Friday, February 28, 2014

Raising a Feminist

Katie was lying in bed next to me, talking. I was still half-asleep, so I didn't quite catch all she was saying. Something about a monochord or something, and Grandma Carleton, and how excited she was for Grandma to teach her how to play it.

"Do you mean an autoharp?" I asked, my brain still fuzzy. I know Grandma was recently teaching Katie's cousins how to play the autoharp, so that made sense to me. I had never heard of a monochord, but then again I'm not musical and I was still half-asleep, so who knows.

"No, it's another instrument that has blahblahblahblahblahblahblah," Katie explained. My half-awake side was only able to stay focused long enough for the first part of the sentence before my half-asleep side took over again.

"Mom!" Katie said.

"Huh?" I opened my eyes again. "What?"

"Did you hear what I said?" Katie asked, loudly. One of these days I need to teach this kid how to make coffee so when she's fully awake like this I can tell her to scram and go put the coffee on for her old mom.

"Probably not, Hon, I'm trying to sleep," I said.

"It's almost time to get up. The alarm will go off in seven minutes," Katie said, looking over my shoulder at the clock.

"So let me have seven more minutes to sleep," I mumbled.

"OK," Katie sighed.

"If you're so awake, why don't you get up and start getting ready for school?" I asked.

"No, I wanna talk to you, Mom," Katie rolled over to her side, facing me, and draped her arm over my waist, lightly tracing my back with her fingers.

That woke me up. How could I pass up such sweetness? The tender moments are growing rarer with each passing day. Fewer kisses. ("Mom, you were just gone from the living room for two minutes. You don't have to kiss me every time you pass by me!") Fewer snuggles on my lap as soon as she gets home from school. ("OK, but just for a minute. I want to play video games.") She no longer holds my hand as we're walking home from school together. ("I'm not a baby, Mom!") I have to soak up every opportunity for coddling that my pre-tween allows.

Something happened last month when Katie turned 7 1/2. That extra half has made her more sassy and independent, less dependent on our constant care. Which is normal, I know. It's good. It means we're all doing a good job--Will, Katie, and me. Kids are supposed to grow up. It's just hard. Childhood seems to last so long when you're the child, but when you're the parent, you blink and they're leaving for college.

"OK, talk to me," I said, rubbing the sleep crud out of my eyes.

"I said I think Grandma likes it when I come over there so we can do girly stuff," Katie said.

Katie has been fascinated with gender roles since she began kindergarten and realized not everyone in the world is so fanatically gender-neutral as her parents. Will and I have made an effort to correct her whenever she repeats the sexist things she hears out in the real world:

Katie: "Pink is a girl color."
Will: "Colors are not assigned a gender. Colors are inanimate objects. They don't get to be boys or girls."
Katie: "But usually just girls like pink."
Me: "I don't really like pink that much. I mean, I like all colors to some degree, but pink is far from my favorite color."
Will: "I like pink. I've got lots of pink on most of my tie-dyes."
Katie: "But most of the kids at school say pink is a girl color."
Becky: "Well, I guess they just haven't learned yet that anybody can like pink. You don't have to believe everything everyone says. Sometimes people are wrong."
Katie: "Well, what if you're wrong?"
Me: "Good job, kiddo! I think you've got it."

She didn't really get it back when she was five. We had to have the conversations over and over. But now that she's seven--seven-and-a-half! she would correct me, sternly--she's been fully indoctrinated by Will's and my "think-for-yourself" propaganda. Which is a really tricky thing to learn. My parents are telling me to think for myself, that sometimes people are wrong, but maybe they're wrong, so now what do I do?

I hope our parenting doesn't throw our child into existential crisis, but instead, keeps her mind-wheels nicely greased and churning.

So far it seems to be. We talk about gender issues all the time, and we use terms such as "girly," understanding what the word means (usually pink or pastel, frilly, glittery, beautiful, feathery, clean...) without necessarily agreeing with those connotations of the word.

So when Katie said to my slowly-waking-up self that she thinks Grandma likes to do girly stuff with her, I didn't bother her with a lecture.

"Yeah, Grandma loves to spend time with you. You're her first granddaughter. She never had any daughters, just daddy and his brother. So you're someone special to her. Finally, a GIRL, she must have thought," I said. Katie laughed and shrugged her shoulders shyly like she'd never before thought of that honor.

"You know, Grandma had a girl's name all picked out and ready for daddy before he was even born. I think she was secretly hoping for a girl since she'd already had a boy," I smiled.

"What was Daddy's name if he was a girl baby instead of a boy?" Katie asked, her eyes bright and big like this was VERY interesting news.

"Celeste," I said.

"Celeste," Katie repeated.

"Which is funny because it sounds like celestial and when I was pregnant with you I wanted to name you Stella, which is like the stars," I said.

"I know. And Daddy said no, but you both liked the name Katherine," Katie beamed as she finished my story, like she was proud of herself for remembering this bit of her pre-birth history.

"And we wanted to just call you Kate, because it sounds presidential--Kate Carleton--don't you just want to vote for her?" I said.

"Yeah," Katie said, dreamily, like she was picturing herself sitting behind that big desk in the oval office.

"But then you had to go and get your own opinion on the matter when you turned four and asked if we'd instead call you Katie," I said with mock-annoyance in my voice as I smiled.

"Yeah, I like to be Katie," she said.

"I'm glad you like your name, Punk," I said.

"My name is not Punk," Katie said with mock-annoyance in her voice.

"It is too. It's what I've called you since you were a little four-month old baby dressed up in a pumpkin Halloween costume. Daddy said, our little punkin and from there it evolved into Punk," I explained.

Katie smiled for a minute, and then she asked, "Mom, what was your name if you were a boy?"

"Wesley Glen," I said. I remember asking my mom what she was going to name me if I had been a boy, right about when I was Katie's age, it must be a thing kids do.

At that time, Mom said, "Wesley Glen. Wesley because I liked the name and Glen after your father. Your father cried when I told him you were a girl. He wanted a son to carry on his name."

"Wesley Glen?" Katie brought me back to my present mind. She said it like this was the weirdest name she'd ever heard.

"Yeah." I joked, "Good thing I was born a girl, right?"

"Yeah," Katie giggled.

Without thinking, I blurted out, "My dad sure didn't think so. He cried when he heard I wasn't a boy."

Katie grew silent. I looked over at her and she had tears in her eyes.

"Oh, it's OK, Punk. I've known this for a long time. It doesn't hurt my feelings as much anymore. I forget sometimes that you don't know everything about me already," I smiled, wishing I hadn't brought it up. Katie is so sensitive to other people's pain. I don't want my pain to rub off on her.

Katie's still too young to take in too many stories of my childhood trauma. I won't keep it a secret her whole life, but I try not to burden her too soon with sad stories of my young life. I'll tell her more when she's older and can understand that it's possible to think Grandpa Glen was sometimes a jerk to Mommy, but sometimes he wasn't, and he's her daddy and she doesn't like him very much, but sometimes she does, and no matter what, she always loves him. That's too much to take in when you're only seven. Correction: Seven-and-a-half!

"Why did your daddy cry when you weren't a boy?" Katie asked, biting her lip.

"Oh, I don't know, Punk. People were different back then. My dad grew up in an era when fathers were sometimes more proud to have a son than a daughter," I tried to play it off like it was history. I didn't mention that people across the world sometimes abort their fetuses due to their genitals alone.

"Why did fathers want a son and not a daughter?" Katie's eyes were big. This was all news to her.

"Not all fathers. Some fathers loved their daughters. My mom's dad adored her and took really good care of her," I reasoned.

"What's adore?" Katie asked.

She's too young for this conversation, I worried. "Adored is like love to the ultimate. Like you're goo-goo ga-ga over someone. Like they can do no wrong and you'll always love them no matter what," I explained.

"Ooooh. Like how Daddy adores me?" Katie said.

"Yes!" I was so happy to hear she thinks so, because it's true. I started to get out of bed, ready to end this conversation and start the day.

"But why didn't your father adore you?" Katie asked, her brows furrowed.

"Oh. I dunno. My dad had a hard life before I was born. He never had any sons." I didn't tell her that my dad and his first wife had but one daughter because of the difference in the RH factor of their blood. It caused them to have two stillbirths--one of them a boy--and one baby who died a few days after she was born. I'll tell her this some day, but I'm not ready to talk to my baby about dead babies and how uncontrollably sad the world can be sometimes.

"He wanted a son," I continued. "To carry on his name or some such shit. People are weird. I long ago accepted that I will never be my father's ideal child."

"What's ideal," Katie asked.

"Oh. Perfect. Fantasy. What you want most of all but not what you get," I explained.

"Did Daddy cry when I was not born a boy?" Katie asked.

"Oh, God, no!" I exclaimed. I scooched over to her and gave her a big hug. "Not at all. He was so happy when you were born. We didn't care if you were a boy or a girl. We were both just so thrilled to have YOU."

My seven-and-a-half year old nuzzled her face into my bosom and breathed deeply, hugging me tight around the big mama waist I never shed after she was born.

"In fact," I suddenly remembered, "We already knew you were going to be a girl before you were born."

Katie lifted her head and crinkled her nose in disbelief. "How'd you know?"

"I had a sonogram," I explained.

"What's a sonogram?" Katie asked.

"It's this wand they rub over your belly and it sends waves of information to a machine that shows the inside of your uterus where the baby is floating around in its sac," I said.

"Oooooh," Katie said.

"And they can see enough of you inside there that they could tell you had a vulva instead of a penis," I continued.

Katie giggled. "But it was OK that the doctor saw my yoni because she's a doctor," Katie said, seriously, as if she were giving me advice.

"Yes. That's right. So yeah, we knew you were a girl before you even were born," I said.

"What did Daddy say when you could see I was a girl?" Katie asked.

"I actually remember exactly what he said, because it was so remarkable and it made me love him even more than I thought possible," I kissed Katie's forehead and got up from bed. It was time to get back to the current day and get this kiddo to school on time.

"Daddy said: I'm glad it's a girl. She'll have you to raise her to be a feminist."

"What's a feminist," Katie asked.

"Someone who thinks women should have equal rights as men. That we should be the bosses of ourselves," I reached out for Katie's hands to pull her from bed. Here she was the one awake before me and now I'm the one trying to get her up and at 'em.

"It used to be," I continued talking as I led her by the hand to the bathroom, giving her a little shove through the door, "that women were only allowed to stay at home and cook and clean and take care of the children. They couldn't work wherever they wanted to work."

"Well cooking and cleaning and taking care of your children is work," Katie argued.

"You said it, Sista!" we high-fived. "But not every woman is meant to do that job. Some women want to do other jobs. Like be a scientist," I wiggled my eyebrows at Katie, who has reminded us at least once a day since we went to Mad Science Night at the community center last October, that she wants to be a scientist when she grows up.

"Now get ready for school so you can learn to be a scientist," I nagged.

"Mom," Katie held the door before I could shut it. "One more thing?"

"What?" I smiled.

"I'm glad you had a girl so you could raise me to be a feminist," she said, her face bright and alive and ready for what the day brings.

I wanted to argue that I'd raise any child of mine, regardless of gender, to be a feminist, but we'd never make it to school on time if we started that discussion.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Selfie with "New" Hand-Me-Down Camera

My sister gave me a hand-me down camera. It takes better photos than my old ass camera that's about to die on me. 

Thanks, Glenda!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Plan B

The Lawrence Journal-World shared some great photos of today's Equality Rally at the Capitol in Topeka.

I am so proud of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. A group of members attended the rally. You can see pictures on GCPC's Facebook page.

The bummer is, I missed my ride. Typical communication breakdown. The message about carpooling said to arrive at church at 11:00 so we could leave around 11:30. Miraculously, I arrived on time. I walked through the church doors right at 11:00. I was excited to see the crowds of people inside the church waiting to carpool to the rally. There were lots of cars in the parking lot, so I figured there were lots of people going. I'd never been to this church in the daytime during the week.

When I walked into the lobby, no one was around. I could hear kids down the hall to the left and older folks down the hall to the right. But no one in the lobby holding signs or smelling of patchouli.

I stepped up to the glass window where two women were sitting in the church office.

"Excuse me. Do you know if this is where we're supposed to meet for the rally?" I asked.

"Um, let me see," the first woman looked at the second.

The second woman said, "I heard they were leaving at 11:30." She looked up at the clock. "It's only just now 11."

"Oh," I said, confused. "I got a message to meet here at 11:00."

This seemed to jog the first woman's memory, "Oh, I think I heard they were leaving at 11:45."

"Well I only just heard of it this morning, so maybe I'm wrong," said the second woman. "Would you like to have a seat on the couch and wait for them?"

They both smiled. I sat for a minute, but I was too excited and fidgety. So I walked around and took some pictures to begin documenting my day.

This is near the front entrance to the church: May Peace Prevail on Earth, translated into several languages:

This sign is on the inside of the church:

I love this painting inside the church:

I wandered around for forty-five minutes. The preschool kids got picked up by their families. The older people hauled their canvasses and art supplies out to the trunks of their cars and drove off. The church grew quiet. Finally, around 11:50, the church secretary got a hold of someone and found out my ride was already on the road to Topeka. My ride hadn't received the message that I was waiting for her. I'd have to drive myself.

Which is fine. I am a grownup after all. Except that I drive a crappy car and I have a crappy cell phone. Because I'm frugal. And I don't care too much about material possessions. Normally this works in my favor. I don't spend too much money on fancy crap. And I can keep my mind occupied on more meaningful things than, "where did I set my smartphone?" But occasionally, like when I have an hour to get to a rally over an hour away and my phone doesn't get great reception, I miss pertinent messages directing me to where I should go to meet my group and the whole plan falls apart.

But that's OK. Plans falling apart never stops me. I'm terrible at planning things, but I'm not too shabby at improvising.

I stopped by Valvoline and got my oil changed and my tires properly inflated so I'd be less apt to break down on the trip. I had to stop inside the library to use the public printers to print directions to the rally because, again, I can't rely on my phone to get a good enough signal to access the directions from the online event page for the rally. While there, I spent ten minutes or so chatting with co-workers. As I was heading toward the exit I got a whim to see if there were any Anne Lamott books on CD I could listen to during the trip. Sure enough, I picked one off the shelf. Properly named, "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith".

I was so mesmerized by Lamott's words I barely noticed the seventy-mile one-way trip. I've had so many people tell me I should read Lamott, it almost began to feel like people were shoving it on me like gluten-free noodles, or a neti pot. Or, The Bible. The more people tell me I need something the less I tend to want it.

I'm almost always wrong. I usually do need what people recommend to me. I just need my independence more. I generally get around to reading books people recommend about a decade after they've been published, and for some reason I can't understand why I can't find someone else on the planet who is also freaking out about how awesome it is. I only get fanatical about things once they've become passé. It's like our poor kiddo Katie who lives in a home with a couple of frugal weirdo Luddites. Out on the playground at school, she can't understand why no one wants to talk about The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. You know, the game that came out eight years before she and her classmates were even born.

So I listened intently to Anne Lamott talk to me about her faith during the drive to Topeka. She's an amazing human being. I had fantasized about the conversations I'd have with these new churchy friends from Grace Covenant. I imagined we'd ride together in a van and talk about the meaning of life and politics and suffering and love. It would be intense and I'd feel at home. Instead, I sat alone in my own car, but I never felt alone. Anne Lamott is an excellent traveling companion. She hooks you in with her crazy, grace-filled life and you can't stop listening.

Until you see your exit and you have to turn off the CD player so you can pay attention to where you're going, as I did when I made it to Topeka.

The Capitol isn't far off the exit. In fact, it's so close at first I passed it. After finding the right way to drive down all the one-way roads, I turned around and headed back toward the Capitol.

On the event page for the rally it said over 400 people were going, last I'd checked. I saw no crowds of people. A smattering of pedestrians, but no large groups of people. Certainly not "my" group.

I drove around the Capitol to make sure I just wasn't mixed up on my directions. No crowds outside.

It was cold, so I thought maybe they took the rally inside. It was 2:20 at this point, so I figured I could still catch the last forty minutes of it. I found a parking spot, dropped my quarters into the meter, and began my hike. All the way around the building. I found some empty chairs. But no people.

The rally was supposed to be on the south steps of the Capitol. I climbed the massive stairs to the heavy doors, pulled hard, and, nothing. They were locked.

I headed back down the stairs and saw a "visitor's entrance" sign with an arrow pointing around the corner. I headed around the corner to, another sign. And around another corner, and up some stairs, and down some stairs, and finally, I found it.

I walked inside the Capitol and I was immediately asked to remove my bag and coat and run them through a scanner on a conveyor belt. I walked through some type of scanner too and set off the alarm.

"Do you have any jewelry that might be setting it off?" the agent asked.

"Not really. I've got a bunch of change," I dug out a handful of change from my front pocket. I had swiped it from my husband's stash before I left the house in case I ran into some hefty summed parking meters. As it turns out, it was only 50 cents an hour, so I had tons of change left over.

That's what it was that set off the alarm. After I dropped my change into the bucket, I walked through the scanner freely. I retrieved my things and headed toward, well, I didn't know where.

I wandered around in what looked like a cross between a state historical society museum and a tomb. The rock walls led me to believe I was in the basement. I tried to find someone from the rally or someone from my church group.

After about fifteen minutes I said "fuck it" and gave up looking for my group. I'd make the best out of this trip I could. I love to go to nerdy historical sites and museums and all those boring places my family groans about. Suddenly I realized I was by myself. I could do whatever I want. So I allowed myself a little mini nerdy tour of the Capitol. I grew up in Missouri, so I'd never been inside the Kansas state capitol. I wandered around and took pictures of interesting things I encountered:

Where does this hallway lead? Are we sure we're not at the Glore Psychiatric Museum

Rural electrification: 1938. My mom was born a month after this. It's weird to think of all the technological progress humans have made in my mom's lifetime.

My favorite psychologist, Dr. Harriet Lerner, worked at the Menninger Clinic.

John Brown is from the town that is now the home to the State Mental Hospital.

The last moderate republican president.

Amelia Earhart

Kansas is not entirely flat

Flint Hills

The original window to the Capitol

Kansas women got to vote before it was a federal law. Cool.

Some random sink, I guess to wash up when you start to feel dirty about how shitty people were treated in Kansas throughout history

The Capitol really is pretty.

The Kansas banner before we got a flag

The United States Flag when Kansas entered the union

sick: slave rewards

I wonder if I was late to this meeting in my past life?

 voting on whether or not to allow Kansas into the union as a free state or a slave state

John Brown's sword

I finally passed a woman who had on an Equality Kansas sticker.

"Excuse me. Were you with the rally?" 

She beamed like she'd been out fishing all day and caught a live one. "Yes! Yes! And your name is?"

"I'm Becky. I've gotten lost from my group. Is the rally already over?"

"Oh, yeah. It got over around 2:00. It was pretty cold. But we had a great turn out! Would you like me to show you were everyone is now?"

We passed through the tombs and rode up an elevator, making several attempts to get off on the second floor, but it wouldn't let us. Finally she pointed to a sign that said, "No public access to 2nd floor."

"Ooooh," she said. "That's OK. I know a way to get you there."

We rode to a different floor and got off, then we found the stairs and walked down to the second floor, across the building, and finally, into a small room in the very corner of the capitol building. All the while, surrounded by intimidating looking people wearing grey suits and talking on their iPhoneInfinity, this wonderful woman told me about the work she does teaching children not to bully and raising awareness of violence against LGBT kids for the non-profit organization Kansas City Anti-Violence Project

Once we entered the small room, my guide introduced me to two other people who work for Equality Kansas. They gave me a notebook full of information about their campain to "end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression." I'm usually awkward during introductions to strangers, but I instantly felt that these are my people.

I never did find any of the Grace Covenant crew because my phone wasn't getting reception, so I didn't see that Pastor Jonas had sent me messages about where they were. They ended up going across the street to another building after the rally, but I didn't know because of my cheap ass phone. 

So that's a total bummer. But, I did get to tour the Capitol and meet some like-minded activist types, so it wasn't all bad.

And the best thing of all: I got to ride back home with my Plan B Buddy Anne Lamott in my car.

I'm for the Separation of Church and Hate

I'm excited to attend today's rally for LGBT Equality in Topeka. I'm riding with some members of the amazing church Katie and I have been attending since last November. If you're looking for a church community where you'll feel loved and accepted for who you are, come to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd say one day I'm going to an LGBT Equality rally with some church friends. In the late Eighties, when I was in high school, my LGBT friends and I frequented an all-ages club in Kansas City called the Monolith. One night there were three people outside the entrance handing out pamphlets informing us that we were all going to burn in hell if we didn't repent. My friends ignored them and went on inside to dance. I could hear New Order's song "Bizarre Love Triangle" playing inside, and I wanted desperately to go in and dance to it with my friends, many of whom I'd been entanged in some sort of bizarre love triangle of our own. But I resisted the urge and felt compelled to stay outside and chat with these people who wanted me to know I was going to hell.

"Bizarre Love Triangle"

Every time I think of you
I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue
It's no problem of mine
But it's a problem I find
Living a life that I can't leave behind
But there's no sense in telling me
The wisdom of the fool won't set you free
But that's the way that it goes
And it's what nobody knows
well every day my confusion grows

Every time I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I'm waiting for that final moment
You say the words that I can't say

I feel fine and I feel good
I'm feeling like I never should
Whenever I get this way
I just don't know what to say
Why can't we be ourselves like we were yesterday
I'm not sure what this could mean
I don't think you're what you seem
I do admit to myself
That if I hurt someone else
Then I'll never see just what we're meant to be

Every time I see you falling
I get down on my knees and pray
I'm waiting for that final moment
You say the words that I can't say

written by New Order (Gillian Gilbert, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner)

"But Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves," I argued with the three pamphlet-weilding Christians standing outside the gay club.

Their response was this: "Repent now and you will live for eternity at the side of the Lord!"

We went back and forth like this for a few minutes, me asking how they could judge others so harshly when Jesus told us to love each other, them telling me to repent. Finally I said to them, "I'll take your pamphet, but I'm gonna go inside now. I love you all, even if you hate me."

My heart was beating fast as I turned away from them and walked through the door. It felt like Jesus was exploding inside my heart, whispering into my ear, Well done, my child! Spread the word of love!

The three Christians standing outside the gay club, trying to convince us we were going to burn in hell, most likely thought Jesus was talking directly to them, too. The problem with religious faith is who knows who's right and who's wrong. That's why I gave up church and quit calling myself a Christian.

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” --Gandhi

But now, twenty years have passed and I've taken back the word "Christian". Why should only bigots in our fucked up society get to use the term Christian? I love God. I love my neighbors as myself. I am a Christian. It's as simple as that.

Mark 12:28-31
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The First Commandment

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

As a bisexual woman, I never felt embraced by The Church until I started going to Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church where people take Jesus' commandment for us to love our neighbors seriously.

That's why I'm so excited to join these church members to attend this rally today. At 1pm, please join us on the south steps of the Capitol. We will be speaking out against discriminatory bills such as HB2453 and others. If anyone asks why I'm there, I have two responses. One secular and one faith-based:

1. From the Kansas Bill of Rights: "Equal rights. All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."


2. Jesus commands we love our neighbors as ourself.

In other words, I'm for the separation of church and hate.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Invite Gays to The Table

Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson, Arizona is bravely taking a clear stand against the hateful "turn away the gays" bill by posting this sign in their window, "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators."

What are Arizona legislators afraid of? Do they think gayness rubs off? Like leprosy? They think business owners should be able to legally discriminate against gay people because the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination?

The Bible says lots of things. The Bible says Jesus didn't just allow "sinners" to dine in the same eating establishment as him. He invited them to His Table:

Mark 2:15-18
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Discrimination in the name of religious liberty isn't just unfair. It's an abomination. Jesus didn't teach us to cast each other aside. Jesus invited us all to feast at His table.

I really like what blogger Jirair S. Tashjian says about the story:

"Yet, Jesus apparently associated with such people at dinner parties. The Pharisees charged that Jesus was "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). Even though Jesus belonged to the middle class, he reached out to people of the lower class. On one occasion Jesus said to some religious leaders in Jerusalem, "The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you" (Matthew 21:31).

It's not hard to see why the Pharisees and others were upset that Jesus had table fellowship with people who were morally questionable. These individuals were profiting by disobeying the command of God and betraying their own people. They were what the Old Testament calls the wicked, unworthy to be part of the people of God.

Now, if Jesus had fellowship with tax collectors and sinners in order to preach to them, the Pharisees would not have fussed. After all, who would have objected that tax collectors and sinners were forsaking their sinful lifestyle, making restitution, and seeking a life of righteousness? The Pharisees believed that God offered forgiveness when sinners repented. They could even rejoice that a wretched sinner saw the light and was converted from a life of debauchery.

But what infuriated the Pharisees was that Jesus was not explicitly or directly asking tax collectors and sinners to do any of this. Some of them no doubt did repent, such as Levi (Luke 5:28). But Jesus seems to have accepted them as they were and was freely having dinner with them without requiring that they first clean up their lives.

Of course, Jesus did have a message to proclaim to them. But his message was not, "Straighten up your life and keep the law." Rather, his message was, "The kingdom of God is yours; you are included."

I invite people who wish to invoke their "religious freedom" by shunning gay people to, instead, act like Jesus and invite gays to The Table.

The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese, 1573 (oil on canvas)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Katie Likes "Kids" Clothes

My gender-neutral parenting propaganda must be working. Katie brought this worksheet home from school today.

"What would you like to change in the world?"
by Katie Carleton, age 7 1/2

The picture shows a girl wearing a baseball hat and a boy wearing a skirt. I'll interpret Katie's second-grader spelling:

I wish that people could wear any clothes and that they could change signs like "Boys" to "Kids".

I asked what she means by changing signs from boys to kids. 

She said, "You know. At the store where they sell clothes? How they have signs that say Boys and Girls? I wish the sign just said Kids."

Gay Christian Fellowship at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church

I invite you to attend the Gay Christian Fellowship with Katie and me, and our new friends at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. It's every Thursday evening from 6:30-8PM.

But I'm not gay, you say? That's OK. Neither is Katie.

Katie: "Mom, what is bisexual?"
Me: "I'm bisexual. It just means you love both men and women."
Katie: "I'm bisexual."
Me: "You are?"
Katie: "Yeah. I love all people."
Me: "Well, by love I mean romantic love. Like how I love Daddy, and how I loved the women and other men I used to date before I met Daddy."
Katie: "Oooooh. Like the way I love Aidan."
Me: "Yeah. Romantic love is a certain kind of love reserved for your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife."
Katie: "Yeah. I feel romantic love for Aidan. We're gonna get married when I finish college."
Me: "Sounds like a good plan. Don't worry if you change your mind, though. You have lots of time to decide who you want to marry. You don't have to decide when you're seven."
Katie: "Seven-and-a-half!
Me: "Oh, yes. Sorry. Seven-and-a-half."
Katie: "I've already decided I'm going to marry Aidan. He wants to have twins and I said that's OK."
Me: "Cool. But just remember, life doesn't always work out the way you plan. Daddy and I wanted six kids but we were blessed with just one. Although the one we got is so great I guess we can't complain."
Katie: "Nope! You can't complain!"

We most certainly can't. Katie is such a great kid. She's constantly surprising me with her depth of thought and caring, and her ability to get along with people of all ages.

Me: "Do you want to go the the Gay Christian Fellowship at church with me tonight, or do you want to go out to eat with Daddy?"
Katie: "Where's Daddy going out to eat?"
Will: "I don't know yet, Punkin. I haven't decided."
Katie: "That's OK. I wanna go to church."
Me: "I doubt if there's gonna be any kids there to play with. Just a bunch of growups talking about boring grownup stuff."
Katie: "That's OK. I like that."

The two weeks we've gone to the Gay Christian Fellowship, Katie has indeed been the only child there. From what I've seen while attending this church since last November, there are several LGBT people who have kids at the church. I see them at the service on Sunday, but I haven't seen them at the two GCF meetings I've attended. I understand. Weeknights are hard for parents, gay or straight. Kids have to be in bed early. It's hard to find a sitter. My hope is that we can convince more people with kids to come to the Gay Christian Fellowship so that, if we get enough kids who regularly attend, we could provide childcare like they do for other meetings.

Before we attended, I asked Marvin, the moderator, if it's appropriate for kids. Marvin is 88 years old. He has three adult children. He knows.

"Oh yes. It's for all ages. We don't talk about anything inappropriate."

Now, I love to talk about inappropraite things. But I understand there is a time and a place. Kids don't need to overhear grownups talking about grownup things. They don't need to tag along to places with their parents where adults are hooking up. I can assure you, this Gay Christian Fellowship is not in a bar. It's still churchy. We eat dinner together. We read some stories from the Bible. We talk about the stories and how they relate to our lives. Pretty tame stuff.

The difference between this and a "regular" Bible study group is we invite all people to join. It's called Gay Christian Fellowship because they want to emphasize that this Bible study group is open to all, including gay people who have been turned away and hurt by other churches. But they encourage straight people to come and support their gay neighbors. There is one heterosexual couple in their eighties who regularly attend. If you come for no other reason than to meet them, you'll be glad you did. They are amazing people.

But it's not called "Everyone" Christian Fellowship. It's called "Gay" Christian Fellowship for a reason. In this day and age, it's important to specifically reach out to gay people and let them know that our love for our neighbors is all-inclusive.

But the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, you say? Guess what? The Bible says lots of things modern people ignore.

The Bible tells us not to "put on a garment made of two different materials" but I've never seen a greeter turning away yoga-pants-wearing moms at the church door. Cotton and spandex, people! Where do you think that fabric gets its stretch?

The Bible tells us not to eat lobster. So what are you gonna do? March over to Red Lobster and announce to the diners they're all going to hell? I know some vegetarians who might be tempted, but most people I know would likely rather join one of the tables and dig in, dipping the warm flesh of that biblically forbidden beast into that delectible melted butter.

The Bible tells us to execute women who can't prove they were virgins when they marry. So because I was sexually abused as a preschooler and therefore my hymen was broken before I got married at age 33, I should be executed? You've got to be kidding me. That's absurd.

What interests me about some Christians who won't let gay people join their church is that they have no problem allowing straight people who have been divorced to join their church. And yet, Jesus himself denouced divorce:

Matthew 19:3-12

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."

10 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Most modern Christians wear polyester blends and eat shellfish. Our society has long ago dropped the custom of parents pouring pig's blood onto a sheet and presenting it to the crowd outside the window of their daughter and son-in-law's marital bed to present evidence needed so they could all drop their stones and go back home. Our churches no longer ostracize people who have gotten a divorce. My mom was allowed back into the Catholic Church when she married her third husband, despite her two previous divorces.

Why do we look the other way when some rules in the Bible get broken, but over-focus on one rule that was made before scientists figured out that gayness is a natural part of biology for some people? Lefties used to be suspected of being possessed by the Devil. Nowadays we understand that favoring your left hand to your right is simply an expression of the amazing biological diversity among humans. When Katie started favoring her left hand at the age of six months, Will and I, both righties, just looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and grinned. I think we were both secretly happy our kiddo's a lefty. Most of our favorite guitar players are lefties, and most of our recent United States presidents are lefties, so whether Will gets his wish or I get mine and Katie turns out to be a guitarist or the President, we think the odds are in her favor. But guess what? We'll love her no matter what she decides to do with her left hand.

So don't worry about your kids "mixing" with the gays. Gayness does not rub off, just as straightness does not rub off. My parents are both straight, and yet I turned out bisexual. Will is straight and I'm bisexual (and monogomous, remember the two things have nothing to do with each other), and yet Katie self-identifies as straight. Katie's got Will's eyes, his lips, and his sexual orientation. She's got my nose, my jawbone, and my love of surrounding myself with all sorts of different people.

During our first Gay Christian Fellowship meeting, as we sat down to eat dinner we went around the room introducing ourselves. When it was Katie's turn, I asked her, "Do you want me to introduce you? Or do you want to introduce yourself?"

I assumed she wanted me to introduce her. Mind you, this is the same girl who hid in her bedroom during her 3rd birthday party because she was too frightened to come out to the living room with all the people she barely knew. I have a large family and we don't all live in the same town, so at that point Katie wasn't quite sure who all these aunts and uncles and cousins were. An only child, between 23 and 10 years younger than all her cousins on my side of the family, and someone who wasn't sent to preschool til she was four, on her third birthday Katie was not used to big crowds. I should have thought of that before I invited my whole family over to celebrate.

But you know what? She got used to it. This is her family. We might live in diverse places and we don't hang out every day, but you love your family no matter what, right? My sister-in-law Dale managed to convince Katie to come out of her bedroom and have some cake and ice cream and open presents. Katie walked out of her room and down the hall, Aunt Dale smiling behind her. Katie wiped her eyes and crawled into my lap and managed to not die of a panic attack when we sang "Happy Birthday" and ate cake and opened presents.

See, life is a party if you're brave enough to mingle with lots of different people.

So when I asked Katie if she wanted me to introduce her at Gay Christian  Fellowship, I forgot she's had four years to get used to talking to all sorts of people since the birthday event.

"I want to introduce myself," Katie said, decicively.

"Well, OK, then. Go ahead," I said, looking around the room at all the new faces, beaming with delight at such a confident child. My heart swelled with pride. Oh shit. I think pride is a sin. Great. Why'd you give me such an awesome kid, God, if you don't want me to be proud?

Katie cleared her voice dramatically and began, "I'm Katie Carleton. I'm in 2nd grade. My teacher is Ms. B..."

I can't remember what else Katie said. It was so cute. But my heart was racing and my cheeks were starting to get flushed. I realized when my seven-year-old public-speaking-pro finished it'd be my turn to introduce myself. I hate that shit. Sure, I can blab about my personal life on my blog, but face-to-face conversations with people I don't know frighten me. And yet I'm the one who comes from a big family. It's weird how we're all different. Katie, an only child and yet so outgoing. Me, the youngest of six and yet totally not the stereotypical show-off face-to-face.

"...and I'm here with my Mom," Katie said as she looked over at me. I'm lucky I had my confident girl there to support me. I was able to introduce myself without dying of a panic attack.

We all need support. Everyone. The Bible often confuses me, but the one story I really get is the one where Jesus tells us to follow these two rules: love God and love people.

All people. Not people-just-like-you. It's easy to love people who agree with us and think just like us and like to do the same things as we do. Challenge yourself. Try hanging out with someone who is not just like you and see how much your love can grow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Walmart Welfare Queens

Go, Bernie! No one makes the point for raising the minimum wage better than Bernie Sanders!

"The Walton family is the wealthiest family in America. Does anybody on the pannel think that they need significant welfare help? And yet it turns out that they are largest recipient of welfare in America because when you pay workers starvation wages, which is what Walmart does, how do the workers at Walmart or McDonalds or Burger King survive?

Well they get medicaid for their kids and for themselves they get food stamps they live in government-sponsored affordable housing. So I start off with my you think the Walton family, worth a hundred billion dollars, is in need of welfare from the middle class in this country? Or do you think maybe we should raise the minimum wage so that those workers can earn a living wage and not have to get medicaid or food stamps?" --Senator Bernie Sanders

The Walton Family. What a bunch of welfare queens.

Sweet Child O'Mine

In 1988, during my senior year of high school, Guns N' Roses released their epic song, "Sweet Child O'Mine". It's such a great song even I like it, despite the fact that I was always more of a jangle pop fan than a hair band fan. When my friends would complain about having listened to R.E.M.'s "Reckoning" or The Smiths' "Louder Than Bombs" on continuous loop in my cassette player for days, I'd press "stop" and nine times out of ten, "Sweet Child O'Mine" was on the radio.

We'd immediately begin singing, belting it out to the best of our ability with our clove-cigarette scarred lungs, along with lead singer, Axl Rose, a guy who might have fag bashed us had we met him in person at the time.

Woa--oh-oh sweet chiiiiild o' miiiiiiiine!

We'd drive to our hangout, the park in front of the Liberty Memorial, with the windows to my 1974 Super Beetle rolled down. We had to keep the rotten egg smell of the catalytic converter from sticking to my friends' all-black clothes and my kinda hippie/kinda hausfrau homemade dresses and skirts my mom made me. I was either born a decade too late or too early to be a hippie from the sixties or a Phishhead from the nineties, so I had trouble finding my preferred style of clothing at the mall.

We also kept the windows rolled down so the horrible smell wouldn't cause our eyes to water. We wouldn't want black streaks to form on our cheeks from our Siouxsie Sioux eyeliner. Actually, I was over my black-eyeliner phase by my senior year. I had turned into what my friend Kristi called a "Pippie," or a "punk-hippie". I was basically just a weirdo who didn't fit in with any group so the effeminate boys, the butch girls, and the other artsy fartsy outcasts at school let me hang out with them. If anyone's eyeliner was smudged from my stinky car, it was one of the boys who, when asked by some unsuspecting Winstead's waitress if I was his girlfriend, he'd smile big and say, "Naw, Becky's my fag hag!" I'd shrug my shoulders and smile at the floor, feeling shyly honored to claim such an excellent term of endearment.

It was a fun time. It was also a horrible, wretched, hormonal, emotionally painful time. But those feelings would all slide away when we'd cruise along I-35N with the windows down, singing along with Axl Rose. The song so good, we didn't care that it was sung by someone who hated people like us.

Woa--oh-oh sweet chiiiiild o' miiiiiiiine!

We had legitimate reasons for fearing people like Axl Rose and his ilk, many of them fans from our school, mostly straight boys who spit on us and called us "fags" and "dykes" in the hallways, and chased us out of Godfather's Pizza and around the neighborhood in my car, all while my friends were screaming at me, "Oh. My. God. Becky! You don't have to put on the blinker every time you're gonna turn! We're trying to LOSE them!"

Some of our homophobic peers drew chalk-outlines of pretend-dead bodies and threw tomatoes on it to look like blood and wrote "homosexual slayings" on the sidewalk leading up to the entrance of our school building. They passed us letters in the hallway with horrible words and even more horrible misspellings.

"Dear Sweatheart?" my friend would say. "Gross. Who does he think I am, some sweaty jock?" And we'd giggle at their idiocy and get out of school as fast as we could when the afternoon bell rang, stopping by the liquor store to buy Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill wine, or "Strawberry Hell" as we liked to call it. My hippie/hausfrau dresses atop my large hips and breasts must have convinced the clerk that I was over 21, because they never carded me. What kind of 17 year old girl would wear dumpy dresses like that when all the popular girls were wearing lacy bodysuits and acid wash jeans?

The liquor store clerks didn't know me well enough to know. But I knew:

Somebody who wanted to hide her body. Somebody whose body had been sexually abused as a young child. Somebody who could use a two buck buzz for the night. Enough to keep the bullies at bay in her brain. Enough to pause the anxiety mix tape on endless loop in her mind.

As we'd approach our hangout in front of the World War I memorial, someone would call out, "I see the Big Dick In the Sky!" If society doesn't want gay kids milling around war memorials, why do they so often build them to look like a giant phallus?

Liberty Memorial: Kansas City, MO
image source Wikipedia

Such fun times we had there. Drunk and stupid. Silly kids talking about music and art and "film" and philosophy and sex and all the important things in the world until our bladders got too full and it was time to take a tumble down the hill to the pee tree, catching our breath from laughing so hard. We'd gossip about So-and-So breaking up. Then we'd gossip more next week when they got back together. A girl would run around one week shouting gleefully, "I'm not bi! I'm all-the-way-gay!" Then the next week she'd run around touting bi-hood once again. Some say we were confused. I say we were open. Open to the possibilities of life. On the cusp of adulthood. Figuring things out. Hearts pumping fully and hearts broken on those steps up to The Big Dick In the Sky. 

I never found love on those steps, but I did find several amazing friends. Twenty-five years have passed and I hardly ever seen my old friends, but we keep in touch on Facebook. That's where I found this awesome clip of Postmodern Jukebox covering "Sweet Child O' Mine," New Orleans style, or as they describe it:

Our friend Miche Braden returned to help us show what Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child O' Mine" would have sounded like if New Orleans blues legend Bessie Smith had recorded it back in the '20s. 

Take a look. It's amazing. I can't not-smile while watching it.

And, once again for old times, friends, here's the Guns N' Roses' version so we can think back to our own sweet childhood:

It's good to look back and remember the past. I made a discovery that helps me feel less angry toward those who have hurt me after reading the entire Rolling Stone interview with, of all people, Axl Fucking Rose. Who knew the guy who could write the lyrics to "One in a Million" could also be so pitiful and so insightful?

One In a Million

Immigrants and faggots

They make no sense to me
They come to our country
And think they'll do as they please
Like start some mini Iran,
Or spread some fuckin' disease
They talk so many goddamn ways
It's all Greek to me
Well some say I'm lazy
And others say that's just me
Some say I'm crazy
I guess I'll always be
But it's been such a long time
Since I knew right from wrong
It's all the means to an end, I
I keep it movin' along 

This part of Rose's interview especially caught me off guard:

And I remember being sexually abused by this man and watching something horrible happen to my mother when she came to ge me. I don't know all the details. But I've had the physical reactions of that happening to me. I've had problems in my legs and stuff from muscles being damaged then. And I buried it and was a man somehow, 'cause the only way to deal with it was bury the shit. I buried it then to survive -- I never accepted it. I got a lot of violent, abusive thoughts toward women out of watching my mom with this man. I was two years old, very impressionable, and saw this. I figured that's how you treat a woman. And I basically put thoughts together about how sex is power and sex leaves you powerless, and picked up a lot of distorted views that I've had to live my life with. No matter what I was trying to be, there was this other thing telling me how it was, because of what I'd seen. Homophobic? I think I've got a problem, if my dad fucked me in the ass when I was two. I think I've got a problem about it.

and this part:

One thing I want to say is, these aren't excuses. I'm not trying to get out of something. The bottom line is, each person is responsible for what they say and what they do. And I'm responsible for everything I've said and everything I've done, whether I want to be or not. So these aren't excuses. They're just facts, and they're things I'm dealing with. 

It makes me wonder, back in high school, what the bullies of my friends and I were dealing with that made them act so hatefully. And I wonder what they're dealing with now. We're all dealing with something. That's what being a grown up has taught me.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." --Ian Maclaren

That must be why Jesus said to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies. He had tapped into that energy that unites us all. He understood we're all carrying a heavy burden and we're put here on this earth to help each other carry the load.

Just remember: I can't help you carry the load if you're casting stones at me.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Equality Day of Action: February 25, 2014

I love my church! If anyone needs a ride to the Equality Day of Action rally in Topeka on Tuesday, February 25, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church is coordinating carpools.


Here's info about the rally from the Facebook event page:

Equality Kansas, Great Plains chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, The MainStream Coalition, and the ACLU of Kansas invite you to a day of action at the Kansas statehouse. Talk to legislators, join us for lunch, and cap the day off with a rally for equality!

In the morning, members and supporters of all four organizations will gather at the statehouse in Topeka, and will have the opportunity to visit with members of the state legislature. We will provide handout information that you can take to your representative and senator's offices. We will also provide a few 30-minute training sessions in the morning that will help you in your conversations with elected officials.

At noon, join us for the Brightline Legislative Luncheon. The luncheon is for legislators and individuals committed to separation of church and state. Enjoy lunch together, make connections with legislators, and hear thoughts from elected officials on both sides of the aisle. SEATING IS LIMITED. For more information and to reserve your seat, see

At 1pm, join us for a rally on the south steps of the Capitol. We will be speaking out against discriminatory bills such as HB2453 and others. A complete list of speakers will be published soon.

After the rally, there will be more opportunities to visit with your lawmakers. If you would like to schedule a visit with your representative or senator, please contact Thomas Witt at Equality Kansas, who will help schedule your meeting time. He can be reached at 316-683-1706, or by email at

PLEASE NOTE: Flags and signs are permitted outdoors only. They are not allowed inside the Capitol building.


The Kansas State Capitol is at 300 SW 10th St, Topeka, KS. 

The public entrance is at the intersection of SW 8th and SW Van Buren in Topeka, KS (, on the north side of the Capitol building. Be prepared for airport-style security! All visitors must pass through a security checkpoint, and all bags are screened through an x-ray machine. 

Parking can be difficult. For a good spot, plan to arrive in Topeka early. 

There is metered parking around the Capitol. The meters cost $1 per hour, accept quarters, and are limited from 1 hour to 10 hours depending on where you are parked. Overtime parking tickets are $8 for the first ticket, with fines increasing if you’ve had Topeka parking tickets in the past.

There is additional parking in per-hour parking garages on 8th near Kansas Street ( and 9th near Kansas Street (, within easy walking distance of the capitol.

There is a two-hour parking lot southwest of the capitol at SW 10th and Topeka Blvd ( If you plan to attend the rally only, this parking lot will be a good option for you.

Questions or comments, contact Thomas Witt with Equality Kansas, 316-683-1706, or email

See you there!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Entertaining a Thought

"The mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Fourteen years ago I graduated with an Associates' degree from Johnson County Community College. It only took me eleven years to complete the requirements for a two-year degree. Not bad for someone with my aptitude for slackery.

I had a lot of surprisingly good classes out there: Physical Anthropology, Pop Culture, Masterpieces of the Cinema, and Ethics were my faves.

After graduating from the community college I transferred to a local state university, but I dropped out after one semester. I was going through a bad time in my life emotionally, and I was worn out from going to school while also working full-time at the library. I decided I needed more time to get my shit together holistically before I could spend the energy to get my shit together academically.

I don't miss the hard work. The requirements. The objectives. The time management. I miss taking classes for fun. I miss showing up to class one day and learning something I never knew until that day but somehow it made such perfect sense to me it's as if the knowledge of it existed inside me all along and I just needed my teacher to shine a light on it. That's what's so brilliant about receiving an education from teachers. The connection to something deeper, more complex, different than the thoughts you come up with on your own. Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of autodidactism, but I also understand the value of a good teacher.

I also understand that a good teacher will sometimes say things I cannot accept. That doesn't mean I should plug my ears. I'm not afraid of disagreeing with someone. I don't take it personally. Usually. As long as I'm taking my pills.

So today when I walked into the Adult Speaker Series room at church and saw this Aristotelian quote on the flip chart, I smiled and exhaled and found a seat and opened my mind to learning things I might not accept.

The speaker announced that today we were going to watch a video clip by a conservative pastor named Francis Chan. "So often we talk about more progressive theology that every once in a while we like to study something we don't talk about too often. Today we're going to watch his clips 'Fear God' and 'Follow Jesus'. I'm sure they'll spark some conversation."

And they did.

The "Fear God" video freaked me out the most. I felt like I was suffocating the whole time watching it. I don't do well with drowning scenes. I almost drowned when I was four, but my brother Pat rescued me by jumping into the lake and pulling my foot loose from the mud at the bottom of the lake. Pat is the same brother who, along with his friend, sexually abused me when I was was about five and they were about fourteen. The brother who was always there for me in every other way except for this one way he really betrayed my trust and set me back on my journey toward self-acceptance. I'd never condone sexual abuse. God no. But surviving it has helped me learn to fight for the rights and protections of my body, and all people's bodies. My privacy was violated when I was too young, but I've struggled and survived and I've taken-it back. My body. Not yours.

Perhaps that's why I don't fear God. I feared not doing what my elders who were barely teens themselves forced me to do. I don't fear God. I've come a long way, through anorexia to binge eating disorder, through anxiety to depression, through  distrust of the Christian community to embracing a new Church and it's teaching of love and forgiveness. I don't fear God. I'm grateful for God's presence in my life.

I don't fear God. I'm sorry, Francis Chan. I think of myself as being a child of God. I don't need fear to learn what's right and what's wrong. I need love. Francis Chan can call me lukewarm all he wants, but I don't think adding a little fear in my relationship with God would bring me closer to him.

I read some articles about Chan. He had a rough upbringing. His mom died giving birth to him. (Talk about guilt!) His dad regularly beat him for disobeying and bothering him. And through all that pain, Chan insists his early childhood trauma instilled in him discipline and respect. Chan's father died when he was a teenager. I can see how comforting it would be to feel the firm embrace of God the Father. I don't accept advocating living in fear, but I do understand why some people do.

Other than the fear and hell and sin talk, Chan sounds like an amazing pastor. He lives in poverty. He gives away most of his money to charities that help get people out of sex slavery. He and his wife often invite people over to stay the night with them. He doesn't believe Church needs to have walls. He thinks regular people like you and me can be disciples of Christ. Pretty rad stuff. I like it.

I just don't like all the talk of fear and damnation. I've lived with enough anxiety and fear in my life, I don't need God to add to the mix.

So I'm not into all his fear-mongering, but it's good to learn about people who are trying to make this world a better place, helping people, walking the walk, even if I disagree with some of his core beliefs.

I don't have time to go back to school now. I found a great guy and we married. Bought a house. Had a kid. All the usual stuff that eats away at a person's time and money. I enjoy helping my daughter with her homework, but I don't think I could stand to help her with hers and then have to go do my own.

So these Adult Speaker Series classes at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church are an awesome way to learn about philosophical things without investing a lot of time, energy, or money. And there is such a wide-variety of topics: faith-based organizations helping fast food workers get a raise, prison ministries, inner-city youth after school and summer programs, all kinds of ways to jump in and help out.

Never, back when I was young and pretentious and thought I was so cool reading Nietzsche and Sartre and being anti-organized religion and pro-secular humanism, I never once would have thought that some day my ass would be sitting in a fold-up chair inside a church listening to a conservative pastor talk to a group of progressive Christians about things we can entertain without accepting.

I love all these mind-expanding thoughts and the thinkers who share them with us. As the great Feynman said, “I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”