April 19, 2008

Refining our Focus

This blog has existed for nearly three years and has been visited over 80,000 times, but it's time now to refine the focus of what we are doing here.

Over time, the material has evolved (can I use that word and still claim to be a Christian?) from one focused largely on politics to more of a mix between issues of faith and politics. We're now moving the needle much more toward the faith side.

If you've been visiting here for a while, you know that my wife Brenda is a pastor at our church and I am a pastor-in-training. Over the last few months, the Lord has spoken very clearly to us and, more recently, much of our church, that we need to step out beyond the walls of our worship facility and tell people the Good News of Christ. We need to reach people who either have not heard the Gospel or have been hurt by people preaching hate, bigotry, and other non-godly messages that succeeded only in driving them away from God. We believe God is reaching out to ALL of the people who don't know Him and will embrace a GLBT person as they are once they reach back and accept Him as their Lord and Savior.

This is the message we want to put out there more strongly than before, and that is our mission in continuing this blog. We hope you continue to find it useful. We will still update news items that pertain to matters of GLBT faith. We will also be adding podcasts and eventually video messages to new original essays.

For anyone who has linked to this site because of the political content and no longer feels comfortable doing so, please just show us the courtesy of letting us know you are removing the link from your site.

We hope you will find blessings at Straight, Not Narrow. In addition, please check out our revamped ministry site, Affirming Christian Network.

God bless,

Jim and Brenda

April 17, 2008

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Yes, I am trying to tackle this sticky issue! Remember the book by this title? For the longest time, I just had the pat answer that God is God and we won't ever understand why bad things happen. As I've grown older and, I hope, wiser, I've started to realize the complexity of this issue.

The reason I bring this up is that I have seen a lot of bad things happen to good people lately and I'm sick of it! This week alone, a friend's 2-year old grandson was beaten to death by his stepfather; another friend fell and broke her leg in three places; and a friend who was thought to have MS actually has a rare illness that I've never heard of that is not going to get better, if the doctors are correct. Basically, they have told the family they will make her comfortable. You know what that means! I'm angry. I'm hurting. All of these people are Christians and love God will all their beings. So, what's going on??

The short answer is I don't know. I wish I had some spiritual answer that sounded lofty and helpful, but I don't. There are times when I have seen a bad situation turned to good, and I'd love to see that happen here, but if it doesn't, does that mean God doesn't love these people? Does it mean that satan is working overtime to make their lives miserable? Yeah. That's what he loves to do. However, to simplify this down and say that it's all about the devil is to give him too much credit. He loves to create mischief and I get that, but I also have come to understand that way back when Adam and Eve sinned, the world changed. Sin made the world a corrupt place that inevitably has sickness and disease, greed and hatred, lust, etc. I could go on, but I won't.

The bottom line in all of this is that Jesus said that while we were in this world, we would have trouble. However, He also said to be of good courage because He has overcome the world! That's the good news. That's what keeps me hopeful when I get bad news. It doesn't stop me from hurting for the people I love or for myself when it hits home, but it does put things into perspective when the going gets rough.

There's a Christian song out on the radio these days that says in part, "...Sometimes, He calms the storm with a whisper," 'Peace, be still'. "He can settle any sea, but it doesn't mean He will. Sometimes, He holds us close and lets the wind and waves go wild. Sometimes, He calms the storm. At other times, He calms His child.".

This song has ministered to me many a time, especially in the last few years when things have been hard for Erica and me. I may not ever understand fully why tragedy, pain, heartache, death, disease and all of those other horrible things happen in this life. I do know, though, that I'm glad to know the God who will wipe every tear away and who cares about what happens to us.

April 15, 2008

"Political Chicken" in Maryland Politics

That's the phrase Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, used to describe the tactics of leaders in the Maryland State Legislature in regards to several initiatives that were unsuccessful during the recently ended session. Furmansky was interviewed by Steve Charring for Baltimore OUTLoud where he gave a post-mortem on his organization's efforts during this legislative session.

SC: Many did not give marriage equality a chance to succeed in this session but thought transgender equality would. What went wrong?

DF: We’re incredibly disappointed that the transgender civil rights bill wasn’t given a chance. Equality Maryland approached the Governor personally about this legislation before session, and as a result of that conversation, the Governor asked the Maryland Commission on Human Relations to sponsor the measure as a departmental bill.
Unfortunately, Chairman Pete Hammen of the Health and Government Operations Committee prevented the Departmental bill from being filed in his committee, which is his prerogative as chair. Del. Hammen supports the measure, but said he felt the Governor hadn’t really "worked" the legislation and guaranteed its smooth sailing in the Senate, where it died last year. The Governor’s lack of support and the House and Senate games of political chicken are incredibly frustrating when we’re talking about civil rights.

SC: How can we ever expect to achieve marriage equality if Democrats, such as Conaway, who represent large lgbt constituencies take an unfavorable position?

DF: We have to look at someone like Del. Conaway, Jr. as a person who may be moved on the issue with enough contact with his constituents. I have seen legislators change dramatically from this sort of contact, so I hope his remarks were a wake-up call for your readers who lives in his district. Indeed, there are Democrats who don’t support marriage (or even domestic partnerships!), but we can’t give up on these individuals, or on fair-minded Republicans, because we’re seeing astounding movement towards marriage in Maryland.

How many states in the country saw marriage bills introduced this year with 49 co-sponsors? That’s nearly one-fourth of the legislature supporting marriage at the outset, not to mention the number of others who have committed to voting for the measure. Baltimore City, College Park, Kensington, and Takoma Party have passed pro-marriage resolutions. The House of Delegates is fertile ground for passing the bill, and with some more hard work, the Senate will be as well.

As Furmansky addresses in the balance of the interview, there are a handful of politicians in the legislature that have succeeded in blocking any substantial LGBT equality measures from even coming to the floor for debate. These power brokers need to be educated or defeated before there is significant legal progress for the LGBT community in Maryland.

There are many thousands of open minds and open hearts in my state who would accept and embrace such legislation and many lives that would be positively impacted by that happening.

If you live in or around Maryland, consider supporting Equality Maryland in their efforts to advocate for equality for LGBT people in the state.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

April 14, 2008

Honoring a Career of GLBT Activism in Atlanta

From the Atlanta-Journal Constitution (thanks to PageOneQ for the tip):

Emily "Dixon" Taylor's work in Atlanta's gay and lesbian community began in the 1980s.

"We came together raising awareness in the battle against AIDS," said longtime friend Michael Aycock. "She has brought the gay and lesbian and the straight communities together in the larger Atlanta community in a really good way."

Taylor's personality and passion for helping others has fueled a broad array of outreach work that includes gay issues, AIDS, breast cancer, domestic abuse, troubled youth and ecological issues.

"Dixon's huge talent is the fact that she knows everyone," said business partner Gary Kaupman. "She's a wonderful weaver of connections between people; she's naturally gregarious and outgoing."

Taylor, an Alabama native, recently became the second recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Taylor grew up in Birmingham, but knew she'd eventually have to leave.

"I couldn't be gay, I couldn't be me and live in Birmingham," Taylor said. "Not in the 1960s."

Birmingham's loss was clearly Atlanta's gain. Congratulation to Ms. Taylor on her award.

Click here to read the rest of the story in the AJC.

April 13, 2008

Archbishop Tutu Makes History Again

Archbishop Desmond Tutu took yet another historic step in embracing the GLBT community last week.

From the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC):

Comparing the importance of speaking up for human rights to the basic act of breathing, Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave an historic speech to the lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and intersex (LGBTI) community at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco last night. A crowd of 500 people heard the Nobel Peace Prize recipient condemn the persecution of LGBTI people, apologize on behalf of his Church for ostracizing gay people, and challenge China to improve its human rights record—all in the first ever direct address by the Archbishop to a large gathering of the LGBTI community in the United States.

“When IGLHRC invited Archbishop Tutu to come to San Francisco to accept its OUTSPOKEN Award, we had no idea that our event would coincide with such a momentous time in the history of human rights activism,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. “The Archbishop's speech at this unique historical moment affirms that human rights apply to each and every human being—in South Africa, in the United States, in China, and around the world. Activists and governments alike should heed the Archbishop's words. He is a moral luminary whose inclusive approach to human rights advocacy paves the way for a better world.”

It's a shame that it is so noteworthy for a religious leader to show love and compassion to a sector of the population, but thanks to efforts like Archbishop Tutu's, that may not be the case in my generation.