Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Soccer is groing on me, but was kind of ruined for me at an early age

Well that sucked. But like a slow fungus, soccer is growing on me. Not a real fan, just sayin', I guess I can see the appeal.

Soccer was ruined for me at an early age. In first grade, my youth league coach was a former Greek national team player. And he tended to remember his glory days better than he remembered the fact that HE WAS COACHING FIRST GRADERS. Ball, nets, kids, shin guards, fun, aaaand YOU'RE DONE. But he would go ape**** whenever the refs didn't make the most minute, technical, esoteric calls - to the point that he stormed off the field during our second official game and never, ever came back. But what hit us first graders the hardest that day was that, because it was a forfeit, we didn't get our free post-game cokes at the concession stand.

Then a few years later, playing indoor soccer at YMCA day camp, everyone thought I was good at heading. But no, I was just good at getting my glasses smashed over and over again. Ouch.

I'm just sayin', that childhood stuff lasts. Ya gotta gimme time with this sport, that's all.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Justice isn't worth waiting for - it's worth fighting for.

The relatively new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said in a recent interview that we mustn't be TOO hasty to respect the rights and spirituality of our LGBT brothers and sisters, because when we do, we risk putting African Christians in danger. That's an interesting suggestion I admit I haven't thought about much before - indeed, sometimes the sacrifices required by our actions are not our own. It's important to consider all perspectives and walks of life, so this is a valid point I should reflect upon more.

But the ABC may also need to do some more reflecting himself on a different valid point, and that is that when we DON'T stand up for the rights and spirituality of our LGBT brothers and sisters, then THEY can be similarly abused - especially in Africa

I respect what the ABC saw in South Sudan. It's not an experience I have had. Had he coupled this discussion with condemnation of Uganda's new anti-gay law, I would be somewhat less uncomfortable. 

I am proud to be a member of an Anglican province, the Episcopal Church in the United States, that doesn't wait for justice or love. Reader, I don't know who you are, but I know that Jesus loves you. That means I do too. Every single one of us already has God's grace, so what else matters? Just the love and justice that flow from that truth.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

My take on last night's D.C. election results

Last night's election results were a small step forward for D.C. - good, but not great. The crooked mayor is gone, but his replacement is mediocre at best. There were huge gains in Ward 1, though, and nothing went in reverse with Ward 6 electing another great councilmember. A small net positive overall.

I'm very proud of D.C. for kicking Mayor Gray out. We have no one to blame but ourselves when we re-elect crooks, and D.C. did the right thing by picking the anti-Gray. Unfortunately, the wrong candidate emerged as the anti-Gray. I do not believe Muriel Bowser will be a good mayor. There doesn't seem to be a lot of depth in her interviews or courage in her career. Though not corrupt like Gray, she only supported ethics reform after it was extremely watered down and accepted money from the same shady donors. She's an improvement, but not a big one.

The best news is in Ward 1, where we saw HUGE change. The ethically-challenged Councilmember Jim Graham was defeated. I thought this would happen, but by one point, not 17!!! Best of all, the winner, Brianne Nadeau, isn't just an anti-Graham. She knows the neighborhood, is committed to a progressive vision, and expands the Council's reformer bloc. I'm very excited by Ward 1 - that was a huge boost for the city.

The positive status quo was kept in Ward 6, my neighborhood, with Charles Allen replacing Tommy Wells on the Council. This is wonderful news and I'm very excited - Charles will make a GREAT councilmember. But, Tommy was outstanding, so when talking about reform and progress, this is holding ground, or I'd lead off with it. Still exciting though.

Unfortunately, the negative status quo was kept for the at-large seat with Anita Bonds being re-elected, but that was expected. And while it's disappointing, it's also the status quo, meaning at least it's not a step backwards.

So overall, a small step forward in a big race, a huge step forward in a small race, and status quo both good and bad elsewhere. But I am excited by the prospect of an expanding Grosso/McDuffie/Allen/Nadeau reform voting bloc on the Council.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

#DCision14: Who I'm Voting For

If you haven't heard yet -- today, Tuesday, April 1, is Election Day in D.C. This is our chance to clean up our city.

Nobody else will do it if we don't.

While I'm growing more and more cynical about national politics, I remain committed to our community. We live, work, and play here -- so this city's health and future are entirely up to us. If you're a registered Democrat or not yet a registered D.C. voter (you can register same day!), then I hope you'll turn out to vote for reform -- and above all, I just hope you'll vote. Some of the biggest change happens at the local level.

Depending on your ward, I encourage you to vote for:
Please let me tell you why, and then look up your polling place here.

Tommy Wells for Mayor

It's imperative that we vote out Mayor Gray. Although there are seven other candidates for mayor, there's only one whom I believe would do a good job, and that's Tommy Wells. He has more than earned my vote, and I hope yours.

Tommy is stellar when it comes to ethics, something we desperately need right now. He's walking the walk by not taking any corporate contributions, is the only councilmember running who didn't take any money from Jeffrey Thompson (the crook behind the mayor's illegal shadow campaign), and has a long track record of introducing solid ethics reforms. He attends my church and everyone there who's known him for years loves him.

But he's much more than just an honest guy. As a Councilmember, Tommy successfully passed decrim legislation and the bag tax, as Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary is pressing Police Chief Lanier on sexual harassment issues and the Fire Department on their bad equipment and ambulance response times, and improved bus service as transportation committee chair (until then-Council Chair now-convict Kwame Brown took away that chair in revenge for an ethics investigation).

His website features a vast array of detailed policy proposals to reorganize the city government. He has the endorsements of the National Organization of Women as well as both the police & fire unions, and in his previous career was a socialworker east of the river and a DC School Board member - so you know he's got the experience for ALL the issues.

You may have heard that this has become a two-person race. That's not true. Muriel Bowser does have the best shot at beating Gray, but I don't believe she'll make a good mayor -- and Wells isn't out yet. He's in a strong third place, and if every Bowser voter who prefers Wells but prioritizes beating Gray actually voted for Wells (and several have told me they ended up doing so in early voting), he could win.

This is still a close election where you can vote for your values, and my values tell me to vote for Tommy Wells.

Brianne Nadeau for Council, Ward 1

Brianne is running against 16-year incumbent Jim Graham. Graham has done a lot of good for the city, particularly the LGBT community, but there are just too many ethics questions to re-elect him again -- and Brianne would make a great Councilmember. The race is neck-and-neck, so turnout matters!

As Greater Greater Washington put it,
In this election, voters do not simply have a choice between Graham and not-Graham; they have the opportunity to select a very worthy councilmember for all of Ward 1...

Nadeau has been working to improve her neighborhood for many years, including a stint on the U Street Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B and then in the Ward 1 Democrats. She has advocated for smart growth and progressive policies such as reforming parking, adding new housing to welcome more neighbors, and providing affordable housing for less affluent residents... 
Brianne has picked up endorsements from Democracy for America, Jews United For Justice, Emily's List, the Washington Post, and even Councilmembers Wells and Grosso, reformers who still have to work with her opponent. Plus numerous good friends I trust are going all-in for her. She'll make a great Councilmember.

Kenyan McDuffie for Council, Ward 5

In Ward 5, still-new Council member Kenyan McDuffie is another strong choice for reform, but he doesn't have strong opposition, so I'm not going to go into great detail. You can read Greater Greater Washington's endorsement here.

Charles Allen for Council, Ward 6

I live in Ward 6 and have been active with Charles's race, and will cast an enthusiastic ballot for him today.

For years, Charles has been Tommy Wells's Council Chief of Staff, and is now running to replace him on the Council. He shares Tommy's commitment to ethics and integrity during a time of corruption -- as well as the credit for many of Tommy's legislative accomplishments. Talk to him about any local issue and you'll find that he knows them all, backwards and forwards.

Charles is basing his campaign around better middle schools, better housing for senior citizens, and growing small businesses. He's also the only candidate who's not taking any corporate donations, so we know that both his ethics and his commitment to the grassroots are for real. Greater Greater Washington's endorsement summed up perfectly why I support Charles -- as well as why I don't support his opponent this year.

Tommy won't be on the Council come January - it's up or out. That's why it's important that reformers keep this seat by electing Charles, who will do an excellent job in his own right.

Nate Bennett-Fleming for Council At Large

The incumbent, Anita Bonds, has been relatively ineffectual as a Councilmember, has ties to dubious developers, and is part of the old Marion Barry machine. Cleaning up city politics means voting in a new At-Large member to the Council.

John Settles has raised a lot of cash and performed impressively in debates, and Nate Bennett-Fleming has name recognition from his tireless stint as Shadow Rep and has an impressive list of endorsements (including Democracy for America, the Sierra Club, Jews United for Justice, the Washington Post, and more). Either candidate would be better than Bonds, but we should coalesce around one, and Bennett-Fleming seems to have the momentum.


I will also be voting for "The Rent is Too Darn High" slate for the DC Democratic State Committee Offices, but only because almost all of the locally active folks I trust are doing the same. The slate does include former Councilmember Sekou Biddle, whom I have supported for Council in the past. I can't really give you a good reason to support the slate other than that; just passing the information along.

Remember -- reform is up to us, because there's no one else. No matter how long you're planning on staying, this is our home for now, so let's do our part to make it a great place to live and work. You can register to vote same day if you're not registered already -- find your ward and look up your polling place here (it may have changed since the last election!).

Be sure to think through your plan to vote - when are you going to the polls? How will you get there? Can you bring a friend? It sounds cheesy, but if we don't think through these details, it can be 8 p.m. and the polls are closed just like that! I'll be walking to Stuart Hobson Middle School before work at 9:15 a.m.

See you at the polls!

Friday, March 28, 2014

In which I go on a rant about country music

Luke Bryan has a great voice, and he earned a lot of good will for the almost raw and very poignant "Drink a Beer" -- but he has squandered all of it on this monstrosity "This Is How We Roll." It's far, far worse than either "Country Girl" or "Drunk on You." He's not even pretending anymore; there's no even a pretense of country or content left! It's like he wanted to take that Zac Brown comment about "That's My Kind of Night" being the worst song ever and just rub everyone's nose in it. That quote seems quaint now. NONE of this crap is country. What the hell is Luke Bryan thinking?

It takes a lot of talent to do hip-hop well - to have the rhythm, to not trip over your tongue on the speed, to hit that balance of going beyond speaking without quite singing. I deeply respect that kind of talent and the vision that goes behind it -- but it ain't country, and let's not pretend it is. So what the hell have Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, or even Blake Shelton been thinking?

An auto-tuned voice can be a lot of fun -- but it ain't country either. Pouring American-grown whiskey, not tech-grown microchips, on your vocal chords -- THAT'S country. Willie Nelson is country. Life the way it is when it's just us the way we are is country. So what the hell was Jarrod Niemann thinking?

Thank the Lord for Zac Brown, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell. They almost make George Strait's retirement forgivable. Almost.

Last night, "This is How We Roll" and "Drink to that All Night" played back to back, and I thought someone had changed my presets. But let's set these artists aside - it doesn't have to be country to be art. WHAT THE HELL ARE THE PRODUCERS AND RADIO STATION EXECS THINKING?

A cross-genre collaboration or the occasional party song can be a great, great thing, but it's coming to define all of country, and that. ain't. right. Brad Paisley once sang "Too country? What's that?" but at least we now know what its polar opposite look like. When I turn to a country station in the car, it's because I want country music. If I wanted rap, I would have put on the rap station.



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

#March4Life: Please show God's love

Look, I'm not speaking against the March For Life itself. All those "Why we march" posts on social media? Great.

But even if you're pro-life, protesting at the DC Planned Parenthood clinic is sick and twisted. Most of the women there are seeking basic healthcare - nutritional guidance, prenatal care, cervical cancer screening, STD testing, etc. They are NOT there for abortion. I'm not saying this because the liberal media wants me too; I'm saying it because it's the truth of the women in my life.

I'm not telling you to stop fighting against federal funding for PPFA, though we disagree on that. I'm narrowly addressing the physical gauntlet. Why embarrass these patients, these women, and send them through a gauntlet of shame? And even if they WERE there for abortion, what makes you think this tactic is anything but counterproductive? Gathering on the Mall and in lawmakers' offices is one thing, but this -- this does not show Christ's love for anyone. STOP. IT.

(I don't mean to tar everyone at the march with one brush. For those who agree with this sentiment, thank you. Keep on keepin' on - but reign in your friends if you can. They're not helping your cause. At all. They're just hurting God's children.)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sermon: The Owl Bar, or, Finding Discernment without Epiphanies

Delivered at Christ Church Washington (Episcopal) Parish; Washington, DC; 01-19-14. Year A, Second Sunday in Epiphany: Isaiah 49:1-7 • Psalm 40:1-11 • 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 • John 1:29-42.

Two years ago this month, I was laid off for the second time in four months. It was quite the cliché -- an hour's notice, a cardboard box for my belongings, everything. It was rough.

But I was blessed, and three weeks later had two great job offers. Having to choose between them was a nice problem to have, but knowing which one was the right one was still tough. The night I had to make a final decision, I spent hours at my favorite Baltimore speakeasy, poring over my pro/cons lists and praying. I'm not saying I ultimately made up my mind on a coin flip... but I may have used a quarter to confirm the decision the next morning. I can't tell you how nice it would have been to have a dove come down from Heaven and land on the right employer's business card!

I share this story because all of today's Scripture verses are in one way or another related to epiphanies like the dove in today's Gospel, and to discerning God's calls to us as the church and to us as individuals. I'm currently exploring my own likely "call" to the Episcopal priesthood, which includes an official and formal process of discernment, so this is a topic I've given some thought to over the past few years.

All of us are called to something. Maybe it's the ordained priesthood; maybe it's the military; maybe it's volunteer work with children or animals, running a business the community needs, or raising amazing human beings. How do we make these decisions? How do we know WHAT God is calling us to do?

I'd like to walk through today's Scripture, and then come back to that question: What is the best way to move through discernment?

We start with Isaiah -- "The Lord called me before I was BORN." We are THAT known to God and THAT special, we are literally called from our BIRTHS! The prophet goes on to say, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant just to raise up the local tribes; I will give you as a light to the nations." What a charge that is! You're not just called. No, you are so special, no matter what good or bad you've already done or losses you've had, there is still a massive mission waiting for you. And NO ONE is excluded from this -- it says salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth. God's call and love is for everyone.

We see this again in First Corinthians, when Paul uses the word "call" twice, this time to describe all of us as the church: We are called to be saints... in every way enriched by Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind, called into His fellowship. And Paul isn't writing this to just anyone -- the church in Corinth was a very troubled church, broken into factions and known for its immorality. But God was ready to lay them blameless just the same, and will do the same for us. We can never sink so far that we are beyond the reach of God's call.

Turning to the Gospel, Peter and the two other disciples here instantly knew what their call was: Here at last is the Messiah; give up everything and follow him around. And John the Baptist even saw the Spirit descending like a dove onto Jesus. Such epiphanies they all had!

Small wonder this reading is chosen for the season of Epiphany. Merriam-Webster defines that word, "epiphany," as "a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way." Is that how we're supposed to discern God's call? By experiencing epiphanies like John and Peter?

Just this morning on the way to church, I was listening to NPR's "On Being" with Krista Tippet, and I heard her say, "Spiritual life at its best is reality-based." Well, that kind of sudden clarity does happen sometimes in our spiritual realities, and when it does, we should listen to it and trust it -- but it doesn't happen very often. It sure didn't happen at my Baltimore speakeasy! (Though to be fair, it was called the Owl Bar, not the Dove Bar.)

That's just not how God usually communicates with us, is it? Epiphanies rarely come in one big expected boom. That's why I like the Eastern Orthodox Church's original approach to the season. Epiphany wasn't just about the three wisemen, but also Christ's birth, His Baptism, John's preachings, and the first miracles, all wrapped up into one celebration. Taken together, only then does the epiphany of Jesus' identity -- of the good news that God is among us -- begin to emerge.

In our daily lives, whether at church, at work, or at home, that, I think, is often the best way to discern our calls. Not through singular epiphanies, but through a process, with patience, reflection, and LOTS of listening.

As I mentioned, I am currently going through the formal process of discerning a call to ordination. The first step in this lengthy process, a step I completed a few months ago with help from some amazing (and VERY patient) fellow parishioners here at Christ Church, is to set up a "discernment committee" at one's parish. This group, maybe half a dozen or so people, meets for at least six months. For the first half of the process, we focus on the group, sharing our stories, discussing what "call" and "discernment" mean, learning about ordination, etc. For the second half our focus turns to the individual in question, and it gets pretty self-reflective: Who are your spiritual influences? What are your strengths? What are you bad at, what are your growing edges? How do you pray? "Tell me about your mother, how does that make you feel," it could seem like I was on a therapist's couch! But in all seriousness, from all that we get to the question, what direction for the individual does this community hear emerging?

In response to this process, there are those who say, even if God has a will for us, we can't ever truly know or discern what it is -- it is arrogant to presume to think we can know the mind of God.

I don't disagree! But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask the questions and embark on a journey to at least try as best we can. As long as we keep an open mind and, as our presiding bishop says, hold our truths lightly, we're doing just fine. So I like our church's formal discernment process. It's patient. It's intentional. It's loving, but not always easy. And it is NOT done alone.

That last part is key. We cannot know ourselves or God without community. Our brothers and sisters are also God's children, and God's image is reflected in them. And our friends often see things in us -- or in our surroundings -- that we can't see in ourselves, or just aren't equipped to see in the world around us.

So I believe these are the steps to discerning God's will for us and God's call in our lives:
  • Learn and know your gifts.
  • Pray.
  • Trust God, but also trust -- and this is the hardest part for me personally -- also trust God's timing, not my own impatience.
  • Return to Scripture, but read it in a modern setting with a reflective eye: Don't just ask what it says, but ask why it says that, and what does that mean not just for a life not in 14 AD, but in 2014 AD?
  • Do all of this in community.
  • And when epiphanies do come, trust them -- but also pay attention to the little things.

This may not be satisfying. Our troubles and questions confront us now, so we want the solutions and answers now, not after a long period of reflection. Worse yet, we won't even always arrive at conclusions or erase our unrest this way. But even just by embarking on the journey, we still draw closer to God, which was the real point all along.

One final note about the little things. I once took part in a New Hampshire men's Bible study about one of the Epistles. I, being a stupid freshman, shrugged my shoulders on the first day, and said, this intro, this is just a little thing, we don't need to pay attention to it! Can't we please skip forward to the meat, to the parts where Paul talks about theology and grace?

My friend Evan gently corrected me. Paul was writing by hand, so to write a greeting that long truly showed his heart for the readers, and set the tone for all that followed. The little things are never little things.

Indeed, Paul has a lot to chastise the Corinthians for, and over the course of the letter, he really lets them have it. But that was not the place to start. Even these immoral, brawling factions "are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints." Even for them, Paul gave "thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus." Hi! How are ya! Good mornin'!

WOW. When was the last time someone greeted you that way, or you greeted someone that way? I think I told someone "Yo" this morning. Not sure that counts.

In Paul's greeting, we find an epiphany as true as the fact that God is among us now, and that is that God does call us. No matter what the Corinthians had done -- and no matter what we have done or lost -- we don't have to be who we used to be. We are loved, embraced, and accepted. We are important enough that the call to be and do more never goes away. Dove or no dove, we just have to listen -- and, like Simon becoming Peter, be willing to change.