Win

I have not heretofore watched any of the Democratic debates, preferring to read highlights and summaries because I just didn’t want to subject myself to all that conflict and largely meaningless posturing. But I did watch this most recent one, last Thursday, because my younger brother was really excited to see it.

So I sat and watched and we had our running commentary and all that. And mostly, I didn’t think it was worth much for anyone. However (obviously there was a however coming).

You know I’m always here for Pete Buttigieg (surprise surprise) and I was so emotionally arrested by a moment from his concluding response, answering a question about professional setbacks and resilience. His personal story is enough to get me a little choked up, as a gay, but there was one small line from him that really made it for me. I’ll give you the whole sentence:

And what I leaned was that trust can be reciprocated and that part of how you can win and deserve to win is to know what’s worth more to you than winning.

In that particular case, what was worth more for him was the freedom to fall in love. And if that’s not the most simultaneously romantic and presidential thing anyone said in the whole debate, then my name’s Tiddlywomps Chickenbroth. Not an endorsement of him as a candidate, he’s honestly a little underwhelming in my book, but wow I tell you what wow.

What is worth more to you than winning? I don’t imagine that any of my readers are currently running for president, we’re all in different situations and have different things that might qualify as ‘winning’ for us. People talk a lot about the varying definitions of success, so maybe that’s more appropriate here. Wealth, jobs, fame, a legacy.

I would also argue, at least right this moment, that family and friends and things like that should also be excluded. While I think they’re good things–certainly things worth considering for a mature definition of success– I think that there are things that go beyond relationships. On a very abstract level. Though Mayor Buttigieg was talking about something concrete in the form of a specific romantic relationship, I think he nonetheless hit the nail on the head.

What is worth more to you than winning? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: love. And, here, not any specific kind of love like spouse or child or friend. But to live a life that is characterized by love. “Characterized” is a term I’ve used kind of a lot lately, talking about whether this or that is characterized by this or that attribute. I think it’s an important question to ask: not to list attributes or give examples and counterexamples but to wonder what something is like at its core. How would my life be characterized by a hypothetical biographer twenty, one hundred, five hundred years after my death?

Another reason I like thinking about characterization is that it takes some of the pressure off. I know that I’m not really all that good at having loving responses in a wide variety of situations and I know that my actions and words often do not line up with what I would readily profess to be my values. But if we talk about being characterized by love, in the way I imagine it, it’s less about evaluating each moment and more finding a common element across circumstance.

To boil things down a bit, for my own sake as much as yours: thinking of the things that we value above and beyond all else, including and especially an abstraction like love, and then figuring out how to make your life reflect that value.

As a prelude to my topic for next week, I will leave you with this text that will likely be well-known in Bible-y circles. Speaking to achieving success without having fixed anything as more valuable than winning.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

What is worth more to you than winning?

The Tyranny of Caution

This is not a theology blog and I am not a theology person. But, being a religious person, sometimes theological things happen in my life. So we’re back to it for this week, sorry if that’s not your cup of tea.

I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) and, though I’m not particularly attached to any denomination, it’s one that I like. Kind of the main idea is that agreement on the main things trumps disagreements on subsidiary things. They have six ‘affirmations’ about, like, Jesus and the Bible and that stuff. But everything else is less important–baptism and what have you. The denomination is not affirming (they’re not about the gays) and a pastor recently resigned, after an incredibly lengthy and arduous procedural process, after she performed a wedding for two men.

She wrote a letter (which is long but worth a read in general, and specifically if this is your area) and it inspired a lot of thoughts in me. I’ve presented a few of them below. This is, of course, not an exhaustive post and I’m not certain how well I’ve expressed what I mean. But this is one of those times, I guess, where I feel like I ought to say something, even if what I say isn’t exactly right.


I’ve been blessed by a fairly lifelong security in faith that didn’t significantly waver when I came out to myself. I’ve been blessed by the family and friends around me who didn’t waver either. I didn’t feel hurt by the church growing up because my closet at the time was invisible even to myself. So I come at this from a pretty good place.

The church has a lot of issues with gender and sexuality, of which homosexual marriage is only one. But it has become a pretty brutal part of contemporary church identity. Part of the concern is the small matter of burning in hell for all eternity. While relevant, that is an argument for another day.

I spoke with a former pastor of mine on this subject a while after I came out. A good family friend who genuinely wanted to understand and love. But he was confounded when I insisted again and again that you cannot love me if you do not love all of me. It is not love if it’s conditional on a) me being straight or b) me being gay but never having a romantic relationship ever. You can’t say love the sinner and hate the sin (which is iffy in general but I can see it re: a thief, for example) because the ‘sin’ is me.

Here is the essence of the church’s conundrum on this, and many other issues: is it better to err on the side of caution or of grace?

It is not a question of whether this is right or wrong. I reject the notion of fallible human beings being entirely right about every matter of doctrine. It is a question of Jesus having enough love and mercy and grace to accept us even if we are wrong. The answer is clear to me. Besides, I would rather be condemned for loving too much than loving too little. I do not know what else to say.

What does the church stand to lose in this argument? As far as I can tell, pretty much only power from a system built on injustice. A friend of mine added loss of face and loss of comfort, which are valid. Then she said this, as simple as it is true, I think: “Is the church really concerned for the souls of people who are not heteronormative? Or is it a fear of the loss of comfort? ‘What will I tell my children?’ Well damn Karen, you’ll tell your children, ‘You know how mommy and daddy love each other? Those two men love each other too.’ And that will be that!”

This is not my final argument. This is not even the conversation we should be having. But apparently it’s the conversation many in the church still need, and history shows us it’s the needs of the oppressive majority that take precedence over the needs of the oppressed minority. And I feel that I’m coming from a strong enough position to allow that in this place at this time. But come on. I feel disheartened by the extreme apparent ‘caution’ of the ECC on this issue.

When you are part of the empowered majority, caution feels easy–the status quo benefits you so why should it be changed. It is when you are in the minority, just trying to live life as well as you might, that the caution of the majority becomes tyrannical. This is not new, it is intersectional in the extreme. This is just my small corner of it as a middle-class white American cis man.

Authority is not granted to the church to open or close God’s doors. So stop trying. Just love more. Not love if we comply, if we’re righteous, if we fit. There is not simply room for us at God’s table, there are seats reserved with our name: Beloved Child of God.

Wild the World

Before anything else: I am 2/2 for cute Chicago Airbnb cats, this one was so very bedraggled and old and too precious for this world. We had us a good snuggle.

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This past week, I attended the Q Christian Fellowship annual conference in Chicago. And it was a lot. Basically, a bunch of queer people and allies talking about Jesusy stuff. I’ll tell you a little about it, and my feelings about it, but then I want to take some time to tell you about one of the main things that I heard and want to remember.

So. I drove down Thursday morning, arrived that afternoon, met people and did stuff and kept doing that until Sunday morning when I left. It was pretty non-stop. I didn’t go in with super high expectations for two reasons: I’m not really connected with the organization itself much and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be; and conferences in general aren’t typically a format that I love, especially when I barely know anyone there, because big groups are a strong no from me usually (this conference was ~1,400).

In the event, I was pleasantly surprised by the conference part–the general sessions, the breakouts on various topics, the activities and organized things in general. I wouldn’t say that I was deeply moved by much of it but it was well-done and I enjoyed that part more than I expected to.

The meeting people part was difficult, of course, because that’s how I do, but I think I managed alright. Met in-person a number of people I kind of knew online, so that was nice, and met some other people for the first time in any context. Hopefully, at least a couple of those relationships will continue/grow. It would be really nice to have friends, real friends, that I talk to regularly from this group. Getting there.

I won’t list for you here the topics and specifics of the things that I did, though you’re welcome to ask me. I’ll just take a sec to try and describe how it felt being there and then finish up with the thing I can’t stop thinking about.

It was kind of like Pride–but with an even smaller and more specific affinity group. In other words, there was a shared experience that connected us implicitly with nearly everyone there; that connection is something that I rarely feel in my everyday life and I recognize just how precious it is. To hear the thoughts I’ve thought in my darkest moments spoken by another, to feel a thousand hearts that have hurt and beat and come alive just like mine.

We all live unique experiences, of course, but occasions like that make me feel known and un-alone in deep and powerful ways.


One of the sessions I went to discussed the formation of an ethical framework. The speaker used two lenses to describe how it might be done: bounded or centered. Bounded being where behavior is circumscribed by rules and centered where behavior is evaluated based on core values. She had two metaphors for this. The former is like livestock in pens–moving, eating, drinking is controlled by fences that also protect the livestock from the dangerous wild animals outside. The latter is more like a watering hole–animals come and go, their movement and behavior is unrestrained, but all must come to the water because it is the source of life.

This idea kind of radically changed the way I think about things–not because I was suddenly thinking differently but because I finally had a comprehensive way to think about things I already was moving toward. So that was cool. Lots of things to think about this. I actually drove back on Sunday and immediately went to lead an small group where I kind of co-opted the topic to bring this up, had some great conversations.

But in the midst of explaining this metaphor, the speaker said something that has been echoing in my mind all week.

God is re-wilding the world

I don’t even know if I can tell you how much I am in love with this idea. It builds on so many things I think and feel.

In the most direct context, she was talking about how God is in the work of freeing us from our rigid, legalistic fences and allowing us to live together in diversity by acknowledging the core values we share and the centrality of Jesus to all of us. That’s awesome, especially because the conference itself contains such diversity on pretty much every aspect of life.

But I believe it can be expanded further. Another idea I heard at the conference, as a part of talking about queer theory, is that a queer lens, like feminist and Marxist ones before it, offers a way to interpret the world that upends existing systems of power. Ethics is not the only area in life where people erect fences. There are labels and containment structures all over the place–gender and sexuality, of course, and race and ethnicity and nationality and ability and education and politics and age and socioeconomic status and so on and so on and so on.

Part of the gift that I bring to God’s kingdom and to the world as a queer person is my ability to re-wild some part of the world. I very much think that God is in the business of erasing our artificial and often harmful, if sometimes convenient and useful, barriers. God is not a God of walls. He invites us, ever so gently and graciously, to come drink at the watering hole and welcomes us gladly whenever and however we may arrive there.

I have so many thoughts, metaphorical and concrete, about what this may look like and what it means for us. But I am reminded of something a pastor of mine often said growing up, in reference to the communion table: Come not because you must, but because you may.

So come, let us drink from the watering hole, and let us make the world a little bit more wild.

추석 (or: A holiday that I don’t feel and important feelings that I do)

It’s impossible for a city with an eight digit population to empty, but the feeling in Seoul during Chuseok (that’s choo-sock) is probably about as close to that as you can get, I figure. As I understand it, things have gotten more relaxed about the holiday of late but even still, and even in Seoul, things are closed and people are gone. There are still millions of people out and about, obviously, but I’d say the majority of businesses outside of like convenience stores are closed. Biggest travel time of the year, it seems, which is in line with the general comparisons to Thanksgiving.

I haven’t talked to loads of Koreans about it, so I can’t say exactly how it’s felt here for actual Korean people. Traditionally, Chuseok is a harvest time festival where you go to your home village and do some ancestor honoring. These days, I think it’s more just a visit family and eat kind of day, though I’m sure there’s plenty of ancestor-related things that still go on. It strikes me as sort of a straightforward family holiday but with none of the special holiday season feeling that I associate with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Gift boxes also seem incredibly popular as gifts to give. Including, if my grocery store is anything to go by, a great deal of Spam gift sets. Which. Hm. We talked about it in class and one of my students just really loves Spam and it kind of hurt me inside but it gave me an excuse to show them the Spam song from Monty Python so everything happens for a reason, I guess.

Anyway, I have some time off! It is of no moment that I had to make up most of this time off and the rest is coming out of my vacation time. Tuesday after work (we blessedly received an extra half day), some of us went out for tacos and churros which were excellent. On Wednesday, I just walked down to the river for a little picnic and reading session. Today, I met a friend for breakfast at a fancy and delicious buffet. Tomorrow, I will go to Incheon because I miss the ocean. And on Saturday, I’m going on a hike with friends. Yay holidays that I don’t celebrate so I can spend time doing whatever I want!

The strange part is having a holiday that doesn’t move you an inch take hold of the whole country around you. Another aspect of being a minority that I’ve never had to experience and a small dose of empathy for the religious and other holiday diversity (especially since I won’t get holidays I do care about off). I think I’ve intimated here more than once how strongly I feel about Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In other Keegan news, today marks the 103rd straight day I’ve done Duolingo and I’m so pleased with myself. I don’t do much each day but hey. My Russian hasn’t totally faded into random words and terrible grammar like my German has. So I’m feeling good about that small, easy piece of self-discipline in my life.

With that, I’d like to turn to something else. I’ve let this blog see some pretty personal things in my life and it’s not a trend I feel able or willing to reverse.

So a couple months ago I wrote a post called Learning to be Proud because I was learning to be proud. But this week I think I was finally taught my first real lesson. Well, second. But. Obviously, the lesson came in the midst of a book because books are powerful.

There are so many people around the world who feel wrong and broken and hurt and confused and scared and worthless because of who they are. People who have been told or even come to believe that their inmost heart of hearts is something disgusting, sinful, and shameful. I am so proud to be gay because being proud is what it takes to refute that. Being proud is what it takes to justify our existence, the simple fact of our lives. Being proud means that I assert my worth as a human being. Being proud means that even when well-intentioned people think, at best, that I’m mistaken or making a poor choice I can say that who I am is who I was made to be.

I had no obstacles to coming out save an irrational and labyrinthine thought process that took me probably a decade to unravel. For many, their obstacles are much more tangible and damaging. I cry big, hot tears for everyone who hurts because of their sexuality or gender identity. I love you. You do not have to justify or explain yourself to me. You are real and valid and valuable and not to be ignored.

I love you I love you I love you.