On Mental Illness and Having the “Mind of Christ”

For 30 years, I cycled between incompatible episodes of elation and mind-whirling creativity and then lows so deep that I couldn’t imagine living any longer, including a severe yet undiagnosed postpartum depression following the birth of my son, diagnosed post-traumatic stress syndrome, gender dysphoria that refused to be suppressed any longer by my mid-30s, and unrelenting physical and emotional stress in my work and personal life. I tried counseling sporadically with no long-term success, because I couldn’t find good matches with therapists; most of whom were deeply invested in a religio-spirituality that ultimately could not see the elephant crushing my chest.

After moving to Colorado, starting a new job, and sending my only child off to college, I figured I would try this counseling thing again after experiencing a two-month downturn which I described as “sleepwalking.” I went to our campus Pride Resource Center and got a list of pre-screened medical and therapeutic professionals. [**I am indebted to all the queer and trans folks here who put themselves on the front lines to find out who those people were, no doubt with more failures than successes.] With the support and help of two dear friends, I took a deep breath and called the counseling place that was on the list. I unloaded all the issues I knew I had at the time in a breathless race to get to the end before I aborted this mission. I was met with grace, compassion, and a determination to get me the help I was finally desperate enough to search for. The therapist who took me on was actually listed as not accepting new clients. For some reason, Jennifer decided to take me on.

Through talking with her, I realized that there was a pattern to my ups and downs (3 weeks up, followed immediately by 6 to 8 to 12 weeks of intense down). She suggested that I seek a psychiatric evaluation. A psych eval? Although I have been steadily working to recognize, interrogate, and dismantle my internalized ableism concerning mental illness, my first thought was, “That’s for crazy people. I’m not crazy. Am I crazy?”

I went online to my health insurance website and checked for in-network psychiatrists. I gathered up the courage to call a place that specialized in bipolar and depression. I made an appointment. I filled out a 30-page survey of my mental health history and that of my family, which includes two diagnosed schizophrenics – one who was in Viet Nam and victimized by our government’s use of Agent Orange; the other who has been institutionalized since he was 18 after setting his mother’s apartment on fire. I went to the appointment. I was honest about my life. After listening to me for 15 minutes, Dr. K told me that yes, I had a Bipolar disorder, Bipolar II not Bipolar I. He told me I had been carrying an elephant on my back for 30 years. He was amazed I had manage to accomplish so much despite that fact. He told me I would likely need medication for the rest of my life to manage my illness. [I know there are folks who would counter that and say other therapies would work just as well and I don’t need lifelong pharmaceutical intervention. To that I say, you do what’s best for you.]

I was crushed. Somehow it was one thing to have Major Depression, but something entirely different to be Bipolar. Once again, those internalized ableist narratives came out – that means you’re crazy. The stigma of years of public and religious narratives flooded my mind. I am working to counter this and accept as Carrie Fisher wrote in her memoir:

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” —Wishful Drinking, her 2008 memoir about her mental illness and prescription drug addiction

I was raised in a Black Christian household, a Black Christian community, and was sent to Catholic schools despite the worry I would be contaminated by a religious perspective that most the people in Black eschatological-charisma at the time were convinced was a glorified cult if not outright demonic. I am the granddaughter of a woman who founded and pastored a Black Pentacostal storefront church, Lazarus House of Prayer, in Harlem at a time when Black women preachers – heck women preachers period – were not only an anomaly but anathema in most Black charismatic Christian denominations – heck most Christian denominations period, despite the fact that there have been Black women preachers and congregational leaders since forever. I remember playing the washboard in that church as a very young child. [If you don’t know what that means, check this sister in the black top in this video.] When I was 8 or 9 years old, I “gave my life to Christ” and became “born again” at a revival in Madison Square Garden held by Rev. Frederick K. C. Price. I have been in and out of ministry training, alternatively running from a pastoral calling, embracing it, and now, restructuring my entire religio-philosophical framework.

In other words, I was taught and constantly wrestled with the assertion that mental illness is rooted in demonic possession at worst and failure to fully receive the healing of Christ at best. That prayer was the best medication. That daily meditation on God’s word (the Bible) was the only necessary prescription. Many today scoff at these beliefs and declare them backwards and destructive. And. For a people whose lives were so full of stress from living in a racist society, whose access to quality healthcare was next to nil, whose neighborhoods were devoid of mental health centers beyond the liquor stores, the reefer man, and the drug dealers, what other resource did they have? In the absence of other means, God was always present if you just called on him in the midnight hour.

Not too long ago, about a week ago in fact, I got a text message out of blue and unconnected to anything specific I had shared with this person. This person loves me as best as they know how and wants nothing but the best for me, is distressed to see me in pain. This person sent a text that read simply, “You have the mind of Christ.” I had probably been tweeting some days before about my mental state – one of my strategies to squash the internalized shame and stigma has been to be open and transparent about my illness. I don’t really know though what this person’s text was responding to as it had no follow-up and I did not ask because I did not want my peace disturbed or to ruffle this person’s peace either. I simply responded, “Thank you.” But this text has been on my mind for the last several days, demanding attention.

“You have the mind of Christ.” This phrase comes from the Bible, what has been ascribed to the Apostle Paul as his first letter to the newly founded Christian community at Corinth. It’s actually a derivation of a longer sentence found in 1 Corinthians 2:16,

For, “Who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

And this verse is actually part of a longer passage where Paul is basically defending himself to the Corinthian church against some smooth-talkers that had come through since his initial visit and filled their heads with all sorts of nonsense. He tells them 5 key points: 1) that he and his crew had come to them humbly with no motive other than to share the good news of Jesus the Christ; 2) that they didn’t use slick words because they didn’t need them; 3) that the mysteries of God are rightfully incommensurate with human wisdom; 4) that if you are interpreting the world through a materialist, power-hungry lens, you ain’t qualified to be dissing the good news of the gospel; and, 5) that therefore although God’s mind is so high we can’t climb it, so broad we can’t traverse, and so deep we can’t see its bottom, that he and his crew have managed to do all the above, because they have absorbed and transformed their minds to ones that have internalized a Christo-centric paradigm that rejects materialism and worldly power. [I’m not a theologian or seminary-trained, but this is what I have always gotten out of this passage, this portion of which is from verses 1 through 16.]

As per usual, this verse is not only taken out of context but has nothing to do with dismissing and demeaning mental illness or asserting some super-spiritual resolution to dealing with it. For years in church settings, specifically Black ones, I’ve heard this phrasing of this partial verse from 1 Cor. 2:16 used in exactly these ways: “Don’t you dare lay claim to such negativity! You have the mind of Christ!” Christ’s mind being presented as completely whole and free from the possession of anything so ungodly as mental illness.

However, I think there’s something else in this proclamation that “[I] have the mind of Christ” that’s worth holding on to. My first response to that text was irritation and frustration in response to what I assumed was being said [and admittedly, may not have been]. Then, I started thinking about Christ’s mind – really Jesus’s mind as recorded in the written testimonies we have from his followers. I remember a man [Jesus was fully divine and FULLY HUMAN so don’t @ me] who is consistently described as performing great miraculous feats, giving lengthy speeches that had to come from a mind racing with thoughts, and strutting through Jerusalem and Galilee like he was the baddest man on the planet, cavorting at parties with sex workers [let’s call a spade a spade] – and then, going off by himself to the desert, refusing to eat or drink, wanting to die, distraught to the point of total despair at the passing of a close relative (John the Baptist) and a dear friend (Lazarus), and rejecting the praise and pull of others to do for them again and again and again – and then, going back to those highs only to descend again into the lowest of lows.

I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I recognize that history and pattern of cycling. I’m not saying with certainty that Jesus was Bipolar, but…I mean, I’m just saying.

So, maybe I do have the mind of Christ. And if Christ shares this mind with me, then as Carrie Fisher said, I’m in really good company with a dude that had some serious balls and managed to speak truth to power in the form of government and plutocracy, and change people’s lives for the better, and challenged others to do the same within their spheres of influence, and deserved to be heralded at the end of his public life with all the parades and celebrations forever and ever.


Bad (Christian) Theology

In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy that befell Newtown, CT last Friday, people are attempting to make sense of what happened, offer some solace and comfort to the grieving, and reassure themselves of the central tenets of their beliefs. I imagine that this is being done by people of all convictional beliefs, not just Christians. However, as this country’s dominant voice of religion and meaning making, Christian theology is taking center stage. You wouldn’t know it from the media, but not all those who died claimed Christianity and people of other faiths have also mourned and spoke out of the truths of their beliefs to comfort, make sense, and recall the tenets of their faiths. For example, at this past Sunday’s interfaith vigil, voices representing the Muslim and Jewish communities were also present.

In the face of such unspeakable tragedies, what we really believe about G-d (by whatever name we call the Divine; click here for what spelling G-d this way signifies) is often revealed through our words and actions. In the midst of truly beautiful messages of solace and empathy, I’ve seen people speak of the G-d of Christianity in ways that I can only call idolatrous because I do not believe them to represent the truth of what is revealed about G-d in the Bible or in my own experience and that of others I know. I call these idolatrous representations of G-d “bad theology” and I’ve seen them all over my social media feeds (by people either laying claim to them or as the objects of derision). I have even heard them uttered by the POTUS himself at the end of what was otherwise a powerful and moving speech.

These idolatrous views of G-d pain me, not only because they don’t reflect the G-d I serve despite claiming to do so, but also because they drive people away from faith and belief. I have seen people respond to this bad theology with comments like, “that’s why I stopped going to church” and “this just makes Christians look worse than they already do.” I have no problems with those who choose other doors toward faith and meaning making. However, I am deeply pained by someone rejecting a door because it has been misrepresented.

So, here are 5 images of G-d that I’ve heard in the last week since the lives of 28 people were lost (yes, 28 – I’ll get to that in a moment) in Newtown, CT. I offer my understanding of how I see G-d and why I see these images as problematic and reflecting “bad theology.” I’m not a theologian, nor am I a priest or a bishop. However, I have walked with G-d long enough to have learned a thing or two about how She operates and how I believe She wants to be known in and through my life. Maybe something here will help somebody else (at least that’s what my fiancée told me when she said I needed to share with others what I shared with her a few days ago).

1. G-d as The Grand Puppet Master.

I keep hearing people try to make sense of this tragedy by saying “it must have been G-d’s will” or “G-d allowed this to happen” or “G-d used this to achieve His will.” I’ve seen people try to walk this tightrope of explaining the difference between G-d’s “permissive will” and G-d’s “perfect will.” Like academics whose jargon ostracizes the general public, language like this from Christians just makes other folks confused and frustrated with our inability to make sense. In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, there is a line that asks for “Thy will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It doesn’t say that G-d’s will IS done on earth as it is in heaven. Moreover, the instruments of G-d’s will are US. WE are G-d’s hands, feet, voice; WE are Her instruments of peace, mercy, justice, love, etc. If WE don’t act in those ways, then G-d’s will – which is for justice, mercy, and peace (see Micah 6:8) – is not performed in the earth. What we witnessed last Friday was humanity – represented by Adam Lanza – usurping the will of G-d to assert his own will in the earth. G-d is not a grand puppet master, manipulating us in keeping with some grand design that is only known by Him. That would violate our free will. I believe that She wants certain things for our lives that have been made known (justice, peace, love, mercy) and has equipped us with everything we need to manifest those outcomes in our lives. I believe that the Lord has called each of us to fulfill certain purposes in our lives. I also believe that those purposes can be disrupted, cut off, and derailed – sometimes permanently, other times temporarily – by our actions or the actions of others. We can’t look backwards on someone’s life and decide that the purpose of their life was ultimately fulfilled by the time they were violently snatched from this earth. What kind of G-d would determine that upon a person fulfilling their purpose on this earth that they should die in a hail of bullets at school one day anyway? That just doesn’t square with G-d being compassionate and full of mercy.

2. G-d as Vengeful Quid Pro Quo Arbiter 

There’s a meme going around Facebook of someone asking why would G-d let something like this happen and “G-d” responding with “you wouldn’t let me in your schools.” Other versions of this say that we since we kicked G-d out of our schools (by not requiring everybody in the school to pray to a G-d in whom they may or may not believe in a manner that may or may not resonate with them), we shouldn’t be surprised that this kind of violence has stepped in to fill the void. I think this falls into the category of “His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8). I don’t believe in and would not serve a G-d who played a tit-for-tat game with humanity. What do we think G-d is saying here, “Well, you wouldn’t force me on other people, so I’m gonna take your children?” No. Just no. Hell, no, in fact. This makes G-d look like some kind of petulant toddler (no offense to toddlers), who throws a temper tantrum because he didn’t get his way. Never mind the fact that forcing people to believe a certain way or to pray a certain way isn’t very G-d like in the first place. And never mind the fact that this very thing could have happened in a religious school and has happened in places where G-d was very much present (e.g., Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin this year; the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963). For more on how this happens, I direct you back to #1.

3. G-d as the Canaanite god, Molech. 

In the Hebrew scriptures, we see Jehovah warning the Israelites not to worship Molech, one of the divinities in the land of Canaan. Worshippers of Molech believed that their god required child sacrifice in order to be appeased. We see Abraham nearly sacrifice Isaac in this same way (being tested by G-d) and then be stopped by an angel of the Lord. I have heard this idol raised in the last week when people say things like “G-d sacrificed our children because of our disobedience.” Lifting up this idol usually involves blaming gays and lesbians for every natural disaster that comes along and it has been raised in the wake of the shootings in Newtown. Mike Huckabee, Westboro Baptist Church, and other folks have come out in the last week blaming marriage equality, abortion rights, and other “sins” for Adam Lanza using his mother’s guns to kill her, 26 innocents, and then himself. Yea, I see the connection there, no problem – NOT. Without even wasting my breath to debate whether marriage equality and a woman’s right to safely access means to terminate her pregnancy are actually “sins,” I will simply decry the characterization of G-d as a child killer to assuage his judgment. I know this simply because the Bible teaches that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary was atonement “once for all time” (1 Peter 3:18, NLT). According to Christian doctrine, there is no more a need for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 9:12, 10:4) and there was NEVER a call for child sacrifice even when the slaughter of animals was necessary. G-d didn’t take Abraham’s son Isaac and God didn’t take those Newtown sons and daughters or anybody else’s son or daughter who was claimed by violence or illness or starvation as a propitiation for sin. To say that G-d did is disgusting, unholy, and unChristian.

4. G-d as the Perpetually Cheerful, Slightly Addle-brained, Amusement Park/Cruise Ship Social Director

This is the image of G-d that pictures some grandfatherly guy with a big smile who joyfully greets all these children into a great big playground otherwise known as heaven. Another version of this says, as our POTUS did on Sunday, that “G-d called His children home,” as though the street lights had just come on and it was time for supper. This idol seems very innocuous. After all, it matches the image of G-d that many people grew up with – an old White guy with a long white beard and a great big smile whose got the whole world in His hand. But here’s the problem with that: G-d isn’t always happy and rejoicing at the death of one of His children (regardless their age). Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus and I wholeheartedly believe that G-d wept bitterly at the death of those children and their teachers (and Nancy and Adam Lanza, but that comes next). Yes, I believe that G-d received them into Love, but not as though that was His perfect timing. The heart of G-d was broken last Friday, just like so many of our own hearts were broken. It was too soon, that was not G-d’s design or plan, and if His will actually had been done that day, they would be with their families right now being tucked into bed after the street lights came on. Owning this means recognizing that the full manifestation of the Kingdom of G-d on earth as righteousness, peace, and justice is largely about our own inability to get our acts together and surrender our wills and our egos.

5. G-d as Human.

This is the most insidious misrepresentation of G-d in some ways because it seems to make the most sense. I hear this idol being lifted up when people recite only 26 names of those who died last Friday and sometimes leave out Nancy Lanza and just about always leave out Adam Lanza. Only the names of the “innocents” are read aloud; only 26 candles are lit for the dead; when even the teachers are ignored and only the children are lifted up as worthy of remembering and mourning, as an impetus for calls to social action to address gun violence and mental illness (see my last blog post to address those issues). Perhaps Nancy Lanza is excluded because once it was discovered that she owned the gun licenses for the weapons used in the massacre, she lost her sympathy as the unsuspecting mother of a child who departed from the way she taught him to live. We don’t want to extend her sympathy or mourning because we believe, some of us, that she brought it on herself. It’s obvious perhaps why people leave Adam Lanza out. Of course we should not mourn his death; doing so would sully the memories of those he killed. Or would it? It is completely human to make determinations about who is more or less deserving of G-d’s grace and mercy. But it is just that – human, not Divine. If we believe in a G-d of mercy and compassion and that Jesus gave his life for all because we couldn’t deserve such grace and mercy, then we cannot believe that G-d is any less brokenhearted over Nancy and Adam as She is over the children, teachers, and school administrators who were killed. G-d mourns all those lives lost; we who claim to be followers of the Way should also and extend forgiveness to those responsible.

If you’re still reading this, G-d bless you and give you peace. In the end, what happened last Friday was unconscionable and incomprehensible. We will likely never know why Adam Lanza did what he did. And when faced with questions we cannot answer or whose answers seem to bring more confusion and pain than peace and comfort, we are best served by saying, honestly and openly: “I don’t know, but let’s pray for peace, for comfort, and for wisdom to know how to console those who are grieving, those whose faith has been shaken, those whose future is now dimly lit.” And then let us wait in silence, seeking and serving Christ in everyone we meet, for the answer to our prayer to come.

Rape, Pregnancy, and Non Sequitors

*WARNING: You’ll likely be ticked off by the end of reading this by something I’ve said. If you are deeply wedded to life-begins-at-conception beliefs, you really won’t like this. So, if you don’t like having your beliefs and the ways you’ve always read your Bible challenged, then you should probably stop reading now. And if you are going to be annoyed because they are not a bunch of links to allow you to verify what I’m saying, then you might want to stop reading now also. I figure it’s late, I’m tired, and you are fully capable of Googling all this if you doubt its veracity. I don’t mean to sound mean or hostile, I just want you to be prepared. Smile.*

Rep. Todd Akin, who is running for a Senate seat in Minnesota Missouri and sits on the House Science committee, went on record last week saying that in cases of “legitimate rape” the female body has ways of shutting down to prevent pregnancy – ergo there’s no need for a rape or incest exemption from more restrictive abortion laws. While the Republican Party is fighting like hell to get Akin to drop out of his Senate race and is distancing the party from Akin faster than Usain Bolt from his competition on the track, the reality is that Akin’s ideas are not that different than the Republican Party platform. Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, co-sponsored a bill with Todd Akin that would drastically redefine rape to be limited only to “forcible rape.” Moreover, the Republican Party platform will announce abortion policy that would make abortion much more difficult to access while NOT exempting rape and incest.

My outrage over this has been building since Akin’s comments went viral over the weekend, but what provoked me to write this post was Mike Huckabee’s, former candidate for president, response to Akin. He has claimed that since there are people who’ve done great things that were the product of a rape, there shouldn’t be a rape/incest exemption because we don’t know what “God” might do with that life to redeem the horrible circumstances under which they were created. Sigh. I’ve got 4 issues with this that I’ll run down right quick. These four issues are in addition to the idiocy and ignorance that led to Akin’s comment in the first place. Basically, I find these comments to be about as ludicrous as the DirecTV commercials but not nearly as comical.

Issue 1: I take issue with the ideology that every conception is a blessing because God is present at every conception. Okay, I know I just lost about half of you. Hear me out, please. In the Bible, it is written that when 2 or 3 are gathered together in my Name [God’s], there am I [God] in the midst. Well, I simply do not believe that rape –any kind of rape, stranger, date, forcible, deception, manipulation, incest, incapable of consenting – sets up the conditions that meet the criteria for God’s abiding presence. Just saying. Therefore, every conception isn’t necessarily a blessing. Besides, blessings don’t just exist inherently. To name an experience, event, circumstance, or situation is a blessing or not is to engage in constructive meaning-making of that experience, event, circumstance, or situation. Basically, what may be a blessing in my eyes, may not be a blessing in yours and I can’t push my interpretation on to you.

Issue 2: I take issue with the ideology that says that the ends justify the means. To make it sound religious, I’ll use a phrase I grew up hearing: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” Now, I just lost about a quarter of the rest of you still reading this. If you’ll bear with me, I think you’ll see what I’m saying. I do believe that good can come out of evil, however, that is not a justification for abetting the evil. You do not use what *might* happen that could be positive as justification for continuing to victimize the woman who’s been raped. She did not consent to the sexual act, she therefore did not consent to the pregnancy, and therefore she should not be forced to consent to give birth. Period.

Issue 3: Now for the other half of what’s wrong with this idea that if you abort the fetus that is the result of rape, you might be depriving the world of its next great thinker, scientist, freedom fighter, etc. I have three words for you: Get. Over. Yourself. Let me expound. As much as I have grown to love the movie, I blame “It’s a Wonderful Life” for this narcissistic belief that the world would be irreparably damaged if you (or anybody else) weren’t born. One thing I do know is that God will find someone else to fulfill your role in His divine plan (if there is such a thing – personally I just think that the grand plan is to get us to treat each other with justice and equity and we experience things that we can choose to allow us to push toward greater equity and justice or push us away from it). Besides, in the movie “The Butterfly Effect,” it’s eliminating someone from Ashton Kutcher’s character’s life that finally sets everything right.

Issue 4: I take issue with this ideology that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose what happens with her own body and more so that she should not elevate her needs over that of the fetus inside her. In the words of moral development theorist Carol Gilligan, higher levels of moral development centered around an ethic of care, involve women seeing themselves as morally equivalent to others instead of continually sacrificing themselves for others when doing so results in self-harm. What I see in the Republican Party’s anti-choice platform (because let’s be real, they’re not pro-life), is a denial of women’s moral equivalency. And that is just oppressive.

P.S. – I know I’m missing a #higheredWed post, but that will have to come tomorrow. I’m still trying to get the hang of keeping to my writing schedule while I’m doing my archival research. :/

My Last Word on Chic-fil-A Belongs to Wayne

Yes, this will be my last, well really it’s my first and only blog post about Chic-fil-A. These aren’t even my words; however, this author, Wayne Self, says this SO beautifully that I can just step inside his personal pronouns and hear myself. So, I’m copying his post below in its entirety unedited. It’s the smartest thing I’ve read yet about the situation and I hope you’ll take the time to fully read and completely consider Wayne’s words.


Here’s the link to the original page, in case you want to go there directly: http://www.owldolatrous.com/?p=288

The Chick Fellatio: stuck in the craw

This post is all I have to say about the Chick-Fil-A controversy. It sums up various posts on the issue and various points made by my friends and I. From now own, rather than spend time debating this issue person by person, I’m going to point people here.

My hope here is to find common ground with those who have disagreed with me on the issue, and maybe to persuade. It’s not to ridicule or to best.

So, in the interest of common ground, let’s start here:  I acknowledge the absurdity of all this debate.

It’s definitely strange to have days-long Facebook debates flare up everywhere over a chicken sandwich. The anger, sarcasm, and hurt feelings on display seem strange or even laughable because most people have seen Chick-Fil-A as just a restaurant with a funny ad campaign. I’ll get into some of the whys and wherefores of that later. But, for now, let’s just say that, yes. It can seem ridiculous to get all worked up over fast-food chicken.

Let’s also agree that this isn’t about curtailing anyone’s rights under First Amendment. The Constitution is a legal document. This is not a legal argument. No one is arguing that Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy should be put in prison, or silenced, or censored by the government. This has nothing to do with government censorship or government abridgment of Freedom of Speech. So don’t worry: the ability of this millionaire to legally spend his millions as he sees fit is not in jeopardy. You need not defend it.

Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of things. Please read carefully. These things have been said before, but not by me, and not all in one place. Please read with an open mind. If you can’t read with an open mind, please leave, take a minute, come back, and try again. If you can’t do that, then please don’t bother. Please read all of the words here, rather than just reading half of the argument and assuming you know what I’m saying. Read these words as they are written. Again, if you don’t want to read my words, then don’t continue.

So here goes:

1. This isn’t simply about marriage. Shocker, right? It’s extremely frustrating that same-sex marriage is the great continental divide. People are judged according to how they stand on this issue, as if no other issue matters. Did you know that a person can be for same-sex marriage and still be homophobic? Did you know that a person can be against same-sex marriage and be gay? We all get categorized very quickly based on the marriage issue and maybe that’s not fair. But here’s what you should know:

– In 29 states in America today, my partner of 18 years, Cody, or I could be fired for being gay. Period. No questions asked. One of those states is Louisiana, our home state. We live in self-imposed exile from beloved homeland, family, and friends, in part, because of this legal restriction on our ability to live our lives together.

– In 75 countries in the world, being gay is illegal. In many, the penalty is life in prison. These are countries we can’t openly visit. In 9 countries, being gay is punishable by death. In many others, violence against gays is tacitly accepted by the authorities. These are countries where we would be killed. Killed.

– Two organizations that work very hard to maintain this status quo and roll back any protections that we may have are the Family Research Council and the Marriage & Family Foundation. For example, the Family Research council leadership has officially stated that same-gender-loving behavior should be criminalized in this country. They draw their pay, in part, from the donations of companies like Chick-Fil-A. Both groups have also done “missionary” work abroad that served to strengthen and promote criminalization of same-sex relations.

– Chick-Fil-A has given roughly $5M to these organizations to support their work.

– Chick-Fil-A’s money comes from the profits they make when you purchase their products.

2. This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t. There is no “live and let live” on this issue because Dan Cathy is spending millions to very specifically NOT let me live. I’m not trying to do that to him.

Asking for “mutual tolerance” on this like running up to a bully beating a kid to death on the playground and scolding them both for not getting along. I’m not trying to dissolve Mr. Cathy’s marriage or make his sex illegal. I’m not trying to make him a second-class citizen, or get him killed. He’s doing that to me, folks; I’m just fighting back.

All your life, you’re told to stand up to bullies, but when WE do it, we’re told WE are the ones being intolerant? Well, okay. Yes. I refuse to tolerate getting my ass kicked. “Guilty as charged.”

But what are you guilty of? When you see a bully beating up a smaller kid and you don’t take a side, then you ARE taking a side. You’re siding with the bully. And when you cheer him on, you’re revealing something about your own character that really is a shame.

3. This isn’t about Jesus. I have a lot of Christian friends. Most of them are of the liberal variety, it’s true, but even this concept seems lost on some of you. Most of them are pro-LGBT rights. Pro-gay and Pro-Christ are NOT mutually exclusive. They never have been, in the history of Christianity, though it’s been difficult at times. It’s not impossible to be both.

If someone is telling you it is, then maybe you should wonder why they’d do that. I see divorced Christians, remarried Christians, drug addict Christians. I see people with WWJD bracelets bumping and grinding on TV and raking in millions to do it. I see greedy, rapacious, vengeful people who are Christians. And these people are accepted in the Church, and the Church does very little to combat them. Sometimes it seems like being gay is the ONLY thing certain modern Christian movements won’t allow. Why’s that, I wonder?

Jesus had almost nothing to say about sexual behavior of any kind. He was too busy teaching more important things. Empathy is at the heart of his teachings. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Remember that? It’s in red. So let’s examine that:

4. If things were reversed, I’d stand up for you.

Please think about this: How would you feel if KFC came out tomorrow and said they were spending money against equality for Asian Americans, or African Americans, or religious people? Really. Think about it. What would you do? How would you feel? How would you feel if, after their announcement, there was a big increase in KFC sales and I was all over Facebook supporting KFC. Please stop reading right now and imagine this. I’m serious.

You can stop now because it’s ludicrous. It would never happen.

Oh, I don’t mean the part about KFC being against some group. That COULD happen. I mean the part about me supporting them. Let me tell you something, and you can damn well believe it: I’d sign on for the boycott IMMEDIATELY.

Why? Well, because I believe in equality for all people, that’s why. But also, personally, from the bottom of my heart: because you are my friend, and I don’t willingly support people who harm you for just being you. How could I? How could I, really? But, more importantly for our purposes, how could you?

Seriously, how could you? What has Chick-Fil-A ever done for you? Sold you some fatty chicken at a ridiculous mark-up? Made you chuckle at semi-literate cartoon cows? You mean more to me than KFC possibly could. If I, in turn, don’t mean more to you than a chicken sandwich from Chik-Fil-A–if my life, my quality of life, and my dignity are such afterthoughts to you that you’d not only refuse the boycott, but go out of your way to support someone who was hurting me? if I let this stand, if I don’t stand up to the bullies and if I let my friends egg the bullies on, what does that make me?

Well, it makes me a Chikin.

Yeah, so suddenly it is cause for anger, ridiculous or not.

But I’m not going to stop being Facebook friends with anyone over this issue.

Instead, I will remain. And, when you see my face with my partner’s in my profile, maybe you will examine not simply what your opinions are about gay people, or gay marriage, or the first amendment, even; maybe you’ll  examine not merely your opinions but your values. What is friendship to you? What is loyalty? How important are human life and dignity to you? Are they more important than fitting in with your social group? Are they more important than loyalty to a corporate brand, or a political party, or some misguided church teaching?

That’s why we’re so angry. This is personal for us. There are times in your life when you have the opportunity to stand up for your friends. When you let that opportunity pass, your friends notice. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, but it diminishes you, and it diminishes the friendship. That’s how it is, no matter what the issue or what the venue.

So stand up. Stand up for us. Do the right thing. You don’t have to agree with us on everything, but repudiate Chick-Fil-A. Unlike them on Facebook. Withdraw your support for them. Join us in the boycott. If you can’t do that, then please ask yourself whether I’m your friend. In fact, ask yourself whether anyone is.

This is all I have to say. If you’d like to debate the issue further, I’ll do it, but I’m not going to go around and around on the same points. If you’re just going to repeat yourself, save us both some time. If you haven’t taken the time to actually read this carefully and actually consider carefully what I’ve said, then I see no reason to waste further words.

The ball is in your court. Again, I urge you to do the right thing.

– Wayne Self
Twitter: @owldolatrous
Facebook: facebook.com/owldolatrous

Wayne Self is a playwright and composer whose current project is a musical tribute to the 32 LGBT and allied victims of the 1973 arson fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, LA. Considered by many to be the largest hate crime against LGBT people in U.S. history, the fire is sometimes seen as a lesson in the perils of silence. ”Upstairs” will give voice to the victims of the fire–many of whom self-identified as Christian–and is scheduled to premier next year, in time for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. For more information about the Upstairs fire, please visit http://www.bilerico.com/2012/02/new_orleans_inferno_the_upstairs_lounge_fire.phpFor booking or production information, contact ewayneself@owldolatrous.com.

A Selah Moment

I was going to post a very passionate reflection today about being an angry Black woman and the value of anger as a tool of resistance. But I’m going to save all that passion and fervor for Monday. Today, I want to take a selah (I explain more at the end about selah) moment, to just pause and be silent, in a way anyway.


In honor of and out of respect for the victims of the terrorist shootings (because terrorists aren’t just Islamic Arabs – there’s a great article by David Sirota on this), I’m choosing to silence the other thoughts and ideas running around in my head and sit in silence. I’m posting so my readers know this is an intentional choice not to add to the noise and the talk – and there is a great deal of talk going on right now. Some of it helpful like Sirota’s piece linked above. Some of it not helpful as it reinforces stereotypes and inflicts pain on marginalized groups.


There is value in pausing; value in silence. For me today, it shows my faith that others will speak to this better than I; my hope that we will as a society realize our accountability to each other; and love of peace.


Perhaps we can learn from our Muslim brothers and sisters who have begun the fasting period of Ramadan – a month-long pause if you will. As Najeeba Syeed-Miller wrote in her blog post preparing for Ramadan, this holy observance is about practicing a model of conflict resolution and serves as a powerful reminder to produce peace in one’s life.

I think we could all benefit from pausing in silence to practice how to produce peace, instead of producing more and more violence in our world.


*Selah is a kind of musical notation used in the Hebrew scriptures, particularly the Psalms, which were meant to be sung, to signal to the musicians and congregation that it was time to pause and reflect on the words that had just been sung. It made the psalm more meditative, more prayerful. Today has been one giant selah moment for me.

Coming this week…

Now that I’m back from vacation, I’m ready to keep my blog rolling. [And you thought I was blogging from Atlanta! ;-)]

Coming up starting this week will be reflections on Elizabeth Warren’s interview in HRC’s Equality magazine; Stonewall and the intersections of race, class, and sexuality; race and gender in sport; and the idea of “a fair balance.”

So check back in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or make it real easy and click the link to follow my blog!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend and stay cool.

For peace and justice,

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