Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tears from Obama

 The following post comes from Northaven members Bill Stoner and Jim Lovell, and was written after yesterday's inauguration.

Tears from Obama


         It was not so long ago that I had to keep the name “Stonewall” secret, lest family or friends question why it interested me. But Monday, there it was for the whole world to hear, brought into our full society and elevated to legitimacy by an American president.

"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall..."
-- Barack Obama 

         “…Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall…” With that phrase Obama touched so many millions of lives with hope and pride, so many young kids struggling with who they are because our society and our religious leaders make them suffer—in the name of Christianity.
         Jim and I were literally shocked to hear Obama say it. Truly shocked. It came out of the blue and grabbed us to tears. Here was a president, a president, equating a battle launched by drag queens fighting cops to such lofty milestones as the fights for the rights of women and blacks.
         Seneca Falls, N.Y.: 1848, about 300 people, mostly women, but also for the first time and very notably some men, held a convention aimed at furthering women’s right to vote. It launched the national campaign for the long struggle for equality that, sadly and amazingly, is still being fought in Congress—165 years later.
         Selma, Alabama: 1965, about 500 blacks marching peacefully in support of voting rights were savagely attacked by police when they refused to disperse, using tear gas and clubs. It became known as Bloody Sunday. Two days later, Martin Luther King came to Selma and led another march, but the national attention and condemnation of Bloody Sunday led police to allow King’s march. But Selma became the energy that fueled a struggle as old as the Emancipation Proclamation, but one that brought us a black president. Twice.
         (Did you all notice Speaker Boehner’s weird tan made him darker than Obama?)
         Stonewall Bar, New York City: It was 1969, an era when many cities routinely raided bars catering to gays. When laws prohibited the gathering of more than 2-3 men. When you absolutely knew you’d be fired if your employer knew—or even suspected—you were queer. I was 25, knew I was gay, and lived two lives.
         You lived in fear of being discovered for being who you had no control of being. So you hid, and lied, and lied a lot. I hated the lying more than being gay scared me. You moved to another city, bigger, easier to hide in. And lied some more to those back home.
         You lived without love because the law was always watching, hating. You listened to sermons, read articles, learned of new laws condemning you, sentencing you to hell, calling you the scourge of mankind.
         I listened to then President George W. Bush make a special nationally televised announcement from the White House about 3 years into his first term. He was calling for an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting same sex marriage. I’ve never forgotten his words:
         “Failure to do so will mean the end of our society as we know it.”
         Stonewall was, according to its neighbors, a quiet bar that posed no problems. It somehow became a magnet for drag queens and everybody got along. But then it was okay for cops or anybody to hate fags, especially sissies in dresses. So they frequently raided the Stonewall, sometimes arresting sober people for being drunk. Sometimes just shoving them around. Until that summer night, as the paddy wagon began loading up customers, and the drag queens had had enough and began fighting the cops.
         Of course, the gays lost, a mess of them went to jail, but the next night drew a small crowd at the Stonewall, and the cops came again, and the next night a larger crowd, and the “Stonewall riots” lasted a whole week, becoming the rallying cry for half a century.

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law -- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
-- Barack Obama

         Since you are reading this, you at least in some measure willingly associate with two gay men. How far you assimilate or accept us is as varied as you are.
         Jim and I married Aug. 10, 2011, in Des Moines, not because we felt a need to cement our relationship, or prove a point to anyone. We mainly married to honor all those “pioneers” who fought for our right to marry, who fought the cops outside a drag bar, who lost jobs and families, who were beaten just for being gay, who were tied to a fence to die, who rallied around and cared for AIDS sufferers when no one else did or would.
         We didn’t exchange rings in our ceremony. Instead, we felt that our relationship, now nearly 18 years of it, made rings  of understanding and knowledge of gay people to ripple out to family and friends, like the multiple circles when a stone is dropped in water.
         We don’t know where Obama’s bold, brave, and historical ideas on gay’s rights are going. As we’ve learned as a country, you can pass all the laws you want. Changing minds is a whole different obstacle.
         But because of those Stonewall drag queens, ever since, very, very slowly at first, but now picking up greater speed, the nation is learning just how boringly normal gays are. And it is working exponentially: as more gays successfully come out in all walks of life, younger ones entering the battle have support for coming out, and they inspire others, and so on.
         But the battles are still raging: churches and politicians all across the country are working very hard to deny gays just about anything they can: benefits, employment, marriage, adopting. And as they rally the troops against us, it continues the mindset that gay bashing (as in clubs, pipes) is alive and well.
         If women are still having to fight for equal pay, equal promotions, and their right to not be subject to our government raping them with a sonogram probe—we have no delusions that the fight for gay’s rights will be anything but a long, long road.
         But, hallelujah, dear Lord, Barack Hussein Obama, gave us one helluva big boost.  Amen!

From Tourves,
Bill and Jim

Friday, September 14, 2012

Engage Your Heart

Engage Your Heart Sunday,
September 23, 2012 

Be a part of the "Engage Your Heart" Ministry Fair at Northaven, on September 23rd. Many of Northaven's ministries will have tables in the Atrium, before and after church, to highlight the ways that you can be involved in the ministry of Northaven.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dear United Methodist Church (from Diana Hudson)

Dear United Methodist Church,

The kids are not alright. They are disturbed by hypocrisy, prejudice and a judgmental take on God’s love for us that is being used to keep some congregants and would-be congregants at bay, as well as perpetuating acts of discrimination and hostility.  The opposition to admitting LGBT’s with full rights and privileges as UMC members only confirms the idea that Methodism is just another irrelevant institution. “Irrelevance” is not a word to be taken lightly.  It doesn’t happen because of superficial trends or someone watches a lot of Glee.  It has happened because they know better. That’s right, they know better.

The young understand that homosexuality is not a choice and that what they’ve been told in Sunday School as children does not add up to what they see their elders proclaiming now; God loves us all, but he loves some of us more than others.  They can’t square that with what they see in the gay people in their lives who go around paying bills, taking care of families, working and studying.  They can’t square this with the bullying they see fed by this idea of the threat of “otherness”.   It makes no sense to them.  And making sense is a big deal for them as are their experiences.

It’s supposed to be a big deal for Methodists too.  Reason and experience are part of that four legged stool, as is tradition.   Speaking of which, Methodists have been proponents of the abolition of slavery and women’s rights.  They did not let proof texting the bible rob them of the opportunity to hear a complete message and weave it into fabric of everyday faith. 

The UMC still has a chance to get this right.  And they can do it if they start to agree to disagree, instead of hunkering down and hoping that this all blows over.  They can start seeing these “others” as the real, full people they are, not some inferior subgroup of humanity.   They can drop their fears and act for good before so much more is lost.  But they need to hurry, because the kids are saying thanks, but no thanks, at an alarming rate.

If The UMC thinks this is a game of chicken to see who blinks first, they they’ve already lost and the numbers support that. Youthful impatience is not to be trifled with and it is not the property of just the young.   There are plenty of their elders weary of this foot dragging as well. In a world where mainline protestant denominations are shrinking, can the UMC afford more fallout? Can the Christian Faith afford the black eye of hypocrisy?

The church needs young people to survive and if it is the faith community it claims to be, the young need it too.  It is at the intersection of these needs where relevance can get a toehold and the whole can benefit.  Time is of the essence.


Diana Hudson

(Diana Hudson is a member of Northaven)

 If you are a Northaven member/friend who would like to share your feelings about General Conference, email or write to Eric or Mindy in the church office.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dear United Methodist Church (from Ken Lowery)

I had a very important discussion last night with both my wife and my good friend Richard. I’ve had a lot swirling around my head the past few weeks, mostly centered around the treatment of LGBT people in America and – by extension – the United Methodist Church, the church I call home. These thoughts kicked off with the UMC’s General Conference, which decides policy for the international church, being unable to agree that they disagree on how LGBT people should be received in the church – a turn of Onion-caliber satire that would be hilarious if it were not harming and disenfranchising actual human beings.

The UMC took steps back. North Carolina took us back even further, by pulling the ultimate twist of the knife and “affirming” that the sacred, traditional definition of marriage – now a hoary 45 years old – remains sacrosanct, even though it’s already illegal for anyone else to get married in the eyes of the state.

Finally there was Obama’s evolution, or whatever you want to call it, where he made the significant gesture of being the first sitting president to support marriage rights for all. Lots of discussion about whether this gesture was token, calculated, a ploy, or something he was forced into – but honestly, who cares? Politicians don’t act until they’re backed into a corner, that’s what happened here, and no one is more aware of that than LGBT people. This one was a win. This is not another leg of the horse race to them. This is their lives being discussed here.

So I’m proud of the president, and even more so of Joe Biden. I’m sorely disappointed by North Carolina, but what they did was a meaningless gesture and hey, won’t it be great explaining to our grandkids why we were all such complete idiots? Voting to take away rights (or to just reaffirm that those rights can never exist) has never, ever worked in this country; has never withstood the test of time; has never been anything but the craven, cowardly lashing out of lizard-brain savagery. It’s a barbaric piece of work and a staggering display of the evil men can do. But it won’t last.

No, I’m more disappointed by the UMC, even though my home church – Northaven UMC – is a reconciling congregation that openly embraces its LGBT congregation. That reconciling stance is a big reason I joined in the first place. As I told pastor Eric Folkerth before I officially joined, “I’m shopping around, but I’m really only looking in one store.”

Nonetheless, the broader UMC’s steps backward pissed me off. There’s a very real resentment toward the UMC right now, and it’s well grounded, and it goes something like this: we pay our apportionments, we put in the volunteer hours, we follow the Greatest Commandment, we often go above and beyond our neighboring churches because that’s what we’re called to do. We fund church plants, mission work, disaster relief, and do it all gladly – because that’s what we’re called to do.

And our reward is to be treated as less than worthy. As inherently sinful, above and beyond the sin that every person carries and is constantly at war with. So the question becomes, why do we pay in, if we’re not going to be treated the same as everyone else? Why are we expected to do our part if we are not afforded the same grace and love as every other member of the church?

 I know how angry this issue makes me, even though as a straight white male, I have nothing personal at stake. (Well, there’s the well-being of my loved ones at stake, but you know what I mean.) So I cannot imagine the fear, hurt and fury of LGBT people (and their family members) who live under the very real possibility that the tantrums of emotional and moral dinosaurs could very well destroy their homes and families. That is a monstrous kind of terrorism, an expression of ugliest Empire, and a black mark on the legacy of the Church (all the churches, in all parts of the world, in all stripes) that should never be forgotten.

So my conversation with both Allison and Richard was this: do I just say “forget it” and go? Because honestly, life is too short to spend time reasoning with people who will scream “faithful living” when they mean “dogma” or, worse, “fear,” and who are gladly murdering a generation of potential families right in the crib because that isn’t how things were when I was a young man/woman. So why not shed the intellectual rot of outdated ideas and old thinking and get on with doing some righteous, forward-thinking work?

Or do I stay, because this is my church too? I have as much a claim to this legacy as anyone else, so why should I cede ground to the people who do not seem to know they are killing the very thing they love because they believe they have nothing left to learn? Why abandon ship to go where people may end up, when I’m already where people are?

In short, should I stay, or should I go?

This decision is not easy for me. I’ve strayed from the church for awhile now because I have core issues with denominational belief, and with all religion in general – namely, the belief (whether explicitly stated or merely implied) that significant revelation stopped for all time sometime in the past. That 2,000 or 500 or 100 years ago, we learned every major thing there is to learn, and now all there is to do is to memorize what came before and interpret that as rigidly possible and basically just wait to die.

Excuse me, but: that is not living. That is not using the gift of life to grow and to change the world. That is a recipe for calcification and division. For failure. For intellectual straitjacketing. It’s comforting, sure, to feel like all the heavy lifting has been done and all the big questions settled long before you were born, but no thanks. You shouldn’t commit to a religion because it’s the easy way out.

The term I know for what I am (or was, or may be again, or who even knows) is “postmodern Christian,” though I don’t know if that’s the correct or fashionable term anymore. In simplistic terms, that means I don’t really need the Bible to be factual to be true. If you follow me.

But I think even that stance is a little limp, a little noncommittal. I do not think you can know even the most basic facts of how the Bible was canonized and still believe it to be the inerrant word of God. I do not believe you can look at what we know of when, where and how Christianity was born and think that we, somehow, have a monopoly on redemptive living. (At this point you may no longer consider me a Christian, but the nice thing for me is that that call isn’t yours to make.)

More to this particular point, I do not believe you can look at the Greatest Commandment (and its companion commandment) and decide some passage in Leviticus trumps it. I do not believe you can hide behind “love the sin, hate the sinner,” because that requires you to think that homosexuality is an act and not an irreducible state of being, and basic biology’s not going to let you get away with that one.

I do not believe you can claim to be a “faithful” Christian who “believes in the Bible” because you have to know, you have to know, that you are already ignoring thousands of rules, proclamations, imperatives and commandments just to live the kind of life that enables you to read a blog post. To claim otherwise is to plead ignorance or admit a lie.

None of us are literal believers in the Bible. And that’s a good thing. Because interpretation is always subjective. Leaving aside the massive complications of translations, missing fragments, imperfect interpretations, and this or that bishop exercising realpolitik to push one book over another at exactly the right time, and you’ll still never get any three people to agree on the meaning of any one chapter in any book in the Bible. We are not prisms through which the Bible is interpreted. The Bible is a prism to help interpret who we are and can be.

The Bible is, in a word, epic. It contains fierce truths, scalding imagery and ageless wisdom. It is a wonderful, transcendent and ultimately incomplete treatise on how to stop acting like complete animals to each other. That’s it. That’s all. Great truths can be gleaned from it at every stage in life, but the Bible is not the sum total of what human existence is and can be. To believe that is to endorse the stagnation, decay and collapse of the human spirit.

So you can’t hide behind your Bible. You can’t hide behind this or that piece of scripture. I’m going to put a radical idea up here: If a piece of antediluvian literature is telling you to treat your fellow man as abhorrent for being who they are; if you think you must ignore, twist or fight empirical science to keep believing what you believe; if you need to disengage from the world you are called to heal through church compounds, special colleges or insular communities, then your beliefs suck and they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on. Toss them out the window and start over.

I cannot for the life of me imagine Jesus Christ – or anyway, my subjective interpretation of a laughably imperfect portrait of a basically unknowable person, right? – honestly wanting us to value a cobbled-together book (an unrivaled tome of human experience and learning, sure, but bound paper with some ink on it all the same) over our living and breathing brothers and sisters who are in pain and need us RIGHT NOW. I do not think you can be an honest and clear-eyed adult with functioning critical skills and believe that Scripture is more important than people.

Richard and Allison both feel I should stay, not go. My local church is good, and so are the people in it. The UMC as a whole is not lost; as with any large group there are many people trying to do good who are feeling as hamstrung, voiceless and powerless as I am. I know that those who perform actions of bigotry are often acting out of fear, or ignorance. I know I am asked to reach out to them out of love – there’s that Greatest Commandment again, so pesky with its complete absence of caveats – and so I will try to do so.

Sticking with it is better than quitting. Please try to help me remember that.

(Ken and his wife, Alison, are members of Northaven Church)

If you are a Northaven member/friend who would like to share your feelings about General Conference, email or write to Eric or Mindy in the church office.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dear United Methodist Church (from Lynette Hendricks)

Dear United Methodist Church:

I believe the time has come for a split in the United Methodist Church. This General Conference has widened the schism between those willing to fully affirm the worth of gay and lesbians and those who are not ready for that. For those of us unable to accept this discrimination, and unable to change the hearts and minds of a sufficient number of delegates - it is time to leave.

I belong to Northaven UMC in Dallas - a reconciling congregation. And a church which pays its apportionments in full each year. To borrow a phrase from American History - this is taxation without representation. How can I support a connectional church which is fundamentally disconnected from me and my core belief that homosexuality is not incompatible with Christian teachings?

We've all learned the Wesleyan quadrilateral - the practice of our faith is based on Scripture, Experience, Reason, and Tradition. Let the conservatives elevate Tradition, the progressives cling to Reason, and we can all share the hemisphere of Scripture and Experience. Establish a Progressive Methodist Church, or an Open Methodist Church, or a New Methodist Church. Because whatever you call us, - we are not a United Methodist Church.

Lynette Hendricks

(Lynette and her partner, Stephanie Rhoades, are members of Northaven)

If you are a Northaven member/friend who would like to share your feelings about General Conference, email or write to Eric or Mindy in the church office.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dear United Methodist Church (from Jacy Grannis)

Dear UMC, I was raised by a very religious, evangelical, single mother. One of her great fears which she voiced to my brother and I on multiple occasions was that we would grow up homosexual due to some lack of male influence in our lives. She saw the gay bogeyman everywhere in popular culture; and while it is safe to say I found...excessive...her concern that there might be gay musicians in the classical music I was listening to, I came away from high school thinking that homosexuality was at best not very good and probably pretty deviant.

But then, in college, I actually met people who openly identified as homosexual. And it was clear that I had to rethink what I'd accepted. I very quickly saw that these people were...people. They weren't any better, or any worse, than any of the other college students I met. They studied the same, they relaxed the same, there was no peddling of homosexual hedonism--the only "homosexual agenda" was to try to educate their fellow students that they were just people, people who didn't want vitriol and hate and bigotry directed their way any more than any human would want those things directed their way. I realized that when "gay" was abstract, when I didn't really know any "gay" people, it was easy to accept the demonization, but when it became concrete, when there were faces attached to those labels, I simply could not justify holding those hateful views about these people, about my friends. Now, I'd love to be able to say I immediately and fully realized the error of my ways and became an advocate for fighting bigotry and homophobia, but that wouldn't be true. It took me time to fully shed my prejudice, but I knew in my heart that it was the right thing, that I could never justify to my heart believing any differently about my homosexual friends than my straight.

I suspect there are people in the UMC who also know that this bigotry is wrong, but who hold on to it because they believe it is tied in to loving their God. And that, quite frankly, is the fault of the United Methodist Church. Not uniquely, of course, many groups of Christians also help to perpetuate that bigotry and hatred, but while we can't set those houses in order, we can look at our own. The UMC is absolutely to be faulted for continuing to perpetuate a hateful doctrine which holds that homosexual actions is incompatible with Christianity.

And what makes that so truly hateful is that when you actually know people who are homosexual, you realize it's not something they're choosing, it's a fundamental part of who they are. So in saying that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity, it's really saying that homosexuals themselves are incompatible with Christianity. I'm sure there are those in the UMC who would be fine if the result of that doctrine is that the GLBT members of the UMC all decide to go ahead and leave, go to some other denomination which is "less biblical" and "isn't really Christian". But the problem with that is that just as you're never going to pray the gay out of existing members, even if they all leave, as long as the members of the UMC continue to have children, those children will continue to grow up having all the different varieties of human sexuality. Which means it's not just about bigotry and hate directed at adult members of the church, but about bigotry and hate directed at the most vulnerable members of the church.

We can do better. I'd really like to believe that the UMC does not stand with the delegate who compared homosexuality to bestiality on the floor of the General Conference last week. I'd really like to believe that the UMC rejects that hate. But the failure of the General Conference to even agree to say there are potentially valid arguments on both sides, that we agree to disagree...that sends a clear message that the UMC is standing for exclusion and bigotry towards its own members. It's tragic, it's appalling, and in the aftermath I wrote my pastor that it's difficult to see why any decent person would want to remain a part of such a church. I still wonder that a bit, but when it comes down to it, I don't have to attend church on Sunday with the many members of the UMC who voted for hate, I get to attend church at our wonderful local church with a bunch of wonderful, friendly people who make it the most welcoming church home I have ever known.

My home church is great, and while that's wonderful, that's not enough. I want my church, its members, and GLBT people everywhere to be able to look at the UMC as a model for God's Love, for the acceptance which Jesus practiced. I said earlier that I suspect there are other members in the UMC who also want that but who believe the UMC when it says that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. And I'd like to say a few words to them that I've adapted from a little debate I had online in the aftermath of the General Conference. It didn't sway the gentleman I was debating with, but I hope it helps someone else, that it gives them that other way of looking at Christ and the Bible to move forward in their own personal battle to fight their own prejudices:

I think a major problem with The Church is a reluctance to really take the New Covenant to its logical conclusion. We look at the words of Jesus, at the two commands which fulfill *all* the prophets and the Law, and we say "yeah, yeah, that's wonderful...but that's kind of simple, we want more rules!" And so we refer back to the Old Testament, look at the Law, find bits of it which we decide to canonicalize; but there's really nothing in what Jesus taught which justifies doing that.

There are but two commands, to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, whole soul, whole mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself. Those are so much more difficult to keep than any number of Mosaic or Pauline rules...and maybe that's why we take such comfort in using those other rules as proxies for the two we're actually supposed to follow. But if you just focus on those two commands, how foolish is it to look at your neighbor, who also loves God, and to set yourself in judgment over whether the committed, loving relationship he or she wants to have is pleasing to God or not. How foolish, how prideful, and how utterly unrelated to keeping the commands Jesus gave us.

Defining morality *is* difficult. There are rules. Two of them. The difficult part of defining morality is using our God-given reason to judge how we should behave, while always looking back to those two rules as our first principles. If you can't defend a rule from first principle...something isn't right. Appealing to Moses or Paul doesn't make it better, it leads you further from Grace, from the New Covenant, and from Jesus.

Fortunately, we don't have to start from scratch in defining morality. There are moral rules, Jesus gave them both. All other "rules" need to be compatible with those two, including the many rules which Paul and the other writers of the Bible lay out. We must us our reason and discernment when reading those other rules to determine which are compatible with the Great Commandment, and which are not.

 Defining our morality as resting on the foundation of the Great Commandment doesn't mean we can do anything we want as long as it's from “loooove baaaby!” People lie, steal, cheat, kidnap, and even kill motivated by "love", but not by a love which they extend to every neighbor. You can't do whatever you want because you did it out of love. However, you *can* judge what you do based on how it is loving towards everyone.

In the end, it comes down to this: I know, in my heart of hearts, that when two consenting adults love each other, it is not loving of me towards them to tell them that their love is wrong. I don't believe their love is harming them or anyone else, and I believe that it's a beautiful thing when any human finds that in life, that person they love who loves them back. I'd say that we can agree to disagree, but that isn't apparently very UMC, we're not allowed to even agree that we disagree. I am fully at peace with saying that their love is Godly, that it is compatible with being in right relationship with Jesus, and that it is not in any way incompatible with being a good Christian or a moral human. I think it's sad that people are so threatened by it, that there are so many other evils in the world which are unquestionably wrong, so much suffering, death, and destruction, and it's unfortunate that we can't even agree to disagree about something so trivial to unite against so many truly terrible things.

Jacy Grannis

(Jacy and his wife, Charity, are members of Northaven Church)

If you are a Northaven member/friend who would like to share your feelings about General Conference, email or write to Eric or Mindy in the church office.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dear United Methodist Church

In the wake of General Conference, we are creating a new section of our blog called "Dear United Methodist Church." It's a place for our member's voices to be heard on issues related to the General Conference, so that the general church can understand the deep frustration, pain and anger that Northaven members are feeling right now.

If you would like to submit something for publication, email Eric or Mindy in the church office, and we'll add your voice here.