Last Sunday I married my son . . .

31 05 2017

FlowersIt’s not the first time. I also married my older son a year ago, and I felt this same way then. Standing before children who have been part of your life, for all of their lives, and officiating at a ceremonies celebrating their desire and commitment to now be part of someone else’s life, is an overwhelmingly awesome experience. It is a privilege that I do not take for granted and I will treasure the memories the rest of my life.

Planning for such events comes easily to me because . . . I’m a planner. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m as type-A as they come. For years my mantra has been “excellence honors God and inspires people”, and those words motivate and guide all that I do. (I heard it at a church conference years ago and have not forgotten it.) I’m organized. I pay attention to detail. And I like every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed.

I’m also a ‘church/churched person’! Religion is my business and spirituality is my cause. After officiating at close to 300 marriages in my 30+ years of ministry, I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Unity candles and sand ceremonies can be tasteful and meaningful; but trying to recreate the atmosphere of a Renaissance Faire by having all the men – including the pastor – wear tights, is neither!

So let me just say it. I have a few opinions on what should and shouldn’t be done at weddings. My daughter is already dreading the day when she has to work with my wife and me on planning her big day.

Actually, it’s more me than my wife.

Ok! It’s all me!

And that’s because my opinions really aren’t opinions.  At least not in my mind.  They’re facts.  And you just don’t . . . you CAN’T . . . argue with facts!

But this week I’m humming a slightly different tune. And here’s why.

My son and new daughter pulled off a beautiful celebration of their lives and their love in a way that accurately reflected the people they are and all that they value.  Jake has had long hair since he graduated from high school 10 years ago; so why would he cut it for his wedding.  To pretend to be something he is not?  And Alyssa’s everyday life and basic demeanor embody the ‘Live Simply’ attitude; so why would she want a marriage celebration that was anything but .. . . simple?

As Jacob’s brother said in his toast at the reception, and quiet eloquently I might add, “Jacob doesn’t care what people think, but he cares for people!”  That came through loud and clear in each and every aspect of the day’s festivities.

When I was told they wanted a pizza food truck to cater the meal, you can probably imagine my response.  “Jake, family and friends are coming a long way to be here.  You can’t just serve them a slice of pepperoni pizza!”

“Why not?” he said.   And then the chef/foodie in him really came out!  “Alyssa and I love pizza, and it’s the best pizza around.  We’re not interested in a huge buffet with mass-produced entrees and fake mashed potatoes!  No one is going to go hungry, and what is served will be delicious; so that’s what we’re going to do!”

With my wife kicking me under the table I said, “Ok!”

My son also lives in board shorts; and the leather shoes he owns are either Oleki and Sanuk, which means they look more like an extravagant pair of bedroom slippers than shoes.  And chinos?  Really?   “Those are not the kinds of things you wear to a wedding?”

“But why?” he said to me.  That’s who I am and that’s what I wear!  It’s my wedding, and I want to be comfortable.  I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not!  I’m not a suit. I’m not a bow tie.  And I’m certainly not penny loafers.

Who is Jacob?  He’s a hand crafted leather belt with little lavender squirrels that he bought the day before the wedding to wear with his lavender tie!  That’s who my son is. And that’s why I love him.  All three of my kids – as well as my two new daughters-in-law – are all very different; unique and their own person.  And that’s precisely why I love each of them.  They aren’t afraid to be who they are!

Then there was the ceremony!  “Dad, do you think you could tone-down the God stuff?”

I don’t think that’s exactly how he said it, but he very kindly and respectfully asked that his and Alyssa’s service reflect and respect THEIR beliefs and THEIR understanding of spirituality, faith, and God.  While all three of my children are extremely grateful for the lives they have lived, they are well aware that their privilege has often come at the expense of others, and that it is not the result not of a heavenly diety choosing to bless them over and above others.  So praising and praying to a sentient being is simply not an expression of their journeys.

As far as the Bible goes: God speaks in all kinds of ways, and their are countless other valid and acceptable expressions of truth and love and beauty.  “So how about a reading from JR Tolkien,” he said.

Again I said, “Really?”  You want me to read “The Lord of the Rings” at your wedding?”

But then I read “The Ent and the Ent-Wife”; and realized that it was perfect for Jake and Alyssa!

Last Sunday I married my son; and I think I learned more in those five hours than at any other point in my life.  He and his wife modeled for me what authenticity looks like; and how being honest and true to the Spirit of God that exists within them, is no less an expression of faithfulness than going to church every Sunday.  He and his siblings modeled for me what family is all about; and how children who are very different, can respect and care for one another when there is a common commitment to truth, goodness, grace, and love.   And he and his friends modeled for me how inclusivity has the capacity to change the world; and how seeing the good in everyone – particularly those who are not afraid to push back against a world that far too often reeks of conventionality, and where people masquerade in cultural and religious norms that deny the freedom and liberty, and the faith, hope and love, that is so freely professed – can bring a about a beauty that is nothing less than holy.

No!  I will never, ever wear tights to a wedding. Some things are indeed just wrong!

But this weekend I also learned that some things I thought were wrong, are actually pretty right!  I learned to chose authenticity over expected norms, to embrace truth above conventionality, and to serk beauty before conformity.   Who knew I would learn so much . . . marrying my son?

Limits to Tolerance?

24 05 2017

ToleranceI’m an inclusivist.  I’m an ecumenist.   I’m a universalist.  I’m a globalist.  I’m a panentheist.

But before anything else, I regard myself as a member of the great human family — created, loved, nurtured, and sustained by that which many of us call “God.”  My various labels give testimony to my desire to embrace all, and to strive to find unity even in the midst of the world’s diversity; and the Scriptures that guide my life tell me that because God is love, my call is to love everyone, just as Jesus did.  As “the fullest and most complete expression of God in human form,” I seek to model my life after the Christ: who taught me that everyone is my neighbor and that I am to love them as I love myself.  The holy book of my Muslim sisters and brothers pushes me further, challenging me to only want for others, what I want for myself.

Now over the years I’ve met countless other Americans who are seeking to live this same kind of life; but, I’ve also met countless Europeans (I actually live with one!) who are similarly seeking to live this way.  Their lives are just as reflective of the life of Jesus as my own.  I’ve met Mormons and Muslims who love God as much as I do, AND who follow God better than I do.  I have friends in the LGBTQ community who do a far better job than I when it comes to “seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly”; and I’ve met Black women who have not had any of the white privileges that have followed me all my life, and yet the love exhibited in their lives is making more of a difference in this world than mine ever will!

All of this is to say that I desire to do more that merely ‘tolerate’ those who are not like me; rather I long to embrace and enter into community with them.  We can learn from one another, and together work to make the world a better place to live.

This is the liberal mindset.  Liberals are, by very definition, liberal in our willingness to accept others, regardless of the nation we call home, the language we speak, the religion we practice, the worldview we adopt, the people we choose to love, or the color of our skin.  In the words of Mr. Webster, we have . . . “generous hearts; appropriate for a broad and enlightened mind; free from narrowness, bigotry, or bondage; and advocating liberty of thought, speech, and action.”  And while I know this makes us all sound way too saintly, overall it’s a pretty accurate description of who we seek to be and that for which most of us strive.

Thrity Umrigar, in her new book “Everybody’s Son”, writes that “even a broken clock is right two times a day!”  And I like that.  It reminds me that everyone has something to contribute to this world we call home, and it challenges me to see the good in everyone. Since I do not believe humanity’s primary identity is that of a sinner in the hands of an angry God, I believe people are called to see the image of God in everyone, and firmly believe that all people are worthy of my love.

However, and I think I speak for most of of the liberals I know when I say this, our acceptance and our tolerance DO have boundaries!

In spite of the many freedoms that we enjoy in this country, when your rights start to infringe upon mine, or upon the marginalized and oppressed, we WILL resist.  Your words will be rejected and your actions will be challenged; for while you may have the right to do or say anything and everything you want, your actions and words may not always be acceptable.  Freedom has restrictions.  Liberalism has boundaries.  And tolerance has limits!

This past spring, much was written about Milo Yioannopoulos, the British media personality associated with the political alt-right and a former senior editor for Breitbart News; as well as Ann Coulter, a conservative American social and political commentator, lawyer, and syndicated columnist.  Both were invited to speak at UC Berkeley; but student outrage over the invitations resulted in neither of them making a visit to the prestigious university.  An outspoken critic of what he calls ‘political correctness’, Milo is quick to condemn feminism, Islam, and has stated that “gay rights are detrimental to humanity.”   He believes that child abuse is “really not that big of deal,” and has made others statements that have led some to believe he condones pedophilia.  And Ann Coulter is little more than a media hound: a social and political conservative who will do and say almost anything as long as it will get peoples’ attention.

Last month, Harvard University graduate and Google employee James Damore became yet another hero of right wing extremists when he published a memo challenging the role of women in the tech industry.  He was eventually fired, and is now fighting back by claiming that the “left” is only concerned about free speech when it agrees with the liberal causes, and complaining that the Silicon Valley is intolerant of those with differing political perspectives.

And then there’s Richard Spencer, and the countless other racist, Nazi-sympathizing, White Supremacists who have made the spotlight in recent weeks.  They too argue that the first amendment gives them the right to say and do whatever they want, however they want — a freedom they believe is granted to them by the Constitution.

But freedom and tolerance do not mean that “anything goes!”  And there is nothing inconsistent about this position in the so-called ‘liberal agenda.’  Liberals weigh very carefully the responsibility to listen to others, AND TO PROTECT OTHERS.  We want to and will engage those with whom we disagree; but we will also resist people who say things that invite violence, incite fear, or in any way threaten other because of the color of their skin, their religious preference, their sexual preference, or any other aspect of their life that is different from the white, American perspective on what is ‘normal!’

Is this a “slippery slope?”  Of course it is.  And we don’t always get it right. But in the long run, liberals are committed to navigating this precarious slope.  We will listen to those with whom we disagree, and we will work to guarantee everyone’s right to speak their mind and to freely express themselves.  But when people claim the right to behave militantly, with guns and torches, we will draw a line.  When people seek to exercise their ‘rights’ with so much hate that people become fearful for their very lives, we will draw a line. When people express views and ideas that are void of truth and lacking in intellectual integrity we will draw a line.  And when people act in ways that violate that which is just, and right, and good, we will draw a line.  For as subjective as drawing lines might be, boundaries are sometimes necessary because yes, tolerance has limits.

Being tolerant does not mean tolerating intolerance.  It doesn’t mean accommodating hatred, accepting lies, condoning violence, or closing our eyes to injustice.  And while we all might have very different definitions of hatred, lies, violence, and injustice, in the end, it’s all about treating one another with love and respect.  The whole “I-may-disagree-with-what-you-say-but-will-defend-your-right-to-say-it” has it’s limits!  For when personal views, opinions, and perspectives, harm others, drawing lines is not being intolerant: it’s simply being civil.  It’s being courteous, and respectful, and considerate.

If you don’t believe in gay marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same gender.  If you believe God wants you to avoid Margaritas on Sunday, then stay away from your local Mexican restaurant on your Sabbath.  If you believe that God wants you to cover your body, head to toe, when you’re in public, then feel free to buy that burka and wear it with as much pride as your faith permits.  But don’t try and make me walk in your footsteps!  And when your footsteps start to trample on mine, or on those with no voice, know that we liberals will not stand by and be quiet.  And this is especially true of those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus.  For in my case, these position actually have little to do with any kind of liberal political agenda.  Rather, they are Gospel!  Plain and simple.

In America, we respect our diversity.  We liberals celebrate it, and we progressive Christ-followers even honor it.  I am well aware that we all see things differently, and that my perspective on things may not always be accurate.  But sometimes opinions are just wrong – scientifically, morally, ethically, and spiritually.  And when we liberals see that wrongness, we will carefully, discerningly, lovingly, and non- violently, draw a line.  We will protest and preach, write and resist, challenge and chastise.  We will publish blog after blog and Facebook post after Facebook post, that push, poke, and prod; and we will not be silenced because of some distorted idea so-called ‘liberal inconsistency’!

No!  Tolerance does NOT mean tolerating intolerance.  And these days, everyone better get used to tolerating that!