In May of 2015, my longtime friend (and occasional bandmate) Phil Cook and I began planning a handful of combined music/spoken word events to support the paperback release of The Jesus Cow. Eventually those plans were solidified and booked.
Phil and his family are residents of North Carolina. Three (2 confirmed, 1 pending) of the independent bookstores I am set to visit are also in North Carolina.
Many of you are aware of the high-profile North Carolina boycotts underway, from Sherman Alexie to the NBA to Bruce Springsteen to PayPal. Whether I decide to go or stay away, I’ll collect criticism. That’s fine. It’s nothing compared to the fear and fury many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks face every day.
As a flat-footed rural Midwestern former-fundamentalist-Christian majority white boy I have pulled some positional and philosophical 180s in my day (and more to come, I trust, and many hope). These changes occurred slowly and never as the direct result of high-decibel hectoring, public shaming, or a bumper sticker. And yet, absent discomfort I might never have questioned my position. So even as I evolve at the pace of osmosis, I credit those who lead by disrupting.
On the other hand, I have friends (including my friend Phil and his small family—kindhearted people raised in a tradition of good works and good actions) and independent booksellers who are in the thick of things in North Carolina and I can see no utility in my abandoning them. Were I capable of creating multi-million-dollar waves, the move might make sense. But I am far likelier to sow useful doubt by posting this statement than I am by announcing a boycott to crickets.
I don’t like talking politics in public. Everything goes all frothing binary. Plus my debating skills are the equivalent of a sugar cube in a steam room. I make mistakes. I say the wrong thing. But I don’t like it when politicians sow fear as leverage. I don’t like it when politicians who demonize Big Government quite happily stomp local control when it suits them—and, despite all harrumphing about the lumbering inefficiencies of government, manage to pass a bill like HB2 in a dark overnight minute.
Conversely, I also know what it is to be broad-brush lectured about my own home state and my fellow citizens—my neighbors. There are times when my home county votes entirely against my hopes and beliefs. The idea that I might respond by never again crossing the county line is counterproductive, condescending, certainly self-aggrandizing, and based on assumptions that preclude any hope of dialogue or progress. Better I go deer hunting and join the fire department; environments where a handshake may precipitate more change than a hashtag.
In the book Truck, I wrote about how three different individuals brought my wife and I together in marriage—even as each of them were denied the same right. Last week I attended the 50th anniversary of one of those people. Not only have he and his partner lived a life joined in faithful kindness, but by forming a family on their own terms, they were able to take in—and save the life of—a child who is now a man making the world a better place.
After the celebration, Bob (the man responsible not only for my marriage, but for a few of the 180s I described above) and I discussed North Carolina and the push-and-pull of it.
“Springsteen canceled,” I told him.
Bob put one hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and said, “My dear, I don’t want to hurt your feelings…but you’re no Springsteen.”
Then he said, “You must go. But you must say something.”
And so I will.
And so I am.
I don’t intend to litigate this online. You can yell at me, but you’ll have to find someone else to yell back. I’m going to work. It’s how I support my family. A word, by the way, that has blossomed beautifully since I first came to know it.