Christmas is the Perfect Time to Protest. No, Really.

A month ago, my daughter and I decorated the house for Christmas while my wife was out. (“Three weeks before Thanksgiving is too early,” she would have said. Scrooge.) Stockings on the mantle, mistletoe above the doorframe, tree by the window; our usual setup. We blasted the Bing Crosby, popped our popcorn and had a lovely time.

But it wasn’t until two weeks later when I was out shopping at the Salvation Army thrift store that the proverbial Christmas spirit hit me. They were playing Silent Night over the sound system. I realized that our Christmas celebrations and preparations had been suspiciously absent of baby Jesus.

Now, I am not one of those let’s-keep-Christ-in-Christmas, He’s-the reason-for-the-season kinds of Christian. I am pro-Santa. But I do revere the nativity story, as I do many biblical narratives, with a strange mixture of reluctant nostalgia for my deeply Evangelical upbringing and a set of genuine theological beliefs.

If there’s one theme that unites these two traditions — the plate-of-cookies-for-santa narrative and the candle-light-Christmas-Eve-service narrative — it’s comfort. The warmth of firelight. The familiarity of ritual. The excitement of anticipation. It’s all very comforting.

Last Sunday, the church across the street from where we live did something very uncomfortable and untraditional. They filed out the doors and into the street chanting, “Hands up — Don’t shoot!” They held signs saying, “Black lives matter to God and us,” and “We can’t breathe,” and “Do Justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” They filled the intersection in front of my building and shut down traffic (with the help of law enforcement officers, it should be added).

(If any of you are unfamiliar with or confused by the anger behind these protests happening around the nation, be sure to read my friend Darren’s recent, piece here on the blog, “Why Ferguson Matters.” It’s excellent.)

I watched all of this from my bathroom window. And I felt really proud of those church members, many of whom are neighbors in our building. I knew the community was racially diverse and very passionate about social justice issues, so it wasn’t surprising that they joined the dozens of other churches here in Chicago staging Sunday morning protestsBut it did surprise me when they sung a Christmas hymn.

O come, o come Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee oh Israel.

O Come O Come Emmanuel is more of a dirge than a hymn. It has this dark, minor tune. It’s gorgeous, of course. But somber.

It’s also not so much about Christmas as about the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. A period of waiting. Not the gleeful anticipation kind of waiting. The groaning with pain and desperate for relief kind. The song is addressed to the nation of Israel under foreign occupation. They are waiting for a Messiah, a Savior who will free them from oppressive rule. It seems as though God has abandoned them, yet the song encourages them to watch for Emmanuel, “God with us,” to arrive.

It’s not merry. It’s not bright. It’s not comfortable. But, I realized, it’s the perfect song for this moment in our own nation. Israel faced injustice and we too face injustice. Israel needed peaceful governance and we too need peaceful governance. Israel eagerly waited for the coming King, and we too should look forward to Jesus’ second coming, when violence and corruption are eradicated — even as we work toward and operate within that Kingdom today.

Here’s what I learned: Protest is deeply Christmas.

The song continues:

Oh come desire of nations bind

In one the hearts of all mankind.

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease

And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee oh Israel.



Note: This post first appeared on Love is an Orientation here

The “Closet” is OK, But Here’s an Alternate Floorplan-Based Metaphor for Coming Out

The term “coming out” is an interesting phrase (with a long and fascinating history that you can find out abouthere). The imagery associated with it is one of emerging from a closet (a place of hiding) into a room (a shared space). It’s moving from a private space to a public one. It implies a decisive moment for an LGBTQ person. One minute their sexual orientation or gender identity is a secret, and the next it isn’t.

I’m not so sure about this metaphor. When a loved one comes out to us, they’re not stepping into our world. They’re inviting us to step into theirs.

In contrast to the “closet,” let me offer my own floorplan-based metaphor. When someone says, “I’m gay” or “I like other girls” or “I was born into the wrong body,” it’s an invitation to come into their house. This is where they live. This is their space.

So what kind of guest are you going to be?

We all know what a bad guest feels like. He overstays his welcome. She sneaks a peek in your medicine cabinet. They offer unsolicited advice on your decor. Bad guests violate your hospitality.

Good guests, on the other hand, know that there are boundaries. They know exactly how far your hospitality extends.

Let’s say you’re stepping into the foyer of someone’s house when they come out to you. Where you go from there is up to the owner of that house. Let them lead you around. Or respect their decision to keep you under the doorframe.

Asking intrusive questions is like pushing past the homeowner to take a look around. Here are some examples of questions likely to be considered intrusive:

  • Asking about how or whether they have reconciled their sexuality with their faith.
  • Asking about tension within their family dynamics surrounding their orientation or identity.
  • Asking about their relationship history or current status.
  • Asking about their sexual ethic.

Consider these curiosities to be rooms of their house you haven’t been invited into yet. The house tour may come in several stages. Or it may not come at all.

When individuals come out, they’re deciding which pieces of information to disclose and which to withhold. They’ve likely been doing this with you for far longer than you realize. They may have tested the waters with inconspicuous questions, comments or behaviors. They wanted to know whether you were a safe person to trust with this information.

And even after they’ve disclosed their orientation or identity, they’re still likely trying to gauge how much further to let you in and longer to let you stay. They’re asking questions like, “Do I want this person’s voice in my life?” or “Does this person feed my soul, or darken it?” or “Do I trust this person to give me advice about (blank)?”

If you’re resolved to be a safe person, a good steward of delicate information, a respectful houseguest (and I hope you are), here’s three great things for you to say:

  1. Thanks for sharing this with me. I feel honored that you’ve trusted me with this.
  2. Nothing you could ever tell me will make me think any less of you. You and I may not always agree on everything, but I’m proud of who you are and that will never change.
  3. What do you need from me, if anything? How can I support you?

Take every step you can to be a good guest, one who gets invited back.


Note: This post first appeared on Love is an Orientation here.

Why My Wife Came Out

Last year at about this time, I wrote about when my wife came out to me as bisexual. It was an exposé of my own baggage (of which there was a lot) as well as a tribute to her patience and generosity (of which there was more).

Amid the flood of response, I received many different iterations of the same question: “Why? Why did your wife feel the need to come out at all?”

I understand this curiosity. After all, we’re an opposite-sex (some might say “traditional”) couple with attraction for one another and no desire to change how our marriage operates. What’s the point in even bringing this up, or labeling it bisexuality?

The funny thing is, even in the throws of my doubt and insecurities this question never crossed my mind. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve actually given it any thought.

This is what I’ve come up with (with her help, of course). Here’s why Courtney came out:

It was about personal integrity. I recently heard a pastor talk about how much she admired her transgender daughter’s commitment to living authentically. “Really, I’ve learned so much about integrity from the trans community” she said. I told her that this was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. It resonated with me.

I see the same ethic at work in Courtney. There’s a sense of wholeness that only living in the truth can provide. She’s taught me that. I’ve come to learn so much about authenticity from my wife.

It was about her commitment to me. Authenticity and transparency have always characterized our marriage. When I was first asked why Courtney came out to me, my immediate thought was “why wouldn’t she tell me?” We’ve never had secrets. We’ve never had the instinct to repress our thoughts or perspectives on anything (faith, politics, money, sex, family), even when we knew there would be conflict.

Courtney knew that the only thing scarier and more hurtful than being truthful with me would be to hide the truth from me. She came out to me because she trusted in the strength of our marriage. She wanted me to know.

Being on this side of that conversation, as painful as it was for me, I know it was the right thing to do. Working through it has brought us much closer.

It was about wanting to be an advocate. I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate this at the time. For Courtney, the fact that she could go throughout life being assumed to be straight never sat well with her. It felt like a kind of cowardice, especially when so many of our LGBTQ friends, just by nature of their same-sex relationships or gender identities, were lightning rods for stigma and scrutiny. She didn’t want to hide behind the facade of a “traditional” marriage.

Before I ever joined an organization committed to standing in solidarity with the other, whoever that other might be, my wife showed me what solidarity actually looked like. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my wife. She paved the way for my work here at The Marin Foundation.

Watching her live out her integrity, her love for me and her sense of justice in standing with and for the LGBTQ community…it’s been such a revelation to me. In the end I know she could have chosen not to come out. But I’m so glad she did.

Note: This post first appeared on Love is an Orientation here.