Friday, February 13, 2015

Priestly Goth, Goth Androgyny, and Gender Queer

Once years ago, my friend Robyn asked me about my pastoral and sub-culture identity and how they fit together. Robyn asked "would you consider yourself a goth priest or a priestly goth?" I couldn't answer right away. Robyn has a way of asking a question that opens up a moment for exploring what, on one's own, one wouldn’t have thought needed examination.  As the title of this blog and much of my presence on the internet shows I eventually came back with the answer priestly goth.: the church and my call and sacramental role qualified yet was informed by my goth identity, my goth identity didn't qualify and ground my pastoral role.  Robyn also was at the root of another piece to the puzzle of my identity: through Robyn I first came across the term gender queer and first met those who so identified.  One birthday dinner for Robyn, my wife, Kate, and I came in our goth regalia (it was a celebration); Kate in pink hair and teased and in black and pink (possibly a ruffed skirt), I in skirt, platform boots and fishnets (I was probably also wearing makeup and my nails may have been painted).  Friends of Robyn came who identified as gender queer. At some point in the course of the evening Kate and I were asked "Do you identify as gender queer?"  We looked at each other, both shrugged and answered "No, we identify as goth."  There was laughter, and the conversation moved on to other things. Kate and I were taken back that our presentation as goth drew the question about our being gender queer. Though, as I thought about it for myself, part of what drew me to the goth scene was the place of androgyny within the goth subculture.

This story begins with goth and gender queer because the dance floor in a goth club has been (still is) a space where I simply can be myself, no questions or labels asked.  Though it wasn't the only spaces where I could be.  My marriage to Kate has been a space where I have (as the above anecdote shows) been able to explore goth androgyny in terms of fashion.  What the question about identifying as gender queer began in me was exploring what it was about goth identity that appealed to me beyond my sense of melancholy and eclectic aesthetic.  I began to ask what my attraction to androgyny might mean for my gender identity and sexual orientation.

I suppose that exploration began long before, as Kate and I dated and then were engaged: during that time we talked about re-inventing heterosexuality.  We would talk together about men we found attractive. In one conversation about male movie stars, I explained to her why Russel Crowe was attractive (Kate couldn't understand why he was seen as attractive).  As Kate went to fashion school and then began designing and costuming she first encouraged me to wear skirts and eventually made me skirts and kilts. Also, I didn't mind shopping with Kate.  We could talk about men, makeup, and fashion.

As things moved toward our engagement, I told my parents we were thinking marriage, my mom told me that she and dad had always wondered if I was gay and that they were glad I had found someone.  I had suspected that my parents thought this, but they had never attempted to discourage those things in me that made them suspect I was gay, nor feel ashamed for being who I was. My parents weren't/aren't LGBTQ allies by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, decisions they made around my own gender expression and identity and emerging sexuality as I grew up, set them apart from their peers and fellow Christians. I'd even say that my parents came to value what also concerned them: For instance my mom would recognized not only my artistic bent and sense of aesthetics, she would also ask me if the colors of a piece of clothing matched something she already had. Mom, also bragged about her son’s interest in fashion (which neither of my parents cared much about as adults, though apparently my father did as a teenager, wearing a zoot suit and bracelet, as he told my mom once when she remarked on a bracelet I was wearing).  As a child I liked to play with dolls and tended not to be interested in sports, and often wanted to play with the girls rather than with the boys.  My parents defended these traits to others and not only showed no overt reaction in my presence, but largely insulated me from the criticism of adults.  Like the dance floor of the goth club, my parents created a space for me to be who I was (more or less, though somehow I knew asking to wear a skirt or tights would have gone over like a lead balloon).

The down side of this is that while my gender identity has never been decidedly male or masculine and sexual orientation more bi then straight or gay, in relation to my parents, I had very little need to articulate what all this internal experience was or might be.  Of course the nomenclature of “bi” and “gender queer” wasn’t available to me growing up.  I first encountered the concept and nomenclature of bi-sexuality in college. For these and other reasons labels are difficult for me to claim or own.  However, not engaging these labels and concepts isn't good or helpful, either.

This is what I've come to as I worked all this out from that question of the relationship between goth androgyny and gender queer.  As I reflected on that question I realized that I have always been attracted to both men and women (more women than men).  If I must use a label here, I'd say that I'm bi-sexual. Though, I don't feel a strong connection to that identity, in part I suppose because I've made my commitment and vow to Kate, a woman, and I intend to keep that vow. Yet, that vow created a space to come to admit my bi-sexuality.  This means that  “bi” does articulate that I do currently find certain types of men sexually attractive, but it is also only about possibility that wasn't and won't be.  In high school and college, If men I was attracted to were in my social circle, I generally turned that crush into an intense or close friendship (that didn't always work out).  This wasn't that different than my relationship with women, I dated few women other than Kate and tended to prefer friendship to romantic involvement.  The difference was that friendships with men I was attracted to weren't going to go anywhere sexually or romantically it wasn't possible to marry a man (as I understood things), and with women with whom I was friends, it was possible it could turn romantic and sexual, I could marry a woman.  Not having thought of myself as bi, it puzzled me why men would often hit on me at the goth club (more often than women), now I see that those men probably were picking up on what I wasn't admitting to myself, and had no means to admit to myself.

Even so sexual orientation is only part of my story, and this connects with androgyny and gender queer.  I find this aspect of myself trickier with regards to labels and language we currently use.  Though looking back on being asked if I identified as gender queer, the person asking the question wasn't entirely wrong to read the markers of goth as having kinship with gender queer.

I've long had a conflictual relationship with masculinity and male gender expression. This has a long history in my life. On the lighter side of things, I have a deep and primordial dislike for the suit. I'm told that as a toddler it was always a struggle for my parents to get me into the hand-me-down toddler suits on Sundays for church.  For some reason though I would grudgingly wear them if I could choose which suit I was to wear that Sunday, as far as I know no one thought to offer dresses or skirts as an option. I have no memory of this and only know it through family stories.  What I do remember is from about 4 or 5 wishing I could wear tights and skirts. (frilly dresses, and ruffles never interested me, I didn't really long to be a princess.)  I was interested in women's clothes and I helped mom pick out her cloths on shopping trips.  I would consult her on what colors looked good on her and what would match other items in her closet at home.  This was more than about clothing, clothing was an expression of something more.  I also, preferred to play with girls.  I remember that at times it wouldn't matter that I was a boy, but invariably I would be excluded. It would be announced that boys were now not welcome, and they went off to do girl things.  I didn't think I was really a girl or felt my male sex and anatomy wasn't who I was, I just felt it didn't define me fully.  I didn't always relate to those who were of my same sex, and felt more comfortable among those with whom I didn't share the same genitals.  I suppose one could say that I'm male who strongly identifies with the feminine.  I relate to Eddie Izzard's bit on the sexuality of the Transvestite as “male lesbian…" and "…Running , jumping , climbing up trees and putting on makeup while you’re up there." (Unlike Eddie Izzard I don't have "tit envy"). Gender queer and androgyny comes closest because I feel I'm a mix with slightly more emphasis on the male and masculine ( I do like my beard). In terms of fashion and physical presentation I feel most at home when marker of masculine and feminine mix together, perhaps with women's fashion trumping men's fashion.  This lines up with my sexual orientation which is a mixture of attractions.  

The labels available to me, still don’t wear well, and seem ill fitting.  However, I hate personality tests, whether Meyers-Briggs or Enneagram, etc.: the results of these tests never feel completely true or fitting for my internal experience.  So, it's perhaps not surprising that when it comes to my sexuality and gender identity that this sense that general categories and labels are ill fitting, also holds true.  Gender Queer with various sexual attractions may work. Though, if you ask “Do you identify as gender queer?” I might still answer "No, I identify as goth.", a priestly goth (how and where this all fits into faith, spirituality, and being a pastor must wait for another post).

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Fit? Tellign my family's disruptive story of faith

Micah Bales Letter to Post-Evangelicals struck a chord with me, though I don't quite feel the need to address post-Evangelicals.  What I connect with is having a family and personal faith story that doesn't quite fit neatly into the categories of American Christianity.

The source of this difference as I read Bales blog post is around decisions his parents made around class, race and homosexuality.  These decisions set themselves off from both Modernist and Fundamentlist understanding of Christian faith.  My parents also made similar choices and decisions around these questions (this post will mostly deal with class and race, how my parents navigated homosexuality and human sexuality will be addressed in a separate post), though in a less dramatic fashion and with less decisive conflict, yet the choices and decisions my parents made and where they allowed themselves to go and be taken in the course of my childhood and youth, meant the faith I received had a radical tinge.

The first decision my parents made that set this other path for myself, was their decision to get married.  My mother and father met only shortly after he and his first wife had been divorced.  In the late 60's in the Christian circles my parents existed in divorce and remarriage was viewed as sin. The plain meaning of Jesus's own statements on this are quite clear. My mother tells the story of having returned home for Christmas and discussing possibly marrying my father with her mother. My grandmother was opposed to the possibility, as I recall my grandfather wasn't excited but was willing to leave it to his daughter to decide what was right.  The night before my mom was to return to Chicago my grandmother told her that if she went ahead with the relationship and married my father she would be in sin and that my grandmother could not condone the marriage to a divorced man, it was adultery (after all Jesus says so.)  My mom prepared to return to Chicago to tell my dad she would not marry him and call of their relationship.  The next morning my grandmother told my mom she had been praying the night before and God spoke to her and said that she should not oppose the marriage.  As I understand it that didn't settle it for my parents but through wrestling with Scripture their hearts and consulting Evangelical Covenant pastors whom they respected, they decided it was good for them to be married (Their struggles and the mixed ramifications of divorce and remarriage are another story and not all for me to tell.)  So began the adventure of my childhood.

As I came around and for the first two years of my life, ours was a suburban and solidly middle class life.  We went to church and were involved in a Covenant Church, my father owned his own Tool and Die business that was relatively successful, and my mother quit teaching when I was born.  My parents felt a call to something more and specifically my father felt called to return to school, and to go to seminary (feeling called to work in churches as a director of Christian Education).  My father sold his business, and they sold our house and went to a Mennonite Brethren college and seminary (Fresno Pacific College and Seminary) in California near where my grandparents had a farm, and we went and lived with my mother parents while Dad went to school full time and helped out on the farm.

As he completed his degree and began to apply for positions of Director of Christian education, few churches would consider him as a divorce, and even those who would offer an interview, the divorce stood in the way except for churches where he wasn't interested in serving.  So he returned to tool and die and manufacturing. Which lead us to France.

In France we chose to attend a international (many who were international students at the university) and multicultural congregation that was a missionary congregation lead by a Baptist missionary couple, in Bordeaux.  Our worship was in French but we worshiped not only with French but expats like ourselves from other countries, mainly African is my recollection. This, like so many of my parents choices weren't presented to us as choices. Even as I write this I have difficulty crediting anything special about this. However, because of this congregation we joined, France for me wasn't simply being acculturated in French culture (my sister and I went to French schools, and it wasn't long before my mother would sometimes overhear passer's by wonder what that American woman was doing with those French children), but in a different culture I encountered as equals those who weren't European or White.  I met and they were friends of my parents people from India Africa and the Middle East who back in the states were people to whom we sent missionaries.  In this congregation they were leaders and even from families who had been Christian for several generations, like my own family.

Returning from France my family chose to live in a house that was near the wrong part of the country, an unincorporated town called new London where many poor, White,and Latino (mostly Mexicans) lived.   Again my parents made little of this decision, and even down played it, the house was what we could afford and we new the landlord and his extended family.  I was never told to avoid certain people, and made friends with the children whom I went to school and  wholived in new London, I had them over to our place, and even brought some of my friends who didn't go to church to our Covenant church. Unfortunately , a significant minority of that congregation made it clear that those people (poor Whites) weren't welcome and were even possibly a bad influence upon me (so I learned from my parents later) but it was clear to me that my friends weren't entirely welcome and they felt it too.

When I was Twelve in the middle of the year, we moved to Los Angeles (Carson, a city neighboring on Compton, in Los Angeles county).  Again my parents gave rational for their choice as being largely economic and pragmatic, a house in a Whiter and more middle class part of L.A. county wouldn't have been as nice or as large.  I went to a large school (from a country school made up of White and Hispanic) to a school with variety of ethnicities.  I was befriended by Samoans. As White, I was in the minority.  We went the closest Covenant church that was in a Wealthy part of the South Bay, but because after we visited the church my sister and I wanted to be part of that church.  So, our church experience was majority white still, though, significantly my parents were friends with the few people of color that did attend the church.

Just before my sophomore year of high school we needed to move and we were in a better financial place, and could have moved into predominantly White parts of the South Bay, but we ended up renting a house in one of the first deliberately integrated housing developments to be built in L.A. county (by the 1980's that had been many years ago), so by my parents choice, we continued to live in racially and ethnically diverse context. When my parents were able to buy a place during my Jr year of high school they bought a house in that same neighborhood.  Our next door neighbors were African American and we got to know them fairly well, but on Sunday we'd drive to our predominantly White church and they'd drive to their African American church.  One of my best friends in in High School was Black, we didn't live near each other he rode a bus to school, I walked. We never went to each other's churches, but distance wasn't the only reason. Because of the choices my parents made, I experienced the divisions within American Christianity through being socially and economically close to people of color, but experiencing the divide on Sunday morning. My parents never questioned this, after all it was how they knew American Christianity to be. My Grandfather pastored a German congregation in Chicago, other Europeans weren't even members.  In the 1970's and 1980's the Covenant was becoming more ethically diverse, but my mother's experience wasn't of worshiping with other white people but other Swedes in the Covenant Church, but due to my parents choices this way things were was dissonant, and remains so.

Because of my parent's choices and sense of calling and following Christ, Church and Christian faith had little if anything with enclave of sameness and safety.  Thanks to their decisions and lack of fear, thanks to their faith and willingness to follow God in even the mundane and practical, I have long been with and known personally those others fear, or have kept at arms length.  I have also seen how Christians can reject and exclude, and my parents allowed me to experience the pain and helplessness surrounding that exclusion.  Thanks to their decisions and choices while White, my formative experiences weren't only of a White and privileged world.  My faith was able to form in a much more diverse and complex and multicultural environment than many a White evangelical, where the experience of the other is on mission trips. But it was all so very normal, that even to this day I have difficulty seeing just how those choices make a difference, except when I seem not to fit into the categories of White American Christianity.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Beauty will Save the World"- Racism, State Violence, and Art (orthodox heresies)

Participating in the Glenwood Ave. Arts Fest did seem to make the Dostoyevsky quote come to life. As I sat on my perch in the window of Gallery B1e painting icons next to the Lifeline Theater performance stage I witnessed a steady stream of diverse humanity enjoying music and art (if you haven't been to priestly goth, I've posted pictures from the weekend there).  It may have just been me but it felt like both respite from the turmoil and resistance to the systemic causes of injustice and turmoil, in Ferguson, Iraq and Palestine (and many other places, that aren't prominent in the news and on Twitter).  I had been the past few weeks I've been focused on preparing for the festival and focused on being in my studio, just as injustices and conflicts long fomenting under the surface came to awareness through conflict and violence.  I felt it was important to let others act while I focused on the festival and art, and what I saw at the fest was not only hopeful, but a pocket of  resistance as a diversity of artist, performers, and festival goers came together peacefully in the presence of beauty.

For me he role of art in  addressingthe realities of injustice and racism playing themselves out in Ferguson, MO, is shown in part by remembering, that as Melech E. M. Thomas tweeted on Monday, NWA was rapping about the treatment of young African-American men by police in Fuck Tha Police back in 1988, and  in the early 1990's,  KRS-one as well (I posted the video at the end of this blog post from Friday).   These both highlight the role of the drug war and the targeting of African-American males in that war.  On top of the drug war we then got the War on Terror and the greater militarization of the police. (though, it has always seemed to me that police are a form of military, or rather they are one arm of the coercive and violent powers of the State)  For me NWA and KRS-one raise the question can reform of the system eradicate injustice and racism from the States exercise of its coercive and violent powers?

This post, The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail, by Christena Cleveland raises so many questions: For me the images tell of the depth of the problem of racism in this country.  We stopped literal lynchings, but not the structures and attitudes that perpetuate themselves.  the authors question of seeing the cross and the image of God in the image of young African-American men throwing Molotov cocktails, seeks for (white) Christians to not only see the rage as a response to suffering and oppression, but to identify with the humanity of those in that image.  What it doesn't address though is that part of what stops the needed identification is the identities we cling to that our other than Christ: namely the attempt to identify with the Nation-State perpetuating the injustice and the Christ at the same time with equal allegiance.  The failure to see the humanity of the other is seeing the system and the State as the only legitimate power. Something more radical, less certain and cruciform is required of the privileged, the renunciation of the powers that have granted them the privilege.

So, I wonder about the role the Nation-State itself in perpetuating racism, and thus the continuing privileging of those deemed white.  Is the liberal-democratic Nation-State really the solution?  And if it isn't what is there to be done, outside of continual resistance and subversion of the system?  Perhaps that's all we can really hope for from the powers and the system to watchfully keep their perpetuation of injustice in check?  Art and beauty may keep us awake and sane for this continual watchfulness in the face of the powers.

The questions of nation-state and liberal-democratic states, ties in to the necessity of coercive power and violence being wielded by the state through police and military and the rise of IS in Syria and Iraq as well as touches upon the conflict between in palestine between palestinians and Israelis.  After all the map of much of the world and certainly the middle east was drawn by the Western Imperialist powers and then sanction first by the league of Nations and then ratified again by the United Nations. There's nothing particularly just or righteous, natural or necessary about the boundaries of current Nation States, in fact all of them are at some point in their past drawn with blood and oppression.

This shouldn't in my view lead to apathy but it should lead us to see the limits reform injustice out of the systems of this world. It should lead us to the distrust of state and government and systems of politics. Or at least to question the degree to which reforming the system is possible. We simply can't trust any system we create to be just. Justice doesn't simply happen, even if we somehow managed created a system with a completely blank slate, whole cloth with all the right ideals and practices.  Or at least I believe watchfulness would be called for, systems accumulate power and seek to perpetuate themselves, that selfishness and desire for self-preservation is corrupting.

Making things beautiful can be a form of resistance, and a refusal to accept injustice and oppression (please here the emphasis on can, again very little is truly necessary in the world we humans create and respond to).  I also think the church as the Body of Christ, not Christians submitted to racial or national identities and powers, is a place of beauty that can be an opening for this resistance and subversion, through beauty. (again can, not is, or always will be or guaranteed to be even if its members submit to other powers and identities)

The above are challenges and questions. I hope they invoke further question in the midst of action.  Stuff I'm wrestling with and seeking to work out, some of the outworkings of this may find their way to a post over on priestly goth.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Good Cop/Bad Cop? Ferguson, State Violence, and Pax Americana

  As I write this some calm is returning to Ferguson, Missouri.  The State Troopers of the Highway Patrol were given jurisdiction and an Africa-American commander walked with the protestors.   This is a good thing.  The contrast is stark, almost too stark.  The trope of “Good Cop, Bad Cop” comes to mind.  The show of force and coercive power of the state had been shown, now the state can show its understanding and its tolerant side.  This is perhaps cynical.

  I don’t know what it’s like in Missouri, but when living in California, the California Highway Patrol were the police one would rather deal with if one had to deal with the police (at least if you were White and alternative).   City and county police, or sheriffs quite another story.

   Even after such a measured show of police presence, all the same  issues of state violence and coercion and race are still very much alive. I wonder will this needed measured and peaceful response by police give space for us to reflect, speak and ask the deeper questions, and make the needful observations?   I’m not so sure.  I think many whites will look and see the actions of Ferguson  Saint Louis County police’s response as the exception, and see the Highway Patrol response as what police are all about.  The Highway Patrol of Missouri enacted the White expectation of police and the coercive and violent power of the state and its agents.  The police are the good guys, sometimes you get a bad apple but the issue isn't with police or policing itself.

  As some have pointed out, many people (white people?) are suddenly aware of the militarization of police and shocked by police brutality.  I was dismayed by the killing of Michael Brown (and the other Black men who have been killed by police in the last few weeks) and the ensuing police response, but not shocked.  While, it is a good thing that the state chose to pull back from its violence and tactics of coercion and force, this act brings things back into equilibrium.  I’m not sure equilibrium is the place of change and transformation.  Rather, what it brings is the possibility of scapegoating individual police officers and possibly the entire police force of Ferguson Missouri for patterns of behavior that are systemic and not individual and personal. 

   If as we say Racism isn't about individual attitudes alone:  Such that in some sense I can be a racist without necessarily harboring conscious antagonistic feelings against a black person.  If so then even if the police officer who shot Michael Brown, has racists attitudes and feelings, his actions aren't solely the consequence of those personal attitudes.  As an agent of the state and the system of policing his actions are part and parcel of that system.   We (Whites, especially, possibly only Whites) need to admit that the system we trust and look to for solutions is Racist, whether or not the individual personal actors within in it are racist.  Ferguson isn't an isolated incident. 

  Though, I believe there is a danger even if we link the various incidents of racial profiling (the singling out, the targeting, and the killing of African-American men, not to mention mass-incarceration), but see these as merely the aberrant acts of individual actors or police departments.  The danger is that we won’t be critical enough of the system of state coercive power itself, and its role in maintaining a racist and classist system.  If we fail to make the systemic connection, we will be content with simply going after the individuals or individual departments that in exercising their coercive and violent mandate, egregiously violate peoples civil liberties and rights.  This piecemeal approach tends to only bring justice after the fact of injustice, it does not address the minor ways this coercive power is used to maintain the system and its order.

  In Chicago I see this system at work every day. I see it as I and my neighbors watch carefully the presence of the police in our neighborhood.  Why when I come upon police questioning and apprehending individuals, usually people of color, usually young African American men.  I slow down I watch.  I seek to catch the eye of at least one police officer.  Interestingly enough if I’m wearing my clerical collar, I may get a “Father”, and while they are aware of my gaze the stance often softens (I hope this raises all sorts of questions for the reader).  But if I look more alternative Punk and goth, my gaze is met with hostility and aggressiveness, and I'm usually told to move along, if I’ve managed the courage to actually stop and watch. I admit I haven't had the courage to test what would happen if I didn't do as instructed. I know as White that if I do as instructed I can avoid incident. I also, know this is a privilege of being White.  Generally, even in my collar I don't have much more courage than to simply walk a little slower and watch the whole time as I'm passing the incident.  Though, even as a White clergyman(gender is also at work here) I see that my watchful gaze isn't welcome.

    While I think important the above remark and observation is too limited.

   Although, overwhelming, the parallels and visual resonances with what we see on Youtube and television, and read about on Twitter from other parts of the world, aren’t coincidental. (though I can't help but see most of the comparisons as racist themselves, since the comparison seems to be drawn to reinforce the idea that this only happens elsewhere and not here in America).  This coincidence isn't because of some conspiracy theory, but because the system at work in Ferguson is at work in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and the Ukraine.  It’s not always the same actors, nor the same people controlling the events, but what we see in all of this is our trust in violent and coercive power some of it “legitimate” (i.e. A recognized Nation-State, by the U.N and the United States) some of it “illegitimate” (whom we call “terrorists”).

   As I see it, Ferguson can allow us to see the interrelatedness of Racism, Classism, coercive (necessary) power of the State, and the crumbling Pax Americana.  Or we can accept the trope of good cop/bad cop, and believe if the State just charges and prosecutes the right individuals justice will have prevailed. And then we can all go back to business as usual.  In either case I will continue to watch with suspicion police in action, which is literally the least I can do.

Thanks to an acquaintance of mine for reminding me of this song and video: Sound of da police by KRS-one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Personal Thoughts on Imigration and Refugees

I will refrain from the term "illegal immigration" in this post.  Such a charged word, and with the current border crisis and the flood of children from central America flooding our borders, it seems an unhelpful category and possibly an inaccurate one.
When I first heard of these children coming in such large numbers, and doing so alone, I asked why and initially the news was only focusing on the opposition to "illegal immigration".  But also, it touched me deeply, and more personally than I expected.  Sure unaccompanied children, toddlers to teens, traveling thousands of miles alone without parents or family is heartbreaking, but there was more.

Then slowly more details of the conditions from which these children were fleeing, threat to life, inability of families to care for their children, etc.  These stories jogged a memory of stories of immigration, the story of my maternal great-grandparents. Both my Grandmother's parents left their homes in Sweden in their teens. My great-grandmother was sent to work as a domestic worker first in Norway (as I recall) at the age of 13, because her family could no longer afford to feed and cloth her. The story goes that she was mistreated as a domestic worker and eventually fled to the United States. Hard to imagine now but that this was the conditions in Sweden in the 19th century.  My great Grandfather immigrated to the states at the age of sixteen.

What is odd is that the family stories never speak of them as children when they emigrated, though in the news stories of children from Central and South America teens are described as children.  Yet, both my great-grandparents left home and eventually made their way to the United States because of poor and dangerous living conditions in Sweden.  My family's story is not unlike the story of all these children now coming to the United States.

However, when my great-grandparents came to the U.S. they wouldn't have been seen as children, but also there weren't as strick legal restrictions on immigration at that time either.

But also, I recall my grandparents telling stories of the hostile environment they grew up in as children of immigrants.  The story that has most stuck with me is their stories of being beaten in school because they could only speak Swedish and didn't know english when they started school.  They never taught their three daughters Swedish because of this childhood trauma.

We the grandsons and daughters even sons and daughters of immigrants forget the struggle and the reasons for our coming to the U.S..  We seem to forget the hostility our grandparents and great-grandparents experienced from those whose parents and grandparents were also immigrants.  The cycle continues and repeats itself, and is even more hateful against those who aren't European.  The statement on the statue of Liberty hides the reality that no generation of Americans has truly ever welcomed immigrants to this country with wide and open arms.

Under the pressures and because we were European my family had the privilege of eventually assimilating and becoming Anglo.  I'm a product of that assimilation.  That my family came from Germany and Sweden has been culturally erased both linguistically and through the culture of my grandparents and great-grandparents being reduced to kitsch.

I wonder if much of our resistance to new immigrants is the suppression of the pain and suffering of immigration in our family histories.  Our own forgetfulness that we all were foreigners, a refusal to remember that we were sojourners fleeing our past looking for a more hopeful future.

I know well my family's history the struggles of my great-grandparents and grand-parents as immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants, yet it took me sitting with the news for awhile, willing to not react or respond, before it came to me and I made the connection.  But we seem to have lost our ability to sit and listen, even to our own stories.

A side note here is The Evangelical Covenant Church's 2014 statement and resolution on immigration, discussed and accepted by our Annual Meeting this past June.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Grief and Discernment on Good Friday

The sermon tonight at the Good Friday Service was spoken out of grief, and spoke to the resonances this day can have with our own grief and loss. As Lent ended and we moved towards Holy Week I've been in a bit of a funk. Grief hasn't so much welled up. I have simply been a bit more aware that my dad is no longer with us. I have several posts sitting in draft form over at priestly goth.  Most of them have something to do with my relationship with Evangelicalism, they also have to do with gender and human sexuality.  They sit there in part because in a complex way these things are bound up with my dad's passing.   In a sense the rift revealed around World Vision's decision to hire those who are married to someone of the same sex and rescinding of that decision due to a vocal and active opposition to that decision, has touched on things in me that harken back to events in my college days and the recollection of how disappointed my father was (initially, he came to accept it) that I wouldn't claim the identity Evangelical.

I don't say that I left "Evangelicalism" because I don't think I was raised to be an Evangelical, or at least not its American variety.  The identity I came to peace with in seminary at North Park Theological Seminary was Lutheran Pietist (Lutheran Pietist in fact was in the title of the first iteration of this blog when I started it in 2004). The term was never used as I grew up.  Though I also don't I recall a great emphasis on being "Evangelical" either.  So it was a bit of a shock to me that my father was hurt by my refusal of an identity I had never held.  This difference between us did cause a rift for a time.
Lutheran Pietist, though is now something out of which I have come.  12 years or so after graduating from seminary I know longer so identify.  Not so much because I reject it as it has lost its meaning.  It can't contain what I'm seeking, it is too small, too constricted, too parochial in my search for the Mind of Christ.

 My father taught me to seek truth, and to seek to be Christ's.  Any identifying marker other than these things should either lead one to christ and the truth and should not hinder one in the quest for truth. (I understand that all this talk of truth sound odd coming from one who finds in Derrida a congenial conversation partner, though what follows may show how it fits.)  the quest is a quest because it can be difficult to know the truth and what it really means to have the mind of Christ.  My father warned me against those who believed they could rest in the certainty of having the truth and mind of Christ by setting up firm boundaries and identities that were supposed to be the guarantors of this truth.  Dad always said those inventions couldn't guarantee what only God could guarantee.  So, ya at 19 or 20 when my Dad took me out for Lunch and asked if I was an Evangelical, I hadn't seen that coming, and answered him as I thought he had taught me to: I refused to take on the identity that was supposed to be the guarantor of truth.

The thing is that I see most positions taken in the current American Christian landscape as seeking the guarantor of truth rather than seeking to have the mind of Christ.  So many labels we trust in, Liberal, Progressive, Conservative, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, Pentecostal... and on and on.  Somehow in my grief on this Good Friday I feel the pressure of my father's gaze that sunny Southern California day, yet it is multiplied, so many asking me to settle my identity, to come down on this or that, to be progressive or conservative or whatever.

I don't want these labels and positions.  I want to sit and discern together, in our pain, in our grief, and yes in our anger.  This isn't an avoidance of conflict, this discernment, my father and I went around and around, at moments as many can attest, our arguments were intense.  In part they were so intense as we each were testing.  For a time our discernment of the way and our seeking together to find the truth and the Mind of Christ wasn't quiet or mediative.

Dad and I did get there.... able to sit across from each other and peaceably discuss our disagreements and even see in our disagreement and difference the trace of what we sought.

On the issue of human sexuality my dad and I never came to an agreement.  Some might consider him homophobic (he wasn't, at least that is not what I heard in our conversations).

I hesitate to speak freely about such things, because I know they are painful.  I know discernment isn't easy, and I recognize the answers we seek may not exist.  We may never be settled.  Also, I'm hesitant because in continuing to engage things around which my father and I fought over, disagreed over and wrestled wtih, in moving forward, I say goodbye.  In seeking truth and the Mind of Christ, I must now let him go.  So, my grief and the struggles of our times are bound up together.

Is there discernment at the foot of the Cross, at death?  I hope so.  For the sake of us all, I hope so.  but really more truthfully the question is, do we have the courage to do so at this moment, in our grief, our anger and in the face of death?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014