There’s a test case for human rights and community possibility underway in northern Ireland this week. The Equality Commission is going to court to test the law regarding whether or not it was ok for a bakery to refuse to bake a cake celebrating same sex marriage. I think it’s courageous and vital for the Commission to do this. The bakery is owned by Christians who hold to the view that same sex marriage is sinful, and that to bake the cake would be to endorse sin. Cake-gate has become the latest in a long round of skirmishes over rights, responsibility, and who gets to define Christianity in my home society.

I’m confused about the legal complexity here, because if it is ruled that no business can refuse to carry out a service relevant to what it already offers, what protections would be offered to members of historically marginalized communities? As the counsel for the bakery has noted, could a gay baker be forced to bake a homophobic cake? Or a Muslim printer to produce cartoons of the prophet? I don’t know, but I certainly don’t want to support legislation that would infringe upon the right of individuals to endorse or not endorse whatever message they want to. But I don’t think that baking a cake or printing a poster necessarily implies endorsement (as Stephen Greer suggests, adding a simple disclaimer to receipts along the lines of publications which don’t take a view on the advertising they carry could be a simple solution). But I think in the context of a historically privileged group challenging a historically marginalized one, it’s more important to support legislation that prevents anyone, particularly members of historically marginalized communities, from being refused service on grounds of who they are.

So here’s a modest proposal:

1: No Discrimination on Identity Grounds.

The law in the UK says, and should perhaps be strengthened in saying, that no one can be refused service on grounds of their identity, and that historically marginalized communities should be specifically named in this legislation, including at least the following: gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, sexual and gender identity, physical difference, religious or political belief. In places where no such legislation exists, it should – and if it can be strengthened it should be, and if there are historically marginalized people who believe they are not adequately named by it and who need protection, the categories should be extended.

2: If You Want an Exemption, You Should Say So; then we can decide not to take our business elsewhere.

In response to a ‘religious exemption’ bill, Oklahoma State representative Emily Virgin recently said, “If the state of Oklahoma is going to protect discrimination, then at the very least, businesses should be required to own their bias, and post it publicly for the world to see.’ Her proposal was that “Any person not wanting to participate in any of the activities … based on sexual orientation, gender identity or race of either party to the marriage shall post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including websites. The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race.” [Revision 10pm 3/25: This law has not been enacted in Oklahoma, and Rep. Virgin’s proposal may well have been part of the reason. See my comment below.]

In the northern Irish case, if a business wishes to refuse to endorse a message, as the bakery did in this case, it would be mandatory for that business to publicly state their exemption. For example, the bakery would have to post on its website and premises that “We do not provide services for same sex weddings.” This would protect the conscience of the business owner, and also prevent people being embarrassed or emotionally abused when unwittingly ordering a cake from people who don’t like them. [Revision in light of comments below]: I don’t think this is the best strategy, as it opens up the possibility of simply creating monuments to bigotry and actually attracting commerce to businesses whose practices exclude; it will be unnecessary anyway as the equivalent of a religious exemption bill in northern Ireland is bound to fail. But strategic boycotts of businesses who refuse to provide inclusive services, which have so often worked in the past as a way of changing public consciousness, would be so much easier to carry out if those businesses were required to name their prejudices openly.

3: Identify Inclusive Businesses: An Opportunity.

This, of course, leads to an opportunity. Not only would we know who to not do business with, this would also encourage other businesses to also advertise that they do provide services on an inclusive basis. Someone should be printing up rainbow stickers for Belfast bakeries, restaurants, newsagents, pubs and wherever else to put in their windows alongside the TripAdvisor tags.

4: Commit to Honesty about History.

Christians in northern Ireland are not being persecuted. The LGBTQ community is not dominating the culture. No one is being forced to accept things as a matter of conscience that they don’t want to. As a northern Irish Christian and member of the LGBTQ community, I have benefited both from Christian privilege and experienced the marginalization and abuse of a homophobic culture whose prejudices were enshrined and reinforced by the Christian institutions I lived in. I own both of these parts of my story. The way of Jesus is not about keeping power over others so that we don’t need to be offended. It is about co-creating the beloved community, for the common good. The argument here is not between Christians and LGBTQ people, because some of us LGBTQ people are also Christians. It is (at least partly) between one kind of Christianity and another. I only ask that those who speak publicly about this take a look at the real history of Christianity and LGBTQ people in northern Ireland. The power dynamic has always been in favor of the Christians, and of a certain kind of Christian at that. It’s time for a re-balancing. That’s not just sociologically inevitable, but, I believe, more in tune with the teachings of the founder of the faith.

5: There is a gift for us all here.

In northern Ireland, we slowly learned – and are still learning – that meeting across lines of difference not only helps us reduce violence, but gives each of us a gift of understanding ourselves better. Every time I have stepped out of my comfort zone and met someone different, I experienced more light. Sometimes it is frightening, and yet it still opens doors toward becoming more human. The way of cultural change and the way of institutional and legal change aren’t necessarily the same way. So let the law protect against discrimination, encourage the culture to be clearer about where inclusion is happening, and allow for the possibility that the Cake-Equality-Court case is an opportunity for meeting difference with openness to your own transformation. We LGBTQ people are at least as much a gift to the church – and the human race – as people who bake nice cakes.


I’m really excited to remind you all about the opportunity to come to Ireland with me this summer. I’m co-leading two different trips – one with Brian McLaren, the other with Dave Wilcox and Karen Moore.  After the amazing success of the trips we led this past summer, we’re continuing to deepen the experience, and I hope you’ll consider joining us. The June trip with Brian McLaren is full, but the August trip with Dave and Karen still has some space. Here are some thoughts from folk who participated last year: “Before this retreat I hadn’t realized how much wonder and freedom had been missing from my life. We walked each day without quite knowing exactly where we were gong, except that we would be meeting someone to talk about something! I now approach each day like a walk in northern Ireland, filled with expectation about the wonderful people I’ll meet and the things I’ll learn.” “Under gentle and inspiring guidance, a diverse group of strangers seeking direction in their spiritual lives became a tribe, with a sense of community and belonging for which all of us had longed.” “An exceptional experience. You leave this trip with each of your senses saturated and nourished. “Refreshing”, “Life-changing” – these words are over-used but, even in their sincerest definition they still serve as understatements. This trip is many beautiful things but, what I’d say overall is that a trip like this is a necessity for those who seek to go deeper and live more authentically.” Image Staying for a few nights a lovely old country house by the sea outside Belfast (that’s Belfast below), and a few nights in 400 year old thatched cottages in Mourne country (that’s Mourne country above – really), with a group of friends old and new, enjoying the landscape on amazing walks, hearing music and story, meeting locals, experiencing the peace process in meeting people directly involved in activism and change, and getting to know the culture of northern Ireland, immersed in Celtic culture ancient and new.  Great food, inspiring art, and beautiful journeys on foot will form the heart of this soulfully unique and transforming experience. This will be an eight day experience – for twenty guests only – that might just last for the rest of your life. Continue reading



Hi friends. It’s St Patrick’s Day on Tuesday. Delighted that plenty of people the world over will have a laugh with friends and raise a glass to the land of my birth and first 33 years. It’s still home, and I’m lucky enough to get back there with work a couple of times a year.

But I have one request: I’d love to see St Patrick’s Day become known as much for championing human rights, celebrating diversity, and acknowledging how far we have come toward being the beloved community as it is for dyeing rivers green and wearing silly hats. St Patrick’s Day is what you make of it. What I make of it is a moment to remember the vast courage that it takes to call human that which has previously only been disparaged or made less-than. That’s what Patrick did – he treated the Irish as human beings, by considering them worthy of the message and gift he had burning in him. In some senses, he’s the first human rights activist Ireland got to know.

So it’s a beautiful coincidence that one of my human rights heroes, Bayard Rustin, was born on St Patrick’s Day, a little over a hundred years ago. Rustin has had a lower profile than he deserves, but in short, he’s one of the key people who mentored Martin Luther King in nonviolence. Organized the March on Washington. Had a pretty gorgeous singing voice. And was gay. He called people human who were denied their full dignity, and was largely responsible for the event at which the most famous inclusive and hope-filled speech of the twentieth century was given. I think that means he manifested the mission of St Patrick. I’ll raise a glass to Bayard this Tuesday. I won’t be wearing a silly hat, but my eyes will be smiling.



The English writer-director Mike Leigh is one of the most humane filmmakers. His movies are less seen than they should be, and it’s an occasion of genuine joy that he has a new one. Mr. Turner, the biographical portrait of the great English artist, is something very rare – I think it might be a perfect film.

I emerged from my first viewing, heart full, mind stimulated, feeling as if I had just been in mid-19th century England. I had seen a work of uncommon beauty, not showy or pretentious (indeed one of the themes of the film is the pretentiousness of the art world among proponents, purchasers, and painters alike). I had been met by one of the great cinematic performances, in Timothy Spall’s full-bodied immersion as a man touched by transcendent genius on the canvas, tenderness with some people, and inexplicable callousness toward others. This is a real life, fully rounded, and induces both the laughter and tears of recognition that each of us gets to choose what to do with our gifts, but will face the temptation to be selfish in their manifestation. Read more here.



We think we know Martin Luther King, the dreamer, the orator, the man who led a revolution, whose name is on street signs, whose features are now etched in stone at a Washington memorial, who shows up in hip hop videos and computer ads, whose most famous speech may be the most-quoted in our collective memories. “Think different,” said the Mac ad, hiring the image of a political revolutionary to sell computers; even Glenn Beck featured MLK on his wall of great Americans. But there’s not a lot of evidence that we pay much attention to the things King actually said. Companies and celebrities want to identify their brands with an unquestionable hero, making an image rather than a movement. So do most of us, I guess. We can all call to memory the cadence of “I have a dream”. It’s less clear whether we remember the content. The most important coincidence of the acclaimed new movie Selma is arriving at a moment when the deferred dream is starting to reassert itself – in the person of a black president, in the Occupy movement, and most recently in the rallying cry challenging the targeting of black bodies by white power. The most important gift of Selma is that it goes beyond the surface of popular understandings of King and the civil rights struggle, portraying a human being with imperfections as the leader (working with other imperfect people) of a years-long movement. This is the most realistic depiction of organizing for social change that I’ve seen in a mainstream movie. We see people working through the agonizing task of navigating how the movement will achieve its goals – and what those goals are; we see arguments about tactics, and domestic vulnerability too. And we see, of course, the unfathomable suffering of the movement’s martyrs and their loved ones – Jimmie Lee Jackson, summarily executed by police, James Reeb beaten to death, Viola Luzzio shot by white supremacists, and the foreshadowing of King’s assassination.

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Early in Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Anderson’s amazing film about the city that never sleeps because we’re always dreaming about it, the narrator, who is supposed to be Anderson but is also something like God, says one of those things that is so obviously true that the hearer may have the paradoxical experience of satisfaction at an epiphany of something we already knew colliding with the surprise that we hadn’t figured it out before: ’If we can appreciate documentary films for their dramatic qualities, perhaps we can appreciate fiction films for their documentary revelations’.

This is certainly the case when it comes to emotional truth (Braveheartwas shot partly in Ireland, but still quickens the hearts of Scots; so was Saving Private Ryan for that matter, but it inspired mass catharsis among veterans of the Normandy landings); but it’s unquestionably profound for films actually made in places we know. I have a theory about this.

Read more at Reel Spirituality.


A version of this post originally appeared at Reel Spirituality.

Movies blend into each other. They always have. And in a world where the experience of movie-going has been standardized more than ever (compare the $20 two-Cokes-and-popcorn identikit shopping mall mulitplex combo with the rough-hewn character of the downtown theaters that some of us grew up with), movies blend even more. It’s getting harder to remember where we saw them and which is which. When I look back on the 2014 movie year, I’m more captivated by moments than by individual films (there’s really only one new movie I saw this year that I felt had it all – we’ll get to that later).

The way life is like the movies is the way that life is made up of moments that resonate on the inside of us. Life is lived mostly in the in-between spaces – weddings and funerals and births and graduation ceremonies and declarations of first love and war-making and peace treaties do not dominate our lives. Looking out the office window, preparing breakfast, going for a walk, being stuck in traffic, not finishing a novel, having a cold, asking questions – these are the substance of our life scripts. We may never put on a Broadway play in an attempt at being taken seriously, but we’ve all felt exhilarated at the anticipation of something whose unfolding we’re not sure of; we’re not going to be faced with the challenge of leaving our families in order to save the world, but we all know the pain of loss and how one door closing means another opens; thankfully, the vast majority of us will never experience direct violence, but each of us gets the opportunity to be both the bearer of wounds and in need of forgiveness. My movie year granted me access to these moments, these feelings that, as Proust would have it, enable me to be “the reader of my own self.”

The big movie tapestry that is 2014 includes:

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