Wedding Banned.

It has been about a year since my Confirmation and I can already say that I love the Episcopal Church. There are plenty of reasons, many of which I’ve documented herehere, and here.

Not only do I love the national church, but I really love the church I attend, including the priests and congregants I’ve met. At this point, I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a more genuine, unconditionally loving congregation. While no church or denomination is perfect because no people are perfect, the Episcopal Church at least recognizes this and works together to improve.

As a former Southern Baptist, it has taken me time to understand that it really is OK to question things within the Church. This is great, though, because at this point in my life, I know I couldn’t be part of a church where I felt like I had to sit by silently as I witnessed things I disagreed with, or even experienced discrimination myself. 

Given my affection for the national Episcopal Church and my local congregation, it is difficult to say, but there is one aspect of the Episcopal Church that has thoroughly disappointed me: the position on same-sex marriage taken by the bishop of the Diocese of Florida.

Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard has banned Episcopal priests from performing same-sex marriages in the diocese. 

This is regardless of what an individual priest believes on this so-called “issue,” and it’s not just priests in the diocese who report to him: Even an affirming priest from an affirming diocese can’t come here and perform a same-sex marriage. As someone who is getting married in a few months, this hits very close to home.  

This is possible even though the national Episcopal Church supports marriage equality because these regional bishops are permitted to ban same-sex marriages in their diocese. Bishop Howard is one of the relative few who have actually done it. 

“The nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage are linked to the relationship of man and woman. The promises and vows of marriage presuppose husband and wife as the partners who are made one flesh in marriage,” reads a statement co-signed by Bishop Howard after the national Episcopal Church decided to allow marriage equality. “When we were ordained as bishops in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, we vowed to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church of God.’”

Even before that national meeting, called the General Convention, where the Episcopal Church made this decision, Bishop Howard issued a letter that he required be read aloud at all churches within the diocese, indicating that his position on marriage equality would not be changed. 

“As your Bishop, I want to be clear about where we are as a Diocese as General Convention approaches. The policy of our diocese concerning the 2012 trial-use liturgies for blessing of same-sex couples remains the same. This liturgy is not approved for use in the Diocese of Florida.” 

And yet, in that same letter, Bishop Howard said there would be great consideration when making such decisions. 

“Some of our work this summer will surely get attention outside our church in the press and on the internet. Often these stories are told from a perspective that lacks attention to the great deal of reflection and prayer that go into making difficult decisions. Rarely does careful and prayerful consideration make good headlines or sound bites.” 

How does someone go into a meeting with an open mind while also essentially saying his opinion will not change? Those two things are incompatible. 

There is one way lesbian or gay Episcopalians in this diocese can get married in the Episcopal Church: They must physically leave the diocese and go somewhere else. 

Same-sex couples in a diocese that has banned same-sex marriage, like this one, can be referred to another diocese that does allow same-sex marriage. I don’t find this to be acceptable or helpful. 

Why would I want to have a random priest to marry us? If a priest or minister is going to be the officiant, I’d want someone who knows us. And why should I be relegated to certain physical locations and venue options solely because I’m marrying someone who happens to also be a man? Also, isn’t this option likely more costly?

It’s funny: conservative Christian pastors love to talk about how they fear being “forced” to perform a same-sex marriage. Yet, in this case, priests who would love to perform same-sex marriages are being forced not to in these non-affirming dioceses. They’re actively being hindered from fully proclaiming Christ’s love to all people. 

Compared to other denominations, the Episcopal Church is progressive on many issues, including marriage equality. But this is discrimination by Bishop Howard

According to the Episcopal Church itself, marriage is a “sacramental right,” like baptism and communion. But rites like baptism and communion are different and more important than marriage because they “…were given by Christ and are understood to be necessary for the Christian life of all persons.” 

I can be baptized in this diocese.

I can be confirmed in this diocese. 

I can be a church member in this diocese.

I can take communion in this diocese. 

But I can’t get married in this diocese. 

How does this make any sense? If things like baptism and communion are more important than marriage because they were given directly to us by God and the bishop’s issue was truly theological, wouldn’t he want to “guard the faith” by denying us these other more important sacraments as well? 

If LGBTQ folks, including married ones, are able to take part in the sacramental rites given to us by God, why can’t we also be married in the Church?

You might be asking yourself why I’m writing all of this here instead of to the bishop. After all, wouldn’t it be more productive to have a conversation with him? At very least, it’s a great place to start, right? 

I agree. 

Even in their “minority report” after the General Convention voted to permit same-sex marriages, our bishop and the others who disagreed wrote this: 

“Our commitment to the Church includes a commitment to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We will walk with them, pray with and for them, and seek ways to engage in pastoral conversation. We rejoice that Jesus’ embrace includes all of us.”

Apparently, that “pastoral conversation” doesn’t involve the bishop actually conversing with us about this issue because I’ve tried to begin a conversation with him multiple times with no luck, only excuses as to why he hasn’t even responded. And I’ve been told the same thing has happened time after time after time with other local Episcopalians. And if he does respond, it’s to say he’s not discussing the topic any further. I’m pretty new to this whole Episcopalian thing, but it honestly reminds me of my Southern Baptist past and it’s certainly not welcoming.

Bishop Howard likes to talk about the importance of “evangelism.” Continuing to broadly discriminate against an entire group of people, in this case same-sex couples, hurts these efforts. 

How do you think I feel whenever I want to invite an LGBTQ friend to church? What do I say?

While I’m willing to see all of the good in my local church and with my local priests, and to understand the nuances of the denomination, not all people are willing to do that, especially if they’re new to church or have previously been hurt by the Church. All they see is that they’re being discriminated against for who they love. They aren’t necessarily going to try to figure out exactly who is doing it and exactly why.

And I don’t blame them one bit.

My wedding plans are set and I am exceedingly happy with them. Also, while it would be nice to have a priest we know marry us, I don’t believe God’s presence will somehow be missing from our wedding simply because one man has banned priests from performing the ceremony. God is much bigger than any one person and God’s love is much greater and much too powerful to be diminished by Bishop Howard or anyone else.

Discrimination is discrimination, though, and couples like us at least deserve the opportunity to have our priests marry us. So my hope is that this discriminatory practice will end sooner rather than later and that Bishop Howard will develop a more expansive idea of what loving his neighbors truly looks like in action. It certainly isn’t by embracing discrimination and refusing to discuss it. It is almost time for the General Convention again, and same-sex marriage is sure to be discussed. Hopefully things change even more in favor of equality. 

Before joining the Episcopal Church, I learned a lot about it and I’ve learned even more in my time as part of it. One of the things I love most is that we can ask questions and grow together. My prayer is that Bishop Howard will one day embrace this concept regarding this topic and eventually join the majority of the broader Episcopal Church by erring on the side of love and inclusion.

Because there should be no place for discrimination within the Church.

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Click here to share your thoughts on marriage equality with Bishop Howard.

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About Doubt

I’m a doubter. A skeptic.

Depending on what circles one moves within, this is either good or bad — rarely anything in between. If you’re a scientist, for example, a healthy skepticism is likely your friend. But if you’re a teenager asking questions at your Southern Baptist church, it’s more likely to be seen as your very own first-class ticket to hell.

For most of us, though, doubt is simply part of life. We doubt ourselves. We doubt someone’s (or everyone’s) motives. And yes, we doubt our beliefs.

Perhaps my natural doubting abilities are why I identify with the story of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples. Chances are you likely know him as “Doubting Thomas.” Whether or not it should be, it’s kind of how he is known. Here’s the basic story:

Jesus appeared to some of the disciples after his resurrection, but Thomas wasn’t there. When he arrived, the disciples tried to tell him they saw Jesus, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” he tells them.

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Thomas wasn’t playing around, y’all! So a week goes by and all the disciples are together again, this time with Thomas, when Jesus shows up again.

“Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

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Jesus – 1, Thomas – 0.

But seriously, though, this is such an important part of the story to me. Yet again, we are shown that one of the people closest to Jesus was an imperfect human being. This time, it was someone who doubted. And let’s be honest: If someone walked up to you, no matter how close of a friend they are, and told you a story like that, would you believe them without seeing for yourself? Probably not.

Not only is doubt a normal part of life, it should be a normal part of a Christian’s life. The more Christians behave as if doubt is abnormal and means a person is less committed to following Jesus than they are, the more people are pushed away from the life-giving message Christians are supposed to be sharing.

I love what Ian S. Markham & C.K. Robertson have to say about doubt:

“It is often said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. When we think about God, we do so from the vantage point of humans. We are small entities in a vast universe; we are trying to work out what the source and creator of the universe is like. We should approach this project with some humility. Our vantage point does not permit certainty. We are called to think, struggle, and discern the truth about God and God’s relations with the world…we are all on a journey of faith. This journey will have many twists and turns. Sometimes our sense and experience of God will be strong; at other times, God will seem to be further away.”

I’ve written about my faith journey before and have likely referenced that I actually have a much better, firmer understanding of what I believe because of my doubtsQuestioning things means exploring things, and exploration is an opportunity for growth. You know who doesn’t grow? People who think they’ve got it all figured out. As author Rachel Held Evans has said, “In the end, it was doubt that saved my faith.”

Amen.

Life ebbs and flows, so it is only natural that our spiritual lives will, too. Through it all, though, God is with us. Even in times when we aren’t so sure, God is with us. If God made us, don’t you think God understands our nature? And if Jesus understood Thomas’ doubts, don’t you think he’ll understand our doubts, especially when he knows we don’t have the same opportunity as Thomas?

At the end of the story about “Doubting Thomas,” Jesus says those who have not seen and have still come to believe in him are blessed. Even in Thomas’ belief in Jesus as the son of God, he still had unbelief about this one thing until the truth was revealed to him. We have no reason to believe it is any different for us. In fact, through Thomas’ doubts, we received, what I believe, is one of life’s key lessons: Doubt is OK. I can’t say it enough. It seems it’s not the doubt that’s the issue, but what we do in response to it.

So if you are a Christian who doubts, join the club. Like, literally. Find a group of people that doesn’t just tolerate doubt, but deeply understands it and accepts it as part of life. By exploring our doubt, in relationship with others, we can find our way back to belief.

Let’s Talk About God’s “Blessings” & “Favor”

On the evening of September 11, 2017, just after a hurricane had hit, I walked into my apartment and saw this: 

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That, my friends, is a giant hole where a wall should be and a river where a river should not be. Crazy, right? Trust me when I tell you that seeing it in a photo pales in comparison to what it felt like to actually be there. The vast majority of everything I owned was destroyed. 

I’ve actually tried to stay away from broadly publicizing it for various reasons, but I’m mentioning it here because something became abundantly clear to me after the storm: 

People either dramatically misunderstand how God’s “blessings” or “favor” work or they are not thoughtful in their proclamation of God’s “blessings” or “favor” in their lives. Sometimes, it’s both. 

After a storm, people say something like, “We’re so blessed because nothing bad happened to us! That’s such a God thing.” 

After a deadly shooting at a concert, they may say, “I was supposed to be at the concert, but I’m so blessed that I wasn’t!”

People get a job they’ve been praying for and say, “I’m so glad I’ve got God on my side!” or reference having “God’s favor.” 

Maybe someone has been praying for some worldly, physical item for a long time and they receive it. Or maybe someone has cancer that goes into remission. Then, you may hear something like, “Thanks to our dedication to asking and our obedience in waiting, God gave it to us! He provides if you just believe hard enough!” Maybe they’ll end it with a “#blessed “or a “#WontHeDoIt” for good measure. 

But problems arise when you claim God’s blessing or favor because something bad didn’t happen or because something good did

What about people who did have issues during the storm? What about those who did attend the concert and ended up injured or dead? What about the people who didn’t get the job? What about people who prayed and prayed and prayed some more to get that thing they thought they needed or that they or a loved one might be healed and they didn’t get that thing or they weren’t healed? Did God just choose to “bless” you over them? Does he favor you over them? Did they just not pray hard enough? 

This way of thinking can be damaging to others’ spiritual lives and our own. After all, what happens when something seemingly bad does happen to you? What happens when you don’t get something you need? Has God now abandoned you? Are you now less blessed than the others? 

I believe we are choosing simplicity over nuance and trading clarity for comfort.

In order to fix this, we need to be more thoughtful with what we say and do. We must also give serious thought to what God’s “blessings” really look like. Even a casual glance at scripture turns up a list of characteristics of “blessed” folks and “those who aren’t affected by disasters” or “those who get everything they pray for” aren’t on there. 

The “poor in spirit” are blessed.

“Those who mourn” are blessed. 

“The meek” are blessed.

“Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” are blessed. 

The “merciful” are blessed. 

The “pure in heart” are blessed.

The “peacemakers” are blessed. 

“Those who are persecuted because of righteousness” are blessed. 

Don’t God’s “blessings” in our lives seem to be more about the eternal than the temporal? More about who we are or how we react to life than what we have or what life does or doesn’t throw at us? 

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” Jesus tells us. 

Doesn’t this suggest that “blessings” are likely to come from what we would consider to be bad things? 

I have no doubt that we are blessed by God. But this way of thinking about God’s blessings is damaging to us and others. It’s also self-centered and limiting. It influences how we think about God. The reality is God and God’s blessings are so much bigger and better than what we think and the reasons behind blessings are far less selfish. 

So, then, how do we fix it? And how can we talk about God’s “blessings” in our lives without in turn claiming his favor over others? 

We acknowledge there’s a problem. 

Take a deep, hard look at your life. If you’ve spent the entirety of it thinking about God’s blessings only in terms of successes or positive things that happen to you, you’ve likely missed out on a much deeper richness and it’s waiting to be discovered. Pay particular attention to the rough spots in your life — where did you see God’s goodness in that? How did you grow from that experience? 

We think about others, not ourselves.

Just a few days ago, Michael Curry, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, had this to say about self-centeredness: 

“If you want to know a single word for self-centeredness from our Christian tradition … it’s the word ‘sin.'”

“Sin is about living my life only for me as though I … am the center of the universe and you are on the periphery. And as long as I’m the center of the universe and you are on the periphery, I can treat you like anything. But when love rules, it’s not just about ‘me.’ It’s about ‘we.'”

Once we look at our blessings through the lens of others, or at least consider others in the process, we gain an entirely new perspective. Blessings should not simply enable us in some way — they should enable us to love God and/or love others better and more often. 

No matter what comes our way, we search for the goodness — and for God. 

While I don’t believe God causes all the crappy things that happen to us, I do believe God can be found in our circumstances. God, after all, is not only for us, he is with us. God will be there with us in the deepest depths of darkness and highest highs of the goodness. 

We handle with care. 

If we are not being self-centered, this won’t be a problem. We need to understand that our words have meaning. If you’re preparing to share a story of God’s “favor” or “blessing” in your life, think first about how it helps others. And think about unintended consequences of what you may be saying. For example, if you happened to make it through a storm just fine, perhaps the real blessing is that you’re able to help those who were less fortunate. 

Shortly after the hurricane, our priest at church asked us to share with someone in the pews next to us a moment when we saw God in the storm. My answer was this: the goodness of people. 

People couldn’t wait to help. And I’m not just talking about close friends and family. Co-workers from literally across the country. Members of our church who we hadn’t yet met. People I hadn’t spoken to in years. Strangers. 

And this is true, by the way, on a higher level. So many people stepped in to help others, regardless of who those “others” were. Isn’t it funny how so many superficial barriers crumble when people are in need? How we can suddenly focus on the right stuff like loving our neighbors? 

God’s not always going to give you want you want or what you prayed for. And when you happen to get what you want or what you prayed for, it’s not a sign that God favors you over others. And the “thing” itself is often times not actually the blessing.

We do a disservice to ourselves, to others and to God when we put God in a box. It may be comfortable, but it’s a human construct destined to fail. Rather, we should embrace what comes our way and do the hard work of uncovering what blessings await, regardless of the circumstances. That, my friends, is a much firmer foundation on which to stand. 

A Bittersweet Birthday

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A few weeks ago, I had a dream about my mom. All I remember was that the conversation was relatively normal and I had this overwhelming feeling that we could’ve really gotten along had some things been different. What are those “things”? I’m not sure. Probably some things on her part and some on mine.

She would’ve turned 53 today. Truth be told, during what would become the last few years of her life, I didn’t really care to keep her filled in on my life anymore. I didn’t really feel like she deserved it and I didn’t really feel like she even paid attention, so it was, for me, a chore at best.

Another hard truth is that if she were still living today, I can’t promise I’d feel differently about it. At that point, I was tired of trying. After all, it would be her death that would cause me to give any of this additional thought.

I believe we should all relentlessly work to understand ourselves and the world around us, but I also believe some things will always remain a mystery. One thing I’ve come to understand (and try to remember daily) is that my thoughts and actions are just that — my thoughts and actions. How I treat others does not have to be based on how I perceive their treatment of me. Rather, how I treat others can (and, at this point, I think probably should) be based on how I believe others should be treated given their inherent dignity and worth as human beings and as children of God. To be clear, this doesn’t mean we’re all just human punching bags, ready and waiting for people to repeatedly take advantage of us. Also, it’s a relatively recent change in thinking for me, so I really, really suck at it right now. But I’m trying.

Here’s the great news: While I don’t know that I would treat my mom differently if she were living today, nor do I have the opportunity to take what I’ve learned and apply it to our relationship, I can encourage others who have similar relationships with their loved ones to consider another perspective. These days, I’d love the opportunity to introduce my mom to the man I plan to marry, for example, but it’s not even a possibility. Perhaps, for others, it’s not too late.

But one day, it will be. And “one day” might come on a random Friday morning, when you least expect it.

And hey — if your relationships with your loved ones are “peachy keen,” as my mom would say, fantastic. There’s something else most of us can do to honor the woman I knew as my mother on her birthday: Sit back, relax, and drink a beer.

Of Little Faith

“You of little faith.” 

This phrase is so common for us today, one doesn’t need to have been raised in a church to have heard it. Others might know it as, “O ye of little faith,” especially if you were raised in a King James Version-based congregation like I was.

In our society, we use this phrase so often, it likely rarely makes sense when we use it. Maybe you’re perpetually running late and someone doesn’t believe you when you tell them you’ll be on time.

“O ye of little faith.” 

Maybe you tell your coworkers you’re going to finish a project wth a seemingly impossible deadline on time and they don’t believe you.

“O ye of little faith.” 

Maybe you tell your kids you’ll play with them outside, right after you finish washing the dishes, but the kids aren’t buying it.

“O ye of little faith.” 

But think about why Jesus tells Peter that he has little faith. Think about how crazy it all is. This story — probably one of the most told stories in the Bible — really picks up when Jesus is walking on the water out to the boat. The disciples think it’s a ghost! And then — as if that’s not weird enough — Peter decides to put Jesus to the test and Jesus takes him up on the offer.

“Come,” Jesus says. So then Peter hops out of the boat and starts walking on the water, too. But what happens? The moment something changes, Peter realizes what’s happening, gets scared and starts to sink.

I have to admit that, today, in a way, I find myself having little faith, too, perhaps in that sinking moment.

Berke M. M. Bates — a state trooper in Virginia — would have turned 41 today. Bates was up in a helicopter yesterday with another state trooper — Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen — monitoring events between protesters and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The helicopter crashed and Trooper Bates and Trooper Cullen died. We still don’t know why the crash even happened.

On the ground at those protests yesterday — between white supremacists and counter-protesters — 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when 20-year-old James Alex Fields Junior drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting white supremacy. Nineteen others were hurt in the crash, including five people who were still in critical condition this morning.

Reports say one man gave Heather CPR while another held an oxygen mask to her face until they could get her out of there. But she didn’t make it.

In another incident yesterday, multiple white men started beating 20-year-old Deandre Harris, a black man, with poles in a parking garage. He has eight staples in his head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth. Throughout the day, others recounted similar attacks on social media.

So today is a day of little faith for me.

Little faith in my fellow Americans.

Little faith in the justice system.

Little faith in many of those in the Church.

Little faith that our government will do anything meaningful to help stop emboldening hate-filled, fear-filled people.

Today, I see yet again how violent the waters are, and I have little faith.

In humanity.

But since when does our faith rest with humanity? Sure, we may seek to have faith in each other, in our government, in our world — but our faith does not rest there. Our faith does not begin there. Our faith begins with the man who called Peter out onto the water. Our faith begins with a man who can perform miracles and can enable us to perform them, too. Our faith begins and rests with Jesus.

And I admit, even knowing that, days like today can be hard. Days like today, you may not want to be called out onto the water. You might just want to sit at home and think. And be angry. And heartbroken. At very least, it’s tempting. And maybe today’s not the day, but maybe tomorrow is.

And, when you feel the time is right, there are things we can learn from Jesus and Peter in today’s gospel.

First, we must realize that faith isn’t just about belief. It’s about doing. People like to say they are, “stepping out in faith.” But really, stepping out is faith. Even when we aren’t sure if our actions will help anything, we can still act faithfully — we can still faith. And really — isn’t it even more faithful when we aren’t completely certain of exactly how our actions will help, but we do them anyway, knowing they’re guided by the Holy Spirit?

This is where I should mention a reality that may be a bit difficult for some to hear: Many of those white supremacists yesterday call themselves Christians, too. They think that what they’re doing, what they’re advocating for, is a Christian ideal. They may even think that they are being led, by faith, to do God’s work in the world. To us, that may sound crazy, but to them, it might feel real.

So how, then, do we know when we are acting in faith? How do we know when our actions really are guided by God? A good place to start is to ask yourself this question: Is what I’m being called to do something that will create or cultivate love and inclusion in the world and among God’s people? 

It is critically important, especially now, that we, like Peter, don’t just say we have faith, but that we back that faith up with action. Because if there’s another thing this story teaches us, it’s that with Jesus and through Jesus and in Jesus’ name, we can work miracles. But the minute we begin to overthink and shrink bad inside of ourselves — the moment, perhaps, that we become too rational — that’s the moment we begin to sink. Miracles, after all, are inherently mysterious.

Like Peter, we will fail. But, with God’s help, we can get back up. And like Peter, we don’t have to rush out to try and conquer the world or solve problems on our own. Faith begins with a single step out into the unknown. A step out of our comfort zones. That’s where freedom is. That’s where miracles are. That’s where love is. Because that’s where Jesus is.

The world needs compassion. The world needs hope. And those who are marginalized need us to stand up in faith and call out hate and discrimination and fear when we see it. They need us to act. Not just when it’s convenient for us, but especially when it’s not. After all, isn’t that at least part of what love is? Isn’t part of how we show love by showing it when it’s needed the most, which isn’t always when it’s the most convenient?

I don’t know about you, but some of the most powerful, love-filled moments in my life have been totally unexpected and totally inconvenient for the person doing the loving, whether it’s me loving someone else or someone else loving me. As usual, that’s where the Holy Spirit tends to lead us. Into the darkness. Into the hopelessness. Into the valleys. Because that’s where faith and hope and love and the message of a savior who offers all of that — and more — is needed the most.

So let us always go forth in love and peace, ready to do the work God would have us to do, even and especially if feels tough or inconvenient for us. Especially if it means stepping out in faith into uncertain waters. Because that’s where miracles happen.

One Year Later

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Photos from various Pulse tributes in Orlando, including Pulse itself

A year ago today, I woke up, groggy. It was a Sunday morning and some friends and I had gone out for my birthday, ending the festivities at a local gay club. I leaned over and grabbed my phone to check things. That’s when I saw it. There had been a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. Pulse. I immediately thought of friends in Orlando and reached out to make sure they were OK. I had only been to Pulse a couple of times while I lived in Orlando, but it was a lot of fun and I knew it was pretty popular. No one I knew was there that night. But as we would learn, so many others would forever be changed.

By many accounts, people in Central Florida came together since then in wonderful ways. The nation came together in some ways, too, though in other ways, certain divisions were only made clearer.

Other mass shootings were horrific to me, but none had hit this close to home. It could’ve been me or many of my friends. We were all OK, and yet I still felt so intimately devastated, so I can’t imagine what those who lost loved ones, those who were injured, or those who were there but managed to make it out physically unharmed have gone through. 

After Pulse, countless people realized they didn’t know much about our communities and they pledged to learn more. They offered “thoughts and prayers” and maybe helped in person or donated to the victims and their families. These are are wonderful things. But for lasting, tangible, positive change, there must be more.

Many of these people were conservative Christians. As I heard one Orlando-area pastor of an Evangelical megachurch put it, he didn’t really think much about the LGBTQ community before Pulse. He certainly wasn’t the only one. As a gay Christian who grew up in a conservative Evangelical environment, I’ve seen firsthand the actions and rhetoric that push LGBTQ people away and often lead them to become depressed and even to suicide.

So while I’m thankful for “thoughts and prayers,” even from those with whom I disagree, there’s a larger problem and I don’t think it’s being addressed nearly enough in the places that actually need to address it among the people who need to address it.

Transformation tends to begin from within. So for those folks who were offering “thoughts and prayers” and perhaps even pledged to learn more about us, I want you to ask yourself some questions:

What were my exact Pulse-related prayers like? From what perspective were they being offered? 

Were your prayers genuinely just about God providing comfort and peace to grieving people, all children of God created in God’s image? Or were they more about “sinners” turning away from their sin and toward God? Were you genuinely grieving along with us? Or were you just praying to change us?

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to better understand the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Many people pledged to get to know communities they did not know or understand. Did you? If so, have you followed through? I’m not saying you have to magically transform your theological understanding as it relates to the LGBTQ community (as much as I’d love that). I’m just saying you should get to know people who are not like you. Put faces to the “issues” you see in the world. Start there.

What have you done since the Pulse tragedy to help the LGBTQ and Latinx communities? 

Have you worked within your church to be more welcoming to these communities, particularly the LGBTQ community? Have you volunteered? Have you had conversations with people within these communities? Have you had conversations with your friends and family who don’t understand these communities and refuse to even try? Have you spoken up when someone uses a slur? Have you contemplated how you can better serve the marginalized?

Does your church and its members contribute to a narrative that demonizes LGBTQ people? 

Has your churched discussed this possibility? Has your congregation given thought to becoming more welcoming and affirming? Are LGBTQ people, even those who disagree with you, included in these conversations? Are you willing to do the hard work and operate within the questions and the tension instead of defaulting to what’s comfortable for you? Do you understand that it’s not the job of LGBTQ people to educate you, so when one of us is willing to walk with you on this journey, you should feel thankful and blessed?

Pulse was tragic. For many, it was life-changing. For some, it was life-ending. But we have a choice. We can choose to examine why events like Pulse happen and how we may, even indirectly, be contributing to a narrative that allows things like this to happen.

Moreover, the LGBTQ community, like other marginalized communities, faces a constant barrage of discrimination. And I know for a fact that many of the same people who said they were thinking of me and praying for me and people like me after Pulse were the same people that helped put Donald Trump in office. I struggle with that.

Actions speak louder than words.

So if you truly want to remember and pray for the people who were injured or died at Pulse, and their family and friends, great. Pray away. And then get to work. Honor them with action. Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous. Step out of your comfort zone. Re-examine your beliefs and your preconceived notions. Do the hard work. Because that’s what we need.

Just Be You.

I was watching House of Cards, casually scrolling through my Facebook feed, minding my own gay business, when I see this:

Vicky Beeching tweet

Great. There goes freaking Vicky Beeching, making my mind work. After my initial internal, “Aaaaaaamen, girl, YES! Mmmhmm! #preach 🙌 🙌🙌” moment, my mind immediately went to the last few days, specifically the story of my fiancé and the airport.

He returned from a work trip yesterday and I had the distinct honor and privilege of picking him up from the airport. It was a lovely, studly birthday present!

As I waited for him inside the airport, I thought about what I would do when I saw him.

Would I hug him? Kiss him? Hold his hand? Just smile and start walking along with him? What reaction would any of these things get from people around us? Would someone call us “faggots”? Would someone say it was disgusting? Would people start giggling? Shaking their heads? Would someone get physical?

And if any of this negative stuff happened, what would my reaction be? Would I say what first came to my mind? Would I respond with kindness? Would I act at all?

In the days and minutes leading up to him returning home, I spent far too much time (meaning any amount of time) focused on this hypothetical stuff and not on how exciting it was going to be to see him. Now I know this was silly, but it’s reality. It happens.

I was talking with a new (but already wonderful) friend of mine the day before the fiancé’s return home and we were laughing about how much we worry about things that may not even come to pass. We talked about how part of it is societal and part of it is personality, but we both agreed to what I already knew by that point, and really knew the whole time: I should, and will, greet the love of my life in whatever way I want and let the potentially bigoted chips fall where they may.

So, what happened?

I saw him walking toward me. I smiled and waited. When he got close, I took the photo I knew I had to take of my “birthday present,” and I couldn’t help but hug him and kiss him and put my arm around him.

And you know what?

The world didn’t end. The sky didn’t fall. No one said a single damn thing, at least to us.

So fast-forward to me seeing Vicky Beeching’s tweet this morning. I think it’s essentially the main lesson from yesterday’s airport adventure and it’s what I knew all along. I think, deep down, most of us understand her point, although it’s sometimes difficult to put into action.

And for anyone thinking, “Well, it’s your own fault for caring about what others think of you,” chances are you’ve either never been part of a hated, marginalized group and/or you’re just lying to yourself in thinking that you’ve never cared what anyone else thinks of you. Whether we should or not, most people, at one point or another, care about what others think. And the people who shout, “I don’t care what others think!” from the rooftops are usually folks who really care about what others think.

Beyond that, though, for many of us, it’s not actually so much about what others think of us as it’s about navigating our lives peacefully and happily. My primary concern wasn’t feeling bad or shamed by someone’s words. My primary concern was that some jerk would try to start a fight. My primary concern wasn’t our feelings — it was our safety.

So if you’ve never really had to do your best not to worry about potential hatred for simply existing and living and loving, be thankful. Because even for those of us who are able to just let those worries roll right off our backs, they’re still worries that we have that others simply don’t. To know this is true, one only needs to look around in public and see how straight white couples tend to interact with each other, then look at how LGBT couples tend to interact with each other, especially in a setting that may not definitely be a welcoming space. I fully understand I’m generalizing, but I’ve seen it enough to know there’s truth to it. And certainly everyone has worries, but not everyone has this worry this often.

I’m thankful for this reminder to focus on our peace of mind and to not let anyone else’s crap get us down. Because it’s just that: crap. And it’s their issue to deal with, not yours.

Happy Pride, by the way! Let’s go be proud of who we are and who we love! Always.