The progression of a movement: How the LGBT movement is part of God’s larger story.

To some, yesterday might have just seemed like a normal Sunday afternoon. I was in Indianapolis visiting my fiancé, Anna, and we had just spent the weekend exploring the city. It was incredibly hot, and even more humid, which I tend to expect in the Midwest in the month of June. But yesterday was anything but normal. The exact date of yesterday was June 26, 2016: one year to the day of the Supreme Court’s decision ruling that gay marriage was legal in ALL 50 states.

Yesterday was a day for celebration! A celebration of the basic human right to get married to the person that you love. The LGBT Pride Parades in Chicago and New York City both took place on this one year anniversary of tremendous progress for our nation. Today, as I sit and reflect on the fact that only one year and two days ago, a mere 367 days, it was actually legal for a city or county clerk to deny the marriage license of two men or two women trying to get married is an incredibly sobering thought. It is even more sobering within the context of the massacre at the Orlando Pulse gay nightclub. To see a day that is supposed to be filled with so much joy and celebration have a dark cloud of fear and anger cast over it is truly tragic.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have witnessed a myriad of responses to the Orlando shooting, ranging from disgusting and hateful, to beautiful and unifying. And if these opposing words don’t do justice to just how polarized our nation is, then listening to the responses by politicians on the left and right certainly will. Most of the arguments have gone something like this:

“The reason for the Orlando massacre was all about radical Islamic terrorism.” –Basically any conservative pundit, politician, or talk-show host. 

“The reason for the Orlando massacre was all about the lack of gun control in our nation.” –Basically any liberal pundit, politician, or talk-show host.”

Now before you undoubtedly make up your mind about which camp is “right” based on your strongly held political convictions, please take a moment and consider the fact that both of these arguments have completely skipped over the victims of this terrible, terrible tragedy. This wasn’t just any nightclub that was attacked by a maniac armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. Pulse nightclub is a gay nightclub. A safe-haven for so many members of the LGBT community, who often don’t have any other spaces to feel completely free to be exactly who they are. Pulse nightclub was supposed to be a refuge from the hateful rhetoric often faced at the hands of bigots, Churches, and a staggering amount of “everyday Americans.” The worst part of this tragedy is that it ripped that safety away.

As Anna and I were doing some devotions and reading the Bible together last night in her apartment, we started talking about Christianity and homosexuality. You know, one of those easy, cut and dry topics in the Bible. *See that my sarcasm flag is raised here just to clear up any potential confusion. As we talked about our experiences, thoughts, and beliefs, I thought back to a conversation I had with my parents about another controversial topic discussed thoroughly in the Church: women in leadership roles. I was asking them about how our church, Mars Hill, had addressed that issue when it arose so many years ago when I was too young to understand.

My parents told me that Rob Bell, our pastor at the time, did a series of sermons on this topic, and it was definitely controversial for plenty in our congregation. Apparently there were a substantial number of members who just couldn’t get down with his idea that women in the Church can have leadership roles. My parents explained to me that Rob Bell taught that the story of the Bible was a story about movement. That Jesus was someone who came to Earth to die for the sins of the world and start a movement. That’s why so many disciples took up the call and followed him. He was an extremely radical leader for that time period, and the pharisees took note of that, and hated him for what they perceived as “false teaching,” “too radical,” or even “un-lawful.” 

The movement of Jesus was revolutionary. It was meant to be a movement, not an official religion. Jesus invited his followers to join him on his mission to heal the sick, comfort the downtrodden, provide justice for the marginalized, turn the other cheek when faced with violence, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus’ movement was subversive to the culture. It still is subversive.

Anna and I started talking about other movements throughout history. What about the movement to end slavery in America? That movement had many prominent members of the Church leading it, like Frederick Douglass, who was both abolitionist and preacher. Might we say that the movement of abolishing slavery was part of Jesus’ movement? The movement to end slavery brought freedom to slaves who were literally owned and treated horrendously at the hands of our White ancestors. I strongly believe that Jesus’ movement progressed forward as it should have in this moment. Another step forward in the grand story of God’s love setting people free from oppression.

How about the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s? Wasn’t one of the most famous leaders of that movement a pastor born in the state of Georgia whose name, Martin Luther King Jr., is now written in our nation’s history books forever? Martin Luther King Jr. fully understood that the fight for Civil Rights was a part of the movement of Jesus. Martin Luther King Jr.’s calling was to work on bringing further justice, human rights, civil rights, dignity, and freedom to the most historically marginalized group of people in our country’s existence. Again, I would argue that this was the progress of Jesus’ movement, continuing on the path to radically changing the world through the love and grace of God.

And here we are in 2016. One year removed from the ruling that allowed gay marriage equality in our nation. I believe as Christians, it is time to ask ourselves, Is this progress part of Jesus’ movement? 

So many of the Evangelical leaders of the far Christian right have bemoaned this movement as the sinful, secular culture trying to take a hold of our Godly country. Pastors are preaching that Christians must not get sucked down with the evils of secular culture telling us that gay marriage is okay, when it is clearly a sin. Often these beliefs are thrown around while using the classic, In the world, but not of it phrase. It’s usually at times like these when I desperately want Merry from Lord of the Rings to pop up and ask, “But you’re part of this world, aren’t you??” like he so eloquently questions in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 

We as Christians are a part of this world. We always have been. And part of Jesus’ movement was to encourage us to work every day to bring Heaven to Earth in any way we can. To take care of the marginalized, heal the sick, and bring justice to the oppressed, like he did over 2,000 years ago.

What if this secular movement of accepting and celebrating gay marriage and love isn’t as secular as we thought? What if it is precisely part of Jesus’ and God’s greater movement of progress that has been unfolding for centuries? What if we stopped worrying about being in this world, and not of it, but instead started listening to the movement of Jesus that very well could be whispering this is the next step to take?

Maybe we as Christians can step up alongside “secular culture” and help to bring grace, love, and peace to those who are constantly marginalized in the LGBT community. What kind of world would that be?  I believe that would be a world where we advanced the very idea of reconciling all things that Jesus proclaimed his movement is about.

 

Education Policy: Where names and stories are often forgotten.

If you live in Michigan, or have been paying attention to our capital city of Lansing, the Detroit Public School (DPS) crisis, and the state of public education in our nation in general, you might have heard about what just happened late last night in the Senate and House of Representatives of Michigan. I realized that it has been a year since my last blog post, and I truly feel like this issue is important enough for me to write about. As those of you who are close to me know, I am extremely passionate about fighting for social justice, and will be starting my student teaching in inner city Chicago this upcoming August. This DPS legislation that was just passed greatly impacts the type of communities that I will be teaching in a few short months from now. I cannot and will not remain silent and apathetic, because this legislation affects how I teach, and MOST importantly, the students and families that I will be teaching.

There have been dozens of articles written already about the two policies that were at the heart of this rigorous, and at times, vitriolic debate. One of the most objectively, and factually written articles that I have found so far is this Detroit News article that explains the difference between the House plan that was strongly backed by Republicans, and the Senate drafted bipartisan bill that was originally voted on: Detroit Free Press Article. Basically there was a bipartisan bill that was supported by the Mayor, and both Senate Republicans and Democrats, that helped give Detroit Public Schools the money they needed, and still allowed for local control over their school system. The House rejected that bill, and then House Republicans redrafted a new bill which didn’t have bipartisan support and got rid of the Detroit Education Commission that would have overseen both charter schools and public schools. It also included language that punished administrators and teachers who participated in sickouts.

So now you should have the context and backdrop of the intense policy battle that has played out over the last week or so. Last night I sat on my couch as I watched the live updates from Lansing on my Twitter timeline. I kept reading disputing stories of what was happening on the Senate floor. Senators, Representatives, policy-makers, lobbyists, business leaders, unions, teachers. Everyone had an opinion of how this deal should be done.

IMG_5108IMG_5104IMG_5107IMG_5105IMG_5106FullSizeRenderIMG_5110

 

Pretty intense, right?

Damn.

These are grown-ups. Reduced to petty remarks, throwing shade, hurling insults, and angry rhetoric. And don’t think that I’m just trying to put this on all “these other people.” You might not have noticed at first glance, but if you look a little closer in my pictures, you will discover that even I found myself pulled into the online Twitter-verse to try and make my voice heard. Looking at these pictures now, I think it’s a perfect example of how easy it is to get wrapped up into an idea that you know (*feel*) is right, and to shut out anyone else who could have a different point of view.

At the end of all the debates and voting in Lansing, the decision was made to move forward with the House Republicans’ bill. I was crushed. Heartbroken. Angry. Dismayed. You name it, I felt it.

It wasn’t until I was outside pulling weeds this afternoon that I remembered one very, very important group of people who seemed to be forgotten in all of this craziness. The students and their families. I thought about how so many Detroit families were probably up just as late as I was, watching in their living rooms, wondering what would happen to their children because of these bills. These are parents who want the absolute best for their children, and for them to receive a quality education so they can have a good life once they leave home. I thought about how most of what I saw on Twitter last night was lobbyists and politicians shouting at one another, exclaiming their plan was the right one. People crunching numbers, throwing around millions of dollar amounts, passionately delivering speeches of what’s best for the families of Detroit, casting final votes.

Do any of these lobbyists know the names and stories of the students in DPS? Do any of these politicians? Do they know the story of the eleventh grade boy whose dad left him when he was young, and so he has to take care of his mother by working multiple jobs outside of school? Do they know the story of the tenth grade girl who is pregnant, but is still continuing to come to school to further her education for her future baby? As I am writing these questions, tears are actually welling up in my eyes, because I know these students. I know their names. I helped teach them geometry at Lansing Eastern High School, and at Lansing Everett High School last year. They made me laugh by sharing their wonderful and unique experiences with me. They caused me to get frustrated when they wouldn’t work, or roamed the halls instead of coming to class. Most importantly, they astonished me with their courage and persistence through so much adversity.

All of the students in Detroit Public Schools have a story. Every single one of them. They all have names and faces. They are not just numbers to be crunched in a bailout budget. I believe that is something that only teachers can truly understand. Lobbyists and politicians don’t fully understand that. They might get bits and pieces, but they will never experience what it truly means to be a teacher who loves their students. Who empathizes with their pain. Who get to be invited into their journey as they grow and learn. Who fights to protect them from harm. This is why teaching, I believe in my heart, is one of the most important and rewarding jobs in this country.

If there is something that can be taken away from you reading this post, I hope and pray that you might see how important it is to always remember the names and stories of the students and families that education policy impacts. This is why excellent and compassionate teachers should be more involved in education policy at the local and state level. In my future career as an educator, I have a strong desire to be both a teacher and have a direct impact on education policy, and more specifically for urban education policy. I haven’t quite figured out yet exactly how I can physically make this work, but hey, I’m only 22 years old…so I’ve got plenty of time left on this earth to give.