Wednesday, July 22, 2009


One of the drawbacks of living in the best city in the nation (no, I'm not biased) is that the entire country comes to your doorstep to vacation. This spring, as I walked home from the store, a tour bus shaped like a boat drove down our street honking duck callers, as the numbed tourists stared at me like I was in a fish bowl.

As hard as it can be to watch people turn their brains off and go into vacation mode (especially
when they're driving in the bike lane), I admit that it is entertaining to play "Guess the Home-State". Occasionally, Chris & I enjoy going to a tourist trap like Fisherman's Warf and people watch, imagining where each family has come from. The tourists stand out like soar thumbs.

Lest I sound judgment
al, I'll humble myself to share that I had the privilege of being on the flip side of that experience when a group of Californians left our conference for the day, and took a quick day trip up to Wyoming to attend the Cheyenne Rodeo.

Now, to my recollection, I had never been to a rodeo before (although my mom claims she took me as a kid), and I really wasn't sure of what to expect.

As about 20 of us filed up the bleacher seats, we were met with strange stares, and a stage whisper of "They ain't fru-um Wyoming" (yes, "From" was two syllables ). Most of the girls in our group were wearing sun dresses & flip-flops (although one wisely paired her cowgirl boots with her dress), and the guys wore surf T-shirts and baggy shorts. The rest of the entire audience had on tight jeans, long sleeved work shirts, cowboy hats and boots. We looked absolutely ridiculous.

Every time someone from our group got up, it seemed like the attention went from the rodeo to "the city folk". We passed messages back and forth, sounding absurd to the locals: "Okay, so I heard they're supposed to stay on the bull for 8 seconds", "Apparently, they tie a
rope around the horse's privates to make him buck", "Does anyone know the point of this event?", and so on.

At one point in the rodeo, a horse went completely insane, diving
over the stage with the announcer, landing (with rider in-tow) on it's head. Then, it got up and charged full speed into the rail, ramming it with it's head before passing out. Another horse sprang out of the gates, landed stiff as a board, then teetered over onto its rider like a tree, never moving again (it was hauled off in a horse ambulance, which we joked was sponsored by Purina). The spectacular finale was a rider that was pitched off his horse, but whose arm got stuck on the harness. He flailed around for an eternity, and literally had his chaps and jacket stripped off of him as he was tossed like a rag doll. I have never seen anything like it.

The rodeo reminded me of stories of the Coliseum under Caesar, and part of me expected lions and gladiators to come out after the bull riders. It felt a little morbid and wrong, watching people & animals get hurt like that... and yet it was thoroughly entertaining-- one of the best days I've had in a long time.

And I have to say, it was awesome being a tourist-- a completely ridiculous outsider who didn't get it and never would. Some of the highlights we heard at the rodeo:

(insert thick accent here)
  • "That horse was chargin' like my wife at WalMart"
  • "He was hotter than a two dollar gun"
  • "He fell apart like a $19 suit"
  • (my personal favorite) Tom Morrow... the name of one of the rodeo contestants (for real).
Whether it's Africa, London, Tijuana or Wyoming, it is such a wonderful experience to be immersed in (and stand out in) another culture. It was the best $9 I've spent in a long time (plus the $7 lemonade I bought in a commemorative Cheyenne Rodeo cup).


Rumor has it that, in my attempt to be challenging & thought provoking (because I personally felt challenged & thoughtful), my last post came across to some as offensive. I apologize-- that was not my intent at all.

I was not taking a stance or stating my opinion on the movie Milk, on Harvey Milk as an individual, on Prop 8, on Christianity, or on Gay Rights. I was simply challenged to love people that are different from myself, and it seems that in my attempt, it made people feel un-loved.

I would love to dialogue with anyone about these thoughts, and value your opinions & feedback.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

We're All Bastards

I watched the movie Milk last night and it set off a chain of thoughts and emotions running through me.

It r
eminded me of a story I read about a Baptist minister and civil rights activist in the 1960's named Will Campbell:

On one of the Freedom Rides, Campbell was challenged by newspaper editor P.D. East to sum up the Christian faith in 10 words or less.

Campbell replied, "We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway."

Not long after, a good friend and fellow activist, Thomas Coleman, was shot & killed by a
police officer named Jonathan Daniel. After the shooting, Campbell was devastated, but P.D. East wouldn't leave him alone, challenging him on his definition of Christianity. He demanded Campbell to answer whether both Thomas Coleman and Jonathan Daniel-- the victim and the murderer-- were bastards. Campbell feebly replied that they were.

"Which of those two bastards did God love the best?" asked P.D. East

This question changed the course of Campbell's life, when he realized that God loved the bigoted, wrong-doing Ku Klux Klan members just as
much as He loved the victims of the bigotry. He left the civil rights movement, and began ministering to white supremacists, sharing God's love & hope to the very people he had been fighting against.

As I lay in bed last night, with scenes from the Gay Rights Movement still flashing through my mind, the story of Will Campbell returned to my memory. After watching Milk, I felt saddened, offended, heart-broken, inspired and confused. What stood out more than anything to me was the hurtful, defensive words coming from Christian's mouths, as they crusaded for morality.

This past year was an echo of the culture clash that happened during the movement of the 1970's in San Francisco, and I had an interesting vantage point from where I stood.

I grew up in a Christian home, in conservative Orange County, and yet I live in one of the most liberal post-Christian cities in the nation. I work for a conservative Evangelical Christian organization, yet the people I work with are much more passionate about justice and human rights than moral purity. During the elections, I walked on campus at SFSU and saw endless amounts of posters and campaigns calling out for people to "Vote No on Prop 8"; when I returned home, my inbox was filled with emails from Christians telling me God's will for the elections. It was interesting, standing with one foot in each world, listening to each group talk about the other.

After watching Milk last night, images replayed themselves like home movies. I thought of Christians picketing the funerals of gay men who had died of AIDS; of half-naked men on Easter posing for the Hunky Jesus contest; of the angry emails demanding that Christians stand up with God against "the gays", and angry gay men pouring hot coffee on Christian students; of teary-eyed gay students crumbling as I apologized for the church rejecting them, and wide-eyed youth group kids learning about sexual purity. I thought of Jesus speaking with compassion on prostitutes, and side-stepping political issues to get at the heart of the matter.

And I think Will Campbell was right: the real heart of the matter is that we're all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

I closed my eyes and saw a group of people on either side of me. On my left were the drag
queens, celebrating the Hunky Jesus contest on Easter. On my right were the Christian activists demanding morality, without love. Tears came to my eyes as I saw myself taking a hand from both sides, feeling their skin against mine. We're all bastards, but God loves us anyway.

I've never been one to be deeply involved in politics. I admit that a lot of it is simply over my head, and much too time-consuming to keep up with. But the anger & polarization a
re what really turn me off. The thought of reaching across both lines-- to the Christian world I am a part of, and to the gay community that I live in sounds dangerous, frightening... and beautiful.

After P.D. East heard Will Campbell's answer to his question, he responded, "You've got to be the biggest bastard of us all... because damned if you haven't made me a Christian, and I'm not sure I can stand it."

Campbell used to say, "I'm pro-Klansman because I'm pro-human being". He explained that being pro-Klansman is not the same as being pro-Klan, and being capable of making that distinction might be the only hope for civil discourse. So my goal is to be able to say that I am both pro-Gay, and pro-Fundamentalist. Taking sides is one thing, standing in the middle is another, but reaching across the line is something completely different.

Reconciliation-- both to God and to man-- was the purpose of Will Campbell's life & ministry, and I hope that someday, someone could say the same of me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Culture Shock

Walking down the aisles of the grocery store, I felt a little bit like I was in the Twilight Zone. Every time I turned a corner, a smiling, friendly employee popped their head out, like a Jack in the Box asking, "How are you today? Are you finding everything alright?"

I began to wonder why everyone I
passed looked me in the eye, or why total strangers talked to me as though I knew them. After less than an hour of being in public in the Mid-West, I started feeling uncomfortable "Why does everyone keep smiling at me? Why are you looking at me? Why are you so interested in how I'm doing today?" My thoughts raced as I gave threatening looks and fingered the mace in my purse.

I've always thought of Californians as being sunny, happy people-- tan & athletic, smiling as they drove with the top down on their convertible. I was wrong. We are all horrible, closed off, private people-- comparatively.

Apparently living
in the city has done something to me. I have realized that I never look people in the eye when I pass them on the street. Something about living in a crowded city makes you covet the little space you have-- even mental space. When someone looks you in the eye, they are entering your world, your thoughts, even.

But Colorado is a place of open fields, impossibly huge mountains, and a sky that it somehow bigger & bluer than anything I have seen. With all that space comes a generosity that I'm not used to. People have room to look one another in the eye, to greet each other. They have the space in their lives to drive 30 miles per hour down the main city streets-- something that drives me absolutely insane. My ankle cramps up holding the gas pedal down at a steady 30mph, rather than breaking & gunning it, swerving around the slalom of San Francisco streets.

There is space for things like dish washers, spare bedrooms, basements & garages, and even *extra* cars (imagine!). There's space to live life at a slower pace-- even to talk a little slower.

As strange as it has been for me-- and even though I have almost thrown things with the sheer frustration of the pace of life (especially traffic)-- I have to admit that it has been therapeutic to slow down a bit. Having a regular rhythm to life (leave the house by 8 every morning, sit in the same classroom for 5-7 hrs, workout, eat dinner, do homework, go to bed...) has been hard to get used to. The variety of our jobs & our lives in San Francisco is wonderful, always keeping us on our toes. But I have to say that I haven't really missed it.

It's been great to be surrounded by friends, to not carry the stress of leadership, to simply show up and be taught. Don't get me wrong: it's been mentally & emotionally exhausting-- but in a completely different way than we're used to, and it's kind of nice.

The part I was most worried about was being surrounded by
the army of conservative Christians, in khaki pants and polo shirts. And, for the first week or so, it was a little hard. But as I have gotten to know people on a deeper level & have seen their hearts, I can feel myself softening towards those backward country bumpkins (that was meant to be funny, by the way). I even noticed the other day that I had been singing Christian praise songs to myself. Weird [Promise me that if I get a mini-van or a Know Jesus, Know Peace; No Jesus, No Peace bumper sticker, you will intervene.]

As strange as it sounds, I really am having a great time. I might even say that I am sincerely enjoying myself in the Mid-West. I still don't know what to do when people look me in the eye-- I usually looks away awkwardly, pretending to see something interesting in the other direction-- but after a few more weeks, I might even be smiling that the Safeway employees. I have heard that generosity is contagious.