Mega Church

OverlakeWhen I walked into Overlake Christian Church, I half expected the walls to come crashing in.  OCC is what you would call a modern day “mega church.”  In a building that more resembles Costco from the outside than any other kind of structure, it is a teeming city within, just as any of the more ornate ancient Gothic mega churches such as Notre Dame de Paris or Chartres Cathedral were in their day.  There are legions of volunteers, several varieties of youth spaces including a youth chapel and a fully staffed nursery, a full gymnasium, meeting rooms, offices and a cafe with (this being the suburbs of Seattle) what seemed like endless gallons of coffee.

But also like the ancient cathedrals, Overlake is serious about the business of faith.  The sanctuary put me in mind of the largest theaters I’ve performed in with capacity for some 5000+ people.  I imagined that when full, as I was informed that the space gets for the later service, this place was off the chain. This church sits in the heart of the evangelical nouvelle vague where young families in increasing numbers are flocking to a message about Christ that doesn’t judge them because they are struggling to make ends meet or because maybe they didn’t finish school or because they believe in traditional conservative values.  This is a place where these particular young people find community that offers them unconditional support and love in a language they can readily understand.  Yes, there were surely gun owners; yes, plenty of McCain/Palin supporters; probably a lot of anti Obamacare people as well…and me.

If you have read any of my other posts, you know immediately that I did not support McCain/Palin, I don’t believe in any kind of gun ownership (private or otherwise) and I am a rabid supporter of the Affordable Care act.  I am also black and very, very gay.  Walking into Overlake or any conservative community, I know that by the simple appearance of my skin, most people will assume my political positions, but the one thing they can’t and usually don’t assume is my sexuality.  This is a squirmy discomfort that I’ve lived with my entire life, whether it was as a teen meeting people who would ask me if I had a girlfriend yet or in a locker room where guys talk incessantly and rather defensively about sex with women (hmm, there’s a blog post in there) or as a cruise director where the singularly most frequent question I was asked was if I was married.  For some 35 years, I have had to “come out” to every single new person I meet.  One of the reasons I am pro marriage equality, outside of personal interest, is because maybe by “normalizing” same sex relationships it will chip away at the assumptions that force someone like myself to have to repeatedly go through this public explanation process that more than being embarrassing is just plain exhausting.  This kind of daily “coming out” is heightened even more in a church setting…let alone an evangelical one.  But, as I said, I’ve been doing this dance for many years so when I was invited by my dear friends to attend their church, it was easy to put my own disquietude aside and let myself feel deeply flattered that they wanted to include me in their spiritual experience.

After dropping off the kids, we made our way through the throngs of beaming faces to the sanctuary where the house band was already in gear.  The music was youthful guitar heavy rock.  The voices were clear and again…the beaming faces.  In the house, many people swayed and sang along (the words were projected on the largest of the flat screen monitors…a 20×30 foot jumbotron at the back of the stage) and many stood with their eyes closed and palms turned upward to receive the spirit…with beaming faces.  The music built a certain frenzy so that when the pastor, Mike Howerton arrived on stage you wouldn’t expect anything less than being inspired.  His message, “Hope Restored” was clear and hip (he wore jeans and converse sneakers) with no “thou shalts” and “wherefores” other than what might appear in specific scripture.  The service ended with a tricked out version of “Oh Come Emmanuel” that was just plain fun to sing. The experience was, in a word, thrilling and I left feeling inspired and elated.  I thought to myself, why can’t Unitarian Universalists do this?  Wanting to stay focused on my time with my friends, I didn’t stay to socialize or chat.  But on my way out, I made note of what seemed like a whole lot of nice people enjoying church the way they wanted to enjoy it, giving their families the grounding that they felt was important to being successful and balanced people.  I should have been content with that.

But after I got home the next day, I did my usual skeptical due diligence to see where this community stood politically.  It was not enough for me to see them first hand and accept them in their natural habitat.  I had to see if they would have strung me up had they known I was a card carrying ‘homosexualist!’  A simple Google search (“Overlake Christian Church LGBT”) turned up the following article from the Christian Telegraph:

Overlake Christian Church Provides Aids Test to “Remove Stigma”

The article is very definitely anti-Gay (a clue should have been seeing AIDS not capitalized.) But looking past the article at the actual act of an evangelical church asking members to take an HIV test, I was blown away.  Again, I found myself asking, why can’t Unitarian Universalists do this?  At the center of this article were Linda and Rob Robertson who lost their gay son in 2009.  I did a bit more research and came across, or rather was reminded of Linda’s blog, Just Because He Breathes.  Their family story of transformation through their faith to embrace their son in all of his beauty as a gay Christian before his death is extremely powerful.  I had read her article in the Huff Post in July and suddenly felt ashamed that I was in her church and didn’t know…or feel comfortable to seek her, or someone like her out.  I immediately reached out to Linda through her blog and to my amazement, she wrote back.  I am hopeful that I will be able to continue a dialogue with her, not only to support her work, but also to learn from her.  I see a lesson for progressives and liberal church goers as well as Atheists and non believers here.  Linda is a Christian.  She lives what she believes.  From the most painful experience that any parent can undergo regardless of their faith, she learned that she cannot judge.  As a Christian, I imagine that she knows that judgment is in God’s hands.  But that is not to say that for those who are not Christian that they must play by those same rules; judgement, peace, balance are what we come to in our own experiences and we cannot require that others accept something just because it works for us…and ultimately, it is out of all of our hands.  Just as someone who is LGBT cannot be judged by the rules of heteronormativity and just as Christian evangelicals should not all be judged by the same rules of liberal intolerance.

Personally, I am tired of religious irony.  My own snarky, judgmental attitude about a Christian mega church, no matter how much in check I was able to keep it in the moment, almost kept me from making a beautiful discovery about the depth and capacity of the human heart.  Every religious leader or aspiring religious leader should be so lucky as to be able to float in the warmth of what I witnessed at Overlake, and every religious or faith community should be able to provide that warmth to whoever comes into their midst, whether it is a liberal black gay guy in an evangelical church or if it is an evangelical in a community of Pagans.  We are in the business of creating community and those communities are built on “common unities”…shared experiences of our worlds.  There is no possible way that everyone is going to have the same common unities…and we shouldn’t really want to have the same ones.  But it is the impulse to gather and share those common unities that is the same among all of us and that is something in which we can all share; that impulse is love.  I am a Unitarian Universalist and I will celebrate your joy at commemorating the birth of Christ.  You are straight and I hope you can celebrate my thriving in a relationship with the man I share my life with.  We are Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Atheist, Lesbian, Transgender, Cisgender, HIV+, black, Latino and white and we can celebrate one another and be much better for it.

Blessed be…he said with a beaming face.

8.5% – An Open Letter to Linda Harvey

jesus-facepalmThank you Linda Harvey of the conservative Christian organization Mission America for giving me the fire to write this.  You and I do not live in the same world…and I’m glad.

Dear Linda Harvey,

Yes, indeed, I have decided to come out to myself as straight. I find women sexually desirable and beautiful and powerful. I totally and completely want women in my life as partners and companions. I think that the union between a man and a woman is Divinely inspired and should be upheld as a God given right.  But quite miraculously, I am a big enough human in my heart and an enlightened enough person to realize that just because I have strong feelings for women, it doesn’t negate the fact that my feelings for men are stronger.  I also think that the union between two men or two women, regardless of their gender identity is a God given right as creatures with a conscious and free will (also given to us by God.)  This is what separates us from animals (because I know you want to go there and compare my sexuality to bestiality…which is a manifestation of your sick mind and not mine.) This is also why we call it “sexual PREFERENCE” and not “sexual DICTATE.” God gave us two things in this question: sexual expression and free will.  Even if God did give us the Bible, and I won’t challenge those people who live by The Word, God also gave the Bible hundreds of authors and interpretations; clearly even God is not not willing to make the wild spectrum of our feelings and emotions simply black and white.  Gay and straight aren’t a binary.  The only ones who decided that human sexuality was built on strict opposites were physicians in the 19th century who were driven by colonial politics and society and a healthy dose of fear.  Linda, if you want to live in a world that is black and white; a world where you are willing to ignore that yellow and red and pink and purple exist…that is your choice.  But I resent anyone who would tell me that the sky is blue and corn is yellow just as much as I would resent anyone telling me that male/ female, gay/ straight etc.  are strict and unmalleable  opposites. So yes, indeed Linda Harvey, I am fully willing to come out to myself as straight…but only about 8.5% straight; the other 91.5% is 100% gay male queer.

Adam Dyer

To my Readers: What’s you’re percentage?  There is no scientific test for this.  This is a question for your heart and only you can tell for sure.  You might not ever want to act on it and it doesn’t define who you are but if you ever looked at someone of the same sex and found them attractive, I’d say give yourself 2% and celebrate…because you’re probably 100% normal…whatever that is.

Happy Birthday

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  It was a pivotal day in the history of the Civil Rights movement in America.  Although it had been conceived before (reference is made in the film Brother Outsider to a plan in the 1940’s for a march of this nature) it was the first time any demonstration of this magnitude had ever come together in this country.  A mixing of races and religions and economic backgrounds came together and stood united in demonstration of the need for change for one specific demographic sector…black people.

These kinds of demonstrations aren’t so simple now.  As we progressed from the era of fighting for the rights of one marginalized population, other groups began to find their voices in the song of freedom.  Women, Gays and Lesbians, Latinos, Asian Americans, people with disabilities, Jews, Muslims, Atheists.  But eventually people started to realize as well that they weren’t just part of one group.  We used to joke (before political correctness) that if you were a black Jewish lesbian in a wheelchair, you had the ultimate minority status.  But we don’t make those jokes anymore; in fact, we are starting to see the value of recognizing what a black, Jewish, disabled lesbian would represent in the mix.  She would represent the degree to which we all sit at intersections of cultures, demographics and social standings.  Each of us has privilege; each of us has disadvantage.  The Civil Rights Movement ushered in an age of self identity that has now culminated in all of us finding multiple self identities.

As we look back on the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, the brilliance of Bayard Rustin’s organizing and the willingness of the people to buy into the effort and gather en-masse during a weekday, it does seem clear that somethings have definitely changed.  But it is also clear that some things have not really changed at all.  People have died for a cause who’s banners would be just as relevant today.  A white man can kill a black man and walk free.  We talk about how demographics are shifting to make people of color the majority in this country by 2050; but that kind of binary based demographic still leaves white people as the “norm” or the barometer against which everyone else is measured.   Change…but the same.

Progress…real progress, will mean a time when we are able to look at the world through something other than the binary lens: black/white; gay/straight; male/female; rich/poor; able/disabled.  We will look at each other as hearts and minds and we will look at life and maybe even God as a continuum…a spectrum of experience.  We will have no need for demographics because we will no longer be judging each other.  We will fully embrace our selves as black lesbian disabled Jews and our society will actually not raise an eyebrow when it is asked to embrace us back.

But over all, my point is, this day, in 1963 is when it began.  Certainly others fought hard before and after this date, but it is the one date we can point to when we know that at least 250,000 other people were thinking pretty much the same thing: “we need to do something about this mess.”

Today is also my friend Stacey’s birthday…in fact at the exact moment when those 250,000 people were gathered on the National Mall, when Martin Luther King, Jr. declared “I Have a Dream”, while Mahaila Jackson sang “How I Got Over,” Stacey sent her first cry to the heavens.  And although both Mahalia and Dr. King are gone, Stacey is still here and still crying to the heavens, singing jazz.  In 50 years, she has changed of course…as we all have, yet she is the same; just like this country, just like our dreams for justice and equality for all.

So, today, rather than lamenting how much things are the same after 50 years, let’s celebrate what is good about those things that haven’t changed…our basic desire for honesty, humanity and humility; our basic desire for good.  Our need to see the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.  Our God given talents and gifts that lift one another up and unite us as one people to declare that we ALL have a dream; and of course the fact that we are still singing jazz.  For without dreams, whether they be great or small, what else do we have to live for?

Happy Birthday Stacey!

Link

Maybe If

(Click on the link above.)

This was so real and powerful I had to re-blog it.  I am heartbroken by how these stories either go un published or become punchlines.  I’m also disturbed by how we spend a lot of time looking at transgender people with pity and an assumed sense of tragic.  This week’s news around Chelsea Manning and the variety of comments and the twisted and insensitive coverage by even the LGBTQ press is testament to how much we don’t know and don’t even seem to WANT to know about gender and gender fluidity.  But more than that, the story in Maybe If is one I’ve heard repeatedly in my small circle of friends and colleagues only because that circle includes transwomen of color.  We can talk about “welcoming congregations” and “equality” but it means nothing unless you are willing to actually be in relationship with the people who are marginalized.  Please God let this country and this world grow up.

Last Splash

Okay folks, this one hurts.  I know that people passing is part of the circle of life, and when our favorite stars go, it should really just be a general sadness for them and their families while we enjoy the biography specials and the exposes on E!, but when I read that Esther Williams died today at 91, it kind of hit my like a truck.  You see, when I was an adolescent, trying to figure out just what was going on for me in terms of my not being attracted to girls and having a rather powerful crush on one of my male neighbors, I was also watching old movies on the TV.  Debbie Reynolds and Judy Garland were favorites; but above them all, standing on perfectly arched feet was Esther Williams.

I’m not quite sure what it was…maybe not so much a single quality, but a combination of things that made her seem at once other worldly and totally human.  In my youthful mind, she had the perfect body and face…which is a little ironic, because when I look at her now, she’s built a bit like a boy…clearly, I had formed my likes by this point.  She also seemed to have an irrepressible sense of humor.  When I watch her films now, I get the sense that frequently they had to do multiple takes because she was always cracking up.

It seemed to me that even though she was stunningly beautiful, she never took herself too seriously.  Although, that was different when it came to her swimming.  Watching her glide through the water, you could tell that this was a trained athlete, with flawless timing and technique…at least to a non-athletic swimmer like me.  She was beauty and strength and humility and glamour.  Wow.  Watching a woman like this in action gave me incredible respect for the full dimension of feminine culture.  In a bizarre way, seeing her was the beginning of me understanding that the other little boys and the terrible way they talked about girls as objects wasn’t right; nor was the way that some of the little girls acted like objects.  There was obviously much, much more to being a woman.  What a great foundation for getting to know the powerful young women of my teens not to mention the women of my family.

So to Esther and her family, I send a prayer, immense gratitude and a wish that somewhere some little gay boy is watching your old movies, looking at you and thinking, as I did, “if that is what a woman can be,  then I will always be in awe of what woman can be.”

RIP