Friday, September 24, 2010

Intervarsity vs. Habitat for Humanity

Last night, I spoke to a group about 200 evangelical pastors at a conference about evangelizing. I was part of a panel that consisted of 2 atheists and a Christian that most Christians would not consider Christian. I was the latter.

During the panel, I talked about my time in college and why I chose Habitat for Humanity over Intervarsity as my main social group. I said that when I looked at both groups, I think I chose Habitat because I wanted to be more like those people, while I definitely knew that DID NOT want to become more like the Intervarsity folks.

The list of why I was repulsed by Intervarsity is easy to come up with:

Girls were weirdly perky
Guys were kind of assholes but with a moralistic veneer
Girls and guys were separated and traditional gender roles were clearly the norm
I hated praise songs

In the Q&A sessions afterwards, a woman asked me what was so attractive about the Habitat for Humanity group.

I bumbled the answer so I thought I'd record what I should have said here:

They were fun and funny. This may be relative as I'm sure the IV folks experienced fun. But my personality liked the kind of jokes that were made at Habitat.
I had a liberating sense that I could be myself. The only social limit I saw was that you couldn't be an asshole. I sensed that in the IV crowd, I would have had to use clean language and did not see potential for personal exploration that I thought should be part of the college experience.
They were smart and wanted to change the world.
They actually worked at making the world a better place every Saturday. My first year, we raised $27,000 and built an entire house in partnership with the neighboring college.
They liked me for me rather than for how I might be lauded as an example of the success of their ideology.
There was a potential for me to be a leader there, even though I was a woman.

Unfortunately, this was the best question that a conference on evangelism could ask so I'm sorry that I bumbled it. If more churches were like that Habitat for Humanity group, more people like me would go to church.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

Just a quick note to let you know that Jacob and I will be attending the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC. Actually, Jacob will be attending the concurrent March to Keep Fear Alive, hosted by Stephen Colbert. I have never attended a rally of any sort but found myself weirdly moved to act when I heard about this one. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is hosting it and writes,
"We're looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it's appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles."
This describes me perfectly.

Also, when I started doing some research, I found that the idea originally came from a Reddit user and that members of that forum donated over $200,000 to Donors Choose in order to persuade Stephen Colbert to make this idea a reality. I really like that model for change. I hope it catches on.

Lately, I've been feeling pretty paralyzed when it comes to making decisions. I've talked about it with my therapist and have all sorts of complicated explanations for it but the basic problem is that I just can't discern which consequence I will regret more. Whether it is choosing dinner, sorting out my stuff for what to give away or making financial or social decisions, while I can imagine what possible outcomes might arise from making one choice or another, I can't imagine how I will feel about those outcomes.

For a girl who is used to going with her gut, this is perplexing. I have never really found it difficult to decide what to do next. As I have said before, one idea just seemed like the next thing in front of me and so I did it. Anne Lamott writes about her pastor's decision-making process and says that she gets very quiet and breathes in and out slowly. Then she looks down at her feet and imagines her options as stepping stones on either side of her. The stone that appears to have a spotlight shine on it in her mind's eye is generally the path she should take. Or maybe I am remembering that all wrong. Still, I've used that advice before. But now, there's no spotlight at all. Is it too melodramatic to say THERE IS ONLY DARKNESS?

I'm not a person who makes lists of pros and cons, nor am I someone, not do pareto analysis or decision trees appeal to me very much. The best I do is some sort of back of the napkin cost benefit analysis.

So, I spend a lot of my non-work hours pretty overwhelmed and sometimes a little panicky. Where did that confidence go? I've asked that question a couple of times here in the last several months.

But when I heard about this rally, I just knew it was the next thing in front of me. I feel so bewildered but grateful for the light shining inside of me when I think of it.

So Jacob bought the tickets (choosing from the different options was too much for me) and I asked a dear from from junior high and high school to put us up on her futon. I'm excited about the atmosphere that we'll be a part of: funny, smart people who believe that this slightly ironic gesture will actually make a difference. I think it will be festive and ridiculous. I missed the celebration in Grant Park when Obama was elected. I'm hoping to find some of that jubilation and the experience of being part of a crowd all feeling the same feelings at this rally.

No follow-up obligations. No homework to do before-hand. No family to be in relationship with. Just an experience. An adventure, one might call it. A real vacation.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The right question

Lately, I have had a couple of people look at me strangely when I tell them that I often sit quietly in meetings at work when evangelical Christians assume that everyone else in the room shares their religious and political opinions. I think that my friends know me as outspoken and also an advocate for marginalized folks and so the idea that I would sit quietly doesn't jive with the persona that they know. Of course, they could also rightly see me as bossy and tactless and have a similar response. I'll hope for the former.

However, my position as director of partnerships means that when my professional hat is on, I have to put the relationship of my organization with their organization as the top priority and challenging the beliefs of the representative of another organization puts the mission I'm working so hard to achieve at risk. I know that some folks might worry that this suppression is hurting my soul but I don't grit my teeth while keeping my mouth shut, nor do I seethe with unexpressed loathing. I'm really comfortable that as I get to know people, my testimony will be more easily heard because it will be in heard in context with the way I live my life, which is as a mostly loving, mostly gracious Christian.

The annual Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference is here in Chicago this year and it is again a mix of delight at catching up with my growing network of friends and colleagues in the industry, fun in hanging out with my dad and angst at feeling a little bit on the outside of this predominantly evangelical crowd.

For the last several years, I have been hearing about a guy named Andrew Marin, who is becoming a leader at CCDA. (It's worth doing a google search to see how many different people on the spectrum have an opinion about the guy's work.) I know that at some point I should read his book but it just hasn't gotten to the top of the pile yet. Instead, whenever anyone asks me about him, I ask about him right back. I tend to say something like, "I hear a lot of good things about Andrew but I am a little fuzzy about what he actually believes about homosexuality and the church. Everything I read online seems to dance around that issue." I haven't gotten an answer to that question yet that has let me feel comfortable forming an opinion about his work.

He works to be a bridge between the evangelical community and the GLTBQ community. As far as I can tell, he encourages the evangelical Christian community to drop their fundamentalism and reflect God's love to all people, including gay folks. He doesn't seem to feel a need to assure evangelicals that he believes homosexuality is a sin but he doesn't affirm it either. I call that progress.

Yesterday, I was asked about Andrew Marin by a former supervisor whom I really respect and feel pretty comfortable with. When I asked, "But how does Andrew actually feel about homosexuality?" he gave me a typical response and said, "You're asking the wrong question." I like this man enough to push back. I said, "As a person whose church welcomes and affirms gay people, I have to say that I think it's the right question. If someone does not feel like the marriage of Michael and Rodrigo is worth our community's support then we might need to protect them against you." I probably didn't say it that well, but I hope I got the gist out.

My friend referred me to Andrew's interview on Moody radio, which I haven't got a chance to listen to (I'm taking advantage of a rare and limited quiet moment to write this post) but hope to soon. I appreciate the help.

I want to say again, I think it's the right question. I think Andrew's work is great progress for the evangelical church. Lots of people need to hear that the way they act on their beliefs hurts other children of God and are, thus, actions that aren't Christ-like. However, I think that message needs to be a gateway to folks examining their actual beliefs and determining if they are themselves the beliefs Christ would hold in this day and age.

This may seem hypocritical to some folks that have been reading this blog for awhile. As an emergent Christian, I am adamant that all beliefs about God are the result of our experiences with God and are therefore totally unique to each person and should not be used as a basis for whether or not we are in relationship with one another. We shouldn't judge each other's experiences with God as valid or invalid. It may seem like I am saying that Andrew Marin's relationship with God is not as enlightened as mine since he seems to believe that homosexuality is a sin.

I am not saying this. Andrew Marin is just as good a Christian as I am. Probably better. However, beliefs about other people are not on the same level as beliefs about God. I am asking the right question because it is essential that we human beings continue moving along the path toward believing that other human beings are equal to ourselves in the eyes of God and that we believe that we are fully loved for exactly who we are, without ever needing to change to maintain that status of being loved. As Christians, we need to be constantly moving toward dropping our agendas for how to change other people, which means that we need to move toward changing our pesky habit of believing that we know how other people need to change. Only God knows that. We delude ourselves into thinking that we ARE God when we take on that mantel.

Early abolitionists advocated on behalf of the rights of African slaves while still believing them to be an inferior species. Those of us engaged in racial reconciliation from the social context of membership in the privileged, dominant culture (i.e. white folks) still struggle with our complicity in the structures that have been created over time that continue to treat African-Americans as second-class citizens as a legacy to that racism of the past. We acknowledge that everyone is still a little bit racist. Even puppets acknowledge this. Acknowledging this flaw in our characters allows us to be on the look-out for how it hurts others. However, if we tried to say it was OK to be racist, we would begin heading down the slippery slope of excusing our mis-treatment of others, which stops our forward progress of becoming more Christ-like.

As far as I know, Andrew Marin is doing great work in helping Christians examine their actions. The oppression of homosexual children of God is a problem that needs to be attacked by people from all points on the spectrum. However, I will continue to insist that until it becomes as appalling in our society to be against gay marriage as it is to be against interracial marriage, the positive outcome of the battle is still far from being inevitable.