A Brief Introduction

Endeavoring to define myself outside of a "job title." I'm a nomad of sorts who fell in love with technology, activism, and helping others. I run a web & media consulting firm, have a blog specifically for activists & non-profits, and travel often. I love talking about theology, politics, and social change. I love doing something about it even more. I also like to be a well-rounded and fully present person. That's why I write here. Connect with me on twitter

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Playlist for 2009

What songs are bringing me into the new year? I've compiled 15 songs; some new, most old, that are jamming in my music player as I wrap-up 2008 and get energized for 2009. You can get a partial playlist on iTunes here.

"Power to to the People" by Black Eyed Peas
From the Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur album, this new take on a John Lennon classic is perfect as I continue to understand the interconnection of justice struggles. "Power to the People" moves.

"Talkin' Bout A Revolution" by Tracy Chapman
As I read Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution, I remembered how groovy the sounds of Tracy Chapman are. In much the same way that "Turn Me Around" talks about building a brand new world, "Talkin' Bout A Revolution" imagines that world and reminds us that the first step might sound like a whisper, but it's the start of a revolution.

"Give Me Your Eyes" by Brandon Heath

"All those people going somehow, why have I never cared?

"Give me your eyes for just one second. Give your eyes so I can see, everything that I've been missing. Give me your love humanity. Give me your arms for the broken-hearted, the ones that have fallen beyond my reach. Give me your heart for the ones forgotten. Give me your eyes so I can see."
A prophetic reminder of the Good News and an equally necessary reminder that I can't do on my own.

"This Is Love" by Jason & deMarco
Sometimes, it's not all about work. "This Is Love" reminds me what it's already about. Sometimes, justice means being able to listen to sappy love songs.

"Kenji" by Fort Minor
My good friend Meilee first introduced me to this song about the internment camps during World War II. I can't, and frankly don't want to be, an advocate for a partial justice. While Japanese Americans were being interred in the States, homosexuals were being interred and executed in Nazi-controlled Europe. Interconnection--I'm feelin' it these days.

"I Have Forgiven Jesus" by Morissey
I first heard this song on the 2007 Equality Ride when a professor played it at George Fox University for his class before our presentation. It's raw and reminds me that not all wounds heal nicely.

"Awake O'Sleeper" by Nicholas Kirk
A blogsophere discovery, this song and music video came to me by way of Hacking Christianity. The video is so beautiful, you're getting an embed:

Awake O'Sleeper from Brandon McCormick on Vimeo.

"Meant to Live" by The String Quartet
Can I call the Switchfoot original a classic? If so, then this instrumental take on a classic is relaxing and energizing. I can play it while falling to sleep or while working on a campaign.

"Stand by Me" from the Playing for Change soundtrack
What happens when filmmakers capture street performers around the world singing one song? Something soul moving. Don't we all need someone to stand by us? As 2009 rolls into motion, I'm surrounded by a family, a community, and a world who could stand by me.

"Travelin' Through" by Dolly Parton
I never quite understood the "breakthrough" of having a female actor play a female character, but TransAmerica was the first look at trans folk that many Americans took, so that says something. Dolly Parton is classic Americana and her song, about love, loss, family, and finding our way, is equally American. As natural as, say, being trans. Upbeat and a little quirky, this song reminds me that life is a journey.

"I Celebrate the Day" by Relient K
My housemate Matt introduced this song to me a week before Christmas and though it is technically a holiday song, I'll be listening to it year round. I actually can't decide on my favorite line.
The first time that you opened your eyes, did you realize that you would be my savior?
And the first breath, that left your lips, did you know that it would change this world forever?
A refugee baby born in a dirty, stinky shed ushered in God incarnate and the world forever.

"The Long Way Around" by Dixie Chicks
I've been listening to this album since it hit the shelves. Sometimes I'll go months at a time without tuning into the Chicks, but this album, and this song, will always have a place in my music collection. Unlike other justice struggles, queer folks must often navigate hostility in places which should be safe--their homes, neighborhoods, friend circles, and faith communities. "The Long Way Around" feels real, yet hopeful, to me.

"Poverty" by Jason Upton
"There's a power in poverty that breaks principalities and brings the authorities down to their knees. [...] And who will praise when we've praised all our lives men who build kingdoms and men who build fame? [...]"
The instrumentation is simple, the lyrics are haunting. I appreciate that the songwriter doesn't offer us guidelines or suggestions to follow, but rather asks us questions, punctuating each line with a pause as the question hangs in the air. What will we do? What will we do?

"Climb On (A Back That's Strong)" by Reverse Osmosis
My good friend Katherine Good is a beautiful singer and her a capella group from USC, Reverse Osmosis, is a staple in my music collection. "Climb On" picks me up when I'm down and, to be honest, is fun to sing along with.

"Love Today" by Mika
I'll be honest, I avoided Mika for over a year. He gave a cocky-sounding interview in which he claimed he didn't understand why he wasn't more of a superstar in the "gay community" simply because his sexuality is ambiguous and his songs are peppy. Then I heard "Love Today" and I caved. I mean, the beat is REALLY FUN and so it's the bookend to this playlist.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

On Lines In The Sand

With the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the Obama inauguration and the ensuing brouhaha stirring among some advocates of gay rights/equality, I've been stewing on my own position. Here's where I'm at:

Gay people, and gay relationships, are absolutely and unequivocally on equal footing as their straight counterparts. There are many issues that invite healthy and productive debate, this is not one of them. There are not multiple valid perspectives. To denigrate queer identities and relationships is to place oneself opposite of truth, justice, God, and ultimately history. We certainly don't say that there is room for healthy debate around interracial marriage, or the rights of Christians to exist without persecution. As Mel White once said, the *issue* is not up for debate.

But I want the *people* who find themselves on the other side of recognizing my complete humanity as close to me as possible. I want to eat with them, work with them, pray with them.

When the Equality Ride was at Wisconsin Lutheran University, the chaplain (or dean or someone) refused to pray with us. I don't remember his title, but I remember the hurt we all felt. We were ready and willing to pray with them, it wasn't a charade or a stunt. And so I'm ready to eat, to speak, to work, and to pray with Rick Warren. I'm equally ready to call upon Obama to live up to his campaign promises and lead us toward justice for gay and transgender people. I'm ready to show Rick Warren and others who believe similarly how wrong they are by my actions. I'm ready to create a new kind of Christianity--one that takes the words of Jesus seriously and offers real solutions, not mere platitudes about love and service. I'm committed to deep, transformative change; not superficial tokenism. This is a start, it is absolutely not enough.

I've got to believe that Rick Warren can become a fierce ally for LGBT people, his invocation can be the first step. That's change I can believe in.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Support the Shiministim

Israeli teenagers are boldly standing up to their government and refusing required military service on the grounds of conscientious objection, mostly due to the occupation of Palestine. These young people, many seniors in high school, defy pressure of family, friends, and the state--many who would see them as traitors--to hold fast to their convictions.

You can support these courageous young people--the Shministim--by signing a letter to the Israeli Minister of Defense at December18th.org. Jewish-Israeli peace activists will be hand-delivering these letters so add your voice today!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reflections by Matt

My friend and housemate Matt Beams wrote a touching reflection on the brand new SFNYC blog, blog:justice.

Check it out.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Spread Holiday Cheer (and Economic Justice)

It's winter, and with the winter comes Christmas and general holiday cheer. Looking for an exciting alternative to the same drug-store cards you send out ever year? Check out Cards From Africa! You can find local retailers or order online. The cards come as individuals or in discounted multi-packs. Not only are they an artful alternative, they are created by orphaned young people who now the support the household. All of the cardmakers are 18+, their salaries are above market wage (approximately 5 times), they help the employees save, create a model of business so that cardmakers can become business owners, and the cards are made from recovered materials that would have been discarded. Living wage, Fair Trade, sustainable.

And beautiful.

This holiday, give cards with character.

Friday, December 05, 2008

To Be Or Not To Be

A key component of Soulforce is studying the life and works of Gandhi, King Jr., and other non-violent thinkers and actors. Gandhi famously advised his followers—and the world—to be the change that we wish to see. My friend Shane Claiborne writes that often the saints and world-changers end up relegated to stained glass windows and coffee table books (after they're executed or assassinated, of course). That we want to venerate them safely from a distance. "Be the change" has a nice ring to it, feels good, and makes for a catchy movie tagline. But what does it mean? Do I really want to be the change? The answer changes everything. If I don't, that's fine. I can live a life of detached isolation both from my own problems and the problems around me. There is something to be said for creating a comfortable life and enjoying it with loved ones. I won't fault anyone for deciding against being the change. I ask myself almost daily, is this the life that I want?

But if I decide to be the change I wish to see in the world—if I truly mean it—then everything must change. Being the change is more than believing in myself, or even surrounding myself with like-minded friends. "To be" is both a state of existence and also a verb and "being change" requires making a deliberate effort to do differently than I've done thus far. What does being the change look like?

For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. there was an inextricable element of sacrifice. "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable," he said, rather "every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." When I say "be the change you wish to see in the world," is this what I mean? Am I prepared to struggle and sacrifice for the cause of justice? Is this the choice that I want to make? How will I make those choices today?

In some ways, the answer seems clear to me. Gandhi reminds me that, "The sacrifice which causes sorrow to the doer of the sacrifice is no sacrifice. Real sacrifice lightens the mind of the doer and gives him a sense of peace and joy. The Buddha gave up the pleasures of life because they had become painful to him." My cable television, my iPod, my luxury studio apartment have all fallen away as they have become burdens too heavy to bear. I still make daily decisions: what to eat, whether to take the subway, when to upgrade my cellphone, what presents to give my friends and family. I even indulge in luxury—spending on trips, clothes, gifts to myself, upgrades to business class as I travel. I am by no means an ascetic (or even a full-time vegetarian), that would be too easy. Rather, I try, at the very least, to be conscious of the decisions that I make. May I never pontificate about being the change while remaining comfortably complacent. When I need to be comfortably complacent, I should own and in live in that space. I'm going to allow myself that choice, otherwise the choice to "be the change" is not really a choice.

There was a time when I made a choice to sacrifice two months of my life to participate in the Equality Ride. Or even to sacrifice two minutes of my life to send an email to a senator. These are choices for change. Being the change begins in simple decisions. Let me make no illusions, I'm writing this from the business class of an Acela Express train. It was a long weekend, holiday traffic would be rough if I were to take a bus, I have a full week of work ahead of me. I'm choosing to take the train—and a nice one at that. I'm returning to a house in New Jersey where I live with three friends (and pay only $400 each for rent)--I'm choosing to live in community. I commit some hours every week to work with Soulforce NYC, The Simple Way, and Marble Church. In some ways sacrifice, in others, the only way I want it to be--I'm choosing to work for justice. Being the change comes through choices.

As I continue to mull "what comes next" for advocacy around queer issues, I keep coming back to "be the change." I want to "fix" New York State, the Christian church, and the United States of America. Then I want to fix Iran, Africa, and the rest of the world. And I want to tackle poverty and all forms of oppression simultaneously. I want to scheme, to be the mastermind, and to get paid handsomely along the way! But that is not the advice I've been given. I've been asked by Gandhi to simply be the change. Similarly, Dr. Norris in his sermon on 1 John this past Sunday at Fourth Presbyterian Church advised us to hate the sins that we commit, and in doing so, actively repent of them. Be the change, in other words. I commit many sins and in my personal life, I'm going to take explicit stock of them and meditate on ways that I can turn around and change. I'm doing the same in my life as an activist.

  • Who have I taken for granted?
  • Who have I had too little faith in?
  • What assumptions do I continue to carry?
  • In my quest for equality, am I stepping on or silencing anyone (including those that I perceive as the opposition)?
  • What perspectives am I writing off? Is there anything to learn from them?
  • What voices am I not exposed to or am I ignoring?
  • How am I insulating or isolating myself from others?
  • How am I ostracizing others from myself?
At our meeting last week, Soulforce NYC asked ourselves many of these same questions and committed to chart a new path in our personal lives and in the life of the organization. I invite you to join us next week on Tuesday December 9 at 6:30 PM in Room 401 of the LGBT Center as we continue to bring our commitments to life and embody the vision of justice and equality for all.

May we never quote Gandhi, King, Jesus, or any other saint without choosing to follow their lead.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Humanity Detached From Sanity

An 11-point list of what to do in a terrorist attack,
which starts with "rescue is a myth" and ends with
"kill without hesitation."

Masters programs in Homeland Security
But did the department make us secure?

It is the myth of redemptive violence.

Shopping sprees turned into
Shopping stampedes turned into
Death by shopping

It is our consumer culture intensified, as sunlight through a microscope
It is the abuse in our products, laid out for us to see

Prayers to God for blessings and protection on our soldiers
As they kill, maim, and torture
Where are the prayers for their transformation and healing?
When will pray for and support those who want out?
Who will listen to their stories when they return?
How noble of us to "Support the troops" with our slogans and flags,
While we send them to die and to kill
And institutionalize them when they fail to just,
return to normal

Let us beat swords into plowshares and study war no more!

With wars across the world
With an economy in peril
Why are we not stopping to ask, "Why?"
Why is it done this way?

Why do we insist that the way which isn't working
Is the only way?

This is humanity detached from sanity

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