There’s something caught in your throat

Has anyone else noticed how often the language of “shoving it down our throats” comes up when straight people want to complain about gay people? (Seriously, people say stuff like this all the time. Just Google “gay shoved down our throats” without quotes and you’ll see what I mean.)

Whether intentional or not, I think this language has its roots in gay panic – homophobia.

People having something shoved down their throats are being physically violated by someone else. There are victims, and there are predators. The tacit accusation here is, gay people are trying to victimize straight people in a graphic, physical way.

Given the history of anti-gay fear about how the gays are after kids and whatnot, I think “cramming it down our throats” functions today like a code way to remind people that gay folks are sexual predators (much the way some white people use the word “thug” only in reference to young, black people).

It’s dog whistle language, for haters. And it’s efffffffffffffed up.

“They’re cramming the gay agenda down our throats.”

There is indeed violence actually getting invoked here, but it’s a violence of scapegoating based on bigotry, fear-mongering from sexual ignorance (and/or morbid curiosity?).

For some people, having to acknowledge that gay people exist may feel like their throats are being stuffed with gayness. But I suspect it’s just the bile of their own bigotry.


Is bullying inevitable? Or can kids learn how to make room for difference?

There’s this NBC Chicago post on Facebook about a kid who was bullied for having a My Little Pony lunch bag, for which the school’s response was to ban his lunch bag. The comments are a predictable mix of great (‘this is victim-blaming nonsense’) and awful (why are the parents letting their boy take a girl’s lunch bag to school?). And yes, I know, you’re not supposed to read internet comments. But it was interesting to see how the responses fell into two camps, which reveal two different assumptions about the world:

Assumption 1: bullying is inevitable, so the best thing you can do is teach kids how to avoid being targets. The role of teachers and parents is to help victims survive in a bully’s world.

Assumption 2: kids are capable of learning how to be decent to one another, so the best thing you can do is teach kids to respect other people. The role of teachers and parents is to protect all kids by helping bullies become better people in a world where good community matters.

I sure as hell know what world I’d rather leave behind to my children.

So how do we deal with dehumanizing “encouragement”?

My take on the dehumanizing encouragement towards people who seen to be “less than us” in some way, seems to resonate with many folks who have been the targets of that kind of “encouragement”. It leaves me wondering, now what? What’s the best way to disrupt that stuff? For the ones who find themselves targeted in the moment? For those of us who are not the direct targets but who are present when it occurs?

In the case of the fat-phobic, supposedly-encouraging Facebook post, predictably, there are a whole lot of non-fat people who see absolutely nothing wrong, because the writer’s intentions are good. if you read the comments of the stories discussing this, there are all kinds of people who can’t be bothered with, say, the perspective of the one who was singled out in the first place, but instead go straight to defending the perceived intent of the one who wrote it. He was trying to be complimentary! Jeez, this is what you get for trying to encourage someone. Right, because what matters most here is that we not accidentally discount the feelings of the guy who did the harmful thing – as opposed to the one who was (accidentally?) actually harmed in the first place.

Eff that. 

But clearly, “good intentions” are the first line of defense when it’s pointed out that someone’s encouragement isn’t encouraging. So any response needs to be ready to deal with that, ready to hold onto the clear distinction that it’s not about what you meant, it’s about what you did. That feels important. But beyond this, I’m not sure I have any good ideas about how to effectively transform the situation, beyond simply stopping it. Although maybe stopping it is sufficient. Ideas? What would you say in the moment, as the target, as an observer?

“You disgust me” and “you inspire me” are two sides of the same coin

(Trigger warning: fat-phobia, ableism)

Maybe you’ve read this thing on Facebook:


And maybe you read the response from the guy in the photo. (If not, you totally should.)

So, I’m totally aware that I am not a person who has experienced being targeted by fat-phobia (add to that, I’m a dude, and there seems to be a major gender aspect to how fat-phobia plays out in general and in this article in particular). I feel privileged to have been able to participate in thoughtful conversations about this on Facebook and recognize that I’m more of an outside observer than if I were in the target group.

That said, I’ve been thinking about how closely related “you disgust me” and “you inspire me” are on the spectrum of “I don’t see you as fully human”.

Think about how disabled people are often marginalized by nondisabled folks (you disgust me!) until some nondisabled person makes the oh-so-generous leap to being ‘truly inspired’ by what that poor autistic person is able to accomplish despite being so obviously deficient.

Then we have the above post, which literally connects the language of ‘you disgust me’ to the language of ‘you inspire me’ — all in the service of some non-fat person making themselves feel good for not taking the shitty “normal” perspective on fat people. (See?? We were all supposed to be disgusted, but look – I’m inspired! You inspire me! In all of your deficiency.)

In either case, “you disgust me” and “you inspire me” both seem to reveal that the one expressing those sentiments does not view the recipient as fully equal, fully worthy. Which makes me sad, and more than a little angry, that folks like me can’t just let other folks be.

Worship Music: Where’s the line between evocative and manipulative?

First, this video is a brilliant piece of satire (you may want to watch it before reading my comments below). Check it out:

So I watched this video and found it to be hilarious – and once I stopped laughing, I found it unsettling. Awesome satire, it does an excellent job of critiquing the emotionally-manipulative/shallow aspect of feelings-based worship music. And here’s what it brings up for me: while the music I lead is a little different in style, I fully intend for it to be emotionally evocative, that it will hopefully cultivate an atmosphere of intimate encounter with God and community.

So here’s all the stuff I’m chewing on…

When does emotional music (or, for that matter, prayer/litanies/sermons) cross the line to emotional manipulation?

Is there a point at which our cultivation of the atmosphere of worship (sound, space, ritual) becomes coercive and/or exclusive of those who encounter God in other ways?

How do worship leaders know that we are approaching these decisions ethically?

I welcome your thoughts, wise friends.

The trembling of the white establishment

Here’s a line from a song we sang yesterday: “When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death-knell ringing…” 

I think that’s what we’re really seeing in all these cries for secession in the aftermath of the 2012 election. Tyrants trembling, sick, fearful, acutely aware of their own pending (political) demise. Bill O’Reilly put it best: “The white establishment is now the minority.” To them, no longer being able to lord power over everyone else amounts to their own oppression. The fact that the face of power in the US is (still) brown, maybe because, by God, a majority of people WANT it that way, just reinforces that – and is utterly terrifying to them.

Obamacare and raising taxes on the rich ain’t the issue. The real issue is those faint death-knells ringing in the background, growing steadily louder as time marches on, signifying that the myth of white, middle-class normalcy is ending, and America is evolving into something other than a monolithic, assimilationist blob of red, white, and blue ca. 1950. We just may have to find a way to live together across difference, rather than (a) forcing sameness upon all, (b) excommunicating those who don’t agree, or (c) withdrawing, like unpatriotic cowards. 

In my humble opinion. 🙂:)  On a related note, read on for the sermon I preached yesterday…

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The Not-So-Big Tent of “The Christian Left”

…the Facebook group, that is. Anyone who uses Facebook and is both a Christian and a liberal probably has come across content from The Christian Left. They put out the kind of Jesus/social justice stuff you’d expect. Anyway, my buddy Nathan was just booted off the site for complaining that it’s become too political, and now there’s an interesting discussion about disagreement, trolling, and the ethic of making room for difference on this thread. Pay particular attention to what “Bob McGill” has to say. That guy knows stuff about stuff.

It’s been a minute…

…but I’m getting back on it, just so you know, stay tuned.

Power Over, Power Under

This past week, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading everything I can  pertaining to the unresolved murder of Trayvon Martin.  I also delivered a sermon for our 10am service about the temptation to dominate. These are very interrelated, I think.

Power Over, Power Under
By the Rev. Thomas M. Ryberg

Text:  Luke 4:1-2, 5-8, 13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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Are you satisfied?

My good friend, the Rev. Dominique Atchison, wrote an excellent post today on how Dr. King’s words and deeds have been “white-washed” in the progressive church lately. That is to say, his specifically racial critiques have been largely set aside in favor of more general social justice critiques, such as his anti-war stance and his work on behalf of the impoverished. Rev. Dominique sees, and I do as well, a way in which the apparent desire to make Dr. King’s words continue to speak here and now, ostensibly by elevating his non-racial positions, makes the assumption that his racial positions are largely outdated and no longer relevant for our consideration today.

As if by taking the “WHITE’S ONLY” signs off the pool house and the White House, we have truly ushered in a new era of racial unity and justice.

Sorry – that’s just not how it works. In her article, Rev. Dominique references some “other” words from King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, ones you certainly won’t hear political conservatives appeal to in their efforts to twist Dr. King into an opponent of affirmative action. Check it:

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

And here, to my seeing, lies part of the problem: SOME of the things on this list are, in fact, over with. These days, we (mostly) don’t have segregated motels and hotels. And signs that proclaim “For Whites Only” – (at least overtly) – have been taken down. So it can be tempting to declare, as President Bush did, talking about Iraq in 2003, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” – as if it weren’t 2012 and we didn’t still have racial justice issues (or, for that matter, Iraq issues).

We’ve made some progress on the overt stuff, sure. And that should definitely be lifted up and celebrated. But what about the rest of King’s list?

  • Is police brutality against black and brown people over?
  • Are high percentages of black and brown people still living in ghettos, small and large?
  • Are people of color well-represented in public leadership roles?
  • And more basically – can any of us honestly say that we live in a time when “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”?

I don’t think we’re done yet. As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King today or any day, let’s please be honest about the fullness of his dream – that it was explicitly racial, because he lived in – and we still live in – a state of explicitly racial inequality. Let us give thanks for the great prophets of yesterday, as well as those today (you know who you are!), but let us critically examine their prophetic visions on an ongoing basis, lest we fall into self-deception about progress that actually has not yet been attained. As for the question, “When will [I] be satisfied”, today I will honor Dr. King by joining in his dissatisfaction, until justice, like water, finally rolls on down.