Write On

I haven’t been writing as much lately and I apologize for that, I guess, if you have been following me through the years and you’ve found some sort of enjoyment in reading my blog.

I’ve been tending to shy away from blogging lately, because I find that it takes away from the very serious business of pretending I’m a writer.

No, not funny?

Ah, well.

Not only have I been moonlighting as a writer, I’ve been busy in other areas of my life. I’m gone from 8 – 6 most days now, since I work up in Flint and my commute takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hr 40 minutes depending on whether or not Genesee County has decided to salt the roads on that particular day.

On the side, I’ve been coordinating the online presence for Soup Grant Lansing since October. (As a volunteer, by the way. I realize “on the side” makes it sound like it could be a job or something!) If you give me the chance to, I’ll talk your ear off about it. (It’s the 3rd Thursday of the month, by the way. Hint, hint, Lansing.)

And on top of all that, I’ve got my partner to think of whose halfway through vet school and our baby girl (an energetic, 7-month-old black lab/mutt).

To make it short, this has not been a season of peace and quiet.

I’ve thought about discontinuing the blog many times recently; two months between posts is a very long time. Moreover, I’ve often told myself it would be good to just be rid of it and get on with focusing on other things.

After some consideration, however, I’ve decided against discontinuing the blog. I’ve never had any hope of making Queerrant a highly successful blog with lots of hits and a high level of traffic. On the other hand, I consider it very successful in smaller ways. More than anything over the years, I’ve valued the exchanges I’ve had with people via the comments or the responses to my posts that people send me by e-mail every once in a while. I’m always pleased to know that something I have to say resonates with someone else.

Something I found while I was canvassing suburban Philly for the Obama campaign was that, when I had conversations with folks about the election, I felt much better than when all I could do was sit back and listen to a “news” report which was intended to induce a knee-jerk, emotional reaction rather than concentrating on hard-hitting reporting or sensitive analysis.

Perhaps I was just one small voice and one set of ears, but I was relieved to know that there were many people with whom I could sustain an intelligent conversation that didn’t have to venture into the domain of raising our voices against one another even where we disagreed.

That is fundamentally what I want this blog to continue to be: A place where voices don’t need to be raised. We won’t always agree, but perhaps I’ll learn something, and perhaps you’ll learn something.

Perhaps my voice is small, and yours as well. I have nothing inspiring to say. I don’t believe in changing the world with one small voice. I only believe that it is best to remain who you are in spite of everything else, in the face of the world when there are a million angry voices drowning out a million others, just as angry.

Thank you to everyone who has been reading throughout the years. Thank you for your comments, your thoughts, your honesty. Thank you most of all for your friendship.

I’ll look forward to hearing more from you, too, over the coming years.

jrm

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Something to be thankful for

While most people are out shopping or enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers, I’m trying to finally find the words of gratitude for an unlooked for moment of healing and reconciliation.

If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to go take a look at the comments left on my last post from Nov. 16. Julia Smith, program coordinator at Student Life and director of the Sexuality Series at Calvin College, left some very heartfelt, honest, and perceptive thoughts that, frankly, took me aback.

Years removed from “Memogate” (a nickname I’m hereby disavowing for its crass intonations), I expected that this was something I had gotten over. In the ensuing e-mail exchange between Julia and myself, however, I came to realize how much hurt and resentment I was still carrying around.

As you may see documented in past writing in the Chimes and message board discussions, the response towards the LGBT community’s outrage was pretty condescending. Though they too were indignant, some in the faculty told us to settle down and let them sort it out because it was nothing to do with us, it was purely a question of academic freedom. Let the adults handle this one, kids. Meanwhile, the administration insisted that nothing had changed and that we were simply clarifying and reaffirming our stance in regards to homosexuality.

As I read back through the words I wrote in September of that year, my own anger surprises me.

If we wish to move forward together, then we must act visibly together from the top of the administration all the way down to the student body. Panels on academic freedom are not enough; running the Synod’s prayer for reconciliation into the ground with overuse only exacerbates the issue after a point. Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi’s words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” might be a place to start as we think about practically living out our call to reconciliation rather than just praying it once or twice every year. Rather than simply clarifying the Memo, a public apology to an already ostracized minority and a public reaffirmation to strive for a more hospitable campus could be in order — if such a commitment still stands.

To move on, we must remember the grievance. To rejoice in the new direction we are taking, we must acknowledge where we’ve been. And I do believe that we’re headed in a new direction.

Just a brief aside that I would like to make clear:

Although Julia took it upon herself to apologize, I have never held her responsible for the actions taken by the Calvin administration. She was a bystander in what took place. I find it all the more humbling that she took it upon herself to intervene here where there was no need on her part, and I take inspiration in her actions as an example of what it means to take part in that great Reformed tradition of the renewal of God’s creation. She’s showing us a beautiful example of what it means to be an instrument of God’s peace in the world.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for renewed hope, new beginnings, and new friendships in unexpected places. Though there’s work to be done, I’m grateful for a bright future for members of the LGBT community at Calvin College and the progress that’s being made year-by-year, one conversation at a time, through the diligence of some remarkable students and dedicated folks in the faculty and administration. I’m grateful for the power of one voice speaking out in truth and love.

Julia, you are an inspiration for us all in your desire to heal, your desire to learn, your desire to undo injustice.

jrm

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Kudos to the Calvin Chimes

Wanted to give a shout-out to the folks at the Calvin Chimes, the student newspaper at Calvin College, for the great feature story that they ran this week.

Allowing minorities to define themselves and put their own stories in writing is a powerful thing, particularly in the sort of atmosphere fostered by Calvin College where, as one writer this week pointed out, LGBT related questions are so often purely speculative or “academic,” since few students are willing to put themselves forward as members of the community.

Other writers pointed out that they felt unsure of being able to find their place on campus were they to come out of the closet.

The articles are all pretty short. Go ahead and check them out for yourself.

I suppose I was pretty struck by how all the stories sound like the stories we were telling when I was a student at Calvin College. Reading through many of the articles, I thought to myself, “I remember when I thought that! I remember that point in my life when I said that, too.”

Although I haven’t been gone from Calvin all that long (I graduated in 2010), it’s disheartening to see that little has changed. I don’t go back, so I’m only peripherally aware of what’s going on at Calvin through reading the Chimes, the Facebook grapevine, etc. but I felt as though everything I’d been hearing from folks was that “things are changing, things are getting better.”

I have only one critique to offer the good folks at Chimes, which I do so lovingly: Everyone in this story is, so far as we can tell (there are a couple silhouetted photos), white, and almost everyone is male. Calvin is such a white institution as it is, I believe that it must be downright isolating to try and establish a place for yourself on campus as both a racial minority and also as a member of the LGBT community. There are stories there that need to be told. A writer I already linked to pointed out how very few queer women are out at Calvin College. I’m not quite sure why the atmosphere at Calvin lends itself to this sort of climate where there are lots of gay men and relatively few queer women.

What are your thoughts? Any other Calvin alums seeing this as a sign of positive change? 

Again, kudos to you, Calvin Chimes. You are the best thing about Calvin College. (And how I miss that old office.)

jrm

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So close, and yet so far

Two weeks ago, my alma mater, Calvin College, hosted gay Christian theologian Wesley Hill to share his thoughts about friendship, intimacy, and the Church’s responsibility towards its gay and lesbian members.

Hill’s talk was particularly frustrating for me because, in many ways, he’s right on the money in what he has to say about our society under-appreciating deep friendship and overstating romantic love as a be-all, end-all; yet the way in which he framed his discussion seemed to be completely off. LGBT people already understand the fundamental need for deep friendship in a world where we often face rejection – from our families, our religious communities, our neighbors, etc. Deep friendship is how we survive.

Hill’s talk seemed eager to get this point across to the Church while seeking some form of approbation for these relationships. I wrote a former professor of mine on the subject.

I don’t understand Wesley’s needs for a legitimacy from outside forces for his friendships. I realize that I’m a crazy, left-field progressive, but the whole talk seemed a little Eyeore-ish to me, and that’s precisely what breaks my heart.

The only thing that I can say in my own defense for making that comment is that I once believed all of this. Up until I was 20 or so, I was wholeheartedly committed to lifelong celibacy. I think that this mindset of, “I can’t, I’m gay” is unhealthy and rotten to the core and needs to be dismantled as swiftly as possible. If God has called you to be celibate, then I admire you and your calling. However, I don’t believe God calls people on such shallow and superficial grounds as their orientation. I don’t mean that smugly, either. Perhaps I shall be called to celibacy in my life. I could accept this. I cannot accept that choice being made for me by others, however, when they know so little of my situation. I don’t want to see others buy into this mindset that the choice has already been made simply because they are LGB.

I wish to reiterate that I do appreciate the prophetic call Hill offered, asking the Church to reconsider the way that we have placed marriage on a pedestal as the ultimate form of love.

One of my biggest critiques of this sort of discussion is that it perpetuates an obsession by the heterosexual world with the sex lives of LGBT people. I think that the deeper longing most of us feel for a significant other is not about someone to have sex with but someone to wake up to in the morning, someone with whom you can share life’s big moments, someone who will tell you that everything is going to be okay when you have more bills due than money in the bank.

Hill himself pointed this out in his comments, pointing to a letter which he received from a friend who poured out his longing for a companion who could be there with him and for him in such times.

So why can’t we be content with friends to share these moments with? Why don’t we simply live in intentional community? Well, why don’t we pose this question to the heterosexual community?

Here’s some of my reaction I wrote to a former professor of mine from Calvin College who took the time to write me some of her own thoughts:

There is an implied choice: relationship or friends. I don’t consider that a legitimate choice that needs to be made and, in all fairness, I imagine Wesley would agree. The talk, however, is quite explicitly targeted to LGB folks and how they might be able to compensate for lacking a significant other. I find this troubling because I think that there are many straight folks out there as well who are celibate and could use a word of encouragement in this. What troubles me is not the talk of celibacy but rather the implications that this is a special domain specifically for LGB folks. When we talk about the need to move away from a church that glorifies the bourgeois family, I’m all on board… I think that there is a real place for this discussion. I don’t believe in creating a false choice, however. 

Hill later went on to talk about the coinciding need for friendship and romantic partnership during the Q&A session. While straight folks got brought into the discussion a little bit more during this time for Q&A, the question of how the Church community can support celibate folks is not on equal ground when you are pulling aside a subset of your congregation and telling them, “The choice has been made for you.”

Calvin President Michael Le Roy gave an interview to Christianity Today a while back where he brought up the issue of loving the LGBT community at Calvin and what that might look like.

All of the language of serious, committed faith is obedience language—take up the cross and follow. It’s the cost of discipleship. It’s not pretty stuff that you can make nice. It’s pretty rugged stuff, but that’s the gospel. Theologically, how do we convey that truth in a graceful way and not water it down? Then that has implications for all the other issues.

Of course every Christian college president is worried about this, but homosexuality is a very real issue for campuses. We have gay and lesbian students here. I have met with them. I have talked with them. They are Christians and they are trying to figure out, “What does this mean? How do I live?”

I wonder, is this what Michael Le Roy meant when he told Christianity Today that we need to find a way to communicate our love to the LGBT students at Calvin without watering down our theology? By finding a water-carrier who is in fact gay? I for one don’t happen to believe that it’s loving to pat someone on the back, tell them we’re sorry, but this is the way it’s gotta be, and then invite them over for dinner afterwards.

I am reminded of the poem “Dinner Guest: Me” by Langston Hughes. Although it is written on a very different topic, it makes me think of my time at Calvin and how people love to talk about “the problem,” people love to talk about love and loving the LGBT community; “Solutions to the problem,/of course, can wait.”

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Where could I be?

I’m not avoiding writing. I’ve actually been conscientious in trying to keep up with it a little more.

Lately, I’ve been doing most of my writing over at the Independent Underground. I write you this at the same time that I have, for the first time in a while, an article idea I’d like to pursue here on Queer Rant. So don’t stop following me here! I may not be posting very often, but I haven’t abandoned you – so please don’t abandon me, either.

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Michiganders and their weather

Has anyone else noticed that Michiganders talk a lot about the weather?

I listen to a few different Michigan podcasts and I noticed that in each one of them, at one point or another, a guest or a host will open up their comments by talking about the weather.

Then I started thinking, I always talk about the weather when I call home to my family. Someone asks me how the weather is or I ask them how the weather is – or both.

Michiganders are just so used to horrible weather : We have some of the cloudiest weather in the country – 13 of the top 101 cities according to this site – and, in my hometown, some of the snowiest weather. I propose a hypothesis that we talk about the weather more than should be considered normal since we either talk about our horrible weather as a sort of therapy (“Well, at least summer’s only six months away”) or in pleasant surprise when we, on occasion, do in fact have nice weather (“Look! A patch of green is showing through the snow!”).

Has anyone else noticed this? Am I making this up?

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We are not all Detroiters

As nice a sentiment as it is, we are not all Detroiters.

For years, Michiganders have looked at Detroit as a “problem” that needs fixing. An inconvenience. An eyesore.

And now that the city of Detroit is declaring bankruptcy – at the behest of our Governor – we’re all Detroiters?

For too many people across the nation and across the world, Detroit has become a sort of apocalyptic Babylon – the image of a once mighty empire in ruins. Many people are quick to gawk and let their mouths hang open in disbelief at the city’s fall, but few people are willing to make any headway on the problem.

Detroit is not the problem, however. Detroit is the victim.

So-called “experts” across the nation are lining up to speculate on how this iconic American city could have ended up at this point and in this process, local officials have become an easy scape-goat for much larger problems.

Corruption on the part of certain elected officials could never be as damaging to the city as losing over 60 percent of the city’s population in fifty years. It’s a long way to fall from nearly two million to just over 700,000.

Corruption could never do as much harm as shipping jobs to other states and other countries. People – and tax dollars – go where there’s work available.

Corruption has done far less to harm the city of Detroit than urban sprawl. There are still over four million people in Metro Detroit – only their tax dollars are going to other city governments rather than to Detroit’s coffers.

The real Detroiters are the ones living in Detroit right now, the ones dealing with the consequences of White Flight, the ones coping with the aftermath of our manufacturing jobs getting shipped overseas.

And it should be noted that these Detroiters are remaking the city today in revolutionary ways that are showing what a post-industrial society looks like. Vacant fields are being turned into farms. Neighborhoods are being converted into art galleries. The people of Detroit are pulling together, reclaiming the city through ground-level organizing – from biking groups to networking for transplants moving to Detroit for work.

And Detroit is adding jobs: Entrepreneurs are moving to Detroit to start businesses. The tech industry is posting huge gains in Detroit. As Quicken Loans and other companies set up downtown, housing is in high demand. A new bridge connecting Detroit with Canada will expand trade and manufacturing possibilities.

The state of Michigan could best help out the city of Detroit by speeding up the blight removal, by using some of the $500+ million in our rainy day fund to invest in the city and speed up its recovering. The city’s layout is in desperate need of an overhaul since it’s a huge place. Detroit is roughly the same size as San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Boston combined (139 sq miles vs the combined area of these cities standing at 156 sq miles).

To go back to Detroit’s French roots, Dépenser plus pour gagner plus. Spend more to get more. For Detroit to become economically viable, we need to reverse the city’s hemorrhaging population. Restructuring the city, investing in infrastructure and police, and speeding up blight removal are all crucial components to this.

We need some action. Detroit’s recovery is Michigan’s recovery – but that doesn’t make us all Detroiters.

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