Grasping Thorns

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn Should never crave the rose." ― A. Brontë

Category: LGBT rights

Oops. Sorry, all.

So . . . I forgot to update my blog when I moved to writing for Bustle and then Daily Kos (a Dissident Voice is thrown in here, too). I imagined that everyone who read me here would read me there by following my Facebook links (like H&G’s breadcrumbs). But, some of my readers here aren’t as Facebook crazed as I am. 🙂

I’m still writing, though! Here’s a list of things I’ve penned, along with where to find me now.

April 28th: The Baltimore Riots Should Remind White People To Listen And Act — Not Judge Protestors

May 5th: Why Responding To Bigotry In Facebook Comments Matters

May 7th: On Mother’s Day, Remembering My Daughter’s Birth Mom

June 17th: God is Disappointed in You is a Book Every Evangelical Christian Should Read

June 18th: That Moment When Your Friend Finds a Bullet Hole over Her Son’s Room

June 19th: The Charleston Church Massacre and “Making It Right”

June 20th: Disturbing Conservative Commentary: A Compilation

June 21st: An Open Letter to Governor Haley

June 23rd: Dear Governor Haley, Part 2

June 24th: This is What “Discussion” Looks Like in America Today — And Why It Must Change

June 26th: Senator Pinckney, President Obama, and New Eyes for Seeing

July 14th: The Importance of Remembering “It’s Not About [Your Name Here]”

July 16th: A Mass Shooting Hits Home — Again.

July 19th: A New Southern Wedding Tradition: Yes, I Wish I Were Kidding

July 24th: It’s Our Fault People Are Dying: American Gun Culture and the Myth of Personal Responsibility

July 29th: Dr. Walter Palmer, Lion Killer: Meet Lawrence Anthony, Elephant Whisperer

July 31st: Last Night, I Watched Two Videos: Planned Parenthood’s and Sam DuBose’s

August 6th: Release Time Bible Programs Are Invading Public Schools. God Help Us.

August 15th: God Got A Dog: Another Book That Evangelical Christians Should Read

August 19th: Sacrificing Our Children’s Lives: America and Her Guns

September 4th: American Exceptionalism as Exceptionally Bad … Also: How to Make It Better

September 5th: Dear America: Stop. Painting. Bullets. Holes. On. Our Kids’. Heads.

In short, it’s been a bloody, busy summer.

If you want more fire for your rage-machine, start following my Daily Kos page.

love to all my readers. xoxo




Caitlyn Jenner May Not Be Your Hero, But Here’s Why She Deserves the Arthur Ashe Courage Award

On Monday, ESPN announced that Caitlyn Jenner is the recipient of their annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award. ESPN executive producer, Maura Mand, explained the appropriateness of their choice: “Bruce [Jenner] has received many accolades over the years for being one of the greatest Olympians of our time, but The ESPYS are honored to celebrate Bruce becoming Caitlyn. She has shown the courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years, and to embark on a journey that may not only give comfort to those facing similar circumstances, but can also help to educate people on the challenges that the transgender community faces.”

Mand’s rationale certainly seems in keeping with the Arthur Ashe Award description, as printed on ESPN’s Web site. Note the emphasis on “human rights” and “never back[ing] away from a difficult issue, even though doing so would have been easier.”

Screenshot 2015-06-04 11.19.45

Unsurprisingly, the news of Jenner’s win sent many of her detractors, already worked up over her Vanity Fair photo shoot, into paroxysms of rage. Because it’s National LGBT Pride Month — and because it’s the right thing to do AND in keeping with the spirit of the award — let’s tackle some of the status updates and blog posts that have gone viral and explain why Caitlyn Jenner deserves both this award and our applause.

Yesterday morning, Orie Pancione from West Virginia posted publicly a status update criticizing Jenner that has since been shared 148,841 times (and counting). Pancione accuses ESPN of ignoring cancer victim Lauren Hill and wounded veteran Noah Galloway in favor of Caitlyn Jenner, who is “trending” for “play[ing] dress up.”


First: as Deadspin’s Nick Martin explains, “This is an award ESPN doles out based on what they decide, not what is voted on, so anything you think is automatically arbitrary. If you don’t like who wins it, don’t watch the ESPY’s—simple as that. The award does not dictate who is the most courageous person in the world, nor does it diminish what Galloway or Lauren Hill—who people also said should have been the recipient instead of Jenner—have accomplished.”

I’d add: the type of courage defined in the award description (e.g. “using fame and stature to advocate for human rights, although at the time, these positions may have been unpopular and were often controversial”) is a very different type of courage than that used to fight a deadly disease or an enemy soldier.

The award that is more in keeping with either Noah Galloway’s or Lauren Hill’s struggles is the Espy Perseverance Award, which is going to Devon Still and his daughter Leah, who is battling cancer. That award is about having the courage to persevere in difficult circumstances. No one is accusing the Stills of taking an award away from Noah Galloway or Lauren Hill. Rather, they’re attacking the trans woman, saying that she should hand over her award, despite the fact that it would make no sense according to the award description and is quite simply a mean-spirited thing to say — which people seem to get when the honoree is a 5-year-old with pediatric cancer. But trans people are too often treated as less than human and their struggles dismissed.

Second: Caitlyn Jenner is not playing dress up, and to suggest otherwise not only reveals a gross misunderstanding of what transgender means but also perpetuates a stereotype that no doubt contributes to discrimination and violence against the trans community. Jenner has explained to us that her gender identity (female) is different from her assigned gender at birth (male) and that she has made the unpopular and controversial choice to live out the rest of her life as the woman she’s always been. Our job, which is admittedly *really* easy, is to say “Good for you, Caitlyn”; to stop referring to her as “Bruce” and using male pronouns; and to treat her like a human being rather than a child preoccupied at the play station with all the costumes.

Also this week, Emily Suzanne, a conservative Christian blogger penned “Bruce Jenner is Not a Hero” that has racked up over 10,000 Facebook shares in two days. The thesis — that Bruce Jenner is neither a woman nor a hero — is built upon assertions about gender that, in the 21st century, we know are false.


People who insist that God wouldn’t “make the mistake” of confusing gender categories are understandably stumped when passed a copy of Anne Fausto-Sterling’s “The Five Sexes” or an article about Caster Semenya, the South African woman was was scrutinized because she outstripped other female runners to such an extent that officials had her gender-tested and discovered that she had both a vagina (female part!) and inverted testicles (male part!).

The male/female categories aren’t as clear as Emily Suzanne and her ilk think. Their experience of the world as cisgender isn’t the experience of everyone else; so, maybe (just maybe) they would do well not to play God, leaving instead a person’s gender classification up to, you know, the person; and God’s judgement up to Him . . . or Her.

I said as much in a blog comment, but it remains unpublished, still awaiting Emily Suzanne’s moderation.

Screenshot 2015-06-04 12.23.34

So, I’m taking my comment out of moderation by writing my own blog post — because I want to be courageous in the way Caitlyn Jenner is, although it makes me sad that too often the “unpopular” and “controversial” opinion to voice is one that should be universally accepted, namely: that the transgendered community is not comprised of people who are “mistakes,” but rather people who are more often than not mind-bendingly courageous in the face of adversity (which includes being pelted with countless transphobic comments, like those above).

Here’s to their courage . . . and that’s cour·age \ˈkər-ij, ˈkə-rij\ according to the most “Arthur Ashe” definition of the word.

The Only Duggar Spinoff That I’d Watch

June is National LGBT Pride Month, and TLC has yet to make a decision about the future (or not) of its hit show 19 Kids and Counting. Josh Duggar, who recently resigned as Executive Director of Family Research Council Action, has spent the past two years lobbying against LGBT rights, among other conservative causes. From suggesting that marriage equality will destroy the American family to fighting against anti-discrimination bills designed to protect the LGBT community, Duggar’s ethos as the “Face of Faith and Politics” has crumbled in light of a molestation scandal.

On May 21, In Touch Magazine published police reports from 2006 that detail an investigation against Duggar, who was accused of (and subsequently confessed to) molesting five underaged girls, some of whom are his sisters. While we should no doubt offer words of support to these (and all) victims of sexual abuse, and respect their privacy accordingly, we should also — as Alexandra Petri argues in The Washington Post — ”start pushing back against” an ideology that privileges a son’s reputation over a daughter’s safety; that equates one’s worth with one’s “purity”; and, I would add, that maligns families like Zach Wahls’s by wrongly suggesting they’re inferior to traditional families.

The best way to push back is to demand that The Learning Channel cancel the show, which — in a touch of irony — filled the time slot left vacant by Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, another popular “reality” show that was cancelled when the family matriarch began dating a convicted child molester. Fans of 19 Kids and Counting will argue that the situation is different — that Duggar was only 14 and 15-years-old (never mind the fact that, even at this age, he fits the medical definition of a child molester); or, that he made “mistakes,” turned back to God, and is consequently cured (never mind the fact that he initially received no professional treatment — which not only did a disservice to his victims but also to him).

For these reasons alone we should demand the show’s cancellation. But, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we should have demanded the show’s cancellation even earlier — in solidarity with the LGBT community. We should have said “no” to 19 Kids and Counting when Josh capitalized on the success of the show by scoring a position with FRC, which has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center — or, more recently, when Michelle joined her son’s campaign against an anti-discrimination bill by recording a robocall that compared transgendered people to pedaphiles.

While the Duggars are free to think and preach whatever they like, we — as the viewing public — do not have to sponsor them financially. In fact, I would argue that we have a moral obligation not to do so. 19 Kids and Counting has made the Duggar family wealthy and influential, and they’ve used that wealth and influence to become political players. See, for example, their 2012 video “19 Reasons and Counting to Vote for Rick Santorum.” There is something particularly noxious about watching children who are much too young to vote pledging to support a presidential candidate because he’s promised to secure our borders and has an A+ rating from the NRA.

We should have responded by voting “no” with our remotes years ago — because TLC is supposed to be the learning channel, not the propaganda channel.

Unsurprisingly, the Duggars are fighting hard against cancellation by encouraging their fans to contact the network and “make your voices heard.” Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar have scheduled a Fox News interview with Megyn Kelly for Wednesday night. And, according to rumors, TLC is considering a spinoff featuring daughters Jill Dillard and Jessa Seewald, and their respective husbands.

Here’s the problem: Jill and Jessa are devotees of the same branch of archaic, conservative Christianity as their parents. We felt culpable when we realized that we’ve promoted, through our viewership of 19 Kids and Counting, a patriarchal system that is dangerously sexually repressive; that first ignores female accounts of victimization and then responds inadequately once they’re (of course) repeated. I, for one, am not interested in promoting, though my viewership of a “Jill and Jessa” spin-off, that same patriarchal system with only different key players.

The only Duggar spinoff that I would be willing to watch would be one in keeping with The Learning Channel’s namesake: Episodes might include:

the Duggar girls take a gender studies class at a state university

the Duggar boys take a gender studies class at a state university

the Duggar kids read the Harry Potter series

the Duggars study the Living the Questions progressive Christian curriculum

the Duggars hang out with __________ (fill in the blank: Zach Wahls, Bill Nye, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, etc.)

Because here’s the thing: “secular” America has let the Duggars into their homes and has seen them humanized. We can understand and disagree with the Duggar family’s ideology while enjoying the cute kids, empathizing with the family when they grieve (e.g. over Michelle’s miscarriage), and appreciating all those moments in the universal human experience, like young love, that play out on screen.

We’re only interested in a spinoff if they’re willing to offer the same courtesy to us, to learn about different ways of seeing the world in a way that humanizes rather than demonizes. The Duggar kids should be able to choose differently from their parents without fear of losing their parents’ love, ruining the family image, suffering eternal damnation, etc. Granted, they should also be able to choose similarly to their parents, but the key word is “choice.”

My wish for the Duggar kids is that all of them will be free, sans television camera, to explore and experience the world more fully, that they’ll become “pro-choice” in the most basic sense of the word, and that having the freedom to choose their own way in life will make them more willing to accept and protect the choices of others.

In that spirit, Happy National LGBT Pride Month.

Dear Christian Evangelicals: Please watch Dallas Buyers Club, since you liked McConaughey’s speech so much.

When I logged onto my Facebook newsfeed after the Academy Awards this past Sunday, I was surprised/not surprised to see the Christian evangelicals with whom I grew up in my small, conservative town delighting over Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar acceptance speech, specifically this part:

“Now, first off, I want to thank God, because that’s who I look up to. He’s graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand.”

I’m not surprised, obviously, that Christian evangelicals like this part, because . . . well . . . McConaughey says flattering things about God, of whom they’re big fans.

A sampling of the headlines/status updates being shared (and obsessively “liked” or “amen-ed”) include: “A Real Man thanks God 1st — Oscar recipients take note! Thank you Matthew McConaughey for reminding everyone how it’s done” from


“INCREDIBLE . . . COURAGEOUS . . . TRULY INSPIRATIONAL . . . About the best Oscar Acceptance Speech ever” from a status update.

I’m surprised, because among those lauding Matthew McConaughey are the most antigay “Christians” around — and I’m including Rush Limbaugh and Rick Perry in that count. Obviously, they haven’t seen the film and know nothing about the role with which God “graced [McConaughey’s] life.”

Because here’s the thing (spoiler alerts to follow): McConaughey plays Ron Woodruff, a homophobic cowboy who — after discovering he has AIDS — is rejected by his homophobic community. This is 1985 Texas, after all, and both Woodruff and his “friends” at the time had thought of AIDS as a gay-only condition; the latter become “suspicious” of Woodruff after his diagnosis and consequently drive him away: from his favorite bars, from his home, from his work — from life, as he knows it.

What begins as a struggle for Woodruff’s own self-preservation ends as a struggle on behalf of the AIDS-afflicted community that embraces him and that he learns to embrace (literally) in return.

The film traces his progression from point A (a beer-guzzling, womanizing member of the straight community, because — apparently — being a spectator of girl-on-girl action is “hot”/cough/hypocrisy); to point B (someone who is willing, though reluctant, to share space with a transsexual, depicted visually as he and Jared Leto’s character sit at opposite ends of a park bench); to point C (someone who, in becoming marginalized himself, discovers a more authentic community — one defined by acceptance and love and sacrifice, depicted visually as one of the most touching embraces in film history).

Once he learns the value of this community, he becomes not only willing but also passionate about fighting for it, on both a local level (if you see one clip from Dallas Buyers Club, do yourself a favor and watch the following — here, with director’s commentary)

and a national one. The truth is: he defies a federal government actively ignoring/demonizing AIDS in order to save the lives of people who are declared expendable (just watch the trailer; you’ll get the idea):

Since Sunday, some Christian evangelicals have learned the plot of Dallas Buyers Club on their own. The result? Blog posts like “Matthew McConaughey is Not My Hero,” in which a Christian blogger claims the movie “poisons the hearts and minds of our men, women, and young people.” Some seem embarrassed to have praised him; others defend his acceptance speech, still, as praiseworthy, while shaking their heads about the role. Marty Duran, a blogger for The Christian Post, decides that McConaughey is probably a “young believer,” and as such, will surely “grow” and then stop making movies like Dallas Buyers Club. sigh.

Another possibility: McConaughey’s spirituality inspired him to make Dallas Buyers Club in the first place, since defending, loving, and protecting the marginalized was the modus operandi of the historical Jesus (see the “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees” for his epic takedown of the religious elite; see his life for his affirmation of “the least of these”). Whatever the case, McConaughey has made perfectly clear where he stands on gay rights: “You know, I have some good friends of my own who happen to be gay, and when it comes to gay, straight, or whatever, I’m for anything life-affirmative. I’m for gay power, straight power, male power, female power; everybody should feel empowered without oppressing anyone who’s different. You know those World Cup banners about tolerance? I always thought that was one short. No, don’t just tolerate me. Understand and accept me.”

Matthew: amen.

And dear Christian evangelicals (you too Rush Limbaugh and Rick Perry): may the man you so admire for his Oscar acceptance speech introduce you to the most wonderful people with whom you may be unfamiliar — those in the LGBT community. Perhaps you’ll be open-hearted and open-minded enough to repeat what an octogenarian said to Jared Leto, after seeing the film:

“I don’t really know these people but I’m glad that I do now.”

Dear Christian Evangelicals: Jesus and Santa are not white; holiday is not a curse word; and Phil Robertson’s right to free speech was not violated.

It’s been an especially angry Christmas season this year.

Example #1: Every year Fox has its “War on Christmas” segments, and every year Jon Stewart has his always hilariously funny “War on Christmas” response — and, in our family at least, we look as forward to that as we do to putting up the Christmas tree. It’s cherished tradition. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Jon Stewart telling Gretchen Carlson to chill.

But, this year, the debate went further than whether or not we should be mad at Tulsa for calling its parade the holiday rather than Christmas parade. This year’s defining moment was not Gretchen Carlson, but Megyn Kelly insisting to her 10:00pm Fox News kid viewers (all zero of them) that both Santa and Jesus are white men.

To be fair, even the most conservative Christian evangelicals seem to recognize that neither the historical Jesus (from Palestine) nor the historical Saint Nicholas (from what is modern day Turkey) would be “white” according to either Carlson’s or Kelly’s definition and would probably instead, as Jon Stewart jokes, “be on the no fly list.”

Still, as my friend, Alec McLeod points out, “Facebook never disappoints,” and at least two people insisted to me that Jesus and Santa are white, and each pulled quotes from articles that *seemed* to support their points . . . until you, um, read them and discovered something else entirely.

From The Washington Post, “Reza Aslan on Jesus’s skin color: ‘Megyn Kelly is right. Her Christ is white.” In this recap of an interview between Max Fisher and religious scholar Reza Aslan, the latter differentiates between the historical Jesus (Palestinian man) and the figurative Christ (“The Christ of faith can be anything, anything that you want him to be, and has been whatever you want him to be throughout the last 2,000 years of Christian history”).

He continues: “The foundational metaphor for God in Christianity is man. What is God? Christianity tells you God is man, and so man is the metaphor for what God is in Christianity, because God became a man in the form of Jesus. How do you know, how do you define God? Think of the perfect man. God is infinitely good, infinitely caring, infinitely compassionate. God is all the greatest human attributes that you can imagine. That’s what God is. It’s a sort of a central metaphor . . . This is precisely why Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Because that central metaphor allows you to then thoroughly absorb this conception of Jesus as God into whatever your own particular understanding of humanity is.”

From The World Mysteries blog, “How many major races are there in the world?” The person who quoted this article only quoted the part that, as you discover by its conclusion, “is rooted in the European imagination of the Middle Ages, which encompassed only Europe, Africa, and the Near East.” The article, as a whole, seeks not only to undermine racial categories but also to suggest that those, like Megyn Kelly, who insist on the “whiteness” of Jesus and St. Nicholas, are evil:

“By 1871, some leading intellectuals had recognized that even using the word ‘race’ ‘was virtually a confession of ignorance or evil intent.'”

Moral: I won’t go so far as to call Megyn Kelly evil, but I do think that this particular “War on Christmas” edition is more insidious than past ones, which (1) makes talking about it important; and (2) offers an opportunity to develop/practice empathy for “the other” — b/c what both articles imply is this:

*if* the race of either Jesus or Saint Nicholas *matters* to you at all, then you should actively start imagining him as different from yourself — until it doesn’t.

Example #2: A following status popped up on my Facebook Newsfeed: “If you are tired of hearing ‘happy holidays,’ go visit Chick-fil-A! The employees are encouraged to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ Praise God, finally someone who knows why we celebrate Christmas — Christ!”

Why would anyone get “tired” of receiving well wishes for happiness, despite its form? I said as much, while pointing out that even holiday has religious connotations (happy holiday = happy holy day) as does Happy/Merry Xmas, incidentally (see Greek letters/Roman alphabet/X as a symbol for the cross/etc.)

Response? Either people shouted “Merry CHRISTmas” in a nah-nah-nuh-boo-boo way, or said this: “Happy holidays? Well what holiday is it? Hanukkah is over, chances are not too many people have ever even heard of Kwanzaa, and New Year’s is not a holiday (holy day), so that only leaves Christmas.”

Moral: ^Therein^ lies the problematic philosophy of the conservative religious right — if you’re one of the few, the “not too many people” so casually dismissed above — you and your holiday and your wishes for peace on earth and goodwill towards men may as well not exist. period.

The irony is that this went down while I was at a Catholic church, enjoying a performance of Handel’s Messiah, with a Jewish friend, who got tickets for me and my husband. And I came home to a “Merry Christmas” card from my atheist friend.

Because: there is something magical about the golden rule. When you treat those who think differently from you with love and respect — when you think about what’s most appropriate for your audience and say “Happy Hanukkah!” or “Happy Kwanzaa!” or “Happy Winter Solstice!” or “Happy Holidays!” [which is the best if you don’t know, since it includes Thanksgiving to Epiphany] or “Merry Christmas!” accordingly, you’ll be treated with respect and sincere well-wishes too.

Your holiday greeting shouldn’t be about *you,* the person making the wish, but about the one who receives it. Honestly, though . . . the most common response to any of the above is: thanks! . . . because most people understand that how well wishes are “wrapped” is of as little import as the choice of paper below.

Seriously, evangelical Christians: Get a grip.

Example #3: I think everyone’s Facebook Newsfeed has been blowing up over Phil Robertson’s suspension from Duck Dynasty, after he asserted that homosexuality is the sin from whence all evil comes, after he compared gay sex to sex with animals, and after he waxed nostalgic over the good ole’ days of segregation.

His most ardent and spirited defenders are sharing a more palatable Robertson quote, in which he claims to “love all of humanity,” one that directly contradicts the way Phil just treated the GLBT and African-American communities.

Next, follows a discussion of how his free speech has been violated, because his employers decided that they want to dissociate from his comments.

Dear Phil Robertson defenders: if you’re so proud of him, why not post his image with the comments for which he was actually suspended? Why not make a t-shirt with them and wear it to church, to work, etc. — or might it be problematic to wear the following?


You may, of course, say or wear the above to your workplace. It’s within your right. But: freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequence (i.e. there are repercussions to being an ass). Also, even those who take the Bible literally, who wear WWJD bracelets, recognize that Jesus had *this* to say about homosexuality, and, for the most part, only quoted Scripture to challenge it (e.g. “You have heard it said, BUT [no]”).

Moral: I think my friend, Dr. Roger Ray, says it best in his most recent Sunday sermon:

“Most of what the Sarah Palins, Rush Limbaughs, and Bill O’Reillys are really bemoaning is the loss of an almost entirely unchallenged very white and very Christian dominant culture. They are grieving the loss of a past in which they indulge themselves in that same fantasy recently articulated by Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, when black people were happy about being sharecroppers and tenant farmers, and gay people either didn’t exist or we didn’t have to pretend to be nice to them . . .

The dominant class in any country or any century can make themselves blissfully ignorant of those who are oppressed . . .

Christmas stories introduce Jesus as being someone who is going to turn the established order of the world upside down . . . in very different ways, both Matthew and Luke interpret the birth of Jesus in images that are defiant of the dominant culture . . . The angels sang to us, and even the stars line up to affirm that the weak and the powerless, the homeless, the ones who can’t afford to go to a university or a hospital: Jesus was born for us.”

In that beautiful, inclusive spirit: a very merry Christmas, happy holidays, and season’s greetings to all.

A New Hampshire Wedding: Top Ten List

This past weekend, my family and I drove 16 hours from warm South Carolina to brisk New Hampshire to attend an exceptional wedding. As part of my wedding gift, I have decided to write a recap, a “top ten” list if you will, to commemorate the McLeod-Williamson nuptials. So, without further ado, my top ten moments from 09.27.2012 are as follows:

10. Getting there: My mother thought I was crazy to take the children (Arina, who is 8; Jack, who is 2) on a 16 hour car ride, but I insisted they had to go.

“Alec and Michael are their godparents!” I wailed, and I earnestly explained that there must be some sort of rule about godchildren attending their godparents’ wedding. (Note: I’m not Catholic, despite my fascination with Catholic rituals, so Alec and Michael are more of the modern godparent variety; see Bruce Feiler’s “The Godparent Trap” and note that Alec and Michael are “better godparent[s] than Martin Amis” and are “Values Dad[s]” of the highest caliber.)

Getting there (and back) ended up being more fun than I anticipated, though, filled with 2-year old Jack pointing out landmarks (“I see bridge!” and “I see water!” were his favorites) and 8-year old Arina on constant watch for fast food playground equipment (she hoped, of course, that we’d break for a snack so she could play).

Getting to the wedding location — Rye Harbor State Park in beautiful New Hampshire (it’s prime fall foliage, by the way) — was a treat for the senses: the salt smell of the sea; the sound of the waves; and this:

9. Entertaining the toddler: Because they were afraid of rain (that didn’t happen — yay!), Alec and Michael decided to move the ceremony from the water’s edge to under one of the shelters. This worked out fabulously for several reasons, not the least of which: THIS (see below) became the new view.

Toddler boys like Jack aren’t all that interested in wedding ceremonies, but they are very interested in boats. So, during the ceremony, Jack was thoroughly entertained. The only downside was that every now and then the congregation would hear a baby voice saying “I see boat! I see another boat! 1, 2, 3, 4” and so on — but this is much better than Jack screaming “I don’t like the windy!” or “I have a bug in my penis” (his go-to phrase for being uncomfortable, ever since he noticed a gnat on his penis after stripping off his filthy clothes outside).

After the ceremony, Jack was able to give full expression to his glee at seeing water!, rocks!, birds! and boats!

8. Witnessing love: From the moment Alec and Michael showed up, holding hands as they made their way to the minister until the moment we left, with hugs and well wishes of safe travel from all around us, we saw and felt love — of the Romans 12: 9-16 variety.

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”

This is the New Testament Scripture around which the ceremony was focused — a passage of Scripture often titled “Marks of a True Christian.” I can’t think of a better way of describing the ceremony than using the following words from the selected Scripture: genuine and good; loving and affectionate; honorable and hopeful; hospitable and joyful; harmonious and humble.

7. Finding spiritual restoration: The ministers officiating over the wedding had a progressive theology of the Nobel prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu variety. They each seemed to take seriously Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12, the Old Testament Scripture reading:

“9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Love, in all its forms, they declared good. I couldn’t help but think of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, my favorite as an English instructor, since it emphasizes the importance of critical reading — even of “prophecies,” or Scripture: “Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.”

What Alec and Michael understand, and the ministers understand, and the congregation understands (including me and my husband and my children) is this: quite simply, love is good.

6. Eating and drinking: Mimosas. Muffins and coffee cake and pumpkin bread. Ham and quiche and French toast. And an almond cake with amaretto and raspberry filling and butter cream icing. Yum.

5. Enjoying the weather: When one of my New England friends saw the photos, she asked: “Could you have a more quintessential New England weather experience?” Answer: no. Being from the South, I think we were all a little shocked by the chill. And, if it weren’t for the fact that there are no pink Southern states on this map, I don’t know if we would have ended up in New Hampshire at all.

But, I’m so glad we did.

I’ve decided that a bit of chill in the air is perfect for an outside wedding, because it forces guests to be cozy. It wasn’t bad when we all sat together and leaned in to chat, and it was so much better than being sweaty and sticky (e.g. the guests at our wedding in August, in Charleston).

As Alec’s lovely mother told me when I walked up to her and she folded me in her arms: “We have to hug to keep warm!”

In short, bundling up, and hugging, is fun.

4. Making new friends: At one point in his homily, the minister asked us all to look around and to realize that Saturday at 10:00 AM was a unique moment — never again, he said, would the same group of people be gathered at the same place for the same purpose. In essence, the ceremony was one that bound us all — not just Alec and Michael — to each other. Making new friends is a must for the top ten list, and I’m fortunate to have a play-by-play of the friend-making in action. Arina was enjoying herself on the rocks (see below) when she came across a red-haired boy of the same age (the minister’s son).

Their conversation went as follows:

Arina: “I’m Arina, and this is my Dad [who was lingering nearby], Scott.”

Will: “Scotty, Scotty, bo-batie,: Bananafana fo-fatie: Mee-Mi-mo-matie: Scotty!”

Arina: “Hey! Don’t make fun of my Dad!”

Will: “Okay. I’m Will.”

From that moment on, they were inseparable, exploring the rocks together. At one point, Will was holding Arina’s hand, as if to protect her from falling, but as soon as I crept behind them with a camera, he dropped it. Still before he left, he gave Arina a lobster claw, which she pocketed (and, later, reluctantly tossed when she realized that it smelled). Lots of adults made friends too, but none of those were quite as entertaining, since they involved neither the Name Game nor lobster claws.

3. Being with family: Number 4 is connected to Number 3, as Anglican bishop Gene Robinson explains in his article “Jesus Would Back Gay Marriage”:

“The teachings of Jesus can hardly be used to support the notion of the modern nuclear family — or even the idea of the biological family. Jesus had some things to say about families and familial relationships that sound harsh to modern ears. Indeed, he seemed to promote a family based not on biological origin but on intention, choice, and shared beliefs.

Matthew’s Gospel records an incident in which Jesus is speaking publicly, when he is told that his ‘mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to [him]. But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46– 50)’ . . .

According to the Scriptures themselves, Jesus seems to have gathered around him an intentionally chosen group of people whom he regarded as his family . . .  — more deeply so than his own biological family.”

In that light, here is another play-by-play of the friend-making in action:

Me: “Hi, Amy. We haven’t met, but I’m Nicole. We became Facebook friends through Alec, and I love your posts.”

Amy: “Yes! So wonderful to meet you. We think alike.”

I agreed, and, if I had thought about it at the time, I would have told Amy that we’re family: based not on biological origin but on intention, choice, and shared beliefs.

Another favorite family member is sister-friend Natalie (see below), with whom I’ve shared intention, choice and beliefs for almost a decade.

2. Seeing a tandem bike in action:

Really. Enough said.

1. Experiencing joy: I have never been to a wedding that is not joyful, but the amount of joy at this particular wedding set it apart as exceptional. I offer, below, Exhibit A. Our son, Jack, who has been to many weddings, has never smiled for a wedding photo (his smiles are difficult to come by), but you can see it here, creeping across his face. He is catching a joy that is contagious.

On the way home, Scott and I tried to pinpoint what it was that made this wedding different, and my mind jumped back to hearing Jesuit priest John Dear speak over the summer about the Beatitudes. A friend of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Tutu, interestingly enough, nominated Dear for the Nobel Peace Prize), Dear talked about his friend’s exceptional joy. When he asked the Archbishop about it, Tutu told Dear that he has received a death threat every day since he was a teenager. And then, John Dear said, he danced.

To those who are persecuted (like the LGBT community), Jesus in the Beatitudes promises the kingdom of heaven — something holy, something precious, something miraculous. And you can’t experience that without joy. So we danced.

Ain’t You Tired? To Christians Opposing Marriage Equality


When Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-a, made his now infamous comments opposing marriage equality, I was listening to the audiobook version of The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel about the lives of African American maids in the early 1960s. The book details what it’s like to be African American, in the South, during the Civil Rights Movement (i.e. not a Fourth of July picnic). Question: Do you know what else is not a Fourth of July picnic? Answer: Being LGBTQ (or, to a lesser extent, their straight supporter), in the South, today.

I grew up in rural South Carolina, in a town not unlike Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame. For the most part, people in the town who were not conservative Christians moved elsewhere, or they learned to be silent. As for me, I went to college for a BA in English; and then an MA; and then a PhD. And, at some point during that time, I (like Skeeter Phelan) “realized that I actually had a choice in what I could believe.” I made the choice to embrace both a progressive Christianity and the LGBTQ community. Then, I was naïve enough to think that I could share articles and that my conservative Christian Facebook friends would read them and choose to embrace both a progressive Christianity and the LGBTQ community too:

  • Because, if given the choice, wouldn’t you want to be honest about the fact that, as David Lose writes, “the Bible seems regularly and simultaneously to offer counsel that we deem both awful and excellent,” and, then, set to work choosing your canon within the canon?
  • Wouldn’t you want to build your canon around Christ’s teachings and example, rather than a code of holy living for Levitical priests or a couple of sentences written by Paul? Isn’t that the point of the WWJD bracelets? Isn’t it preferable to put Jesus’s injunction to love your neighbor as yourself and to refrain from judgment in your canon within the canon, to prioritize these teachings, as Jesus did?
  • Wouldn’t you prefer Jay Michaelson’s interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah? Michaelson writes, “The Sodomites were rapists, not gays. Sodomy is a crime of violence against strangers, not an act of sexuality and certainly not one of love. It is an act born of hardening the heart against people who are vulnerable.” Isn’t it preferable to learn something about ourselves, about the ways we are inhospitable to our neighbors, instead of judging and consequently alienating a minority group?

Isn’t it tiring to hold onto self-righteousness, and to practice condemnation of the LGBTQ community on a day-to-day basis? As Aibileene says to Hilly Holbrook in the film adaptation of The Help: “Ain’t you tired?”

I speak out against Dan Cathy’s comments, because silence is always interpreted as consent. I boycott Chick-fil-a, not because of Cathy’s comments (noxious as they are), but because Cathy has donated five million dollars of his revenue to anti-gay organizations like Exodus International and the Family Research Council. And, yes: I know that I have and will inevitability make purchases that harm rather than help, but this is one purchase I can do without. I posted as much on my Facebook page, and I have been disheartened to see the response.

  • To those who continue to insist that being gay is a choice: Ain’t you tired? If the LGBTQ community (and science, incidentally) says that sexual orientation is not a choice, maybe it’s not. You have already accepted that the Bible is not a science textbook if you believe, despite Joshua 10:12-14, that the Earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. Maybe, just maybe, the Biblical writers did not have a complete understanding of sexuality and gender. Maybe, just maybe, God does not have their (and our) limited human understanding.
  • To those who continue to fight against marriage equality for the LGBTQ community: Ain’t you tired? Don’t be angry that the Christian conservative boycott against JC Penney did not garner the same amount of attention and support as the boycott against Chick-fil-a. And don’t be surprised. By backing marriage equality, JC Penney supports extending rights to a minority community. Chick-fil-a is contributing funds to organizations that are trying to deny rights to a minority community. Traditional heterosexual marriage is in no danger, whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry or not.
  • To those who continue to insist that being gay is a sin against God. Ain’t you tired? Jesus had more to say about divorce (and much more to say about greed) than being gay (of which he said nothing). Imagine that Cathy took a public stance against the Biblical “sin” of divorce by not only condemning remarriage, but also by sending money to organizations claiming to “cure” those who want to remarry of “adulterous” impulses (see Mark 10:11-12).

Ain’t you tired?

I have a confession. The LGBTQ community, and the people who support them are tired too, but it’s of the MLK Jr. variety:

And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.

We are here, we are here this evening because we are tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known . . . that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That’s all.

We protest the “strain of Christianity that continues to insist that homosexuality is an evil affront to God” (see John Shore’s “Another Teen Bullied to Death, Another Reason for a New Christianity”). But many of us are still Christian, and I dare say all of us embrace Jesus’s ethics (a la Sermon on the Mount) and example. Because we embrace these ethics, we protest organizations that seek to deny two consenting adults the right to make a loving marriage commitment to each other; and, we protest restaurant CEOs who boast of financially supporting such organizations.

There comes a time. We are here. We protest. Ain’t you tired?