America is not a Christian Nation…Nor Should It Be

Several months ago, I got into a disagreement with a friend over the religious rights of businesses to refuse service to gay people. As I’m sure it’s no surprise, I do not think that businesses have the right to discriminate against anyone–for a host of reasons. My friend believes that the business owner’s religious morality should trump civil law in the case of Sweet Cakes By Melissa’s denial of service to a lesbian bride-to-be. My friend believes that forcing the business to serve the woman would open the door to religious discrimination.

For the record, I am not a Christian. I do, however, believe in the freedom of religion outlined in the First Amendment of our country’s Bill of Rights. While everyone knows about the protection given to those who practice religion, the lesser known part is the protection from the religious practices of others as well as the restriction of the government from favoring one religious belief over another.

The problem with my friend’s stance is that it comes from a view that Christianity is the default religion of anyone involved in this conversation. Aside from the obvious problem of Christianity not being the only religion around, it also fails to specify which version of Christianity is being adhered to as far as this conversation is concerned–and many like it to come, I’m sure.

My experience with religion began within the context of an Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian Church. On those Sunday mornings that our blue church bus would pick my brother and me up, we were conveyed to a local community center where we would receive our religious instruction in the center’s auditorium. It was there that I was taught that Rock Music was “music of the Devil,” our pastor telling us to destroy any and all albums and tapes lest we become corrupted by it. I was taught that the Bible was the literal and inviolable word of God and that the minister himself was the spokesman for the Lord.

This was in 1985 (a year after the original Footloose came out) and I was ten years old. It was also the year that I lost my faith. I remember the exact moment: the minister was telling us about the Devil’s Music and that anyone who listened to it was corrupt and sinful and likely to lead us straight into the arms of Lucifer. The disturbing part of that assertion was he was talking about my parents.

My father was a fan of Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Cheech & Chong, The Who and many other 60’s and 70’s era psychedelic rock groups. My mother, on the other hand, listened to Madonna, Prince, Teena Marie, Rick James, and a number of other artists who often sung explicitly about sexuality that fell firmly outside of our church’s moral mandates.

As a child, being told that your parents, the people who are supposed to love you the most in the world, were in fact leading you down a path to eternal damnation was frightening. More than that, however, it was contradictory and even my little kid’s mind called bullshit. The very week beforehand, the minister had discussed the Ten Commandments, in particular the one concerning the honoring of our parents. He told us that our parents were infallible, that they always had our best interests at heart and so our obedience to them was the best way to honor them. I remember thinking about the parents of my friends in my old neighborhood and wondering how you could honor someone who was capable of beating you with a belt in front of your friends on the front lawn. My parents weren’t perfect, but they didn’t do anything like that, so I gave the pastor the benefit of the doubt–until he started talking about how my parents were leading me to Hell via their music collection.

As you can imagine, that sort of spiritual disillusionment was devastating not just because I had lost God, but I had lost Him because He turned out to be a contradictory jerk. It took me nearly fifteen years to realize that it wasn’t God who let me down–it was the minister and all of his followers.

My belief and understanding in the Divine is much different than when I was a child, but that’s a good thing. My spirituality is more mature and ever evolving. And, while I am a Taoist now, my belief in a creative, loving force has recovered and strengthened–and has no place for hatred and fear-mongering.

My point in bringing all of this up is that not everyone’s experience with religion and spirituality is as tumultuous; indeed, many people are surrounded by loving, accepting people who just want to be good people and feel a connection to something greater than themselves. And a great many of these people are Christian. But they are also Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and so many more people than I can reasonably list. And then there are the Atheists and Agnostics who are no less important for their search for meaning outside a religious context.

My friend, who believes that it is just fine to deny a cake to a woman who was marrying the woman she loved, in my view, is wrong. She is not wrong for her religious beliefs; that is her right and I would defend that right even if she believes that I will go to Hell for my beliefs. Rather, she is wrong that her beliefs should be the law of the land when the land in question is the United States of America. Her beliefs assume that her religion is the correct one and the fact is, no religion can rightfully make that claim.

America is not a Christian nation, it is a nation that has Christians in it and, just like with race, we would be a much poorer culture without our signature diversity. And that is why we should not even try to be a Christian nation, because it would endanger the religious freedom (or even freedom from religion) of so many of our citizens. And that would just be un-American.

The Correct Side of History

On this day, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

I was awoken by my best friend via text message telling me of the history making news and I began to cry the best tears of joy.

This weekend is Gay Pride weekend in my home state of Minnesota and I will be out and proud at the festivities celebrating.

What a wonderful serendipity that this ruling should fall two days before the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that is the origin of our Pride parades. Indeed, only three days ago, the Stonewall Wall Inn was named a historic landmark.

While this is by no means the end of the road for our fight for equality, it is a huge step forward–not just for us queer folk, but equality itself. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

For the first time in a very long time, I can say without hesitation that I am proud to be a Queer American. Below is a YouTube made compilation of coming out and wedding videos to commemorate this historic day.

Aloha, Ohana!

Bigotry as Religious Dogma: or, how one man’s spiritual ignorance pissed me off

As some of you may know from my National Coming Out Day post, I have a personal interest in all things Queer due to the fact that I don’t neatly fit into many of the out-dated concepts of Sex and Gender that pervade our human society.  Also, to be clear, in this post I am picking apart the words of a member of the Catholic Church (a pretty high-ranking one at that), but I am not attacking the Church itself nor am I going after its followers.  Two of the most respected people in my life growing up, Uncle Russ and Grandma Sophie, were also devoutly Catholic.  They were also the people responsible for teaching me tolerance, love for my fellow human, charity, and compassion.

I just finished reading an article that irritated me for a few reasons. First, to get everyone on the same initial page (even if we end up on different pages by the end of my rant), the article in question is about San Francisco’s Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s views on gender identity.

The first thing that struck me was how he tried to use science to justify his bigotry–and got it wrong!

He says, “The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female.”

Buzz!

Sorry Archbishop, but that is not how it actually happens as this report from the World Health Organization explains (i.e. biological facts by actual scientists). In particular is the section on Genetics Components of Sex and Gender where it is explained that sex is biological in nature and that “gender, typically described in terms of masculinity and femininity, is a social construction that varies across different cultures and over time.” What His Excellency (Catholic term of address for Archbishops according to the Catholic Education website) fails to grasp is that, while Adam and Eve were male and female (Genesis 5:2), the bible does not in any way say that those are the only two genders that the Big Guy in the Sky ever created.

The next thing to bug me, and probably the part that gets under my skin the most, is this:

…Christianity is based on what Cordileone said is the biological reality of the God-given “complementarity” of the male-female relationship.

“This is because God has used marriage as the primary sacred sign of our relationship with him,” he said, citing an author who described God as “hetero” and male, and Israel as “hetero” and female — hence their attraction to each other.

“It’s all the story of a marriage. God’s marriage covenant with Israel is fulfilled in the blood of Christ on the cross, establishing the new and eternal covenant between him, the bridegroom, and his bride, the church.”

Wait, I’m confused: Is God “married” to Israel or to the Church?  Is one the spouse while the other is the mistress?  Or are they sister wives? That last query is of course dependent on the Church’s acceptance of polygamy and I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen anytime soon (despite the prevalence of the practice in The Bible itself).

Another thing that bothers me is the hubris of His Excellency in elevating the status of the Church to that of being God’s “bride.”  Um, what? The Covenant is between Mankind and God; the Catholic Church simply did not exist at the time the Covenant was made between Jesus and his followers.

Cordileone said the inevitable result “is a reversion to the paganism of old, but with unique, postmodern variations on its themes, such as the practice of child sacrifice, the worship of feminine deities or the cult of priestesses.”

So, Cordileone is cool with the worship of masculine deities despite God’s own admission to being a jealous god and the admonition of having any other gods (or goddesses for that matter) in the mix?  Am I the only one to wonder at his use of feminine instead of female in reference to deities, as though even male deities would be bad if they didn’t rigorously adhere to some arbitrary idea of masculinity? Hmm, I smell misogyny and it’s coming from the Archbishop, especially in his equating of female priests and feminine deities to child sacrifice. Is there really no room for the sacred feminine in his cosmology, despite the prominence of women in the life Christ? What happened to that complementarity of the male and female that he spoke of?

“When the culture can no longer apprehend those natural truths,” the archbishop continued, “then the very foundation of our teaching evaporates and nothing we have to offer will make sense.”

How little faith he has in his, well, Faith.  Catholicism’s foundations are so gossamer as to be blown away by the capricious winds of cultural change, really?  Is he really saying that about a nearly 2,000 year-old institution that consolidated its power on the bones of its enemies—both real and perceived?  Or perhaps he is speaking of the subtle and tender sentiments of the faith Jesus based on Love and compassion? In either case, he is catastrophizing, and that shit needs to stop.

The fact of the matter is he is fear-mongering and leading his people astray by telling them that Love actually leads to:

In the end, the thing I find the most detestable is his how he twists his own faith to fit his bigoted outlook.  For a man who has sworn to follow in the footsteps of the Original Hippie, Archbishop Cordileone is really blowing it.  I hope he sees the error of his twisted beliefs and finds his way back to the path that he swore to follow, that of Forgiveness, Compassion, and Unconditional Love.

Jaywalking and Overly “Nice” Drivers

I do my best to adhere to traffic laws whenever possible.  I do, however, jaywalk on occasion.  Yes, I am aware that is illegal and dangerous.  But there is something worse: the drivers who stop for me. I’m talking about the ones who stop in the middle of the road (usually with several other drivers behind them honking angrily) and wave at me to cross.

If you are that driver: Stop it!  I don’t have the Right-of-Way, and you are actually breaking the law too by yielding to me, especially when it holds up traffic.

I know, you’re just trying to be nice (and I really do appreciate the sentiment), but what is actually happening is you’re messing with my traffic crossing timing—timing that I am using to make sure that I’m not adversely effecting the proper flow of traffic.  In addition, the drivers who tend to stop like this aren’t paying attention to the traffic coming from the other direction; that opposing flow of vehicles is not stopping or even slowly as you graciously (yet sadly, obliviously) wave me to cross.

The drivers, however, that really piss me off are the ones who get mad when I don’t cross.  The ones who wave frantically for me to cross, who open up their window to yell at me; the ones who finally give up and give me the stink eye when they get the message that I’m not going to cross.  Not only are you breaking the law (as mentioned above), but you have the nerve to get mad when I won’t.

What?  Seriously?

As a lifelong pedestrian, I strive to be aware of the rules of the road to keep from doing something that could get me flattened into a road pancake; as a driver, I also strive to be aware of the myriad pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists to avoid harm them.  I know that people, on both sides of the steering wheel, can be heedless of anyone who is not them; it is to those people that this missive is directed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a blind adherent to laws (thus the jaywalking), but I do know that laws and rules are in place for very good reasons (well, most of the time anyway).  After all, the light at a crosswalk is there to keep you from getting killed by a car, but if there are no cars around, isn’t silly to wait at a red light?

As the Dalai Lama said: Learn the rules, so you may break them properly.

Human Hibernation: or, upon emerging from my cave

When I was a teenager, my family granted me the dubious honor of sticking me with a nickname: The Bear.  Now, to be clear, that was not meant to be flattering in that “bears are cute and cuddly” sort of way; rather it was because I slept a lot and tended to growl when disturbed from my slumber—especially in the winter.

This past winter was no exception in that I slept a lot.  And I loved it! However, with Spring well underway and Summer approaching fast, it is well past due for me to emerge from beneath my comforting blankets and rejoin Humanity.

I have recently engaged in several conversations with friends regarding society, politics and the myriad problems attendant therein.  One of the most frustrating things about these conversations is the belief that it’s the “other side’s fault.”  That is to say that there is a belief that they are right and that any opposing argument is wrong by default—never mind that the reality does not actually work that way.

As some of you may know, I sometimes take a dim view of Humanity—in particular when Humans refuse to actually be humane.  I do wish to point out, however, that I am still a somewhat idealist in that I believe that Humanity can in fact rise above the pettiness and shortsightedness that it sometimes falls into.  Indeed, I have many times quoted the very people who buoy my faith in our collective humanity and its ability to aspire to be better than we are today.

For instance, here is a legendary BAMF Gloria Steinem who is still working for peace at the age of 81!

Feminists Walking the Walk

Here she is, when most people would’ve been retired and playing cribbage, walking hand-in-hand with peace activists from both North and South Korea along their shared border, the Demilitarized Zone. She is one of those very people to whom I can look and genuinely, realistically aspire to emulate.

Not a bad thing to see when  I finally came out of my winter slumber—especially since it was Humanity’s divisiveness that wore me out to the point of needing to retreat to a Fox News-free cave to recover.  Looking back, the nickname my family was pretty accurate if you take into account the cross-cultural symbolism of the bear.

I don’t consider myself terribly wise, but one of the things I do try to do is teach others to be good people (whether I succeed or not, however, is another matter). The desire to teach is one of the numerous reasons I finally started this blog after many years of telling myself that no one wanted to read what I wrote, especially if they had to be educated in the process. But looking at Ms. Steinem, who is over twice my age(!), I remember that stifling my own voice in favor of not going against the grain is not who I really am.

Rawr.

Happy New Year!

Today begins a brand new year filled with breathtaking possibility, boundless potential goodness, and vast oceans of happiness waiting to be had by all.

Wow, that was brightly optimistic–and somewhat out of character for me.  Usually my first words in the New Year tend to be about how glad I am the last one is over.  This year, however, I’m singing a different tune.  Last year was the first time that I was able to finally rest up and heal from the previous decade of rolling upheavals in my life, and for that I am profoundly grateful.  I don’t normally make New Years’ Resolutions; in the past, I thought they were just a way to make you feel bad about yourself by making an impossible goal and then feeling even worse about yourself for not attaining it.  Who needs that kind of cloud darkening the doorstep of the future?

This year, however, I’m doing things a little differently.  I’ve decided to actually make a resolution and knock myself out trying to keep it.

It wasn’t easy picking just one resolution; I have a lot of things that I would like to change, but then, being a perfectionist, it’s easy to pick out the myriad of things that need improvement.  Indeed, I spent much of yesterday alternating between cleaning my home (for festivities later, as well as to satisfy a personal superstition) and basking in moments of introspection–both deep and superficial.  When I decided on my modest life experiment, I next had to decide what to change.  I wanted it to be big, sweeping; something grand enough to be talked about in a later memoir, in its own chapter with the subtitle: The Little Writer That Could.  I was drawing a blank however.  So, I consulted the all-knowing oracle, otherwise known as Google, but was disappointed by the ordinariness of the lists I found.  As I said, I wanted something big and splashy.  Climb Everest, visit the Great Wall and the Pyramids, something cool along those lines; that big crazy goal that everyone could tell me that I was crazy to pursue, but that I would go on to fabulously accomplish.  Clearly I had been exposed to too many cleaning product fumes and had lost my mind.

After airing out the apartment, I remembered a line from the movie Mulan:

Mulan-single grain of rice

The simple wisdom of it reminded me that even small victories are still victories. I was thinking too big, I was trying to do something in a year that most would take a lifetime to prepare for–obviously unrealistic.  More than that, I was setting myself up for failure.  Sure, I may not save the world or invent a cure for cancer, or even write that life changing literary tome, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make other, smaller changes for the better.  Who knows, this might actually be the little change that I need that will produce the bigger and better results that I want in the future.

My goal for this year is to lose 52 pounds.  That’s 1 pound per week for 52 weeks.  It’s small, almost ridiculously so, but it is attainable.  If I lose more than that, I have bragging rights, but because it’s such a small amount (but big enough to require more than a nominal effort), that it will be possible to achieve it without pushing myself too hard.  I know that I need to lose much more than that, but even that small amount will still produce definite, beneficial results.  My knees, my back and the rest of me will reap the benefits of even such a modest weight loss.

The other bonus is that victory, although small, it’s still yours to keep.  And honestly, I’ve always responded better to positive reinforcement than the negative alternative.

Your turn: What are your resolutions and how do you plan to keep them?

Post-NaNoWriMo Update

National Novel Writing Month ended a little over a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve only just recovered in its aftermath. I am happy to report that I have recently regained the strength to feed and clothe myself again. So, of course, my next order of business was to write some more (I really do believe that a great majority of artists suffer from this sort of masochism). But then, if I wasn’t so self-abusing, I wouldn’t have started this blog and we would not be enjoying each other’s company right now–which I sincerely hope you’ll agree would be a terrible shame indeed.

For those interested, while I did not reach the coveted 50,000 word goal, I did write just shy of 12,000 words. I don’t feel too bad about it because I’m a slow writer. As a very good friend pointed out, I struggled with just getting a few hundred words a day on paper, much less the 1667 words per day the challenge called for. At first, I felt bad, like I had failed somehow. But then I realized (aside from my friend being awesomely correct), I may not be as prolific a writer as some of my heroes, but that doesn’t make me any less of a writer.

So, instead of looking at this as a failure (which is really the wrong way to look at most things), I choose to view this as even more data with which to get to know myself better (my strengths, weaknesses, preferences, etc…), and see ways to improve, not to ways to tear myself down. In this post-NaNo world, I will keep on writing, even if it means that it takes me months to write a manuscript (which is actually a normal timeframe), I will finish it and share it with the world–or at least an appreciative few.

Let me hear your NaNoWriMo stories and help inspire your fellow readers with your writing words of wisdom, encouragement, or cautionary tales of muse whispering.