2018-06-17

Marking Ministry Milestones

Ministry & Metanoia, part 1

"Ministry is all that we do — together. Ministry is that quality of being in community that affirms human dignity, beckons forth hidden possibilities, invites us into deeper, more constant, reverent relationships, and carries forward our heritage of hope and liberation. Ministry is what we do together as we celebrate triumphs of our human spirit, miracles of birth and life, wonders of devotion and sacrifice. Ministry is what we do together — with one another — in terror and torment, in grief, in misery and pain, enabling us in the presence of death to say yes to life. We who minister speak and live the best we know with full knowledge that it is never quite enough — and yet are reassured by lostness found, fragments reunited, wounds healed, and joy shared. Ministry is what we all do — together." (Rev. Gordon McKeeman)
It’s a day for marking milestones. We mark the annual Father's Day honoring of the fathers. We mark the end of a church year.

We mark the milestone of Cindy’s two years with us coming to an end. Two years.

I mark the conclusion of five years as of ministry to Community UU at White Plains. Five years.

2013 May: "I accept your call"
I ought to say something on the occasion of completion of five years as Community UU's servant-leader. How has it been? It’s been good. We’ve been through some things. I’ve tried to make it look easy, but it hasn’t always been.

Every minister has critics. It’s the nature of congregations that they include diverse voices, and some of them will criticize. When I was in divinity school, I read a semi-humorous essay by a retired minister who claimed that no matter what the congregation and no matter who the minister, there will always be 17 congregants who are out to get the minister. Maybe they don’t like the very idea of professional clergy. Or they loved the last minister and can’t forgive you for not being them. Or they don’t share your vision for the congregation. Or you remind them of their brother-in-law. Whatever the motivation, it's always 17. So it’s better, the essay said, to serve a large congregation so the 17 will be more diluted. In any case, the essay said, identify the 17 as early as you can, and keep your eye on them.

I’ve never been very good at that – identifying enemies – and I have to say, Community UU, collectively, doesn’t make it easy. When there’s some point of conflict, CUUCers tend to enter in, and then get over it. Very few CUUCers carry grudges. It’s remarkable. We hash it over, and then, for the most part, they're ready to move on. By and large, this is the moving-on-est congregation I’ve ever seen.

This makes it hard to know who the 17 are – because who they are keeps changing. The people that were contrary and oppositional to one idea of mine, will turn around and be supportive of the next. This is a very sensible way to be, but most people aren’t that sensible. It catches me by surprise sometimes.

The other really annoying thing about my critics at Community UU has been that they’re almost always right. Damnit.

And so it was that three or four years ago, in the first year or two of my ministry here, I was feeling down about something, or several somethings, and found myself working late until I was alone in the building one night. I wondered out of my office and into this darkened sanctuary, made my way to these steps, looked up toward the ceiling and said out loud into the emptiness, “Well, Shannon...”

I was addressing the imagined specter of my predecessor at CUC (which added the second "U" to its name and acronym in 2016), the Rev. Shannon Bernard.

That’s my segue to talking about the other milestone to observe today. Twenty years ago this month, the Rev. Shannon Bernard’s ministry to CUC came to an end.

NEXT: Remembering Shannon

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This is part 1 of 6 of "Ministry and Metanoia"

2018-06-16

Immigration, Hospitality, and the Foundation of Liberty

Immigration, part 3

The demographer's term "immigrant stock" refers to all US residents who either were not born in the US or have at least one foreign-born parent. Thus, this category would include "Sam," a poor 30-year-old who just arrived in the US after spending his entire life up until a week ago within 10 km of the Mexico City barrio where he was born. It would also includes "Tina," a wealthy 70-year-old natural-born US citizen; whose mother was born in England, came to the US as an infant, and became a naturalized citizen years before Tina was born; and whose father and her father's ancestors including both parents, all four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen 2nd-great-grandparents, most of his 3rd-great-grandparents, and some of his 4th-great-grandparents spent their lives as natural-born citizens of the US. "Immigrant stock" includes people of such widely different circumstance and cultural self-understanding that one may wonder whether it is a useful term. Nevertheless, the relative rarity of cases like "Tina," and the fact that the fear and hatred of immigrants is directed not merely at the foreign-born but also at their US-born children, make "immigrant stock" the most significant grouping for understanding US immigration numbers and trends.

A look at those numbers ought to assuage the fear. The US "immigrant stock" constituted about 34.5% of our population in 1900. Then it began a long decline. By 1970, the percent of our population that was immigrant stock was about 17% -- half of what it had been in 1900. Since then, it has been rising again. Today, it's about 26% of the population -- still below what it was throughout the seventy years 1880-1950. Immigrant stock is projected to reach 36% of the population in 2065. In other words: after 47 more years of increasing, our percentage that is immigrant stock will be only slightly higher than it was in 1900. (Projections were calculated in 2015 and assume a continuation of the policies in place then.)


We need those plucky individuals who go far in search of the lights of a distant city. Certainly, we also need the settled, the deeply-rooted, the sustainers with a sense of place grounded in generations of belonging where they are, serving the claim of their land, keeping lit those lights that attract and welcome the brave wanderer.


Trailer for Documentary film: "Which Way Home"

Immigration brings a productive vibrancy among us. It does us good. Their presence presents us with a spiritual choice: we can shrink our souls, be petty and protective, succumb to the myth of scarcity; or we practice the arts of welcoming and hospitality, expand our spirit, and realize (both "become aware of" and "make real") abundance. The come-heres, then, not only benefit the narrow interests of the been-heres, they give been-heres an opportunity to change, become better people, more vibrantly engaged with our world rather than withdrawn, insular, and distrusting.


In migrations within the country, the "come heres" may be the privileged ones.

Immigration is usually good for the come-heres, and usually good for the been-heres, yet we are ceding ground to fear, to hate, and to plain cruelty. The number of immigrants seized in the interior of the country rather than at the border – many of them wrenched from their families and communities – was more than 13,000 a month in 2017, up 42 percent compared to 2016.

In 2017, immigration arrests of people with no criminal convictions were nearly triple what they were the year before – growing to almost a third of all arrests.

“Long-term immigrants with strong US ties are aggressively and systematically being scooped up and deported,” says Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These are not outliers or a smattering of cases; instead, this is the brutal, destructive face of Trump immigration policy.”

Behind the statistics are human beings.
  • Linda C., a 29-year-old mother of three US citizen children. She came to the US when she was 4 years old. She was deported after a traffic stop.
  • Manuel G., a father with US citizen children and a local leader in Alcoholics Anonymous. He was deported after 29 years in the US after he was stopped by police for making a wide U-turn.
  • Sergio H., a US military veteran, a lawful permanent resident, and owner of an auto body shop, was deported after convictions related to drug dependency.
  • Omar G., who had lived in the US for over 20 years and who cared for his common-law US-citizen wife, who is disabled by crippling pain in her arms
And on and on. (SOURCE HERE)

Among our pernicious policies is section 287-g, which in 1996 was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act. 287-g allows federal agencies – as I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) now does – to give local officers the authorization to identify, process, and detain immigration offenders they encounter during their regular, daily law-enforcement activity.

This might sound like it’s up to the arresting officer whether to take steps leading to deportation, but that’s not the functional reality. In localities that participate in 287-g, any arrestee not born in the US – even if they are naturalized citizens – is subjected to the 287 process review. The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa, Arizona used his authority under 287(g) to conduct sweeps that illegally racially profiled Latinos. In Alamance County, NC, sheriff’s deputies established checkpoints at entrances to Latino neighborhoods where Latino drivers were ten times more likely to be stopped than non-Latino drivers.

Between 2006 and 2015, over 402,000 immigrants were identified for deportation through 287(g). President Trump’s executive order of January 2017 calls for expanding 287-g partnerships. The ACLU, the next month, urged I.C.E. to discontinue 287-g on grounds that it leads to numerous instances of violations of civil rights and constitutional rights, including patterns of racial discrimination. The number of localities that participate in 287-g peaked at 72 in 2011, fell to 37 in March 2017, but by last August was back up to 60. One of those participating local agencies is the Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s office, where Charlotte is. My son Yency is now a police officer in Charlotte, and he tells he feels terrible about 287-g. If he stops somebody for driving without a license, he knows if he arrests them, and they weren't born in the US, they'll go straight into a 287-g review, and could well end up deported.


"Sometimes though, on the nicest of days, somebody would whistle, and my friends would run away.
They were yelling, 'La migra, la migra, la migra viene! Andele! Andele! Run! Run!'"

The American poet Emma Lazarus was Jewish and would have known well that teaching, do not oppress the stranger for you too were strangers in the land of Egypt. In 1883 she wrote a sonnet called "The New Colossus" which was later inscribed on a bronze plaque, displayed inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, 1903-1986, and now displayed in the Statue of Liberty Museum, located inside the base. The closing lines read:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Certainly no person is refuse. Lazarus and Lady Liberty are saying: "Even if you have been treated as refuse, I welcome you. Even if your ethnos or class has been regarded as refuse by the prevailing prejudices of the powerful for centuries, I will take you in. Even if you have come to think of yourself as nothing but wretched refuse, I show my light for you, shine the way to the door of freedom for you, and thereby announce to the world, and to you, that you are nothing of the kind."

We do have in our hearts a yearning to be a hospitable and welcoming people – engaged and open-hearted, unshackled by fear and hate. As a people, I think we know, deep down, that our hospitality is at the foundation of our freedoms -- for isolationist distrust doesn't stop at non-citizens, but expands to a generalized distrust that erodes our capacity to be a free people. Hospitality is at the base of liberty. It's fitting, then, that words of hospitality are at the base of our Statue of Liberty.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Immigration"
See also
Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago, Out West
Part 2: Immigration: The Theology, The Facts



* * *

2018-06-15

Immigration: The Theology, The Facts

Immigration, part 2

The Theology

As people of faith we are called to hospitality for the foreigner among us. We have a long and deep theological grounding for this stand. It’s a grounding that goes back to roots of Judaism, from which Christianity sprung, from which Unitarian Universalism sprung. Exodus 22:21:
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
It's a point the Hebrew Scriptures repeated for emphasis. Exodus 23:9:
“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
And repeated again. Leviticus 19:33:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Many rabbis consider these texts among the most central in Judaism.

The theological grounding for the importance of this commandment is that the Jews are given to understand that the land isn’t theirs. The land is God’s – as God tells them in Leviticus 25:23:
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.”
This was their way of making the point that there is no true ownership of land – the land and the trees and the water under it and flowing over it – belong to the earth, belong to all life, not to only me or you.

All of the Earth belongs to all of life. The spiritual is whatever lifts us out of “I, me, mine,” lifts us out of protective fear into a spacious perception of abundance -- lifts us out of any “we, us, ours” that doesn’t include all sentient beings. The spiritual is the part that recognizes that all of the Earth belongs to all of life. That’s what the Hebrew people were getting at.

We do have in our hearts a yearning to be a hospitable and welcoming people. Yet our national heart has closed against itself. We have jobs and opportunities that draw people from other countries, often countries that our government’s policies deliberately impoverished, yet provide no legal avenues for people to come to this country to work. That’s not right.

We allow companies to take vans to Mexico to recruit workers, and then criminalize those workers. That’s not right.

We criminalize and put in jail young people who were brought here as children, who had no criminal intent. People have been working here for decades, owning homes, building lives, raising families, and all of a sudden we deport them from their lives. That’s not right.

Let us be hospitable. Let us be welcoming of the stranger, for the Earth belongs to all life, and we, too, are but tenants. You’ve known what it was like to be in a situation that didn’t feel welcoming – you have been, in a manner of speaking, strangers in a metaphorical land of Egypt. You know the heart of the stranger. Then love the alien as yourself.

The Facts

David Brooks wrote a column last January where he started out saying,
“Every few years I try to write a column staking out a reasonable middle ground on immigration. After all, most big, important issues are clashes in which both sides have a piece of the truth.” (NY Times, 2018 Jan 29)
The restrictionist side, advocating restriction of immigration, must be partly right about something, he figured. Some part of what they say probably has some connection to reality. Perhaps the data will show that the record high levels of foreign-born Americans puts strain on national cohesion and raises distrust? Nope. Nada.

The actual evidence available for making a case to support restricting immigration, Brooks found,
“is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.”
For instance, take a drive through rural Appalachia, from Maine to Georgia, or across the Upper Midwest. Large swaths of these rural areas are 95 percent white native-born. Instead of being blessed by an absence of immigrants, these regions are
“marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction.”
Moreover, the American identity has always been that we are a people of “industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity.” That’s the basis of our greatness as a people, we have a long history of telling ourselves.
“These days, immigrants show more of these virtues than the native-born.”
That’s because being an immigrant demands and nurtures these virtues – so back when the native-born did display more of them, it was because they were themselves within a generation of two of their immigrant ancestors.

Within the native population, new business formation is down, interstate mobility is down, job switching is down, and the chance of having spent the day without ever leaving the house is up. Our immigrants provide counterweight to all those trends. Immigrants start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Compared to the native-born, our immigrants have much more traditional views on family structure, much lower rates of out-of-wedlock births, commit much less crime, and their 18-39-year-old males have half the probability of having been incarcerated. While about 50 percent of the native-born express confidence in the American dream, about 70 percent of immigrants do.

Robert Putnam’s often-cited 2007 study found that as neighborhoods become more diverse, trust between neighbors drops. But that’s a short-term effect. Sources citing Putnam’s study sometimes don’t mention that Putnam also found that
“over the long term Americans find new ways to boost social solidarity.”
So, Brooks says, his quest for a middle ground on immigration fails. The data just don’t support it.

What about that study last year that made a lot of headlines -- the study from the Center for Immigration Studies that showed that immigrant households use government assistance at a higher rate than native-born households? Brooks makes no mention of that! Ha!

It turns out that study wasn’t worth mentioning. Higher rates of government assistance use are found – only when there are no controls. Buried in the report and its appendix are the tables that show that when we control for race, worker status, education, and number of children, then typical immigrant uses fewer welfare dollars than the typical native-born.

The paradoxical sadness implicit in the data is that immigrants come here with a dream of a better life for their children. But their children – and children’s children – will be the native-born, with the same tendency to lose a bit of the verve and grit of their immigrant ancestors. Indeed, a 2008 study of Mexican immigrant families and descendants found that the “first generation and second generation make advances, but later generations experience stagnation and even some backsliding.” (Fred Bauer, National Review, 2018 Feb 2)

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "Immigration"
See also
Part 1: Fifteen Years Ago, Out West
Part 3: Immigration, Hospitality, and the Foundation of Liberty

2018-06-14

Fifteen Years Ago, Out West

Immigration, part 1

It’s been great to have Cindy with us as a ministerial intern for the last two years. Fifteen years ago, I was a ministerial intern. My experience was a little bit different from Cindy’s.

LoraKim and I lived in El Paso then and my internship was with First Unitarian in Albuquerque. El Paso's population was 700,000 people -- three-fourths of them, by Census Bureau estimate, spoke a language other than English at home. From the roof of our house, we could look out over Juarez, Mexico, a city of 1.4 million.

For the internship, I took a bus back to Albuquerque, where I had a bicycle and a city bus system for getting around. In the pre-dawn dark on Wednesday mornings, I’d depart on the five-hour ride to Albuquerque, and after dark Sunday night I’d get back to El Paso for a couple days home.

Every week going up, the bus pulled into a Border Patrol checkpoint. An agent boarded the bus and went through checking papers. Sometimes some of the passengers were taken away. I never had to show any papers – never even had to show an ID. Week after week, month after month, I got this reminder about my privilege. Each week it made me a little sadder.

It was in the 7th month of the internship, when this had been going on every week for more than half a year, when, after one such episode, I fished my journal out of my bag. This is what I wrote:
80 miles north of El Paso
on I-25 headed for Albuquerque
my bus pulls into a Border Patrol checkpoint.
Weekly, I participate in this ritual.
The green clad agent steps aboard.
"If you are a US citizen, state the city and state of your birth
If you are not, show your documentation."
As far as I can see, the green agent and I
are the only Anglos on this full bus.
Border Patrol makes her way down the aisle,
frowning at papers of varying size, shape, color,
sometimes also asking for separate ID, sometimes not.
My head bows under the world's weight upon this spot.
This posture cues me to whispered prayer.
"May there be an end to invidious distinctions
including those based on whether our mothers,
when we first peaked out from them into the world,
were north or south
of a line
a few politicians and generals drew
more than 150 years ago.
May I find ways to help bring
justice from my unjust privilege.
And blessed be all of us on this bus, including the Border Patrol agent,
as we all struggle to realize the fullness of our humanity."
She gets finally to me on the backmost seat.
This week no one has been hauled off.
I look up from clasped hands in lap
For a flicker our eyes meet.
My voice says, "Richmond, Virginia."
This only is asked of me, no papers, no ID.
Pale skin and the right sort of accent clinch it,
if I will but utter the name of a holy city.
Virginia is much farther away than Mexico.
Of Richmond, I know nothing.
We moved from there when I was two.
Doesn’t matter.
What I'm saying with those two words is:
I am on your team, Agent Green Jump Suit.
Never mind Yahweh's call for a preferential option for the poor.
Never mind Buddha's call to live compassion rather than fear.
Never mind the unitarian commitment to the unity of us all or the universalist commitment to universal community.
"Richmond, Virginia," I say, like Peter saying, “I don’t know him.”
Peter denied his teacher, then saw in one dizzy flash what he had done, saw
What I also now see:
We who long to be merely good,
Are revealed, rotten with complicity with the empire.
The world’s brokenness and mine are one.
That’s what I wrote. Looking back, the weekly bus ride on the way to my internship was one of the important lessons of that internship. It showed me my unfair privilege over and over until I began to see it.

A year later, I was at a detention facility for immigrant minors and met Yency. (For that story, SEE HERE.) When the final accounting of my life is to be offered, and the question asked, “Did you answer the call of love?” all I will have for an answer is, “sometimes.” That was one of those times. Something “other” landed at my shores – tired and poor and yearning to breathe free, homeless and tempest-tossed – and LoraKim and I were graced to find within ourselves the capacity to say, “send us this one.”

There was a fear and a hatred in the land. Fifteen years ago it had already been growing for some time, and since then it has gotten worse. As people of faith we are called to oppose it, to answer the call of love, to know our unjust privilege, and to seek ways to exchange it for the much greater rewards of connection and solidarity and siblinghood.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Immigration"
See also
Part 2: Immigration: The Theology, The Facts
Part 3: Immigration, Hospitality, and the Foundation of Liberty

2018-06-13

Gender Identity: Continua and Ambiguities

LGBTQ: Language and Justice, part 3

We’ve seen the meaning of “man” and “woman” shift. It used to be that we thought of the biology as the fixed essence. There are two sets of reproductive organs, and someone with one set is a woman and someone with the other set is a man. The social roles might be malleable – the kind of dress and hair styles, the accessorizing, and the shoes, and the sorts of roles and behaviors associated with “man” and “woman” could evolve. These were secondary aspects of the meaning.

We’ve seen a reversal of the primary and secondary meanings. Now the meaning of “man” is primarily to present in the way recognized as a man – to look and dress and act in mannish ways, And the primary meaning of woman is to present as a woman – to look and dress and act in the ways recognized as womanish. The biological equipment is a secondary association – and one that modern medicine has made malleable.

Why did we change how we understood these words? Same reason we changed how we understood "planet"? Because we learned something. In the one case, we learned there were dots of light in the night sky that weren’t stars. In the other case, we’ve learned that there’s something very important about the formation of a gender identity that’s in the brain and might or might not correspond to a given set of reproductive organs.

We’ve also learned that though our language is binary – man, woman – reality is on a spectrum. This has led me to see myself in new ways – brought to light aspects of my self-understanding that had been hidden.

I present as a man. I'm content to dress in the culturally recognized male ways, and walk into the men's bathroom, and all of this is quite easy for me because male is the gender I was assigned at birth. But I don't really care -- or, at least, I'm inclined to suppose that I don't. If, in some bizarre, improbable scenario, I were compelled to present as a woman, I wouldn't regard that as so terrible. It would certainly be a hassle to learn and get used to all the details of clothing and grooming -- and if it included being subject to harassments to which women are subjected, then it would be more than a mere hassle. But it wouldn't feel like a deep and fundamental violation of my basic nature. There's a gender identity continuum, and I'm somewhere in the fuzzy middle, a tad on the male side. That is, that's my best guess. If I actually were compelled to present as a woman for any extended period, I might discover that, in fact, my gender identity matters to me more than I now imagine. (I've reflected on this at: "What If I Don't Have a Gender Identity?")

On the other hand, I'm pretty definite about my sexual orientation: I'm straight. On gender identity, I'd put myself somewhere on the "male" side of the middle third. On sexual orientation, I'd put myself more clearly toward the "straight" end of the spectrum. Other people might be just the reverse: quite definite on their gender identity, but rather fuzzy, bisexual, or "bi-curious" about their sexual orientation. Others might be in the fuzzy middle on both, or very clear about both. We're all somewhere on the gender identity continuum, and somewhere on the sexual orientation continuum.

(It occurs to me that a curious consequence of where I place myself is that, when it comes to prospective mate attraction, other people's gender matters to me more than my own does. This does seem strange, but there it is.)

The LGBTQ movement has brought attention to these continua and, as a result, a lot of people like me have introspected about where we are on them. I've examined myself in ways I otherwise would not have done. All of us -- whether LGBTQ or not -- have been helped by the LGBTQ movement to understand ourselves better, to know better who and what we are.

Even the idea of a continuum may be too . . . well, linear. New York City officially recognizes 31 gender identities and expressions. They don't all fit on a single line going from "strong female identification" to "strong male identification." Here are the 31:
  1. Bi-Gendered
  2. Cross-Dresser
  3. Drag-King
  4. Drag-Queen
  5. Femme Queen
  6. Female-to-Male
  7. FTM
  8. Gender Bender
  9. Genderqueer
  10. Male-To-Female
  11. MTF
  12. Non-Op
  13. Hijra
  14. Pangender
  15. Transexual/Transsexual
  16. Trans Person
  17. Woman
  18. Man
  19. Butch
  20. Two-Spirit
  21. Trans
  22. Agender
  23. Third Sex
  24. Gender Fluid
  25. Non-Binary Transgender
  26. Androgyne
  27. Gender-Gifted
  28. Gender Blender
  29. Femme
  30. Person of Transgender Experience
  31. Androgynous
(See article HERE. The flyer from the NYC Commission on Human Rights is HERE.)

I don't know the distinctions between all of these -- what would lead someone to identify as "Male-To-Female" over "MTF," or "Androgyne" over "Androgynous," or "Transsexual" over "Trans Person" or "Trans." The list simply recognizes a number of the terms that are current (Facebook gives 56 options). It's good to be aware of them -- and then let individuals themselves tell you which label feels right for them. While it's generally rude to cross-examine people about their self-labels, the context of the conversation might allow for respectful curiosity. Only a particular androgyne, for instance, can tell you why that term seems to fit them better than androgynous. People get to choose their own self-labels. The list will therefore need continual updating as people seek and find new ways of saying what and who they are.

It can be confusing. And the terrain is constantly shifting. We can’t really get a handle on the right way to think about it – because any way to think about it is one more temporary product of culture and language and power. The urge to find a clear resolution to the ambiguities is an urge best resisted.

Tell me what’s important to you. It might be your sexual identity, your gender identity, your racial identity, or it might not be. Tell, or don’t tell. It's up to you. And I might ask, or not ask. If I do ask, you can answer, or not answer, or say it’s not important to you, or tell me that you really don’t know what category you’re in. This is what answering the call of love looks like: the courage to be in ambiguity and shine a warm embracing light.

There may once have been good reasons for wanting to resolve the ambiguities of sex and sexuality. It may have even felt unbearable "not to know" -- and know instantly -- who was and who was not "automatically" in the category of potential mates for reproduction. With a little practice, though, we can be comfortable not knowing.

Answering the call of love requires neither a rejection of, nor an insistence on, any notion of identity, any definite meaning of a word. Answering the call of love requires the courage to take each ambiguous moment as it is; the courage of justice and the courage to love each person, wherever they are or present on whatever spectrum -- however and whoever he or she or ze or they is or presents.

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "LGBTQ: Language and Justice"
See also
Part 1: Words and LGBTQ Justice: Introduction
Part 2: What Changed the Meaning of Marriage

2018-06-12

"Oh, The Places You'll Go" Addendum


During this time of graduations and send-offs, Dr. Suess's "Oh, The Places You'll Go" is especially popular. It's also strikingly individualistic. It is addressed to "you," and describes "your" future as one of solitary challenges.
"You're on your own,"
it says on the second page. In the world of the book other people are scarcely alluded to, and when they are, they seem to exist only for the purpose of being bested:
"You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead. . . .
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don't . . . "
There will be bumps and slumps along the way -- and while
"un-slumping yourself is not easily done,"
there's no mention of friendship and the support of other people in helping us through those difficulties.

The illustrations feature "you" in barren cityscapes bereft of other people, heading out of town into an equally uninhabited countryside, and standing all alone at difficult and nonsensical choice points. (The nonsense, of course, is what is most delightful about Seuss, though when combined with prevalent solitude it comes across as rather bleak.)

The book mentions loneliness:
"All Alone! Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something you'll be quite a lot."
This loneliness will be scary, it says, but rather than urging the cultivation of friendships, as would seem natural, the book only says loneliness will make you not want to go on. But "on you will go," anyway.

The reward for your solitary perseverance is that "Kid, you'll move mountains." Why the mountains shouldn't stay where they were isn't addressed. There's no indication that your "success" would do anything to make the world any better.

The "jaunty, upbeat journey encourages perseverance" but not relationship. It's all about success (which is "98 and three-quarters percent guaranteed"), and not about connection.

To make up for this lack, I humbly offer the addendum below. I welcome your further additions in the "Comments" -- in anapestic tetrameter couplets, if possible!
Doctor Seuss laid it out – the good doc got it right.
You will soar through bright days – and you’ll struggle dark nights.

What he failed to mention, no, he said not a word,
is you’re NOT on your own. That would be too absurd.

Life is for friendship, community, love:
The people, the beings, that you most think of.

He said you’d be lonely – that’s probably true.
You’ll feel heartsick, despairing, and anxious, and blue.
These feelings you’ll have tell you something that matters:
That friends make you whole when your heart is in tatters.

Oh, the places you’ll go, you won’t go alone.
(I’m not talking ‘bout Facebook, or swiping right on your phone)
The companions you’ll find, and the love that awaits you --
That's the besty-best part of where this life takes you.

Success feels nice, and failure feels sad –
Of both, you’ll have plenty, the good and the bad.
There’s Community, too – the folks who don’t see you
For mountains you moved, but for just how you be you.

Who you will be is such fun to be scheming.
WHOSE you will be is what gives it all meaning.

2018-06-08

What Changed the Meaning of Marriage

LGBTQ: Language and Justice, part 2

Take the word “marriage.” In monogamous cultures – where official recognition extended only to couples -- marriage involved these five tightly-linked features:
  1. the creation of a household of two adults,
  2. sexual exclusivity to within that household,
  3. the production of babies,
  4. the raising of the children,
  5. and the perpetuation of the parents’ genetic lines.
According to this traditional marriage paradigm, wherever you find any one of those features, you will also find the other four – most of the time. Marriage was our name for the package of those five features.

Critics of same-sex marriage objected to the re-defining of marriage. But the meaning of marriage has been evolving for some time. The previously inextricable features of marriage have been coming apart since long before the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision required all states to recognize same-sex marriages -- long before 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage – and long before 2000 when Vermont created civil unions with the same rights as marriage.

Adults can form a household together without producing or raising babies, and they can both produce and raise children without making a household together. You can have marriage without sex, and sex without marriage (which has always been fairly common but in recent decades has lost much of the stigma it used to have). You can have sex without babies – thanks to birth control, and babies without sex – thanks to in vitro fertilization. By adopting, you can raise children without propagating your genes, and by giving up for adoption, you can propagate your genes without raising children.

Divorce rates, birth control within wedlock, birth rates out of wedlock, adoption, sexless marriages of convenience, marriages of couples beyond child-bearing years, married couples that don’t live together, living-together couples that aren't married, surrogate motherhood and artificial insemination all serve to weaken the once-presumed-to-be-iron-clad connection between marriage and creating a household for the purpose of making and raising genetic children.

Those developments profoundly shifted the meaning of marriage. Once those changes had happened, the additional adjustment of recognizing same-sex marriages was practically nothing, as far as changing the word meaning.

We did have to refine the meaning of "husband" and "wife," and we faced a choice about how to do so. When only opposite-sex marriage was recognized, "husband" meant both "the male partner" AND "the spouse of a woman." "Wife" meant both "the female partner" AND "the spouse of a man." We could have decided that the more central meanings were "spouse of a woman" and "spouse of a man," but for most same-sex couples that felt odd. For the most part, same-sex couples intuited that the person's own gender was a more central meaning of "husband" or "wife" than the spouse's gender. As a result, two married men are both husbands and two married women are both wives -- though a few couples choose to use those labels differently. Some terms we need objective standards for defining -- e.g., "potable water," "Ebola virus," or "income inequality." Other terms don't require objectivity and we can allow individuals or couples to define them for themselves -- e.g., "baseball fan," "happy," "Republican" (or "Democrat") and, now, "husband" and "wife."

We have certainly seen changes in our understanding of the sense of the words lesbian, gay, homosexual. The brilliant French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault, pioneered new ways to think about and understand ourselves. His three volume History of Sexuality revealed how sexuality has been culturally constructed in Western civilization.

In Britain, and much of Europe, prior to the 1880s, Foucault points out, “sodomy” meant any form of sexuality that did not have procreation as its aim. Using birth control – if that had been much of an option in 1880 – would have counted as sodomy. Analysis of the time reveals that the laws were directed against acts, not against a particular type of person. There was no understanding of sexual orientation as an identity – any more than we have an understanding of adulterer as an identity -- or, say, “person who parks in a no parking zone.” It was something some people did, but it wasn’t an identity.

It wasn’t until the later 1800s that “particular acts came to be seen as an expression of an individual’s psyche, or as evidence of inclinations of a certain type of subject” (Sullivan 3). Certain forms of sexuality moved from being seen as horrible acts to which anyone might succumb, to being seen as the expression of a particular type of person. As Sigmund Freud expressed and magnified the new way of thinking, sex was at the root of everything about us. Thus, “the homosexual” became a personage – a life form, a certain type of – Freud said -- degenerate whose entire character, everything about him, was corrupted by his sexuality. That hardly seems to us like progress. Yet, as traumatic and disastrous as that cultural phase was for many, it paved the way for our later attitudes. Once we saw sexual orientation as an identity – subject to treatment rather than criminal or moral judgment -- the ground was laid for the next step. Only then could culture move to seeing that this identity as not harming anyone else. From there to: not harming themselves either. And then: to being tolerated, to being accepted, to being welcomed, to being celebrated as a worthy and beautiful part of the diverse spectrum of human expression. That’s a huge change – a series of huge changes – all within the last 130 years or so.

Sometimes I hear the suggestion that we shouldn’t label people. They’re all people – why do they need to be labeled lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender or queer? Because people want to be recognized for who they are. Some, perhaps, indeed, don’t want any such label, and if that’s their request, then let’s honor it. For many, however, being lesbian, gay, trans, or bi or queer is a part of their identity, and they don’t want their identity erased. They want to be seen as who they are, and don’t want this crucial aspect of their identity to be treated as irrelevant.

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "LBGTQ: Language and Justice"
See also
Part 1: Words and LGBTQ Justice: Introduction
Part 3: Gender Identities: Continua and Ambiguities