Apocalyptic Parent Conspiracy!

No, not Al Qaeda. Not the NRA. Not even high fructose corn syrup.

While you weren’t paying attention, it has slowly and quietly crept in and is now, as we speak, destroying the souls of the most vulnerable among us—our children.

No, its not bullies at school. Not choking on food. Not even rock and roll.

It’s the parents. It is us. And it is all in the name of cleanliness at the mercy of fear. It must be stopped.

Last Sunday I took my kids to the playground where there is this sand table with a water faucet. See? Already you’re thinking mud and guts. I know! It was a little chilly outside too. But I can’t tell you how awesome it was. It might even go down as one of my favorite memories of watching my kids play. They were cooperating, they were laughing, they were chatting, and their eyes were as bright as the turning leaves. And they were soaking wet and disgustingly dirty. They sat in the puddle of sandy water. The sand got into their fingernails. It got in their hair. It got into their butt cracks. Do you understand? It was everywhere!

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After about two minutes my kids realized they had struck gold. It was the World Series of playtimes. Other kids noticed the commotion. Big kids, almost too cool to play in sand would saunter over to see what was happening. Little toddlers, barely able to walk would trek across the sandy divide, itching to dive in. From every corner of the earth they came to look and stare. But not one stayed. Why?

Parents. Damn parents.

“Oh honey, let’s go down the slide instead, THAT looks REALLY dirty and you’ve got a brand new shirt on.”

“Sweetheart, don’t get wet, you’ll get SOOOOO cold.”

“Lollypop, we just did your make up.”

“Tinkertootle, that sand-water combination will give you a rash!”

I cringed every time as a little part of each kid died that glorious autumn Sunday morning. And to be honest, I can be one of those parents too. I get wrapped up in making a plan for the day. I get an idea of how I want things to go. I don’t want to do the work of cleaning up after the mess. I don’t like to see my kids uncomfortable when they get wet and a little cold on a cool fall day.

And they did. As we began the long walk back, the whining and crying started. But you know what? Kids are strong! They are resilient, within reason of course, but usually much hardier than we give them credit for. Sometimes I wonder if we are unknowingly creating an entire race of floppy, cryhappy couch potatoes, ya know? Anyhow, when we got home, they dove straight into a warm bath. Their clothes went straight into the washing machine. You won’t believe it, but within an hour all was clean and well again. Everyone was safe. I had a cup of coffee and– here’s the kicker– the kids took a killer nap.

Children need to be outside and feel dirt in between their fingers if they are going to develop a relationship with the earth, and eventually learn to care for her. They need to learn that they can overcome any amount of discomfort that life can throw their way if they are going to live a courageous and happy life.

Let’s do this together. Send little Lollypop outside without his coat. When you see Tinkertootle get into the dirt, let her linger as long as her concentration will hold her. Please put away the wet-wipes and the hand-sanitizer. They are useless for human development.

Outside is where real people are made. Let’s embrace it, for the sake of our children.

Vote No: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Guest post from my dear friend Jacob Ruff, as published by the Bethel Clarion. A compassionate and thought provoking articulation for voting down Minnesota’s Marriage Amendment. 

Come November, four states will be voting on marriage equality. While three of them — Maine, Maryland and Washington — will be voting on bills that would legalize same-sex marriage within their borders, Minnesota is the lone state whose ballot will include a proposition to legislate against it. If the “Yes” votes form the majority, our state’s Constitution will be amended to provide that marriage will only be recognized between one man and one woman. If the “No” votes win out, the amendment will not be ratified; no laws permitting homosexual people to marry will be put into effect.

For the last 15 years, a state statute has banned marriage between same-sex couples in Minnesota, and it is still intact today. Why, then, is there now a need to elevate the ban upon same-sex marriage into the highest order of state law? Advocates for the amendment claim that its purpose is to ensure that children are brought up in a family with a mother and a father.

This idea purports that heterosexual parents provide the healthiest environment for children, implying that same-sex parents provide an unhealthy one. A considerable amount of support also comes from Christians wanting to protect “traditional marriage.” Some traditional definitions of marriage in biblical and extra-biblical history were exceedingly crude, even by today’s standards, but we’ll assume that they are referring to the monogamous union of one man and one woman as taught in the Bible.

All of this sounds well and good, but it raises an important question: If we want to amend the Constitution to ensure children are brought up in a nurturing family and to protect the sanctity of biblical marriage, why aren’t we trying to legislate against divorce? The division of a marriage is certainly detrimental to a child’s upbringing. In fact, studies by the American Psychological Association show that children coming from divorce “are at a higher risk for adjustment problems than children from intact families,” but the development and adjustment of children with lesbian and gay parents “do not differ markedly” from that of children with heterosexual parents. Concerning the protection of biblical marriage, Jesus teaches that divorce is adulterous behavior, but he has nothing to say about homosexuality altogether. It seems that divorce is the most egregious among threats to “traditional marriage,” so why aren’t we attempting to prohibit that, too?

Further calling the motives of the amendment into question is the fact that conservatives, the primary supporters of the amendment, strive for less government regulation in nearly all areas, yet want the government to create barriers in this particular area. The logic of this marriage amendment is specious, and the motives are suspect. There must be something more at play here, and I suspect that it’s our nasty, old oppressive tendencies.

Though we desperately wish it didn’t, oppression exists in our country. Because we have such a deep lineage of oppressing people outside of the privileged elite — eradicating Native Americans to “manifest destiny,” suppressing women’s rights and freedoms, enslaving and segregating African Americans — we have deeply internalized the value of subjugation, and have come to love feeling superior to others. But this is not how it ought to be. Although allowing women to vote or letting an interracial couple to marry may have seemed uncomfortable at the time, our commitment to “liberty and justice for all” demanded it. And so it does with gays and lesbians. Some may think that what they do is perverse, but we nonetheless have no right to deny them equality.

If this amendment does pass, what does this communicate to our gay Minnesotans, especially to the youngest of them who have most recently come to the sometimes painful realization that they are not the same as their friends and classmates? We will be telling them that they are inferior, that something about who they are makes them worthy of only second-best treatment. We also will be declaring to straight people that somehow they — though they, too, inherited their sexual preference without choice — are superior to gay people. Imagine a gay child’s vulnerability when their internalized inferiority collides with superior sentiments held by a straight child. It is no wonder that American LGBT teens are much more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

We must remember that this amendment will dramatically impact the lives of real human beings. Not only are these people dear friends, relatives and loved ones to many, but they are the social outcasts of our generation. They are the people Jesus spent His life with, relentlessly affirming their dignity as Children of God. In the midst of all of the politicking and logistical clashing that’s done over this issue, I’m afraid we often lose sight of the humanity of it all. The source of my passion in the arena of gay rights and gay marriage comes from my privilege of having grown up in a church with many LGBT members.

Shortly before I was born, a surge of gay and lesbian folks began to join our church, causing many members to leave. Believe me, they missed out. The men and women from my church who nurtured me as an infant and taught my Sunday school classes as I grew up are some of the most compassionate, warmhearted people I’ve ever met. Some of them have spouses, and some have partners, but that makes no difference. I learned about love by the words and actions of gay people — love within a committed relationship, love between neighbors and love of God.

My pastor, a man who has guided me as I matured physically and spiritually, is gay.

As a straight man, I can tell you this: There isn’t one thing that makes any gay or lesbian person different from a straight person. Growing up around gay and lesbian folks didn’t disadvantage me in any way, it only made me see them as regular people. They weep and laugh, they have trials and triumphs and they love, just the same as you and me. If these men and women have found love in one another, who am I to say anything except, “Wonderful!”?

I don’t write this in hopes that every reader will adopt my outlook. Everyone is entitled to their views, be them similar to mine or vastly different. My hope is rather to invite careful consideration as to whether this amendment is truly needed. From a strong desire to abide by Jesus’ call to love my neighbor as myself and to support the freedom and dignity of all gay and lesbian Minnesotans, my vote will be an emphatic “No.”

My Big Gay Vote No

(Inspired by my friend Jacob, a few thoughts on why I’m Voting No against the Marriage Amendment)

The first time she noticed another woman.

What it was like coming out to his parents.

The challenge and longing in looking for a partner.

Over the past decade or so a few friends have sat in our dining room finding themselves telling their story. This is never a light conversation. I do my best to listen, I try to ask gentle questions, and without fail, there are always tears. Sometimes I wonder, what’s behind the tears? Are they from the pain of secrecy after so many years? Are they tears of relief since the soul was finally able to express its true identity in this body its found itself in? To be honest, I may never really know.

This is where I think empathy comes in.

Empathy is that Jesus-taught ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. To seek to understand. To look at the bigger picture. To wonder how love might respond.

You cannot legislate empathy. It does not fall under any law. More will sit at my dining room table and find themselves telling the story of when they first realized they had fallen in love with someone who happened to be of the same gender. Regardless of the status of Minnesota’s Constitution next year, multitudes of us will still continue to listen to, affirm, receive and offer love to those finding themselves in our LGBTQ community.

However, the consequences of a passed amendment in the coming election are serious. I’m Voting No on November 6, no question about it. I hope you do to, and I think it’s the most loving, compassionate, and Christian thing to do. But maybe the first question shouldn’t be about whether you are voting YES or NO. Maybe the question should be this:

Are you listening to the people around you?

Brene Brown says, “Something powerful happens when you realize it’s a privilege for others to hear your story.” If you’ve never had someone tell you they are gay, then ask yourself why not?  Gosh, I know more gay people than I do Packer Fans. They’re everywhere! Why haven’t they found their way to your dining room table?

Now hear those of us who have sat in that listening chair. There is real pain, heartache, and suffering as a result of marriage inequality and if this Amendment passes, it will make it even worse. It will ensure the ongoing anguish of loved ones stranded in hospital waiting rooms, denied health insurance, and a message from society that reads second class citizen. And consider our children. Gay teen suicide rates aren’t an anomaly. It’s the result of our collectively closed ears and oppressive insistence that the world is flat—all at the risk of accepting something we’ve been taught to fear.

Have no fear of the gays my friends! They are human. They eat, sleep, drink and breath the same air. Much more, my gay friends have been my teachers. They’ve taught me a better and bigger understanding of love. They’ve helped me love myself. They’ve showed me how to love others who so easily get under my skin. As a Christian, I find this simply prophetic. These people are leaders in my life and I’m honestly ashamed to even have to defend them in this way.

A day is coming when you will be caught off guard and someone who’s been storing it up for years will strike a moment of courage and tell you who they really are:

Queer.

Will you try to impose your own sexual preference? Or will you listen? The former is not working, not effective, and you will have brought someone one step closer to becoming a statistic. The latter will bring you one step closer to what it means to be a real friend. Empathy does that to people. It sparks friendship and possibility.

I wish you Vote No on Tuesday, November 6. And I wish you true friendship, with an open ear and a loving heart.

New Song for Sunday Morning

Quaking Bog, Wirth Park in Minneapolis, MN

Leaving the car parked as the sun tops the autumn trees

We walk into what was the very first Sanctuary:

A quaking bog with

Towering tamaracks

Birches, oak, maple, and even buckthorn

Cattails, lady slipper, and moss as old as my family tree

We walk on water, carefully and tenderly

One foot in front of the other

In a slow march for a

Slower life

A gentler way

In our minds we hum a tune

And our steps find each other’s match

Silent prayers hover above our heads and we suddenly find ourselves

At least for a moment

With the One we came looking for.

As if a deer had flagged its white tail

Everyone pauses

Knowing glances are exchanged as some linger longer than others

Again, each finding their careful stride

Paying even closer attention

Nothing happens by accident on a Sunday morning

In a quaking bog.

Cherry Tomatoes

Nothing compares to the sight

Of my daughter, quiet as can be

Eyes lost in wonder

Working intently and efficiently

Stuffing her mouth with freshly picked cherry tomatoes in the backyard garden

How to Keep the Faith

How to keep the faith

after fundamentalism was revealed a power structure designed to subjugate,

raise money

raise structures

raise men

All in the name of Jesus

In the spirit of greed, shame, and tyranny.

To this day, it is no longer natural to say, “I believe in God” without wondering if that means I believe in

Systems of exclusion

Prayer for the purpose of imperialism

Worship of drawn boundaries

Spirituality of capitalism

Politicking pastors and priests

But faith must be deeper than the skin of religion or propositional truths of the West

II.

Do I believe in God?

Ask me while my wife is in labor, at the first breath of a new life

Ask me when my grandfather lay dying, pleading the words “I love you”

Ask me as I put a wooden paddle into the quiet waters of Cedar Lake

Ask me at the twilight call of a loon

Ask me when the homeless man tells me he prays every day, and he’ll pray for me

III.

I believe in the spark that lit this soul

In the very first seed

In whatever it is that binds me to you

In the mystery of prayer

In systems of inclusion

In a spirituality of wholeness, nourishment, and equality

In worship as action on behalf of the oppressed and suffering

which welcomes my own story of oppression and suffering

which will beat every gun into a garden shovel

which will turn every corporation into a co-operative

which will transform every church into a neighborhood pub

which will make fellow Pilgrims out of politicians and corporate executives, religious radicals and heretics, rich and poor,

you and me.

This is the place where I can quietly, contentedly say that, yes

I believe in God.

To Fart Around

“Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, I ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.”

-Kurt Vonnegut Jr.