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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Finding Grace

I'm struggling for words for this tonight.  Yesterday, I learned that World Vision had taken a step towards Church unity and affirmation towards gay Christians who live in states where they can be legally wed and where their churches affirm their marriages. And tonight I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. It appears as if Christians turned out en-mass to protest World Vision's policy change. And World Vision caved, reversing their policy and issuing an apology.

And now I'm tired and sad and mad and frustrated. And feeling a little lonely, to be honest. And... apparently a little whiny.

I call myself a Christian because I love Jesus and I want to follow Him. I want God to break me, to show me where I fall short, to use me to love others.  I believe with all my heart that my purpose on this Earth is to be a peacemaker, a voice for the oppressed, to serve those that the rest of the world has forgotten or used or turned their backs on.  To love them with the love of Jesus.  That is the path to true joy, I know it.

But today so many of my fellow Christians threatened to pull funding, to denounce this organization, that they've changed their mind. I can't stop thinking about all of the gay people who felt some hope, a tiny twinge of affirmation, only to have it crushed. That apology that World Vision offered? It wasn't to our gay friends. It was to the people who rose up against them.

The fact is that Christians are going to argue over all the details in the Bible forever and ever. We don't agree on so many things: when was the Earth created, what roles may women serve in the Church, can you remarry if you've been divorced, baptism as an adult or sprinkled as a baby, the list goes on and on.  Intelligent, educated, God-fearing, Jesus-loving, full-of-faith believers have struggled with all these issues and have come up with different answers. I am certain that when my life is over and I get to learn what is really Truth that I will discover I was wrong about some things.

And the issue about being gay? That's another one.  The Church as a whole doesn't stand united on this.  Scholars have agonized over this as well and have come up with differing answers.  Two hundred years ago more than half the Church was faithfully studying the Bible and believing it said that God blessed slavery. We are forever trying to better understand God.

I've said this many times before... it breaks my heart that the LGBT community repeatedly hears the message that the Church hates them, that God hates them. That they aren't included, aren't acceptable.  I have tears in my eyes writing the words, y'all. I am heartbroken over the big HUGE message that Christians sent to the gay community today.  In the interest of protecting "traditional marriage," Christians just told our gay community that they aren't acceptable enough to join us in fighting poverty. That's what just happened.

I do not want to vilify those who believe in "traditional marriage."  But when did protecting that one part of the Bible become more important than not hurting the people Jesus loves and came to save? And when protecting that part of the Bible pushes people away from Jesus...  uh oh.

Sin is real. It is anything that pushes us away from God. And usually, our churches are full of people who sin regularly. Guess what? I lie sometimes, I gossip, I'm selfish. Confession: I haven't sponsored a child yet even though I really feel strongly that is something I need to do. Why? I haven't figured out how to fit it in my budget because I've been lazy. Sin on top of sin. I also eat big handfuls of chocolate chips and drink wine. Not sure if that's sin, but some may say so. Just thought maybe I should confess.

Our beautiful mega-churches here in the South are full of greedy people. We gladly invite in gluttony. If we are worried about lifestyle choices, how about all of us who continue to live in luxury and comfort while our brothers and sisters in other lands suffer and die of starvation and malnutrition? We encourage donations so we can have flat-screen tvs in our churches while our city's homeless sleep in parking garages.

I'm not trying to be harsh. I just mean that we have found ways to have grace for each other for lots of things.  And we do that because God has shown us grace and mercy first.  If you believe that same-sex marriage is a sin, why not find the same grace for it that we have found for other things? And extend that same grace to fellow Christians who have wrestled with the Bible and have come away believing that God does bless gay marriage.

Jesus said to make disciples. That means relationships. It's not my job to save anyone else, nor is it my job to dictate what moral code they follow. Now my best friends? If I see them making choices that I know is going to hurt them, you know we'll be having an intervention. We can say hard things to each other when we are in relationships with them. My best friends can tell me tough stuff because they've already proven to me that they love me. For any and all other relationships, particularly people I don't know - my job is to love you, to show you God's love.

To the friends and families of our gay community who have been hurt by this mess: I am sorry. I wish I could give you all hugs. Big ones. I'm hurt and angry and disgusted too.  There are those of us out there who do stand with you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Calling all Real Families!

I've blogged a million times about what my husband calls my "Mom Network."  I can pick up the phone any time of day or night and get parenting advice, a link to a recipe, info on what to buy, or some empathy. I have direct access to a number of mamas who walk beside me in this crazy life of parenting.  It's awesome. I'm so thankful for them.

So I thought I'd call out a quick favor.  You know, since I consider anyone who reads this blog part of my Mom Network too.  Because it really does take a village - I depend so much on the other moms in my life, from my best friends to the moms of kids in my kids' schools. We're in this together, even if we don't know each other well.

Can we spend some time this week talking to our kids about what makes a REAL family?  This past week I had a moment during which, completely innocently, a child said to me (in front of two of my kids), that I wasn't Amani's real mom.  Again. This has happened quite a bit, actually. And not just kids.

I think sometimes we don't think to talk to our kids about families that don't look like ours. It just doesn't occur to us.  I know I haven't spent much time intentionally talking to my kids about families who have parents of two different races or families with parents of the same gender, or kids being raised by grandparents.

So here's what I plan to do this week and I really hope you will join me:

I'm going to talk to my kids about what our family looks like and ask them to describe some of the families we know. We're going to spend some time listing the things we have in common and the things that are different (if you're nerdy like us, you might even choose this time to teach about Venn diagrams... you're welcome.) And I'm going to hammer home that the main thing we all have in common is how much we love each other. And love is what makes a REAL family.  We also have The Family Book by Todd Parr. I'm going to pull it out and read it, probably to start the conversation.

Because I know firsthand how much it hurts to hear that I'm not Amani's real mom. And that's just my heart hurting. He's too young to fully understand yet, but I fear the day that comments like that hurt his heart or hurt his brother and sister's hearts when they hear that someone thinks he's not their REAL brother.

Our children are going to encounter other kids from all walks of life. My kids are going to need some allies when they hear that we aren't a REAL family.  Kids from same-sex families, from families with parents of different races or religions, from families with step-parents or grandparents as primary caregivers... they are going to need some allies when someone implies that they aren't REAL families too.  I want my kids to be the ones who step up and encourage others. I'm hoping you want your kids to be the ones who will step up and encourage mine when they need it, too. I truly believe that these kinds of conversations can keep those hurtful comments from happening.

Calling all Real Families - join me in this discussion with your kiddos this week! And post some comments - how did it go? What did you learn? Do you have advice to share with us about having this conversation?

Thanks, Mom-Network. I sure do love you.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I'm so sorry

I'm sorry y'all...

I dropped the kids off at school this morning and turned on the radio as I headed to the gym. The headline I heard was: "Pastor says Frozen will turn your daughters into Lesbians" and something about the gay agenda. And I wanted to slam my head into the steering wheel.

Sometimes I don't want to wear the label, "Christian."  It should be a hard label to wear because it calls me to serve others, to lift up the lowly, to love my enemies, to love when it hurts.  Instead, it becomes a hard label to wear because my brothers and sisters who also call themselves Christians are yelling hatred from the street corners. I fear being lumped in with "those folks."  And I fear even more that actions like that don't teach anyone anything the heart of God.

And I don't know exactly what to do about it.  That's why I wanted to post to tell y'all how sorry I am.  I apologize on behalf of any and all people who also call themselves Christian who have dumped hatred on you.  I'm not going to blast them. My sins are no less than theirs.  But that's my point, I guess - my sins are no less than yours or theirs. Ever. God's grace, Jesus' death on the cross was enough for me and for you. Period.  I am so so sorry for anyone who has ever made you feel differently.

There is no "us" and "them."  None.  Do you know what Jesus did about the "us versus them" problem? He stepped down out of heaven and became one of "us."  It's a we thing: none of us are perfect. I don't care if you are straight, cheating on your significant other, gay, serving the poor, gossiping, working to empower people in third world countries, running stop signs, or praying for those who persecute you.  Jesus came down and became one of US to show us God's love and grace.

So that's it. I have no excuses, no explanations. Just an apology. Because I'm going to keep being "a Christian" and I don't know what else to do other than to apologize when stuff like this happens.

I'm so sorry for stuff like this. Please forgive us. It's not an example of who Jesus is and I am so sorry for that. I'm sorry for the times I don't show y'all who Jesus is. I know that happens too.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Justice Denied

I had the amazing opportunity to screen a new documentary, Justice Denied, and meet Howell Woltz.  His story is incredible.

In short, Howell is an innocent man who was arrested and convicted of "conspiracy against the government." He spent 8 years in prison and was beaten, deprived of sleep, and transported all over in an effort to break him and force him to testify against a politician the government was trying to catch. Because he refused to lie, Howell served every second of his 87 month sentence in prison in awful conditions. To this day, he's never been told what his actual crime was. Conspiracy to do what exactly? He has no idea. Where did this happen? What government would do this? Oh... the United States of America.  This happened right here in our own backyard.

As I heard Howell's story, I realized there is much I don't know. Howell experienced firsthand just how broken and corrupt our justice system has become. I knew it was unfair. I had no idea the extent.  Howell spent his time in prison helping other prisoners fight against the injustices done against them. He worked on over 400 cases, helping prisoners with no voice fight against corruption. Now that he is free, he wants his story to be told so that it doesn't happen to others, so that the justice system in the country he loves can be freed from corruption. As Howell says, "this can't have all been for nothing. I can't have gone through all I went through and have nothing change."  He wants to make a difference. I want to be a part of that.

Let me start by telling you what I didn't know:

I didn't know the extent to which our prosecutors ignore the law.  When the judge in Howell's district refused to hear the case against him because it was "a sham," prosecutors judge-shopped and transported him across the state to prosecute him in a courtroom where the judge had a vested interest in catching the guy the government wanted Howell to testify against.  This is illegal and unethical: legally your case has to be heard in your original district AND judges with a conflict of interest in the case are supposed to recuse themselves.  Yet this happens all the time. Prosecutors are allowed to illegally move our "innocent until proven guilty" around until they find the judge that will give them the result they want.

I didn't know the system doesn't even bother to cover it up.  Our government also arrested Howell's wife and openly admitted to him that it was just so that they would have more leverage to force him to testify against the politician they were trying to catch.  They joked about their ability to pick their own judges within his ear-shot.  His own attorneys worked with the prosecution to create a plea bargain before ever meeting with Howell, knowing he had plead 'not guilty.'

I didn't know the US had "sleep deprivation pods" where prisoners are sent to make their lives miserable so they are more likely to agree to plea bargains. In these pods, people are allowed 4 hours of sleep with a thin blanket. They keep it cold in there and the other 20 hours of the day they aren't allowed access to their blankets and are not allowed to rest.

I didn't know about "diesel therapy," a strategy to break-down prisoners during which they are transported across the country to another prison, put through the admission process there (hours of being searched, fingerprinted, kept awake), just to spend less than 24 hours in that prison, and then shackled and transported across the country to another facility to do it all again. Over and over. Our tax dollars pay for this lovely service, by the way.

I didn't know that juries have the power to judge laws that are unjust.  When a jury meets, they not only decide if a person is innocent or guilty and what the punishment should be.  A jury has the right to decide that a law is bad/unjust and can choose to free the defendant because they think the law itself is wrong.  This is how the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1857 were abolished.  But guess what? Now Judges don't want folks to know this and NO juries are told that they have this power. The state of New Hampshire just recently introduced legislation requiring that juries be told about this. I had no idea.

I didn't know that the vast majority of cases are finalized by plea-bargain, that most of the folks in prison get out early when they agree to falsely testify against someone else. Prosecutors KNOW that prisoners are testifying falsely. I didn't know that 99% of cases that go to trial end up in convictions, thus increasing the  pressure on prisoners to accept a plea bargain written by the prosecution. If you are innocent, you are better off signing something that is false than standing in front of a judge to try to have your case heard.

I didn't know that “The Land of the Free has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. The cost is staggering: $80 billion a year, or $35,000 per inmate.”  (The Economist Magazine, 2013)  We imprison more people than any other country, including dictatorships. "One in thirty-one American adults is in the corrections system today. 

Either we are the most evil people on earth, or we are doing something very wrong." (Senator Jim Webb, 2009).

You didn't know either, huh? So what can we do?  For one, help Howell share his story. Share this post, tell folks about what's happening right here in our own country.  Want to see the documentary? Contact me, I can get you access to it (it's not released to mass media yet).

See the trailer for the documentary here:  http://vimeo.com/74495609
Purchase Howell's book: Kindle version. Y'all, this reads like a movie. I finished the book in three nights.
Like Justice Denied on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeDeniedWoltzMedia
And stay tuned... I'm hoping to have some more action steps. This is scary, y'all. We need to fix this. Honestly, I'm a little scared to post this post. After hearing what happened to Howell and seeing the vast amounts of proof he has in his favor, I'm not convinced I'm safe sharing this with you. ugh. What happened to him could happen to any of us. Scary.