Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Everything Trumps Music



I'm at a loss.

For a month now, I've been rolling with the punches at Margaret Scott. First it was my "room"--or, rather, the lack of a room. I was to teach music in Kindergarten and First and Second Grade classrooms in the morning, in the gym in the afternoon to Third, Fourth, and Fifth Graders. There was no portable available, and the room dividers I'd requested to mitigate noise and space issues in the gym had never been ordered. Most of the instruments I'd spent the last two years accumulating would be gathering dust in the gym storage room, too big to haul around from classroom to classroom and, with PE in the gym every morning, too delicate to leave out should I want to teach units using them to my afternoon classes.

Then came a district-wide hit: the visionary administrator with a plan to put music back full-time in every building left for a position in another district. His replacement was a pencil-pusher with no ideas at all for restoring our program. Since my first meeting with him, he's lived out that initial assessment, nit-picking purchase order requests and doing nothing to facilitate the dividers I and one of my colleagues desperately need to maintain our sanity.

Next it was the schedule: my actual instructional time was cut almost in half. To make up for it, the PE teacher and I would be team-teaching mass "Rhythms" classes to every grade but the fifth, doing very basic movement activities in the gym.

Now came the indignity of having what space remained to me pre-empted again and again without consultation. A fifth-grade music class in the gym had to be moved to their classroom at the last moment so chairs could be set up for a parent meeting that night. Correction: I was given the option of having those kids give up their one music class that week to set up the chairs. A week later, school pictures were scheduled to be taken in the gym. It shouldn't interfere with my afternoon classes, I was told, and in fact, the photography was done by the time my first class arrived. What wasn't done was the photographers noisily breaking down their equipment, which they did for the next hour and a half.

The last straw for me was rainy day recess: the principal came to me during my lunch break to tell me recess would be taking place in the gym during lunch. Which she neglected to tell me was that it wouldn't be over until 12:38--eight minutes into the first class I was supposed to teach in the gym, and with no time for me to set up for it.

Add into this mix the crushing reality of gym acoustics. Even if I do get those dividers, the echo in that room--there is no sound-absorption at all--blow up every bump and giggle to the point that any child with any attention-deficit issues at all is incapable of concentrating on the music lesson. So after three lessons in one month that anything and everything had priority over me teaching a music class in the gym, I decided to give up on having access to my larger equipment, and to just take the whole damn show on the road, teaching afternoon classes in the same way I did morning classes, in classrooms.

And now came the push-back from the teachers. I understand it's hard to do prep work when there's a music class in your classroom. It would bug the bejeezus out of me. It is, however, what half the school already has as its default music location. The last few days, I've been teaching afternoons in classrooms, and have found behavior vastly improved: problem children are much easier to redirect when their every twitch isn't magnified by an echo chamber.

Except there's the noise problem.

After school today, a fourth grade teacher told me it just wasn't going to work: there was too much noise coming through the wall for her to have her mandated quiet reading time with her class, and when it came for IRLA testing (like all public schools, we're required to do reams of standardized tests for every child), they would have to have a silent environment during that time. "IRLA trumps music," she told me.

"In this building, everything trumps music," I replied.

I came home to find an email from the principal confirming what the teacher had told me: the noise issue means I'm stuck in the gym with those older kids. Once again, there is no priority to small to be more important than me teaching music. The quality of my lessons takes a back seat to whatever else is going on in the building. Just so long as those children are in my care for a half hour while their teachers do prep work, it doesn't matter to anyone if I get a single concept across to them.

My principal has offered to meet with me to see what she can do to support me. She realizes I've been handed a shitload of setbacks in this first month of school. I will tell her there is really just one thing I need, and it's the one thing she can't provide in our crowded building and which, according to that new administrator, any other class would have first dibs on if it were to miraculously appear: a classroom. Everything trumps music.

I can ask that the office staff treat me with a little more respect, thinking twice before kicking me out of my teaching space at a moment's notice. I don't know if that will happen. Mostly I'm afraid I'll be in laundry-list mode, telling her all the ways in which my work at this school is being turned into baby seating to a beat. How I'm supposed to teach to the standards the district arrived at through a year of conferencing is beyond me when I don't have access to most of my equipment and, when I do, have to use it in a space that amplifies misbehavior and drowns out quality.

Do I sound bitter? I am. I can't hide it. I love my students, hate the thought of leaving them to take a different job; but if this is as good as it gets, I'm going to be amping up my job search.

This Old House


An-di-fan, soon to be someone else's house of tranquility.

I never had a home town, but I always had this house.

My grandmother moved into the house on Baker Street in 1945. She'd been widowed for a year, and had decided to return to McMinnville to teach at Linfield College, where her husband had been president in the 1930s. Now, at the age of 54 (my age now), and for the first time in her adult life, she needed a house that was not provided by my grandfather's employment. The house on Baker Street had been built forty years earlier, and had been the home of a botanist. It stood on a double lot, the huge back garden filled with mature flora that he had planted. It had, the realtor told her, a good hearth, and this was important to her as she entered this new phase of her life.

She named it "An-di-fan," after the name she and my grandfather took as missionaries in Shanghai. It was something of a pun on our Swedish family name of "Anderson," and meant "house of peace" or "house of tranquility" (I've seen "An" translated both ways) in Mandarin, a language in which she was fluent. During the forty-three years she made this her home, she was both a professor and college administrator, a world traveler, a writer of inspirational books, matron of the McMinnville American Baptist Church, hostess to international students, and, not least, my grandmother.

I loved visiting this house. As far and wide as my family traveled--for my father, like my grandfather, moved wherever his work as a pastor took him--we always had An-di-fan as a constant. And it was a place of wonders, every room filled with Chinese knick-knacks, antique gadgets, vintage Life magazines, and so much more. That huge back garden was a perfect place to play hide-and-seek, to pick cherries, or just to read a book on a hot summer day. At the heart of it all, though, was Grandma. She traveled often to see us, but it was always better to see her in her home.

She lived there until she died there, in her own bed, in 1988. Two years later, my father retired from ministry, and my parents moved into An-di-fan.

They made it their own, renovating the house extensively. It had fallen into disrepair in the later years of my grandmother's life. The appliances were hopelessly outdated, the dark wood finish throughout the downstairs was depressing, and much of the garden needed to be uprooted. This became my father's retirement project, and today, every room bears the stamp of his ingenuity. He already knew how to do most of the work required, and anything he didn't know, he taught himself. He refinished, painted, wallpapered, rebuilt, until my grandmother's ghost could rest, and the house was unquestionably my parents'. 

For twenty-four years, he lived there with my mother. During that time, my brothers and I and our spouses and children came and went, almost all of us spending at least some time living in the house. In the last decade, poor health began to take a toll on Dad's ability to maintain the house, and now our visits and stays came with chores. The garden had to be tended, the vegetable and fruit beds weeded, the produce harvested, the lawns seeded, watered, and cut, the bind-weed pulled again and again. In the house, there was always something that needed doing. Our father's decline meant that, toward the end, our visits were more and more vital to keeping the house going. And then, last December, just hours after seeing all his sons and daughters-in-law, and almost all his grandchildren, for one final Christmas party, my father died, as his mother had, in his own bed, in the house he loved so well.

And so it's on the market. The House of An, the one place that has always been there, wherever else I may have laid my head, will soon pass to another family. Children I don't know will run up and down the stairs, hide in the closets, watch TV in the den, have dinner in the dining room, breakfast in the nook, play in the enormous back yard. Their parents will sit in front of the fireplace, the good hearth that warmed my grandmother in her time of greatest loss holding Yule logs for them. Someday, their grandchildren may come to see them in this old house, just as my brothers and I once did.

Once it's sold, I probably won't be going back to McMinnville for a very long time. My mother will be living somewhere else--probably Wilsonville--and our family gatherings will, of course, have to be somewhere else, too. She'll still have the grand old dining table we've always shared holiday meals over, so most likely we'll be coming together in her new home for that. I won't miss McMinnville too much--I only actually lived in the town for a little over a year, in the late 1990s--but the house, oh, the house, the House of An, I will grieve for the rest of my life.

Goodbye, old house. If the next family to live within your walls experiences even a fraction of the love my family has there, they will be well blessed by your shelter.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Back in the Gym

Remember this picture?


This was my classroom when I started teaching in the Reynolds School District: a gymnasium. The acoustics were atrocious, the space made even the best-behaved kids a bit loopy, and I had to put all my equipment--truckloads of xylophones, metallophones, and whatever else I might be using--away in a storage room every afternoon, because I couldn't trust either the after school program or the evening basketball league to treat it with respect. That was my reality in two different schools for the entire year 2013-14, and led me to seek employment elsewhere during the summer. I didn't find any.

When I came back to Scott Elementary a year ago, I found that my situation had partially improved: I was in a classroom now, though I had to share a third of it with a computer lab/English Language Development program. Most of the time, this wasn't too challenging: I could've used more room, and sometimes the more challenging kids would run to the other side of the divider to hide from me, but by and large, I was happy to be out of the gym. I did feel sorry for the people working on the other side of that divider, though, especially when I was teaching recorder or drum circle. And then my principal dropped a bombshell on me: I was going to be back in the gym at the beginning of the new school year. Again, I looked for work elsewhere, came close to landing one of those jobs, but ultimately found myself coming back to Scott--and a situation that was even worse than what I'd expected.

So here it is, ladies and gentlemen: I now spend half of my day in classrooms, allowing the gym to be used for PE. The other half of the day, I'm in the gym. My mornings I teach with what I can carry into those classrooms. The best-equipped music room in the Reynolds district is mostly in storage. I'll be pulling the Orff instruments out if I can talk the district into providing me with some kind of room divider to protect them from errant basketballs when I'm not in the gym, but I've got nowhere near the access to them I enjoyed last year, when I could pull out a tenor-alto instrument on a whim to teach a melody or accompany a story I was telling. And when I can use those instruments, it is, again, in the gym, where the echoing noise of one fidgety child can make it impossible for an entire class to concentrate on the lesson.

Meanwhile, in the district office, there's been another disappointment: for two years, music teachers had an advocate there, an assistant superintendent who had a vision for bringing the program back out of the wilderness it had been in since the economic crash of 2009. He had a 3-5 year plan to get full time music back in every building, in a real classroom.

Over the summer, he left the district to take a job with Portland Public Schools. His successor is a technocrat, a man who sees the job as crossing t's, dotting i's, and saying "Sorry, no" over and over again to the three of us who coordinate spending on music. The computer upgrade we were all promised? Gone. The restoration of full-time positions? Not his bailiwick. The room dividers that were supposed to mitigate the dreadful conditions for two of us of teaching in the gym? He's looking into it, he says--but I'm going to be asking him for the third time this week if he's made any progress, and I'm expecting to hear another "Sorry, no." I'm reminded of this ominous verse from the first chapter of Exodus: "Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph."

There's a new pharaoh in the district office, and he's booting us back into the wilderness.

I've also had my student contact time reduced. Our new principal found it far easier to schedule me to just one music lesson a week with each class, plus having the entire grade together in the gym for something she calls "Rhythms." I'll be team-teaching this with our half-time PE teacher. It makes the classroom teachers happy, because they get common grade-level planning time. But it means half the time I spend with these children is a glorified indoor recess.

Oh, and whenever the gym's needed for something, I can either move what few classes I have left with the older grades into their classrooms (and forget about using anything I can't carry, such as a piano)--or suck it up and try to teach alongside the noise that will be generated by the taking of school pictures at the other end of the room, for instance; or have my kids spend their music time helping to set up chairs for the community meeting that night.

We were so hopeful last year. It really looked like music was making a comeback. People talked about how wonderful it was to hear music in the building. There was so much lip service paid to the importance of music to the children. But lip service was all that it was. As we've experienced repeatedly for the last half century, music education, however valuable it may be, is the lowest priority of anything Oregon school districts spend money on. We are the first to be laid off, the last to be rehired. The rooms where we teach, some of them designed by us to better accommodate music classes, are snapped up as soon as the student population grows. I've seen music rooms turned into office space where two or three reading specialists see at most a half dozen children at a time, while music classes are consigned to gyms, storage rooms, windowless spaces that, if the fire marshal knew they were being used as classrooms, would earn the school a fine. That's if the teacher is lucky enough to have any space at all, as I'm learning in my now-itinerant schedule.

That new administrator told me we probably could've had a portable classroom for me--if the principal had requested it in January, instead of defaulting to sending me back to the gym. I told him as forcefully as I could that we need to get that request going NOW for next year. I told him, as well, that the shuttling of music teachers from space to space is hurting the district's retention of quality teachers. And he told me, in return, that getting a portable didn't mean I'd keep it as a classroom: should the student population grow again, I would, of course, be booted once more.

I believe deeply that music education is a high calling, that learning music helps children grow into better human beings, and I see it in my students. They love coming to music classes, wherever they may be, but they are as frustrated as I am when they can't hear what I'm trying to teach them because the echo is so bad, or when I have to tell them they won't be using the Orff instruments at all this year because there's no place for those instruments to live. What I teach matters as much to their development as reading or math, and much more than the standardized tests that necessitate turning potential music rooms into computer labs (the reason I can't be back in that space I had last year, in fact: the sound of my lessons was interfering with testing).

I believe it so profoundly that I'll keep doing it, however low a priority my subject matter is to the administration. I'll do it because I love my students, and they love what I teach. That interaction--sharing music with them, seeing it catch fire in their voices, their hands, their bodies--will sustain me through this year. I'm not sure it'll take me into the next year, though: if I don't have a guarantee of a dedicated music room, I'll be looking even harder for a job somewhere else that the claims of how important music is to children are more than platitudes.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Unwelcome


Rick Perry threw in the towel on his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination last week. In his exit speech, he called Donald Trump a nativist--that is, one who demands favored status for established residents of a territory at the expense of more recent arrivals. Perry's correct: Trump's pronouncements have been all over the map on a variety of issues, but since announcing his candidacy in July, he's been steadfast on this one, and it's kept him at the top of the polls. There's a significant plurality in the Republican party who are eating up his tirades against immigration, and especially his talk of deporting not just Mexican citizens, but their entire families, including those who are US citizens.

That plurality is not unique to America: throughout Europe, nativist parties, some of which were until recently avowedly neo-Nazi, have been growing in power. In France and Denmark, they've won control of the government, and they've done it by railing against migrants. They use the word "migrant" intentionally: if they were to admit that the current wave of Syrians fleeing the horrors of civil war in their native country are refugees, they'd have to let them in and accord them rights. Migrants, on the other hand, can be turned away.

It's also not unique to this moment in history. In fact, nativism has been a constant of American identity since the founding of this nation. Whether the immigrants were identified as German, Irish, Polish, Jewish, Catholic, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Hungarian, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Arab, Muslim, Serbian, Bosnian, Somalian, or any of the other kaleidoscope of colors, nationalities, ethnicities, and faiths seeking a better life in this still-sparsely-populated land, there have been significant numbers of nativists seeking to restrict or prohibit their entry and, once they have arrived, to send them back where they came from.

Nativism is a frame of mind with no appreciation for subtlety or irony. American nativists are immune to the reminder that, compared to the people who were living her prior to 1492, they are the newcomers, all of them descended from people who were themselves unwelcome when they first arrived.

And yet, no ethnicity has been more repeatedly rejected than those who, prior to coming to the United States, spoke Spanish. I've recently learned about a mass deportation program--euphemistically referred to at the time as "repatriation" because, as in present-day Europe, semantics matter--that, between 1929 and 1936, shipped between 500,000 and 2 million Americans of Mexican descent, the majority of them legally citizens of the United States, to Mexico. The justification for the deportation was protecting the jobs of real--that is to say, white--Americans during the Great Depression; the rationale for paying no regard to the actual citizenship of those deported was keeping families together; and, as with the internment of Japanese-Americans a few years later, promises of compensating the deportees for their losses were often forgotten. The center of this movement was Los Angeles County, a municipality that picked the word "repatriate" because deportation was an action restricted to the federal government. Los Angeles also happens to be a place with a Mexican name, founded by Mexicans, and populated, prior to the Repatriation, by many Mexican-descended families whose heritage extended back generations.

While Repatriation started in Los Angeles, it quickly became a popular political cause, especially as beleaguered President Herbert Hoover sought to lay blame for the Depression on a labor surplus. "Go home to your own people, your own language" made sense to Anglos fearing a future without work, resentful of "foreigners" receiving government assistance. Once the federal government became involved, it commandeered trains and buses or, in some cases, simply told Mexican families to pack whatever they could in their cars and trucks and drive south. At first, the deportees were simply dumped at the border, left to fend for themselves with Mexican immigration. As time passed, and a significant number of deportees simply walked back across to the United States, the program evolved to transporting the deportees much deeper into Mexico and paying them a benefit to stay there.

The popularity of the program waned as the 1930s drew to a close, and jobs became more available. Pearl Harbor marked the real end of the program, as with the entrance of the United States into World War II, the economy found itself with a job surplus. The revitalized barrios were not to remain welcoming places for long, though: in 1954, the INS launched a program called--I'm not making this up--Operation Wetback, which deported more than a million people, many of them, again, American citizens. Deportation is, in fact, a theme in American history going back at least to 1882 and the Chinese Exclusion Act--a policy that led to large waves of Mexican immigration to take the place of Chinese laborers as railroad construction workers. Downturns in the economy--an early version of the Repatriation took place in the mini-depression that followed World War I--are the usual triggers for the institutionalized xenophobia that robs millions of their rights, deporting them without due process.

These deportation programs are America at its ugliest. As I've often stated, America's greatest beauty lies in its diversity: there is no one ethnicity, religion, skin color, or dialect that can be called standard American. While the majority (soon to be plurality) of American citizens are white and protestant, American culture has never been homogeneous, as our music reveals: country-western music, that deemed by many to be the most quintessentially "American" by Republican voters, would not exist without the influence of Celtic and African rhythms, harmonies, and forms; and don't get me started on jazz, rock, and pop. It is the diverse roots of American culture that makes it so appealing to the rest of the world.

I experienced this first-hand during my two years in England. Morris dancers are the most iconic British folk performers. They're also the most ridiculed by British popular culture, which is fascinated with American styles and forms.

The challenge for the American right is to acknowledge the fears that give rise to nativism, soothe them, and find a way to embrace the fact that every American, however white, however protestant, is and always will be profoundly cosmopolitan; that this is the very nature of being American, and that excising any part of this blended identity costs us far more than it saves. No candidate can seriously claim to represent the national ethos while appealing only to its ugliest plurality.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Very Methodist Excommunication

Clergy candidate removed from ordination process and membership in The United Methodist Church
Candidate for ordination Ginny Mikita at the wedding of her friends, Rev. Benjamin and Monty Hutchison, in July.

Despite all the smiles in the picture, it was a bittersweet occasion.

United Methodist minister Benjamin Hutchison had resigned from his pastorate in order to marry his partner, Monty. I do not know the details of his exit from the ministry, but I expect they went like this: Ben was tired of playing the shell game of having his Staff Parish Committee, district superintendent, and bishop pretend not to know his housemate was also his life partner, parsing his language so as not to say the fatal words which would end his career: I'm gay. This is my lover. We're getting married. At some point, he told the wrong person the truth, and that person, rather than continue to skirt the Book of Discipline, told Ben he had two choices: resign or go on trial. He chose the first option, left his pastorate, and scheduled a wedding.

The Hutchisons wanted a Methodist wedding, but given their high profile, Ben didn't want to ask a colleague to perform the ceremony and put yet another minister's ordination on the line. Fortunately for them (or so it seemed at the time), their friend Ginny Mikita, a candidate for ministry and practicing attorney, thought she had the perfect work-around: she got herself credentialed by the online Universal Life Church, a legal fiction that grants the authority to solemnize to anyone who applies to be one of its "ministers." Ordination mill certificate in hand, she participated with another "universal life" minister, and signed the Hutchisons' license.

Six weeks later, she had a call from her district superintendent: three conservative Methodist clergy from other conferences had demanded the bishop of the West Michigan Annual Conference rescind not just Ginny's candidacy, but her membership in the church. (The text of the letter they wrote can be found at this address.) She had been excommunicated.

Let's stop for a moment and take a look at membership in the United Methodist Church. It's not that hard a thing to get: take a few classes with the pastor, get baptized (or, if you've already been baptized by a denomination, transferred), make a few vague promises about supporting the ministry of the church, and you're in. The responsibilities of membership are not enforced with any kind of rigor: it's not uncommon for Methodists to stay on the rolls of a local church for years after moving away, simply because all it takes to stay a member is check "yes" on the postcard the church sends out when trying to clean the books. One can continue to be a member of the United Methodist Church without serving on a committee, attending a service, or tithing a penny.

Unless, it appears, one commits the unforgivable sin of celebrating the marriage of a dear friend.

I had hoped that, like the Boy Scouts, the United Methodist Church would read the writing on the wall, and realize that, in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage throughout the United States, the denomination's rigid enforcement of its bigoted anti-gay policies is costing it its very soul. The conservative dogma hawks of the denomination have appointed themselves to be an ad hoc Inquisition, and the heresies they are rooting out are open-mindedness, acceptance, compassion, diversity--the hallmarks of the mainline, socially progressive church whose pastors and members fought for the voting rights of women and African-Americans, marched for civil rights and nuclear disarmament, offered sanctuary to Salvadoran refugees, and have offered food and relief to countless disaster victims with no expectation of conversion. The United Methodist Church that raised me and ordained me was a big tent with room for a crazy quilt of believers. The United Methodist Church of the 21st century, though, has become an exclusive club for the doctrinally correct, administered by a milquetoast technocratic bureaucracy terrified of saying the wrong thing and losing their livelihoods--and, it now seems, being excommunicated.

The church is on a collision course. The pressure for the church to give in grows with each passing day, and with that pressure, the voices of denial grow more shrill. At some point, the clash between church doctrine and societal norms is going to split the church. It's only a matter of time until the Inquisition turns its sights on the far more disobedient Conferences of the Western Jurisdiction, demanding trials for gay pastors and pastors who involve themselves in any way in blessing fully legal gay marriages. It remains to be seen whether being forced to join the Inquisition will finally force the hand of the superintendents and bishops of the jurisdiction, inspiring them to finally put their own careers on the line for that which they profess to believe is right. Or will they become Inquisitors themselves, copping to the Nuremberg defense of just following orders, incapable of acting in opposition to a doctrine they believe is false, but which their church insists they must adhere to?

I learned about Ginny Mikita's fate from the Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization I've belonged to since 1992, when I became pastor of the Estacada United Methodist Church, the first and, at that time, only church in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference to declare itself a Reconciling Congregation. Whenever I talked to other Oregonian's about Estacada's bold move, they were startled that this small logging community could be home to such a progressive church. The church's members, though, saw nothing odd about it: their organist was gay, and they'd seen how harmful exclusive church doctrine was to him. This was not complicated scholastic theology; it was simple Christian compassion.

Becoming Reconciling led to condemnation from most of the other churches in Estacada, and while I was there, I received my share of it. One Sunday morning, seeing a flashing light on my answering machine, I pressed play and heard a creepy voice say "God told me to skin you alive." But in the three years I was there, I saw the community gradually shift away from the homophobic hate group that had taken over the town council and to a place of welcoming and affirming its gay citizens.

That church no longer exists. It was never really large enough to be self-sustaining, and it closed several years ago. But its witness lives on in that community, and in me, a shining example of what Methodists can be when they put their hearts ahead of dogma, risking condemnation and, now, excommunication to stand with the oppressed, rather than bowing down to the oppressor.

Conscientious Rejection

No, I will not issue you a marriage license. Now leave me alone.

Her name is Kim Davis, and what she's doing is seriously messing with my head.

As a county clerk, part of her job is issuing marriage licenses to any applicants who meet a short list of requirements: be at least 18, bring your driver's license to apply, swear to not being married to anyone else, and don't be more closely related than second cousins. Being straight is no longer on that list.

Kim Davis wishes it still was. She'd really rather not issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

I know something about wishes. I wish summer was a week longer. I wish I had a classroom of my own to teach music in. I wish I didn't have to drive 35 minutes to get to work. I wish I could afford to travel more. I wish, I wish, I wish...

As the saying goes, "If wishes were fishes, we'd all swim in riches." Since they're not, we don't. (Though given the state of the world's fisheries, that adage may soon be obsolete.) We suck it up and face reality. I use podcasts to get me through my commute, I focus on loving my students rather than my lack of a classroom, I make the most of the travel I get to do, and I (most of the time) milk all the relaxation and fulfillment I can from the vacations I have.

Kim Davis, on the other hand, has decided to simply resist change. Her Christian faith, she says, does not approve of gay marriage, so she's taking a stand against it in her secular, public sector position by refusing to do that part of her job that offends her religious sensibilities. Gay couples wishing to be married have appealed the decision, and every court, right up to the Supreme Court, has told Kim Davis to comply with the laws governing her position. In recognition of her principles, they have offered a compromise: simply delegate the job of issuing marriage licenses to one of her employees who is not opposed to gay marriage. Davis has refused. And so now she's in jail, licenses are being issued, and the radical religious right has a new martyr to rally behind.

I'm seriously conflicted about this. If you know where I stand on this issue--and have stood at least as far back as 1991, possibly longer (my memory on this issue gets cloudy before that)--you might wonder why I'm not rubbing my hands with glee as the jail door slams shut. And you'd be partly right: I have absolutely no sympathy for the reactionary views Kim Davis holds with respect to marriage equality, nor do I agree one whit with the conservative legal team that put her up to this. This phase of the culture war is over, and the homophobes lost. Kim Davis is their George Wallace, blocking entrance to public facilities with his body as he screams "Segregation yesterday, segregation today, segregation forever!" That didn't end well for George Wallace, and it's not ending well for Kim Davis.

And yet, there's a part of me that has to admire her courage. She's set herself up as a conscientious objector, one who continues to stand on principle even in the face of legal penalty. Check out my many rants about the problems with the United Methodist Church, and you'll see I've often appealed to the avowed moral sensibilities of Methodist administrators to stand on what they believe, whatever the penalty may be, rather than paying lip service to church laws they claim to oppose. Skirting the rules, handing off a duty you disagree with to an underling, or even resigning are the coward's way out. True idealists go to prison for their beliefs, as many of my friends in the peace movement have done. They risk their ordinations and even membership in their church to perform gay weddings. They voluntarily live in poverty rather than pay taxes to support the military-industrial complex. They are beaten and tear-gassed for protesting inequity and injustice. Kim Davis believes so deeply in preserving marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution that the only way for progress to happen in her county is to lock her up.

I can't fault her for her conviction. I just wish she had better taste in causes to defend.