Losing the high ground

Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States. It’s weird to type those words and have them be real, but such is life and people. The people voted, and by hook or by crook, he came out on top. There have been enough post-mortems and people trying to figure out how it happened. I have a lot of different thoughts, but one in particular that’s sticking in my craw, so I wanted to get it out there. I used to keep this space free of politics, but I don’t think that’s a luxury I should continue to indulge.

I’m disappointed at Christians in the U.S. (and a few up here) who supported Trump, somehow ignoring Trump’s entire history of stomping on the principles of our faith, and a campaign that continued to do likewise. His offenses are numerous and clear, and any single one of them should have been disqualifying, but somehow they weren’t important enough for voters to consider.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy– two people who, to my knowledge, have no connection with organized religion- put it very plainly in their rants (Steve Kerr is a little more thoughtful, if you prefer that). As Christians, we’re supposed to be the moral compass. That evangelicals came out overwhemingly for Trump, and white evangelicals especially, was bizarre. I’m baffled. I don’t get it. No amount of pastoral thinkpieces lacking moral courage and muttering “Supreme Court” could justify that choice, given who and what we claim to be. Trump was an awful candidate, an awful person without moral quality or any relevant experience who conned almost half the voters into supporting him. Good for him, I guess.

One of the most popular topics of recent vintage in churches- I would know, I go to one- is why ‘young people’ (I no longer qualify, sadly) leave the church. If I had the platform, I would point to how Christians voted in this election. We’re seen as hypocrites, and I get why. People see us preach on the transformative power of faith in Jesus, on morality and doing the right thing, on supporting the downtrodden, and see actions that don’t match up with what’s said. Help the poor, feed the hungry, reach out to the lost, but 78% of us supported a millionaire who was born on third base and thought he hit a home run, who degrades women, hates minorities, and has spent his life stepping on anyone who prevents him from making money. Sure, that fits. Jesus would have been all over that, right?

There’s a lot of good that’s done in Jesus’ name, and that sometimes gets lost in the sound and fury of things, when louder, more shocking voices get airplay. People love hearing about how Westboro Baptist screwed up today, mission trips to Guatemala several years running don’t get the clicks. But it’s hard to hold the charity and grace up as indicative of who we are when we screw up on the most visible choices. This was an open layup, and we dribbled it off our foot and the ball went out of bounds and the coach is mad and he’s getting someone off the bench to come in for us (alright, two convoluted sports metaphors is enough for one post).

I’m not having a crisis in my own faith, more a sense of disappointment with some who are in the family. I’ve been through enough, seen enough, that I know what I believe. I hoped that our neighbours to the south would come to their senses, and that Christians would be at the vanguard of those clear-eyed people who saw Trump for the charlatan he is. But neither of those things happened.

As Christians, we’re called to reach the lost, and this choice has built another metaphorical wall (appropriate, given Trump’s fondness for them), another hurdle for us to clear in that mission. There are people in the United States who are genuinely afraid of the next four years, women, minorities, people of different genders and orientations who saw the hate and fear that Trump played on, and see his election as an endorsement of those things. My heart breaks for them. As Christians, we failed them, and I don’t know how we can reconcile that. There are real consequences for the choice that was made, and there should be a lot of Christians doing some soul searching, and seeing if the choice they made actually squares with what they claim to believe.

Escaping the echo chamber

This week, I watched John Oliver deliver a thorough and thoughtful presentation on Donald Trump. I like Oliver. He’s entertaining, he’s sharp, and he’s not above laughing at himself when the situation calls for it. As a graduate of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert school of political satire, you can see where he took his cues from, and can usually say where he’ll fall on most issues. While Oliver is, again, usually very smart and thoughtful, it’s rare that I’m surprised by anything I see from him.

So when he talked at length about Trump, it went as I expected it would. It wasn’t anything that shocked or surprised me, really.  It was entertaining, it was concise, and it delivered hammer after hammer of depressing truth, interspersed with enough laughs that he could still call himself a comedian. While he’s been mentioned a lot in the opening paragraphs, I’m not going to spend a lot of time here opining on Trump, because that’s not the point of this post. I wanted to talk about something else that bothered me.

Someone I follow on Twitter made what I thought was an excellent point when he mused that people like Stewart, Colbert, and Oliver and their culture of political satire probably contributed to the rise of someone like Trump. Trump has done an excellent job tapping into an underlying resentment against certain political elements, and exploiting the immediate, reactive nature of this age of social media. He’s also done a great job being the centre of attention, but again, that’s a different post (that I probably won’t write, because others have done it much, much better). But it got me thinking about how we consume media, how we present it, and how we often let it divide us.

While I’ve probably seen a shift in my values as I’ve had my political identity crisis over the last several years, I think some soul searching generally does one a lot of good. So my train of thought started here: it’s easy to watch someone like Oliver do his comedic commentary, and point and laugh at Trump, and shake our heads at people who would support him.

From that, I had a few questions about the Oliver diatribe. What was the point, really? Who was watching it that doesn’t already agree with him? What does it accomplish other than making us who do agree with him feel better about ourselves? We’re entertained, sure. But Oliver himself would admit that Trump has evolved well beyond a joke, into someone who will more than likely win his party’s nomination to run for president.

Again, I like Oliver. I think he’s usually good, and more truthful than those of opposite minds would admit. It’s clear from the presentation that Oliver was trying to reach people and change minds, but he can’t possibly do that because of who he is, and the reputation he’s established. Because of his reputation, he was only preaching to his own choir. I don’t think anyone who supports Trump watched it and changed their mind because of it. So I wondered about the value of what Oliver did.

This isn’t really Oliver’s fault, he’s a just a product of a media that’s more concerned about entertaining than engaging, or elevating the conversation, or addressing actual issues that exist. His show is designed for people who would probably already agree with it. In an age where we have more choice than ever about what we consume, we can ignore everything we don’t agree with, and that’s not necessarily healthy. So we stay in our lanes, never thinking, and never being challenged on what we think.

I see this happening more and more, as opinions and information are reduced to soundbites and quips that make for easy points scored in a debate (something Trump himself is also a master of), and a quick sense of smug superiority that we can compress into 140 characters. We put up a picture with a snappy quote, get the likes, and score points with people who already agree with us. But nothing of substance has really happened. All we’ve done is dig the trenches deeper.

It’s far too easy to lump people who have certain viewpoints into a comfortable box, and dismiss them to the fringes. I know I’ve done it, often without really realizing I have. That’s the easy thing to do, to let ourselves be entertained, have a laugh, and bask in our own sense of superiority over other people. Not that we shouldn’t laugh or have fun, or think critically about things, but I struggle with how reductive and smug political discussions have become, and how we so often stay in the comfortable bubbles we’ve established.

I’m not sure how to change that, but I want it to be better. I want us to have better conversations. When I see someone who thinks differently, I want to find a way to understand them, rather than dismiss them because they think differently than me. Some of the best learning I’ve had was from people who had much different opinions that I do, and I think that by opening ourselves up to hearing those opinions we can (sometimes) learn a lot.

The seventh inning

Bottom 7th, 6-3 Blue Jays – Jose Bautista hits a home run, Ryan Goins scores, Josh Donaldson scores.

I gripped the arm of the couch, impossibly tense. One more inning, I’d told myself. Then I would go see my girlfriend. Yeah, that went well.

I couldn’t remember ever feeling like this. At home, in my living room, my brother watching with me, I was gripped by this game, this dumb sport that I’d followed and enjoyed for years. I was anxious. But the good kind of anxious. The anxiety that comes from being certain something good was going to happen, and wanting it so bad. Of being invested in something with so many other people, and knowing you’ll share it with them when it goes well.

I wanted the Jays to win. I needed it to happen. The season, the excitement, everything that I’d seen and experienced as a fan, had led up to this. So close to it all ending a couple days before, and even forty minutes prior, when the Jays had gone down on a bizarre play.

I didn’t know it then, but I’d seen so many things that inning that I’d never seen before, and would likely never see again. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about dinner, with my girlfriend- I was already late because of this inning, this wonderful inning, with so many ups and downs, elation and heartbreak, everything that makes being a sports fan exhilarating and depressing all rolled into one. I was on the edge, wrung out. But I still needed *more*.

Jose Bautista swung, the Rogers Centre erupted in a deafening roar, the cameras shaking as he circled the bases because it was so loud in the stadium. I jump up off the couch, almost screaming as I pump my fist. I enjoy the moment. I relish in it. The culmination of so many moments I’d had as a fan, and the build-up of that incredibly long, impossible to describe seventh inning.

But I had to go. I had dinner plans with my girlfriend, and I’d already mentioned I was going to be late. I loved the Jays, but she was more important. “Ballgame,” I say to Dennis, confident and certain of a Jays win, smiling as I pulled on my coat haphazardly. “See you later.”

End 6th, 2-2

I haven’t worked for a while. It’s a problem, sometimes. People say, “What do you do?” or “How’s work?” and I have to find a right way to say that I quit my job because I didn’t like it. I didn’t have a plan. Maybe I should have. Maybe that would have helped.

I felt like I didn’t have a lot going for me, back in October. Baseball helped. It was an escape, something fun, somewhere I could go and not have to dwell on how much I felt like I’d failed, or how frightened I was about an uncertain future, or how much I’d been defined by being a banker, and how not having that definition made even the slightest conversation incredibly awkward.

My family, my girlfriend, they stood behind me, even when I couldn’t quite figure out why. I’m always anxious, always unsure of myself, and they wouldn’t let it happen. So when I got excited about the Blue Jays, about them having success for the first time in twenty years, they indulged me. They let me have it, let me enjoy it, let me escape to it.

Top 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Roughned Odor scores on an error.

This wasn’t in the plan. In life, as in baseball, you see things you’d never seen before. And I’d brought that to my doorstep, by leaving a job I’d been at for several years. I brought it on myself, without a net, without knowing what would happen next.

It was Odor that scored the run. Of course it was Odor. He’d been torturing the Jays the whole series, and scored on the most bizarre play I’d ever seen. Aaron Sanchez makes the pitch, Martin casually throws it back, it bounces off Shin-Soo Choo’s bat, and he alertly comes home from third.

I was in a dark place as the umps tried to figure it all out, each minute of them in a headset making the inevitable result agonizing. It can’t end like this. Not on a fluke play, something that no one on either team knew quite how to handle. Don’t let them lose here. It was dumb to be that invested in it as a fan (really, it’s dumb to be that invested in anything as a fan), but in the moment, I was. I needed this.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Russell Martin reaches on an error.

Karma isn’t a thing in life. You don’t get or deserve anything because of something you did in the past. There’s no cosmic balance, nothing to tip the scales in your favor. You do good for good’s sake.

The idea of starting over somewhere else is inevitable now. I’ll have to prove myself to new people, demonstrate how capable I am of doing the job. And I can do it, really. I know that, somewhere deep in my heart. But I get anxious in showing people that. Maybe the fear’s good, though. Maybe I’ll learn something new. That’s the exciting part.

It was Russell Martin who bore the primary blame for Odor scoring, so him reaching on the error by Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was somewhat karmic. Martin said after the game that he hoped he’d get another chance, and he made the most of it. The Rogers Centre woke up, cheering mightily as Martin crossed the base.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Kevin Pillar reaches on an error, Russell Martin to second base. Dalton Pompey in to pinch-run for Russell Martin.

There was no logical or rational reason why I quit. I didn’t love the job, sure, but no one likes their job all the time. That’s not a thing that happens. But I needed to. It was the right thing to do, in my mind. I can’t justify it or explain it. I had to take that chance, and now, I just need to keep plugging away, putting my name out there until I get one break.

The Jays quickly got another break, with a ground ball going to Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland. His throw to second bounced, and Andrus (remember him?) couldn’t handle it. I had a hard time blaming the shortstop for that one- he was culpable on the Martin play, but this one, it was on Moreland.

The Rogers Centre got louder. I’d never heard it that loud, in all the Jays games I’d watched. Something special was happening. We were all sure of it. The Canadian, Dalton Pompey, came in to pinch-run for the catcher, drawing even more cheers.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Ryan Goins reaches on an error, Dalton Pompey to third base, Kevin Pillar to second base.

I thought it was loud when Pillar got one base. It got louder when Goins got on too. He bunted down the third base line, and I felt my heart sink as Adrian Beltre fielded it, turned, and threw to third to get the lead runner- it was perfect. He’d made the right play.

And then Andrus dropped it.

Even in the moment, as the elated fan in me lost his mind and jumped and cheered in the house, I felt bad for Andrus. He was normally a great defensive player, and had been involved in all three gaffes by the Rangers that inning. Two of them he just flat-out dropped.

That had been a problem, at work- I felt things too keenly, couldn’t separate what I needed to do from what I wanted to do. I’d sell, and feel terrible about it, and then not sell as much as I needed to. I wasn’t a salesman. Not as good as they wanted me to be, and not good enough to avoid feeling anxious about the work when I left the office.

Right then, I was glad I wasn’t Elvis Andrus, surrounded by disappointed teammates, and fifty thousand fans in a deafening dome, failures right in front of me. I’d dwelled enough on mine already.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Ben Revere to first on fielder’s choice, Kevin Pillar to third base, Ryan Goins to second base. Dalton Pompey out at home.

Another heart-stopping moment when Ben Revere slashed a one-hopper right to the first baseman. Double play, I think to myself, already feeling despair at the Jays not scoring a run.

The throw went home, and Pompey took the legs out from under the catcher as he slid in, preventing a throw to first. While the hope was the Jays would score, this was not the worst outcome, given what Revere had done.

Rangers manager Brian Bannister emerged from the dugout, and I felt my heart blacken again, recalling the agonizing seventh inning. Was he really going to try and say Pompey had prevented the double play? If the umpires overturned this, they were probably going to need a police escort to get to the airport, I joked to Dennis at the time, darkly.

The play stood, and the Jays still had the bases loaded, and still hadn’t scored a run. The doubts started to come back: maybe something special wasn’t happening. They could still lose the game.

Bottom 7th, 3-3 – Josh Donaldson singles to right field. Kevin Pillar scores, Ryan Goins to third base. Ben Revere out at second.

I doubted myself enough, I didn’t need to be unemployed to have THAT particular problem. But when you don’t have that thing that defines you, they creep in, taking up residence in a mind that doesn’t have anything else to occupy it.

I’ve found that I feel better when I’m connecting with people: girlfriend, family, friends, people I hadn’t seen in a while. I haven’t been good at that while I’ve not been working. I need to be better. I need to keep at it. I’ll get there. I’ll contribute, be the man everyone else thinks I am. And it’s okay to ask for help from others to get there.

Baseball is weird, in that it’s both an individual sport, and a team one. You need a team to be successful, but it’s individual skills that make a team great. The Jays had many great players, but it was the players being great together that drove them as far as they’d gotten. Get on base, and let others drive you in. You needed both of those things.

Even with the bases loaded, and the American League MVP at the plate, I was nervous. What if it didn’t happen? What if Josh Donaldson grounded into a double play, and snuffed the rally? I couldn’t bear the thought. But the cynical fan, the one who’d seen Jays teams fail repeatedly, nagged at the back of my mind and wouldn’t let go.

Donaldson hit a soft liner, and I was sure it was going to be caught. But it wasn’t. It landed just past the outstretched glove of Odor, and the Rogers Centre again became deafening. The TV guys had to yell to be heard as Pillar crossed the plate, tying the game.

It’s a process: you can’t skip a step. You can’t stop working at it. And you shouldn’t give up hope. Because sometimes, something amazing would happen. I need to remember that, as I keep searching, keep trying to find my place.

Top 9th, 6-3 Blue Jays – Will Venable strikes out. Blue Jays win 6-3.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house with the game still going, profusely apologizing for being late. And there she was, with her sister, trying to find the game on their TV, so I could watch the end.

It’s hard for a man who gets stuck in his own head to talk about how he feels, but that moment, for whatever reason, really affected me. That she, who honestly wouldn’t care about baseball save for my interest in it, was indulging it, encouraging me in it. Letting me enjoy it, in a time I didn’t feel like I had much else.

But in that moment, I knew what I felt was incredibly wrong. I don’t have a job, sure. I have my brother, who let me exult and despair in the turmoil of the seventh inning, and encourages me as I seek out my place. I had my friends, some of whom I’d put off, embarrassed by my situation. I needed to be a better friend myself. I’m working on it.

I have my family, unwavering and supportive, letting me search and discover, continually reminding me that yes, I’m good at things. And I have my girlfriend, the invisible rock behind the snarky writer you see here. She didn’t care that I was late, or distracted, or emotionally wrung out after “one more inning” turned into 40 minutes and being late for dinner. She cared enough to try and find the end of the game, to let me have this stupid, wonderful, fanatical interest, even share it with me.

So I don’t give up. I won’t give up. I’ll be down sometimes, sure, but I’ll keep plugging, keep finding what I’m meant to do. Because I’ll see something I haven’t seen before, do something I haven’t done, and it will be great.

Blue on black

The Blue Jays lost tonight, ending their season. I hated it. But really, they weren’t even supposed to be here.

Late in July, the Blue Jays were sitting at .500, well out of any playoff conversation. They had the hitting, a good team that was underachieving. They needed pitching. The first move was a trade for Troy Tulowitzki. An upgrade on Jose Reyes, sure. But not the one they needed, several games back of the division. He was a hitter, not a pitcher.

Soon after, they trade for David Price. There’s the guy, the pitcher they needed. A bunch of young prospects out the door, for a long shot at a division they’re eight games behind in.

I got caught up in the excitement. Even as the sober part of me agreed with the assessments: They probably wouldn’t make a difference. They might get into the wild card game, make the Yankees sweat, but they wouldn’t win the division. Not with only two months left, and eight games to make up.

It only took them two weeks to catch the Yankees and be ahead in the division. By the end of September it was “how much will they win by”, a conversation not even conceivable in late July, skidding along at .500.

The Flames in ’04 is the comparison here, and I kept coming back to it because it was apt, and it meant something for me. A moribund team, going nowhere, energized by an unexpected and sudden playoff run, galvanizing fans put off by years of irrelevance.

The Blue Jays were different for some, not as important or exciting out in the mountain city I live in. But it meant something. My friends and family were assaulted by my excitement, coming off me in waves.

And it’s gone now. They had their run in the playoffs, but the season is over, and they didn’t win it all. The sun rises tomorrow, as it always has, and will for longer than any of us will likely live.

Sports don’t mean anything ultimately, and maybe that’s part of why it means so much to us. To be a part of something communal, but irrelevant in the final estimation, maybe that makes it meaningful. Because we can invest that, without having any real stakes. It’s easier. It’s fun, and indulgent, and doesn’t change a whole lot, really.

I watched the game with my brother and another friend, and we were silent after it ended. There were no words, no comfort that made this ultimately meaningless pursuit worthwhile, with the ultimate goal of the team not made.

But we’ll be back in March next year, waiting for them to try it again.

Go Blue Jays.

The lesser of three weasels

I love my country. I love that I can vote without fear of anything worse than a hand cramp. I don’t particularly care for the options right now. Rants, mostly, with the standard “in my humble opinion” disclaimer attached.

Door Number One: Running a simplistic, reductive, fear-mongering campaign, appealing to the worst instincts of people, and trying to tell us how bad the other options are while ignoring their own considerable warts. Despite being racist, sexist, lying dictators who have demonstrated little in the way of compassion or integrity in how they run the country (to say nothing of their frightening aversion to science and new information), this party is somehow the default party of choice for those of a religious inkling, which confuses me to no end. They’re trumpeting an economic record that can charitably be described as mediocre, and found a budget surplus by taking from social programs right before an election- HOW CONVEEEEEEEEEENIENT and also terrible.

Door Number Two: Selling themselves on a platform of “real change for Ottawa”, something that sounds super great, but requires actual things that can be done to change the government, and more than a pretty face and pretty words. And while promoting hope and change, let’s ignore this party’s own laundry list of corruption and scandals that got them voted out in the early 00s, or the fact that the current leader is a legacy child of one of the most overrated prime ministers in history with very little in the way of his own accomplishments. When your economic plan is “tax the rich more and spend more money than we have”, that won’t earn you much more than an eye roll.

Door Number Three: Riding an unsustainable wave from a fickle voting province to a seat at the table with the big kids has done little to improve their knowledge of how things work. Business is good, folks, and the sooner you learn that, the sooner you’ll be able to improve on a governing track record at the provincial level that can universally be described as awful. The side effect of depending on a fickle province is a leader and policies that drift in the wind, trying desperately to cling to momentum that won’t last because the principles change depending on who’s voting for you. “Taxing business” is a wonderful idea that forgets that you need businesses that will stay in countries with said taxes. People love the idea of more programs until we discover we have to pay for it. No wonder the track record with their governments has been awful.

I still don’t know who I’m voting for. But I feel a little better now.

The end of the rainbow

You’re now thirsty, walking in the desert all alone

You’re now searching, lost in isolation from your soul

*****

I’m not a fighter. Never have been, for all the good and bad that meant. A couple of spots in elementary school I was close to throwing down, but it was typically in defense of others, rather than any wrong done to me. It never happened (much to my parents’ relief, no doubt).

I have this romantic notion of myself as a defender, as someone just and true, stepping in when needed and taking the hits, and that’s not completely right. I’m a softie at heart, and there’s not much sense complaining about that at this point. I avoid conflict. That’s not an admission, that’s just a fact.

But there’s a strength in softness I’ve come to appreciate. It’s a vulnerability, an open sore that anyone can see and poke at and prod if I let them.

It was, in some ways, the aversion to conflict, the want to be vulnerable, that led to me writing these screeds some time ago, about where my heart was in regards to the Christianty/LGBT conflict. The genesis of me starting the journey to this truth was wanting to avoid a workplace conflict. It’s strange and laughable to think of that as the reason now, but I’m so incredibly grateful it happened.

Recent events have brought that back into my consciousness, the conflict starting fresh, and anew. I think I know what the Bible says. I think I know what the Bible means. And they’re in conflict.

And as before, I don’t want to fight. I never want to fight. But playing defense? That I can do.

*****

And the bullets you bite, from the pain you request

you’re finding them harder to digest

when the answers you seek are the ones you destroy

your aim is well deployed

*****

I don’t question my faith. I’ve seen too much, done too much, to not think there is a God.

I was asked about it recently: How could I reconcile a certainty that being LGBT is okay with a faith that seemed to be against it?

I had two answers: I need the church. Without it, I walk alone in my faith. And as much as I believe we’re wrong about how we approach LGBT people, I also believe there is still good in the church, and its people. And when it changes- and it will, as history has shown with any societal change with the rights of a marginalized people- they will need people who’ve always known, always been certain in their hearts.

So I read, and pray, and seek certainty in what I believe. In the interim, I will love my LGBT friends, walk behind them and beside them, listen in my own limited adult-white-male way as they struggle for things that I have had my entire life.

Much as Christians are called to support our LGBT brothers and sisters wherever they are, we must support the church as well. A church is only as good as it’s people, and we are flawed, collectively and individually. That occasionally gets lost in the sound and fury. Our own fault, at times, but something that bears repeating.

*****

Why can’t you listen, why can’t you hear

Why can’t you listen, as love screams everywhere

*****

It just… it all seems very odd, at times, this conflict. We (Christians) can get so caught up in ideology, in playing gatekeeper to the faith, that we forget the message we should be passing on.

“Jesus loves you.” There. That’s it. No conditions, no strings, no checklist of approved clothing, behaviors, things we need to do to get it. It’s there. That’s the message of grace. There’s more, but like any good salesmen, I’ll lead with the best, most important part. The rest, that’s up to someone after they accept it. That’s between them and God.

LGBT people don’t see that when they see the church. They see the assumption of guilt, rejection, hatred, and people trying to change who they are. I don’t blame them for avoiding church, given the conversations I’ve had, the experiences I’ve learned about, the amount of heartbroken people whose family turned their backs on them in the name of Jesus. Christians, supposed to be showing love, instead demonstrating the kind of rejection Pharisees would have approved of.

We can go on and on about the message of God, about how not every church is like that, about we love them even if they’re wrong (they’re not), but why would they try again? Why would they go to a place where they were implicitly being judged? I only need to go McDonalds once a year to remember how much my body hates it.

*****

You now hunger, feeding your mind with selfishness

you now wander aimlessly around your consciousness

When your prophecies fail, when your thoughts become weak

when silence creates necessity

when you’re clothing yourself with the shields of despair

your courage now impaired

*****

I still believe in the good of the church. That it will change, and that when it does, it will be lasting. Maybe that’s naive. It probably is. But that’s my choice to be hopeful.

There’s a great many relationships that have helped me get here. And that’s key. Relationship is key. It lets us learn about the perspectives of others, turn the idea of being gay/lesbian/bisexual from something abstract and strange, into something very, very real. There’s so much ignorance about the reality of those relationships in the church, because there’s no exposure to them. It was luck that put me in a situation where I got to know a bisexual man, and then many others, to a point where I understood their hearts, and didn’t judge them based on a doctrine that the church doesn’t really talk about within it’s walls.

Equally as important is my relationship with God, and that’s tricky for me to talk about. It’s less tangible, less defined, not a series of events I can point to and utilize as reasoning. It’s always been there. It’s been a huge part of this discovery for me, because of the conflict I see between the church and LGBT people. I pray to God for wisdom, for certainty, and He does not always provide that. I’m sure that He is there, and He grieves over the schism between the church and those outside it.  I’m also sure he doesn’t want me to quote Scripture and get on a soapbox and preach down to people. I have to play to my strengths.

I’m not a pastor, and still look at the Bible more for my own benefit than as an academic. But here’s my line of thought, which I’ve written before (and is taken at least partially from NALT’s manifesto): There’s so much of the Bible that we already take and dismiss because of the cultural context it’s placed in: Divorce, eating meat, wearing mixed fabrics, and so on and so forth. Heck, even marriage in the Old Testament was not exactly the same as it is today. And we’ve seen the Bible used to justify racism and sexism in the past, by using verses out of context, in the service of those who held power.

As the shampoo bottle says: Rinse, and repeat. Always repeat. We’re not learning from the lessons of history. And the church will find itself again behind the culture at large on this, when we should have been following Biblical principles in fighting for LGBT people- regardless of whether it was any advantage to us. We used to be good at that. Less so, now.

That’s a royal we, by the way. I’ve been less than courageous. I’d like to be courageous, though. I’d like to try.

*****

You crucify all honesty

no signs you see, do you believe

And all your words just twist and turn with a fighting chance to crash and burn

you’re fighting to the bitter end if only your heart could open

up and listen

*****

I’ve lived a sheltered life. There’s a lot I don’t understand. I’m a straight white male who hasn’t had to struggle for much. I have parents, family, a girlfriend, a church who loves me. I struggle for how I earned that, but don’t generally poke the bear in attempting to explain it. The love exists, and I don’t always know why, and that’s fine. As I’ve mentioned, there’s a lot I don’t understand.

Screeds on the internet rarely change anyone’s mind, and mostly just score points with people who already agree with it. My hope is that people read this, and consider it, and maybe that will happen. I just see this incredible opportunity for Christians to build a bridge to the LGBT community to say “we’re wrong, and we’re sorry, and want to help”, and there’s not nearly enough voices saying it. So here’s mine. I’m laying it out, as I see it. This is my vulnerability, my hope.

I’m not fighting. It’s not my way. I have one ask: just pray it over, friends. Be strong in your faith, and your walk, but don’t miss the opportunities for change and growth that are placed in front of you.

To my LGBT friends and supporters: I’m not a fighter, but I want to help. I’m learning, and I’m trying to understand a world I can’t possibly begin to conceive, and a life experience that’s much, much different than my own. Thank you for your patience as I’ve learned, and to the wonderful friends I’ve met who have opened my eyes (whether they know it or not), and have convinced my religious butt that you’re people, actual and whole, and well worth fighting for and with.

Plan to improvise

I’m playing sax again. This is a great development. Music has been a quiet joy for me for quite some time, and to have it back in my life in a place where I’m using it is super cool.

I play off and on, at church, and it’s at once strange and awesome. Sax doesn’t usually fit into your typical rock-bandy set-up that churches use: guitar, drums, keys, vocals, and whatnot. That’s been the problem, and the barrier.

I remember the first time I’d lent my services as a windbag was when I was in a youth group in Ontario. They asked if I needed music, and I waved them off. “No, I don’t need it.” Was it bravado? Avoiding conflict? Or the belief that I could do it? All of it, probably.

***

I’ve described Kari as “relentlessly practical”, and I do so with the highest of affection (and a little playful teasing, at worst). She has a good budget, plans her meals, and is not terribly indulgent with her extra money. This has been something of a boon for me, as I’ve not needed to spend to excess to sustain the relationship.

I recall a point early on in our relationship, probably a few months in. I was at her apartment, while she made dinner. There was a list on her fridge. I looked it over: entrees, desserts, of different varieties. She’d made a list of things that she might cook for me at some point.

To say I was floored when I first saw the list would be an understatement. She was so on top of her life that she wanted to know what she was making, and put in the work before I got there. I was always impressed with her cooking: not just the quality, but the planning, the effort. And every time, there was more with it. Each piece of the dinner had a place: a protein, a vegetable, a starch, a dessert that went with it.

As we went, and she made things on the list, she scratched them off, as if concerned to have them again (which, the majority of the time, I was not, since she is an excellent cook). But as much as the meal itself, it was the planning, the thought, the care in picking that impressed me. I was never so precise.

*****

It was the Ontario experience that honed my want to improvise. Without sheet music, you learned to listen and pick up things. It usually took me a couple of trips through a song, and I would have something figured out. Sometimes it worked. Others it didn’t.

And so it happened, off and on over years, that I would join various church musical teams, preferring that to organized band-like groups, which erred a little too close to high school for me. I liked a sound that I would actually listen to. I liked being part of a smaller group, on stage. And there was a little part of me that enjoyed it when I surprised skeptics with making a “doodling sax” fit in with an otherwise straightforward musical outfit.

But you learn, and adapt. Many smarter people than me have honed the instinct, to not just play and riff and do what I want, but to come and go, to really use it when I join in, and not stomp on the rest of the band. This took a lot of time for me to really learn and appreciate. Part of that was not often having the opportunity, but now, playing more often, I can relax, and let it go, really get into what I’m doing.

Now, we’ve got a guy who has an orchestral background, and even has music for me when I join in. A younger version of me would have missed being off the leash, being able to do what I want, but the older me can lay back and enjoy it more.

*****

Dennis and I rarely plan meals prior to the day of said meal, and such was usually the case when I cook for Kari, which has been more common of late. I’d be ashamed to admit how often it was a couple of hours before she came over, I’d wander over to the grocery store, looking for inspiration.

I’ve gotten better at that, and more than a little of that is her influence on me. She has health and practicality on her mind when she makes meals, and that’s a really good, grounded perspective to have. I guess I never really needed to, when it was just me to worry about.

But it’s not just me any more. If I want a life that includes someone else, I need to think about it. I don’t get to walk through the grocery store, waiting for the perfect idea to hit me before dinner. And that’s probably better.

I chuckle when she calls me a good cook, and this is why: I’m just making it up as I go, usually. She works. She puts the effort in, and deserves it. I believe that I don’t, sometimes.

*****

I’m looking for a new job now. That’s a little scary. A few months ago, it wasn’t part of the plan. Maybe it should have been. But sitting back and letting things happen, or riffing my way through, isn’t an option anymore. Not that this is bad.

A couple of years from now, this will be the best thing that happened to me, I think. Right now, it’s a little scary. I’m not a banker any more. And that’s fine. I made that choice, and in some ways, I feel better than I have in years.

Gun to my head, I would have said I didn’t like banking. There were parts of the job that got me through: good clients, putting people in better financial situations, helping friends in the rare situation I could do that. But I couldn’t sell. I couldn’t handle conflict as well as I wanted to. There were anxieties that stayed with me when I went home, gnawed at me through the night, and weighed on me as I approached the door to work in the morning, and I couldn’t deal with them.

I was coasting on my natural talent, making it up as I went, being a “good guy” who people liked, but not genuinely planning or applying myself to be the best I could be. And that wasn’t right for them, or for me. So I quit. It wasn’t practical, or correct, or planned, but I did it anyway.

I keep thinking of how much of life so far has just been me improvising on the fly, just making it up as I go. The further I go into adulthood, the more I’m convinced It’s all that way. You can’t plan for everything. But sometimes, I wished I’d planned more, or better. Improvisation can be skill, and I’m thankful I have it. But sometimes, a good plan really helps too.