Everything we learned from the ‘Duck Dynasty’ fiasco in one sentence

Noah Michelson, the editor for Huffington Post’s Gay Voices, summed up the brouhaha over Phil Robertson and A&E in one (extremely long) sentence.

You can say whatever you want, including that gay people are sinful and full of “murder, envy, strife, hatred” and are in the same league as those who enjoy being penetrated by barnyard animals and that black people were “happy” and were not “singing the blues” when Jim Crow laws ruled America, and as long as you later tack on “I love all of humanity” and I would “never incite or encourage hate” and throw around the word “tolerance,” and as long as there’s enough money and publicity swirling and more ready to be made, you will face absolutely no consequences and if anything you’ll be celebrated as a hero and lauded as an icon of freedom — some will even go so far as to call you the “Rosa Parks” of our generation — while the people you were talking about will still be vilified and will have to fight even harder against society’s belief that they are — even in the 21st century, even in a country that is not supposed to be ruled by religion or heartless, hateful zealots — at their very core all of those vile and (let it be said once and for all) patently untrue things that you said about them.

Ain’t that the truth!

Stop it!

My maternal grandmother suffered a stroke yesterday morning – just over 12 years since another stroke left her with short-term memory loss. She was transported to a local hospital and given a drug that will hopefully lessen the effects of the stroke, but so far things aren’t looking very good. She is having a hard time communicating (sometimes not at all), and the right side of her body has been affected.

Yesterday afternoon, after sitting in two different hospitals all day, my nerves were frazzled. I was also starving, since the call came early in the morning before I had a chance to eat anything. Several family members were gathered in the CCU waiting room, and to say there was a wide range of individuals would be an understatement. There were young and old, Pentecostal and Baptist, black and white, married and divorced, straight and gay, smokers and nonsmokers.

Although things are always a little awkward around my extended family because of the whole religion/gay thing, you can imagine my surprise when one of the women I thought was the least judgmental struck up the following conversation with me after a brief group discussion about Obama.

Her: I am very conservative.

Me: No! You are probably the least conservative person in this room.

Her: No, really. I am very conservative.

Me: What makes you conservative?

Her: I don’t believe in abortion.

Me: I consider myself to be pro-choice, but I would never have one if I were female. However, I believe a woman should have access to a safe abortion if she wants one.

Her: I also don’t agree with all the gay marriage stuff.

Me: Why?

Her: Because I think we need to follow God’s plan.

Me: Do you think people are born gay?

Her: Yes.

Me: Then why shouldn’t they be allowed to marry if God made them that way?

Her: We are all born into sin. There are many different sins, but the Bible says men will leave the natural use of a woman and turn to other men.

Me: But I didn’t do that. I wasn’t attracted to women before I was gay, so I didn’t leave women and turn to men.

Her: I know, but the Bible also says he will turn people over to a reprobate mind in the end times. Brian, I believe that if you would truly get saved, Jesus would change your mind.

Me: You actually think I would become attracted to women?

Her: I believe Jesus would change your mind.

And with that, I simply stopped talking. I also declined her invitation to join several of them for dinner.

Many years ago, Maya Angelou gave some excellent advice for people who feel like they are being attacked. She said people who cut you down are trying to “kill” you by tearing you apart bit by bit. She recommends that whenever you encounter a person trying to tear you down, you simply look at them and say “Stop it.” I think there could be great power in that, and I intend to start putting it to use.

Stop pretending

There is a story in the news almost every day about homophobia. People deny tips based solely on the assumption that the person serving them is gay. Homosexuals are beaten and killed in Russia and around the world. Protestors chant “God hates fags!” outside funeral services for members of our nation’s military.

Less news-worthy instances of homophobia affect me personally. After eight years together, there is still no legal recognition of my relationship. And after eight years, most of my family members still don’t acknowledge my partner. My immediate family, in many ways, is fractured.

What’s the common denominator? Religion.

I haven’t been to church in around nine months. While discussing that fact with a friend recently, I was finally able to verbalize my feelings on the matter. What it boils down to is that almost everything negative in my life is a result of religion.

Religion separates my family. Religious zealots threaten my safety and security. Religion makes my world a less welcoming place.

While I still believe in God, I have no desire to associate myself with a denomination. My church might preach equality for everyone, but the people driving by don’t automatically realize that. If I say, “I’m a Christian” or “I go to church,” I worry that many will assume I am just like the other bigots who go around bashing those who are different.

I don’t need religion to be moral. I don’t need church in order to go to heaven (if there is one.) What I need is for people who call themselves “Christian” to at least make an effort to live up to the name. Don’t pretend you love everyone when you are so clearly filled with hate.

Losing my religion

The first week of February marks the last time I attended Sunday service at our church, and although I have had many periods of up-and-down with regard to religion, I am finding myself less and less inclined to participate in anything having to do with it.

My whole life through, Christians have been telling me how to live, how to believe, how to love, how to encounter God. They have also told me on numerous occasions that I’m not doing any of those things correctly. Christians are usually the most vocal group against social justice, equality, gay marriage, science, peace, etc. Anything that pushes humanity along a more gentle pathway almost always seems to meet resistance from those who claim to be followers of Christ. Oh, the irony.

It has gotten to the point where I simply don’t want to be associated with it anymore. Maybe I’ve outgrown it, or maybe I have just hardened my heart over the years. Whatever it is, I can’t deny that I feel outright contempt for most things religious.

I still believe in God. I even believe in the message of Jesus Christ. I just wish modern-day Christians weren’t so concerned with the size of their congregation, the amount of money in the offering plate, and being entertained on Sunday morning. And why does it feel like Christianity has been hijacked by right-wingers who love war, revel in patriotism, and hate their fellow man? Maybe because it has been.

I might feel differently on down the road, but for now, I’m content sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

Communion

Despite attending church on a fairly regular basis over the past six years, I have never participated during our monthly observance of communion.

Communion was a very rare occurrence in the Holiness church I grew up in. I would be surprised if we observed it more than once in a five-year span, and it was typically accompanied by foot-washing. Because they were dispensed so infrequently, the sacraments were considered extremely sacred by our congregants.

Before the unleavened bread and cup of grape juice were presented, a preacher would deliver a sermon about the significance of what we were getting ready to do. These sermons always included the following verses from 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians:

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

We were told in no uncertain terms that we would damn ourselves if we partook of the bread and juice without being worthy. Although I might have participated in the ritual as a child, I have no memory of ever receiving communion. I simply never felt worthy.

I stopped attending church sometime around the age of twenty, and didn’t start again until 2006. The church I later joined offers communion on the first Sunday of each month. Sometimes it is passed out to the congregation on silver trays; other times it is given by intinction and recipients must line up the center aisle to dip their piece of bread in the cup.

Our communion is open to everyone, and although I have been warmly encouraged on several occasions to partake, I never have. Fear holds me back.

I suspect I hold myself to a higher standard than most, because I have seen several people treat it with little reverence. Some talk and laugh to the person beside them as the elements are passed. I even watched in dismay after one service as a woman ripped off a piece of leftover communion bread from the altar, said, “I’m hungry,” and shoved it in her mouth.

Even though I realize that no one is ever worthy of Christ’s mercy, I am surely no less worthy than they. I just can’t seem to overcome the mental hurdle, most of which is a result of those childhood sermons. The rest are my own hangups about being homosexual. Even if the jury is still out on whether homosexuality is a sin, I’m pretty sure we have a clear verdict on fornication. But then it’s not like we have the option of getting married in Kentucky.

I have accepted the fact that I may never receive communion as long as I live, and I’m okay with that.

‘Help Thanks Wow’ by Anne Lamott

I just finished reading Anne Lamott’s book titled Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. It was beautiful. Anne has a unique way of understanding and elaborating on religious doubt. I could see myself in many of the pages, including the prayer in the following excerpt.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real-really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.

I like the idea of being completely honest with God. I tend to completely shut Him/Her out of the equation when I am feeling low spiritually. This has actually been the case for quite some time now. I also completely identify with the idea of recoiling from most people who believe in God. Even so, I still pray. Often in the manner Anne descibes. Short and to the point.

If You are up there, please help this person get better.

If You exist, thanks for my home, my partner, my comfort.

Wow. You really outdid Yourself with these beautiful flowers. I’m in awe!

I’m never sure if anyone is actually listening, but I do it anyway. Since reading this book, I intend to do it more, and in a much more honest manner. If God exists, He/She already knows my thoughts, so there is no point trying to conceal them.

Anne sums up her book and my feelings perfectly with a quote from Matisse:

I don’t know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I’m some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.

Special thanks to We Are Fambly for bringing this book to my attention.