Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Battle of Nashville, Burning Bridges, and Chely's New Music

"View from Capitol"
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville wasn't thinking much about country music 151 years ago. Although September of 1864 was a relatively quiet four weeks in the American Civil War, Nashville sensed this was the eerie quiet before the storm.

To the south, Union General William T. Sherman (a resident of St. Louis, Missouri and celebrated sociopath) had vanquished Atlanta and it's environs--in eight more weeks he would strike out on his March to the Sea, leaving a mile-wide scar across Georgia that partially remains visible to this day.

In May, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had burned his own bridges in an effort to delay Sherman. It didn't work. Sherman plowed through anyway. There's a reason they named a tank after that guy.

And up in Nashville they looked at each other, wondering how to prepare for what would certainly come. Should they burn their bridges in protection? Dig trenches? Gather ammunition and materiel, or hide it? Evacuate? Capitulate? Just plain surrender?

Ultimately, they made the wrong choice. History remembers Confederate General John Bell Hood as the guy who lost the Battle of Nashville, devastating the city and claiming nearly 6,000 lives.

I'm glad I'm not Nashville. I'm glad it's not 1864, and I'm REALLY glad that nothing on my plate has the substance and consequence faced by either Johnston or Hood. I am facing my own battles, though, and certainly handling some better than others. Like Johnston, I burned a couple of my own bridges about a week ago in a reckless and unnecessary battle. Like Hood, I am guilty of nurturing a grasping, almost predatory concern for my own professional reputation. (Ridiculous. I know better than that.) And like Nashville in 1864, I am preparing for my future by choosing among options that bewilder me.

I'll move forward, one foot in front of the other. I'm not really sure what else to do. More than once, in situations like these, I have turned to Emmylou Harris' tunes for comfort and relief . (Where Could I Go But To The Lord?) This time, I find myself suspecting (truthfully, hoping) that Chely Wright's new collection of tunes will offer a similar consolation. Lifted Off The Ground adjured me to "crawl from the wreckage and walk in the sun," which is what I did. The walk has been gorgeous, and I'm still singing the anthem.

As I step into my uncertain future, I'm looking forward to new songs to sing along with. And those new songs, I just betcha, will become part of my cadence through this next season of my life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

David Cassidy: A Man of His Word

Dimpled and Principled   
On this day 41 years ago, a stage rush at a David Cassidy concert led to 650 injuries and 30 hospitalizations. One of those hospitalized fans, Bernadette Whelan, succumbed to her injuries, dying of heart failure six days later. She was 14 years old. 

David Cassidy was stricken by this death. He did everything a 24-year-old would know to do to bring any level of healing to the situation. He spoke with the girl’s parents, promising to avoid the funeral (and thus the media circus) so the focus would be on the deceased and her grieving parents. During rounds of press conferences, he offered frank discussion of the occasional senseless behavior of concert crowds. In one interview, he stated simply that Bernadette Whelan’s death will haunt him for the rest of his life.

I was 9 years old when this happened. At the time, I had photos of David Cassidy scotch-taped to my closet door because I loved him. I loved how he shook his hair when he sang and when he walked. I loved his Adam’s apple, his burgundy crushed velvet vest, his uneven adolescent teeth, his dimples and even his puka beads. Clearly, David Cassidy understood how to hold a woman’s interest, and something in my nine-year-old self knew this was a secret I would do well to learn.

What I could not have understand at 9 years old was that durable relationships are built on character, not careful dedication to trendy clothes. I bought the media line that David Cassidy was captivating because he was hip, and had access to a level of cool that we mortals could only dream of.

I had no way of knowing that what would set David Cassidy apart was the depth of his grief and the permanent changes he made in his life as a result of Bernadette Whelan’s death. His hit song receiving a lot of airplay that spring was called I Can Feel Your Heartbeat. The lyrics are a young man’s repeated vow to prove both the depth of his own character and his esteem for his beloved. “Lord, I’ll prove it. Baby, I’m a man of my word.”

Whether intentional or not, that “vow” in his hit song has been fulfilled. He continues to this day being vocal about the pathological cult of celebrity that still flourishes around him. He resists allowing fans to adore him (and yes, they still want to); his speaking tour is a frank discussion of the connection between addiction and celebrity. He has proven himself--David Cassidy has become a man of his word.

I take that as my horizon. I want to offer to the world and to the woman whom I esteem, some bubble gum lyrics forty years old:

I’ll treat you like a woman
Love you like a woman
Lord, I’ll prove it
Baby, I’m a man of my word

(Reminder: I do not know Chely Wright personally or know anyone who knows her personally. The musings in this blog are mine only and represent no one else. I promise.)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chely and The Polemicists

"When I was a child, I understood as a child;
I thought as a child." 1 Cor. 13:11
As ISIS works their sadistic magic around the world, I am comforted to know that Chely Wright is working in a studio somewhere, writing songs, being gutsy, being determined.

ISIS is only one of the many insistent pulls in our world--pulls to organize life and people as either cherished or anathema, and every object as either sacred or profane. There is no in between according to their worldview. And to prove their point, they practice a giddy, breath-taking brutality that horrifies some and woos others.

Apart from the unthinkable violence, much of this mindset feels familiar. The tactics are far more tame, but the pathology is similar. Polemicist groups insisting that their way is correct, and any who disagree have no rights--no right to be married, no right to conduct business or be part of the marketplace, no right (in a figurative sense) to exist. ISIS is, perhaps, just another belligerent bunch of humans desperate to sort the world into two categories--and then eliminate one of the categories.

There is a childishness to that mindset. It's easy. It doesn't require reflection or the mental stretch of holding two opposite ideas in a comfortable tension. And it demands absolute acquiescence. Or else.

I'm assuming Chely sees through all of this as she writes her songs. She has two children of her own--maybe they play with the little plastic sorting games that toddlers love. This goes here, this goes here, this goes here...and if it doesn't, throw a tantrum. Thrash, kick and yell. Change laws. Threaten livelihoods, and then threaten lives. After all, it's worked in the past.

I just betcha (call it a hunch) that Chely's new songs may signal a resistance to that pull. Maybe they will suggest logic and vocabulary for listeners who need to be the adults in the room, who stand up to the tantrums and quite likely take a few hits for it. And for the listeners in countries governed by ISIS (yes, they listen to Chely over there), they may well find comfort, deep deep in their hearts.

(Reminder: I do not know Chely Wright personally or know anyone who knows her personally. The musings in this blog are mine only and represent no one else. I promise.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hetero-Normative Blah Blah Blah

Relics of Conflicts
Long Since Resolved
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Or both. So I did.

Tonight in class, we were asked to role play how teachers should present standardized test scores to parents during parent/teacher conferences, focusing on awkward or challenging family situations.

You can guess where this went.

One of the scenarios portrayed a gay couple, two men, and one of their daughters meeting with a teacher for parent/teacher conferences. Nearly every standard "fag" optic was present, including the t-shirt tied up into a mid-riff. The men were mincing and overly affectionate. The daughter was assumed to be horrified. The teacher struggled to ask if there had been any changes recently that could explain the daughters sudden drop in grades.

Please remember, these are all adults--most in their mid-forties--role playing the situation. No one was actually related to anyone.

I happened to be seated in the back, watching the role play, and I did laugh a bit to see my classmates so out of character. I stopped laughing, though, when the "recent change" was revealed to be the new Dad moving in. I grimaced when the conclusion was the teacher referring the whole family to the school's Social Worker for counseling.

I considered coming out in that moment to the class, but I remembered what I've heard Chely Wright say about showing discretion and discernment. Plus, the jagged edged remarks of my classmates reminded me that my career was on the line--three of them work in my district.

Then it hit me. If we had 20-year-olds in that class, that dumb skit would likely never have happened. Or if it had, no one would have been assumed to need therapy. There would be no connection between same sex parents and a child's drop in grades.

I suspect these assumptions were displayed (showcased?) in my graduate level class tonight because of the age of my classmates. Not because of bigotry, or institutional hetero-normative blah blah blah. Although it could be part of it, certainly, but I think it happened--and was endorsed and applauded by the aging professor--because of the age of the students.

The twenty-somethings I know would not assume those things. They would likely consider the referral to the social worker a waste of everyone's time, and would look far beyond the "two daddies" factor to determine the cause of the lower grades. They would have handled the entire assignment differently.

I don't know if I handled it well. I didn't speak up. I didn't come out. I didn't change anyone's world. But I sense that the world around me changed, nevertheless, as antiquated assumptions moved that much further into the past.

I am exhausted tonight, and I don't know if I am writing this well or clearly. But my heart is grateful and optimistic--I hurried home to type this up for the world and post it.

Things are getting so much better.

(Reminder: I do not know Chely Wright personally or know anyone who knows her personally. The musings in this blog are mine only and represent no one else. I promise.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shovels and Rope, Bad As Me

"The blood on the floor.
The thunder and the roar."
I can't quit listening to the married couple Shovels and Rope sing their raw, convulsive offering Bad As Me

Their version of the Tom Waits tune feels extra urgent. Even a little voracious, in a way. And--some how--that song has found the resonating frequency of this moment in my life and it won't leave me alone.

Thank God.

I'm trying my best, day in and day out, to embrace the tentative nature of middle age, but man, it's tough. Aging parents, teacher layoffs, pension funds, my car...all unwilling to follow any kind of agenda or schedule. I know that I am one of the fortunate ones, but still…I get tired.  

That’s when the noise and fuss of Bad As Me becomes my friend.

Chely Wright and Jennifer Knapp have written that flavor of "edgy" truth, as well. JKnapp certainly reached it with Inside; if you haven't heard that, you oughta. In Lifted Off The Ground, Chely Wright proffered honesty that nearly cost her a career. 

And the songs they sing reflect the push and shove of my days. I'm deeply grateful, in an urgent and voracious kind of way. :o) 

P.S. I'm not posting a link to Shovels and Rope's Bad As Me because I can't find a good one! It's out there somewhere. Don't miss it. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding You Can Change, Learning You Were Wrong

A man among men.
See also - "exemplar"
Bittersweet and strangeFinding you can changeLearning you were wrong

Perhaps the most heroic character in the whole, unlikely Chely Wright narrative is her dad.
Chely's autobiography Like Me reveals her dad as a man  of unvarnished authenticity, genuinely determined to be a good parent to his adult daughter. The man we meet in the movie Wish Me Away confirms this. He is endearingly direct and unembellished--the highs and the lows, his mistakes and his joys. It's all there. 
His generation of men is not known for being introspective, and certainly not known for seeking personal growth and self-actualization.  My dad is of the same generation, and considers it a weakness for men to admit they are wrong or even discuss their feelings. Personal growth is considered a nuisance that people talk about when they want to show off.
And yet somewhere along the line, Chely's dad learned he was wrong. Perhaps even more astonishing, he found that he could change--and so he did. This rare commodity of character is one that I admire. Deeply.
In a sense, he represents all those country music fans who were appalled when Chely came out in 2010. He had to rethink certain presuppositions and distinguish between simple biases and studied convictions. 
He walked a path that we are asking many, many members of his generation to walk right now.  And I imagine the song is right--I imagine it does feel "bittersweet and strange." *
I would love for him to publish somewhere--in some magazine that my dad would read, like Reader's Digest or AARP or Midwest Living--what this path was like for him to travel. He could provide perspective on the change process: what is hard about it, what is easy, what to expect. 
For example:
  • Did he feel passionate about changing? Or just willing? 
  • Who were his role models? Who demonstrated for him that personal growth takes courage and is worth pursuing?
  • Most change is three steps forward, two steps back--was this true of him? Would he care to share any examples?
  • Some stories from Chely's childhood reflect pretty harsh parenting methods. How did he move past those, and ultimately reconnect with his children?
  • What role has his faith played in this whole journey? 
One memorable afternoon on Oprah, he gave great advice to parents facing his situation. That little bit of wisdom resonated with many people. 

I smile to think of all the others--thousands, probably--who would be so greatly helped by hearing of his experience. 

Imagine, all those families, no longer estranged. Holidays redeemed and spent together. 

Hearts healed. 

Hugs all around. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Emmy, Chely, and the Chord Heard 'Round the World

Emmy, gilded with lighting bolt wings.
Isn't she pretty?
I know alarmingly little about the Emmy Awards. I know they are sometime around September/October this year, I know people get completely dressed up to attend them, and I know that winning one of the awards puts you on the map for the rest of your life.

True confession: I've never cared enough to learn the difference betwixt the Emmys, the Grammys, the Tonys, and the Oscars. I admire the winners--I admire anyone who is the best at what they do--but I just don't really care about either the awards or the show. Unlike nearly everyone I have ever met, I don't have strong emotions attached to the big awards shows. I have no idea why--the feelings just never did kick in.

This year may be a little different, though.

I understand that the documentary about Chely Wright, Wish Me Away, has been nominated for an Emmy Award. This makes me happy indeed. I would love to see it win.

Perhaps a Wish Me Away win will drive more funds toward it. Wouldn't it be incredible if the movie could be translated into the languages of the people around the world suffering the harshest persecution for being LGBT?

Russian or Latvian, for example? (Latvijci, da li bi bilo korisno da su "Wish Me Away", preveden na latvijski ili ruski? Da li bi bilo ohrabrenje za naše LGBT braću i sestre?)

Or Farsi? (خوش آمدید فارسی زبان!آیا شما لذت بردن از تماشای فیلم "ای کاش من دور" ترجمه شده به زبان فارسی؟)

I enjoy imagining the comfort that might be brought to the women in Iran facing beheadings. To the fine folks in Uganda and Senegal facing imprisonment, the loss of their homes and their livelihoods.

I suspect that people around the world are currently watching this movie in English, perhaps with the "auto" subtitles that the internet offers, and perhaps with their own English-speaking skills. But those subtitles can be goofy, and there's nothing like hearing it in your own language...

Wish Me Away has struck a chord with people, that's certain.

Perhaps an Emmy win will amplify that chord even further...

(Reminder: I do not know Chely Wright personally or know anyone who knows her personally. The musings in this blog are mine only and represent no one else. I promise.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Spotify and My Embryonic Opinion

The evidence suggests I'm
still in process, darn it all.
So here's the part where I eat my words.

A few weeks ago, I posted what I now understand to be a goofy,  superficial, and needlessly brittle opinion about the music streaming service called Spotify. Shortly thereafter, some of the wisest friends I have suggested that I rethink my position.

Spotify, I was reminded, is a market-driven and very popular resource for listeners as well as artists. Listeners enjoy the benefits of a cost-free music streaming service, and artists enjoy broad exposure to those listeners.

My Libertarian friend pointed out that Spotify is the future. Freed of government censorship, freed of the constraints of Madison Avenue, Spotify is something like the Wild West of music. Wide open spaces. The blue yonder.  I didn't argue--she is way, way smarter than me. Cuter too, so I listened attentively.

And she's right. Spotify probably is the future. It disregards social constructs. It carries a world is flat, long-tailed purple cow sensibility that will endure.

I had hoped by age 48 I would know better than to run my mouth without fully thinking through my ideas.

No such luck though. Apparently, I haven't arrived yet. The work of growing into thoughtful consideration remains yet before me.

I intend to persist in this growth. And while that's happening, I will create a suitable Spotify playlist to enjoy.

(Reminder: I do not know Chely Wright personally or know anyone who knows her personally. The musings in this blog are mine only and represent no one else. I promise.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hee Haw Salutes...Latvia!

Population 2,070,371
Evidently, Chely Wright has at least a handful of fans in Latvia.

The "analytics" thing that Google sends me indicates that about twenty separate Latvians are checking my blog regularly. I understand that I could be misreading or misunderstanding the report, but the twenty separate individuals part is pretty clear.

Interestingly, this blog's readership in several parts of Eastern Europe has increased in tandem with Russia's unlawful treatment of their LGBT citizens. Perhaps there is a connection. Perhaps I am imagining things--remember, an "increase" for my hapless blog involves modest numbers indeed. (ie, 20 Latvians is about 0.00001% of the total population.)

I'm not sure what this means. I have to wonder, though, if Chely Wright's documentary Wish Me Away has managed to find it's way east of the Baltic Sea. Perhaps the film is inspiring and comforting those whose basic rights are being legislated away. Stranger things have happened.

And P.S. Here is one group's effort to change the situation in Russia. The link will take you to the White House's website: Use diplomatic pressure on Russia to change their laws against their LGBT Community.

**If you don't quite understand the "SAAAA-LUTE" reference, please read here and here. If you do understand this reference, you must be pickin' and grinnin'. (wink)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Well, Spotify, this is embarrassing.

Oops. For a musician to earn minimum wage from Spotify,
they need 130,745 plays per day.
(Reminder: I do not know Chely Wright personally or know anyone who knows her personally. The musings in this blog are mine only and represent no one else. I promise.)

NOTE: Since posting this piece, my opinion has evolved. I no longer agree with what I wrote in the following paragraphs. Spotify, I now understand, is a market-driven and very popular resource. I regret that I so strongly stated a very embryonic and uninformed opinion. But, oh well, you'll have that with humans, I suppose. Onward and upward.

I have two childhood friends who took a spin in the world of fame and celebrity.

They both ended up hating it and walking away when they could, turning their backs on potential fortunes for themselves and their loved ones. I'm not going to tell you their names; I don't think you would remember them anyway. One had her 15 minutes in the Contemporary Christian Music world, and the other had a following on those "decorate my house" shows on cable. Both had fan clubs, fan mail, and creepy fans who showed up unannounced at their homes.

As previously stated, they hated it. Understandably.

Perhaps because of my connection with these two friends, I tend to see "celebrities" as vulnerable, usually unhappy, and forced to endure immense pressure.

The songwriter friend told me stories of being yelled at in the studio, humiliated and insulted by mercurial music producers wanting instant and constant perfection. When she tried to back out of the recording contract, she was threatened with a staggering lawsuit. She fulfilled her contract and never, ever went back. Her CD's are still available for purchase, but she is not.

The friend who was on TV had an ability to make viewers feel a personal connection with her; consequently she received heartbreaking fan mail from lonely and needy people. The producers of these shows began manipulating the content of the shows in order to capitalize on this artificial "connection." When my friend suggested this was a cruel way to treat people, they laughed. They offered her a lot of money to expand her influence, but when her contract was fulfilled she was out of there.

Yesterday, Chely Wright tweeted this: "@GoogleFacts: A musician would need to get 130,745 plays per day on Spotify just to earn minimum wage." This gave me pause--I had no idea that's how it works. I just listen and enjoy, while unknowingly supporting an industry that takes profits from those who create the product. I don't get it--are artists not worthy of decent wages in return for their efforts? Do we expect them to work pro bono?

My shame and dismay reminded me how I felt when I learned that my clothes were made by children in Bangladesh, working fourteen hour days.

I am repentant; artists are worthy of fair wages, particularly when they produce work in environments such as my friends described.

People need to know about this. Maybe they already do, and I've been out of the loop. Either way, I won't listen to Spotify again until this changes.

Friday, July 19, 2013

This Isn't The Moldova Marije Cornelissen Knows

The limited-slip rear differential comes standard.
Is it just me, or does Moldova sound like the name of a car?
The 2013 Chevy Moldova--equipped with a 3 litre twin turbo V6 engine and five settings of torque reduction for superior handling.
Earlier this summer, the word Moldova kept showing up in my blog's analytics, along with indications that about twenty individuals from that country were reading this blog. And I, being the true American that I am, knew basically nothing about Moldova. I began reading, and learned a bunch. (notes)

If you follow the news out of Europe, you know that Moldova is gearing up to integrate their businesses with the EU. (notes) They have a Parliament, an informed electorate, and a growing economy.

In other words, Moldova is not a backward country. At all.

And that's why it was so shocking today when I read that the Moldovan government secretly passed an anti-gay law. (The article) More specifically, the law prohibits the distribution of any information related to LGBT issues, among other things. If I'm reading this right, violators will be fined and businesses could be forced to close their doors for up to a year.

No Trevor Project. No It Gets Better. No Wish Me Away, or Like Me. Just...silence.

Here's the encouraging part:
A woman named Marije Cornelissen MEP, a member of The European Parliamentary LGBT Integroup, said, "This isn't the Moldova I know, which can be tolerant and accepting. Recently the government made progress by annulling similar regional laws in order to comply with human rights standards. I hope this law will be annulled soon as well. If it isn't, it could cast a long shadow over Moldova's visa liberalization process with the EU." (notes)

I suspect that Ms. Cornelissen is not the only one hoping the law gets annulled soon. Moldova is home to 3.5 million educated, thinking people, living in a representative democracy. Let them stand up and insist on annulment before the silence gets too loud.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Scars That Remain After Exodus, International

Sure, the Hebrews crossed on dry land, in Technicolor.
But please remember--the Egyptians left behind had 
to endure and survive in a homeland bereft of crops, 
livestock, fresh water, and the firstborn of each family. 
No one was left untouched. (notes

Humans have a bad habit of making an exodus only after there has been plenty of violence, misery and loss of life to go around.

At least we're consistent.

And of course the "misery" factor goes both ways--the misery extends to those who leave and to those who remain.

For example, here are two lesser known exoduses (is "exoduses" a word?) located within 150 miles of Chely Wright's hometown:
  • During the 1840's, about 70,000 Mormons walked (you read that right) to Utah to find religious freedom. This was preceded by the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, which took place about 100 miles northeast of where Chely Wright grew up. It was bad--about 10,000 Mormons had their homes, possessions, livestock and guns confiscated. Although only 22 people died of gunshot wounds, untold numbers died of exposure or torture. As war usually goes, both sides did nasty things to each other, leaving scars that lasted the rest of their lives. (Notes)
  • During the 1870's and 1880's, about 50,000 African Americans left the southern United States, and relocated specifically to Kansas. Of course, many more moved to other states, but Kansas was home to several intentional, planned communities comprised of former slaves. This group, known as the Exodusters, purchased upwards of 20,000 acres, forming well-organized, well-run, pleasant small towns. One of them still technically exists, called Nicodemus, Kansas. (I say technically because it has a population of only 59 people.) This particular exodus was preceded by the American Civil War--I will spare you the details of how every American on the continent suffered during that one. We suffer to this day because of that war. We are not over it yet. (Notes)
Recently, another Exodus went down--an organization you may have heard of called Exodus, International. (Notes) The news cycle has moved on, but I am just now blogging about it because I needed to avoid certain first-hand memories, both piercing and acute. My years in ex-gay therapy were...well...hard to write about. Humiliating. Cruel. Often pitiful.

I have heard Exodus International described as a "suicide mill." That description is not an exaggeration; indeed it is quite plausible. We'll never know how many lives have been ruined, stripped bare like an Old Testament plague, by ex-gay therapy.  How much addiction, self-loathing? How many misguided marriages? Unfulfilled lives? Countless suicides?

And as with every other exodus in history, the misery is wide and enduring. Straight family members who endorsed groups like Exodus International are left to live out their days, knowing they had a role in the suffering of their loved one.

That is a pain will never go away. Never.

Until our generation grows old and passes on, the scars of this exodus will remain. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Twins, and Perfect Timing

Harriet Beecher Stowe's twin daughters, Hattie & Eliza. 
When Harriet Beecher Stowe gave birth to twins, she pretty much concluded that raising children would be her life's work. She viewed writing as a hobby to make a little pocket change here and there, but certainly it would never change the world.

She was wrong.

Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin is arguably one of the most influential books in human history. (notes) It was the second best selling book on earth during the 19th century, second only in sales to the Bible. The first year it was published, it sold 300,000 copies in the US, and a million copies in Great Britain. Within its first five years of publication, it was translated into 20 languages; today it is available in 60 languages. It played a direct role in ending slavery in several countries, including Thailand. You know this if you've ever seen the musical The King and I, or Anna and the King with Jodie Foster. (more notes)

What many people don't realize, though, is that the plot of the novel came to Harriet Beecher Stowe as a type of "vision" (her words) while she was sitting in church. After the service, she went home, sat at her kitchen table, and began to write down what she saw in her vision. Please keep in mind, by this time she and her husband had six children running around the house. She later spoke of the many interruptions and distractions present during the two years when she was writing the novel. She described sitting at her kitchen table, jotting down ideas between cooking meals, washing dishes, and doing laundry. That, in itself, is a triumph of the human spirit.

But timing is everything, as we know. Mrs. Stowe did not write the novel when the twins were infants--she wrote it when the twins were old enough to help with the younger children, and her husband could afford an occasional, part-time cleaning lady.

"There is," according to Mrs. Stowe's Calvinist Bible, "a time for every purpose under Heaven." (Eccles 3) Apparently she learned how to honor that timing, trust in it, relax in it and live in it comfortably.

Therefore, when the vision showed up that day in church, she was ready.

NOTE TO SELF: along with being immeasurably influential, Uncle Tom's Cabin is also controversial, unsettling, corny and highly, highly offensive. I do recommend you read it, but you are on your own if you launch it across the room and hit someone or break a window.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Word Got Around To The Barflies and the Baptists

I'm not making this up.

Last year a Baptist minister had a vision, presumably from God, of traveling the country in an RV to preach the Good News of inclusion to other Baptists.

From their website:
Little did I know this vision would give birth to the Living Jubilee Revival Tour, the 30-day, 3500-mile trip across 15-states which begins June 10, 2013.
As you may know, I started this blog as a response to an odd, somewhat disorienting vision of my own. (Read about it here.) I'm not someone who has a lot of "epiphanies" as I call them, and I felt silly indeed responding to it. But respond I did because I felt compelled to do so. Reading about this pastor's vision and courageous response has encouraged me a great deal. And the part about the RV? That's just cool.

As so often happens, the vision became more specific as the pastor pondered why us? Why now?

Again from the website:

This is when my vision became a full-on, 3-D revelation with costumes, smoke machines, and extras. (Ok, I'm exaggerating a bit but you get the picture.) What I saw was the image of the New Heaven and the New Earth with lion and lamb, gay and straight, believer and disenchanted returning to their roots and discovering that God's Love is for all whether you want it or not! And the most exciting part was the image that Love is what we are called to come alive to; not judgment, not fear, not any human understanding of who is in and who is out. 
The happy result of this vision is indeed the 30-day, 3500 mile, 15-state tour mentioned above. And yes they will travel in an RV, and yes they will be two blocks from my apartment on my birthday. (Could it be a sign? Praise the Lord!) Anyway, pardon me. I get excited.

So this will be my first Baptist Revival. What do I wear? How big does my hair actually have to be? Will the event be anything like I've seen in movies? Will Kristin Chenoweth (or a reasonable facsimile) be on hand to sing Because He Lives? Can I dance, drink and smoke behind the RV in the parking lot? So many questions.

NOTE: By the way, the title of this blog post is a line from Miranda Lambert's song Mama's Broken Heart.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Queen Esther, The Closeted Iranian Jew

Lord knows I'm no Bible scholar, but the story of Esther has been on my mind.

Queen Esther knew what it meant to hide who she was, and after she came out as a Jew, she knew the fresh air of living her truth.

If you're not familiar with the Biblical story of Esther, please consider finding this ancient and entertaining read online. Besides, it's only ten short chapters.

Basically, my understanding is that Esther, a Jewish orphan, was born and raised in Persia (present day Iran) about 2300 years ago. She was remarkably beautiful so the Persian King wanted to marry her. What made it tough for her was that Iranian Jews, back then, got picked on a lot. Understandably, some of them chose keep their Jewishness on the DL. That was Esther's approach; she got married to the King and for a few years managed to hide the fact that she was Jewish.

An antisemitic jerkwad named Haman persuaded the King to pass a law calling for the death of every Jew in Persia. Esther could either keep her secret and have her people annihilated, or come out as a Jew, plausibly be killed herself, but save all the other Jews.

As you can guess, she told the King she's Jewish, he didn't kill her, Haman was neutralized, and there are a few thousand Jews living in Iran to this day. (NOTE: there is wayyy more to the story.)

I've been thinking about what Esther's life must have been like, prior to coming out as a Jew:

  •  Evidently, she didn't look how Persians expected Jews to look, which allowed her to "pass." Did she feel guilty about that? How did she feel about the Jews she saw who fit the stereotype?
  • Some Jews didn't hide--some practiced their religion right out there in front of God and everybody. How did she feel about them? Was she envious? Wistful? Did she feel threatened?
  • I read that her life was unimaginably luxurious, with seven servants available, 24/7. She enjoyed the finest of everything available on earth, anywhere. I have no doubt that was great, but I also wonder if she had times of wanting to trade it all for a little house in the Jewish Quarter of Susa. 
  • How did hiding affect her relationship with her husband, the King? The version I read suggests that they got along great at first, but after about five years they went a month without speaking. (Uh oh.) How did things in her marriage improve after telling the King the truth? How did the King feel when he learned she had hidden it from him for those years?
  • In a particularly telling verse (Esther 4:4), after she hears about the suffering of her Jewish family members, she "writhed in great anguish." Now I've been at the bottom, for sure, but I've never been in such anguish that I have writhed. That poor girl was feeling it. 
  • At some point, she began to see her very unlikely life story as part of a Divine Plan. Did she see it as coincidence before? Or was she just enjoying her marriage and wild ride of luxury and didn't really think about it?
  • When she finally decides to tell the King, she says to herself "And if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16) I love this statement--it speaks of the courage that has kept us telling this story for about 2300 years.

The Jews living in Iran today face similarly confining circumstances. An excellent article, well worth the five minutes it takes to read it, details their current situation:  The Sad Fate of Iran's Jews.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chely & Mrs. Blitzer-Wright Have Twins, And I Have Disproportionate Happiness

I'm becoming fairly confident that something is wrong with me.

Why else would I be so jubilant about the birth of identical twin boys to Chely and Mrs. Blitzer-Wright?

Why did my eyes tear up when I read the tweet that the babies were safely born and healthy? When I learned, last week, that Chely Wright was hospitalized, why did I instinctively turn to prayer? Why do I imagine, in my mind, the little fingers and toes and baby bundles wrapped in soft blue blankies?

What on earth is wrong with me? Why...Lord, why am I on the edge of tears simply typing this up?

It makes no sense. I do not know this family. I do not know anyone who knows this family; I have no connection to them, and I have plenty of people who I do know who need my love and attention.

And yet the thought of this family, these four people, thrills me.

Maybe it's because of my familiarity with Chely Wright's atypical life; maybe I'm simply happy for her. Maybe I remain slightly undone by the thought of her darkest hours, her despair, the "big ball of pain in pajamas." Maybe I am feeling for the people all over the globe facing their own darkest hours, facing death--no exaggeration, death by beheading--for being LikeChely, for watching the documentary, for reading (I shudder) this dumb little blog. (امید از دست ندهید.)

I just sense the hand of The Almighty here; that's the best way I can put it. A heart-broken woman's life has not only been redeemed, but used to save other lives, to foster a sensible dialogue in hostile terrain, to surprise us all with a Divine Plan that dwarfs "celebrity."

God is good, everyday. That's established. And for whatever reason, I am really, really happy this week over the birth of those babies.

Love and peace and little baby sounds, to everyone everywhere.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Coming Out As A Tool Of Exclusion

She crawled from the wreckage to walk
 in the sun. Let's not turn her away.
Recently, I've noticed certain voices in the LGBT rights movement attempting to tighten their enclosure of who is in and who is not.

Perhaps it's part of human nature--I've certainly seen it a lot. Let me speak from experience.

  • When I hung out with evangelicals, there were discussions of who was really dedicated to Jesus and who just thought they were. 
  • When I taught in a school that was 99% African American, students would exclude each other for not being "black" enough, either because of their name, or their clothes, or how they talked, or the music they listened to.  
And now I'm seeing it within the LGBT crowd--sadly, much of it is aimed at Chely Wright. That is rotten; that is just a rotten way to treat someone. Those online celeb discussion boards (along with being really creepy) tend toward being a sort of "throne room" where judges decide the true motives of the celeb du jour, decide who is "gay enough" and who isn't, decide whether or not someone somewhere is a "sell out."

I've had conversations with LGBT people who, after seeing the documentary Wish Me Away, feel the need to declare Chely Wright's "actual motives" for coming out. It saddens me, not because she is being second guessed or misunderstood, but because a coming out narrative is being used against the one coming out.

I hate it. I hate what I'm seeing, and I wish I had the words to get my point across to everyone. Let's not do this--let's not go here. Let's be a movement of inclusion, not exclusion; of emerge, not submerge. Let's funnel our energy into shared projects--there is so much yet to do.

Chely Wright has established that she can lead. Through interviews and a couple of op ed pieces, she demonstrated that she can cast a vision, model how things should be handled, and mobilize listeners and readers.

During her opportunities to speak or write to specifically LGBT audiences, I hope Chely Wright will address this disturbing issue I'm seeing. Certainly not to defend herself, but to insist that, as a movement, we are not going to do this to each other. We will not endorse exclusion based on personal narratives.

In the New Testament, Jesus is recorded as saying, "Whoever is not against us is for us." (Mark 9:40)

For the love of God, let's be light in this world.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chely's Captivating Womb

See what I mean? Even her bookish/hipster side
 holds our attention.
I tend to forget that Chely Wright is captivating.

My life, like everyone else's life, is busy and full of noise and fuss and reality and moving along at Warp 9. Somehow, though, Chely Wright keeps showing up on various horizons, reminding me that lots of people are captivated by her. I don't think they know exactly why they are captivated--I have my suspicions why, but that conjecture needs to wait for a future blog post.

For now, however, let's just operate on the assumption that--for whatever reason--lots of people around the globe are quite captivated by Chely Wright.

A quick search on People Magazine's website indicates they've written about Chely Wright around 29 times. That's a bunch. And, to their credit, they wrote about her before she came out, when she came out, and after she came out. They appear to be interested in more than the Country Demographic or the Gay Demographic or the Over-40-But-Looking-Thirty demographic.

And now she and her wife are having identical twins.

Isn't that perfect? This sort of thing makes me believe in God. Think about it: many of those who are the most hostile to LGBT rights in the USA also happen to be country music fans. Those same folks would never (and I mean ever) stand in Barnes & Noble to browse through Curve magazine or The Advocate or Diva, but they'll read People Magazine shamelessly, in a heartbeat. They'll read it in the waiting room at their dentist's office, the barber shop, in line at the grocery store, getting their oil changed...you name it.

And I'm hoping--I am keep my fingers crossed--that People will write about those twins, and keep writing about them well into the future. Through this improbable lens, the American public could gain another glimpse into how mundane life really is for same sex couples with children. Ideally, this could confirm in readers' minds that families with same sex parents are just that--families. Not trends, not lifestyles, not political statements. Just...families.

People Magazine has an opportunity here, and I hope they leverage it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Natalie Maines And Sheryl Crow Let The Music Play On

Talented, smart, authentic,
and got in big trouble for it.
I understand that Natalie Maines' recent solo performances have been astounding, even described by one critic as breathtaking.

Over the years, I knew she was both talented and principled, but I didn't realize just how principled until she got in trouble for speaking her mind. (Please read the link, if you are unfamiliar with the episode.) Her simple comment in 2003, and the ensuing nonsense she and the Dixie Chicks suffered, provided box seats for people outside of the country music enclosure. They watched as an accomplished performer was vilified, boycotted, and even received death threats. For many observers, this merely confirmed what they already assumed was true about the country music crowd. (An unfortunate assumption.)

That same year, Sheryl Crow appeared on Good Morning America wearing this t-shirt. Her guitar
Also talented, smart, and
authentic, but somehow
avoided chastisement.
strap said "No War," her website posted an open letter protesting the war--she was as anti-war as Jane Fonda in her salad days. Looking back on 2003, Sheryl Crow recently said, 
"I didn't really suffer the backlash that the Dixie Chicks did, just because I approached it in a different fashion. But yeah, I've always been outspoken, and luckily have not had my head chopped off." (link)
Lucky, indeed. Ten years later, we find Sheryl Crow releasing an album with a notably country flavor to it. (My palate is not sensitive enough to tell the difference, but I did enjoy the music.) Easy is a relaxing tune about bug spray, cold beer and a stay-cation I wouldn't mind going on. I hope her song does well and she enjoys all the good things that come with success.

And I hope the world continues to listen to Natalie Maines and hear all that she has to say. Her album Mother comes out next week (you can hear it here); it sounds to me deliciously gritty and honest and still kind of has that conscience-of-society thing going on. I love it. I want it to do well for her; I want everyone everywhere to hear her ideas.

If I live to be a hundred, I will never understand why audiences reviled the Dixie Chicks but let Sheryl Crow slide. That's people for you, I suppose--scared, passionate, deep in the fog of war. Fortunately it was 10 years ago, though. The artists have moved on, and evidently so have the audiences. As it should be. Let the music play on.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lenny Bruce, Corporal Klinger, and a Clean up in Section 8

Crass, obscene, and arguably the
conscience of his generation.
Lenny Bruce was a comedian. Corporal Klinger was a punch line.

Lenny Bruce was offensive, vulgar, and by today's standards, unacceptable. And we have Lenny Bruce to thank for our standards today, partly because he turned his day's standards on their heads. 

Before his career as a comedian, Lenny Bruce was thrown out of the Navy with a Dishonorable Discharge because he 1) performed some kind of comedy routine for his shipmates while he was dressed in drag, and then 2) convinced his Commanding Officers that he was having "homosexual urges."

That's how things were back then.

Spring forward about 25 years, and pop culture is quite taken with a fictitious character named Corporal Maxwell Klinger on the TV series M*A*S*H.
A punch line

Stealing a cue from Lenny Bruce, the show's creators decided Corporal Klinger was a straight guy from Ohio, cleverly seeking early release from the Army on a Section 8 psychiatric discharge. His gimmick? Klinger wore dresses. 

Although he was entertaining, he was never taken seriously. He was a joke, a counterfeit. A ploy.

As the series continued, Klinger eventually left the dresses behind, began being taken seriously, and ultimately received a promotion to Sergeant.

Corporal Klinger was not what we now call "transgendered," he was in drag--and there is a world of difference between the two. Admittedly, drag and Drag Shows are a ton of fun. We laugh at ourselves and at all the crap we bring to the concept of gender and God help us if we ever let that go.

Being transgendered, though, is entirely different--it's not silly, it's not a show, a ruse, or a deception. Transgendered people are people--three dimensional, with dreams and abilities and contributions to make to a world in desperate need. 

Until fairly recently, transgendered folks were, like Klinger, not taken seriously until they "lost the dress."

This mindset is changing in the midwestern US, thank God. In my church family, among my colleagues, even in the culture at large, the T's in LGBT are better understood and received. This is overdue.

And as for Lenny Bruce, his Dishonorable Discharge was later changed to Discharged Under Honorable Conditions, due to "unsuitability for the naval service."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Our Chance to End The LGBT "Death Sentence" in Uganda

The Pride Parade
last summer in Uganda.
You probably already know this, but the anti-gay bunch in Uganda are mean as hornets, and we have a chance to change it up!

Hornet-Level Meanness: one of the newspapers there had a headline reading "Hang Them" and then listed Uganda's Top 100 Homos. Another paper published the names and home addresses of people who are suspected of being gay. One person said that being out in Uganda is basically a death sentence. They are even trying to pass a law called the Kill the Gays. (Link to an article in The Advocate) The article has other examples that will confirm the hornet metaphor.

Gandhi-Level Courage and Brains: Some people are producing a documentary in Uganda for Ugandans (that part is key) to "raise the voices of Uganda's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community" so they'll know they're not alone and hopefully begin to change the culture. This could save a truckload of lives, because this is how change happens, right? The movie is called Voices of the Abasiyazzi.

Here's our part: they are funding this movie through donations as low as $1 at kickstarter.com. They are a third of the way to their total of just under $75,000. Kickstarter stipulates a deadline for accountability. To get the money, they need to have it all raised by their deadline, Saturday morning, April 20th. (I just learned about this project, or I would have told you earlier.) Fortunately, the amount raised appears to be growing at a steady clip, and it looks like if enough people come on board--even for just a buck--this documentary is going to happen.

Here's the link that explains the whole thing. It is a jarring read. The man making the film describes the danger their lives will be in as they interview people and film the documentary--scroll to "Risks and Challenges," then contemplate that Gandhi-level courage.

This could really happen, and what a wonderful thing. Wonderful! So, for anyone in a position to donate even a buck, please join me over at kickstarter.com and watch the world change.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Reading, Writing & a Casino in Italy?

Chely Wright's website gave me a little shockeroo yesterday when I was led, through a link, to an online casino in Italy. (!?!?!)

Fans of Chely Wright may recall that she started a charitable foundation called Reading, Writing & Rhythm. I know very little about the foundation, but I understand it involved giving band instruments to school kids. Her website has a page dedicated to Reading, Writing & Rhythm and a link for more information.

I clicked the link. It took me to an online casino based in Italy.

Now, my grandmother, age 93, will tell you that the internet is a sign of the imminent return of Christ. She believes it is prophesied in the Bible and is a harbinger of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

I don't know about end times prophecy, but I do suspect a certain casino has managed to co-opt the web address of a certain foundation started by a certain country singer. (To avoid confusion, I'm not going to put the errant link here.) I googled Reading, Writing & Rhythm and found dozens of references to Chely Wright's foundation, with most of them including the errant link.

Perhaps her memoir explains why the foundation ended its work. Perhaps I need to finish reading the memoir! (Perhaps over my Spring Break, on a five-hour train ride to Chicago?) Perhaps it ended when she came out and Nashville forgot they knew her--I sure hope I'm wrong about that. That would be sad--I'm going to assume I'm wrong about that.

And I'm going to continue being amused by the links connecting Chely Wright, Dissident Country Singer to some random casino in Italy.

Life takes its funny turns, and the internet makes them funnier. Probably for Chely Wright, it's not that funny--the poor girl has been through enough. (Can't you just hear the the accusations of her promoting gambling?) And for the foundation called Reading, Writing & Rhythm, perhaps it will flourish again someday. Never say never.

Until then, good work continues with Chely Wright's current foundation, LikeMe.
And as for my Grandma? Just don't get her started on the Illuminati.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Death Penalty for Being Gay

Recently I learned that some people reading this blog live in countries that have the death penalty for being gay. 

I'll say it again--the death penalty. 

I know that around half of the hits on my stats page are from robots. (Weird to think about.) Even still--some of the human readers are facing the death penalty. 

And yet they do read blogs on the internet. Somehow, in the immensity of this world, they have heard Chely Wright's music, presumably know her story, and take comfort in her message that she is LikeThem. Or they are LikeHer. You know what I mean, that they are not alone.

Imagine the risk they must be taking when they read this or listen to her music. Imagine their lives of courage and resilience. Imagine the bond they must feel with us who enjoy lives of greater freedom. Imagine their longing.

For information on the rights of LGBT people around the world, please consider The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. (QUESTION: do they include transgendered people among their concerns? Please let me know if you find out.) A quick glance on google indicated five countries (unnamed here, to protect the readers) that have the death penalty for LGBT people, and three more countries where self-appointed judges and militia groups routinely torture and kill LGBT people.
To the readers in those nations,
You are not alone. We see what you are facing. Take comfort--we dream with you of a day when it will end. We pray and we work to end your suffering. Persist in your courage, in knowing what is true of you, and in the knowledge that you are not alone. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

One More Reason To Love Janesville, Wisconsin

The overwhelming majority of lesbian and gay
seniors--up to 75%--live alone. 
If we're lucky, Chely Wright will live to be an old, old woman. I mean old. Ancient and still writing songs.

That wish goes for all the activists leading the way right now. I hope every last one of them lives to be at least 100, because I have a hunch we will need their leadership.

By the year 2030, sociologists figure there will be around 7.2 million LGBT folks over the age of 65, compared to 3 million today. I read that here.

As LGBT people age, they face all the standard issues of aging, plus a few extras.

For example: LGBT people going into nursing homes and long-term care facilities are often forced to go back into the closet to avoid discrimination and mistreatment from their fellow residents and even their healthcare providers. Isn't that sad? After decades of being out?

Also, they won't--or too often can't--participate in grief groups to work through the loss of their partner.

I read about this in a touching and slightly worrisome scholarly article in which the authors interviewed elderly LGBT residents of nursing homes.

Although only 12 pages long, the word fear appears 37 times. Aging LGBT folks are understandably afraid--I encourage you to read (or even just skim) this article.

Thankfully, an excellent organization called SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Elders) is working to resolve these issues. They've been around since 1978 and are basically amazing.

Thanks to their presence, a couple of large cities have developed senior housing specifically for LGBT individuals, which is a step in the right direction.

In addition, the town of Janesville, Wisconsin is forming a group called The Aging LGBT Adults Committee. They seek to provide resources for aging LGBT adults in their community. I love that. Here's a brief article from their local paper about the committee. http://gazettextra.com/news/2013/apr/01/ruby-project-organizing-aging-lgbt-group/

Now let's think about this: unless Janesville, Wisconsin is prepared for a population boom of mythic proportion, we are going to need some extra space and new ideas for how to be old, gay, and fabulous. We can't all live in Janesville, Wisconsin, although I'm sure it is perfectly lovely.

In the meantime, as we hammer out the details of our future, let's keep in mind the aging people in our own lives. Let's remember to treat them they way we hope to be treated when our time comes.