Posts tagged ‘Human Rights Ordinance’

Part 4: Faith In Action

NOTE: This is part four of a five-part series about my faith journey over the last few years. You can find the first three parts here, here and here.

Did you know that sitting in public with a priest who’s wearing his collar can be fairly hilarious? Well, it can be.

It’s when I’m doing just that, talking about one thing or another, when he ever-so-gently suggests what I already know: The boyfriend and I need to actually come to church. Not too long after, we do.

Going to a new place with new people, especially a church, can be intimidating, even for me, the perfect example of an extrovert. (I’m really like half-introvert, half-extrovert, but don’t tell anyone.) Plus, the services are admittedly intimidating, even with those awesome bulletins I’ve mentioned.

This was totally different than what I was used to, but we went … and kind of dug it. We set a goal of going twice each month, but we’ve only missed maybe one or two services in the few months since. (Moment of realness: it helps that it’s not college football season.)

I should also mention that these two priests I’ve been talking about have been awesome advocates for the local LGBTQ community. They were vocal supporters of adding us to our city’s non-discrimination ordinance. Now, in the church setting, both have been just as wonderful. In fact, after one of the first services we attended, right after we got engaged, one of the priests casually introduced us to someone and mentioned it. I mean he was more comfortable with it in that place than I was! It may seem like a little thing, but it wasn’t. It spoke volumes.

Around the time we started attending, the church started holding “Cathedral 101” courses for people who were new. We began attending that, too, which only added to the welcoming feeling. This class and the services really brought to life a lot of what I had read. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to completely describe everything I like, but here are a few things, in no particular order:

I love the focus on Communion and how it’s done. 

Some people seem to think taking Communion weekly dilutes its meaningfulness, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. I look forward to it, even crave it. I can’t imagine not being able to take it weekly.

I also love its prominence within the service. It’s the main point. As much as I enjoy sermons, I love that there’s a focus on this shared, unified worship experience, especially through Communion.

I love how we take Communion, too. At first, perfectionist Kyle was scared of doing it wrong, but it’s really not that dramatic or difficult. The walk to the altar, kneeling, the words they say as they present the bread and wine – I love it all. It’s like, in that brief moment, you’re the only person there. I also love that I never know who will be next to me at the altar. It can be someone completely different from me.

I love the liturgy and liturgical calendar. 

Perhaps one of the furthest things from the Southern Baptist land I grew up in is this idea of common liturgy and a liturgical calendar. In my former world, Easter was one day. I’d never heard of things like “Advent” or “Lent.” And the preacher just preached on whatever the Lord had put on his heart [rolls eyes] for that Sunday. Unless it was a holiday. Then, obviously, you preached about the holiday, especially if it was a patriotic one.

First of all, I love that, if I want, I can know exactly what the scriptures for any given day/Sunday will be. I also love the idea that, around the world, this huge group of people is hearing the same scriptures and lessons. I also love the sound and feeling I get when we’re all reciting something together. It just feels powerful.

Some people seem to think that liturgy and the liturgical calendar diminish creativity and freedom. For me, it’s the opposite. Christmas is made better by Advent. Easter — all weeks of it — is made better after Lent. There’s a time for everything and the liturgical calendar really brings that out. Also, regardless of what the scriptures for the week are, I’ve listened to multiple sermons from the same day and they’re different. Different priests preach different sermons at different times in their lives, even if the scriptures are all the same. Moreover, each person listening may take away something different from the same sermon.

I love the use of the body in worship.

There’s a lot going on in an Episcopal worship service. It engages mind, body and spirit.

As for the “body” part, I love that each gesture has a specific purpose. It’s not just a “raise your hand to prove to us you’re worshipping Jesus” sort of thing. There’s generally a reason and history behind it.

We sit. We stand. We kneel. We hold hands. We cross ourselves. We bow. We genuflect (feel free to Google that one like I did). Does everyone do it at all times? No. Some people learned it all growing up in the Church, but there’s enough diversity in the congregation, at least where I attend, that people do different things as they’re willing and able, and that’s OK. But I love that it keeps you engaged in a different way.

I love the diversity of the congregation. 

This may be more specific to the cathedral I’m attending, but I love how diverse it is. I love how everyone is welcomed equally. People seem to actually help each other. This means different opinions based on different life experiences can be brought into the same conversation. I’m pretty new at this, but I feel like that can really come in handy.

I love “the peace.” 

At the end of the first big portion of the service, the priest says, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and we all say, “And also with you.” Then, we all greet the people around us, usually saying something like, “peace be with you” or just “peace.”

As a worrier and control freak, I kind of dreaded this at first, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I love the emphasis on peace and love. I find it to be, well, what Jesus would do and asked us to do.

I love the focus on social justice.

Episcopalians recognize social justice as a significant theme of the Bible, particularly in the Gospels. They take this seriously, and, while not perfect, have often been on the forefront of society’s biggest and most controversial “issues.” They recognize that there are people behind “issues,” too. At very least, the diversity of opinion within the Church enables people to stand up for what they believe in.

I love that people aren’t forced to believe the same things.

Diverse opinions tend to be welcomed, even lauded. Unity does not mean uniformity of opinion, and through debate we can learn from each other. As I’ve previously quoted, “A church without controversy would be a dead church.” For me, that’s pretty progressive thinking, within or outside of the Church.

I love that you can have doubt and ask questions.

You don’t know everything? Join the club. Sometimes, you’re not sure about every little nook and cranny of what you believe? Welcome to the real world! The fact that the Episcopal Church is not only cool with doubt and questions, but welcomes questions is awesome.

There are things to be learned from wrestling with questions, especially as a group. And there are some mysteries of life that we’ll just never figure out. But we can at least discuss them and see what we may discover.

I love that logic and reason aren’t just welcomed – they’re essential. 

When you talk to Episcopalians or read about the denomination, you might hear about the “three-legged stool,” which is scripture, tradition and reason. While scripture plays a primary role in the Episcopal Church, Episcopalians believe that tradition and reason also have a place in our lives and in the Church.

I love that they allow science and new information to help them reach new conclusions on issues. 

As one of the books I read puts it, “Unlike some other Christian traditions, we have no problem with the modern account of the universe informed by science. We start from the assumption that all truth is part of the truth of God. Therefore any discovery in any field needs to be taken seriously.”

I love the Book of Common Prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer is really cool. I’ve only just scratched the service, but I really enjoy the “prayers and thanksgivings” section. Like the liturgy, I love that people around the world have been saying the same prayers for a long time. Of course we can (and I would argue we should) still create our own prayers, but having this resource is both unifying and just plain handy.

And no, the Book of Common Prayer does not replace the Bible, as I’ve heard some people claim. In fact, one statistic I read suggested about 70% of the BCP is taken directly from the Bible.

I love that they understand the Bible isn’t just a literal “rule book.” 

I don’t care what you’ve heard: Episcopalians really love the Bible. I’m pretty sure I hear more scripture now, in an Episcopal worship setting, than in my past conservative Evangelical worship setting. They take the Bible seriously, but also understand that the scriptures were written and received within a certain context. They understand that everyone brings their own experiences to reading the Bible. We all look through a lens of some kind.

The Episcopal Church also believes – and this was a sort-of epiphany for me – that Jesus is the primary Word of God. The Bible points to the primary Word of God, so it, too, is the Word of God, but the primary Word is Jesus.

I’m no doubt going to think of something I should’ve mentioned, but this hopefully gives you a good feel for what I dig about the Episcopal Church so far.

Basically, I’m sold.

Throughout this entire process, the Episcopal Church has felt like a very natural fit, so much so that I’ve decided to be confirmed! Tomorrow.

More on that, well, tomorrow.

 

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Equality Won!

Last night, the Jacksonville City Council voted 12-6 to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to its existing human rights ordinance. And while there is certainly more work to do, it was, and still is, a moment to celebrate. It’s a moment that offers hope. It was historic. I’m proud to have been there.

Before, during, and after the meeting at City Hall, supporters gathered in Hemming Park to be together, show support, and celebrate. Love and happiness and equality were the themes. I felt them all. The positive, love-filled, fearless energy was amazing. Meanwhile, opponents, many (if not most of them) self-proclaimed Christians, repeatedly marched around City Hall. I can tell you where I most felt God’s love last night — and it was most certainly not with those angry, fear-filled marchers.

I’m still feeling a lot of things right now, mostly good. But I’m also aware that last night won’t magically change the hearts and minds of people who say they love the LGBT community and wouldn’t discriminate against us, but also don’t support our legal equality. For now, though, I want to tell you a story that I hope you’ll find as inspiring as I did.

Last night, in the Council chamber, I was sitting with friends, including a transgender woman (a smart, bold, beautiful transgender woman, I might add — but I digress). As we all sat there, a man with multiple stickers from the so-called “opposition” began to walk toward us. To be honest, I got kind of nervous. This man walked right up to the transgender woman — who, if I recall, had made known in previous public comment that she was a runner — and asked how her running was going and if she was accomplishing what she wanted to accomplish. He sounded genuinely kind and curious. And, from my perspective at least, they had an actual conversation on a human-to-human level. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was inspired. I saw love and light in that moment, completely initiated by someone with multiple anti-HRO stickers on. Someone who I had labeled because of it.

You may be saying to yourself right now, “Well that’s great and all, but that was clearly a stunt. He was clearly trying to prove some political point.” If I’m honest, the thought definitely crossed my mind. But I asked myself — and now I ask you — isn’t what he did exactly what we need to do if we’re ever going to make progress? Regardless of his motives, he made a real effort to connect with someone he disagrees with and get to know that person. And this awesome, inspiring trans woman had the courage and grace to listen and talk and share a part of her life with him. Interactions like this are exactly how we make progress. They’re exactly how we change hearts and minds. They’re exactly how we move forward.

When I walked out of City Hall right after the vote, I walked into a gigantic wave of love. Music playing, people cheering, people dancing, people hugging and kissing and holding. People loving. I am so thankful for them. I’m thankful for the core group of people at the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality who worked so, so hard to make this a reality. I’m thankful to all of the volunteers and supporters. I’m thankful to all the businesses and their leaders, of companies large and small, who publicly supported my equality. I’m thankful for everyone who publicly supported and who wrote and called and met with the members of our City Council to explain why this needed to (finally) get done. I’m thankful to the hundreds of faith leaders who did publicly support our equality, particularly St. John’s Cathedral’s Rev. David Erickson and his wife, also a priest, for being so publicly supportive, even bringing the whole family out to the vote last night (side note: OMG his kids are so adorable). I’m also thankful to him and Dean Kate Moorehead for keeping me going and grounded, whether they knew it or not, throughout this whole thing and in life in general. I’m thankful for their leadership on this and other issues in the community. I’m thankful to my boyfriend for not only putting up with me, but for being right there with me — using his voice, too. I’m thankful that we can help each other find our voices and use them. I’m just thankful. And proud.

But while we won this one, the broader fight for equality continues. And we never know what lies ahead. As I think about this, I’m reminded of something Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, recently said in a forum about radicalization and extremism:

“What I know about Jesus of Nazareth is that he treated every human being that he ever met as a child of God. He showed them the respect, the honor, the dignity that befits a child of God. He did that with Pontius Pilate, who ordered his execution. He did that with lepers whom nobody else would touch. He did that with the poor and the rich. [He] treated everyone equally as a child of God. Jesus of Nazareth is my model for life and I believe that everyone is a child of God equally, by virtue of our creation.”

“As I navigate, like everyone else, a kind of complex cultural terrain and political terrain that we’re in, I’ll stand there. Because it means that we must work to create a society and a global community where every man, woman and child [is] equal and respected and honored and loved. Everyone. Including the people I disagree with. And that sometimes is a difficult walk to walk. But, my brother, I’ll walk it because I believe it’s the right walk.”

As I walk that walk, I know that I might get angry. I have before. Maybe you will, too. And anger can be good. But as Rev. Erickson said in last week’s sermon, anger can become soul-crushing when we begin to live in it — to cultivate it:

“If we’re honest, because it’s so pervasive in our society, we probably find ourselves sometimes … embodying anger, contempt and insults. Maybe not out loud, but probably in our hearts. And the issue is that you and I as followers of Jesus, we need to be the radical practitioners of Jesus’ blessing, hope and grace. We are the ones who know we are blessed. We are the ones who understand ourselves as salt and light. So we must be the ones who are willing to do the hard work — to when it comes down to it, in that moment of crisis and judgment, we will choose light and life versus darkness and insult and anger. Because if we’re not going to do it, then who is?”

So as we move forward, together, on issues still to be solved and issues yet to come, let us do our best to understand each other, see our shared humanity, and lead in love.

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Image created by Karen Kurycki 

These Statistics Scare Me

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A friend of mine recently told me about the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System‘s national school-based survey. It measures lots of things, but I was particularly interested in national and local statistics related to lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students. (They explain here why data on transgender students is unavailable.) As with anything, I encourage you to look at these numbers for yourself. If you see any errors in what I’ve listed, please let me know! There is a lot of info, so it’s worth checking out yourself, but here are some things I found most interesting:

– 23.3% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported being physically forced to have sexual intercourse (nearly 1 in 4), compared to 9.7% of straight HS students.

– 26.1% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported experiencing physical dating violence, compared to 9.1% of straight HS students. This is the highest percentage of all “large urban school district surveys” included (which include many major U.S. cities).

– 24.6% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported experiencing sexual dating violence, compared to 11.7% of straight HS students.

– 20.6% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, compared to 7.4% of straight HS students. This is the highest percentage of all “large urban school district surveys” included.

– 37.6% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported being bullied on school property, compared to 16.7% of straight HS students. This is the highest percentage of all “large urban school district surveys” included. In fact, the next closest is Broward County at 30.8%.)

– 28.7% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported being electronically bullied, compared to 12.1% of straight HS students. This is the highest percentage of all “large urban school district surveys” included.

– 20.3% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported that they did not want to go to school because they felt unsafe there or on their way to or from school, compared to 10% of straight HS students. Duval is tied with Orange County, FL (the Orlando area) for the third highest in all of all “large urban school district surveys” included.

– 53% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported feeling sad or hopeless, compared to 27.6% of straight HS students.

– 41% of LGB HS students in Duval County reported that they seriously considered attempting suicide. 37.5% say they actually made a plan on how they’d do it. 32.5% actually attempted suicide. This is compared to 15.4%, 15.4% and 15.2% of straight HS students, respectively.

Nationally, LGB students have much higher percentages than straight HS students in every category I’ve listed. Nationally, 60.4% of LGB students report feeling sad or hopeless, compared to 26.4% of straight HS students. Nationally, 29.4% of LGB HS students report trying to commit suicide, compared to 6.4% of straight HS students. Naturally, even more of them make a plan to do it or at least think about it. in fact, more than 40% (42.8%) of LGB students across this nation seriously consider suicide. For straight HS students, it’s 14.8%.

I found these numbers particularly meaningful as our city debates providing equal protections to the LGBT community, especially because opponents repeatedly say that there is no proven discrimination against LGBT people in Jacksonville. They repeatedly say that Jacksonville is a welcoming place for all and it’s so loving and wonderful for everyone. Well, these statistics alone, while only about high school students, suggest otherwise.

Perhaps there’s an argument out there that lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are just being more honest and reporting their issues more often. But if they’re the ones being bullied, attacked, and trying to kill themselves the most, I struggle to think they’d be more comfortable with being honest in answering these questions than their straight classmates.

These are terrible statistics for all involved, but especially for lesbian, gay and bisexual kids. Certainly, we don’t want to see any young people being bullied, attacked, trying to commit suicide, etc. And there’s no one way to magically stop all of the negative things in the world from happening. But as widespread acceptance and community support grows, LGBT people gradually become safer and are treated more kindly. There are multiple ways to do this, but an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance that provides equal protection is a great step in the right direction.

One thing is for sure: We need to treat all children with more love and support and understanding and equality — not less. For some, it’s a matter of life and death.

My Latest HRO Comments

 

The City of Jacksonville is (still) debating a more inclusive human rights ordinance that would provide the same legal protections to the LGBT community already provided to many other groups, including religious groups. Here are my comments from the City Council’s public hearing on Jan. 24, 2017. The text below is the same as the video above. My apologies in advance for the grainy video, but it’s the best I could do for now and I felt it was an important message to share.

Members of the City Council, friends and neighbors, good evening. I’m Kyle Sieg. I first want to thank you for this opportunity to speak tonight. Frankly, I don’t know what more any of us can really say on this issue that might actually change hearts and minds. So I’m going to spend a few moments talking about what I do know.

As Maya Angelou said, “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” It may be difficult to see that right now, but it’s true.

Here’s something else I know: Everyone in this room, yes everyone in this room, is a beloved child of God, created in God’s image. It doesn’t matter who or how you are, or what you believe.

And everyone in this room deserves love and equality. In fact, Christians are called to love one another, as difficult as that is and as messy and imperfect as we all are.

Here’s what else I know: Jesus lived in the margins and championed social justice. Christians are called to follow in his footsteps and reach out — in love — to the marginalized.

Let’s assume we’re all just trying to do the right thing. How do we figure out what that is?

In the Bible, Jesus says a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. And so our beliefs should be shaped by their outcomes.

Only bad fruit can come from continuing to allow discrimination in our city, especially when multiple groups — including religious groups — already have these same protections.

But if we did pass these protections, maybe LGBT people would be safer in their own community. Maybe more businesses would move to Jacksonville. And — something that should be important to Christians — maybe more people would receive a Christ-like message of love and inclusion. That sounds like good fruit to me.

I want to share with you two quotes from local faith leaders who’ve helped me profoundly, both from St. John’s Cathedral just down the street.

Dean Kate Moorehead offers this advice:

“Look at each other. Do you see each other? Each of us is a human being. Each one of us is so much more than just one issue — more than our political persuasion or ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation. Look at each other. Stop seeing a cause or perspective. See the person!”

Reverend David Erickson tells us that…”We must not live according to fear. We must not remain in darkness…

We are called to be light-bearers — love-spreading difference-makers…

This is our commission. This is our sending forth….And it’s not simply what we’re to do. It is who we are. It is, like Jesus, our true identity — the very pulse of our heart.”

This is why I’m speaking out in favor of an expansion of love and inclusion and equality in our city, which is what an expanded HRO would be.

Thank you.

If you’re wondering what you can do to support fairness and equality in Jacksonville, I wholeheartedly recommend emailing, writing and calling your local City Council representatives. I also suggest following the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality for updates on the measure and how you can help in other ways.

Additionally, I encourage you to speak out, publicly, on this issue within your own friend groups. A lot of people in Jacksonville don’t seem to know this is even going on. They also don’t seem to know that LGBT people face discrimination in their own community. So, please, educate yourself if you need to, and then help us educate others. This is more than an issue and it’s not just about the economy. This is about real people facing real discrimination in their own community. We need your help.

The Art of Conversation

I think a lot about communication. It comes naturally to me. But communication is important to all of us. Our lives revolve around how we communicate, with ourselves and others. Most recently, however, I’ve been focused on what I’ll call compassionate communication: how to effectively communicate in a way that shows compassion for all involved.

I have lots of opinions. We all do. We all have our own life experiences which shape these opinions. And, as if that’s not messy enough, we’re all imperfect. So how do we effectively communicate with each other — not at each other or around each other or past each other, but with each other?

We have to be quiet and listen.

We can’t communicate effectively or compassionately if we don’t make an effort to understand each other, which happens by listening. This is why social media communication sometimes fails so miserably. We are complicated people discussing complicated issues that tend to be far more nuanced than we sometimes like to admit. Many times, we need to be able to actually hear each other. Even better, we need to see each other. We need to remember that the person on the other side of the conversation is a human just like us. In many cases, the people we are communicating with are our friends and family. If we have any chance of communicating effectively, especially via social media, we must be willing to be quiet and listen to each other.

We have to start from a place of mutual respect.

Can I just admit this is extraordinarily difficult to do sometimes? And if you’re honest with yourself, I bet you’d agree. I live in a world in which my very equality is regularly questioned in my own community. In fact, I don’t even have the same rights as others in my community and there are still people, most of them who say they’re Christians just like me, actively trying to deny me this equality. It is incredibly difficult to think of these people as anything other than mean, fearful, ignorant people. It’s messy. And even when I do remember that these people are also beloved Children of God (regardless of their faith or lack of it), and that we should strive to love everyone, it’s not something I can permanently sustain. It’s something I must regularly work to do. But if I’m asking them to respect me, I must be willing to offer them the same respect, which leads me to my next point.

We must be willing to treat others as we would like to be treated.

I know — what a cliche. But this one is true. First of all, it’s the right thing to do. It helps stop us from being hypocritical. And let’s be honest: we all love to call someone out for hypocrisy, don’t we? And we’re all hypocrites at times, aren’t we? But beyond it being the right thing to do, you’re never going to get your point across to someone who disagrees with you or doesn’t understand you if you don’t even treat them the way you expect them to treat you.

We must be prepared to show grace.

As a gay man, especially one who now (again) identifies as a Christian — a word that understandably tends to carry a boatload of assumptions, I would get absolutely nowhere with many people if I just shut down a conversation every time someone asked me something that was inappropriate or offensive.

I am not saying that one should endure a continued barrage of angry, fear-filled hate speech and continue to be around the person spewing it. I’m also not saying the marginalized bear the full burden of explaining ourselves to others. What I am saying is that when we’re engaging in thoughtful conversations with folks, we should try our best to extend grace to one another.

I’ve been asked so many uncomfortable, insensitive questions about my sexual orientation. If you’re in a minority group or a group that’s very often misunderstood, chances are you know what I’m talking about. 

Perhaps you’ve even asked someone these sorts of questions. If I’m honest, in my effort to learn more about others and learn how I can advocate on their behalf, I think I have. And anytime anyone has ever patiently pointed it out to me, I’ve been so thankful to them for doing so, so that I can learn from the experience. One’s motives behind the questions make a difference, at least to me. If you’re asking to truly better understand me and people like me, I’m much more likely to patiently answer your questions. Regardless, we need to have more grace in our conversations.

We have to hold each other accountable.

Once we establish that we are willing to listen, respect one another, treat each other as we’d like to be treated, and prepare ourselves to extend grace to one another — once we do all that, we are better equipped to effectively hold each other accountable.

I can’t say this enough: humans are not perfect. Often, we slip up. When we do, we need help from friends who will hold us accountable. But more than that, we also need to call out things like racism, bigotry, and homophobia when we see them. We can do this while still listening, showing respect, following the Golden Rule, and showing grace. It’s a challenge — trust me, I struggle with it regularly — but it’s optimal.

So why don’t we do all of this? Why is it so difficult? Well, that’s a loaded question with many reasons. But let me explain why I think it’s sometimes difficult for me.

I want to avoid unnecessary stress and controversy.

I can handle stress. Successfully handling stressful situations has always been part of my job, regardless of the industry. I have even frequently enjoyed these moments. But a key to effectively handling stress, for me at least, is minimizing unnecessary stress as much as possible. Sometimes, stress is good and needed. But sometimes, it’s definitely not. It’s all about balance.

So when I’m faced with a decision about whether or not to engage in communication with someone on some issue, I factor in how much stress it may cause and if it’s worth it. That’s a reasonable thing to do, but more often I’m realizing that it’s important to have important conversations, regardless of the stress it may cause.

I want to avoid tension and being in uncomfortable situations.

This is especially true for me in person. But tension can be good. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued for the benefits and importance of tension in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

“I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

Did you catch that? Tension isn’t only important, it’s necessary for growth. Dang.

We find similar themes in Christianity, with tension and complexity in the Bible itself and in issues people struggle with. As Christopher L. Webber puts it:

“Uniformity of opinion and vision might be more comfortable to some, but unity is made up of diversity. It is precisely in this clash of opinions and the debating of different visions that the mission of the church is clarified. A church without controversy would be a dead church.”

Dang.

In order to have effective conversations, we must be willing to embrace tension and get out of our comfort zones. Honestly, you and I probably both know some of our most meaningful learning experiences have been in trying, tense, and uncomfortable times, yet we sometimes still fear them. But the more we do it, the easier and more comfortable it becomes.

I fear imperfection.

Yep. The guy who talks about how imperfect we all are is the same guy who has this nagging need to try to be perfect, even though he realizes this is unrealistic. Welcome to my mind.

The reason this sometimes holds me back from conversations is that I worry what I’ll say will hurt more than help. I worry that I won’t have the right words or will have the wrong tone. Also, the idea of people thinking I speak on behalf of an entire group, regardless of the group, adds enormous pressure. And while maybe I tend to thrive under pressure, my mind doesn’t seem to care. But hey — realizing this is the first step to moving past it, right?

I like to be liked.

There. I said it. If you know me, you’re probably all like, “Um, duh. That’s obvious.” But here’s the thing: when I think about why I like to be liked, my mind almost immediately goes back to the things I listed above — I want to avoid unnecessary stress and controversy and I want to avoid tense, uncomfortable situations.

But I also want to be approachable, especially for friends and family. I want to be a resource — someone who they know will listen to them. While I’m certainly unafraid to take positions and have opinions, I do often try to find common ground. And that’s not a bad thing as long as I’m not denying myself, denying others, and avoiding what’s right in an unrealistic effort to make all people feel comfortable. And I know I do that, especially in person.

For example, if I’m around family or even in public with my boyfriend, I’m less likely to show him any form of overt affection. I’ll tell myself that I’m not a huge fan of PDA and wouldn’t be if I were straight either. But is that true? How do I know that’s true when I’ve been conditioned for literally my entire life to think that being gay and showing any form of romantic affection to someone of the same sex is wrong? Two things drive this thought process: fear and wanting to make others comfortable.

This is also something I’m working on — not just the PDA thing — all of it. While certain times may call for neutrality, in many cases it’s better in the long run to stand firm in who and how you are, letting the chips fall where they may. But I think you must also keep the Golden Rule in mind, as well as the idea that we should strive to show love and kindness to one another. 

So what’s the answer here? How do we communicate effectively while staying true to who we are and not condoning dangerous, damaging rhetoric? How do we have conversations with people who are not playing by the same “rules,” so-to-speak? Why should we have to play by those rules if they aren’t? Should we even try?

As usual, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle — in a gray area. And I think it depends on the situation. Like most things in life, it’s complex. And if I had one perfect answer, I think I’d be a much more popular person, probably with a few extra bucks in my bank account, too.

Most of life’s big questions don’t have definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. It’s messier than that. But there can be beauty in  difficult answers. To reference Christopher L. Webber again, a “middle way” can “achieve a comprehensiveness or breadth of approach that could draw wisdom from every side and include the insights of others.”

While Webber is talking about Christianity, particularly Episcopalianism here, I think it holds true in general, as well. For so many issues, the best answer lies somewhere in the middle — in a gray area. Why? Well, people are diverse and complex. Many issues are, too.

Certainly, there are issues that are either just right or wrong, and we must not be silent when we hear things like hate speech. That’s when holding each other accountable comes in. But how do we know what’s right and wrong?

Jesus tells us we can judge a tree by the fruit it bears — a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. If one’s actions and rhetoric are bearing bad fruit — leading to negative outcomes — it is not good. If one’s actions and rhetoric are bearing good fruit — leading to positive outcomes — it is good. Using this method, we can better understand when it’s time to speak up. And when we do so, we must be prepared to be bold while also being mindful of the things that make a conversation most productive.

If we want to affect any change, if we want to learn and grow, if we want others to learn and grow, and if we want to fully live life, we must be willing to engage in difficult, messy, conversations. And we must be willing to do so with compassion, understanding, respect and grace. It’s easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot.

My “Giving Tuesday” Plans

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This year, I’ve been thinking about Giving Tuesday more than usual. I try to give whenever I can, whenever it’s needed, but I also like the idea of a concerted effort to encourage others to give charitably, especially in this season of receiving gifts, many of which we don’t truly need.

There are many, many causes I’d love to financially support, and I encourage everyone to donate some time or money throughout the year, if you’re able. That said, here’s who I’ll be helping on Giving Tuesday:

LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

St. John’s Cathedral

I’m not technically a member of St. John’s Cathedral (or the Episcopal Church, for that matter), but its clergy, particularly Dean Kate Moorehead and Rev. David Erickson, are wonderful and have really helped me. They are also advocates for the marginalized in our community. St. John’s Cathedral’s outreach efforts include Volunteers in Medicine and the Clara White Mission.

Earlier this year, St. John’s Cathedral invited neighboring churches, businesses and nonprofits to discuss the future of its Downtown neighborhood “and how to return it to a thriving community.” The goal: “…sharing God’s love through urban revitalization,” not by “displacing the poor and the non-profits ministering to them,” but by “moving working class people, businesses, and students into the district, beautifying the area and slowing the traffic so that a true village is born.”

Sounds good to me.

An estimated 3,000 people are homeless in Jacksonville. The Sulzbacher Center is the area’s largest provider of comprehensive services for the homeless. Beyond food, shelter and healthcare, it also helps people find jobs, and offers children’s programs and life skills programs.

JASMYN

JASMYN has directly helped more than 20,000 local LGBTQ youth since it began in the early 90s, myself included. I’m particularly fond of JASMYN because of its focus on helping young people, especially in this community, where love and support for LGBTQ folks aren’t always felt.

JASMYN has a lot of programming and educational opportunities. There’s a support group, resources for people who want to start a gay straight alliance at their school, education on safe sex, and “drop-in” nights where young people can connect and just hang out in a safe, supportive environment. JASMYN also provides free HIV testing.

Jacksonville Coalition for Equality

Jacksonville is the largest American city without human rights protections for the LGBTQ community. The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality is all about getting our city’s existing Human Rights Ordinance updated to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

More than 600 local businesses and more than 150 faith leaders publicly support this change, yet the city’s mayor and some members of the City Council apparently still need to be convinced. That’s what JCE and the people behind it are trying to do.

Jacksonville Humane Society

While I didn’t find any of my pups through the Jacksonville Humane Society, both dogs I’ve had as an adult have used the JHS animal hospital. Lily hates the vet. In fact, “hates” might be an understatement. But the staff has always been patient and understanding, which I appreciate.

JHS cares for thousands of animals each year. It provides food, shelter, medical care, and of course the opportunity for people to adopt.

NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS & CAUSES

The Reformation Project

Gay Christian Matthew Vines is a great resource for LGBTQ Christians, particularly evangelicals. Vines created The Reformation Project, which works to promote the inclusion of LGBTQ people by reforming church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. The goal is to see a global church that fully affirms our community. What I really love is that Vines and The Reformation Project don’t avoid the so-called “clobber verses” — they address them directly and do a great job of it.

The Reformation Project has regional training conferences and an annual “leadership development cohort,” an intensive program to train LGBTQ Christians to be leaders in their own local faith communities. They are also planning to create local Reformation Project chapters at some point. Awesome stuff. Also, if you’re interested, be sure to check out Matt Vines’ book, “God and the Gay Christian.”

The Trevor Project

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. And the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and two times greater for questioning youth, compared to straight youth.

The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people. It also operates the only national 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ young people and offers help through instant messaging and text messaging.

ACLU

Some of my friends might see this as a controversial choice, but I’m reminded of a quote I recently heard. I can’t recall it directly, but it was basically that some people don’t like the ACLU until they need it. The group has been around for almost a century, and has more than a half-million members, nearly 200 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys and offices throughout the nation.

I’m a fan of equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to due process, etc., so I’m a fan of the ACLU.

Doctors Without Borders

Just like the ACLU, you’ve probably heard about Doctors Without Borders. In case you don’t know, though, these docs deliver emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics and disasters.

For me, right now, this is all about Syria. There are certainly other ways to help with this issue, but there are now no open hospitals in Aleppo. None. Most, if not all, have serious damage from bombs and other fighting. The World Health Organization estimates that more than a quarter-million people are now without hospital care. Doctors Without Borders goes wherever there is need, including incredibly dangerous places like Syria.

Mni Wiconi Health Clinic Partnership at Standing Rock 

If you’re not familiar with the situation at Standing Rock, here’s a good summary. Like Syria, there are various ways to support the folks at Standing Rock and there are many websites that have aggregated some of the options, so if you’re interested, be sure to look into it.

The Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) Health Clinic is a free clinic proposed as a partnership with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe traditional healers, UCSF and others to provide free care to all people in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, including supporters who have gathered as “water protectors.”

This effort has already met its financial goal, so now all donations will be used to directly support immediate health needs at the Standing Rock protest camp.

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There are many great causes and organizations to support. If you’re able, I encourage you to find opportunities that work for you, whether in your own community or national/international causes. If you’re worried about how much of your money will actually support the programs you want to support, sites like Charity Navigator can help.

I hope Giving Tuesday is just the beginning. So many places could use volunteers and financial contributions throughout the year. I plan to work harder to be more involved, and I hope you will, too.

What Would Jacksonville Do?

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As I’ve watched the outpouring of support in Orlando, I can’t help but wonder what that support would look like had this tragedy happened in Jacksonville.

Would our mayor even acknowledge that it was an attack on the LGBT and Hispanic communities? Or would he just speak in generalities?

Would our churches do more than just “pray”? And, if so, would they do it without qualifying their charity in some way? Or would they only say they’d love and pray for us, making sure to mention that it’s in spite of our sin?

Would our city council representatives be out in the community, sharing in the collective pain of such an event? Comforting people, even LGBT ones? Would we even WANT some of them to do so after some of the things that have been said about us? Or would they go radio silent or only gravitate to the reporters for their next quote or sound bite?

Would city leaders be working to help get victims and their families visas if need be? Or would they be worried about where these people are from?

And if — IF — all of these answers are the best answers we could hope for, would we believe any of it is true and honest and good, given how our community has been treated? Given how we can’t even pass basic protections for our community? Given that, on the Monday after 49 people were murdered, people had to go to a school board meeting to defend a bathroom policy that has been in effect since 2008 with seemingly no issues? Would our community treat us better in death than it does in life?

Will our community now consider treating us better in life by treating us like everyone else? We’ll see.

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