Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dear White People (My self included…)

I have something to tell you. Something very, very important. Something that will shock you and might completely change the way you think about yourself. But if you’ll accept it…it could change the course of our country.

Ready? Steady yourself. Deep breath.

When it comes to racial injustice-and racial reconciliation-you as a white person do not get to be the expert. You do not get to be the authority on the subject. And unless you have spent some serious time conversing with minorities and getting their perception and understanding of the issue, you barely get to act like you know what you are talking about.

As one of the biggest ”know it alls” ever to draw breath, I understand your bewilderment. But I sincerely believe that until we give up our adamant position of “in charge”, especially on these topics…we will never see change, growth, or healing.

I recently was given the opportunity to join a group focused on racial reconciliation and I couldn’t wait to join in the conversation…I have so much experience growing up in a prejudiced family, my best friend being transferred to another school in eight grade because her parents decided she was hanging out with too many white people, the prayer conference focusing on racial reconciliation and the awesome healing we saw there, being the only white people for BLOCKS in our neighborhood…
So many stories…so much wisdom.

You guys…I don’t know jack diddly.  After almost or not so almost sticking my foot in my mouth a couple of times, I figured it out. I changed my posture from “authority” to “learning” and I rarely comment on anything unless I am holding out my opinion loosely, willing to be taught different.  And I have learned so, so much. And I am better for it.

So before you post that blog…Before you post that comment or status or tweet …Before you say anything…Before your dare place the words persecution, injustice, or discrimination in quotation marks like it isn’t really a thing….Check yourself. Because if you are white and living in America, you honestly don’t know what minorities in this country are going through or what they need to feel like valued human beings in this country. You can empathize and grieve with them but you cannot feel their pain. It would be like telling a rape survivor or a mother who has just lost her child “I know how you feel” when you have never been through either of those situations. (Just don't.)

Just stop. Change your posture. Have conversations with someone who doesn’t look like you. Read articles by those who do know. Let those who know first hand how they feel take the position of authority in this. 

And be ready to follow, to learn, and to walk towards reconciliation. 


Books To Read
"Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America" by Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith 

"More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel" by Spencer Perkins & Chris Rice

"The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity" by Soong-Chan Rah

"A Quiet Revolution: the Christian Response to Human Need, a Strategy for Today" by John Perkins

"The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander

"Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson

"The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson

"Our Global Families: Christians Embracing a Common Identity in a Changing World" by Todd Johnson and Cindy M. Wu

"Disunity in Christ" by Christena Cleveland

"The Cross and the Lynching Tree" by James Cone

"Racial Conflict and Healing" by Andrew Sung Park

Thanks to Judy Wu Dominick and my friend Katie Mumber for this. I'd add "Same Kind of Different As Me" which is not a book focused on racial reconciliation but a story that tells of relationship. It is incredibly eye opening.

Collective Han: A Framework for Understanding Race Riots and the White Response  by Judy Wu Dominick. This article has seriously impacted and deepened my understanding of the emotions behind the actions in Baltimore, Ferguson, and across the US.

I, as a white mom of two black children, do not share Baltimore’s pain. Instead, I grieve with you. by Jen Hatmaker. She's a white girl...but dang ya'll, this one hit it out of the park for me.

American Mythology by Austin Channing

And a downloadable guide for starting conversations and engagin in racial reconciliation written by Latasha Morrison can be found here:The Bridge To Racial Unity

A Reformed...ummm "Reforming"...Know It All and Aspiring Bridge Builder

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Last Thing You Need To Know About My Daughter...

When I first began writing this blog in my head, Bree wasn't ready. When she was ready, I was in a season of not writing. Then I got busy. Then I began to wonder if we needed to say these things...they are being said by so many...and so much better than I can. But I've realized how much our voice is needed. And thanks to the bravery of a friend, I was inspired. So here you go, with Bree's full knowledge and consent.

There are a ton of things you need to know about my daughter. She is beautiful. She is intelligent. She has a gift for giving gifts...because she has a gift for seeing and understanding people. She is talented. Knows more about Shakespeare than most twenty year olds ever will or care to know. She has some serious anxiety issues which means she is still not driving. She is a survivor. She loves to read. She loves music...but unfortunately developed my talent for singing.

She is bisexual.

Have you ever watched someone's world fall into place? I saw it the day Embree realized her sexuality. I'd taken her to a friend's house. When I picked her up, she was acting a little...odd. She had this goofy grin on her face.

Here's the deal. I grew up around drugs and alcohol and I had a pretty realistic view point that one day I would have to face the reality that my son or daughter had come home high or drunk because they had experimented. We'd had several conversations about the dangers, the importance of not driving or riding with someone who was under the influence, etc, etc. And I knew Bree's friends well enough to know that several of them smoked pot on occasion. So, when I saw the goofy grin...

I asked her "Are you high?"
"NO!" she responded.

But she was still acting out of it and she still had that grin. So I still had my suspicions. It was just hard to believe she wouldn't talk to me about it. So I decided maybe I was wrong.

Several hours later Embree came to me and said "I have something to tell you."
"Oh my God," I thought. "She was high!" Bree seeing something in my face quickly exclaimed, "It's nothing bad...well, at least I don't think it's bad." But I could see she was becoming anxious so I told her to spit it out.

And she told me she was bisexual. That she'd met a girl at her friends house. That she'd spent the last several hours thinking it over and she wasn't a lesbian but she definitely liked this girl like that and that it explained a lot of things from the last several years that she'd just brushed off as curiosity.

I've shared about my "journey" before and my first thought was extreme gratitude that God had brought me to this place at the perfect time because my sweet daughter was anxiously searching my face so she could know that we were okay, that this was okay. And I said, "Okay. So what does this mean for you?" And I may have offered to make her a rainbow jello shot cake. (FYI, those are way more complicated than I thought!)

At one point, as she obviously wanted me to say something, I had to admit to her "Bree, I understand this is profound for you but to me, you are still you. And I love you just as much as I did before. This doesn't change who you are to me." And it didn't. At least to me.

To others...

There were those who loved Bree just as much. It didn't change who she was to them either. Then there were those who loved her just as much but somehow it did change who she was. She wasn't just Bree, she was bisexual Bree. There were those who brushed it off as though she was just curious or it was just a teenager thing. Someone remarked "Of course she is..." and I'm still not sure what that means. There were those who thought she was just having trouble making up her mind (to which she replied "my mind is made up...I like them all") And those who had serious issues with it.

Bree had been in the process to become a missionary with an organization we had close ties to and a group that had been looking forward to her joining from the time she was in sixth grade. The process stopped. Bree admitted to same sex attraction and that was a deal breaker.

Bree had taught a children's class at church for two years. When she told her service leader, her leader advised her not to tell anyone else. Bree's integrity wouldn't allow it. When she told the children's ministry leader, she was encouraged to take a "break" from teaching her class. Not because she was bisexual, she was told, but because she might accidentally teach the kids that lifestyle was acceptable (I'm still trying to figure out what lesson that would have come up in a class full of second graders!)

There were others who seemed to believe it had happened as a result of my poor parenting. Obviously it was the product of a single parent home. Or perhaps because I let her be in theatre. We did watch Glee every time it came on (damn that Ryan Murphy!). Maybe I didn't give her enough attention, didn't build up her confidence enough. Maybe it was because I had to be on food stamps!

I watched my daughter begin to struggle with her faith. She explained to me that every sin was a choice, an action that we had taken. But she was a sin just by being. Because she was bisexual, she was sin. No amount of me telling her God loved her and she was not a walking, talking, breathing sin fixed the issue. It would take two years before I saw her begin to make her way back to her faith and even now, I don't think it is the same.

The thing is, somehow this one thing became the biggest thing about my daughter. And it doesn't make sense. If you ask someone to describe me, you will hear about the work I do, that I talk a lot, that I give good hugs...if it comes at all, the fact I am heterosexual would be one of the last things anyone mentioned. But for the LGBTQ community, it always seems to be first. It defines who they are...and if that is what they want, great...but if it isn't, if they want to be known as teacher, director, businessman instead of a gay teacher, homosexual director or bisexual businessman...then it is a problem. I honestly don't care what gender my daughter dates as long as they treat each other with respect, with value, and are honest with one another. Bree has a great boyfriend now and they've been together a while. But if they break up and she finds a great girlfriend, I am okay with that. And everyone else should be as well. Because, to be honest, unless you are the person my daughter is dating, who she dates isn't really any of your business.

Realizing that she was bisexual, for Bree, was a huge part in her figuring out who she is...for everyone else, it should be the least important thing about her.

Jesus, Republicans, and the "Gay Agenda"

I can't remember exactly when I first heard the term "gay agenda" but I think I was around 16 or 17...coincidentally (or not), around the time I first started hanging around "church people". My understanding of the gay agenda was that the gays were rising up to take over our families, our churches, our nation and eventually, the world! (Is now a good time to start the Pinky & the Brain theme music?). I also learned that Catholics were secretly Satan worshippers and Joseph Smith was Satan's younger brother (or something like that...they were definitely kin).

I actually tried to do some research on the concept of the "gay agenda" but I couldn't get past the second line of most of the articles that Google search provided me with...the most I could glean is that conservative Republicans and Christians started throwing the term around to great affect around 1992. I am not sure what happened in that time frame that the Republicans needed to begin waging war on the LGBTQ community....but the term became very popular very quickly in those particular circles. Fear is a popular political weapon...especially when avoiding the real issues.

The entire conservative political realm and all Christians were up in arms...and with good reason, those gays were going to convert our children! And despite the fact that science and society has come-by and large-to accept the fact that this is not a "choice" or a "lifestyle" but indeed they way they were born, Conservative Christians and Republicans by and large ignore that fact because it contradicts what they want to believe. And even though the terms have become a bit more politically correct, the "gay agenda" is still a tool being used to strike fear in the hearts of "true Americans."

You guys...can I please explain to the most simple way I know how...that there is no "agenda". The LGBTQ community wants exactly what every heterosexual wants. They want the right to be human. And to be treated fairly. They want to get married, have a family, and go out for a frigging burger without it being a major big deal. If their partner gets sick they want the same rights as a heterosexual couple and if one of them-God forbid-dies, they want the same rights to properties as heterosexual people. If they are a teenager and homeless they want to be able to seek help without who they are preventing them from a decent meal or a bed in a shelter.

If anyone has an "agenda" it is conservative Republicans (and not all of them but I can't make a list for every paragraph so let's just say it is the majority of them and that therefore-for the sake of simplicity-I am going to just say "conservative Republicans"). Their agenda is to put the rights of the white, upper middle class and rich, preferably male Americans above everything short, because those are the ones who keep them in office. Politics is very little about governance these days and very much about power. And to keep the power, you have to keep the office.

History note: do you know a conservative Republican included women in the 1964 Civil Rights Act? Not because he wanted women to be protected, but because he thought that would ensure it didn't pass. That might be irrelevant but in case you were wondering why I stated "preferably male" please do your research and realize little has changed when it comes to Republicans and their stance on women's issues.

Since Republicans took over Congress in January they have cut both estate and income taxes for the nation's wealthiest while at the same time cutting food stamps and other public assistance. They recently including an abortion bill in an anti trafficking bill and then held the bill and the confirmation of attorney general Loretta Lynch hostage until Democrats acquiesced and passed the bill with the anti-abortion clause intact.

They tell us that tax money shouldn't pay for abortions because tax payers should not pay for other peoples mistakes and that they should learn the consequences of their actions. But they then approve further bailouts for brokerages, banks, etc that made rash decisions that caused a recession. And, again since January, voted to repeal restrictions and laws that had been put in place after the recession to try and ensure such things could not happen again. Because their agenda is all about the most wealthy. They say tax payer money shouldn't pay for the irresponsible poor to eat, but they subsidize Amtrak which has consistently lost money for a decade (for the younger ones, Amtrak is a train-and a train wreck both figuratively and literally. People used to ride them as a means of transportation but now they are more a novelty) because the federal government owns a major portion of it. They give Israel 3.5 billion dollars a year to fund 1/4 of that nation's military budget when it is estimated that there are 50,000 homeless veterans in the United States on any given night.

And heaven forbid you should question the idea of giving money to a nation that routinely takes land that it doesn't have the right to or that kills innocent women and children in the thousands. Any other nation would be considered terroristic but Israel. And if you question this, you are automatically anti-Semite. In the same way that if you criticized George W Bush you were anti-American and a terrorist (remember the Dixie Chicks?) but Obama is free game.

And, the worst of it is, that somehow Conservative Republican and Christian have become synonymous. And if you disagree with any of this you are not a true Christian.

So...last week Republicans refused to allow SA 290 to pass the Senate because it contained an anti-discriminatory clause. In case you are unfamiliar with S.A. 290, it would have re-authorized the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act which provides resources, shelter and other services for homeless youth. Democrats included the anti-discriminatory clause because-at this time-any youth who identifies as LGBTQ can be refused services and many are because so many non-profits are religious in nature and that is part of their religious kick a homeless kid to the curb because of how they were born. (There was a similar scenario when it was time to reauthorize the Violence Against Women's Act and Democrats included an anti-discriminatory clause. Republicans delayed the bill but were not able to completely stop it because at the time, Democrats controlled Congress)

I am going to tell you that I don't believe Jesus cares one bit about your religious freedoms. I think he cares more about you being known by your love than he cares about your right to refuse a gay person service at your business. I believe he cares more about that homeless kid-no matter if they are a lesbian or heterosexual-than He does about your crappy political agenda. I believe that He even talked about feeding and giving shelter to the least of these. And I am pretty sure He and the Bible has a lot to say about giving preference to the rich.

While your Conservative Republican Senator or Representative is waving his Bible around, maybe he should read the thing.

Last week Tom Delay claimed God had written the Constitution of the United States and while I think that is one of the most ridiculously loads of drivel I have ever heard, perhaps they should start acting like it. Because the Constitution was written for the general welfare and gave everyone the rights to the "blessings of Liberty". That means black, white, female, male, heterosexual and the LGBTQ community. That means young and old, impoverished and wealthy.

I once heard John Perkins speak at a conference and it was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. He explained the current political attitude toward the impoverished and explained "they tell you if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day...but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a life time...but then they tell the man, you can't fish here, it doesn't belong to you"

The reality of the situation is that as many times as Republicans tell you that everyone gets an equal opportunity in the United States, it simply isn't true. There are too many places that those who live in poverty and minorities just aren't allowed to fish. And despite what conservative Republicans or Fox "News" tells you...there is no "gay agenda" and the riots you see in Baltimore and Ferguson are not because they are vicious or out destroy America but because they want to be treated equally. They want their rights. They want to be seen as human.

There is a movie called "Man of the Year" It is, in my humble opinion, one of Robin William's best and least appreciated movies. In it, his character talks about political smoke screens and how politicians use them to distract us from the real issues. He used flag burnings and abortion as two of the favorites. I would add the concept of the "gay agenda" as a third. I encourage you to turn off the news and do your own research because CNN and Fox News are not out to inform you but to gain ratings...and they do that more by inflaming you.

I would also encourage you to separate your politics and your religion (that whole separation of church and state thing) long enough to take a look at some of the issues before you. Take a deep breath and forge the fear mongering. And take an honest interest in what is going on in your country and what is happening to those who live in it. Look at both sides. And remember exactly how politically involved Jesus was...because He was more about people and grace than He ever was about policies and politics. And if we are Christians (i.e. like Christ), perhaps we should follow His example.

I realize I attacked Republicans and left Democrats completely out of it. For those who wonder, I don't identify as Democrat either. Neither do I think myself a liberal. I am a moderate. I don't give my loyalty to any political party and I only called out the Republicans because in the last five months they have consistently made decisions that are in direct contrast to what I believe and what I believe the gospel says. The last straw was in deciding politics were more important than the estimated 1.6 million homeless children in the United States today.

Neither do I believe in abortion as a means of birth control. But I do disagree with forcing a woman to have a child and then denying her the means of prenatal care and taking care of that child by reducing social services (especially at the same time as you bail out the nation's richest). Bonhoeffer noted society's responsibilities to women and even went so far as to say that if we refused to help the mother in duress, we were complicit in the sin if she had an abortion "A great many different motives may lead to an action of this kind; indeed, in cases where is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual..."

It is time we started holding our politicians responsible for their actions and demand they do the job we elected them for...and it is time we lay aside prejudices and fears whipped up by ridiculous concepts and catchy phrases. It is time that this country actually be a place where all men and women are created equal and have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Regardless of sex, religion or sexual identity.

And it is time for us as Christians to lay aside our prejudices and our political adherences and get down to the business that Jesus gave us.

Two Weeks

Two weeks. In two weeks baby will leave home. He will board a bus for Parris Island, SC and the next time I hug him, he will be a Marine.

People often think that the hardest time to be a single parent is in the really difficult times...they talk about the financial difficulties and the heartbreaks. But, in my experience at least, those are not the worst times. Every time we've gone through something really, really difficult we've had the support of amazing people who walked through it with us. When my daughter struggled with depression, people surrounded us with prayer, a mentor stepped forward and the mentor's mother called me on a regular basis. When my son went through a season of anger, there were guys hanging out with him, taking him fishing, building potato cannons (yes, those are actually a thing). When I lost my job and we were struggling financially, friends helped with money, food, gas...

It's the times you don't expect to be the least lonely that daughter's first performance on stage, when the kids graduated high school (admittedly in the most non-traditional way possible) and when they started college. And now, when my son is preparing to leave home.

There is a mixture of extreme pride and at the same time sadness. And I long to look at someone next to me and say, "Look what we did. Look at the man he has become." But the person next to me is my daughter. And she needs me. She and her brother are so close and this is a difficult time for her. She cannot be and will not be the person who holds me when I break down after my son boards that bus (I am determined not to cry before then. I will be strong for him. When he looks back, I will be smiling and waving.)

This is not the fault of my friends. I am fully aware that I have been a single mother in the midst of a singularly amazing community. Few...I think very few...single parents are as fortunate and blessed to have the support that I have in the last fourteen years. There are just times when there is no substitute. And you think I would have become used to that...but not right now.

Last week we took a trip to Washington D.C. (one of our favorite places). We visited the Arlington Museum, the Marine War Memorial, the Smithsonian, and the Marine Museum. While at the Marine War Memorial, there was a moment where Trey was in the midst of two recent graduates from Naval boot camp, a group of veterans and the younger brother of one of the graduates wearing a Navy t-shirt. Embree looked at me and said "It's like he's leaving us for something bigger." And he is. That makes this simultaneously easier and more difficult.

Two weeks will go by way too fast. Last night we were watching a movie and I looked over and watched him laugh and I thought, "Can I freeze time right now?"

But I can't. So I will make the most of these two weeks. I will let him know every day that I will miss him like crazy but no one is more proud of him than me. That I support him in this choice.

That I love him more than words will ever express.

Semper Fi.