“And he concluded his rant with a hearty, ‘#AllLivesMatter.'”

By now, you’ve seen the SNL video where a group wades through the dissonance of a few ultra-conservative (and racist) family members at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Every 3-4 bias statements are followed by a young girl leaving the table to play Adele’s, “Hello,” which stops the family in their tracks for a lip-sync extravaganza.

Adele: soliciting emotions since, “Chasing Pavements.”

‘Tis the week of Thanksgiving.

While I personally have a lot to be thankful for, I know this is certainly not the case across the country (and world). Many are headed “home” to see family, and for many, “home,” is actually quite scary and overwhelming.

For the past few years, Thanksgiving and winter break(ing) has provoked me to tweet and post to all those who experience some type of dissonance around the(se) holidays. Furthermore, Thanksgiving and winter break have inspired me to care deeper for those who know that going “home” isn’t actually all that ruby slippers might ensure.

“Home” is not always, “where the heart is.”

I first learned of this reality when I worked at a boarding school several years ago. One of the students who I was really close to approached me one night before heading home for Thanksgiving break, and shared with me some of the struggles he had going on at home. Initially, our conversation was centered around the disconnect between his coming out as gay, and his fears of church and family angst. Later, he shared with me that his family was also severely racist, and he didn’t quite know how to find his voice among some of his older and more controlling family members (he was 15). He came back to campus about as broken as he had left.

Educators, one of the best things you can do for your *students is affirm them, and love them. There are some scary realities waiting for many individuals when they get “home” for the holidays, and your conversations before and after those experiences have the potential to be life-changing.
*if not an educator, insert “friends, community, etc.” in place of “students”

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about all that is happening at Mizzou and Yale (and countless other institutions for higher education), and in that conversation, my friend shared a story of an individual from “home,” who posted on his timeline a rant about how frustrated he was with students and, “their protests.”

Unsurprising, the individual ended their rant with, #AllLivesMatter. As if, saying something oppressive is instantly not oppressive because you used, “#AllLivesMatter.”

Seriously, please stop saying, “#AllLivesMatter.”

While there is a lot happening in the world (hearts remain heavy), the #AllLivesMatter person may very well be at your Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving or holiday trip dinner table. And most always, we know who this person is. We predict their every move, their next step. We tip toe around egg shells; or, we barrel-roll right through them.

“Keep the refugees out!”

“Guns for our children!”

“Obama created ‘global warming!'”

“I can’t believe Rue was Black in the Hunger Games movies!”

The idea that going “home” for the holidays is a joyous occasion is not always the case, and  again for many, this time can be a seriously scary and toxic and terrifying experience. The best thing you can do for your friends and loved ones is show and tell them that you support them. Affirm them.

Remind them that, if anything, they have you.

Dear friends who are about to challenge a racist or oppressive family member or tradition: thank you for using your voice, and thank you for spotting injustice, even among the ones you love most.

Dear friends who are about to share a big life change with your family and friends: you have the keys to your own “car” – whether people join you on this ride is up to them – do not let their decisions or misunderstandings stop you from driving. Drive on!

Dear friends who are about to come out (in some form) to your family and friends: you are loved, you are valued, and you are exactly who you are supposed to be – know and believe this truth.

Dear friends who are enduring religious dissonance among your family and friends: this is your journey alone – think, feel, believe, challenge, seek – your timing is also yours alone. Take the time.

Dear friends who feel obligated: you do not have to go home for the holidays. And if you do, you certainly do not have to stay. Create boundaries and non-negotiables for yourself – when these are crossed, get out, and don’t look back.

And, if all else fails, just play, “Hello,” really loud until all is quiet.

Understanding, “home,”

Michael

Black Lives Matter

 

What kind of world do you want?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

I believe it was Malcom X who coined this provocative and relevant thought (and if my citation is inaccurate, I’m sure Malcom X said this at some point, while living this philosophy as his truth). And it’s so accurate, right?

I am obsessed with great content, and especially when that content assists in creating real and raw perspective. For example, when Kerry Washington accepted the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Pause and listen to her speech. This speech is incredibly valuable, and something which should be replayed over and over – there is a lot more we can be doing, and a lot more inclusion we should be observing. I’m curious to see how Kerry continues the dialogue.

Outside of this speech, and, of course, the previous posts I have used to articulate my thoughts on activism or the current reality in my home state of Oklahoma, I want to pause and show some appreciation for my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. This past week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO launched a campaign, advertising The Tunnel of Oppression, which is a phenomenal simulation to help students better understand privilege and oppression, and how these concepts impact everyone. Check out the posters below:

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Asians..

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Black Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Disability...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Muslims...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Gay Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Native Americans...

First, I want to thank these brave students for “coming out” in these posters. Whereas many people of color are already “out” as noted by race (being, “color blind,” is not a thing, and all of that), sitting with these search items is a heavy and intense moment – a reality faced by any oppressed or marginalized individual. Next, I want to highlight that these, “Societal assertions,” are very real and are played out for people every single day. And this should not be a surprise. In fact, if you gasped at the items listed in the search bars above, I challenge you to think about your surroundings a bit more critically. This is certainly the case following the OU SAE incident, and has been a theme in a lot of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues now two weeks after the release of the video. We must challenge a little harder, and push a little deeper.

And this starts with inclusion. How are you integrating inclusion into your conversations and into your personal and professional engagements? As Luke Visconti argues, and I tend to agree, it is so much more than simply asking (expecting) baristas to talk about race in the 20 seconds they have with a customer at Starbucks. If we want inclusion, diversity, equity, multicultural understanding, etc. to be something that is espoused and enacted, it must be something that is integrated through every fiber of an operation. As Visconti points out, it must start from the top (and in the most, see-someone-to-be-someone, kind of way).

One year ago, I was a cluster facilitator at LeaderShape, a leadership retreat for college students. The university where I was working did a campaign to advertise this opportunity, and passed around various flyers reading, “I see a world where ______.” Individuals could write in what kind of world they see. For example, “people have clean water,” “cancer is fully treatable,” “we find peace,” and, “everyone has a puppy,” were a few of my favorites. When I filled out my own flyer to be hung on my office door, I thought long and hard. What kind of world did (do) I want to see?

And, today, I ask you this same question, among others:

How do you see the world? What kind of world do you want? What kind of contribution can you and will you be willing to make? Do you dare?

Engaging,

Michael

*I see a world with liberty and justice for all.

“The Gathering of the Oppressed”

I have successfully settled in Washington, D.C., and while I have one million “ah-ha” moments already brewing, I am going to pause and explore one which has been weighing more heavy on my heart than others.

church-street-gay-street-connector-sign-500x375

Specifically, I am struggling with this idea of a, “Church Catch-All.”

Allow me to explain…

I decided it is time to go back to church. “New city, new life,” and all of that. Though I was never able to make time to have that cup of coffee with my friend’s husband (and will obviously try harder next time I am in Oklahoma City), I have decided I am ready to reconnect to a piece of my life that was, for a very long time, the most salient part of my identity. Now that I am permanently in Washington, D.C., I am actively looking to find a community where I can learn and grow, and within whatever spiritual development that comes with this exploration.

So, what does an inquiring mind do to jump-start this process? I took to Google, and eagerly typed, “gay friendly churches in D.C.”

Before I could get too far, I paused on the concept of, “gay-friendly.” Something didn’t sit right with me. Was I looking for, “friendly,” or for, “accepting?”

Accepting.

Yes, I was looking for accepting.

Gay_friendly_church

Around the same time as I was having my, what-does-this-mean-and-is-accepting-real-or-is-friendly-all-I’ll-get, moment, I had lunch with one of my dearest friends from high school. She has lived in D.C. for a few years now, and very much exists as a beacon of optimism and positivity. We are cut from a similar cloth and with very parallel upbringings, thus making this specific topic something she would be perfect to aid in processing. And so, we processed.

What I discovered from my friend is that there are a ton of LGBTQ+-accepting churches in D.C., and it was up to me to find the one that matched most of my values.

Easy enough, right?

It’s actually not at all easy, but it is doable. And I’m leaning into that. So far, I have found many churches with gay and lesbian pastors, and churches with a very strong LGBTQ+ presence in the leadership of the church. This is inclusion to me. And this was one of my biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments in a long time. Inclusion is not just having a diversity position or representative in an organization (or school, institution, company, etc.). Inclusion, real and authentic equity and inclusion, exists when you weave diversity and acceptance through the entire operation. And for the first time in a long time, I am seeing religious organizations hold this same value.

I will add for the good of the order, my only experience related to this was a brief visit to a church when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana. This specific church was recommended to me by many LGBTQ+ individuals and allies, and I ventured over one Sunday morning to check it out. When I looked around the congregation, I noticed loads of queer people, blended families, interracial couples, hippies, and a mix of other, often ostracized, identities. I loved it, at first glance and interaction, and felt more safe in that church than I had in years.

Now, please note, this is all not to say that people haven’t found a welcoming place in other churches in that town. It’s just that this specific church had a reputation for being a “catch-all.” One friend called it, “The Gathering of the Oppressed.” This stressed me out.

You feel different in your place of worship?

Join us.

You feel oppressed from the scripture or how you’re being discussed as a conundrum?

Join us.

You need safety?

Join us.

Again, catch-all.

And this certainly did not take away from the spiritual opportunity provided that Sunday morning. It was mostly just an observation that helped me understand the difference between a gay-inclusive space and a gay-friendly operation. I continue to think about that space, and the space I will soon call my church-home as I reconnect in the coming months. And, overall, this impacts my charge today.

Find religious spaces that honor acceptance and authentic inclusion. Celebrate these spaces, appreciate these spaces. Challenge your church and church community to lean toward inclusion, and be cautious of how easy it is to dismiss marginalized groups. Think of the language you use. Calling a population, “homosexuals,” is not going to bring gay people running through the doors of your church. There are ways to address a queer population without making individuals feel like a piece of science. The rigidity of, “homosexual,” often creates this feeling.

To pause and close, I also want to add that Jonathan D. Lovitz’s piece, “Op-ed: It’s Time for Successful Gays to Raise Up the Next Generation,” via The Advocate, is also super relevant here. When I met one of my role models (and LGBTQ icon), Doug Bauder, I was meeting the first person who identified as an out and proud gay pastor. I was so confused. I asked a lot of questions, and he spent a lot of time answering them in an intentional and thoughtful manner. He mentored me, taught me, and guided me. This was huge. And is still huge for me today, especially in how I view and treat the younger generation of gay men out there.

It is time to connect the pieces. Connect to something, and connect others to something. More. Go all in, and be bold. Be proud, but be bold.

Processing,

Michael

*In my, “Coffee with a Christian” post, I received many beautiful messages of support. However, I also received many prayer-filled exclamations. I ask you this, if praying, please pray for clarity and safely within a great church, specifically one which is inclusive and accepting of all. Praying for my sexual orientation, though “thoughtful” of you, is very much missing the mark. I highly encourage you to redirect. 

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*photos all taken from various places on the web; thanks, Google image search