this must not be a good thing.

Later on, I remember hearing a relative say some pretty harsh things about a “quar” person at their work in passing; and I remember being asked to play “smear the queer” on the school ground.  This was a game in which the person who was “it” was called queer and the job was to tackle them as hard as you can.  All of this sent the message that, whatever queer was, it was strange.  It was to be feared.  It was dangerous.

The church should be the place our hearts are set free.  Too often the preacher is a tyrant or a bully.

Then I remember sitting at a little country church with my folks in the Adventist-style Church of God tradition I grew up in, hearing a deacon with a deep southern drawl give a message from Genesis about Sodom & Gomorrah and how it was those queer folks who brought the judgment of God on the city, and how “all these queers waving their rainbow flags” would bring the downfall of America.   He got into pretty graphic detail both about the depravities he imagined these folk got into, as well as the certain judgments he believed the Lord would rain down upon America for them.  I found this message terrifying as a young teenager who was only at that little church for the youth event to follow the service which my home church’s youth group was joining their youth in taking part. Shortly after that message, there was a shooting in my home-town of Fayetteville, NC, by someone who claimed to be trying to punish the army for allowing gays in the military under the recently passed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation pushed by Bill Clinton.

This picture of LGBT people as outcast and rejected by southern culture is the dominant one many of us think of when we think about being LGBT people in the south.  It is certainly the main picture of GLBT people in the south in the media.  To be fair, the way “queer” was used by people I knew while I was growing up was stigmatizing.  It painted same-gender-loving people and people with gender identities more diverse than the usual gender binary I learned as a child as if they were weird, at best freaks to be laughed at and at worst dangerous people who threatened our children, our faith, and our very way of life.

This move to re-embrace queerness as something not deficient or wrong but as just another way among many of being a run-of-the-mill, church-going family in the south which my friends have embraced in their “queer Easter brunch” is emblematic of the way in which the south is changing in its relationship to LGBT people and their families.  Like with all the things in southern culture, this process is happening in fits and starts, and includes a great deal of tension on all sides.  But I feel it would be good to look for a moment at the changing picture of queer southerners and their families here in Dixie.

I think is important especially as we discuss throughout the south the role of families headed by same-gender couples and transgender people in our communities, our legislatures, and our churches.  The changing role of queer people in the south takes on special significance as the Supreme Court of the US debate whether states banning equal protections for same-gender couples & their families that are afforded to other groups in our communities, such as employment protection and inclusion in the institution of marriage, is constitutional.  lgbt youth 2I truly believe one reason that many fail to see a problem with such exclusion is that, like many of the otherwise well-meaning role models I encountered growing up as a young southern straight man, they too fail to see LGBT people as their neighbors.  For too many people, all they see or hear about when they hear of LGBT people are the other, someone alien to them, and not the good-hearted neighbors and relatives most LGBT people are.

Because of this factor, I want to spend some time in this southernism post talking about some examples of queer folk here in Dixie I have known, and lessons their lives teach us.

To know the couple who host queer brunch is to know a couple that are truly a picture of neighborliness and some of the best of both southern and Christian values.  They are hard-working members of the community – with one working as a social worker and soon to begin divinity school to study to become a United Church of Christ minister, and another working in a way that furthers literature and education.  They are active in serving those around them in their community, and devout church-going people.  They are the sort of people anyone would be happy to have as a neighbor or a friend.

This is true for far more queer people in our communities than the opponents of LGBT equality often recognize.

Here are some examples of what LGBT life in the south actually looks like now:

all saints 2#youmightbelgbtinthesouthif, as one reader noted to me, you find yourself a part of a tight-knit and strong community that offers a lot of support and which many outside your circle would envy.   I’ve seen this to be true, too, of many aspects of the queer community here in the south-land.  I feel the need to build bulwarks of support against much resistance has helped create a resiliency and compassion among so many of the community centers, churches, clubs, groups of friends, support groups, and families which make up the LGBT community here in the south-land.

Sadly, as the reader also noted, it can be hard to find your place in this community at first.  At times its hard to know where to find friendships or romance especially in small communities where fewer people are out about their identity and fewer organizations exist.  There can be a fear and uncertainty in reaching out.  But once you find your place in the community, there are amazing people who stick by you and stand with you.

#‎youmightbeglbtinthesouthif, like Shawn Thomas of Florida in this video, you are a Christian musician who calls folks to see Christ in their life no matter what prejudice they face for who you are.. And if, despite your ongoing work for Christ, your neighbors may not believe you exist because either they believe gay people can’t be Christians because of prejudice against gay people they themselves have; or they can’t believe any Christians can welcome gay people because of their experience as LGBT people being pushed out of the church.

pastor jenny#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif like one of my pastors, Rev. Jenny Shultz, you are a minister in a historic southern church, a loving parent, and a Christian role model to the next generation.

The reality is that many LGBT people in the south right now are people of faith and leaders in their faith communities.  I mentioned my friends who host the queer brunch are active members of their communities, one of whom is beginning to study to become a minister.

The south has a long history of strong, out-spoken Christian leaders.

One of the most important to me is the late Reverend Pauli Murray of Durham, NC, who was recently canonized as a saint by the Episcopal Church, USA.  Here is an excerpt from Duke Today (http://today.duke.edu/2012/07/saintmurray) about her life:

st pauli murray“”Pauli Murray had an agenda for the human good that was constant and unswerving.” Bishop Curry said. “As a descendent of slaves and slaveholders, people who were members of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, she is a symbol for the importance of bringing different worlds together, even in midst of great pain.”

“The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray (1910 – 1985) was a nationally and internationally known advocate for human rights and social justice who grew up with her grandparents Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald on Carroll Street in Durham. In 1977 at age 66, she was the first African American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest, offering communion for the first time at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill where her grandmother had been baptized as a slave.

“Prior to answering this calling, Murray worked to address injustice and promote reconciliation between races, sexes, and economic classes through her work as an attorney, writer, feminist, poet, and educator.

“In the 1930s and 40s, she fought against racial segregation in education and public transit. In the 1950s and 1960s, she challenged the Civil Rights Movement to recognize the leadership of women and the double discrimination that minority women face.

“As a lawyer, policy analyst and legal scholar she defied convention by stubbornly carving out her place in a male-dominated profession. She advised First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on civil rights and co-founded the National Organization for Women. As a same-gender-loving woman she struggled to live her life fully in a world not ready for her inclusive vision of freedom.

“Durham can embrace Pauli Murray as an inspiration for our community’s commitment to the struggle for equality, dignity and justice,” said Barbara Lau, director of the Pauli Murray Project. “With this recognition as an Episcopal Saint, even more people will learn about her legacy of activism and the relevance of her ideas to today’s issues”

michael piazzaAnother historic Southerner who identifies as gay is the Rev. Michael Piazza.  Within the heart of the gay rights movement, Rev. Michael Piazza organized a powerful ministry of reconciliation in Texas which tore down walls separating LGBT people from the Christian faith and straight people from the queer community.   He did this in a time that most vocal Christian voices getting air-time in the south were speaking messages of the same rejection toward LGBT people I grew up hearing.    Ultimately that ministry helped birth the Cathedral of Hope, the largest LGBT-welcoming church in America.   This Cathedral began as a congregation of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the first Christian denomination founded by an openly queer man, Rev. Troy Perry of California, out of a movement of religious revival in the queer community that occurred in step with the LGBT rights movement.   Ultimately this center of LGBT freedom and equality founded on the Christian faith left the UFMCC to join the United Church of Christ out of a desire to expand its mission to include ministering to those in need of its message of hope and healing beyond the LGBT community.  Yet the gifts of healing, reconciliation, and new beginning in Christ it offers were first discovered as a part of the religious revival cathedral of hopein the LGBT community which both Perry and Piazza were a part.

Now the Cathedral is under new leadership while Rev. Piazza works within the United Church of Christ with the Center for Progressive Renewal, a ministry which helps revitalize struggling churches across the country using the same principles of welcome, openness, and open-mindedness that were foundational in the success of the Cathedral of Hope.

Piazza is one of many visionary Christian leaders here in the south-rev carla greggland who identify as LGBT.   In addition to Rev. Piazza and Rev. Shultz, my own denomination the United Church of Christ has leaders like Rev. Carla Gregg-Kearns of Good Shepherd UCC who as an openly queer woman helps cast a vision for the UCC conference of which she is president, a vision borne in part from her unique experience of faith.

Within the Raleigh, NC, among the Christian ministries casting a new vision of faith for our day is the Gay Christian Network.  Headed by Justin Lee, this organization provides a place for evangelical Christians who identify as gay and lesbian whether they choose like, justin leeLee, to enter same-gender relationships, possibly even marrying, settling down, and have a family with a same-gender spouse or to practice the traditional path of celibacy many traditional churches require.   Through online groups throughout the world and local and regional gatherings, GCN provides healing communities for those often left out in the mainstream church.   Lee and other GCN leaders work to build bridges between traditional evangelical groups which often frown on same-gender relationships and their existing same-gender loving and transgender members.

Additionally, the Campaign for Southern Equality, a group that has campaign for southern equalitybeen fundamental in raising awareness of the needs of same-gender loving couples here in the south-land including their need for marriage equality, employment, & housing protections, is headed by Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, a United Church of Christ minister who was raised in Chapel Hill, NC, and is a same-gender loving person herself.

To hear more about her life and ministry, check out this interview from National Public Radio:  http://wunc.org/term/campaign-southern-equality

I have only begun to touch on the examples of LGBT leadership in faith communities of all religious stripes, denominations, and backgrounds in the south-land.   It is clear, some of the most devout Christians here in the south-land are same-gender loving and transgender people.  This is true as well for the many queer Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Jewish believers that I have had the pleasure to know.

Also, #‎youmightbeglbtinthesouthif , like some good friends of mine, your response to someone talking about your chickens“sinful gay lifestyle” is, “Friend, I think you must have me mistaken for them exciting lesbians on The ‘L’ Word. Our ‘lesbian lifestyle, as you call it, involves raising our chickens, gathering eggs, mowing the lawn, shooting at the gun range, and spending the weekend with our grand-kids. There ain’t a thing shocking or exciting about any of that. But it’s our life, and we’re keeping it together, no matter what y’all think about that”.

My friends’ response to this stereotype is so true.  The variety of lifestyles LGBT people have are as varied as those of straight folks like me.   There are gun-toting NRA members here in the south-land who are openly queer.  There are peace protestors who are LGBT.   There are Sunday school teachers, teachers, city council people.

One reader, Sarah S., noted that she gets tired of the message that she is that different than anyone else.  Anyone who would get to know her, she sees, would see that she is just like anyone else.  She loves her kids.  She works hard at her job.  She cares for her wife.  She’s active at her church.  She’s a good neighbor.  Many, many people expressed similar things to me.

One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen is how as people get to know the average lives of queer folk here in the south are so similar to everyone else, how lives change.  While I was pastoring in Fayetteville, NC, I was blessed to know heather and ashleyHeather and Ashley, a couple who made headlines after the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Ashley and Heather had been married legally in a state where same-gender couples were not excluded from marriage.  They moved to North Carolina, which at that time had not yet opened marriage to same-gender couples as it has now.  Heather was a soldier defending our country at risk of life and limb.  They both were devoted mothers to their children.  Ashley, trying to get support for the stress it put on her and her family of being the spouse of a soldier raising children, tried to join groups for spouses of soldiers at Fort Bragg.  Initially she was shot down.  She simply bravely told her story: a story of diapers, of cribs, of babies, of late nights praying and hoping to see her wife come safely home again.  As people came to know her story and know her & Heather for the loving, caring people they are, policies began to change in Fort Bragg.

I think also of a couple I knew in their 70’s at a church I served.  They had been together for decades, in a time in which same-gender couples were not afforded the right to marriage here in North Carolina.   They served at the church and in the community.  They were role models of faith and service.  They mentored the youth in the church.  When one was sick or fell and broke a bone, the other was by their side night and day caring for them.  I remember telling another pastor I knew in the community about them.  Not knowing they were a same gender couple, he said “We need more good Christian people like that in our community.  I wish I had more like them in my church”.  When I then told them they were a same-gender couple, you could hear a pin drop.  He did not expect, based on his stereotype about what being gay meant, that this type of lifestyle was what being gay is for some people.

But it is.  LGBT people here in the south work, pay taxes, marry, raise children, and serve others just as anyone else does.  Many of them are wonderful neighbors, friends, and public servants.

gay agenda

#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif you, like the good people of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, you donate food and needed items to GLBT-friendly homelessness organizations like Love Wins Ministries of Raleigh because you know it gets better but you also know it can only get better if you get to stay alive.

lgbt center of raleigh

#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif you will grow up to be an award-winning actress, model, and spokesperson for women’s equality and LGBT rights as our own child of the south, Laverne Cox of Mobile, Alabama, has.   An outspoken woman who is transgender, she has epitomized the power and potential of LGBT people throughout the south-land throughout her career.

Laverne_Cox_by_Sachyn_Mital

#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif, like this couple I was blessed to marry after the end of the ban of same-gender couples marrying in NC fell, you have recently gotten married.  Or if you wish you could, for your state still refuses to allow you same gender marriage2to marry.

This couple was young and in love, but since the end of the ban on including same-gender couples marry in North Carolina, I have seen couples who have been together much longer than my wife and myself have been married, some together longer than I have been alive, finally marry.  And I know in states where marriage equality is not yet here, there are some hoping and praying that they may be able to marry before one of them passes due to illness or age.

Yet there is much to be done in the south-land, and across the country, in terms of recognizing that LGBT people matter and are of equal worth in the south.  Some of the following hashtags reflect this:

#youmightbelgbtinthesouthif you don’t yet know you are gay, because of how often in the south we cringe at talk of “sex” even in opposite-sex relationships, and so you may not yet know someone to talk about what makes you different.  And if it feels talking about these things might stretch the bounds of southern hospitality.

Reader Erin writes,

“There are two things that stand out for me. First, it took me a long time to really understand that being gay was a thing. I knew I was attracted to women from the time I was in junior high, but I didn’t know any actual living breathing gay people. Being a sheltered kid in a small town, the only gay people I ever heard about were the demon possessed sex fiends in my father’s sermons. Being gay wasn’t an identity, it was a choice made out of rebellion or sinful delusion.

“Second, the Southern tendency towards politeness makes coming out really weird. Southerners aren’t likely to say what they really think to your face. It makes it hard to know when I’m out to someone because people don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation, so they just never bring it up. I got a lot of “just checking in” messages from people I hadn’t heard from in years right after I came out on Facebook. It was frustrating because I knew they were fishing, but I wasn’t going to sign up for a potential sermon on my eventual damnation”

#‎youmightbeglbtinthesouthif, according to one of the hostesses of “queer brunch”,  you know folks who resemble Willie Nelson’s song “Cowboys are Secretly Frequently Fond of Each Other” or may secretly resemble it yourself.

You might laugh at first at this song reference, but the point behind it — the secrecy some live their lives by, is no laughing matter.   Having pastored LGBT-affirming churches in rural parts of the south and small towns, I know I have heard far too many stories of folks afraid of being “found out” as gay.  Some it is a fear of losing their jobs.  Some being ostracized by their families.  And in some a very real fear of being harassed, attacked, and physically harmed.

And no wonder.  In far too many big cities, let alone small towns, in the south you can see if you look listings describing gay and transgender individuals assaulted or even killed for being who they are.  All the more reason to raise awareness, and to help to put in place real protections against hate crimes throughout our beloved south land.

#youmightbelgbtinthesouthif, though you can marry, you know that you might be fired if you post wedding pictures on your desk because your state does not offer employment protections or housing protections to prevent discrimination against queer people.

can be fired for being gay

#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif you are homeless and have been since your parents kicked you out as a teenager when their preacher told them they should. Thank God for ministries like Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, NC, welcoming such youth with the love of God. Sadly, this is far too common.

lgbt homeless

#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif you have wondered if life was worth living due to the experience of rejection by the church, those who bully you at school, or by your family.   Studies finding LGBT youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than other youth, in areas in which youth face persecution or ostracism for being who they are.

maureen rent

#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif, like Maureen and Joann in this scene from the Broadway musical “Rent”, when people see you and spouse they keep mistaking you for sisters who are close — or brothers. Even though you look nothing alike.

One of my most poignant memories while pastoring in LGBT-affirming churches in the south was meeting a couple who worshipped at a church I served for a tour of a historic plantation house near where they lived.   While there, amidst the tours of the grounds and the demonstrations of hog-hollering that went on, I overheard how folks talked about them walking, hand in hand.  I lost count of the number of people who assumed they were brothers and cousins, even twins, even though one was Native American and the other white.  I am certain this assumption was made because it was both clear that these were too good kindhearted Christian people who everyone would be happy to have as their neighbors, and that these two had a close intimacy beyond what mere friends would have.   Unconsciously well-meaning southern folk had to come up with some explanation other than the obvious – that they were a couple of over a decade – to explain what they saw.

let my people pee

#youmightbeglbtinthesouthif you have been told by your city, your state, or school that you can’t go to the bathroom. Apparently they think politicians know better than you what gender you are, or what your gender expression ought to be. Sadly, overlooked in the fight for equal access to marriage is the fact that many southern states are trying to legalize restricting access to bath-rooms for transgender people, out of a phobias surrounding stereotypes about transgender people.   We need to realize that transgender people are also our neighbors, and if we hope to love them as ourselves this is not something we can do while blocking their basic rights as human beings.

I could go on.  Instead, I want to invite you.  What are your stories either of being queer here in the south-land, or of the experiences of queer southerners whom you know?  What lessons do these experiences teach us about how we can bring out the best of our southern values in ways that make room for all at the family table?

I look forward to hearing your stories.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

redneckpreacher

Daily Devotional: Seeing the World Through Others’ Eyes

desertPsalm 102

These are words of utter desolation – whose body is turning to skin and bones, whose life is wasting away like smoke fading in the cool of the morning soon to be no more. They feel desolate and alone, like some lone animal baking in the heat of the desert far from any water.

As I read these words, I notice I am tempted to take the metaphorically, to assume the one praying is simply using hyperbole to express such soul pain.   Noticing my preference, I am convicted. Convicted of my own unwillingness to see the world through the eyes of those for whom much of this prayer could easily be literal. It is so easy sipping my coffee on my porch in a southern college town, well fed and hearing the call of the morning birds in the trees, to forget there are those right in this moment who are wasting away with no food and no clean water   It is easy to forget those facing famine and disease, wasting from curable diseases due to lack of access to medical care. It is easy for me to want these words not to reflect the costs of exile or tyranny, of war ravaging the land and the people, of disease and loss. It is easy to not want in my morning meditations to reflect on the reality that others are not as comfortable as me, living in lands ravaged by pollution to serve the comforts of we first world middle class folk.

This is a part of the miracle of Scripture.   When we meditate on it in an open way, we open ourselves up to the experiences of other people of God throughout time and space.   It is like a Tardis we enter into, which every Doctor Who fan knows, ushers you into other times and places, because its words reflect the experiences of God by people in all kinds of situations.

Though I don’t know if these words are figurative in their description of wasting away or literal, I do know that was the literal experience of many of God’s people in Bible times during famine, war, exile, or tyranny. The book of Lamentations describes famine so fierce during the time of the siege of Jerusalem that otherwise kind-hearted people were tempted toward cannibalism of their own children the pain of hunger and thirst was so bad.

So Scripture invites me to see the world through these other eyes, to see my problems in comparison to these great challenges. And the Holy Spirit who unites all people of faith and good will in what Christians call the great communion of the saints invites me to realize that such sore trial is being faced now in this moment by other people of faith and good will just like me. Right now there are those who are my brothers and sisters wasting away due to not enough food or clean water from famine, from pollution, from tyranny, from the results of war. And they are a part of me, I of them, if we form one mystical body in Christ.

This awareness rising in me does not tell me specifically what to do, but it does open my eyes to the world in a new way.

As the psalm continues, the poet speaks for God promising God would remember and act upon the prayers of these people. This is, I think, a promise to all crying out.   Yet it is a challenge for folks like me who are comfortable and, without the Spirit’s prodding of our hearts, un-noticing. For as Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries, Raleigh, writes, ““How could God allow such a thing? I no longer ask that, because I believe God has a plan … God’s plan is us. Those of us who live in the US live in a nation that throws away 40% of all the food we purchase, yet on the remaining 60% of the food, one in three of us manages to become obese. So let’s not say there is not enough food. Despite the abundance of food, some 17 million children in our own country go to bed hungry at night. Know why? Because none of those children know you. Because if you knew that Darius, who is 7 and lives at 1410 Elm Avenue, Apt #4, was hungry, you would get that kid some food. But you don’t know Darius- so he goes hungry.”

The call I sense this morning is to become more aware not just of the problems this psalm points to, but of the people facing them. I feel a call to raise my awareness and sense of connection to them, as well as to begin to ask “How can I be a part of God through me and others answering their prayers?”

In what have you discovered this call? In what ways are you answering it?

Daily Devotional: Don’t Forget to Remember

stranger and pilgrimDeuteronomy 8:1-10

At the heart of this text is a call to remembrance: We are to remember how God has brought us, carrying through the long journeys we have faced in our lives. We are to take time to remember the lessons God has taught us, which sometimes came through gracious provision, but also can come in the midst of long and painful trials.

I know, for me, it is easy if I let myself to forget in the midst of the trials of life, the crises that come in front of me, or even daily busyness.   I find taking time in my meditation and prayer to thank God for specific experiences including answered prayers and moments where I was given a sense of clarity about my direction in life are helpful.   I find making space to in order to reflect on various parts of my journey with God as a spiritual practice strengthens my sense that God walks with me, and my understanding of the lessons God has taught me through various points in my life. As this happens, these seemingly one-time lessons in life become constant teachers, as the Spirit helps me apply those old lessons in new ways as I face new situations.

What are ways you make space for remembering your journey so far with God?

Daily Devotional: Beyond Mere Appearances

coffee-prayer-scriptureLuke 7:36-50

The stark contrasts of this story stand out to me.

On the one hand we have the good, Bible-believing religious folk who host this meal Jesus is at.   They not only try to do good deeds and be honest people, but also to avoid every appearance of evil. They keep the standards of propriety that are prevalent in their day.

Then Jesus, who too says he is one who honors the Bible and its God.   Yet at their meal he allows every rule of propriety to be broken. The woman whom all around him claim they know is a woman of ill repute.  She lays down before Jesus, using oil and her own tears, to wash his feet. Washing feet is an odd ceremony. On the one hand, it is the hospitality usually afforded by a host to his or her guest in the ancient world. As such it can be a standard hospitality – but usually extended by host to guest, not by random stranger barging into the meal (again breaking propriety) to guest.

Yet the way it is done has a sensual quality we overlook. That she uses her hair, and tears would have drawn connotations for the crowd. In Jesus’ day washing feet can also, in another context, be a euphemism.   This is why my many scholars think when Ruth greets Boaz in secret and uncovers his feet it is a description of a sexual encounter.   This is not a sexual encounter between Jesus and this woman whose reputation proceeded her, but with that reputation this scene would have had all those connotations to the audience.   How obscene it looked to them!

mary magdalene washing jesus feetYet Jesus is far less concerned about the outward appearance of the situation. Jesus can see into the hearts of those gathered. He knows this woman who is throwing herself at his feet is not making a sexual advance, as these good Bible-believing religious folks jump to the conclusion of assuming. He sees her heartbreak, and longing for forgiveness. Probably, yes, from God but also to be able to forgive herself and let go the guilt and shame she carries not just in the community’s eyes but in her own.

And so Jesus breaks with another religious convention – and both corrects his hosts (How rude! Doesn’t he know they are footing the bill!) and proclaims the woman forgiven.   This proclamation of forgiveness is his most shocking act of all. After all, we read this text and immediately see Jesus as the Christ, who in our belief as Christians is God-as-man-with-men-and-women-dwell. To the crowd, he is a good Bible preacher. A man like you or me, whom they are still evaluating.

Who does he think he is to proclaim this woman forgiven? Surely, if she went to the temple and made the appropriate sacrifices, perhaps than a priest could proclaim her penalty paid. But without having paid any penalty to the religious authorities, this preacher man can have the presumption to claim to speak for God.

I think the Gospel of Luke wants us to walk away with the message that Jesus is God in the flesh, Savior of the world, and most Christians believe this, and for us this explains Jesus’ actions. However I think there is something to be learned if we keep entertain the lesson Jesus’ interactions would teach us if we act as if that knowledge was not yet known, since Jesus’ Divine identity & mission are not fully revealed during his ministry according to all the Synoptic Gospels. In fact, Jesus is described in the Synoptic Gospels as repeatedly squashing proclamation of him as Savior, Son of God, through most of his ministry.   So I think there is a way to understand Jesus’ boundary-breaking proclamation to her that she is forgiven in a way that goes in line with him as a human, which we can imitate

jesus hugsYou see Jesus knows and proclaims the mind of God. The Gospel message is that God through Christ is forgiving the whole world.   The reason God comes as flesh and blood, as a human being like you or me, is to reveal that God is busy with the business of extending forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and liberation to all people.

Jesus knows this. Jesus knows that God is not holding our sins against us, like some great burden from above about to fall upon us. No, God is waiting ready to forgive. Already before Jesus came with the Gospel message, the prophet Isaiah promised that if people come truly broken-hearted for their sins, committed to changing the pattern of their lives, and cry out to God, God will wash away the filth of their sins so they may have cloth as clean as white linen sheets.

So if Jesus sees the woman truly penitent he can proclaim, as a man, “you are forgiven”, based on the sure and certain promises of God.   And so can we. When we are broken hearted over sin, crying out for forgiveness, truly desiring change, we can know in that moment God forgives us. When we see others do the same, we can remind them – you are forgiven. For God promises. And you don’t have to go to the temple first, or the church, and make some offering to make it happen.   It is already there, free and available to you by faith. Any amends you make is to live out the change occurring in your heart, not to earn what God gives as a free gift.

To me this challenges our need to keep up the appearance of religiosity and acceptability.   The religious folks who host Jesus’ dinner have that, and it covers up their own areas they are holding back from God. After all, how do they know this woman is of ill repute? Unless they have had inappropriate relations with her themselves, a sin, or engaged in gossip, yet another sin. They are not as bad as some commentators make them out to be, but they are certainly not as sinless as they would like Jesus to think. Their propriety keeps them from seeing their own need like this woman to cry out for forgiveness and seek change in areas of their lives it easy to deceive themselves and others into thinking aren’t so bad.

And what’s more, they fail to be able to exercise the compassion Jesus does – to see this woman not as some label of sinner, woman of ill repute, bad person but instead God’s child, their sister, one like them who is imperfect and in need of mercy but who can also be a person of great blessing and potential.

Jesus sees this and extends mercy – both to her, by accepting her cry for forgiveness and reminding her of the promise that it is given as soon as she asks; and to them, by calling them out of their propriety into true relationship with God and others.

This I think is the challenging thing that God is calling you and me toward. May we embrace this day and all our days.

What are You Thinking about this Memorial Day?

heather and ashleyWhat are you thinking about this memorial day?

I am thinking of the retired soldiers in the church I grew up for, and their stories and lessons they taught me, most importantly how horrible war was. They said, as my father-in-law who is a Vietnam veteran has told me, the one group that hates war the most are soldiers for they know its true cost.
I am thinking of my grandfather who adopted my mother who fought in World War I and returned to raise a family late in life, working as a tobacco farmer.
I am thinking of the many parishioners I have had who were soldiers, including one man who can back broken from war in need of AA to help heal from the way addiction had been his only way to heal the scars of war. 
I think about my friend Richard who ended military service by devoting himself to speaking up for the rights of others in public service.
I am thinking about Heather Mack, a soldier now whose wife Ashley had to fight to DC to have her and their children treated by the military as a part of the family and who now has paved the way for the rights of military families that don’t fit the conventional bill to be recognized.
892225_154405904721387_1188869930_oI’m thinking of my dear friend Rabbi B.Z. Jernigan who just passed who was a veteran who devoted his life to tikkum olan, repairing the world, which included fighting for the rights of LGBT servicemen like himself. I remember him showing me once the number of a relative gassed by Hitler and him saying “my people tried being silent, both gays and Jews. And this is what they did to us. I will never be silent again”.
I think of my colleague, Rev.Heather M. Janes, and her stories of fatherhood and fighting in Vietnam as a combat soldier before, on retiring from the military, going through the transformation as coming out as a transgender woman and then as a minister of the Gospel called to those who were the least, last, and lost to the world. I mourn her death to cancer a year ago, and sense how small & empty the world is without her. I think too wondering how we can build a world without the threat of war, and mourn for the many who never returned from war and others who cannot imagine life without it.
Take time to remember this memorial day.  And please share whom you are remembering with me.
And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah