Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Spoils of War

Seems more and more like the change of administration means open season has been declared on federal employees.
Federal employees have long been the whipping boys for certain members of Congress.

There doesn't seem to be a problem they can't distract us from by taking aim at dedicated servants of the American people.

They shut down the government and don't pay us (but they still get paid) any time they don't get their way on an issue. (and make no mistake, we all still work, because they don't want you to know how much you actually need the government).

And when it comes to cutting the budget, it is always feds and not real areas of spending bloat (like insisting the military continue to buy equipment it neither wants nor needs because the companies making that equipment have wisely spread out the jobs across multiple states. This isn't a military need. This is a pork barrel jobs program). They freeze our pay for years. They threaten our pensions. They cut hiring when we are already at historically low levels and are stretched thin. And the farm out our work to contractors who cost more (but can be fired more easily) and sometimes even give us the likes of Edward Snowden.

And now, they want to be able to fire us without cause.

I get it. We have all dealt with THAT government employee. The one retired on active duty. The one who snarls at you when you need government services. The one who collects their pay but you can't really tell that they actually do work. I get it. I have dealt with those people too.

But the majority of us are actually dedicated, patriotic and hard-working. We know most of us could earn more in the private sector but we choose to serve. To serve the country, to serve the people, to serve the Constitution. I have never met anyone more patriotic than the hard-working federal employees I have the fortune to serve with.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) has put forward HR 6278, which he calls “Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency Act.” According to the Washington Post, Rokita considers the bill “a tool for … President [-elect Donald] Trump to use in draining the swamp.” What it really does is eviscerate civil service protections for all new federal employees, meaning federal employees hired one year after enactment or later “shall be hired on an at-will basis.” And the bill is crystal clear on the meaning of at-will status: “Such an employee may be removed or suspended, without notice or right to appeal, from service by the head of the agency at which such employee is employed for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all.”

That's right, for NO CAUSE. And they will not have any right to appeal.

Of course, I posted this on Facebook, and many of my friends immediately chimed in with, "So what? Lots of businesses do that."

And that is their right as business owners. But the government is different.

The Civil Service is intended to be non-partisan. We serve all Americans regardless of their or our political affiliation (can you imagine if we didn't? I'm sorry, but I refuse to send social security checks to people from Party X. Government tenders will only be given to those from Party Y). The protections for federal employees are meant to keep us non-partisan, to keep us from facing political reprisals. That was the idea behind the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883. Previously, federal positions were essentially the spoils of war, granted to supporters of the winning party. It is also the thinking behind the Hatch Act of 1939, which prohibits federal employees from participating in certain types of political activities.

I notice they aren't trying to get rid of that.

So here is where we feds stand now.
* The transition team has asked for the names of people who have worked on particular issues, such as climate change in the Department of Energy and gender and LGBT issue at the Department of State (and were asked to "ferret out" those working on LGBT issues).

* The Holman Rule has been reinstated, meaning that any member of Congress can target ANY federal employee and cut that person's annual salary to ONE DOLLAR.

* Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is pursuing measures to fire feds faster, freeze federal hiring, decrease federal contributions to federal retirement and disqualify federal employees and contractors who are “seriously delinquent” on their federal taxes. (Never mind that federal employees are delinquent on their taxes at a far lower rate than the general population. Or that is it hard to collect back taxes on people who lose their jobs.)

* Employees could be required to contribute more to their retirement, meaning an up to 5% pay cut.

* Employees could be fired without cause and without the right to appeal.

* And then of course for those of us in the Foreign Service, there is the added bonus of threats to withhold 50% of our security budget unless our embassy to Israel is moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

No wonder people are afraid.

Our jobs, our lives, have become the spoils of war.

But yeah, thanks for your service.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An Apology That Was Overdue and Right On Time

It is long overdue and just in time.

Secretary Kerry, in what is undoubtedly one of his last official acts, formally apologized for the "Lavender Scare." You can read the complete apology below.

Lots of you may not know what the Lavender Scare was, but I bet you would be hard pressed to find an LGBT employee who doesn't.

The apology came at the request of Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who sent Secretary Kerry a letter on November 29 reminding him that “at least 1,000 people were dismissed from” the State Department “for alleged homosexuality” during the 1950s and 1960s. According to an article in the Washington Blade, "The Maryland Democrat cited the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security that says employees “were forced out . . . on the ostensible grounds that their sexual orientation rendered them vulnerable to blackmail, prone to getting caught in ‘honey traps’ and made them security risks.” Cardin wrote the State Department also had a screening process to “prevent those who ‘seemed like they might be gay or lesbian’ from being hired.""

Although the policy of firing or not hiring LGBT employees dates to the 50s and 60s, current State Department employees who are members of GLIFAA (formerly Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and now LGBTI+ in Foreign Affairs Agencies) recall that even in the 80s and 90s, they were warned in A-100 that homosexuals would not be tolerated in the Department. In fact, it was only in 1992, the same year GLIFAA was founded, that prohibitions against openly LGBT employees having a security clearance were lifted. And basically, if you can't hold a security clearance, you can't work for the State Department.

In addition to the apology, Secretary Kerry also sent a 21-page memo highlighting some of the achievements the Department has made on LGBT rights at home and abroad over the past eight years. Among those are UN resolutions on LGBT rights and the appointment of Randy Berry as the first ever envoy for LGBTI rights.

I say the move has come just in time because with the new administration and Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress have come renewed calls to clamp down on LGBT rights and even to roll them back. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council sent a letter to supporters calling on the new administration to “to make clear that these liberal policies will be reversed and the ‘activists’ within the State Department promoting them will be ferreted out and will be replaced by conservatives who will ensure the State Department focuses on true international human rights like religious liberty which is under unprecedented assault.” And former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) called for the new administration to end the State Department's “evil” gay agenda in other countries.

To its credit, the President-elect's transition team responded to Perkin's call by saying that it was absurd to think they would tolerate discrimination of any kind. But can we expect continued support for LGBT rights or could we have expected such an apology? I doubt it.

So thank you, Secretary Kerry. It was right on time.

Thank you too for your leadership and support. You will be missed.

Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
January 9, 2017
Apology for Past Discrimination toward Employees and Applicants based on Sexual Orientation
Throughout my career, including as Secretary of State, I have stood strongly in support of the LGBTI community, recognizing that respect for human rights must include respect for all individuals. LGBTI employees serve as proud members of the State Department and valued colleagues dedicated to the service of our country. For the past several years, the Department has pressed for the families of LGBTI officers to have the same protections overseas as families of other officers. In 2015, to further promote LGBTI rights throughout the world, I appointed the first ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons. 
In the past – as far back as the 1940s, but continuing for decades – the Department of State was among many public and private employers that discriminated against employees and job applicants on the basis of perceived sexual orientation, forcing some employees to resign or refusing to hire certain applicants in the first place. These actions were wrong then, just as they would be wrong today.
On behalf of the Department, I apologize to those who were impacted by the practices of the past and reaffirm the Department’s steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion for all our employees, including members of the LGBTI community.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

I'm back

I won't start off by apologizing for not blogging in a while. Sometimes it is hard to blog when life is pretty good.

And life has been pretty good. My wife and I are in jobs we like. Life at post is good...the pollution and less than awesome health care makes it a little challenging at times, but the work is interesting and the people we work with are awesome. So we are happy here.

And while we only have six months left at post, we both got our top choice of onwards. We are going back to DC and really happy about it.

I started this blog as a way to let my dad know I was safe in Jerusalem, but it turned quickly into a combination of recruiting tool (because life is better when your co-workers are awesome) and a way to raise awareness about the Foreign Service in general and LGBT issues specifically.

But in those areas, life too has been pretty good. We have marriage equality as the law of the land, so my wife and I are officially a tandem and my LGBT colleagues who are not tandems have EFM status for their spouses. Members of the trans* community can have their passports issued according to their gender identity regardless of surgical status. Yes, there are still challenges ahead (reciprocity, I am looking at you), but things are pretty good.

But then we had the election, and everything changed.

Things don't look so great anymore.

Congress has already started making noise again about attacking federal employees via their pensions and outsourcing more to contractors (because not only are contractors more expensive, but using them worked so well with Snowden). Even more concerning, they have re-enacted a rule allowing them to target individual federal employees and reduce their salaries to ONE DOLLAR. When you couple that with the President -elect's transition team's requests for the names and positions on anyone working on particular issues (like climate change at the Department of Energy or gender equality and LGBT issues at State), that looks a little ominous. (kudos to Energy for refusing and to certain bureaus at State for handing the team a complete org chart and saying we all work on gender equality).

And now you have Senators putting forward a bill to move our Embassy from Tel Aviv. I will leave aside whether or not that is a good idea, since that is specifically a foreign policy matter and so not one I feel I can discuss on this forum (but if you know me in person, you know I am not ambivalent about it).

Now that in and of itself is not all that concerning. Such bills have been put forth for years, always delayed by the President. But this time, not only do we have a President-elect who says he is willing to sign it, but a really frightening caveat has been added: 50 PERCENT funds for Diplomatic Security will be withheld, until the embassy is moved.

Never mind that we in the Foreign Service are simply the implementers of the President's policy. So whether we think it should move or not is irrelevant (much like the issues above that they want the names of people who cover them. We all follow the directives of the President, whether we agree or not).

And never mind that it can take as much as 15 YEARS to build a new embassy. Senators Heller, Cruz, and Rubio (and now others) want to cut our security budget and put our lives in very real danger. These are by the way, the same Senators who have been raising hell about Benghazi and how State's lack of security cost the lives of four diplomats, including my friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens. (Also please be kind enough not to notice that the lack of security was a direct result of cuts those same Senators made to State Department security...nothing to see here...).

(It is almost like those hearings were really about damaging Secretary Clinton's chances at becoming President and not about our safety. But I am sure I am wrong...)

And never mind that only the day before yesterday, a first tour consular officer was deliberately targeted and shot in Guadalajara.

Clearly we can do without half of our security funding for up to 15 years. It isn't like our jobs can be dangerous.

Except they are. We know they are. We all knew that when we signed up.

But we shouldn't be used as pawns for political points when we are serving the country. Or have our livelihoods threatened for following the directives of our bosses. Or have our retirements threatened because that wins political points while doing almost nothing for the budget.

And so I am back..

Friday, September 16, 2016


I really should post some pictures of the awesome trips I have been taking, especially my most recent one to Ireland.

But of course, the thing most on my mind is that hellish time in your tour called bidding season.

I think they call it a season so you will look forward to it, like Spring, or football season. I think of it more like allergy season myself.

And so they made some changes this time, which I *thought* would be great. They have shortened the season and put it AFTER promotions came out. You know, so you could focus on jobs at your own grade instead of at your current grade and your grade if you get promoted. All sounds good.

So the promotion list came out while we were on vacation (and it was not a very nice anniversary present) and the bid list comes out on Monday.

And Bureaus are being asked not to create their short lists UNTIL AFTER THE LIST COMES OUT!

Meaning some are making their short lists BEFORE the list of jobs comes out.

Now I confess, I have been using the projected vacancies to make lists of where we'd like to go. Planning is essential as a tandem (even if the Department makes it darned hard to do it). And I will even admit to having sent some emails back in the Spring. This week, I even had a couple of interviews (one for my dream job that I then learned the incumbent is bidding to stay in, so there is one dream shattered...). But short lists? This has me suddenly feeling like I am behind in bidding, and THE BID LIST ISN'T EVEN OUT!

So now I hate this process even more.

Oh and I have always hated it. If you think I exaggerate, just look at posts here with the label: bidding.

Here's one if you don't want to hunt.

In another, I talk about how painful it is waiting for a handshake once all bids are in and considered, which this year is October 31 (trick or treat!).

I wrote:

"On Facebook last night I wrote: "Bidding reminds me of when I was a kid in gym class, waiting to be picked for some team, and fearing I'd be picked last."

And my friends were quick to respond:

Friend 1: And the game is dodge ball.

Friend 2: Even worse, because you don't know what the game will really be, who will be on your team when you get there, or even who, exactly, is making the decision.

Friend 3: it's worse cause you don't even know if they've secretly given away all the slots on the team!

And all that was in addition to responses of "Word," "Exactly," and a plea to just put us back on directed assignments.

So we all wait."

And we aren't even to that point yet.

And the even more fun part is that you could end up with no assignment, waiting, wandering the halls after your tour is done, looking for a job. Picture hollow-eyed zombies shuffling through long white hallways filled with suited bureaucrats whispering and not making eye contact.

Okay, that is how I picture it anyway, and if fills me with dread. I do know some who just don't bid and wait to see what good jobs pop up when there are people with jobs looking for good candidates instead of the other way around. I lack the internal fortitude for that.

It all feels a bit like middle school, waiting to be asked to the dance. You feel like you are sending notes across the classroom.

And then you get a little positive response, but you aren't sure you were understood, so you send another:

And of course, this is always a possible response:

Which of course means, you are the #3 candidate, with two ahead of you. They want you for the dance...er...job...only if their top two say no.

It leaves me feeling anxious and questioning my worth.

It also leaves me feeling unsettled. There used to be an FS blog called Six Months of Settled. The idea is that you get to post and it takes you six months to really settle in, get over culture shock and adjust to your new place. But for two year tours, you start bidding after a year at post.

And by bidding, you start focusing on the next assignment, and you feel unsettled all over again. And you don't feel settled again until six months into your next job. So that is all we get: six months of feeling settled.

This is where I am now. Unsettled. Anxious. And hoping not to get hit by a dodge ball and turned into a zombie at the Mother Ship.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Two Weeks, One Year and Three Years

The week following the Orlando massacre was rough for me. The slaughter of 49 of my gay brothers and sisters and the injuring of another 52 more two weeks ago today passed relatively unnoticed at our embassy, and I found that personally devastating. Our Ambassador, whose leadership I greatly admire, was out of town. And consequently, we didn't have a condolence book. We were told at country team that we could have one if we wanted but that the Charge' didn't have strong feelings about it.

I nearly walked out of country team.

I am sure no harm was meant by the comment, but it harmed me. And perhaps anyone else who was LGBT, or had LGBT family or friends, or who had been touched by gun violence, or who just cared that their fellow Americans were mowed down by a madman able to get an assault rifle.

And then I had to fight to get our local LGBT activists to be ALLOWED to have a memorial vigil at the embassy. To be ALLOWED to light 49 candles for those who were lost. I was devastated all over again.

But several healing things happened since then. First, we did have the memorial. Not at the embassy like they wanted, but at least at USAID and not downtown away from the embassy. And it was really touching.

And then our Ambassador returned, and told us how sad he had been not to be with us when that happened. And how awful what had happened was and how he knew how hard it was to be so far away when this happened. And how we were lucky, because we were in a position to serve the country and to help make the U.S. and the world a better place.

And that helped a lot.

And so today I am celebrating. Because today I am reminded that it has been three years to the day since the Supreme Court ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
This is what I wrote about it at the time:

"We were on vacation in Norway when the ruling was first announced. I had been waiting for it for what seemed like an eternity. I expected it to come at 10 am Washington time on Wednesday, and it did, but I had not told my wife that this was when we would hear. She had already chastised me for watching SCOTUSblog over the past few weeks for fear I would jinx it. So I watched the clock anxiously that day and never told her I was watching the clock.

We got back into our hotel room around 4:20, or 10:20 DC time, and I immediately jumped on Facebook to see what had happened. She sat on the bed, and did the same thing, only she wasn't looking for the results. She thought we would hear the next day, because she thought the rulings were issued at the end of the day. As tears welled up in my eyes, I heard her say, "Wait, what? Did they? No..."

I said, "Honey, we are full citizens."

I didn't get up...I didn't want her to see me crying...and then she came over to me, tears streaming down her face. Neither of us had expected to cry. She had expected them to rule against us...and I had figured they would do what they did but was at the same time afraid to hope for it. I expected I would scream or dance or both.

But we both cried together. Together, apparently, with thousands of other LGBT people who felt finally accepted by their country. Who felt they were finally full citizens. Within minutes, I saw several proposals online, including one from one of my closest friends to her partner of more than 20 years. They had always considered themselves married, and she asked if her partner if she would now marry her legally. Of course she said yes. And I cried again.

What this means for us is that we no longer have to worry about being allowed to make medical decisions for each other. We never have to worry about being able to claim the other's body for burial should the unthinkable happen. We can inherit each other's property and pensions without paying inheritance taxes. We are no longer legal strangers."

One year later, I wrote about the astounding changes that had happened in that time. Marriage bans across the country were dropping like flies. We were able to go about our lives and do everything exactly the way other married couples do. And when we moved to our new house in Maryland, and went to go get our driver's licenses, one clerk accepted our mortgage document as proof of residence for my wife but not the same one as proof for me. When I went over to her at the window where she was to get the proof of car registration from her to use as proof since my mortgage paper wouldn't work, the clerk said, "Aren't you married?" When we said yes, the clerk said, "oh then she can vouch for your residency." So, yay bureaucracy?

And then a year after that, the unthinkable happened. On the two year anniversary of the Windsor decision finding DOMA unconstitutional. SCOTUS found ALL marriage bans unconstitutional.

We were finally full citizens. And I subsequently asked anyone who didn't respect my right to marriage to unfriend me, on Facebook or in real life.  But I added this:

"But before you do, I ask you to consider how you would feel if your spouse was hospitalized and weren't allowed in the room? I don't have to imagine. I have experienced it.

How would you feel if your spouse died, and you weren't allowed to bury him or her because you were a legal stranger and the law required immediate family to claim the body, even if that person was someone your spouse hated? What if you weren't allowed at the funeral? I have friends who experienced this after 20 or more years together.

How would you feel if you lost your home because your spouse died and you had to pay inheritance tax on "their half" of your home. It has happened to many gay people.

Civil marriage brings some 1,300 rights and responsibilities. Wills don't cover it. And some states could ignore even wills. And medical powers of attorney. It happened, a lot.

And hopefully it won't any more.

So maybe you still have religious beliefs that oppose marriage equality. Fine. But you don't get the right to impose those beliefs on others. Because you know what? My church believes in marriage equality. We were married in the church.

Think marriage is a Judeo-Christian ideal? Then why can atheists marry?

Think it is for procreation? Then why can the elderly and the infertile marry?

They can, because just as was determined in Loving v Virginia in 1967, marriage is about love, and it is a civil right.

And before you worry that this means your church will be required to marry gay people, it won't. A Catholic priest is not forced to marry non-Catholics. A rabbi is not forced to marry Christians. In fact, when we got married in our church, our pastor had just refused to marry a couple because they did not want to go through the required premarital counseling. Churches will still get to decide what is right for them, Just not for everyone else.

So please celebrate with me, because for the first time, I feel like a full citizen. I feel like the country that I serve, that I have kept faith with, has finally kept faith with me.

And I want to close with this, Justice Kennedy's eloquent final paragraph in the 5-4 ruling:

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Orlando has demonstrated that we still have a ways to go. There is still so much hate in the world. But I think we are heading in the right direction. So while I still mourn, while I am still shaken over and attack that happened in a "safe place," I celebrate that we are on the right path.

And I need no further proof of that than that the Charleston Post and Courier in my home state of South Carolina, where they fought to avoid accepting marriage equality, reported yesterday that one year later, same-sex marriage is simply "routine."

Monday, June 13, 2016


It is hard for me to even know where to start with this post.

I am sad. I am angry.

Fifty of my LGBT brothers and sisters were massacred in a senseless act of terrorism and hate in Orlando yesterday. During Pride. On "Loving Day," the anniversary of the ruling in Loving v Virginia that outlawed laws prohibiting interracial marriage and, I believe, paved the way for the ruling last June making marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.

As President Obama said, “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”

He is right. It was more than a bar. I remember the first time I walked into a gay bar. It was Menage, in Columbia, SC. It was the first time I felt truly safe, truly free to be who I am. It was a refuge.

Yesterday, a terrorist violated that refuge.

There are different theories about why he did it. Some want to credit radical Islam. Others say he was "disgusted" seeing two men kissing. But the root in these are the same. Hate. I have heard the same kinds of hate from close family members. I have witnessed it when being told I am condemned to hell, or when I was shot at while outside a gay bar.

And we are witnessing it now, when in the wake of the ruling granting marriage equality, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills have been filed, many seeking to allow people to discriminate against people like me because of "sincerely held religious beliefs." (Funny, my Jesus said to love everyone, even your enemy. ) Others seek to ban trans* people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Because the Stanford rapist was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. And the monster yesterday who slaughtered 50 innocent people was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. He was a straight, wife-beating, unstable guy who had been investigated by the FBI and was STILL allowed to buy an assault rifle.

But it is easier to hate gays or Muslims than to do something about our gun culture. It is easier to have potty police than to do something about rape culture. It is easier to blame the other than to confront the hate in our own society and do something about it.

We need to confront the hate in our society. And yes, that includes the hate of radical Islam. But it also include the hate of radical right-wing Christianity. Did you take a look at the Twitterverse yesterday. People were PRAISING him. For finally wiping the disgusting gays off the map. For killing someone "other than innocents." For doing what both hate-filled imams and hate-filled pastors have advocated. Event the Lt. Governor of Texas yesterday tweeted after the attacks that "you reap what you sow." Blaming the victims.

I think a place for us to start is on our own churches, with our own language. So I want to share a piece I wrote just over a month ago that I have shared with no one but my pastor in Maryland. I wrote it in response to the potty laws, and I think it is applicable even today. Because if our goal is to be more Christ-like, more made in the image of our Creator, we must see God as someone big enough to love all of creation and rid ourselves from the hate that I am sure breaks God's heart as well.

Towards a Radical Inclusiveness

By Digger Diplomat

I have been thinking a lot about pronouns lately.

Much of it stems from the recent debate over bathrooms and who gets to serve as the potty police. I am not transgender, and yet the debate is personal to me.

Among my people, I am considered a “Two-Spirit,” or someone who possesses both a male and a female spirit. This has always fit with how I feel myself, neither really male nor really female, but both. I am very comfortable in my own skin.

But there are those who are not comfortable with me. These are the ones who have called me “sir” since long before I cut my hair short. Some quickly apologize. Some laugh nervously. Some snicker. Because I feel like I am both, it has never bothered me, except on the rare occasions when the person seemed hostile.

I fear those occasions are increasing. I see more and more reports of attacks on trans* people. And these attacks aren’t limited to trans* people. There are all sorts of gender non-conforming people being accosted in restrooms even if they are using the restroom that corresponds with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.

One such person is a friend of mine who is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. She is part of the elite group of Marines who guard our embassies. And she has been thrown out of the women’s bathroom because she looks too much like a boy. A nice thank you for your service.

A recent piece by UCC minister Emily Heath describes a similar struggle. She too is female but gender non-conforming. She jokes with her wife that if she isn’t back from a public restroom in five minutes, to come looking for her. It is becoming less of a joke.

I fear it is a matter of time before I am accosted as well.

I wonder if this whole issues gives us an opportunity as progressive Christians to examine the language we use.

Because language matters.

When we refer to gender rather than sex and then insist on gender being binary, we negate the lives of those who live along the spectrum of gender. And we negate the lives of those assigned a sex at birth that doesn’t correspond with their identity, or those who fall into the at least three categories of intersex, meaning those with biological traits of both sexes. These folks too have typically been assigned a sex at birth, often surgically, and often incorrectly.

Likewise, when we refer to God as He, we negate the lives of women and their connectedness to the Creator. In my own church, and other UCC’s I have attended, we have struggled to find more inclusive ways to refer to God, whether calling God both father and mother, or changing the words to the doxology to refer to Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost rather than Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And often, we have shunned the use of pronouns.

What if we didn’t?

Many in the transgender and gender non-conforming community have sought a third way through the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. I know there are those who reject the use of “they” in the singular. I confess to being something of a grammar nerd myself. And yet we have a history of using the pronoun “they” when the sex of the person about whom we are speaking is not known. As I saw in a recent discussion of the matter, two wait staff noticed a customer left behind a coat. “I wonder if they know they left it?” “Let’s put it in the lost and found in case they return.”

See, we’ve been using it all along.

What if we used it for God?

What if instead of tying ourselves in knots trying to avoid using “He,” or at least using “He” and “She” together, we defaulted to “they?”

We’d be doing a number of things.

First, we would be referring to God in the way that They referred to themselves. In the plural.

Remember in Genesis 1:26, God says: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

And too in Genesis 3:22: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:”

If God, in referring to Self, says “us,” perhaps we should be saying “They.”

But using “They” would accomplish more than that. It would be a recognition of the radical inclusiveness that is God. The God that created all things, including all sexes and all genders.

It would mean that our understanding of God is limited by our understanding of ourselves, but that we recognize that God is not limited. Often, we are neither male nor female. Neither then is God. We were created in God’s image, male and female, because God’s image is male and female.

And by using “They,” we not only recognize the abundance that is God, but we welcome all of the abundance that is God’s Creation into the arms of our Creator and Their Church.


Maybe this is a little thing. Maybe it won't change the hate that fills people's hearts. But what if it does? What if one little change would help people see that we are all part of God, part of creation, that we, male, female, and in between, that we, gay, straight and in between, were all created in God's image and are loved by our Creator. Maybe then we could love each other.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Bucket List

Someone from back home made a comment to me a couple weeks ago that she would hate to see my bucket list...that is must be a blank page.

It isn't blank, but not just because there are a few places on the original one (that yes, is actually written down in a place I can access regularly) that I have yet to visit (I'm looking at you Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, and Angkor Wat), but also because the more I travel, the more I want to see. So the list keeps growing.

Before I met my wife, I had left the country exactly once, for my "once in a lifetime" trip to Germany. Of course, I have since been to Germany numerous times and have no doubt I will go back. And I also no longer think of travel as once in a lifetime. I've traveled now to 28 countries outside the U.S., many multiple times and seven new ones and several returns to previously visited ones in just the past nine months.

Our most recent trip was two weeks ago, to Slovenia. You should go there...Lake Bled is amazing!

That was a recent bucket list addition. Dracula's Castle is as well, now that we are close enough to Romania. That will probably be in a couple months.

In case you are curious about some of the other places, they are the usual suspects: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Neuschwanstein in Germany, the pyramids in Egypt, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee, Petra in Jordan, the Hagia Sofia in Turkey, the Acropolis in Greece. I've been to Rome and the Pompeii. I've visited Stonehenge. I've snorkeled in the Red Sea. And Estonia wasn't on my original bucket list, but it should have been.

Not bad for a kid who grew up in a Mill Village in South Carolina.

Any one of these and numerous other trips I've been lucky enough to make could have been a "once in a lifetime." Now they are more like, "this is my life" trips.

You miss a lot being in the Foreign Service, and I'd be lying if I didn't long sometimes for the comforts of home. I miss my family, my house, being able to buy cheddar cheese... But I have gained a lot too.

Travel is one of the best ways to combat prejudice and open minds. I am a different person than I was before my first trip overseas. And I am a changed person with each place I visit. you take a little of it home with you. You find that you love your own country a little more while realizing that there is so much the world offers that we do not.

Why am I being so introspective today? Probably because it is May. As I mentioned yesterday, Mother's Day gets me. This year marks 20 years since she passed. It also marked the passing of the date at which I was older than my mother had been when she died. And May is her birthday month, and that of her mother, who became like a mother to me (and me like a daughter to her) after my mom died. I lost her six years ago. May makes me think of what I miss, and therefore what I am missing by being away.

But it also makes me hope she can see me, that she would be proud of the person I have become and the adventure that has become my life. Some of the places on my bucket list are places I would have loved to have shared with her.

I kind of hope I have.