rockin' the suburbs, pt I

“Let me tell y’all what it’s like, being male middle class and white; it’s a bitch if you don’t believe, listen up to my new cd…”

It could have been the theme song for our new revolution. Or at least the background music for the gang I belonged to one summer week in Long Beach, California. Little did we know that Ben Folds Five had created an anthem to describe our suburban bravado.

We were sent to California to serve the same purpose as those cartoon devils and angels that light upon the shoulders of people with great decisions to make. We were sent as Theological Student Advisory Delegates to the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly. They paid us to come all the way across the country to speak our minds and then not listen to a word we said. The “real” commissioners would gasp when our votes would come out overwhelmingly progressive, and then let out great sighs of relief when they were reminded that it didn’t count.

This kind of limited significance was the breeding ground for our white male middle-class gang. We were kind of folks who untucked our button-down shirts, and hogged the sidewalks on our way to Starbucks. We would say please and thank you with a hint of contempt in our voice; we would talk progressive theology loudly through coffee stained lips; we were a dangerous band of brothers and sisters, full of liberal white angst.

I was the strategist, the one who offered a pastorally charged political perspective; Robert, my roommate, was the parliamentarian; the guy who would disrupt the proceedings with the power of the Good Book, Robert’s Rules of Order. We developed a swagger over that week together, and we even had a couple of groupies that would follow our gang and make us feel good about what we were doing. All that we were missing were the ubiquitous color coordinated bandanas to signify our allegiance to the cause…

“…I’m pissed off but I’m too polite, when people break in the McDonald’s line; mom and dad you made me so uptight, gonna cuss on the mic tonight…”

Most often, seminary was a place to be polite about what I believed. There was no formal class where students could walk in and say, “if we are so damn accepting, why the hell are there churches out there who don’t ordain women, gays, or lesbians?” or “why are there so few large churches that have female heads of staff?” or “do you really believe all of this Satan crap, or do people just not want to take responsibility for being idiots sometimes?” There was no class that allowed an outlet for the anger that a seminary education can produce. Instead, I politely learned what my professors told me and secretly hoped that my classmates were struggling with the same questions.

“…all alone in my white boy pain…”

So I went off to California with every intention of being polite, until I met Robert. I am not sure how Robert could sense my dissatisfaction with the way things were, but he pounced on the possibility that there was a budding theological liberal inside of me. He made me believe that I could make a difference in how we treat one another in this world, or at least how we treat one another in the church. I knew little of the trouble brewing on the immaculate sidewalks of Long Beach. I never knew that there were others like me, disgruntled at being ignored, ignorant enough to be disgruntled. My white boy pain had reached a crescendo, and I was ripe for the picking…



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