Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Words Have Power

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Granted I haven't read the book that Williamson references, Sarah Palin's book, however I think this is a plea that can be made to all politicians. It can be made to all those who have "power," to all those who use their voice and share their opinions with others. Freedom comes with a lot of responsibility (no that's not the quote from Spider-man, Uncle Ben says with great power comes great responsibility – which is still true but that is for another blog).

Many people – myself included – want all the freedom they can possess, but rarely the responsibility. All the freedom one can possess is quite different than all the freedom one can handle, and all the freedom that one can handle responsibly.

We have the freedom to say almost whatever we wish. And while I disagree with some of the things Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter say, I defend their right to say it. However, I defend their right to share their opinions and enjoy this freedom while also imploring them to use that freedom for good. Call me a bleeding heart liberal, call me na├»ve, call me whatever you want – but speech and actions that do not build up humanity, speech and actions that incite hatred and antipathy cannot build up humankind in any way. A strong word is different than a hateful one. A stark argument is different than a hostile one.

May God send the Spirit among us – that we might learn to see the Divine in one another and to accept others as we have been accepted and loved.

Marianne Williamson's Plea to Sarah Palin: Words Have Power

"Dear Sarah Palin,

I don't share your politics but I do share your country. I am writing to you now as a fellow American and also as a woman who, like you, puts my spiritual journey above all else.

When your book first came out, I knew I had to read it because I felt judgment in my heart that was not in keeping with my religious convictions. I was tempted to think about you in prejudiced stereotypes, and I know that this doesn't jive with "Love one another" or "Judge not lest ye be judged." So I bought your book.

And I liked it. I admire you as a self-made woman who has achieved a lot in your life, and I can see how some unfair criticisms that have been leveled against you could have hurt terribly. I am sorry for that. As a woman from Texas, I recognized your refusal to "sit down and shut up" as the attitude of a kick-ass woman from a kick-ass state. Although I am pro-choice, I felt your spiritual process regarding coming to acceptance and obedience in relation to giving birth to a Down Syndrome child was both inspiring and profound.

When I read your descriptions of liberals in the book -- not just critical, but simply false -- my jaw did drop a couple of times, like I almost thought you must be joking... you couldn't really think that. But I knew my job in reading the book was to beware my own judgments, so I simply read on and tried to ignore your jibes.

I have defended you since reading the book, particularly when others would make fun of your comments about looking to God's Will to guide you. But something is happening now that is so critical to this country, with such genuinely significant repercussions, that I implore you to hear me -- not just as a fellow American, but as a sister who I know prays to the same God that I do: Words have power. Please modify your words.

In my lifetime, we have lost a President, a Civil Rights leader and a Presidential candidate -- all to gun violence. Another President was shot and survived the ordeal, while his press secretary was paralyzed for life. These are not left-right issues; they are not political correctness issues; they are human issues concerning life and death. I am not suggesting you would pick up a gun and shoot anyone; I am suggesting that there are other people who would, however, and in your position as a leading political figure you are stoking fires -- regardless of your intention -- that are simply too dangerous to be safely stoked.

This is not the stuff of media bias. It is the stuff of history -- in the United States and elsewhere. From Hitler's Germany to the arousal of genocidal fervor in Rwanda, there are more than enough examples of how a group psychosis can emerge within a nation. I beg you to join with me -- even though I am not your political ally -- in praying for blessing and protection on all our politicians and their families, and looking deeply within our own hearts for where violence lurks so we can cast it out.

I am speaking from genuine concern for our country -- a concern no more or less meaningful or legal or freedom-loving than your own. I have a pretty tough edge myself, and I don't mince words when it comes to politics. But no one needs to be "re-loading" now, and our political opponents are not "enemy territory." In a free society, we do not have to agree; in fact, that's the point of freedom. "Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win" is a frightening statement, Sarah. It is not funny; it is threatening. There are some crazy people in this country on both sides of the political aisle, and saying such things could incite them to violence that is very real.

Please join with me in turning to a God of Love and not fear, that our country and our world -- and perhaps most importantly, our own hearts -- might be purified of hate. It is love and love alone that will heal our country and heal our world.

Marianne Williamson"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Personally… Publicly…

Personally – I'm thrilled that President Obama hosted an Easter Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday morning, April 6.

Personally, I'm thrilled, because two amazing women from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) represented our denomination at this prayer breakfast and are helping to "solve" the "issue" of everyone always asking me – "Disciples of Christ… is that non-denominational? Is that a cult?" (OK, so maybe they don't ALWAYS ask me if it's a cult – but it happened once.) Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins and Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale both represented our denomination among several other religious leaders that spoke at the prayer breakfast on Tuesday morning.

Personally, I'm thrilled to see the President standing in Christian solidarity and honoring the sacrifice that Christ made for all of God's children, that we will not perish but have eternal life. As a Christian minister, I'm thrilled.

But publicly I struggle.

I don't think ANY president should be overtly religious. I want them to be religious – I want them to have a faith life. I hope they are guided by a higher power that directs them in the ways of justice, mercy, compassion and love; the values I find God calling each and every one of God's followers to live out.

But I also value the separation of church and state. I value my freedom to assemble on Sunday morning, my right to worship God in the ways I find significant. I would hate to see a country where I am denied that right, denied the possibility of reading the version of the Bible I find most accurate, or of anyone being denied the right to read the holy book that they choose to follow.

If I wanted to live in an overtly religious country – I could. There are several out there.

But to my knowledge, the first amendment to the constitution, in the bill of rights, states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

In my opinion this means that the government cannot claim that one religion is superior to another, nor can it ascertain that religion in general is preferable over non-religion. So how does a president host so many different religious events at the white house – at the building many associate with the power that the United States represents?

President Obama hosted an iftar, a dinner during the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton did the same thing.

President Obama also hosted a Seder meal at the White House.

Personally, as someone interested in the intersection of these three faiths – all of which have their roots in Abraham – all of which celebrate, honor and worship the SAME God – I find these things that the President and the White House are doing very respectable and it gives me great hope.

However, I also recognize that there are Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists, those of the First Nations, pagans, agnostics and atheists that live in this country. I recognize that they deserve the same freedom I do. While I understand that the President holding a dinner at the White House does not directly impinge on their freedom to worship, or not to worship for that matter – I do think that a picture of the most powerful person in the United States, a picture of the power of the United States worshiping might present a problem.

Granted – I'm not asking President Obama and future presidents to leave religion and faith completely out of their lives. In fact I find that almost impossible for a person of faith. If we are people of faith, it is not we who tell others about faith with our mouths, but rather our faith and our relationship with the Divine that informs our decisions and our lives so that we can live out our faith, living our love for God rather than simply talking about it.

But as a citizen of a free nation, which does not require our citizens to believe anything – what is the role of the personal faith of our leaders? How does their faith inform, but not dictate their public actions as serving in a public office? How can we citizens who enjoy this freedom granted by the first amendment rejoice when the President expresses overtly his faith, or when he supports faith, but simply does not offer a banquet for another? If I want to live by and enjoy this freedom – aren't I called to let others live in this freedom too?

Personally, I'm thrilled… Publicly, I'll demonstrate that excitement – but I'll also share my personal wrestling with faith and its role in politics.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I think the myth of the "gay lifestyle" is what most churches get hung up on. It's also what bothers me most. Wait - I take that back. I think SEX is what most churches get hung up on.

Our Young Adult group is reading a book called, "Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality & Christian Spirituality." It is part of the amazing series, WTF: Where's the Faith? In this book, a man writes about his experience of growing up gay in the church. He pinpoints what I think is the largest problem when he says, "The larger church does not like to talk about homosexuality because the church has never learned to talk in a healthy way about sex in general."

I think deep down many people are afraid to admit that this "gay lifestyle" is quite similar to their own "typical" lifestyle. Whether it be dating, getting married, raising children, discussing retirement, or planning your next vacation - this "gay lifestyle" isn't really what people are troubled by. Because there is no special gay lifestyle - or at least one that I'm not aware of. And this article reminds us of that.

Since we can't pinpoint a "gay lifestyle" as being so different from a heterosexual one, we go to the sexual act itself. And then we don't know what to say. And it's not that we don't know what to say only about homosexual intimacy – it’s that the church doesn't know how to talk about sex in general.

I'm not suggesting - by any means - that we should start preaching sexual acts from the pulpit (although there's plenty of sex in the Bible!) However, if we aren't able to discuss the God-given gift of sexuality in church, in safe settings, with church family and with trained church-leaders - where are we able to talk about it? If we can't teach our youth about sexual relationships and the immense significance of a sexual relationship with another child of God – then where are they going to learn about it?

Myth of the 'gay lifestyle' justifies bias

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
April 6, 2010 -- Updated 1858 GMT (0258 HKT)
  • LZ Granderson: Is grocery shopping, getting my son off to school the "gay lifestyle"?
  • Granderson: Nonexistent gay lifestyle keeps up an "us against them" tension
  • Gay rights foes drum up the fear of a link between gay men and pedophilia, he says
  • He writes: Being judged by the content of one's character is a constitutional right
Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and, and has contributed to ESPN's Sports Center, Outside the Lines and First Take. He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) award for online journalism as well as the 2008 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) winner for column writing. 

(CNN) -- On most mornings, my better half wakes up around 5:30, throws on some sweats and heads to the gym before work.

About a half hour later, I wake up my 13-year-old son, go downstairs to the kitchen to make his breakfast and pack his lunch. Once he's out the door, I brew some coffee and get to work.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the "gay lifestyle" -- run for your heterosexual lives.

I understand opponents of gay rights must highlight differences in order to maintain the "us against them" tension that's paramount to their arguments. But this notion that sexual orientation comes with a different and pre-ordained way of life -- as if we're all ordering the No. 3 at a drive thru -- only highlights how irrational groups such as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and others like them are in this whole debate.

Pro-marriage organizations try to stop two consenting adults from marrying. Pro-family groups try to stop stable couples wanting children from adopting unloved orphans.

And somehow, me doing something like going to the grocery store threatens the very fabric of society, as Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern spewed. She says "the homosexual agenda is destroying this nation" and "homosexuality is more of a threat than terrorism." I'm not sure what her idea of a gay lifestyle might be, but with a growing teenager, buying and cooking food dominates my day-to-day.
I don't worship Barbra Streisand, I don't watch any TV show with the word "Housewives" in its title and I love fishing, beer and Madonna. But more important, I'm just a father trying to keep my son away from drugs, get him into college and have a little money left over for retirement. I'm no sociologist but I'm pretty sure those concerns are not exclusive to gay people.

In one of the most pivotal scenes in the biopic "Milk," Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn, gathers a group of community organizers and activists to come up with strategies to combat a 1978 ballot initiative that sought to ban LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) teachers and their supporters from working in public schools in California. As the small crowd settles down, Milk quickly glances around the room and says ..

"If we're going to convince the 90 percent to give a ---- about us 10 percent, we have to let them know who we are ..."

"What" we are -- be it gay, straight, black, white -- is simply window dressing. "Who" we are is where the substance is, where the person is, where our humanity is.

Too often, discussions about gay people and gay rights focus on sex, as if a person's entire being is defined by his or her Hollywood crush.

This fixation has been the crux behind attempts to link gay men to pedophilia -- from John Briggs, a state legislator from Orange County who introduced the proposed ban on gay teachers in California, to the Catholic League's Bill Donohue, whose recent attempts to excuse the church for its global scandal coverup by seemingly blaming homosexuality -- and it's a tactic that is evil incarnate.

"The vast majority of the victims are post-pubescent," Donohue recently said on "Larry King Live." "That's not pedophilia, buddy. That's homosexuality."
Actually, Bill, sexual predators whose victims are 13- to 17-years-old are called hebephiles -- a la Joey Buttafuoco, Madeleine Martin and Heather Kennedy -- not homosexuals. And that still doesn't explain why the church opted to save face as opposed to, in the words of the infamous anti-gay figurehead Anita Bryant, "Save our children."

Being gay doesn't dictate how people live their lives any more than being straight does. There are gay people who go to church every Sunday and straight people who do not believe in God. There are single gay men who believe in the sanctity of marriage and married straight men who apparently do not -- such as Gov. Mark Sanford, ex-Sen. John Edwards and Sen. John Ensign, to name a few.

The truth is the only thing all gay people have in common -- you know, besides being gay -- is that we face continuous rhetorical, social and legal attacks for simply existing, thus potentially making something as mundane as bringing a date to a work function a fight-or-flee situation.

And yet, even in the face of that discrimination, LGBT people all handle it differently.

Some of us live in the closet, some of us do drag every Wednesday night, some of us are Republicans hoping to be change agents within a conservative sect and some of us are apathetic Democrats too dumb to carry on a conversation about anything other than Lady Gaga.

In other words, we're just as diverse, intolerant, upstanding and tragic as our straight counterparts and unless there is an annual meeting I don't know about, the only item on the much talked-about gay agenda is an abbreviated passage from the Declaration of Independence -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

In 29 states, people can be fired simply for being gay regardless of their education, experience or job performance; servicemen and women can be dismissed from the military regardless of their qualifications, dedication and courage; and partners are unable to see their better halves in the hospital regardless of the love, commitment and life they share.

Wanting to be judged by the content of one's character isn't a special right, it's a constitutional one guaranteed by the 14th and 15th amendments.

And yet, 145 years since the abolition of slavery, 90 years since women were allowed to vote and 20 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act, we're still involved in McCarthy-like investigations, holding Briggs-like elections and taking opinion polls based solely upon "what" someone is as opposed to "who" they are.

It's sad. We're such a great nation, still full of great hope and promise and yet we keep being tripped up by ignorance, which leads to fear and then eventually hate. Being gay isn't a choice, but being a bigot certainly is.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.