Pokémon Go and How We Engage with the Culture

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My dog looking over his shoulder at a Drowzee in our neighborhood.

I caught at Metapod and an Ekans this morning while I was walking the dog. And grabbed a couple of Poké Balls and a potion at the stop by our house. So it was a pretty good time around the neighborhood.

Last night, I helped a mom and her 3 or 4 year old son figure out how to collect items at stops. The dog licked this little boy while the mom and I talked about how far they had walked and what kind of little monsters they had collected so far. They left while my dog was still sniffing around the stop sign, and I heard the little boy say, “Back to the adventures!”

The other night our kids set a lure outside the stop closest to our house. A couple of heavily tatted guys stopped by, one who was apparently excited to catch a Meowth there. They chatted until time ran out on the lure and then they moved on.

I’m sure the creators of Pokémon Go expected it to do well – those pocket monsters have been around for a long time – but I don’t know if they expected to become this kind of a phenomenon. Not everyone I know with a cell phone is playing, but a lot of people are playing.

It’s stupid, I know. Trends usually are. A few years ago, we all went apeshit over a frustrating game with a square bird that didn’t know how to fly worth a damn. Or rubber bands that were in the shapes of things. Or plastic shoes that gave you horrible blisters and ruined your feet. But I’ve done all of them (Except Silly Bandz. I had enough of those in middle school when they were just circles and we called them Jelly Bracelets. I had some really cool glowing ones back then that were almost as important to me as my sticker book and jeans jacket.).

Maybe I just like the distraction. God knows things are pretty gross right now. Black men are being shot and killed by people sworn to protect and serve. Trans people are the target of witch hunts. Gay night clubs are being shot up. Snipers hiding out, picking off police officers who are helping to keep peace. Terrorists are driving trucks into crowds killing dozens of people. Distraction from the madness seems pretty sweet, to be honest.

I see the need to engage with culture in meaningful ways. I can’t be a person of faith in this world and remain silent during times of tragedy. I can’t ignore the fear and anger and pain that grips the hearts of so many. I can’t and I won’t.

I also won’t ignore the parts of the culture that bring joy and happiness. Yes, I will devote time to listening to the activists of Black Lives Matter about the ways that we can address systemic racism. I will listen to what my LGBTQ friends say about the violence happening to their community. I will weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.

And sometimes, in the middle of that, I will rejoice with those who caught a Meowth.

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How the Church Can Love the LGBTQ Community Better

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Orlando has never been far from my mind this week. I’m a straight, white, cis-woman, so it isn’t about me, but it is about people I love, and that makes it personal. I am trying to remember this graphic as I process my own grief and fear alongside my LGBTQ loved ones, but I’m still grieving. I still feel fear as I send kids off to Pride events, or attend our a local vigil for the Orlando victims.

I sometimes struggle with how to talk about parenting an LGBTQ kid and being a person of faith. Not because I find the two to be incongruous, but because so many others do. The disbelief of others that my faith led me toward inclusion, rather than away from inclusion often makes me want to separate the two. So while I have written about my faith in the context of the discussion of LGBTQ rights and inclusion, I tend to leave faith out of it. Better to simply know that the two are intertwined than to try to justify it to an unhearing crowd.

But as I was reading last week’s lectionary, and as the massacre in Orlando has weighed on my mind, I realized that the two continue to be linked in ways that I must express.

Last week’s gospel reading was from Luke 7 beginning at the 36th verse. It is the story of the woman in sin who anoints the feet of Jesus. She breaks open her alabaster jar of perfumed oil, wets his feet with her tears, and wipes them with her hair. It is an extravagant display of humility and adoration.

The host is understandably uncomfortable with this display, muttering to himself that Jesus must not be able to see what kind of a sinner was before him.

Jesus takes that opportunity to ask the Pharisee who shows the most gratitude at receiving forgiveness – the one who owes little, or the one who owes much. Simon rightly says that the debtor with the highest obligation will show the greatest amount of love to the one who has canceled that obligation.

When I bring that into the context of a discussion about the LGBTQ community, it can be easy to cast the gay man or the trans woman as the woman. The ones with the Big Sins which need to be forgiven. We see the shooter as the woman, needing to repent of his murderous decisions. We see leaders that say “God hates fags” or who call of the execution of the gays as the woman, needing to be more gentle in their dealing with those who are LGBTQ.

We see the man who shot the patrons of Pulse as the perpetrator of violence, but we turn a blind eye to the way that calling a person’s gender identity perverted can lead to depression resulting in death. We shake our heads at the obscene words of Westboro Baptist, but we ignore the way that asking a lesbian to remain celibate and alone can sound even more hateful. We look down our noses at countries jail people for even being gay, while we speak from the pulpits encouraging people to vote against equal rights for LGBTQ people. We protest protections for transgender people in the bathroom. We say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” while often being unable to untangle the two. We separate, we demean, we patronize, we exclude. All the while, turning a blind eye to these sins of pride and judgment.

When we ignore our own sin, we miss the beauty of being the woman anointing Jesus.

When she saw her sin, her response was to lay down at the feet of Jesus. It was to pour out something of value. It was to weep enough tears to wash away the dirt and grime and shit that had accumulated there. It was to use something that she and no doubt others considered a standard of beauty as a tool to wipe away that very dirt and grime and shit. The recognition of her sin led her to a vast outpouring of humility and affection.

For years I believed that LGBTQ people were the sinners. Their love was sinful. Their affection were an affront to God. When I realized that what was sinful was my exclusionary view, my haughty ideology – it changed me. When I saw that it wasn’t the LGBTQ community that was the woman, but rather that I was the woman – my only response was to love Jesus more, to love my friends and family more.

I ask the Church today to examine the ways that we have sinned against our LGBTQ friends and family.  What are the ways that we have caused people to feel alone, rejected, outcast? What are the ways we have wounded those who want to worship in the pews with us? What are the ways we have inflicted pain to those wanting to share their lives with someone they love? What are the ways that we have contributed to the deaths of countless other LGBTQ men and women before Orlando?

When we cling to our sin, we cannot be extravagant with our love. But when we see it, and accept forgiveness, our love pours forth like oil and tears and kisses at the feet of Christ.

 

 

photo credit: Wayne Forte

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4 Promises For My LGBTQ Loved Ones After Orlando

 

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I haven’t known what to say since I saw the news about Orlando Sunday morning. More than 100 LGBTQ people and allies dead or injured. The largest mass shooting in America. The largest loss of life in a terrorist attack since 9/11. What words of comfort can you offer in the face of so much pain?

And this feels a little too big. Is this a story about religious extremism? Is this a story about gun control? Well, yes. Those are absolutely a part of this.

But at the end of the day, this story is about those who were injured and murdered. How and why they were targeted are topics worth a conversation, but first and foremost, we need to focus on who. We need to focus on the young man trapped in the bathroom, texting his mom. We need to focus on the young men who, instead of having a wedding ceremony, will be sharing a funeral service. We need to focus on the mom who protected her gay son with her life. We need to remember the dancers and artists and accountants and students and bartenders and volunteers.

I want to have conversations about ISIS and guns. I want to talk about radicalized views of all stripes. But right now, I want to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, especially to those who are close to me. So here are my promises to my LGBTQ loved ones.

I will not be defensive. My LGBTQ friends are grieving and for many of them, they express that grief through hurt and anger, and rightfully so. They live under the threat of violence every day, to a degree that I, as a straight, cis-woman, cannot understand. They have watched their personhood treated as a political tool. They have watched people offer condolences following Orlando, but know that the next day they will be writing legislation to deny them rights. They hear prayers being offered for their comfort, followed immediately by prayers for them to be something else, something not so gay. They get to feel anger, and they get to express anger. It’s not my job to make sure their tone is pleasing enough to make me comfortable. So I don’t need raise a ruckus if you don’t mention how kind I was to you this or that time. I don’t need you to be careful about how you phrase your tweets. I can remember that this isn’t about me – it’s your grief and I can put my defensiveness on the shelf.

I will listen to your words. There is a strong tendency for us to look for people like us to tell us how to feel about world events. We want to know how “our people” feel, so we elevate their voices in these discussions, while ignoring the voices of those who are actually affected by the events. But your words matter. Your words have insights that I cannot get from people like me. So I will listen to them, I will share them, I will take them to heart.

I will tell you that I love you. I love that you share pictures of you and your spouse kissing. I love that you can celebrate the good even in the midst of the hardship. I love that you share your strong words, even when it is frightening to do so. I love that you stand firm in the knowledge that you have worth, that you are beautiful, that you are powerful, even when the world and the Church tries to tell you otherwise. I love you, and I am proud to stand with you, as a mom, as a friend, as a person of faith.

I’ll keep these promises after we stop talking about Orlando. We all know how it works. As Trevor Noah said, “We’re shocked, we mourn, we change our profile pics, we move on.” I probably can’t change that, but I promise that I can keep an open mind, keep listening, and keep loving you even when the rest of us have “moved on.” Because part of being an ally is remembering that while I have the luxury of moving on, you don’t. If I want to remain with you, I need to remember that.

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We know you want to protect women in bathrooms. What about from actual rapists?

 

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I keep waiting, but it hasn’t happened yet.

A few weeks ago, there were lots of men looking out for the safety of American women everywhere by wanting to ban transgender women from using the ladies’ rooms at Target and other public places. We were told how women were precious, how they needed protected from “men in dresses.” When the current administration sent out messages to schools giving guidelines on how to treat transgender students, eleven states sued to make sure that our girls are safe in their locker rooms from transgender girls.

Oh, I heard them say that it wasn’t REALLY the trans people they were worried about. Sure, there would be plenty of opportunities to call them freaks and perverts. Lots of chances to remind us that there are just a few of them, so why should we bow to their desires. Lots of dismissive language that told trans men and women that their comfort and mental health don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

But no, it wasn’t primarily the trans people (especially trans women) that we needed to be protected from. It was the the pedophiles and the voyeurs who would take advantage of the laws. It was the men who would dress up like a woman so they could prey on women in bathrooms. Those were the real threat. Those were the men that needed to be dealt with. Violent men who would do actual harm against women – those were the men that we needed to be on the lookout for, those were who the men were concerned about. Keep women safe from men who were violent.

So when Stanford rapist Brock Turner got a mere 6 month sentence, I started waiting. Waiting for all of these men to start posting their outrage at the system that so dramatically failed a young woman. Waiting for petitions to receive millions of signatures demanding stricter sentencing for rapists. Waiting for viral videos of pastors standing outside of the courthouse, speaking in animated tones about what grave injustice was taking place behind those walls. Waiting for men to share the powerful words of the victim as a reminder that rape has lifetime consequences for those who experience it. Waiting for men to remind other men that the responsibility not to rape lies with them, not with the women who are raped. Waiting for these men to prove that their concern for their wives and daughters wasn’t really just a mask for the transphobia that they carried and didn’t want to be called on. 

Instead, I’ve read a letter from a father saying that his son is being punished too harshly for only 2o minutes of action, where instead of a perpetrator of a violent crime, he is the victim of alcohol consumption and partying. I’ve read many times about how many drinks the victim had before she was raped. I’ve read about how we need to crack down on drinking on college campuses.

I’ve seen lots and lots of nothing at all from people who just weeks ago were ready to storm the bathroom stalls to make sure their wives and daughters were safe.

Where are you? Where is your outrage when a young woman is penetrated by fingers and leaves and pine needles behind a dumpster while she is unconscious? Where is your disgust for a system that slaps a rapist on the wrist and says, “Well, he probably won’t do THAT again.” Where is your anger at a culture that has more concern for the impact of jailing a rapist than the impact of a rape?

Weeks ago, we were told that women needed to be protected.

But apparently not from rapists.

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Three Minute Lesson in Bravery

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My first tattoo took less than three minutes.

It was the day after graduation, two days after his eighteenth birthday, and my son and I were texting one another.

“I want a spur of the moment small tattoo.”

The words came across my phone screen and I replied, “For reals.” But not really for reals. I’m almost 42, well past the age of the impulsive tattoo.

We’d been talking about getting first tattoos together later this summer. After watching a season of Bad Ink on Netflix last year, I’d been mulling over what my first ink would be. Sitting on it, making sure this was something that I wanted on my body permanently. Now here we were, calling tattoo parlors, seeing who could seat us right now. In the course of an hour, I went from responsible adult to unpredictable tattoo-getter.

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I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks trying to write something for my son for his graduation. Something encouraging and inspiring. Something he could read later and remember that I love him, that I’m proud of him, that I’m honored to be his mom.

But the words weren’t there. Everything I started sounded contrived and cliche. I felt like the best words to convey “be brave” have already been written.

We spend a lot of time as they grow warning them of dangers. Teaching them to be responsible. Instilling a work ethic. Sharing all of the lessons necessary to make them Functional Adults (TM).convo

But when they’re graduating, we change our tune. Suddenly instead of “clean your room” and “wash the dishes” and “beware of strangers,” we have a new story to tell them. Be brave. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay to dream big. Learn to be comfortable in your skin.

We expect that because most children are good at having fun and enjoying life that we don’t have to remind them of those things. We don’t have to remind them to make messes, to use their imaginations, to be brave. Instead we use our instruction time teaching them to stay tidy, to follow the rules, to be careful. Except for that one day when they graduate and we tell them, “Oh by the way, do those things that came naturally to you 12 years ago but that we have told you to repress since then.”

How do you write something that challenges that without sounding trite? 

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I was the first in the chair, my arm twisted so my wrist was exposed to the heavily tattooed man who would soon be using his tools to forever change my skin. I was nervous, talking too fast and too loud. Then pain, but not as much as I expected. And in just under three minutes, my first tattoo was there. We traded spots, and not long after, my son’s arm was also inked.

I chose an eighth note for my first tattoo. I wanted something small, something that could be finished quickly. I wanted something pretty, and I think eighth notes are the prettiest notes. I wanted something that represented part of me, and music has been a part of my life since always. I wanted something that represented brevity, because even though it has been 18 years since I became a mother, it feels so short. Something quick, but something permanent. Like so much of life.

In that chair, I was able to say more than I could in thousands of words here. I could show him that yes, we can still be a little reckless, even when we’re firmly in our middle age. We can be impulsive even when we have bills and responsibilities. We can still have fun, even in the midst of jobs and menu planning and budgeting.

We can be brave, even if it’s just for three minutes.

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I Cheated, I’m Not a Cheater

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I almost started a blog called The Bad Adulteress. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and I didn’t take that name for myself, but it lingered in the back of my brain for a while. It was part of my year of Treating Myself Like Shit.

In the year following my affair, I would often torture myself by reading articles about divorce and infidelity. A regular bit of self-flagellation that could remind me that I had no hope of a happy marriage the second time around. Reminders that I had ruined the lives of my kids. Reminders that I was just human garbage.

Eventually, I got counseling and I stopped some of my self-destructive behaviors. I stopped searching for ways to hurt myself, and began to look for ways to heal, ways to strengthen my current marriage.

Then one day, in my inbox, there was an email alerting me that my ex husband had written a post about me on his blog. I had neglected to unsubscribe from it following the purge that happened after the divorce. I hadn’t gone searching for these words, but there they were, staring me in the face, accusing me. Statements claiming that because I cheated, I was a cheater. Suppositions that if I hadn’t cheated already, it was coming. All of the negative labels that I had been fighting to leave behind, right in view.

Because I had spent a lot of time believing this about myself, questions began to arise again. Wondering if it was possible to believe in always after you had an affair. Wondering if I was incapable of fidelity after breaking my vows. The labels came back. Years of faithfulness were erased – I was among the unfaithful. Legal documents said it. Adulterer. Cheater.

It’s easy to believe that you are the one negative thing when you are the one who committed the crime. Studies have been conducted about infidelity that indicate that people who cheat are more likely to do it again. The idea of once a cheater, always a cheater has some teeth. Because there can be truth in that phrase, once one has donned the mantel of “adulterer,” it can be a difficult characterization to shed.

It can be true of lots of labels that we give ourselves, or that others give us. We internalize negativity with surprising ease, and it can take a huge effort of will to remember that our negative actions are not the sum total of our humanity. We may have done bad things, but we are not inherently bad because of those things. We can still find redemption from our poor behavior.

A few months ago, I put in an application to speak at this year’s Wild Goose Festival. The last time I was there was just weeks before I burned it all down – my first marriage, my church, my platform, all of it. I assumed it was my last trip to the Goose. Who would want me there again when I spoke and then turned around and destroyed everything I had just spoken about? Who wants an adulteress to speak at a Christian festival?

The thing is, I know that I’m not just that person. Yes, infidelity is a part of my story, and it’s not a part of which I’m proud. However, it’s just a part. It has shaped who I am today, but it is not the totality of who I am today. So I applied. And I am thrilled to say that I was accepted as a presenter.

In July, I’m going to go to North Carolina and share some of my story. I’m going to talk about how grief is a necessary, human part of all of our narratives, and how we don’t need to feel shame for the things that we have done that have caused us or others grief.

Today I’m rejecting the “once a cheater, always a cheater.” Not because I am choosing to turn a blind eye to the problems that led me to that place the first time. Not because I am ignoring my own decisions to cheat. Not because I am naive enough to believe that I could never do this again. I’m rejecting it because even though I cheated, I am not a cheater.

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If you’d like to attend Wild Goose, you can get 25% off of your weekend pass by using the code BEMYGUEST when you purchase your tickets. If you’re going to be there, be sure to let me know so I can say hello. I love meeting people I only know online!

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Unwelcome Guests

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When I was in high school, I primarily attended the Lutheran church I had grown up in. I accompanied the choir that my mom directed, I played the organ for Saturday night services. But when I could manage, I would visit the United Methodist Church where several of my friends attended. They had a thriving, interesting Sunday School class, and I loved the times when I was able to attend and engage with my friends with topics that fascinated us and made us think. In the small room at the end of the hall, we would sit around the big table, hashing out ideas, discussing problems that mattered to us, sharing our thoughts.

It was always good to visit, even if it wasn’t my regular church home. One of the things that made it comfortable was that I always felt welcome at the table. I wasn’t a part of the church, but I was always welcome to take part in the conversation. My perspective wasn’t something that I needed to keep to myself, even if it wasn’t the same as those who were a more regular part of the class.

I have been attending a UMC church for a few months now. I am grateful for the inclusive language that has been used at our church, and the way they have embraced us. As the general conference has been approaching, I’ve been following closely the issue of the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the denomination.

On the first night of the UMC General Conference, they kicked off the event with a worship service. One person slated to participate was Rev. Vicki Flippin from New York. She pastors an inclusive congregation in NYC, and as a part of her greeting, she intended to mention the LGBTQ community, a group that has continue to be held to the margins in the UMC.

However, she did not have the opportunity to give her greeting. Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett said, “…because of the context of General Conference worship being inclusive for everyone, …I wasn’t comfortable naming one group in that reading.”

The thing is, the UMC has not been inclusive for the LGBTQ community. The Book of Discipline states, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” Since 1972, an entire group of Christians in the denomination have been relegated to the sidelines, made to feel like they are worth less than their straight, cisgender counterparts.

This is the choice so many churches offer. You can be gay and still attend a Sunday morning service. You can be transgender and give them your money. You can be a lesbian and help in the nursery, changing diapers and cleaning up cracker crumbs. Serve, but only in the background where no one can see you.

There is nothing wrong with serving in these areas. We need people in all aspects of ministry. But if your gifts are best used as a pastor or a deacon, there is no place for you in the UMC right now. You must hide an essential part of yourself – either your calling or your sexual identity. You cannot bring your full self to your church community.

On Monday, 111 pastors, deacons, elders, and candidates for ministry came out in a love letter to their denomination. Some might ask why not just serve where you are welcome?Why not just go to the PCUSA or the ELCA or the Episcopalian church or the UCC, all of which are open and affirming? But being asked to leave your church hurts. We speak of our churches as our family and being asked to go join a different family because they’ll love you more than we do is not a particularly caring or generous way to approach ministry.

On the first night of the general conference, there was an opportunity, even if only a very small one, to affirm the value of people who have been cast aside time and again by the UMC. To make a group who has been asked to remain invisible, seen for just a moment. To make those who, rightfully, may not feel fully accepted or appreciated, feel instead that they were welcome. Instead, the choice was to put the comfort of those who are already included ahead of those who have been excluded. To say that you can be our guest, but you are not welcome.

It is my prayer that there will be a day in the UMC when we can all sit together, bringing our full selves to the table. A day when all will be welcome.

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