Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I stand with Conservative Christians...

photo credit:
I wasn't sure what picture to use for this post: honestly, this one creeps me out, but I think lots 

of folks do link Christianity and Patriotism... but that's a post for another day. 
I've been thinking about Conservative Christians. I was at work so I wasn't at any church this weekend, but I imagined the frustration that some folks must have been feeling in church on Sunday. And I imagined how some church services might have gone this morning. I imagined some of the words that may have been said.

And I want to say something.

To those of you who believe that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman: I will stand by you.

I don't think you are right. We may disagree but I stand by your right to interpret the Bible the best way you know how. All of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus are trying our best. In our country, you have the right to try figure out the best way to follow Jesus and I will protect your right to disagree with me about what that looks like.

I'm not a patriotic person, but one of the things I love about our country is our freedom and the way we protect it. This is a place where we are free to believe or not believe, where we are free to worship in whatever way we see fit. America is a place where people can seek to find and be themselves.

While I secretly hope that Christians will find unity on gay marriage and that we'll all suddenly decide to agree, I will honor the right of those who have interpreted the Bible differently from the way I have interpreted it.  Honestly, I secretly hope that everyone I know will fall in love with Jesus like I have... but I will fight for their right to not to. I will honor the right of those around me to worship how they want to worship, even if it's not of my God.

Here's why: Jesus. Jesus came to restore us back to God. He left an amazing legacy and example for those who would follow him: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:40). Following Jesus' "yoke" meant he wasn't a rabbi who piled rule after rule and standard after standard upon his followers. And he, unlike most rabbis of his day, accepted the outcast, invited in the sinner.  Jesus didn't come to force us to follow a moral code. He came because God is working to redeem everything. He's working to make a "new heaven and a new Earth" (Isaiah  65:17) and Jesus' sacrifice is about much more than giving me a "ticket to heaven."  He makes things right. He is justice and goodness and peace. Jesus has room for those of us who believe that gender is not the defining factor in marriage AND has room for those who believe God intended marriage for a man and a woman. We are on the same team with the same goal: to love all with the love of Jesus. And we have no examples of Jesus forcing himself on others when they disagreed. Instead, he laid down his life for them. "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do" were his words from the cross.

And, you know, we are a country. We call ourselves United. Unity doesn't mean "agree." We aren't the "Agreeing States of America."  Instead, we are a place where we honor difference. I don't want to my government to force me to celebrate someone else's faith... and I shouldn't ask my government to force others to honor mine. We have this beautiful separation of Church and State so that our religious differences don't cause too much trouble. At least they aren't supposed to.

If I may offer some consolation to any of you who are sad or scared following the SCOTUS decision: Gay marriage being legal in the US isn't about religious beliefs. It's about securing the same legal rights and recognition for all. It means that all men and all women can be protected by the same laws and enjoy the same benefits, regardless of what they believe about marriage. And, in turn, the same constitution that protects gay marriage protects your belief about marriage. And none of that has anything to do with Jesus. We can still serve him, follow him, and show his love to our neighbors. Our path hasn't changed.

You may absolutely continue to believe that God ordained marriage for a man and a woman. And I may continue to believe God will bless a same-sex relationship. As Americans, we enjoy that right. And I would love to have respectful, thoughtful conversations with y'all about that.

It's not likely that I'll stop encouraging people to re-think their ideas about gay marriage or how the Church treats gay people... but I will defend your right to believe in a "traditional marriage." I promise.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Use the "R-Word"

I get really REALLY overwhelmed when things like Charleston happen. I want to collapse and cry. To ward off completely losing it, I turn to the internet. I read. Articles, blogs, Facebook posts. I try to glean as much information as I can. Not just about what happened, but about how people are responding.

And the biggest thing I noticed last night was an absence. Something missing. I noticed an awful lot of white people are doing a kind of tap-dance to avoid a certain word:

Racist. Racism.

I read fabulous articles about how when the shooter is white, the media is quick to postulate about his "mental illness." Empowering, liberating words for those who suffer from actual mental illness. But even these articles, and the positive responses that followed, avoided calling this event (or the shooter), "racist."

I've seen articles and posts about how this is a heart issue. About how this is evil, awful, terrible. Posts reminding us that it is sin. That the boy who did it clearly had something wrong with him.  Posts about how what happened in Charleston is a tragedy.

Can I empower y'all for a minute? We can call it racism. It's not the "R-Word." We can call it like it is: Racist

All of those things are true: the heart issue is racism. The evil, awful, terrible sin is racism. This young man has something wrong with him: he is racist. Shooting people, killing people, because of the color of their skin is racist. The tragedy that happened in Charleston is racism.

I think I know why it's hard to label it. If you are white, you probably don't have a lot of practice talking about race issues. No one told me what language to use, which words are okay, when I was growing up. I had no models for talking about race. My parents, although not racist people, never talked about it at home except for mild references to how awful slavery was, how being racist is "bad."  And I get it, it's an explosive world out there on social media. Say one wrong thing and a complete stranger blasts you. It's not always a safe place.

Racism is hard to admit. It would be so much better if we lived in a world where racism was part of our difficult past. But it's not. Racism is our clear and present NOW. This week, nine people were killed in their place of worship because of the color of their skin.  We live in a time when this happens. I cried the entire way home after I dropped my big kids off at camp. I was listening to NPR and there was a clip from one of the memorial services of one of the victims. They were singing "We Shall Overcome." That's supposed to be a song from our past. A song from back when people were fighting for civil rights, to be viewed as equals.  But instead, it's a song for today. It's a song for now.

I want to teach my kids about slavery and racism as if they are part of our nation's past. But I can't. Instead, we pulled the kids together this morning to tell them what has happened, why our hearts are so sad, and how important it is that we stand up against it. Because we have a black child, we need to prepare all our kids for how to handle discrimination. That's part of the white privilege we've lost - we can't choose whether to tell our kids about racism or not. We have to. Because they will experience it. And they need to be ready.

But here's where we need help. If you have that privilege - the privilege of not telling your children about racism... the privilege of not talking about racism - would you give it up?  I know lots of y'all know me and my family personally and y'all love us. Can I ask you a favor? Will you talk about what happened and use the word "racism"? Will you start telling your kids that racism IS and not that it was?  Tell them it's happening, and then prepare them to stand up for what's right. My kids are going to need some allies. We are preparing them the best we can for the day they need to stand up for justice and equality. That day will be a little less lonesome if they have some buddies to stand next to.

Because this morning, we had a family talk and prayed together. Amani and Allyn both sat in my lap. Allyn threw her arms around her brother as we talked, expressing how the news of Charleston scared her because of Amani. And his response nearly did me in: "this hurts my heart," he said and Riley cried.  And as we prayed, my tears fell on my children, white arms wrapped around black. And it felt lonely. I feel unmoored. I don't want to raise my children in a world where this happens. Yet it has happened and it is happening.

We need some allies. And it's long overdue. Will you stand up? Use the word. Let's call racism what it is. And put an end to it, whatever it takes. We shall overcome.

Want to get some discussion started in your family? My friend, Jose, just started a fabulous Twitter feed, Just Consider Alternate Reasons. It's a small series of questions every Friday to ask your children around the dinner table, based on the Jewish custom of Shabbat. His reasons for starting it: "Just Consider Alternative Reasons. A simple request. Why? In hopes that my kids will be better at asking questions than the adults in their lives are dodging them" 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How I lost my Whiteness: thoughts on Rachel Dolezal, Charleston, Ferguson...

I watched the Matt Lauer interview with Rachel Dolezal. And I don't think there are any major take-aways for our culture as a whole. I think she's a person who has done some amazing things for her community but who lost her way somewhere in the process. I know what it's like to want to shut the door on your past, to walk away from your family, to build walls and try to rebuild a life from scratch. When I did it, I started pretending I was from the South (I was born & raised in Boston).  I traveled to Europe with a buddy during college and whenever anyone asked where we were from, I'd say, "Well, he's from Oklahoma and I'm from NC." It was my way of slamming the door on a chaotic childhood and starting anew. Thankfully for me, it didn't last, I got real help and was able to heal and learn how to be myself including my past.  Granted, I think Rachel Dolezal's way was entirely more harmful to others, possibly more intentional, and could have negative ramifications for the good work she's done in her community.

But that's not even really what I want to write about.

The biggest statement that stayed with me from her interview was when she said she couldn't be her adoptive son's "real mom" if she wasn't African-American.  

Would you be shocked if I told you I agree with her?

Okay, I don't exactly agree. Her comment bothered me a lot at first. I was indignant: I am my children's REAL mother, no matter the color of our skin.  However, something has happened to me since I became the mother of a Black child.

I've lost some of my whiteness.

Photo credit: Sarah Leen, National Geographic
You can't see it on the outside. My hair stayed the same, my skin isn't any darker (well, it wouldn't be if it weren't for swim team! I can't reload the sunscreen fast enough!) . I didn't adopt any kind of cultural appropriations.

But inside, my heart has changed. My life has changed. There are parts of white privilege that no longer pertain to me. I think about race all the time. Because now I have to. I used to be able to decide when I wanted to worry about race issues and pick which ones bothered me most.  Now I worry about things like living in a "Stand your Ground" state, about how to handle it when Amani walks too far in front of me and someone assumes he's an unattended child, about how we will handle it when people discriminate against my son, about how much it bothers me that my kids go to a predominantly white school, about how to explain the news to my kids in a way that prepares them for reality but doesn't scare them half to death. I worry about how to prepare Riley & Allyn to be advocates for our family, for their brother, for each other. I fell apart when 12 year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by police. Because he looks like my child, he looks like my heart. The people who were murdered in Charleston look like my family, they look like my heart.

I can't watch news like Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore without part of my heart attaching to it. I thought I was an advocate for justice before but I didn't realize the extent to which I could set it aside when I needed to. I can no longer do that. I've talked with other White moms of children of color and one of my wisest friends said this:

"I hate that I believed in 'the race card' until I had black kids of my own. I hate that I didn't really understand my place of privilege until I had my kids. And now I hate seeing some of my friends right where I used to be but with hearts that are unable to see what I now see."

I imagine this echoes some of the frustrations of the Black community when people manage to not-see race issues. Being the mother of a black child has given me an entirely different perspective on racism. Unlike Rachel, I'm not pretending to be something I'm not. I'm still White, I still retain most of my white privilege. But, like Rachel, I do understand what it is to be connected to a culture that isn't yours from birth.  While I will never understand what it is to be a Black woman, I do understand what it is to be a mother of a Black child.

And that might be part of what makes me Amani's real mother. My heart changed to make me a better mother for him, a mother of a Black child. Being his real mom makes me lose some of my whiteness. And for that, I'm thankful. I pray every day that it will make me a better advocate. Not just for my children, but for yours too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Where should we stand? It actually doesn't matter.

Life is tricky. Nothing is black and white. I suspect it never has been, but it does seem these days as if there is just a whole lot of stuff going on. So many polarizing issues... and it's not even officially the election year yet. Sigh.

And now Caitlyn Jenner.

photo credit:

My ears and eyes are inundated with her. Most comments fall into categories: fully supportive and happy for her, or fully unsupportive and not-at-all happy (and sometimes hateful).  But there's a third category: folks who genuinely don't understand transgender issues and are trying not to judge but feel strongly about standing firm in their belief of what the Bible says about same-sex relationships.

I love those folks. I truly do. I no longer believe the Bible condemns same-sex relationships but I used to. I respect their belief and I feel like I know their hearts: they want to love our LGBTQ community but can't quite figure out how. Because, to some, supporting someone who is LGBTQ seems like an endorsement of something God is against.

I have good news: our responses don't have to be different. We don't actually stand on different sides. I have yet to meet two Christians with the exact same theology.  We all tend to interpret different parts of the Bible in different ways. But there is one BIG thing which unites us: the overall message of the Bible. The Bible is the story of how God gave us full access and community with him and unity with one another and then we broke it. But instead of damning us all, God sent Jesus - he reached out to us and fixed it, at great cost to himself.  Jesus reconciles us not only back to God but back to one another.  Regardless of theology, I'm willing to bet that 99% of Christians will agree with me on this. The Bible is the beautiful story of a gift of shalom (wholeness, rightness, unity) that was broken and brought back to shalom again.

What did God do when we broke the relationship with him and with each other? He stood with us. He sent his son not only to stand with us but to die for us. He wasn't against us. I know many Christians whose standard response to all things LGBTQ is to immediately distance themselves from the gay community by declaring, "I have to stand on what God says in the Bible about same-sex relationships." But what if we are supposed to do what he did? What if we are supposed to stand with his people? What if we are supposed to love them and sacrifice ourselves for them?

When in doubt, I think God says, "Love them." When in doubt, God says, "Get to know them." I think he says, "Stand with my people, be the ones who protect them from hate." If you aren't sure about this whole transgender thing, learn about it. Transgender is quite different from sexual orientation. But get to know some gay people too. Neither sexual orientation nor gender identity is a choice - please believe LGBTQ people when they tell you that about themselves.  The more we listen to one another and learn from one another, the easier all of this gets.  It is a lot less tricky when it's not an "LGBTQ thing" and instead it's the names and faces of people I know and love. And then it's no longer "us and them." It's just "us."

The more I study the words of Jesus, the more aware I am of how he linked our relationship with him to our relationship with others. Following Jesus is only partly about him & me - it's also about how I connect to everyone else around me. Jesus said that loving our neighbors was akin to loving God. When my focus is on me, when I make my theology more important than people, I've missed the point.  When we proclaim loudly that God is not okay with Caitlyn Jenner and then use that to distance ourselves from the transgender community, we've missed a beautiful opportunity to live and love like Jesus.

This isn't about ignoring sin. Sin is anything and everything that separates us from God and breaks our relationships with each other. The best response I can think of in the face of someone else's sin is to draw them closer to me and point them to the one who loves them most.  When I am doing something destructive to my relationship with God or my relationship with another person, the ones who will be able to speak meaningfully to me about it will be those who have pulled me in close, those who love me and point me back to God. I can't think of a single situation in which a stranger or an acquaintance would be helpful in confronting my sin by calling me out or distancing themselves from me, especially not if the sin I'm struggling with has been a hot-topic on social media.  If I'm gay and I hear, "God believes homosexuality is abhorrent," over and over again from people who don't know me and don't care about me, why in the world would I want to seek Jesus? How is that the message that Jesus died for?

When I meet Jesus, I don't think he's going to ask me where I stood on the hard-hitting, controversial issues. He's not going to ask me if I called out strangers on the ways they were failing to live perfectly.  He's going to ask me how well I loved, who I loved, when did I put my own needs aside to serve others. He's going to want to know if I lived like He did, not to punish me, but because he knows that was the best way to have a life full of abundant joy and the best way to point others to him. That's a tall enough order. Following Jesus is no piece of cake. But so far, I've found joy that passes beyond understanding in the process.

Right now, it's not about our beliefs on what the Bible says or doesn't say about same-sex relationships or people with gender dysphoria. Right now, that truly isn't the issue. It's not about where you stand, but who you stand with. Jesus stood with the outcast, the hated, the unclean. He stood with the misunderstood, the powerless and the oppressed. He stood with you and he stood with me. We can do the same.