Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Quiet Life

Honestly? Some days it's really tempting to go the quiet, easy route. Move to Portland or Denver, build a small life doing the things I love with a few people I can trust. Stop troubling over "the state of things" and just enjoy being where I am while I'm here.

I know others are tempted by that idea, too. I think Moses would have been content with his sheep in the desert, never having come across a burning bush. Ms. Parks could have chosen to sit on the back of the bus and gone home to her family that day. The NYC firefighters, police, and civilians pulling people from the rubble didn't have to respond on September 11.

No way am I trying to infer that my efforts are even half as heroic as any of those. In fact, that's part of the temptation... Do people really want what I have to offer? Does anyone really need to take on the mantle for reconciliation between Christians and gay people in San Diego? Couldn't I just let it all play out, or let someone else step up?

For whatever reason - maybe for no other reason than being inspired by the Rosa Parks of the world - I feel compelled to play a role in this production. I don't even fully know what or who my character is, but I'm drawn into the story, and my heart senses a purpose in it all.

Still - on days like today, when I can really touch the tension, feel it firsthand, sense the straining in my dear friendships... I'm tempted to consider the quiet life. The life that doesn't ask for sacrifice, doesn't require me to learn meekness, doesn't expect I would put aside my own self for the benefit of others.

The quiet life is also the selfish life. I know that.

The most inspiring reason of all is still that man on the cross - the one whose meekness, sacrifice, and selflessness make the difference for me. His is still the life I want to model as I live my own. On days like today, my only prayer can be...

Lord, spare me the quiet life... but give me endurance for the alternative.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Being Meek Where It Matters

If you've poked around the new Second Guess website at all, you might have noticed a tendency to encourage humility & meekness in some of the language I've chosen. That isn't, of course, an accident. I'm a big believer in (and practitioner-in-training of) meekness.

Being meek isn't exactly my natural, default state. Really, is it anyone's? Merriam-Webster defines meek as "enduring injury with patience and without resentment." I wasn't being very meek in the privacy of my car when I got cut off this morning. (I did say I was a practitioner-in-training).

It's not very American to be meek. Toby Keith, for instance, is a fearless opponent of meekness, as demonstrated in his anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue:"
We'll put a boot in your a**
It's the American way
I've never been to a Toby Keith concert, but I imagine him singing this line to thousands of excited fans whose cheers get a little bit louder at these words.

There is a whole lot of discussion to be had about standing up for yourself, what basic "inalienable rights" are, and what happens when we need to fight for them. We'll be having that discussion ongoing - but I will always push back with this question:

How might an infusion of meekness make this situation better?

For instance, you might have come across the news story yesterday of the Christian Legal Society at the UC Hastings School of Law in San Francisco, which is suing the University for formal recognition of its status as a student group with school funding & benefits. The sticking point is the group's statement of faith, which members are required to sign and which excludes practicing LGBT people (and a whole host of other folks) from joining the group. The University called this discrimination and refused to grant the CLS official student group status.

The whole thing actually began back in 2004. Six years and multiple appeals later, the fight over rights and freedoms and discrimination carries on. The main issues we focus on are, naturally, whether student groups should be able to receive public money when they exclude certain groups of people; whether excluding people on the basis of belief is true discrimination; and whether first amendment rights are at stake if people are forced to associate with others in their student group who don't share their beliefs.

There are a lot of great things to talk about in there. The unfortunate thing, at least as I see it, is that we're not just talking about these things - we're suing, fighting, and perpetuating a culture war in all of it. We've gone a long way down the road and dropped any semblance of meekness by the wayside at the very beginning.

So I ask... how might an infusion of meekness make this situation better?

I can imagine a few ways. What about you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thoughts on Jennifer Knapp

If someone I didn't know were to write a blog post entitled, "Thoughts on Matthew Williams," I might be inclined to think rude thoughts about the stranger whose pontificating at my expense could be completely misinformed. But, alas, when you were a Christian music superstar in the late 90s who announces she is gay to the Christian media, well... I imagine there will be many folks posting their thoughts to blogs. I just hope to bring an infusion of grace to this particular conversation.

Jennifer is confirming rumors that started when she abruptly left the CCM (contemporary Christian music) scene in 2003. Sometime last year, my roommate was playing Jennifer's first album, "Kansas," from his room, which prompted one of those "Whatever happened to her?" kind of conversations. As we listened to some more of her music, I began to feel that my connection to her songs was deeper. Soon, I told my roommate that I believed Jennifer was gay. For whatever reason, I was just convinced that was the case. I even wrote her a letter at the time:

I'm a gay guy who grew up in the conservative Christian world. As a young teenager, your music was life-giving. It is perhaps even more so now as I listen to it with (only slightly) aged ears. I don't know what your journey has been over the last several years, but I do know that it's always the journey that makes living so beautiful. Your letter is refreshing and sounds sincere. I am glad for the beauty you've found and so thankful you are finding the voice to share it with us once again.

I've loved Jennifer Knapp since I heard the first bars of "Undo Me" in high school. She's an incredible songwriter who has always had an unabashed honesty to her lyrics. To hear her speak about her own journey of reconciling faith & sexuality - or more accurately, in her case, reconciling people of faith & sexuality - certainly adds a new dimension to the songs she's written over the years. Check out this quote from her interview in Christianity Today:

The heartbreaking thing to me is that we're all hopelessly deceived if we don't think that there are people within our churches, within our communities, who want to hold on to the person they love, whatever sex that may be, and hold on to their faith. It's a hard notion. It will be a struggle for those who are in a spot that they have to choose between one or the other. The struggle I've been through—and I don't know if I will ever be fully out of it—is feeling like I have to justify my faith or the decisions that I've made to choose to love who I choose to love.

Jennifer so perfectly conveys my own reasons for wanting to help bring reconciliation to the culture war in San Diego. She understands the incompatible nature of a church that outlines specific standards for what type of person is welcome to worship & participate fully in its midst while preaching a message of "come as you are" and "free grace to all." It's mixed messaging at best.

Brave soul that she is, Jennifer will likely face some intense and critical responses. Ray Boltz, another icon of early CCM, came out awhile back. I found this comment from a reader of "Christianity Today" in response to news about Ray's sexuality:

"What can be said? We are known by the fruit we bear. So, being a great musician and exalting the Lord is not enough. Repentance is necessary. Ray should be ignored but welcomed back whenever he truly repents."

This is certainly disheartening - that a man's entire body of work would be written off as valueless, contingent on the state of his own repentance (as defined, of course, by the reader). Jennifer will likely face similar responses.

But the good news is that, despite the fact that she seems intent on avoiding becoming a leader of any sort of gay Christian revolution, this news will continue to crack open the door of conversation for believers everywhere. In this instance, so many folks - like my roommate & myself - experienced defining moments around Jennifer's music growing up. There is a serious emotional connection there, and while many will be able to quickly overlook the impact her songs had on them, others will wrestle internally with the way they were led into the presence of God through the songs of a lesbian. At the very least, my hope is these questions surface in pursuit of understanding - and, hopefully, reconciliation.

A final quote from Jennifer, regarding her new song "Inside:"

It's a challenge to break free of that and to own who you really are. That's my heart's cry for anyone I've ever met. It's not on my agenda to convert the world to a religion, but to convert the world to compassion and grace. I've experienced that in my life through Christianity.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Making it Official

Long time, no post! All with good reason. I've been friggin' busy. But here we go, into a whole new adventure. I recently launched The Second Guess. This is a collaborative discussion forum thing (yes, that's the best way I can describe it right now) with a goal of working toward reconciliation between the church and the gay community. I wrote about my desire to do this a lot last year.

Anyway, we're moving along. I've built some great relationships both with other San Diego churches and within the gay community here over the past year, and I'm setting out to do this thing. I'm impossibly excited. And, naturally, a little scared, too. But impossibly excited. I plan to blog here much more frequently - but it's still my personal blog, so for updates on The Second Guess, I suggest you visit my new website and the blog that is hosted there! For convenience's sake, I've taken the liberty to post my first blog from over there, right here. Just for you.

Since recognizing that I was gay in Christian middle & high school I grew up in, I always suspected - deep down - that one day I would be using my experiences to help others in a similar situation. There were a lot of emotional, spiritual, and even physical hurdles to navigate before arriving at this first blog post on "The Second Guess," but I do believe that this is the culmination of those suspicions from over a decade ago.

If you've had the chance to poke around the website, you should have some sense of what I'm setting out to do with "The Second Guess." And, naturally, you may have some suspicions of your own. I've found that people are often skeptical about who I am and why I want to work toward reconciliation between the church & gay people. Christians wonder whether I intend to push an "affirming" perspective on them or ask that they perform same-sex weddings. LGBT people ask whether I expect them to change their orientation or give up their fight for marriage equality. It seems everyone has a list of standards that one must meet before any real relationship might begin to take root, or even a real conversation can happen.

The truth is, if I were to lay out my personal convictions in black & white without any context, people from all across the spectrum would find something to disagree with. The problem is that we too often assume that if we don't agree, then we simply can't communicate, relate, do life together, or benefit from one another's perspectives. Not a lot of people would come out and say that - but it's pretty evident in how we pick sides, draw lines, and avoid folks with whom we disagree.

Well, I think we can - and should - communicate with, relate to, do life with, and benefit from the perspective of people who are very different from us. I believe the culture war between the church and gay people is very damaging to our hearts, minds, and souls. And I've started "The Second Guess" because I want to make a difference in the way we relate to one another.

There will be many people who just won't get it, or care about it, or will think it's a waste of time. For instance, if you don't personally care about...
  • matters of faith & living out the way of Jesus,
  • LGBT issues,
  • culture clashes in society,
  • and seeking unity & reconciliation between estranged parties,
then you probably won't find much of value in this blog, on the website, or at Second Guess events. But I've come across people along the way who do care about those things, as do I, and so those are the people I want to connect with. And at this point, especially those who live in San Diego, since that's where my life is.

You can have your suspicions about me; that's OK. I get it. I tend to not trust where people are coming from either, until I get to know them. But that's what I will be doing as "The Second Guess" unfolds - letting myself be known. I believe with all my heart that what I'm doing is right & good & true, but I want to let you learn that for yourself. So I plan to open up my life here and in person as much as I can. I want to build relationships with other gay people, and with other Christians. I hope to tell, show, live my story in such a way as to help you see that we don't have to fight each other. We don't have to avoid each other. We don't have to hate or even dislike each other.

Reconciliation is hard, slow, and painful. But it creates something beautiful in the end. I'm after that. I think God is after that. And I hope you'll consider being after that, too.