Okayness and Gayness

s-l1000“Hey Mark,” I said outside the church on a bright day.  He had grocery bags in each hand.

Of course, Mark isn’t his real name…

“Hey Pastor Tim,” he said a little sheepishly.  “How are you?”

“Good, good, how’s the new addition to the family?” I said, putting my hands in my pockets.

“Ha.  We’re all tired, but surviving the transition…” he smiled.

Mark and his wife had just welcomed a new child, a son, into the world.  I remember seeing the posts about it on social media.

“I suppose you noticed we haven’t been in church a lot lately…” he went on.

“Well, new babies disrupt schedules.  That’s just true.” I nodded.  Even though I didn’t have children at that point in my life, I knew it was just plain truth. Babies mess up your world in all sorts of ways.

“There is that,” he went on, averting my eyes, “but I’m not sure we’ll be coming anymore. At least not here.” He was honest and frank and seemed embarrassed about it all.

“Okay…” I responded, “is everything alright?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “but I’m not sure we can raise a kid in this church.”

“Really? Why?” I was genuinely curious.  In the ministry you learn not to take these things personally…well, you try not to.

“It’s not you,” he said, “or anyone.  Everyone here is great.  It’s just, well, we had a boy…” his voice trailing off as if I should know what was implied here.

“Yes…?” I said.  I was hoping he wasn’t meaning what I think he was meaning.

“And, well, your church teaches that it’s okay for people to be gay.  And we don’t want him hearing that. Especially because we have a boy.”  He looked down.

“Wait,” I said, “but what if he is gay?  I mean I’m not sure what having a boy has to do with it, but what if he is a sexual minority of some sort?  Don’t you want him to hear that he’s loved and accepted and alright?”

Mark just looked down.

“It’s just harder because it’s a boy,” he repeated.

I’m not sure how the conversation, or the situation, would have turned out had they had a girl.  I mean, I can’t conceive of how that would make a difference. But I also know that traditional conceptions of masculinity is something still prized in many corners of modern America.

“I mean, I don’t think I have a problem with it, but Sharon…” he said, voice trailing off again.

The conversation was full of lots incomplete sentences, almost like if the sentences were completed, the foolishness of the statement would be too boldfaced to take.  We often avoid saying the thing because to utter the thoughts of our hearts would actually embarress us.

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said.  “I don’t think being open and welcoming is harmful to children.  I think it’s helpful. Necessary, even.”

“I know.  But if he hears it’s okay to be gay, he might become gay,” he said.

“I don’t think the biology works like that, ” I smiled.  I tried to diffuse the obviously uncomfortable situation.

“We’re just not okay with it,” he said finally.  “And we don’t want him to be okay with it. But I hope to see you around the neighborhood.”

“Sure, Mark.  And if you all ever want to talk about this, just let me know.  Happy to keep the conversation going.” 

I waved as he walked away.

 

Bliss Burnout

“We had tickets to the Kennedy Center,” she said to her friend. “And I told my husband that we are never going to the Kennedy Center again in the middle of sports season!”

Her friend nodded empathetically.

“Between baseball and football and cheerleading. All the games and practices that they must go to, I just cannot do another concert…it’s too stressful.”

She took another sip, her headband (coordinating with her yoga pants) challenging the wind to destroy the perfect ponytail.

“But,” she continued, “when is it NOT sports season, right? Ha!”

Her friend nodded in solidarity. “It’s just too much.”

Yes. This happened.

And yes, my observation, though verbatim, is full of judgment.

But here’s the thing: the concert is not the problem.

The over-scheduled kids is the problem. The inability to say no is the problem.

Or, at least, the inability to say no to the right thing.

What a privilege to be able to afford all those sports, those tickets, even those trendy pants.

No, truly, it’s a privilege. An honored life.

But the over abundance of ability can sometimes cause what I call “bliss burnout.”

She has bliss burnout. And she thinks that the key is to say no to the thing that actually would be a blessing in the middle of craziness: a concert.

But the true remedy is to get out of the bliss-induced cycle.

Don’t play all the sports. Have unstructured play sometimes.

Don’t do all the things. Do some things, and just do them really well.

No one should ever, over a latte, bemoan the busy schedule of their choosing.

Bliss Burnout is real. It’s a spiritual issue. A physical issue. And economic issue. Maybe, even, a moral one.

Get out of it and watch yourself be blessed instead.

“How Cool That You Get To Disbelieve White Privilege…”

File this under “Things I wanted to say, but couldn’t because I was a pastor of a parish.”

But, actually, now being out of a parish, I wonder if it should really be filed under “Things you need to say as a pastor of a parish.”

The title is sarcastic, by the way.

Because it’s not “cool,” right, or what have you to be able to pretend white privilege is not a thing. It’s actually a…wait for it…sign of privilege. That very privilege you’re trying to pretend isn’t real is what allows you to pretend, with some ignorant success, it isn’t real.

We were sitting at a bar. The meeting had been called because I’d been saying things from the pulpit that caused him to squirm.

He bought the first beer, which I was grateful for. And I genuinely did like him, and continue to, despite the conversation.

“You’ve used this term recently,” he said three sips in, “‘white privilege.’ What is that?”

He looked at me as he took another sip.

“Well, it’s the inconvenient truth that you, as a white person, and a white male in particular, were born with a certain backpack of goods that set you up for success in life, not by your own doing, because our culture is biased toward people who look like you and me.”

It was the Cliff’s Notes version, but I had yet to take a sip and knew we’d probably need another round. I stopped and took a drink.

“I don’t buy that,” he said. “I was born poor. I worked hard for my money. I was the first in my family to go to college. I don’t think I had a very good backpack,” he said.

“Well, you certainly had obstacles. White privilege doesn’t mean that white people, especially economically depressed white people, don’t have obstacles. It just means that, despite your obstacles, you had a leg up.” I took a big drink.

“Nope,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Tell me, when you apply to a job, what does the application say your name is?”

<he said his name>

“Now,” I said, “did you know that your name, as compared to a name that is more non-traditional…a name distinctly not white by culture <looking at you Karen and Chad>, is more likely to be read and full and hired? Just by the name. That’s white privilege.”

“My boys,” he said brushing past my example, “had <he looks around and lowers his voice> black friends all through school. They’d come over to our house. They were the same; no difference.”

Pro-tip: if you lower your voice when speaking about a different ethnicity or culture, you’re probably participating in subconscious racism.

Ok, back to the story…

“Did you ever ask them?” I inquired.

“What?”

“Did you ever ask them about their experience? Or is this just what you observed? Did you ever ask them how many times they’ve been pulled over? Or followed in a store? Or passed over for a promotion? Or had athletics shoved in their face because it was lifted as the only legit way they’d get into a school? Did you ever ask them?”

Well, no…” he said honestly.

“Then I don’t think you really know about their experience. You get the privilege of pretending their experience is the same as yours because your frame is the one all other pictures have to fit in. That’s white privilege. And yes, you had some challenges, and your whiteness helped you overcome them. They don’t have that leg up. It’s just true.”

Beer was gone. I ordered the next.

“I still don’t buy it…”

“When I was teaching in Chicago, a lot of my kid’s parents drove very nice cars. They had little money, but nice cars with huge lease payments. Know what one of them told me about that? They said they did that so that people like me would take them seriously. Now, know what I drove? A beat up Honda with two missing hubcaps that I never replaced because, why bother? I never once thought I’d have to do anything to be taken seriously. And I never thought that because my status as a white male just afforded me that luxury no matter what car I drove…”

“They didn’t have to do that,” he said. “That’s irresponsible.”

“Easy for you to say,” I said, emboldened a bit by the beer, “because you’ve never had to fight for legitimacy on an uneven playing field.”

He shook his head. “I don’t buy it.”

“My Philosophy teacher in college once said, after a long discussion, ‘Tim…I cant force you to see the truth.'” I smiled.

He laughed.

But I was serious.

“I’m going to keep talking about it,” I said.

He nodded, though I knew he wouldn’t stay in the pews if I did.

I did. And he didn’t. And there we are.

I guess it’s part of the privilege to just go somewhere else and not have to be reminded of it.