Saturday, March 18, 2017

Building a Better Love

My life is defined by songs. Seriously. There are entire years of my life that can be defined by songs. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes defiant; there was the year when "King of Anything" by Sara Bareilles was my anthem, which can tell you a lot about the person I was dealing the most at the time. Other years it's been stuff from Broadway, or the year the "Hey There, Delilah" and "Bubbles" took over the girls dorms at college as everyone sighed at the idyllic relationship goals.

Last year, I came across this song. I'd heard it a few times before, but it wasn't until the 4th of July weekend when I went up to my camp for "a day" (four days) and was able to participate in a number of worship sessions that really broke down some pretty gnarly brick walls I'd been trying to dismantle with a spoon (at least, that's what it felt like). 

I suppose I should stop here to explain that I am a pretty charismatic Christian, on the spectrum of the faith. I don't usually go into the full measure of my beliefs, but I think it's important here. I believe in radical love that can literally heal emotional wounds that have been left gaping open, bleeding on everything in your life. I believe that the Holy Spirit can sweep in and set your body, soul, and spirit straight in an instant if you let her. I believe that God speaks to me through a variety of means, and sometimes I know things that are impossible to know about others because something in the back of my mind whispered it to me. I believe that God didn't stop doing revolutionary miracles in the first century, He does them on a daily basis right now. I believe that the reason He still does all these amazing, incomprehensible things is because He loves us more than we have the capacity to know.

So back to the song. The thing about God's love is that we filter our perception of it through our own understandings of love. It's natural. You have lenses that you have adopted as you go through life, and there's really no getting around it. So there gets to be a lot of really unloving versions of Jesus running around the Church, and much of that gets passed on to how we love others, because after all the second greatest commandment in the New Convenant is to love your neighbor as yourself. As I've said before (and I will say many, many more times) if we don't love ourselves well, we are going to do a really poor job of loving our neighbor, no matter how hard we try. 

I'm hardline about very, very few things in my Christian faith. I'm a recovering know-it-all, so I do my best to debate rather than argue, and present my beliefs as just that, my beliefs without any expectation that whoever is listening will agree. God's Love is the thing that I will fight anyone on. (and by fight, I mean pray unceasingly that you will let Him show you how much He loves you) It is God's identity to love, and He spells out what that looks like in no uncertain terms in 1 Corinthians 13, and a variety of other places. 

This song is called "Pieces." It was written by Amanda Cook, of Bethel, but the best-known version of it is sung by Steffany Gretzinger. I love Steffany's version, because she has a rawness to her voice that really cuts me to the core in the best way possible. Also, it's the one that first got through to me.

This song is brilliant in that it calls out a lot of the misconceptions about God's love that we carry with us every day. Today, I was again reminded how many of those I still had hanging on in my life, and went through another session of telling the lies to take a hike. So now I'm playing this song on repeat to drive in the Truth.

I invite you to listen to this song and read the lyrics. Listen to what His love is, and find the places in your life where that understanding hasn't reached yet. Like I said, he'll heal you. If anyone wants to know how I will gladly walk you through it via any messaging service you prefer. 




Unreserved, unrestrained
Your love is wild
Your love is wild for me
It isn't shy, it's unashamed
Your love is proud
To be seen with me

You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us

Uncontrolled, uncontained
Your love is a fire
Burning bright for me
It's not just a spark
It's not just a flame
Your love is a light
That all the world will see
All the world will see

You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us
You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us

Your love's not fractured
It's not a troubled mind
It isn't anxious
It's not the restless kind
Your love's not passive
It's never disengaged
It's always present
It hangs on every word we say
Love keeps its promises
It keep its word
It honors what's sacred
'Cause its vows are good
Your love's not broken
It's not insecure
Your love's not selfish
Your love is pure

You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us
You don't give Your heart in pieces
You don't hide Yourself to tease us

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Everyone Means Everyone

Context: This is written largely in response to the post going around explaining Why Christians Can Calm Down About Beauty and the Beast featuring a subtly gay character. They had one reason. I have a different one.

I've been looking forward to the Beauty and the Beast live-action adaptation for the last two years. It was announced and I was interested. Then they announced the cast, and between Emma Watson, Sir Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, and all the other big names...

I became somewhat more than excited. I believe squealing was involved more than one time when reading news about the movie. When the trailers and sneak peeks were revealed, I was over the moon. I even bought a dress that's based off Belle's ballroom dress. I rarely buy dresses, and I never buy dresses that involve any amount of tulle. When I'm excited enough to buy a frou-frou dress, you know it is a big moment in my life.

So when I heard that there was a subtle storyline where one of the side characters is revealed to be a gay man, what did I do? I shrugged, said, "huh, that's interesting," and I moved on.

Apparently, not every Christian did. Because of course in American Christianity, you should probably actually murder someone rather than reveal yourself to be anything other than a wholesome cis-gender, straight person.

"But no, that's not what we meant!" My brothers and sisters cry. "We meant that we should not condone their behavior!"

Okay, well don't condone their behavior quietly then. When did we become so arrogant to truly believe that our main call in life and faith is to prove people wrong? I've read the Bible, I promise. I've read it in full, and read it in pieces, read one verse at a time, read and studied passages in depth, searching through the original Greek and Hebrew for the original meaning of the text. I've considered the historical context surrounding not only Jesus's teachings but the epistles, the books of prophecy, Psalms, even Leviticus, looking at why they said what they said in the way they said it.

Much like Paul, I don't say this to brag. It wasn't something I did to be able to hit people over the head with my right-ness, or "righteousness". I did all this because I believe that's how we gain understanding and insight into God's plan for our lives. I believe the Bible is where the Truth lies, and I base all my understanding of the world, culture, art, and people off of the Bible.

So why did I not freak out about Le Fou being gay?

For one thing, he is a side character. It is literally not even a major plot point from what I understand. Which is actually the point, I feel like. It's not even a bit deal to them, he just is. It's addressed briefly, and then we're back to the actual storyline of a hetero couple (I guess? I mean, the guy is a monster for most of the movie, but at least he's male?).

Second, you may have heard that life imitates art, but really art is brought out of our lives. It's inevitably going to reflect the cultural norms and values we hold. As literally every Christian blogger has pointed out, Disney hasn't been shy about their beliefs being more than a shade left. Why is that the explanation, though?

I don't think it's about politics, really. I think it's because Disney, for whatever else they are, are great story tellers. Like, really great storytellers. They've built their entire media empire around telling stories that appeal to nearly everyone. Whether you want them to or not, everyone does actually include the LGBT community. They are involved in the larger distinction. So yeah. Disney has made movies that people love, featuring multi-ethnic princesses, a movie about two sisters where one of them doesn't get married (GASP), about dogs, cats, cars, toys, and don't forget the lions. They're going to include people from all walks of life represented as well. It's the world we live in. I for one have no beef with it. In fact, I think this world has its fair share of awesome things going on for it.

You know who else actually kind of loves the world? Jesus. Don't believe me? Wait, what's the really famous verse that I could recite before I could even write it down? Oh yeah, "For God so loved the world, that He sent his one and only Son... For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16a and17, ESV. Emphasis added.)

A lot of people conveniently forget John 3:17. Possibly because it tells us that we really shouldn't be doing what we love to do, which is condemn other people. Especially "the world", that nebulous evil place (and our home). Not even Jesus was sent to condemn the world, but He was sent to save it through His incredible, overwhelming, unconditional love.

This is possibly my favorite thing about Jesus. I mean, I generally think He's pretty spectacular (to say the least). But like I said, I love this world.

I love the stunning variety of natural beauty that I get to see when I drive around California, or spend an irresponsible amount of time on Google looking up different famous places and just marveling at the Creation of God that we have the privilege of living in.

I love the art, books, and music that I come across, things that speak to me of the existence of a plane outside of our own, because otherwise where would all these brilliant ideas come from?

I love the people I meet, even the frustrating (sometimes infuriating) ones. I love reading stories, gaining the understanding of another person's mind, especially if I didn't understand before. There is a reason that Jesus taught in stories that people had to think about to really catch on. Stories are the best way to gain understanding, especially if it's so far outside of your world that you actually have to think to figure it out. I truly believe that reading the stories of people outside of your understanding should be a requirement in everyday life.

Which brings us back to Disney, in some ways the premier storytellers of the contemporary age. And Jesus, the ultimate storyteller of all eternity. And where those two meet.

Disney tries to tell stories that involve everyone. They have gotten somewhat better at it over the years. They have now added this side character, who apparently is low-key gay. The reports I read said it's almost less than a blip in the narrative of the movie. But it's still important. It's important because representation matters. Seeing someone on screen who you can relate to in some small way is incredibly important. It makes you feel less alone. Women have pushed for this for years now, for the ability to see characters who represent a wide variety of lifestyles and personalities. It's time for other groups to get that too.

And that's cool with Jesus because Jesus really does love everyone. I mean everyone. Every politician, every criminal, every conman, every murderer. I can see you all nodding your heads with me, so let me add to the list. Every person who has sex with, or simply just really, really likes someone who happens to be the same gender as them. Every person who feels that they want to be the opposite of how they were born. Every person who decided gender just wasn't for them, and they like the middle. Every person who can legitimately pull off both and decide which one they want to go with each morning. Every person who felt uncomfortable in their skin and in culture for their entire life until one day, someone told a story that made them feel like they weren't alone. Jesus loves them all, just as much as He loves you.

It's not about your theology, or your ideas of what's right, or how you think people should live. It's not about being naive. It's not about sheltering your kids from the realities of this world. It's about love. It has always been about love. Jesus did everything that He did - and does - for us out of love.

Who are we to decide who we extend His love to? Who are we to be the self-appointed gatekeepers of Heaven? Last time I checked, that was not our job. Our job is to live our lives in accordance with the Word. The Word that speaks about love constantly, that even explicitly describes what love is like in many different sections. 

I have many friends who are LGBT and you know what? Most of them aren't super fans of the Church. I would say I wonder why, but I don't want to sound too sarcastic. It's pretty clear. We as a belief system have done a pretty horrendous job of showing love to these beautiful pieces of God's creation. I've had a lot of conversations that have consisted of me listening, and then saying, "yes, I know, and I'm sorry."

That is unacceptable. It grieves me more than just about anything else. The fact that we have let 3-5 Bible verses overrule a WHOLE NARRATIVE of unconditional love.

So I leave you with this, an answer to the protests of, "but the Bible says!"

The Bible also says this, in Romans 8:31-39 (ESV, emphasis added):

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On Marching and Morals

By now, much has been said on the global mobilization of women that started with a plan to march on Washington D.C. the day after President Trump's inauguration. I recognize this, but there's a part of me that cannot keep silent about some of the issues I've seen crop up in the days since the march.

But first, some pictures:





For context, this comment appeared on Twitter on the day of the Women's March from a state senator in North Carolina (it has since been deleted). The second picture is her Twitter bio.

I'm going to focus on one particular sentence in her bio: "Restoring freedom & liberty as bestowed upon us by God, our creator."

Well yes, God has given us freedom and liberty. In fact, that God-given freedom usually manifests itself in this thing called free choice. It means the freedom (upheld by our Constitution, incidentally) to peacefully demonstrate against policies or governments that we disagree with. It also means the freedom for you, ma'am to levy the most stereotypically Southern insult at people who are fighting for YOUR RIGHTS. Goes both ways.

The senator later clarified that the comment was not directed at the majority of the marchers, just the ones who were "dressed provocatively" and "spewing profanities." No mention that the main "profanity" used was the word "pussy", which was thrust into mainstream vocabulary by none other than the 45th President of the United States when he was bragging about sexually assaulting a woman.

Words have meaning, true. But that meaning is often assigned by the cultures around it. Frankly,  in the grand scheme of things, I'm all for a group of women actively turning a term that has been used to oppress them into a battle cry. It has a poetic quality to it.

Clearly, I was in support of the Women's March. If I had thought about it before 9 am on Saturday morning, I would have been out at the one in Sacramento because they are supporting issues that I believe in.

I believe that women should have equal access to health care, and not have to pay extra for services that are gender specific.

I believe that women should not have to fear not being believed when they report an assault.

I believe that women should not be judged morally (or any other way) on how they dress. Nor should their intelligence or sanity be maligned because of their appearance.

I believe that the global outpouring of support was a sign of bigger things to come, as women around the world start mobilizing against the system that dictates that men should determine the access we have to basic health services, education, and job opportunities.

To the women who are speaking out against these movements (and basically every other feminist movement in history), do you not realize that by accepting your oppression you are feeding into the system? If you feel like you're perfectly fine with the state of things for women, read this.

And now, to address the main beef that many conservative Christian women had with the Women's March: the pro-life, pro-choice debate.

If you hadn't heard, days before the Women's March, the organizers removed a number of feminist pro-life groups from their list of official partners. This sparked a huge outrage from Christians who immediately declared, "SO MUCH FOR THEIR EQUALITY IF THEY DON'T WANT US WE WON'T COME SO THERE!" (caps for emphasis and the dramatic quality of many of these posts).

I think that was a dumb move from the organizers. It did undermine the sense of unity there was in the movement before. On the other hand, considering the general cultural view of pro-lifers, can you really blame them? We as pro-life advocates have not really cultivated an image of being willing to cross the aisle and play nice with others.

A number of my friends who do identify as pro-life still marched with some of the Sister Marches and reported that the attitude towards them was different than that of people at the top. So I'm thinking this was just one more chapter in the book of, "stupid moves that resulted in more division, instead of solving the problems."

However, I still have to address the attitude of Christians who responded to that move. Again, I include myself in this because I'm guilty of it: We, as a subculture, are not super great at turning the other cheek. Instead of saying, "well, just because we aren't listed as official partners doesn't mean we can't still march for the six other social issues that we agree on," most defaulted to the basic, "FINE THEN!" and storming off.

Or, you know, denigrating those who are marching on Twitter.

The more I look at this issue, the more I believe this dichotomy was created by men who just wanted to create another issue for women to be divided on. That may be overly dramatic, but it all seems so ridiculous to me. As a pro-lifer, I would ideally like all women to be presented with choices for their health care, especially reproductive care. This seems to be what pro-choice advocates for as well.

The problem I have is, when did the main definition of "pro-life" become "making abortion illegal"?

As someone who pays attention to social sciences, I have recognized some trends in the research. It was widely reported that the rates of abortions in 2015 hit their lowest point since Roe vs. Wade. Wonderful. Splendid. How did that happen? Oh, it was because of improved services for women, particularly low-income women and high school students, allowed them to get better access to safe birth control and education to reduce the overall rate of unplanned pregnancies.

To be clear, that is not the same thing as criminalizing abortions. I wrote a whole post on this issue. I think that creating that line in the sand of legalizing/not legalizing abortion, at this point in time, is absolutely insane.

Why don't we focus our collective resources on making sure our society has systems in place to support women who decide to have that baby? Or to help her have the option to not get pregnant if, say, a guy forces himself on her. Or help her get a job and still be able to care for her child? Or to be able to still get an education if she finds herself with a small child and few life skills?

Isn't that what the Women's March was ultimately about? An outcry against a government filled with old, rich, white men who refuse to listen to women about women's issues? Against the women in power who seem to think that just because they managed to get there, everyone has those opportunities?

My point is, rather than creating false dichotomies, we need to work together. Instead of telling me about how they don't respect you, show some respect. Instead of complaining that the other fighters don't agree with you, take a page from history where countries with wildly different values regularly unite against common enemies.

My final thought on this is simple: When was the last time the Church managed this sort of showing of unity and community? Honestly, I am asking. Please give me an example. Because maybe we're just mad that they figured something out about how to organize a worldwide movement that - except for a few - was inclusive and accepting of people with different values.

If that is the case, we need to get something straight. You don't get mad at the people who've got their finger on something powerful. You learn from them, you figure out what you are doing wrong, and you maybe admit that you don't have it all perfect after all.

The best thing about Jesus is that He is graceful with us when we get things wrong. We always have His support when we screw things up, and His help in fixing them.

So consider fixing something instead of burning it all down over one point of offense. Fix a relationship with someone who doesn't agree with you, instead of sniping at them on Twitter.

Just a thought.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Millennials

Hi, I'm back! A couple of weeks of rest and all of a sudden I'm remembering all those hot topics that flew the coop of my tired mind in December.

Tonight, the topic of choice is one of the media's favorite buzzwords ever: Millennials

To give you some background, I am a Millennial. Culturally and ideologically I tend to at least identify with how we as a generation are known to think. I have friends of many generations, both older and younger than me, so I have something to judge my own perspective against many times.

Recently, I have become aware of a trend in media and cultural conversation among the older generations who are in the process of beginning their transition out of cultural power (though not willingly, or quietly). This trend goes something like this:

"Those Millennials are so wishy-washy, they couldn't give you a strong answer if their lives depended on it. Also, they're fiscally irresponsible, and can't handle the complex tasks that jobs demand from them because everyone always coddled them and told them they were all precious snowflakes. We're doomed when they come into power in the culture. They are never going to amount to anything."

Sound familiar? Once I had this trend pointed out to me, I started seeing it everywhere. Basically, unless an article was written by an actual Millennial, there is a 95% chance this theme exists. Sometimes, even the articles written by Millennials contain the same things because it has been preached as us so much, we almost start to believe it ourselves.

Honestly, some of the criticisms are valid. As I said, I've maintained friendships with many who are in older generations, and between that and studying some cultural trends, I can say that we as a generation had a bit of a rocky go of it in the early years of adulthood.

However, a great deal of that is the results of systemic changes in the way education and child-rearing were approached, and significant cultural upheaval that resulted from decades of pressure building up in a variety of hot-button areas.

To clarify, we as a generation were not responsible for the "everyone gets an award" trend, nor did we intentionally set out to acquire record amounts of student loan debt, or resist using the technological tools that were peddled to us as we went through our formative years. If a person in my generation cannot function as an adult without their parent's hand-holding, that is on the parents for never letting go of their precious snowflake's hand. If we have vastly different views on justice, faith, and cultural trends, it's because we were exposed to stories of the world outside our bubbles at an unprecedented volume via the Internet.

A few days ago I was reading one of my favorite publications, Relevant Magazine, and they prominently featured an article on how Millennials coming of age are affecting the landscape of Christianity. As it is a topic near and dear to my heart, I paid special attention to it. Sadly, one of the first statements in this article was, "Millennials, for better or worse, are changing everything. And Christians have to wonder if the Church is next."

There it was, the attitude of, "well, they exist and I guess we have to deal with them now." Cue dramatic sighs. Mind you, this is a publication that SPECIFICALLY CATERS to this population. 99% of the time they do a pretty spectacular job of it too.

Here is my main problem with this statement. This country's culture has been more efficiently impacted by the Millennial generation than any other, because of our internet proficiency and tendency towards large social networks, even if they are mainly digital. It assists in the spread of ideas and in many ways a generational identity that is both widely applicable (our lives are defined by the changing methods of communication) and highly individualized (how we use those methods depends very strongly one what corners of the internet we settle in and make our digital "home").

Gone is the slow generational shift of yesteryear, as people of the younger generation gradually work their way into leadership roles. On the internet, everyone with a computer and a phone can find a platform for their ideas. Even if that platform only consists of a few people, it signifies a distinct shift in how we communicate.

This change is inevitable. It's not "for better or worse." It is happening, or in many cases, has happened. My question is then: Why is the Church just now catching on to the fact that they might have to shift some attitudes towards Millennials, and embrace the distinct gifts and perspectives we bring to the table?

I understand why the business world is slow. They have proven methods of doing earning a profit and it's difficult to take the risks to break from tradition. But even that sector has shifted their strategies for engaging my generation at lightspeed compared to the Church.

This is absolutely tragic. What people don't seem to understand is that the cultural trend is very much going in a direction where Millennials understand that we have OPTIONS. We value our quality of life, and that means a focus on fixing the parts of our life that seem unjust. This includes the world around us.

Millennials who have managed to remain in the Church today deserve some of the highest marks for faithfulness, in my opinion. We have been presented with nearly every other option, and still, Jesus has kept us coming back. At least, that is my reason. I have studied other religions, looked into their beliefs and standards of behavior, and found some that have definite elements of truth in their perspectives. I maintain friendships with people from vastly different belief systems because I am confident enough in my beliefs that I'm not threatened by theirs.

This fear of other's believing different things is one of the hallmarks of Christian culture in the last few decades. It is evident the True Love Waits/Purity/Modesty/Abstinence movement, or the collective Evangelical hissy fit whenever any legislation passes which guarantees rights for the LGBTQ community, or even just crucifying a leading Christian voice on the internet the MINUTE they say something that challenges your beliefs.

The problem with this fear is that it alienates this compassionate, creative, empathetic generation that is now coming into cultural power. And if the Church is just now catching on to the fact that we might need to course correct, we are too late for many in this generation.

Over the last year or two, I witnessed Christians (mainly conservative in faith and politics) on social media throw tantrums worthy of any toddler over a variety of issues: Syrian refugees (fear), gun control (fear), people protesting against the racial profiling and police brutality nationwide (fear), LGBT marriage being legalized nationwide (fear), and the idea that a transgender individual might want to feel comfortable in the bathroom (fear, and frankly an insulting fear at that. Throwing out the "keep our women and children safe" argument shows blatant sexism and a deliberate denial of the fact that many trans women and teenagers feel wildly unsafe daily, and not just because of what bathroom they can or cannot use). Also, any sort of "liberal social justice warrior nancy-pants socialist belief," which can be applied to basically any sort of federal, state, or local aid to disadvantaged populations, for the purpose of elevating the general quality of life in this country and lessening the strain on our social systems which are nearly at the breaking point as it is.

Meanwhile, I'm looking on and talking with my friends in my generation (Christian and non-Christian), and the reaction I often hear is: "Are you fucking kidding me?"

I relate to this. I relate to being raised in a Christian culture that was so rigid it didn't even have room for the people already in the Church, let alone for the masses who cry for justice outside of the culture. I have often said that if I didn't meet Jesus the way I did in college, I would not still consider myself a Christian today. I would have walked away. I would have gotten fed up and peaced out, without a second look.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if there's any way to fix it. I've stayed the path, spoken out for my generation and our value time and again, but the persistent refusal of mainstream Christianity to acknowledge that our generation may care about people more than we care about rules is discouraging at best. I am still here because of Jesus. If it were based on the people of the Church, I sadly would have left years ago.

There are people who are restoring my faith. Leaders who have been willing to stand in the face of the culture we were all raised in and strongly declare that we need to get ourselves straight. Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, and Jaime the Very Worst Missionary (and their friends) have acted as an antidote to the poison of people like Jerry Falwell Jr and Franklin Graham, among others. Christians who maintain that the focus on justice and equality that exists in this Millennial generation is not counter to the Gospel, but rather inherent in the Good News of Jesus's love for us.

Still, all the people I just mentioned are on the list of people who have been crucified by significant portions of the Church for daring to believe the Bible over cultural Christianity, and hundreds of years of systematic injustice being woven into the doctrine of the Church. I mean, I love my faith. I love my Jesus. That doesn't change the fact that Christians have actively used Scripture to justify war, xenocide, slavery, harmful colonialism, and oppression.

My generation sees this. We watch, and we take in the vitriol from all sides, and we try to find the good in the midst of it. I would like to think we aren't swayed by the poisonous division, but that may be a sign of my optimism rather than my realism.

If the Church wants to keep this generation, how about you try to meet us where we are at. Stop blaming us for all of society's ills, stop actively insulting and protesting against our friends who hold different beliefs, stop shouting at us that we have no understanding of the world simply because our understanding was formed so differently from yours.

If you're just now wondering how the Church will have to change to keep this generation, you're already too late. I only hope that forgiveness can happen on both sides, but I'm kinda gun-shy right now. I have been shot at a few too many times over the last couple of years.

If you just scrolled down here to see when I would stop the rant, here's what I want you to take away:

Just because Millenials think differently, and are the product of a variety of social factors we had no control over, don't villainize us. Millenials are not the devil, I swear. Respect us, and we are much more likely to respect you. We may not end up agreeing, but at least give us the benefit of the conversation.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hope

Well, it's the last day. Once more, Holidailies has provided me with a place to dump thoughts, even if not all of them were terribly brilliant. I enjoy writing during this month, and who knows, maybe this time I'll even update more regularly than every 6 months or so!

After such a stressful year, I've tried to take the last two weeks to process what has happened and come up with a direction to go in for the next year. One of the curious things about humans is our general resiliency. We may have terrible experiences in one year, but still, at the end of that year, we have hope that we can do better, something will go our way. Some call this foolishness because it can never be perfect. I call it brilliance; without this hope, we would be dead in the water. 

Those with no hope never go anywhere, they never change their lives for the better. They may look like they're trying sometimes, but ultimately you can't move forward unless you can see an actual path to walk on. 

I try to enter each year with a lot of hope. At the beginning of 2016, my main hope was to survive school and accomplish the goal of completing my teaching credential. Maybe the other stuff surrounding that didn't go as planned, but as an overarching goal, it worked. I accomplished the goal and did a few other things besides. Almost won NaNo (winning would have been an actual miracle of extended time in the day), managed to write here 30 out of 31 days. Got more involved in the soccer world digitally and in person, which was basically my only hobby aside from school.

There were definitely things that I wouldn't like to repeat, but then again, that is a source of hope. Hope that I can do better in certain aspects. Aside from my major goal, The Thesis, my hope is to make sure I'm physically and emotionally healthy enough to get good focused work done without my brain self-sabotaging for days at a time. My hope is to write some fiction, lest I tend towards a soulless existence like I do. It doesn't have to be good fiction, it just has to function as my way of processing the world, as it has always been. I will need that in my life, undeniably.

My future goals include building relationships with professionals in the area and bolster my contacts in schools, so that when jobs come up I know where I need to go. My hope is to actually have relationships with my friends that include more than a sad, "I miss you..." "Me tooo..." every week or so. Despite my introverted nature and my tendency to take jobs that put me in casual contact with a lot of different people every day, I do actually need some of that small group or one-on-one friend time. I may or may not have forgotten about that need at points during the year, always to my detriment.

There is always something to improve on. On my good days, I don't take this as a terrible thing. Not ever being perfect is a part of being human. My hope is to have the good days outnumber the bad ones, even if I have to force it sometimes. 

Here's hoping that I'll be able to record some of that journey and share my road with you.

Until next year.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Politics vs. Love

Disclaimer: I have been sorta okay at keeping politics out of posts where it doesn't belong, but there comes a time when I have to discuss it. I will also discuss religion in the course of it, and how I believe those two should intersect. I value respectful discourse and will do my best to keep my comments within that boundary, but I have strong opinions and often use strong language to support them. I would love to hear from different perspectives in the comments, however.

Okay, so I am starting to believe that Christians just need to take a step back from politics and reevaluate our life choices. Here's why: At the beginning of this year, I was rather desperately trying to stay apolitical. I didn't want any part of the shit show, for one. I also wanted to maintain relationships with those who may not agree with me. Then came Donald Trump.

Suddenly, not speaking out against him seemed impossible. As Brandon, the man who runs the popular blog/Facebook page "Humans of New York" (normally also a neutral site) said so eloquently, I considered the rise of Donald Trump a deeply moral issue. The rhetoric, the actions, the history of discrimination, the blatant misogyny, the Twitter account... everything about him deeply offended my sense of justice, love, and respect.

So I started speaking out against it. Not so far as supporting another candidate at first, but definitely always, "please start seeing this." I did this mostly on Facebook, because honestly, that's where most of my friends and family who are stoutly conservative and stalwart Christians are. I knew, even then, that the way that Christians - Evangelicals in particular - reacted to this election would sway the results. And sure enough, all the major Evangelical political players started aligning themselves with Trump, as he consistently won the primaries and eventually the nomination.

Not to say that Hillary was like, SO MUCH better. I mean, I will say right out that I voted for her because I started the year solidly on the "Anyone But Trump" train, and stayed on that train until the bitter (for me) end. I can't say for certain that anything would have been that much better with her at the reigns. I truly believe that no matter who won, at least half of the country would feel badly done by the results. This whole mess was too divisive to end any other way.

The divisive nature of this dumpster fire of an election cycle is actually what I really want to talk about, and why I think that many Christians need to reconsider how they interact with politics. I definitely have in the months of contemplation since November 8th.

Here is where I start: When we elevate politics and "patriotism" over Jesus, everyone loses. We lose our minds and our ability to love. The rest of the world sees this and loses all respect they may have had left. I have a number of friends who are outside of the "Christian bubble," and many of them expressed disgust Christians who were clearly letting their conservative political values outpace their love. Frankly, I was hard pressed to disagree with them.

I have said it before, and I will repeat it. I love the Church. We are a messy bunch. Not one of us has it entirely right, but I love the motley crew that brings in different experiences and opinions to the feet of Jesus and lets Him sort it out. At least, that's what I hope others do. This year, though, the community of the Church consistently saddened me and made me - a long-time believer, a lover of Jesus and of people, and a defender of the faith - feel as if I was the same as an outsider, unworthy of respect or consideration because I had come to believe a different way.

When I started posting about how morally repugnant I found (and still find) Donald Trump's actions and words to be, you know who responded with the most judgment, screaming comments, and disrespect to me and my friends - many who are also strong believers? Yeah. Conservative Evangelical Christians. Many of whom pastors and leaders that I have worked with in the past, respecting them for years. Some who were as close as family.

And that was before I started actively supporting Hillary, as the next best option, and most importantly, Not Trump. When that happened, the lids came off. There was no restraint. There was no love. People were unfriended because they proved over and over again that they could not see the people on the other side of the screen that they were screaming at as people. We were all just straw men for them to joust against, virtual windmills of wrongness that must be conquered. I did my best to maintain my own standards of respectful discourse, using and distributing multiple non-partisan resources and fact-checks, but it grieved me to engage with the hate over and over again. Eventually, as Election Day approached, I couldn't do it. I went silent and watched the country descend into a hateful frenzy.

Much has been said about the state of political discourse in general, in the internet age, the age of fake news, and anonymous comments, and the age of ideological echo chambers. I don't want to repeat much of that. What I want to emphasize is what I took out of the whole experience.

I am going to make a series of statements that you may or may not agree with. That's okay, but I ask that you thoughtfully consider them:

When Christians allow being right (or being on the political right) to overtake their God-given call to Love, we have officially missed the point.

When Christians allow our doctrine instead of our Love to determine our politics, we have also missed the point.

Christians are not being "persecuted" across the country by laws that provide protections for sensitive groups like refugees, LGBTQ+ people, or illegal immigrants. 

Furthermore, if we are using our FAITH as an excuse for legislating AGAINST those groups, we have DRASTICALLY missed the message of Love.

Your President does not determine how good of a Christian you can be. I plan on remaining a Christian for the next four years, despite my current and likely future disagreements with the administration. 

Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion apply to EVERYONE, not just Christians. That means that if a Muslim speaks out against oppression that is being facilitated by Christians, they are allowed to say that, and we as Christians should probably listen. If you think that a registry for Muslims is a good idea, consider how well that worked out for the Jews in Nazi Germany and consider whether it's something that an All-Loving God would condone.

Most importantly, whoever you voted for, consider the other side. If you voted for Trump, consider the minorities who are now terrified for their future under his leadership. If you voted for Hillary, consider how the blue-collar Americans in the Midwest felt ignored and devalued by the old political systems, enough to vote for someone who promised to change things (whether or not he delivers on those promises, consider what they meant to his supporters). 

As for next steps? My next step is always to keep calling out for Love. I believe the role of the Church is not to gain power in the political realm, honestly. Not that politicians who are Christians cannot run for office and raise through the ranks, and exercise love and humility in those positions. Frankly, we could probably all appreciate a few more people with the Characteristics of Christ in that realm.

But if your goal is to turn America back into a "Christian nation," may I humbly suggest that you start, not at the ballot box, but with the people around you who are hurting and disenfranchised. Put aside race, religion, sexual orientation, or political beliefs and listen to a story or two. Offer no judgment. Instead, offer understanding and empathy.

If you, as a Christian, find that love difficult to offer, examine how you believe you are Loved by your Creator. Examine how you love yourself. If we are called to love your neighbor as ourselves, and we hate ourselves, we are starting at a pretty rough place. It is worth taking the time to get that sorted out so that we can effectively show the Love of Christ to those around us.

Because at the end of the day, that is every Christian's calling. To love. If we don't have that, then we may be hard pressed to maintain the facade of being followers of Christ.

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Whoops

I just realized that I missed yesterday. Dang it. So close to 100% this year. Oh well. It was a fairly productive/fun day, so I am willing to forgive myself.

I spent a majority of the day going hanging things up on my walls since I've lived in the same place for over two years now and I still had a pile of posters and assorted memorabilia waiting to be displayed. Also got all of my souvenir shot glasses displayed, and at least one corner of my room slightly controlled. Only three left to go.

My goal is to get the whole room worked through, because theoretically I am going to be spending much time here working on school stuff throughout the semester. I am not a HUGE stickler on work environment, but it definitely bugs me to glance around while I'm trying to focus and see multiple things on my to-do list not getting done.

I think my favorite accomplishment of the day - besides having stuff to look at on my walls besides my pretty green paint - is that I finally cleared out the trash can that had been used for storing a number of papers for the last 3 years, and can now be restored to its intended purpose: a trash can for my room. This wildly outpaces the snack-food bags I was using as temporary replacements in both capacity and utility. It seems like a small thing. But I very much appreciate having a receptacle for trash items larger than a used tissue.

This may seem like a fairly odd thing to be super happy about. A trash can is not usually that worthy of note. Yet, I am often fighting against a family tendency to avoid trash cans if at all possible, so having one that is big enough to handle the stuff I would otherwise find excuses to keep is somewhat helpful to me.

I realize that there are still many things that I hold onto irrationally; my bookshelves attest to this, being both used to both hold books and display various keepsakes and collections. But inasmuch as I can, I try and go through stuff every couple of years to ascertain if it is indeed worth saving. Particularly in my current situation, where space is precious, and any extra boxes often end up in the middle of my floor with no place to go. It's much easier to throw/give something away if you haven't seen it in four years and not missed it one time.

It's a slow process, but I am getting there.

In the meantime, pictures of what I did manage to find space for in my life:







Until tomorrow.