It’s complicated

Several years ago, my mother’s brother married a black lady. His parents (my grandparents) were racist, so whenever the family would get together for Christmas or birthdays, she was never welcomed. My uncle attended these family functions for awhile, but eventually got fed up with the way his wife was being treated and stopped coming altogether.

I was just a young’un when this was happening, but I was already old enough to recognize that it was wrong to treat another person that way – especially when that person was so nice and loving themselves. Although my mother worshiped the ground my grandfather walked on, my memories of him are somewhat muddied by recollections of his bigotry and intolerance for anything different than himself.

As the years passed, my grandparents eventually seemed to figure out that if they wanted to spend quality time with their son, they would have to also invite their daughter-in-law, but years of painful rejection had already hardened her heart to the point that she had no interest in a relationship. It was only after the health of both of my grandparents had failed that she was able to truly become part of our family.

Although my grandfather passed away and the years have marched on, things can still get very uncomfortable in my family. While my uncle may have been the proverbial “black sheep” a few decades ago, the position has apparently fallen on my shoulders. Now, I’m the one who can’t bring his significant other to most family functions.

Since becoming an adult and having romantic relationships, Christmas has always been difficult, complicated, and painful. My immediate family runs the gamut from an accepting father to a non-accepting sister. Mom seems firmly lodged somewhere in between.

Every year, my dad has to wrestle with how to handle Christmas get-togethers. He knows if he invites me and my partner that my sister and her family won’t attend, yet he also realizes that asking me to come alone isn’t the right thing to do. This year, he decided to have two gatherings; one for us and one for them. This would mean that my sister and I would have to get with Dad and his wife an additional time to give him the presents that are coming from both of us. After talking it over with my partner, he told me that I should just go alone and be with my family.

For the past several years, I’ve also went alone to my sister’s on Christmas Eve, spent the night, and gotten up the next morning to watch the kids open their presents. While no one has ever specifically stated that my partner isn’t welcome, it’s more than obvious. Once again, my partner insists that I spend this time with my family, explaining that he wouldn’t feel comfortable there even if invited.

I am terribly torn in both of these situations; torn between wanting to spend the holiday with my lover, remaining true to my beliefs, and spending time with family members. I know without a doubt that discriminating against others is wrong, regardless of the reason, and I feel like I’m letting my partner and myself down when I cave to peer pressure from relatives. I also realize that spending time with family is important, and that depriving them of my company in an attempt to pressure them into doing the right thing would be futile. There just doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.

It’s tempting for me to blame Christianity, or at least my family’s interpretation of Christianity, as the root of their intolerance. I could have titled this post something like “Christianity: Destroying Families for 2,000 Years” and ranted about all the hypocrisy in the pro-family rhetoric that fills Christian radio, but I know it isn’t so simple. Christians might be tempted to blame my sexuality for tearing my family apart, but, again, too simple.

The truth is, this type of thing is happening to families all across the world. Being religious isn’t synonymous with bigotry, and fear of what is different can arise anywhere and at any time. What separates the bigots from the rest of the crowd is how they react to that fear. Do they recognize it, study themselves for a sign of what caused it, and try to get beyond it, or do they let fear paralyze themselves to the point that they shut out the very people that they should be having meaningful relationships with?

I hope against hope that my family will eventually see the light and open their arms and homes to the man with whom I’m privileged to share my life. Only then will I have a truly merry Christmas.

Lowered expectations

I hold Christians to a very high standard, mainly because everything they do is a direct reflection on Christ and other people of faith. While it is tempting to lump all of them into one big category, I realize that Christians can be as varied as as the colors in a box of crayons. Some are as conservative as Rush Limbaugh, some are as liberal as Keith Olbermann, and most are somewhere in the middle.

It probably speaks to my own theological leanings that the more conservative members of faith are the ones that irk me the most, but it also seems that they are the least likely to think for themselves – or even think at all.

Honey started substitute teaching this week, so we celebrated his job change by visiting an amazing restaurant to celebrate. The nearby tables were host to a lively bunch that talked rather loudly and didn’t think twice about mixing two topics that are often considered off-limits at the dinner table – politics and religion.

Over and over I heard “Obama this” and “Obama that” and it was always negative. It seems like he is being blamed for everything that is wrong with this country, even though he hasn’t even been in office a full year. The political banter went on for quite some time, but the most ridiculous statement I heard came from an older gentleman who exclaimed that he was racist and becoming more so all the time. He seemed to take real pride in the fact.

Their racist conversation continued unabated for several minutes before the waitress arrived to box up their leftovers. She inquired about where they were from and they announced they were a church group from Tennessee. And for a brief moment, I was actually ashamed to share the same religion as these pathetic excuses for Christians.

The absurdity of it all reminded me of a conversation I read on Facebook recently. One of my friends posted a status update about Obama trying to convince lawmakers to include funding for abortion in his healthcare plan. “What if his mother had aborted him?” she asked. “She’d have done the world a favor” was the tasteless response that preceded a heated discussion that included such pearls of wisdom as “This will give sluts an excuse” and “Christians should stop paying taxes.”

When I explained that abortion is normally covered by health insurance plans, that Obama is pro-choice (not pro-abortion), and that our tax dollars have killed at least 750,000 people worldwide since 2002, I was assured that while abortion qualifies as murder, killing those we are at war with doesn’t. Interesting logic.

Sometimes I wonder if these people even read the Bible. How did they overlook the core tenets of Christianity like loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you?

Jesus said the two most important commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. If we do those two things, everything else will fall into place. When someone takes pride in doing the opposite, they insult the One they claim to follow and they don’t deserve the title “Christian.”

Birds of a feather

Imagine if I were to vote for someone simply because they were homosexual – regardless of their political views. Even worse, what if I chose them simply because they were white?

Honey started a new job a few weeks ago and has been going through training with several other new employees. One black woman has been going around asking her coworkers about their picks in the upcoming presidential election. When someone asked her who she supported, she proudly announced Obama as her candidate of choice. When asked why, she replied, “Cause he’s my brotha!”

I can imagine what her reaction might have been if a white person had used such a line to explain their endorsement of McCain or Clinton. It amazes me that many of the same people who complain about being judged by the color of their skin will turn around and endorse someone just because they have matching pigment. Some recent news stories tell of black voters being pressured by family and friends to support Obama simply because he is black.

It might be natural for us to gravitate towards our own kind, but we all lose when we allow petty issues like race and gender to dictate how we pick our leaders.

A Clinton or Obama win: Poetic justice for rednecks

I’d never vote for a n*gger or a woman for President.

That was the answer I received this morning when I asked a co-worker who he was supporting in our primary election. It might surprise you to learn that this is a person my age who normally votes for the Democratic candidate.

This election cycle has taught me that his view is fairly common in this part of the country. I’ve heard similar comments from several other people that I work with – conservative, “Christian” men who still haven’t moved beyond judging a person based on the color of their skin or what’s between their legs.

While I currently support Edwards and believe that he is the Democratic candidate with the most integrity (he’s the only candidate who doesn’t accept money from PACs or lobbyists), I can see how a win by either Obama or Clinton would be a kind of poetic justice for the people in this country who don’t seem to have evolved any over the last hundred years.

The danger of belief

In one of our book club meetings recently, we discussed belief and how what a person believes in can actually be a dangerous thing. I’ve always thought that a person can believe what they want to, as long as I’m allowed to do the same and our beliefs don’t cause each other physical harm or distress. I guess it’s a little more complicated than that. Some beliefs, while not being demonstrated by outward abuse or violence, can simmer below the surface and hinder the progress of others.

There are many times during my workday that I feel like the most enlightened person in the room. I know that sounds egotistical, but you would have to meet some of the people that I work with to understand that it’s not. It seems that my village has more than its fair share of idiots and that most of them work with me.

Yesterday, two coworkers informed me that neither they or anyone they knew would be voting for a woman or a “n*gger” for presidential office. Knowing that I would have no problem supporting either Clinton or Obama, I was appalled that anyone would so blatantly admit to their racism and sexism without a hint of embarrassment. I immediately informed them that they didn’t represent the majority of people in this country, a weak attempt to make them feel as insignificant as the minorities they were railing against.

The conversation morphed into a discussion about religion and “the truth”, which they informed me was anything found in scripture. I said that truth means different things to different people, while one claimed that his thirty-something pastor could always tell the truth by referring to the Bible. I countered that reading the Bible is all about interpretation, and was then told that there was no point in discussing the “truth” with someone who doesn’t believe in the infallibility of scripture. As the conversation was quickly deteriorating to the point of argument, I decided that it was time to bite my tongue.

While I am flabbergasted by many of their beliefs and consider them to be extreme, I’m sure they think the same of mine. The difference is that I try to err on the side of justice, kindness, and reason while many of their beliefs are rooted in discrimination and ignorance. I can’t help but wonder how they came to feel the way they do about certain issues, while I feel so completely different. Did personal experience or parental coaching help mold their beliefs into what they are today?

I know I’m not always right or that what I consider truth is superior to others, but I can defend most of my beliefs with something more than a gut feeling or a random Bible verse that is taken out of context. The search for truth which my coworkers referred to is so much more complex than their narrow concept of it. While they consider it to be absolute and tangible, I consider it to be relative and just outside my grasp. Yes, there are universal truths, but a combination of experience and reason usually brings forth a personal truth – something that we believe wholeheartedly, even if it’s wrong.

I sincerely hope that none of my beliefs are damaging to another person. Racism and sexism hurts other humans and homophobia hurts our brothers and sisters, yet some people still live and breathe those ideologies. I pray that I am not so steadfast in my opinions that I wouldn’t even consider changing them if presented with evidence to the contrary. That doesn’t make me wishy-washy, it just makes me open-minded and willing to evolve. That’s a characteristic that seems to be sorely lacking in my neck of the woods.