Friday, June 26, 2015

Gay marriage, Christianity, and me

Note: I wrote this when SCOTUS was first looking at the gay marriage case. And never published because I was nervous. But with the news today, I didn't want this in my drafts any longer!

With the Supreme Court hearing the case on whether it is constitutional to allow states to ban same-sex marriage, I wanted to collect my thoughts on the subject. As a disclaimer, I am here humbly, one person trying to ask questions and grow in my faith. I don’t claim to know all the answers so please accept this as a process and not an ultimatum. A discussion, not a mandate. This is vulnerable to share because I know I have so many friends and family who come from completely different places. I imagine one person reading this could be completely disappointed in me. Call me lost and liberal and “Satan’s tool.” Another person could shake their head, thinking I have so much further to go or worse, I’m just a Christian spewing more hate. I’m okay with the first response but I hope and pray that this doesn’t come across hateful because that is the last thing I want.

I feel like there’s some amount of context needed. I grew up in a loving family where I never heard my parents speak with prejudice towards others. My mom especially taught me a lot about empathy and putting myself in another’s shoes rather than judging them. Yes, we were Baptists and Republican and heck, my dad had a cabinet full of guns. That sentence is full of stereotypes. But I never felt like my parents were raising me to think exactly like they did but rather to use my own reason and sense. I may not be on the same page politically or spiritually as my parents and to them, that’s okay.

So even though I was raised to have grace towards others, I definitely was shaped by the Christian culture around me, which largely was talking about how homosexuality and gay marriage are wrong. Fundamentally wrong. You know the arguments; I don’t need to rehash them. I do want to say I never saw adamant, overpowering hate towards gays at church as some have experienced. For being in a small-town, conservative Baptist church, the people I grew up with in that community are warm and kind and loving. It wasn’t every Sunday we gathered to hear a pastor beating his hand on the Bible and declaring homosexuality a sin and asking everyone to picket a gay rights parade. It was more subtle, for sure. Snippets of convos, sidenotes in a sermon.

I was just as largely influenced by the small, conservative town I grew up in. It is full of warm and kind and loving people, who also believe that homosexuality is wrong and gay marriage should not be legalized. Most of my friends believed this and the community at large believed this. Our state passed Proposition 102 in 2008, which stated that a marriage is only valid if it is between a man and woman (a policy later reversed by a court ruling in 2014). To this day, I often see posts on my Facebook feed about the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman and how we need to protect it – some in love and with good intentions, and sadly, some full of hate and judgment.

This is where I say I have no idea if being gay is wrong, or more specifically from a Christian slant, sinful. “But the scriptures!” Yes, the scriptures have a few verses about homosexuality. When taken just as a line of text apart from the larger picture of the gospel, they don’t look good for those who are gay. But I also want to view things from the lens of both the context of the church at the time, as well as the whole gospel and Jesus’s mission, which I would argue is largely one of love. I’m trying to be so much more cautious these days about calling most of my beliefs certain. Actually, that’s scary to type out. I’m still learning to live in uncertainty and feel somewhat afraid to share that. But hear me out. It’s easy to stay in a little conservative Christian bubble where we all have a list of things we agree with and declare our collective interpretation of the Bible as truth. But one step outside that bubble and I realize there’s a million little bubbles of people all declaring their interpretations of the Bible as truth. So, who’s right? It can be alarming if your “faith” is only built on a list of belief statements when any of these belief statements are called into question.

The bubble that’s simultaneously more comforting and confusing to me now is, let’s not be so concerned with listing out beliefs and rather, let’s live out Jesus’s example with love and grace and justice and humility. I want to pursue relationships, not laws. I want to know Jesus and I want to know his beloved creation. I want to seek peace rather than regurgitate unproductive arguments (if I have to hear the Adam and Eve vs Adam and Steve argument one more time, Lord help me – !!!!!). I don’t have to have it all figured out. Let me repeat, I don’t have to have it all figured out.

When I listen to the LGBT community discuss the gay marriage issue, I am so saddened to hear their perceptions of purported followers of Christ. Christian friends, the LGBT community feels so much hatred coming from us. Don’t we all know, at least a little bit, what it’s like to feel ostracized? What it’s like to grow up and wonder if something is wrong with you because of _____? So, why, why, why do we have to speak with so much anger and hatred towards this community? Why do we invest so much time and money and energy into passing laws against gay marriage when there are children every. single. night. who go to bed hungry. Who feel unloved and worthless. Who wish they’d never been born. Who are taken from their families and forced into slavery or prostitution – which YES is happening in our own country every day.

I would argue that there are much, much more important debates than gay marriage. Yes, there is the concern that we have never in our history as a country redefined the term “marriage.” Certainly then, let’s be cautious and calculated in changing any laws. But if we use this argument that it’s never been done, couldn’t this have also been used to deny abolitionist laws? To deny women’s suffrage? To deny black rights? In the same vein, it’s hard to see a faith community pick one specific “sin” and focus so heavily on it. The Bible also speaks against gluttony, selfishness, dishonesty, materialism, drunkenness – so why have so many made it their main mission to speak against one specific lifestyle? For example, we go out of our way to support a fast food restaurant which sells unhealthy, processed food – because the owner is vocal against gay marriage and the company gives money to organizations who oppose gay rights. Can you see why the world calls us hypocrites?

By now, you probably won’t be surprised to hear I am all for gay marriage being legal. I would love to see it passed by the Supreme Court. When I think about America, we are SO diverse. A complete melting pot in every sense, full of different cultures and ideas and faiths. I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment of our founders forming a country built on religious freedom due to their own experience with oppression. Then, to me it seems like by not allowing gay marriage, one group of people are forcing their own religion and ideals on others; to me, this is oppression. It doesn’t make sense. And the saddest thing of all is it turns people AWAY from Jesus.

I am hopeful for a future where we fight FOR the gay community. Where bullying gay children is no longer acceptable. Where gay teens stop considering suicide as their only option. Where a gay person feels welcome and loved at church. Where we have a dialogue that is wrapped less in what laws we pass and more in what good we can bring individually to our families and communities. Dialogue about how we can show love to each other and share in our brokenness and pain. And so, in some small way, I hope this essay is a step towards a more open dialogue and the future I so hope for.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


I saw tulips this morning.

Traffic often gets a little backed up on the road that connects with the freeway onramp so I was juggling my gas and brake pedal. I edged towards the freeway when out of the corner of my eye I saw them. Or perhaps they saw me. It was a brick apartment complex, a winding building with lots of angles and nooks. Next to a stairway there was a little group of tulips, blushing pink and orange at their entrance into the world. And I don’t know, we had a moment. I peered out of my window and admired them and it felt like a little gift, just for me. The tulips were surrounded by brick and concrete and metal and dirt and they looked both out of place and yet exactly where they should be – a little beacon of spring. Of hope.

There’s something about this season that turns me into an emotional mess of a schmuck. I don’t mean to belabor winter again and again, but it’s (still) rough on me. This winter was my best in Des Moines, by far. I readied myself with vitamin D and a sun lamp and a yoga class and an extra dose of gumption. I didn’t sink as deeply this year. I didn’t avoid people as often. I didn’t constantly question myself and why I do what I do. I didn’t think about how I wouldn’t be missed by very many if I was gone.

And yet, winter still seeps in-between the cracks and begins leaking into the tunnels in my brain. It takes the edge off my joy. Knocks little holes in my happiness. Thins out my experiences and makes it all seem a bit more fragile. My roller coaster this winter had more rises than falls, thank God. The falls didn’t plummet as quickly or as deeply as in the past, but the rises were also gentler. With gentler rises, you forget the thrill of a big upswing.

 Last spring and summer, I was hyper-aware of how happy I felt. I wasn’t happy all the time, of course, but it was a huge shift in my brain after winter. I kept repeating over and over in my mind, remember this. Remember how happy you feel right now. Hold onto this when your happiness is undermined again.

And as it goes, the sun began slipping in later and leaving earlier. The temperatures plummeted and the city stilled as everyone withdrew inside. Life began feeling a little flat, a little gray. I was able to recognize the gray quicker than previous years, and then recall my summer chant. Remember this. Remember this immense joy. Life can be bright and vibrant. I didn’t recall specific moments when I felt the gray spreading, just feelings tied to moments. Moments that were probably sitting by a campfire with friends, walking by the lake as the sun shone down, riding bicycles in the wind. Memories with light leaks in the frame and sun flares at the edges. Hazy lazy summer days, a little sticky and mostly sweet.

These snippets of joy were so important. They propelled me through the winter. I wasn’t as hard on myself when I felt a little down, a little off. I was freed to let winter be winter with the promise of new life, new joy. This morning, these tulips seemed to encapsulate all I’ve been holding onto. Beauty bursting out of the ground that just a month ago had been frozen beneath ice and muck.

Because I’m a cheesy romantic, I stopped by on the way home from work to take a picture. Remember this. Remember.

“…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:2-5

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Finally, we can all sing “This is the night.” I even thought about sharing spaghetti with Jason to recreate Lady and the Tramp, but then I thought Marisa might feel just a littttle awkward about that. To me, the best part of Rome was the history. I loved seeing the ancient buildings among the modern city. It’s so extraordinary to see structures and landmarks that are thousands of years old; I was in awe the whole time.

Our run-on sentence of Rome festivities:
Jason said right after arriving in the airport he saw a lady's phone ringing in front of him which said the caller was Luigi - she answered "LOUIE!!" and began speaking animatedly in Italian and well, I can't think of better way to begin our Italian trip. So.

We arrived late at night and at the train station was probably the most fearful I was during the trip – clutching my bag tightly and nervously looking over my shoulder (but we survived and didn’t have any problems!), found our bed and breakfast which had a bathroom so small you felt accomplished when you managed to turn around, headed to the Colosseum first thing in the morn and was able to get some photos of mostly-people-free building shots, had a sudden maddening desire to watch Gladiator, uncovered new and delightful sights at every turn in the Roman Forum, got our first views of the cityscape and marveled at how much colorful Rome is than our past European destinations, felt crowded and overheated and somewhat underwhelmed by the Vatican (think late July in a building swarming with people and far too old for AC, or at least well-working AC), found ourselves often confused and befuddled by the Rome bus system, ate gelato atop Janiculum Hill (the first gelato of many!), were disappointed to find the Trevi Fountain under construction, ordered individual pizzas and valiantly tried to finish (only Jason managed), drank our only red wine of the trip and tried to savor it (we were quite poor after that whole expense of ya know, getting to the country, and just to clarify for Marisa's mom, Marisa did not drink), were impressed by the Mercedes buses (transit in high style), found the Pope's image plastered on every type of souvenir you could imagine, never saw the actual man in person (SAD), went to St. Peter's Basilica on a Sunday morning and creepily took photos of the church attendees in service, climbed all 551 steps in the panic-inducing dome (again, hot summer day, lots of people and a tiny, tiny closed-in stairwell with curved walls so it feels like the place is closing in on you), were lavishly rewarded by an amazing view that I still dream about, saw several crypts and then found myself googling "what does a body look like after it's buried" but then never getting the nerve to click "images", said "when in Rome" far too infrequently, ditto on "All roads lead to Rome", and stuffed our faces with pasta near the steps of the Pantheon.

A friend of our B&B host took us to the airport. She spoke very little English, but as she scurried in and out of traffic in her beater car, she exclaimed "Mama mia!" and we declared our Italian trip complete.

(We can all just pretend there's not a weird bump in my hair.)

Jason said he was in Rome now and no longer needed that top button.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mont-Saint-Michel / Rennes

We left Paris on a high-speed train for Rennes. As much as I wanted to sit the whole time with my nose to the window, I succumbed to sleep pretty early on. And then kept getting woken up after each stop because the official in an all-purple uniform (hat included) had to check our tickets again. Halfway to Rennes, a man couldn’t present a ticket and was kindly given the boot at the next stop. We got to Rennes and bought tickets to Mont-Saint-Michel. We got to MSM in the afternoon amidst scores of other tourists. The island is certainly a spectacle, simultaneously remote and crowded. For the roughly 20 hours on the island, we circled up and down the winding path, admired the castle-like facade, resisted buying every pretty watercolor painting of the island, took a guided-tour of one of the museums that was all in French (sometimes I fake-laughed along with the group because I felt left out but got the side-eye from Jason), walked out along the road and took close to a million photos as the sun dipped below the sea beside the island, watched the sunset colors – bright oranges and pinks and deep blues – reflected off the sand and water, had a tables-are-turned moment being among mostly French tourists after our time in Paris as tourists among French locals, were dazzled by the abbey and the views on top – SO GORGEOUS, learned about the history of the abbey and the angel that drilled a hole into the founder's skull, admired Marisa’s gumption at getting up before sunrise to take photos, slept-in and missed the morning service at the abbey (sad), woke up to the sounds of seagulls, and explored the surrounding rocky beach (thanks to low-tide) in the morning in peaceful solitude.

We also stayed a day in Rennes, although there is less to say as it was mostly a day of sleeping, wandering and eating. We did see a quaint music festival in a lovely garden with tons of roses and every other imaginable beautiful flower. And a lot of cool medieval-style buildings. It was the place on our trip where the least amount of people spoke English, but people were nicer than in Paris. We stood for a long time in the metro station trying to translate and two different people came up and handed us their tickets with time left on them. We didn’t speak any of the same words, but it was touching.

A lady who took our dinner order kept trying to translate the menu for us and would blow a raspberry when she couldn’t think of the word. We went into a pharmacy and Jason had to gesture the word “deodorant” and the lady at the counter giggled. Perhaps because the deodorant he picked out smelled distinctly feminine once he started using it. We found a grocery store here and it was quite huge for Europe. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I felt much more at home in a huge store with a myriad of options than a little neighborhood market. There I hoarded more cheese, duh.

I think we may have enjoyed the city more had we spoken French and been able to take a tour of Parliament or go to a museum. As we were waiting in the train station to go back to Paris, I talked with the guy sitting next to me. He was originally from Turkey, living in Rennes to get his masters. He asked, “Why are you in Rennes? There is nothing here.”