Sunday, July 24, 2016

Christian Entitlement

I have a lot of big feelings when it comes to Christians claiming their rights in this country. On the one hand, I believe in human dignity. So, of course, as humans Christians should be given dignity. We shouldn't squash people because they hold Christian beliefs. They are entitled to hold their beliefs and should receive dignity whether they are agreeable or not to the person charged with giving them dignity. And yes, Christians are part of a religion and in America, we have certain religious freedoms available to us that make it a really wonderful place to live for someone with religious beliefs. We don't have to worry about being imprisoned, stoned, etc for holding certain views.
And yet. Demanding our fair share is not a Christian value. Being great is not supposed to be something we pursue (personal greatness, fine, greatness at the expense of others, no). We're supposed to turn the other cheek, not slam the door on our enemies. I read an article recently calling out the intertwining relationship between American Christianity and our sacred cow of patriotism. It called into question specifically how this has affected the campaign of Donald Trump. It was a good read. In the end, there is a difference between setting healthy boundaries (not being a doormat) and demanding what's "yours." I honestly don't see Jesus doing the latter, ever. When he was being falsely accused, He did not speak (that always baffled me). When he was on the cross, He did not come down. He did not curse His enemies, but called for their forgiveness. 
I've learned the hard way how hard Christian faith can make it to set healthy boundaries and to live into your worthiness. So I don't want to shame people for wanting basic protections and having their needs met. And yet, I really blanche at anything that resembles Christian entitlement. If we want to demand our religious freedoms, we better be willing to demand those freedoms for those who hold different religious beliefs. If we want to honor our faith by breaking discrimination laws, we don't get to call out "discrimination" back. We get to pay a fine or go to jail. Those are actual choices. It's ok to be radical. Jesus certainly was. But if you think being radical will have no consequences, you don't understand the term.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Parenting Moments

I had a few milestones today with the kids that I wanted to document. The first one is, Penny turned 3 today! It was so fun to see her and Macy playing in the Columbia River tonight at the same exact spot we took our family/maternity pictures 2 weeks before she was born. Macy was only 5 then. Watching them interact just reminded me how quickly time goes on and how incredibly grateful I am that we added to our family 3 years ago. For those of you who don't know, we had another kid because I was totally not done after having one. And I didn't get pregnant again for a long time (hence the 5 year age difference). Tim was totally satisfied with one kid and I was not remotely satisfied. I was so in love with Macy and just knew I wanted another child. Then came Penny. Just such a magical little creature. She was such a perfect little newborn baby, great at nursing and very happy to be worn by mommy. It was bliss. Simultaneously, we were going through the biggest challenge of our family's existence - Tim's mental health crisis. It was such a strange mix of joy, fear, trauma and deep satisfaction. That health setback allowed our family to face our "stuff" in therapy and learn how to really love and care for ourselves as individuals. We were held up by our community in a real way during that time and I honestly don't know what we would have done without our family and friends. It's crazy to think what our lives would be like if I hadn't been so desperate for a second child. All of our lives would be on a completely different path. Not just because we would be missing the entire incredible element of Penny's existence, but also because it was her birth and the subsequent adjustment to it that forced us all to grow in such deep ways. At first, I felt guilty about how difficult of an adjustment it was for all of us, knowing that I was by far the impetus for such a change. And yet, we owe Penny a huge debt. Her birth and her existence has made us what we have become. I will always be grateful for that. I have this weird sixth sense when it comes to discernment and I'm so glad I've learned to fully tune in to my gut. I knew we weren't complete. And now we are. Thank God for Penelope Jin-Ok Sibley.
The other big thing that happened today was that Tim and I had to make good on a big, looming consequence for Macy. I won't disclose what she's been struggling with behaviorally, but it's an integrity issue that Tim and I have gone around and around with her about. We finally put the biggest thing we could think of on the line. And unfortunately, with full knowledge of the consequences, Macy made her decision today. It was crushing, just awful. So she will not be participating in Journey Theater this fall. No classes. No show. I'm really disappointed because it means the world to her. It had become something we enjoyed together and I'm feeling that loss personally too. It's so important to us to raise a child of integrity that we are willing to allow her to face the biggest consequence we can imagine (based on her priorities) to teach her this valuable lesson. Sometimes being a parent really hurts. But I know deep in my heart that we're doing the right thing. It's so critical for children to learn to take responsibility for their choices and to have natural consequences for those choices play out. Thankfully, I feel no struggle about the actual decision because we literally had no choice. Sometimes your child's choices back you into a corner and not following through is truly bad parenting. We offered her grace. We corrected misunderstandings. We explained things clearly. And she made her choice. I could see her processing and trying to keep her chin up but I knew it as soon as she started shame-spiraling. I saw her internalize her mistake "I was bad" and then projecting the loss as inevitable "I wouldn't have gotten a part anyway (in the play)". Gratefully, I can read her like a book and I immediately spoke into that place. "You're a wonderful child. You made a bad decision." And I provided empathy "I'm so sorry you're having to lose this. It's really sad." I held her for a long time while I watched her process her thoughts and feelings. When I felt tempted to renege, I remembered the parents of the Stanford rapist, who raised a young man without empathy, self-awareness and the ability to take responsibility for reprehensible choices. God knows where his victim would be if they had put his choices and subsequent consequences in his hands early on. Rather, they continue to behave as if rape is accidental, understandable and preventable with sobriety. I hate to provide consequences and yet, I must. For society's sake and for my child's sake. Ugh.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

America - Trends in Victim Blaming and a Lack of Impulse Control

I can't help but feel in that light of recent events, we have a problem in this country with victim-blaming. I know this isn't a new thing to highlight and yet, as a woman who is at greater risk for sexual assault, I have found comments related to police brutality and what the victims could have done to prevent their murders to be quite triggering. Rather than saying, we need to deal with our issues of impulse control and a propensity towards violence (which is a critical piece to both police brutality and sexual assault), we want to run a post-mortem or post-attack rap sheet on victims, further victimizing already targeted groups. Frankly, what the victim is wearing, whether or not they have a criminal record is no indication of their worthiness of being violated. They are not worthy of being violated. There is no such thing as being worthy of victimization. That's the whole point. They were preyed upon and the responsibility for such immoral activity must rest in the hands of the person who performed such atrocities. 
We want to believe we live in a world where good behavior increases our likelihood for safety. While I'm sure being respectful to police officers in specific situations may have been helpful, insinuating that respectful words and tones will keep people from being brutalized inevitably blames the victim for their own death. And frankly, it's fundamentally untrue that this will keep black people safe. As if it isn't difficult enough to reconcile the wrongful death, we have to heap responsibility on the victims and their families shoulders. It's wrong. Frankly, a lot of wrongful deaths in police interactions occur before the victim is even able to provide identification, thereby making all information about them after the fact completely irrelevant.
Why can't we just say, people with privilege (cops in these brutality cases, rapists in cases of assault) need to gain better control of their fear and need to dominate another person? This even goes back to my philosophy about parenting. I have more privilege than my children. Therefore, I must be the bigger person. If my children are violent towards me, that does not excuse me to be violent towards them. I must stay calm. I must de-escalate. I am capable of maintaining control without asserting domination. How can we expect our constituents to respect police authority when the policemen victimize their communities? Privilege needs greater accountability. If we begin to respect those with less privilege, then fair treatment will result. As fair treatment becomes consistent, attitudes will shift over time. If the police have lost respect, then they need to work to gain it back. It's easier to accept discipline from a safe person than from someone who might shoot you for obeying their orders. This is easy for me to see as a white person who has never been scared of the police. 
We have this weird idea in our culture that "real men don't back down." Our police force can't safely de-escalate because we believe the authoritative response to force is greater force. We want to be bigger, more powerful, further weaponized (hello bomb-robots!) in order to protect ourselves from each other. We need to look within and recognize that the "other" isn't the problem. The problem is our gaping need for security. This need for personal security is relegating communal security as a secondary priority. And when push comes to shove (literally), we choose self-preservation every time. I understand that this is a human instinct. It's part of how we've survived each other this long. And yet, I want to believe that we can learn to prioritize the group over self. Our culture is so individualized that we do not know how to deal with our connection to each other. So many of us feel brutalized over the week's events (I know I can't speak into this really as a non-member of the black community). Why? Because we are connected. Deep down, we want peace. We want to find a way to make the community safe without having to die in the process. We've got our work cut out for us, for sure. I think we should start with sitting in our fears, taking responsibility for our impulses and refusing to blame victims for their deaths.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Breathe in Life and Grace

It's such a gift to feel like after speaking with your Reverend, you've breathed in fresh air. I feel really lucky to be building that relationship, as it's a balm to my soul both from past experiences that were unhealthy and from the pain this world inflicts on me day to day. One of the things we talked about today was how we connect with God. I've struggled with my relationship with the Bible these last few years. As soon as I open that cover, it's like I'm pressing play on all my Church of Christ tapes and I can't seem to press stop until I close it again. I've studied the Bible A LOT. And when you read the same version and hear the same lessons, they make an imprint. Many of us pursued that relentlessly. This was not something put upon me. This was something I chose. And yet now, I can't seem to un-choose it. And so I wonder, how can I connect with God without listening to tapes that reinforce shame and cause me to set aside my humility and compassion? 
I was raised to believe that the Bible was a critical piece to faith. That I must submit to the Bible's authority in order to be close to God. And while I believe through my writing and various other activities and relationships I am pursuing God, I haven't felt close to Him since I put down the Bible, like I had confidence in what I knew He was doing. I'm a lot less likely to attribute events to Him, motives to Him, politics to Him, disasters or blessings to Him. I hesitate to put His name on stuff. I admit that I'm not totally sure what He is or isn't actively doing in the world right now. But I feel more in tune that when I see Him, I feel love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. I see Him in neighbors and friends standing up for each other. I see Him in children. I see Him in activism. But I don't "know" as much. I am less likely to "know" and a lot more likely to "hope." I believe this has made me a better person and has taught me to tune into and use my voice. Yet, sometimes I wonder, am I close to God? Is that even really possible? Or is my western idea of God interacting with us personally all the time, just that, a western, modern idea?
I've had to sift through all my faith experiences and just like when you move and sort into piles, I'm figuring out what goes in the "church pile", "God pile", and "human error pile." It's not easy and it's wildly subjective (pretty major factor in the "not easy" part). 
My Reverend and I discussed many ways to connect with God. She suggested I tune in to how I feel close to Him already (in nature, through self-expression, art, music) and to implement those practices into my regular life. She talked about how spiritual practice is just that, practice. There's a balance where we're never quite settled. It's something we pursue and practice all our lives, should we choose to lean in to our spiritual selves. I realized that one of the main ways I commune with God is through human conversation. In her quiet grace, I was reminded by God of so many things that are hard for me to remember. I actually took a few notes after we got off the phone so I could remind myself of these important, life-giving things. She reminded me, "You don't have to do everything." HA! That is one of those things I could nail to my forehead and forget. And this is why we need reminders. And this is why I write this today. Other people need reminders. 
You are enough. 
You deserve rest. 
You can't fix everything. 
Exhale, inhale. 
Just breathe.
We talked about how one of the things I struggle with is self-care in Facebook conversations. I really care about social causes and I've developed a skill set for moderating difficult online conversations. And I love it so, so much. It gives me energy and purpose. But sometimes, because I choose to stay soft, I need to pace myself because it can be very difficult. After Orlando and the modern day lynching of Ronnie Shumpert, I am overwhelmed with sadness for our world. And I know there's more that I just can't even sit in. Turkey immediately comes to mind. It's important to me to hold space for grief. And yet, sometimes it's okay to say, I need to hibernate in my grief. Or I need to step away for a minute from my grief. Or I need to distract myself with some fun because my grief is killing me. I wanted to say today that that is okay. Self-care and holding grief have to work in tandem. My Reverand said, "Do what you do best and use the influence you have. Release the rest to God. The rest is not yours to fix." May I never get to a point where my heart is hard. And in order stay soft, I must occasionally step back and rest. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

It's Ok to Start with Me

It's no secret that I feel passionate about social justice. Often this manifests in rights for the LGBTQI community, as seen in my previous post. It's a little easier for me to engage in conversations about gay rights because the usual arguments against them are biblical. I was raised in that world and know how to live outside of the ideology that perpetuates restricting the freedoms of others we don't know and don't understand. Things get a little grittier when I try to advocate for the rights of racial minorities. For one, I grew up very sheltered and very white. So while I think of myself as an ally and care deeply about social justice for racial minorities, I also know that for me to really be an advocate, I must learn and I must listen. 
With gay rights, I don't know what it's like to be gay but I feel I have a good understanding of the mindset of the opposition. In instances of racial injustice, I don't understand either side. I care very deeply and believe undoubtedly that #blacklivesmatter but I am not black. I don't understand what it's like to be black in this country. I'm trying to acknowledge my white privilege and I'm trying to listen when black people (and all racial minorities) tell us what it's like to be them. That is such a huge part of this for me, to listen to the stories people want to tell me. What I'm still surprised by and grieved by is that this attitude of wanting to sit in the reality of my privilege and set aside whatever it takes to level the playing field for everyone is not as common as I assume. I feel like I've had my ass handed to me on racial justice issues of late. Mainly because I've chosen to disengage when it's clear the person is not listening and does not come at these issues in the same way as I do. So when I engage thinking, this person wants to learn, they just need to listen, and they yell and scream a lot of realities that just aren't true, I choose to walk away. It's not because screaming back isn't necessary. I sometimes wonder if I'm failing when I disengage. Such is the culture of online conversation. Whoever rants the most appears on top. 
But I try really hard to keep my emotions in check when I discuss things of social importance online and if I'm screaming, I'm not listening either. Sometimes when I listen to the other side, it's devastating. I'm genuinely depressed and disgusted by the things I've heard lately. I'm really surprised that people want to believe that white privilege, racism and police brutality are media tricks and old news. I'm truly baffled. More so, my rose-colored glasses approach (assigning positive intent, giving information with respect, assuming people want to learn) is really not working here. At this point, I want to acknowledge the victory I've had in choosing to disengage and not scream back. But I'm really sad. And even saying that I'm surprised by the level of racism around me is evidence of my privilege. It is not new information to the many who have fought on the front lines for a lifetime. For me, engaging in this fight is a choice, a passion that I could walk away from at any time (theoretically). That is not possible for anyone who physically presents as a minority. That is enough for me to allow my anger to reinforce the necessity of these conversations and to know that it's not up to me to change people's minds. I can start with me. That'll have to be enough for now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I Love Jesus and I Affirm LGBTQI

This post has been a long time coming. My social media interactions this week finally put the nail in the coffin of me being demure about my beliefs about homosexuality. Ever since I left the church of Christ (and conservative Christianity), I've come to place an incredibly high value on conversation. The more I've learned to listen, the better I've become at speaking. I've always loved talking, but in my need to be right, it was more of a talking at versus a listening to. And when I listened, I heard bullet points that I needed to negate in my response. I had conversations to teach rather than to learn. Many of us frame this as "outreach." Rather than seeking to validate the feelings and viewpoint of my "opponent", I tried to dismantle their beliefs in order to further validate myself. While that mentality is not exclusive to conservative faith, that is the environment in which I learned it. Because if someone can prove you wrong, then you are, plain and simple. And being wrong might mean you're bad. And if you're bad, God doesn't love you. That's why we constantly have to fight to be good. (I know, crazy).
As we all know, this debate style can get destructive very quickly, especially on social media. Many of my dear friends have encouraged me to stop hosting and moderating cultural conversations on Facebook, knowing that I get attacked, have false motives placed upon me, while trying desperately to avoid taking the bait. And let's face it: I've got health issues and small children to raise and when you can't sleep because you've got tears rolling down your face and thoughts racing through your wired mind, one wonders if conversation is indeed worth the trouble. 
I continue on because I've become who I am (of which I'm very proud) partly through such experiences. I've honed my values through hearing many perspectives on issues of importance to me. I've always loved diversity and I want it to remain. I believe in God as Creator. I see his artistry most clearly in the diversity of mankind. But we can't live alongside people who are different from us and get along and grow as a collective society if we can't see things from another perspective. Just for a moment, we must learn to suspend our background, biases, assumptions, yes - even our faith, to try to understand what the "other" might be thinking and feeling. What would it be like to occupy their headspace, all while assigning them the same level of dignity and humanity we give to ourselves?
What does this have to do with homosexuality? If I am going to form a theology based on what I believe about homosexuals and God, I must begin by listening to homosexuals. I want to know their stories, to have them teach me about what it means to be them. This is how we are shaped, by story. And I want to be shaped. I want to be open, to hear, to change, to learn. How can I develop a theology about someone I don't know, don't love, don't value personally in my life?
This, of course, is my adulthood speaking. I grew up being told what God said about homosexuality (that it was wrong, unnatural, and its offenders were going to hell). I was raised to listen to God first and only. That everything must be seen through the lens we assign him (you better believe we assign it through our biblical interpretation) and let the chips fall where they may, regardless of how we or anyone else feels about it. This worked for me. Until I got into relationships with people outside of conservative Christianity. Once I got to know some gay people, I went back to the drawing board. It's okay to start with scripture. But if that is all that informs our beliefs, humans all around us be damned (pun sadly intended) then we might be missing something really important. Something game-changing. Something people all around us are getting beaten for, losing their lives for, walking away from God for. 
If we believe that God is alive and working today, then we must admit that he is working in this generation, in this time, in our culture. Not that we assume all beliefs are therefore valid because of the time we're in, but is it possible that certain truths were veiled from humanity in a time where their implementation was not possible? What I mean is, if slavery was always wrong, but the Bible was written in a time where it was not socially possible (we had not evolved to the point to consider it) to abolish it, could it be that it addressed slavery to the level we could handle in the time the Bible was written? Meaning, rather than saying slavery was wrong (though we all agree upon that now and with solid Biblical support to that end), the Bible challenged slave owners to be kind and for slaves to serve with love. Many people used scripture to advocate that slavery was okay with God because he did not say to abolish it. And yet we look back now and call bullshit, right? I hope so. 
Is it possible that homosexuality was only seen within the context of child slavery and idol worship at the time the Bible was written? Can we all agree that men should not rape little boys? I believe we can. Can we say that unprotected orgies in the name of some false god and the taking advantage of little children is probably not good for society? Yup, I can see that being constituted as "homosexual offenders" type of behavior. Perhaps that means we, as Christians should stop supporting industries that enslave and sexually traffic children? That we should worship the one true God we believe in and not have orgies with children as part of our praise time? We must learn to make distinctions between sodomizing young children in idol worship and adults who are in a committed, loving relationship who want to make a family and live in peace. The fact that this even needs to be said is appalling to me. 
Is it possible that there was no concept of sexual orientation at the time the Bible was written? That we weren't ready (nor was science) to understand the nuances of gender, sex and orientation that we're aware of now? Does that mean that we've outgrown the Bible, that it's irrelevant, that we're "past" God? Or does it mean that we have permission to continue to read the Bible through a new lens, through this time, incorporating our experiences and relationships and the word of the people we're condemning before writing off an entire victimized people in the name of the God who made them exactly as they are? 
My relationships with gay people up til now are all with people raised in conservative Christian circles. How do you think they felt during puberty or later when they realized they were gay? Seriously. You, heterosexual, married, Christian, think about it. HOW DID THEY FEEL? Do you think they were scared? Do you think they wished they could un-gay themselves? Do you think they tried? Do you think they felt lonely? Do you think they felt like they had a huge secret, that if they could just hide this terrible abomination, they might get to keep their faith, their family, their future and their community? If they had a choice, what do you think they would have chosen? 
I don't believe being gay is a burden. I think we as a church made it a burden. Our society has made it a burden as well, though it's way ahead of the church on trying to make amends. Jesus saw people, not sins. He saw hearts. Where are our hearts? If you believe gay people are going to hell, are you upset about it? I really, really hope you are. I hope you're begging God every night to change his mind. God knows I used to.
Outside of how we interpret scripture, what do we know of the character of God? I think this is very important. If we know of God to be loving and patient, giving humanity every opportunity to turn to him and embrace the shocking love and communion he offers, why would he make people gay and then condemn them for it, with no hope of redemption? I think this is why we want so desperately for orientation to be a choice. Otherwise, God looks pretty bad, right? But if every time we ask a homosexual when they chose to be gay and they turn around and ask us when we chose to be heterosexual, we are in a bit of a conundrum.
Well, they can be celibate. Huh, okay. Let's all stand in solidarity then and say to God, while you made us beautiful, sexual and full of impulse to engage in the emotional and physical intimacy of sex (some might even say designed for it), we're all gonna boycott it. If one of us has to be celibate to please God, then I guess we all gotta be. How many of us would honestly sign up for that? Now, I know some gay Christians (no, that's not an oxymoron) feel convicted to be celibate. Go for it, peeps. Line up with the priests and nuns and be amazing individuals. Seriously. That actually IS a choice. But it's a choice made personally, not for you by people who never have to consider that as a valid option. 
Well then, let them have sex but don't let them have the dignity of calling it love, marriage or family. They will always be less than God's perfect design. You know what this reminds me of, the prodigal son's older brother. Man, I used to really identify with him (before I realized I was just a regular human, rather than someone very holy, deserving and self-sacrificing). Are we stingy with the love of God? When we've worked a whole day, do we begrudge the person worked 2 hours and receives the same pay? Do we withhold the dignity of marriage and rights because we want to keep some of it for ourselves? If you want things to be fair, time to turn to a different religion, folks. God will always be more merciful than we are. And this is the crux of it for me. If I can imagine that gay people are worthy, beautiful, human and deserving, I'm pretty sure God knew it all along and was just kindly waiting for me to catch up.
* For some suggested reading (this is by no means exhaustive. In fact, I read all these articles just in the last few days), please see the following:
- For insight into what it means to be a devout gay Christian, read this or you can borrow my copy if you're local.
- For thoughts on business, Christianity and politics, see this
- For thoughts on serving others while still maintaining a conservative faith, see this.
- For thoughts on the risk of not affirming gays as Christians, see this
- For an incredible documentary on how Christians reconcile the Bible with how to treat homosexuals and the damage poorly handling that has caused, see For the Bible Tells Me So on Netflix.
I can't tell you HOW MUCH INFORMATION is available on this subject that might be counter to a literal reading of these Scriptures but if your heart has ever felt uneasy in this theology, I encourage you to listen to that and read more and talk more and listen more. This is a worthy pursuit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Get Back in Your Box and Other Such Nonsense

One of the most difficult things for me to deal with as a woman is the social pressure to be less, smaller, quiet. I am none of those things. And while I've always cared about other peoples feelings and social pressure, I've never been those things. I am big. I am loud. I don't like to be behind the scenes. And I have lots of feelings. Unfortunately, because I am intelligent, I am often in conversations or environments where those things about me, particularly my big feelings, are treated as a liability rather than an asset. I cannot tell you how many seasons of my life I spent trying to tame the beast that is me. I tried to be quiet, to be small, to be less. I am, sadly, still given that opportunity from time to time and it is a difficult thing to resist. 
And yet there is this other raging voice that comes in and wants me to burn it all to the ground. It makes me want to throw in the towel and just rage at everyone and everything that might want to correct me, change me, reason with me, disagree with me, etc. This reaction to refusing to get back into the box is normal. It's part of how we deal with a philosophical shift. We react in a big way and lean hard in the other direction. I also believe this "box stuff" is triggered by my church trauma and so being reactionary also touches on an area of grief and loss for me. 
The problem with living in this world with a black and white brain is that I've come to the point in my process where my life is giving me opportunities for a middle ground. I will not get back in the box, that much is absolutely secure. And yet, can I live in community with people who are in those boxes but are not willing to get out, or who do not agree that they are a problem or who claim they love their box? Am I strong enough to resist the temptation to climb back in? Am I discrete enough that I won't jump in to their box and rip it from them? Can I respect their process?
I can't imagine that there are only a few boxes and we're all in them or out of them, but rather that each person has boxes that they stay in, burn down or reason with. So my box might work for someone else but it is bondage to me. Can I be shaped by or vulnerable with someone in my old box? I feel my life knocking on this door and I want to run so badly. I want to burn it all down. I am afraid to face those boxes, even as a stronger, more confident version of myself. I want to stop fighting growth because growth hurts and moderation is for suckers. Becoming more mature and healthier is so, so hard. I'm scared. And yet, drawing a line in the sand, and declaring "I'm done sitting in my stuff!" to the world feels like losing. I know that the more I go down this road of personal development, the more growth, joy, peace and freedom I will find. No one can put me in the box again. But being unable to be around my old boxes is just a new kind of box, isn't it? I will not let my fear dictate my life. I won't.