This week has been thick and dense, much like the cloud cover and fog that have engulfed the city. So my post is long. If you want to read it, you might want to line your snacks up ahead of time.
This being an odd-numbered month, Heretic School is on tap for early Tuesday mornings at Emmanuel Church. Heretic School makes the fabric of my week so much more vibrant and resilient. Sitting together with people I admire, puzzling our way through texts that baffle, annoy, or outright frighten us, is such a great and generous gift of time and spirit.
Later in the week I heard a great lecture by a designer named Frank Chimero, entitled “Do Things the Long, Hard, Stupid Way.” In the lecture, Chimero tells the story of David Chang, the head chef in the wildly popular New York City restaurant Momofuku. The story, perhaps apocryphal, is that Chang caught his sous chef cutting a corner in preparing a dish and told him:
Just because we’re a casual restaurant, doesn’t mean we don’t hold ourselves to fine dining standards. We try to do things the right way. That usually means doing things the long, hard, stupid way.
Since the “long, hard, stupid way” pretty much describes the way I’ve done just about anything worthwhile in my life, this story appeals to me. It reminds me of the thing my older brother told me once, with which I ended my previous post here. It also reminds me of the time years ago that I heard T-Bone Burnett talk in an interview about how one of the things that appealed to him about Christianity was how difficult it is. These are my people, and they’re singing my song!
So all this was rolling around in my Joybrain this week when I engaged a Biblical literalist on Facebook over the Amendment One vote that’s coming up in North Carolina on Tuesday. A friend of mine had posted this great flow chart on her Facebook page:
One of her Facebook friends responded with the standard line that God made marriage for one man and one woman, “it was Adam and Eve not Steve & Tom or Mary & Joyce.” At first, I thought, no, I’m not getting into this. These types of arguments rarely go anywhere, and they often frustrate and demoralize me.
Without comment, I posted a link to a video that had interviews with a wide variety of North Carolina clergy saying what was wrong with Amendment One and why people should vote against it.
The man responded with more canned argument about how our country has gotten away “from knowing God and his word” and that we need to repent and come to Jesus or we’ll fall under the power of other countries. At that point, it was my bedtime, but I couldn’t resist responding with this before I went to bed:
I’m a Christian, lesbian, and married to my wife for the past 8 years here in Massachusetts. We have three daughters together. I read and study the Bible, go to church every Sunday, pray daily, and know that, like you, I am made in the image of God.
The work of Jesus Christ about freeing ALL God’s people from tyranny, oppression, and danger. Jesus had NOTHING to say about homosexuality, and very little to say about marriage. More than anything else, he talked about not being afraid and about the corrupting, oppressive power of wealth. If you actually read the legislation, Amendment One puts all kinds of North Carolina’s families and children at risk. Certainly not what Jesus would want for God’s people.
I would go so far as to say that Amendment One would make North Carolina look more like Taliban-ruled Afghanistan than any state in this country, which, after all, was founded on liberty for all people. I don’t normally engage with people who claim to know what God thinks, and I may end up regretting this, but I couldn’t stay silent. Silence has never protected anyone.
When I got up the next morning, I resisted the temptation to see how the man responded. I wasn’t sure I was up to what I assumed would be a lot of vitriol. As PW and I drove to work together, I told her about the Facebook thread. She suggested that I was already in the conversation, and advised that I go ahead and read his response, but with as much compassion as possible. And that if I chose to respond to him, to do so from a place of compassion, not combativeness.
His response was to tell me that he is a retired soldier, working with other soldiers, and that he has been to Iraq and Afghanistan and clearly I know nothing about the Taliban, who will kill anyone who does not believe what they believe. His ending surprised me: “May God work in you his will and glory in Christ Jesus.” It struck me as open-handed, which I’m sure was partly due to my adopting PW’s suggested posture of compassion. So I responded:
Thank you for your service, and for your ongoing support for and work with soldiers. My comparison with the Taliban has to do with a religious minority attempting to impose its world view and its rigid perception of God’s law onto a population that does not share its religious views. That is what Amendment One is all about–a religious minority attempting to write into state law its particular religious views.
I encourage you, and anyone else reading this thread, to stop and consider what we know about the universe—it is rapidly expanding and only about 15% of the matter in it is known to humans. If the universe is the work of God, and I think it is, why on earth would anyone assume that God’s only communication with us is contained solely in The Bible? If God’s ever-expanding creation is made in God’s image, then perhaps God continues to speak to us, at all times, in all places, and in ways that we can barely comprehend.
Given what the scriptures tell us, over and over, about what God wants for God’s people, I think that it is safe to believe that where justice, mercy, and love are alive in the world, that is God speaking. Where hunger, oppression, tyranny, hatred, and division are alive, that is God weeping.
I pray that all people in all places may find ways, whatever their path, to expand the realm of justice, mercy, and love, and to shake off the chains of tyranny, oppression, hatred, and division.
As I reflected on it, I realized that the key for me in this exchange was to stay invested in simply standing and representing a different view–to represent possibility, and not get invested in winning the argument, or convincing the other person. Those results would be nice, but, to paraphrase William Stafford as I’ve done before, it’s the process that’s important.
The exchange was also an excellent test of my convictions. Do I really want the realm of justice, mercy, and love to be alive in the world? Yes, yes I do. How hard am I willing to work for it? As hard as I can. Some days there’s more can in me than others. And since it’s not work that can be done alone, that’s why it’s so important to draw strength from others. I draw my strength from people in and out of church, with people I know and with people I have never met, but am connected with by a web of Love.
I know as well as anyone that to take on a label is to risk being pigeonholed by other people’s assumptions. If I’m a lesbian, I probably hate men, or I couldn’t get one to like me, or I just haven’t met the right one. If I’m a Christian, I’m probably an irrational, science-denying person incapable of critical, analytical thought. I’ve heard all that and more.
But see, for me, being a Christian (and for that matter, being a lesbian!) has meant doing things the Long, Hard, Stupid way. It is to willingly inherit an ancient legacy of stories and customs that have been misused and badly interpreted for millennia. It is to share a path with people who, at one extreme, believe me to be unworthy and ungodly purely because of whom I love. If I am to live with any amount of integrity, then I believe it’s essential for me to stand and represent the possibilities inherent in the labels I take on.
Christianity is a peculiar path for me, made all the more peculiar by the fellow travelers. It’s a long, hard way, in which you’re guaranteed to encounter stupidity. So, really, it’s a lot like the rest of life, unless you have figured out some way to live in an echo chamber of genius. In which case, I’d suggest that you’re missing out on some interesting, provocative, and challenging scenery.
This week I found that engaging the more close-minded of my fellow Christian travelers with detachment and compassion can be excellent practice for clarifying my understanding of and my thoughts about this path. It’s also an intensive cardio workout for my compassion, which both feeds my desire to be on the path and makes me better at staying on it.
While I was taking a shower on Friday morning, I noticed that the new bar of soap was particularly sudsy. It occurred to me that I’ve never heard a singular for the word “suds.” What would the point of a single “sud” be, anyway?
Then it occurred to me that Christianity is like suds, it is inherently and essentially communal. It’s not a path meant to be traveled alone. Which is why it’s difficult. Which is why it demands companionship. Which is why it’s difficult. Which is why it requires companionship. It’s circular like that. Not the least bit efficient.
So here’s to the Long, Hard, Stupid Way. Maybe I’ll see you somewhere on the path, and we can hoist some suds to the journey and our fellow travelers. The first round is on me.