Monday, October 4, 2010


Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers... He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1.1,3)

We Wonder

Last week’s news of Tyler Clementi’s suicide burdened our nation, and many around the world, with heavy hearts. His was an unusually happy story that turned tragic in a matter of minutes and ended abruptly the next day. The implications surrounding the tragedy go beyond the premature loss of a talented young musician whose gifts were meant to impart joy and inspiration for years to come. They expose corrupt, distorted values that inevitably emerge when a society becomes preoccupied with fear and hate.

The unjustly sad and final chapter of Tyler’s life starts with a foolish prank. A freshman at Rutgers University, he—like many at his age—was self-consciously discreet about his same-sex orientation. But he appears to have caught the attention of another young man. When he asked for privacy to spend time with him, his roommate pretended to oblige. While Tyler and his friend enjoyed one another’s company, the roommate streamed live video of their visit to an audience he rustled up with this Twitter feed: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s [sic] room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” With one invasive mouse-click, he uncovered a secret Tyler purposefully held until he could feel confident and comfortable revealing it. If his wishes and feelings were even considered, they weren’t respected. And we wonder: while his privacy was maliciously violated, was he waiting—hoping—for love and companionship to open the door so he could live openly and honestly? While unknowingly victimized by haters who vent fear through ridicule, did he envision the complete opposite—pride, integrity, and courage? Such sentiments often race through the minds of young gay people at moments like this. Whether Tyler pondered them we don’t know, because he left without telling. He typed six words—“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry”—on his Facebook page, got into his car, and spent his final hour en route to the George Washington Bridge.

Absence of Light

Without minimizing the tragedy, Tyler’s story was perfect for TV. It had terrific video of him playing the violin. It occurred on a highly esteemed campus, complete with leafy quads and Gothic architecture. It involved technical savvy and social networking—hip, hot topics. Tyler’s sexuality definitely added edginess. (Many news outlets deviously upgraded “making out” to a “sexual encounter.”) Still, while watching the coverage unfold, I thought of the innumerable teen suicides that go unreported simply because they occur in less auspicious places and less viewer-friendly situations. How many other children took their lives that day because someone had no problem humiliating them? How many fell to gun violence? (Last week, four Chicago teenagers’ lives ended that way.) How many decided another minute in a world drunk with malice, fright, and pessimism was more than they could bear? And—God help us—how many are silently, invisibly inching closer and closer to the precipice, where the dark unknown frightens them less than terrors hiding in absent light?

And absence of light truly is the issue. Before we slap indictments on the disciples of hatred and fear, it’s our duty to assess how fervently and insistently our light shines. Have we misused Christ’s calling on our lives as a rationale for polite meekness? Are we too concerned about ruffling feathers and alienating people to seize every opportunity to restore light where it no longer exists? Must we actually experience tragedy born of our timidity before mustering courage to fight a cultural tide of thoughtless evil? Had any of us known Tyler or his roommate, does our typical behavior enable us to imagine we might have been instrumental in preventing their tragedy? Or would we have been the sort that thinks we're "making a statement" by not laughing at hateful jokes or sitting silently by while others promote fear and prejudice? Is our concern about being stigmatized victimizing others? No doubt, at this very moment, people who knew these young men wish they'd said or done what they should have said and done to prevent this horrible outcome.

We Will Not

Something’s very wrong when the people we live, work, and associate with presume we’re okay with their destructive attitudes and behaviors. Getting along with everyone is less essential—indeed, it’s non-essential—than spreading our light. To think we can remedy this crisis while abiding its causes is nonsense. Our commitment to justice and righteousness should precede us. We shouldn’t be welcome where hatred and fear reign. We mustn’t be seduced by the idea permission indicates tolerance. We can’t risk perils that befall those who believe it’s possible to indulge darkness up to a point. The first sign of its presence is the moment we say, “Enough!” and mean it. The safety of innocent lives is at stake. Our personal fulfillment and peace of mind are as well.

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers,” Psalm 1.1 wisely asserts. When we think this through, the focus shifts from what’s unacceptable in others to what’s unacceptable for us. Saying “Enough!” says, “We're not allowed to do this. We won't contribute to the crisis. We won’t risk the consequences. We will not surrender our light to darkness.” The psalmist tells us the person who defies wickedness and mockery cannot be shaken. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water,” verse 3 says, “which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Why does the poisonous produce of hatred and fear overwhelm us at present? Too few trees bear the fruit of love and faith. We must stand firm in the light, all of us, every one of us, upholding the light, and declare without qualm or condition, “We cannot be shaken. We will not move.”

Absence of light perpetuates a culture of hatred and fear. We cannot falter in our resolve to restore light and end this crisis.


grant said...

I like your comments and the photo - which reminds me of a saying: Rage not at the dark, Rather, light a candle.

Your blog is such a candle.

I suspect that the cover of political correctness may have lulled some into under-estimating the degree of fear and intolerance that still permeates our societies. In looking how to illustrate this -- I googled Jay Leno and came up with some jokes he made not long ago about gay marriage and gay "unions" etc... which offended some. But I didn't find those jokes the worst thing he does regarding gay issues - he makes overt jokes about a lot of people and issues. That's more or less normal.

What I think is more troubling, is how he'll get a laugh when he tries to deflect anything that makes him appear gay during random events or comments during a show. Do you see what I'm getting at?

That unrehearsed comment reveals an underlying fear of being thought gay and says more about where our society is at, than do a few straight forward jokes about gay marriage etc.. IF being gay was as normal as Political Correctness demands people to pretend, then Jay wouldn't care about things that make him appear gay, and there'd be no laugh when he tried to deflect them.

I hope you see what I'm trying to get at here - not sure if it's clear.

Anyway Tim, thanks for lighting candles day after day.

kkryno said...

When I heard from MSM about Tyler's tragic plight, all I could think of was, "Not again!"

When will we ever learn that our friends and loved ones are being sacrificed in the name of what is "normal?" I just don't get it! God doesn't want His children to take their own lives! He wants us ALL to lift each other up in Love.

The very basic thing that we must embrace is that God is Love!

Now, I know that I am far from perfect; and I make snap judgments and stupid remarks at times.

It shames me to say that I'm not always the best I should be, but I'm working on it! All I know is that we are all the same inside, and I believe that is what He wants us to learn here.

How many millenium will it take?

We're running out of time!

Sherry Peyton said...

Oh this thing just sickens me so much. When will this hate end? I do agree, we are all obligated to stand up and speak truth, no niceties can keep us from it. Things are getting bad here in Iowa with the election coming up and the forces of hate working so hard to defeat judges who simply followed the Constititution. Thanks for reminding us all.

Tim said...

Grant - I totally get what you say and couldn't agree more; PC has become a mask, just like other forms of politeness--only it's gone to insane extremes. When I was young, we were told "some things" weren't discussed in public. Then it went to everything can be said, provided its said in an non-offensive way. And now it's got to the point that it's politically incorrect to say you're offended by what may hear another say. We seem to have lost our ability to know what's honest versus what's harmful.

While I don't agree with the old-school way necessarily, at least the toxins were contained--not masked or ignored to pollute the minds and hearts of innocents. This child who streamed the video is, in a way, very much like Leno. The freedom to joke about being gay (not necessarily a bad thing, if done honestly, as with any other characteristic that can lead to foible) has also opened the door to treat it shamefully without any shame. So it becomes "cool" to feel comfortable telling gay jokes and just as "cool" to be appalled if you're mistaken to be "one of them." And the latter is not funny, because it lays bare the lie in the former.

I have dear, dear straight friends who struggle with this. They have legitimately funny observations they'd like to share, but fear offending me. I want them to feel free to do that. Then I have other, equally dear friends, who are so comfortable they don't realize they've slipped into offensiveness. It's my responsibility to pull them back and explain why and where they crossed the line. Not for my sake, because I know they mean no harm--but for the sake of others. Because if I permit it around me, it's very likely they'll presume it's permissible in general, and it's not.

I find that "Yay" at the end of the roommate's Twitter feed very revealing--and confusing. It seems to suggest he's delighted that Tyler's found someone, which would be the politically correct attitude to strike. Yet there's also a creepy undertone that implies he's just as delighted playing this prank, as if outing the boy was no big deal because he's a freak. What sickens me most is how many comments I've read on "neutral" sites that follow this logic. "Gay is no big deal. It's not the roommate's fault Tyler couldn't handle it." It's Leno all over again.

Like you, this dilemma is hard for me to get my head around, let alone articulate clearly. But as believers, the Spirit within us alerts us to the difference between healthy and harmful behaviors. (That's how we discern the disparity between Leno's jokes and his reactions.) And when we sense something's amiss--not only with gay-related comments and attitudes, but with any topic--our love for our neighbors compels us to lead them to light. We need not be argumentative or judgmental, but not speaking up is unkind--to them, to those they might wound, and to us.

Grant, thank you for expanding on this subject. As I worked on it, I wondered if my fervor was simplifying it. And it was. This extra layer gets us closer, I think, to the complexity of our challenge.

And thank you, thank you for your kind words. They mean a great deal to me.

Blessings always,

Missy Francis said...

I've heard it said you are either a bully, a victim, or a bystander. And I've probably been all three; but this and other recent events have me asking myself--am I--right now--a "bad" bystander or a righteous one?

Today I took a step. I ordered this:
I plan to share the curriculum with my church youth group. We'll see where the fall out from this decision takes me.

Something has to be done. Steps. Little steps.

Tim said...

Yes, Vikki, "Not again!" That was exactly what I thought. My heart sank for Tyler and Matthew Shepard and thousands of others whose lives were stolen as a result of ignorance and hate.

I recently sat on a plane beside a most interesting fellow who had the answers for everything: we need to do this, we need to do that, etc. Our conversation was primarily political. (He was an avid Tea Party guy, not a lunatic by any means, but clearly "under the influence.") Finally, I said, "You're dancing around the big question without answering it. You've not said one word about how your ideas affect lives." He didn't know what to say.

The same problem applies here, I think. We've become so good at objectifying our problems and blaming others for our failures, we feel no compunction about the lives that fall through the cracks. We're so concerned about taking positions, we've lost our ability to consider the realities of life.

My heart skipped a beat when you said, "The very basic thing that we must embrace is that God is Love!" That's the core, isn't it? When God's love becomes our guiding principle--when it dominates our thoughts and governs our words and actions--compassion will flow.

And yes, we will fall short at times. But allowing that to become the norm constitutes accepting defeat. That is unacceptable.

Thank you so much for chiming in. As always, your honesty and care move me greatly.

With many blessings and much love,

Tim said...

we are all obligated to stand up and speak truth, no niceties can keep us from it

Oh yes, Sherry. Politeness is often less kind than we presume. It puts a new spin on Paul's comment, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid!" Our graciousness is less important than doing all we can to end hatred and fear. On balance, discomfiting someone is a much smaller risk than passively contributing to tragedies like Tyler's.

I once heard someone compare believers to control rods in a nuclear reactor. We are the stabilizing element in the world; the thing that prevents it from blowing up. It's not the friendliest job, but it's vital and necessary. And when we shirk our responsibilities to take control, we endanger everyone and everything.

Re the Iowa campaigns. The moment the courts there ruled in favor of same-sex unions, I could see the mobs lurching for their torches and pitchforks. Since Illinois has yet to correct its marriage laws, we're spared this. But we're seeing politics as usual--hate the other guy and vote for me. It is a painful time to be politically engaged, and I fear the first to jump ship will be those whose voices must be heard: the lovers and healers and peacemakers. Again, here's where politeness backfires by allowing the haters to make the rules.

When I've seen hateful ads or hear candidates promote fear and malice, I've taken to picking up the phone and calling their campaigns. "I will not consider his/her platform until this stops," I tell them. Of course, I'm just one vote, and most likely wouldn't cast it for them anyway. But I can't help thinking the more we speak directly to this problem, the less confident and brazen its perpetrators will be. Tiny steps are better than no steps at all, I guess.

Sherry, it's always so good to hear from you. Since you're probably the closest to me geographically, I often greet your remarks like we're neighbors talking across the fence. It's ever a delight to open the comments and see you waiting at the fence!

With blessings of peace, love, and joy,

Tim said...

Missy, how ironic that you should be posting your comment just as I was telling Sherry, my neighbor to the west, that hearing from her was like talking over the fence. And here you are--my neighbor to the east, at the other fence. And I write, "Tiny steps," while you write, "Steps. Little steps." Without diminishing my affection and gratefulness for everyone here, I do love my little Midwestern neighborhood! ;-)

Bullies, victims, and bystanders--yes, that pretty much sums it up. And I'm convinced the first two groups wouldn't be nearly so great if the third didn't exist. We have a moral--a Christian--responsibility to take those little steps off the sidelines and purposefully interfere.

We think of the Good Samaritan as the kind guy who showed up after the fact and intervened, which unfortunately leads many of us to believe we're called to clean up the mess, not prevent it. But everything about his character causes me to believe had he walked up when the robbery was underway, he would have interfered with its progress, risking his own safety to prevent harm from befalling his neighbor. I'm equally prone to think had he overheard the robbers' plans, he would have spoken up and challenged their intentions.

God bless you, Missy, for courageously stepping up and introducing this topic to your youth group! Having just viewed the preview, there might be some blowback. But the long-term good you do will be worth it. We'll hold you in our prayers as you go forward.

Exceeding, abundant blessings always to you.

With great love and admiration,