For the Love of Others

Today marks five weeks since I have seen my college students in person. Five weeks since I could watch their eyes as they spoke. Five weeks since I could read their body language as they walked into the classroom. Five weeks of me wondering if they are doing ok. If they are in loving and safe environments. If they are keeping in touch with their friends–friends who often have become their chosen family. If they are finding ways to deal with the stress of being an unwilling participant in an historic worldwide pandemic.

I found myself smiling as I watched quiz videos sent to me. I grinned at the familiar careful and deliberate positioning of hands on the piano keys. I giggled as I listened to the tiny mutterings picked up by their phones when a finger slipped to a sour note. I found myself wanting to see their eyes. I need to see how they are doing. I find myself not caring if their hands play smoothly or if their rhythms are correct. I want to know that they feel safe, listened to, seen.

Many of my students live in New York City and surrounding boroughs. Their world has become small. They find themselves practicing in a shared living room. Writing papers on their kitchen tables while dinner is prepared and coffee makers whirr. Trying to do Zoom classes with intermittently stressed internet. This is far from ideal. This is far from what any of us signed up for.

But I don’t hear them bemoaning their loss of mobility or freedoms. Perhaps it is the least of their worries. Perhaps it is because the threat of this new and dangerous virus is right next door. Perhaps it is because they know people personally who have gotten ill, or hospitalized, or even died. They miss going out. They miss their friends. But, they stay home. One’s perspective is greatly influenced by one’s surroundings and experience.

Yet, in the past week I have been hearing the crescendoing drumbeat of the frustrated, the bored, the extroverted, the privileged. They want out of their comfortable homes. They want more space than their nice backyards. They want to shop leisurely at Target, take their children to the playground, and eat out with friends. They want their gyms and their dance classes. They want their church meetings and family trips. They blame the government for imprisoning them inside their homes. They lash out at scientists and experts who repeatedly preach the necessity of social distancing.

I check in daily with some friends on the frontline of this pandemic. I check in to see how they are holding up under the strain. How is my grocery store worker friend doing with the crowds invading her space as she does her best to provide their necessities? How is my medical worker friend doing as staff push aside their own fears to care for the terribly ill? How is that bank teller with lupus doing as she continues to serve us? Are they bemoaning the wearing of masks and stay at home orders? No. None of them. They worry about their own health, their family’s health and the health of coworkers every single day as they do the work that our complainers are protected from.

Does my assessment of those pushing for a return to normal sound harsh? Perhaps. But I still do so unapologetically. Each person I have heard complaining seems focused on themselves. The disruption of their normally busy routines. The loss of normal work environments with beloved coworkers. The frustration of having to entertain young children and repeatedly explain why friends cannot come over. The sense that the government is encroaching on their rights and freedoms.

And each one is a conservative Christian. This is what feels like a gut punch. I have watched people claiming their death of self in service to their God raging against not getting to do what they want to do. I have watched people whose Bible states that the root of all evil is the love of money focus solely on the economic impact of this current reality. I have heard the new gospel of “without work, people will lose all hope” instead of the Gospel of Hope they claim to believe. Is any of the energy spent raging against the government being spent checking up on neighbors, coworkers, friends? Are they checking in on people to be sure they are not feeling hopeless and alone? Are they using all the resources we have at our fingertips to creatively support one another? Are they helping to feed an out of work person nearby? Or supporting a food bank that fills in the gaps left by financial uncertainty?

I have found it terribly troubling that the idea of herd immunity is growing in popularity among these same people. Herd immunity needs (conservatively) 80-95% community immunity to work for the most infectious illnesses. Who are we willing to sacrifice for this? What young person is most expendable? Who would Jesus choose to sacrifice for the good of the economy? And while we wait to meet this enormously high threshold, how many essential employees are involuntarily laid upon that altar? How many healthcare workers?

The inconsistency of when we are to submit to authority (according to the scriptures supposedly held dear) is also troubling. In the early days of the Trump presidency when there were mass protests and many vocal resisters I watched time after time as conservative Christians scolded these individuals. “We must submit to authority!” they preached to those against the unchristlike policies of this government. “Why not pray for your president instead of criticizing?!” (as if the two are mutually exclusive). There was laughter at the waste of time that protesting was deemed to be. Not now. Now there are cheers for the crowds on the Michigan statehouse steps demanding lifted restrictions.

Yet, now the tone taken is one of fighting government overreach. We must not stand by and watch our rights get taken away!!! Shouldn’t we just pray and support our leaders now as you said before? Or is it, as is blatantly apparent, that we support and pray for the leaders whose policies we like while demonizing and claiming righteous anger against those we don’t? Can we not see that happening in this pandemic and the rippling effects of social distancing? Is staying inside our safe and warm homes really that impossible and torturous? Where does the attitude of being a humble servant to others fit in this? Shouldn’t those who follow Christ willingly isolate for the protection of those who do not have that luxury? Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be for the love of all? Even that grocery store checkout person who must help you even when you refuse to wear a mask for their protection. Because–my rights. Because–I don’t live in fear. Because bull. Because selfish and proud.

Social distancing is hard. There is a sense of grief for our former routines lost. Video calls are mediocre substitutes for a live human within arms’ reach. Teaching online is painful for all who miss their classrooms. Counseling by phone is exhausting for those wishing to see their clients face to face. But it is our current reality. We can choose to look for conspiracies and threats to ourselves and our previous way of life. Or we can choose to protect our neighbors, friends, essential workers, and loved ones by listening to the overwhelming evidence that social distancing is our biggest weapon against this virus. We can follow these guidelines to buy time for the researchers. We can give up our browsing through malls to buy time for the vaccine developers. We can wear a cloth mask in public to give the manufacturers of PPE time to equip our medical professionals in the thick of battle. I’m all in on doing our damnedest to avoid the 50 million plus lives lost in the 1918 global pandemic. We now have so many more resources at our fingertips to make surviving this pandemic (alone, but still connected to others) than ever before.

Instead of talking of the threat of mass suicides (with no data to support such claims), why not use this time to make others feel loved, connected, cared for, noticed?  There is no better antidote to depression and suicide that we normal (non-mental health professional) humans can help with than connection and care.  Awareness and love for our neighbors and coworkers, family and friends.  We have extra time.  What is stopping us from such things?

And please, conservative Christian friends, let’s try to return to the core teachings of Jesus and care for the widow, poor, and marginalized. Right now that means less worry about our rights and more about their lives. Lives over money. Lives over inconvenience. Lives over our loss of control.

Questions for One I Once Knew

Dear Trump Supporting Friend,

I have been puzzled for the past few years of your unwavering support for the current occupant of the White House. I was puzzled during the 2016 campaign. But I had hoped it was the novelty of a wildcard in the race. I was saddened by your mean-spirited gloating after his electoral college win. But I had hoped your eyes would soon open to who you actually chose. I’ve been stunned by your refusal to acknowledge verifiable facts. Angered by your smarmy accusations that those who oppose Trump are somehow clueless and blind. But mostly, I’ve just been baffled.

My mind cannot fathom why one who I thought was kind and decent (we are friends after all) would willingly support a man who belittles others for sport. A small man who pokes fun at a teen with Aspergers. A weak man who threatens retribution for any perceived slight. A wealthy man with such a sense of entitlement that there are at least 25 sexual misconduct accusations against him. A serial liar with over 15,413 documented false statements over 1055 days in office (that’s over 14 each day). A crooked man who has been involved in over 4,095 lawsuits (both as plaintiff and as defendant) as of the time he was running for president.

Yet this is the man you champion at every opportunity.

I have heard all your arguments swatting away everything mentioned in the above paragraph. No amount of documentation, cited sources, or verifiable proof will be heard. Can you tell me anything that you have disagreed with him on? And don’t say his tweets, because that is a pathetic cop out. His tweets are a window into his nasty soul. If you defend the man, you must defend the 140 character regurgitations he finds too important to keep to himself.

And there it is. The true source of my heavy heart when thinking of your defense for this man. Your uncanny ability to excuse the most vile words for the sake of judges. For a useless wall. Your laughter at his name calling. Your smiles at his unhinged braggadocio. Your parroting of his lies as if they are gospel truth. While scoffing at fact checkers who tell you you’ve been lied to.

This illuminates a part of your personality that I do not wish to know. And yet, I am glad that I finally do.

Another dark corner of your inner workings that has been illuminated is your choices for news and information. Sure, all sources have some biases. Sure, all sources make mistakes periodically that they must correct. But, you choose to feed at the teat of a propaganda machine designed to infuriate. Designed to create a world of “us verses them”. News personalities that rant and call fellow citizens your enemies are who you are drawn to. Articles and TV personalities that color immigrants as people to be feared speak to you. You say that intelligence agencies cannot be trusted! (Except in the case of the intelligence that supports the impulsive assassination of a foreign General. That intelligence is infallible.) What inside you draws you to such blatant anger and desire to blame and vilify? Are you that scared of difference? Are you that certain that you are right and the majority are wrong?

All other news is called corrupt. Fake. Yet somehow you trust the one source discrediting everyone else. Does this somehow make you feel like you are in the know? Like you are too wise to be mislead by all those historians, scholars, and behind the scenes career public servants? Is that what makes them so trusted? They tell you that you are the smart one for seeing past all the lies of the fact checkers and experts? Does that convince you?

I’m genuinely asking. Because I cannot understand it. What makes you buy their lies? Because, yes, they are lying to you. Every day. Why are the lies better than reality? Why are they easier to accept than verifiable reality?

Those lies also reveal a propensity toward self protection, “me first” thinking that I doubt you would appreciate. Nor do I believe that you would admit to.

But what is “America first” if not a slogan for demanding that you get yours before those other people? I’ve been wondering, Christian friend, where Jesus taught that we should always be sure to protect ourselves first and foremost? Where did Christ teach “us first”? I’ve been puzzled, too, by my friends who love to point to Old Testament teachings to confirm their judgements and legalism. They seem to ignore the command in Leviticus to treat foreign born people as you would a native born. To love them as yourself. (Leviticus 19:33-34 for those who wish to look for themselves) How do you justify this teaching with your chants of “build the wall” and cheers for the muslim travel ban?

Can we please, just this once, sit and question why it is ok to have your political beliefs be opposite those of your faith beliefs? How does that square up in your head? Do you not see it? Is that how your mind makes it all ok? And if you have never noticed this discrepancy before, what will you do now to rectify this puzzling juxtaposition? Will you make excuses for how it is ok that they are in opposition to each other? Or will you allow yourself to meander down the unsettling territory of questioning which beliefs are genuine?

They can’t both be core beliefs. One cannot preach that we are to love and care for the poor, the widowed, the refugee and then champion political policies that take benefits from those poor, remove healthcare, and refuse refugees. One belief is winning in your mind. Which religion do you truly follow? Conservatism? Or Christianity?

Don’t tell me it’s about being fiscally responsible. It’s not. Even if we wish to pretend that the Conservatives have not abandoned that idea years ago, it just doesn’t add up. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) But then there’s this—“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (John 3:17) Do you just not see the children and elderly who are at risk of losing food benefits under this conservatism of yours? Do you not notice the elderly choosing between their groceries and their medicines that medicare won’t cover? Is this ok with your Jesus-following self?

I have never heard you protest the billions spent on military equipment and weaponry. Not once. Yet, I have quite often heard rants of those people on food stamps splurging on an expensive food for a special occasion. How dare those people use your money for a few steaks for their anniversary! Where is this outrage when your money is used to bomb perceived enemies? Can you please point me to the verses where Jesus spoke positively of such violence? In comparison, I can point you in the direction of many, many instances where God’s people are instructed to use their resources for the good of others. Does the constant vilification of the poor in our culture trouble you like it did Jesus? What are you doing about that?

If you are still reading, my Trump supporting friend, I ask that you actually think a while on these questions before reacting. Allow your mind the difficult space to ask if something might be wrong here? Try a week of listening to and reading different news sources. Does that change your perception of current events? Let yourself ask if you have been lied to. And by whom?

But, if your reaction is to defend, deflect, and attack as it has been for the past few years—now you know why our relationship has become strained. Now you know how I see you and your defense of this indefensible man. And his indefensible policies. I see a person who is not the kind and loving human at their core that I thought them to be. And that breaks my heart.


Your grieving friend

Is Anybody Out There?

How does one fall so in line with a political party, leader, or ideology that they become incapable of seeing the contradictions between what they say they believe and what they actively support? Is the propaganda consumed by the Fox and Trump diehard believers so powerful that it turns one’s mind to mush? Does it make one impervious to provable lies and misdirection? Or does a fear of being proven wrong make one incapable of looking in any other direction?

The fact that the American Evangelical Church has continued to be the largest (and most staunch) base of support for our current corrupt administration is no coincidence. There lies an unwelcomeness for introspection, questions, and doubt at the very foundation of this church. One can be forgiven for any number of indiscretions that the Bible contains teachings on. But, if one dares to question whether the loudest evangelical voices might be wrong, an unpardonable sin has been committed. And if one came from an Evangelical tradition yet dared to voice doubts that church teachings and traditions may not be supported by the scriptures that we supposedly base everything on—well, we shall speak of those people no more. I am one of those people. A quick skim through other writings on this page will make that abundantly clear. And the precipitous loss of evangelical friends and acquaintances that coincided with my voiced questions was no accident.

The other day I read a friend’s lament for the callousness and dismissive attitude of our president toward the humans affected by the chaos created by his recent actions (regarding Turkey, Kurds, and Syria). I expectantly watched for Trump apologists to swoop in. It did not take long. The poetically composed cries for loss of life and betrayal of allies was greeted with, “I LOVE President Trump. I thank God that he is finally bringing our American soldiers home….” Only, those soldiers are not coming home. Verifiably not coming home. They have simply moved to a more oil-rich country to protect our ally. You know, the ally responsible for the murder of an American based journalist. The ally responsible for the terrorists that flew planes into our twin towers. Those allies. Not the ally that fought alongside our troops to weaken ISIS into insignificance. That ally was dispensable. That ally is not liked by the nearby strongmen. Now the Kurds are “no angels”. As if to say they have earned their betrayal. (Later edit: since the original writing of this piece, troops have started moving into Iraq also. Again, still not coming home.)

The loudest voice in that conversation was a family member of my friend. I have seen these ugly displays of partisan and trumpian loyalty over concern for their relative’s feelings many times before. I read comment after comment displaying anger, defensiveness, dismissiveness, and arrogance. Like a cornered defendant, excuses changed. The topic at hand kept being altered when no good defense could be made. But never once was there a comment of understanding why my friend would be upset over the loss of innocent life. Never once was there recognition that one claiming the faith of Christianity should be upset over any people being harmed. Heartache over possible ethnic cleansing was somehow seen as naiveté. Somehow the people crying out for justice and care are blind to what is happening. Somehow the family tie is less precious than the defense of a stranger creating destruction in his incompetence.

But, really, why should this surprise me? Many evangelicals see every non-evangelical as lost. Clueless. Blind. Why wouldn’t this attitude splash over into the rest of their lives? This attitude creates a sense of superiority. A sense of exclusivity and pride in finding the one true path. We are the only ones who know the truth. If only those others would listen and follow OUR beliefs, all would be well. Our interpretation of ancient writings is the only true interpretation. Our beliefs are not to be questioned, ever. Me condemning your beliefs, traditions, lifestyle, is all done out of love. Most evangelicals are completely unaware of this paradox of their pride in what they say they are humbled by. But their words and actions show their unseen hand.

But, I suppose this cult-like defense of a politician, a party, a despicable man, should not surprise me at all. It is simply a bastardized extension of a mind convinced that it knows the Truth. A mind certain that God is who they say even though they cannot prove it. After all, isn’t faith all about the unseen, the unprovable, the unexplainable? But–caution to those who dare to ask about the unanswerable, the unprovable. Those people are blinded by the Evil One. Their questions could not possibly be because their mind does not function in a concrete, black and white world. Could they? Some minds dance in the grey. Some people love the beauty of the unexplainable, the unknown, the “what ifs”. And if God is as big as Evangelicals say, shouldn’t those grey dancers be ok too? Shouldn’t Evangelical’s faith hold up to questions? If it is based in irrefutable fact it should.

But therein lies the rub. The “one true way” is claimed by many faiths. The core beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan (need I go on?) are remarkably similar. Love. Care for others. Generosity. Something out there that is bigger than us. And yet, for Evangelicals, this paragraph is a heresy.

The fact that human history is strewn with the bodies of those who disagreed with the chosen faith of the day (or of the region) should in and of itself foster a spirit of caution and a willingness to question our “rightness” in all things. Would we be willing to die over an unprovable belief? Would we be willing to kill over it? Should we? Would we be willing to become estranged from loved ones over it? Would we consider others inferior or lost? Should we?

There is a strength in one being willing to say “I don’t know” or “I could be wrong.” There is a humility in admitting that we didn’t see the whole picture before. That we were wrong. It is commendable to be willing to listen to new facts that emerge. To voices that speak differently than our own. To allow ourselves uncertainty. Is there a blind spot in my world view? In my never-faltering defense of a fallible human? In my unwillingness to look critically at my faith?

There is strength in one’s faith if one can still believe something while acknowledging that there are contradictions and ugliness alongside the beauty and traditions. There is such depth in the grey. Such love and freedom in those shades.

But we can never see the grey if we only listen to those who paint in strict black and white. We can never learn we might be wrong if we block out the voices that differ from our own. We can never know we have been lied to if we cover our ears to all other voices. (Are you listening, Fox viewers?)

The world of American Evangelicalism holds much responsibility for the atrocities and corruption of our current Presidential administration. They provide cover. They parrot excuses. They mock those who disapprove of the current political climate of “us before them”. Isn’t that the opposite of Christ’s teachings? They create an assumed political affiliation without examining the wildly unscriptural reality of such a political marriage. Politics have no place in the church–except for conservative Republican politics. Those are ordained by God himself. But, please, do not ever say those words out loud! The church does not have a political affiliation! We just hate the Democrats. And the Socialists. They are all lost.

All of the above words are written with a sense of heavy-heartedness. Of sadness for kindness and compassion lost. Grief for the beloved leader of my youth swirling in the muck of the loyal trumpian sycophant. I am pained by the vitriol spewed from the mouths of those claiming the name of Christ (the One who is to be the purist example of love to have ever existed). I am saddened over relationships severed due to an “us verses them” mentality. It stings to be called hateful for crying out for those with no voice. I am at a loss over the willingness of so many to choke down the lie that all other revelations are fake news but those that align with my politics/religion/opinions.

But really, my biggest question is: Is anybody listening? Anybody out there?

Homeless and Happy

I have neglected this space for a while. I have enjoyed the quiet in my mind and ears. No voices calling me a heretic. No fingers pointing out perceived faults. No pious pronouncements that I am wrong. It’s nice here.

I now see clearly what all those unchurched people find appealing. Freedom. Lack of willing external judgement. Permission to use my brain without fear of asking the wrong question. No one has the right to tell me my voice should remain quiet for fear of causing someone else to stumble. (Am I really that powerful? Are you really that weak?) No man can tell this woman that she should stop speaking forcefully about things deserving passion. (It is strictly by chance that some were born with penises and some without, but all were born with brains.)

Now I seek out those who wish to discuss philosophical positions and religious wanderings with abandon. Not abandonment of opinion, beliefs, and worldview. But abandonment of the drive for control over others. Abandonment of the dream for sameness and uniformity. Instead I have found acceptance for difference. I have found welcome for unique personalities and gifts. Those with little boxes to stuff others in need not apply.

It’s messy here. Rainbow colored and shades of grey. All stirred up in a stew of humanity’s poop.  But it’s real.  Genuine.  Divine.

There are generous atheists. There are loving Christians (the real ones that follow their namesake and not an established political movement). Hard working poor people. Caring teachers that befriend the outcast. Families that adore their transgendered son. Friends who love and accept their opinionated and difficult pal. Mentors who never give up on their addicted charges. There are many, many who have no idea what they believe about life’s greater meaning (or if there is one). And that’s okay.

I lived my life steeped in the traditions and beliefs of the American evangelical church.  Their roots run deeper than I had ever imagined or desired.  My stance on all controversial subjects was assumed.  My treatment of others prescribed.  My responses scripted by generations past.  

Except not.  I never fit in their tidy box.  I dared to ask why.  I always preferred tangible support of others rather than preaching at them.  I’ve always found life more enjoyable with an eclectic mix of personalities, backgrounds, and viewpoints.  

This is diametrically opposed to the vast majority of the white American evangelical church.  I’ve never sat in a pew within eyesight of more than four people of color.  I’ve never witnessed the jeans and t-shirt clad working poor accepted at the same level of importance as the well dressed engineer, the professor, the business owner.  Why is that?  Aren’t we all equal in God’s eyes?  

I’ve never seen an openly gay person or couple hugged and invited to sit.  I’ve never seen any openly gay people in my churches, period.  They are there.  Of this I have no doubt.  But they cannot be seen for who they truly are without fear of judgement, banishment, or being viewed as someone’s project to fix.   And yet I still haven’t found any examples of Jesus doing any such things to the LGBT of his time.  It’s almost like that wasn’t of vital importance to Him.  And please don’t insult us all by pretending that that diverse community hasn’t always been around.  There were ancient Greek myths written about same sex pairs.  Five genders are recognized in Native American culture.  Nothing new here.  The LGBT community has not been created by Hollywood liberals or cultural indoctrination.

Since I have stepped away from the organized church, I have been largely ignored and, in some cases, vilified.  I have lost friends (or should that moniker  be in quotes?).  One dearly loved person who used to hug me upon our meeting now barely makes eye contact.  Sad.  However, I am not surprised.  There are few who garner more disdain than those who were once in the evangelical fold but choose to walk away.  We are the untouchables.  We are to be pitied for our wayward state. Lost causes.  We are to be avoided for fear of a well behaved Christian catching our ick.   We cause heartache to well-meaning loved ones who cannot understand nor accept our journey.

Walking away from organized churches does not automatically equate to thumbing one’s nose at God.  Sometimes it does.  But, quite frequently, we still study scripture.  We still ponder the life and example of Jesus.  We still have deep conversations with fellow pilgrims on this journey.  We just don’t wish to be a part of the evangelical world anymore.  We are willing to compare other belief systems to see what is similar.  Why all the fighting over such similar tenets of faiths?  Why not just let God sort it all out?  Discuss and disagree, but listen and think.  

I can’t help but wonder why more Christians (those real ones who follow the life and example of Jesus) don’t do the same.  I am not calling for a mass exodus from our churches.  But I am requesting more questioning of what those churches are there for and then behaving accordingly.  

Why is there so much focus on grand buildings to be used once or twice a week?  Are these palaces the best use of resources?  Is that the example written down from Jesus’s time?  Does this formal environment encourage relationships with other pew fillers?  Does it foster deep friendships of support and love?  Does it create a nurturing space to share our failings, frustrations, and weaknesses?  A place to come for help in times of trouble?  Or does it do the exact opposite? Are we encouraged by long-standing, unspoken rules to appear happy, strong, and in control at all times? Do we get the side eye if we admit doubts?  Do whispers trail the downtrodden, the broken,  the lonely, the overwhelmed?  Is that what Jesus taught us to do?

The church loves to claim openness.  Acceptance.  Welcome to all.  We are all sinners!  Come one, come all and we will love you like Jesus did!  But how is that in practice?  Is acceptance what would be felt by the promiscuous teen who came to youth group with a friend?  Is the abstinence only, absolutely-nothing-besides-hand-holding-until-marriage philosophy taught going to make them feel welcomed?  Or shamed and unworthy?  Unable to attain such a high standard?  And how realistic is it in a time where marriages are happening later in life?  How many of the adults in the room followed this model?  Is the teaching based on scripture or the desire to control?  Or a redo by proxy of one’s own youth?

Does the church’s stated welcome include those who were once in the fold and have run away?  How many members reach out to those who have gone?  Just to check in as humans?  Not as a project to be brought back into the fold.  Just because they are a friend who still deserves love.  Do we ask what happened?  Do we actually listen and learn? Did the church push them away?

I have read numerous articles written by well-meaning christians bemoaning the exodus of people from churches.  It is blamed on our culture.  It is Hollywood’s fault.  Liberal colleges and their high falutin’ thinking/brainwashing are the issue.  Are they?  Or should the church look inward for the catalyst for all those feet walking out the door?  

Should the church ask how they are perceived for the unflinching support of a corrupt political party and leaders? Not just support, but quite vocal justification for why  immoral leaders are chosen by God (but only if from the correct party).  Should the church wonder why people have a problem with them claiming the high ground while selling their collective soul for political power and position?

Should the church wonder how the poor see love for them from the church members who drive by in their cars worth more than their paltry year’s pay?  Those same members who bemoan “their taxes” being used to support the dishonest and lazy rabble.  Should the church wonder how they can square up their hoarding of resources while neighbors go without adequate food and send their children to school in threadbare coats? 

There are churches out there doing all they can to feed, clothe, and support their less fortunate neighbors.  I applaud them.  But, to be brutally honest, they typically aren’t evangelical.  My experience has been much derision of the focus on social justice by churches.  Those churches have lost their focus on the gospel.  Those churches are just like country clubs.  

Or, perhaps those churches choose to focus on the example of Jesus for their life’s mission.  Jesus continually reached out to the marginalized.  He fed a crowd without asking why they hadn’t thought ahead to bring food.  He was close to women of questionable moral standing.  He allowed doubt and failures without judgement.  Recall that He allowed Thomas to see and feel for himself the crucifixion wounds–without rebuke.  Recall that He still trusted Peter after being denied three times by him. He loved.  And His love was tangibly demonstrated time and time again.  

So I choose to continue on my quest to see, accept, and love all I come in contact with.  Because I believe that this is the true core of the message of Jesus.  Love.  He said it Himself when declaring that the greatest commandment was to love.  All rules fall away.  All man made status dissolves.  All judgements cease.  Love.  Even when we can’t understand the life choices.  Love.  Even when they live in a way we just don’t get.  Love.  Even when that means we lose all sense of control over another. (We never had it to begin with anyway).

This type of love is unspeakably difficult.  This love is countercultural.  This love is crazy and will at times be taken advantage of.  But this love doesn’t harden or give up.  This love is cultivated and intentional.  

I will fail regularly.  I will regret chances missed, words un-retractable.  But I must try.  Because this is the love that multitudes were drawn to.  This is the love that can change hateful hearts.  This is the love that can give hope to the hopeless.  This is the love that  climbs down into the pit of despair to sit beside someone until they can both climb out together.  

I don’t have concrete answers anymore like I used to believe I did.  The world is much more nuanced than that.  People are far more complex than the black and white columns churches divide them into.  Problems are more multifaceted than simply trying to “have more faith”.  Solutions are more diverse than “pray about it” or “God provides”.  

And I finally, honestly, deeply, (and without an agenda), accept and love others.  Some roots of toxic evangelicalism still hold fast if I act or speak  reflexively.  But I will keep digging them up.   I will keep striving toward love.  The real kind.  The kind that we from a christian background claim is like Christ.  (That guy we say we wish to be like)

Seems like a good goal to have.  I think I’ll live here for a while.







The Ragweed Parable

Years ago I started gardening around the entrance to my house.  Begrudgingly.  It was strictly to make our home more presentable.  Not for any joy or love.  Because I had to.  I couldn’t have the neighbors thinking that I didn’t care about my home.  And it looked…ok.

But then, one summer something changed in my approach to those growing little green things.  To this day I cannot explain it.  I began to love the way they reacted to different light.  I was fascinated by the transformation of  perennials throughout the growing season.  I adored the bees and butterflies they attracted.  My garden began to expand.  More sod was torn up.  More trips to the nursery for new specimens.

I looked at magazines.  Read gardening books.  Paged through catalogs for the  latest cultivars.  I spent my days hunched over, pulling weeds.  Kneeling to examine insect damage.  Carefully tending my lovelies.  Moving flowers to a new location when I saw that they were not thriving.

I talked gardening to anyone who also tended the earth.  I quizzed them about their fertilizing protocol, their watering regimen, and their bloom successes.  I listened to those who had been doing this for years.  They had to know, just because of sheer hours spent in the dirt.  Right?

But sometimes they were wrong.  Sometimes a fertilizer burned the plant it was meant to feed.  Sometimes a plant was perfectly healthy in the shade where they said it would not survive.  Sometimes I was told to give up on a particularly weedy area because it would never work as a garden.

I loved stopping at a local flower farm to quiz the master gardeners that owned it.  They were elderly, wrinkled from years spent outside, and always had dirt under their nails.  They were walking treasure troves of information and experience.  The husband was also a little crusty at times.  But I loved talking with him, walking through the gardens, and choosing potted plants.  I listened to his advice about what plants would do well under trees, when to trim shrubs, and what to do with struggling ferns during a drought.

Then one summer, I decided to create a trail through the trees between our house and the neighbor’s.  It was a rambling little walking path surrounded by shade plants.  There was no plan.  I just chose the turns according to the trees and shape of the land.  This lack of plan is how I ended up in a large patch of wild roses.  I went to my master gardener friend for advice.   He advised me to just avoid that area.  Wild roses are invasive and cannot be conquered.  He suggested that I would forever be fighting them and should not frustrate myself.

But he didn’t know how stubborn I was.  He didn’t know how much I wanted that curve in the trail.  He didn’t know how many hours I was willing to dig out root after root after root.  He didn’t know the satisfaction I’d feel in finding the “mother root” as he called it.  It was a fist-sized gnarled knot that required a hatchet.  That area of the trail eventually became my favorite section.

A few years after discovering that my master gardener friend was not perfect in his advice, I planted a vegetable garden and tossed in some cosmos seeds to attract  bees.  I always enjoyed the delicate leaves of these happy flowers, but I had never planted them.  They looked so dainty as their little ferny greenery developed.  I anxiously waited for the buds to set.  This was a color that I had never seen before.  Would it be as gorgeous as the picture on the seed packet?

I noticed that one of the plants grew faster and sturdier than the rest.  That was fascinating!  Why was that?  Hmmm.  Then, as the buds developed, I noticed that the shape of the baby flowers was different on the odd plant.  Curious.

As a side note—I was severely allergic to ragweed.  I had allergy shots for years to eliminate the yearly flu-like days and weeks I suffered until heavy frost killed that evil weed.  It was my nemesis.  I despised it.  I knew what it looked like.  I would never allow one to survive in my yard.

But, when I noticed the different buds on that larger than normal cosmos I decided to look for a picture of the dreaded ragweed.  Just to be sure I really knew.  To my surprise, I noticed a striking resemblance to the large plant I had nurtured all season.

I hadn’t known what ragweed looked like after all!   I felt foolish for weeding around the textbook specimen that invaded my flowers.  My husband and I (who is also allergic to ragweed) laughed and laughed about my cultivated allergen.  It was unceremoniously yanked from the ground and tossed in a bucket for the city to pick up.  While it sat in that five gallon pail  awaiting the monthly pickup, it bloomed!  In a bucket.  With no dirt.  With no care.  It bloomed!  Evil plant!

I may have mumbled under my breath at it each time it came into my line of sight.

I couldn’t resist sharing my stupid care of the evil weed with my master gardener friend.  He smiled and said, “You learn gardening as you go.”  He then pointed his long finger toward the lush trumpet vine swallowing a trellis and said, “If I had known how nasty these things were 30 years ago, I never would have planted this thing.  We learn by trial and error.”

Now I can identify a ragweed plant at the earliest stages of its development.  I will not be fooled again.  Live and learn.

Tonight, as I tossed another of that dreaded weed into the wheelbarrow, I thought of  lessons learned in the dirt.   I thought of the years I spent living by the code of what others said Christianity was.  Following the rules passed down generation to generation.  Listening to the giants of the faith.  They had to know what it meant to be Christian just by sheer number of years spent as one.  Right?

But, what I see so often displayed by those who profess the loudest, preach the most forcefully, and judge the harshest is…ragweed.

All those years I assumed I knew what ragweed looked like.  I listened to some outdoorsy people who thought they could describe it.  Some were not clear and I misunderstood.  Some were describing something entirely unrelated.  The result was the same.  Both did not help me identify the real plant.

I finally discovered what ragweed was when I went searching on my own.  I looked for pictures.  Many pictures.  Pictures of young plants.  Pictures of blooming plants.  Pictures of enormous plants.  Pictures of plants mutated by their environment.  All slightly different yet all equally toxic to me.  Now I know.

The past few years has been troubling to see just how much ragweed there is amongst the cosmos.  Some  appear inviting, yet sicken others when a crosswind blows.    Some blend in beautifully with the cosmos, until you breathe too deeply and find yourself wracked with sneezes.  You may try to live peacefully with the ragweed for a time; stubbornly working along as if it wasn’t there.  But I always found that it sapped my energy and weakened my desire to be among the flowers.  Best to avoid the garden when ragweed is in full bloom.

I’ve tried pulling it from the ground.  It’s roots are shallow, after all.  But it inevitably comes back somewhere else.  It grows in nearly any soil.  It prefers neglected and infertile ground.  Ground where the patient and tender care of a gardener has not toiled.  It grows wherever its seeds fall unless an attentive and loving hand nurtures the delicate blooms around it instead.

We are past time in our churches (and, truly, in our culture as a whole) from allowing the ragweed to overshadow the cosmos.  We need to nurture the loving, the welcoming, the inclusive, the generous, the kind.  The self-protectionist, the self-centered, the angry, the judgmental, the proud must be uprooted and exposed for the false specimens they are.

Our environment should be one of beauty and grace.  We need to stop allowing people to claim the irritation they cause is because the Bible says we will be misunderstood and attacked.  So very, very often the hurt and pain caused by the professed protector of the faith is really just their toxic selves cloaked in godliness and spirituality.  Deep wounds are not caused by God.  But a multitude of gashes have been inflicted in His name.

I am uncertain if I will return to the church someday.  My soul feels defeated when watching “Christians” defend  rejecting refugees. I feel deflated when I hear them argue the virtues of making the lives of the poor harder.  I feel ill when they turn a blind eye to children separated from their parents at the border.  And I can’t even begin to accept the demonization of the LGBTQ community when Jesus himself never uttered a word about it.   I have no interest in the side-eye from longtime members when they see me.  (There’s that one who asks too many questions.  The heretic.  The blasphemer.  The bleeding heart liberal.)  

In the meantime, I suppose I will do my best to nurture the cosmos.  And the lilies.  And the sunflowers.  And the roses.  And the odd cactus or two.  I will study and ask questions of the Master Gardener.  I have found a love for all the glorious creations in the garden.  Not out of obligation or to please the neighbors.  Love.  That one big rule that Jesus actually left us with.  Love.

And maybe some day  the ragweed will  be overshadowed by all the glorious blooms around it.




The Sand Beneath My Feet

A friend asked yesterday, “How did things get so broken?” after witnessing a Facebook exchange on how to deal with the tragedy of school shootings.

How indeed.

There are so many people screaming at each other that they have the answers, and they have the memes and talking points to prove it!  Maybe if this brilliant thought goes viral, I can unlock the key to all the solutions!  Or maybe I just wish to backhand a “friend” who irritated me with their silly views.

But where are the people with listening ears?  Where are the courageous and curious souls willing to read that article from a differing viewpoint?  Where are the humble souls willing to say, “It’s possible I’ve had it wrong before.”  Who are the leaders willing to sit and listen.  Really listen.

My blog has been silent now for months.  That is by design.  My mind has not stopped pondering. My ideas and questions are still there.  I’ve not lost my drive to implore people to ponder bigger questions.   But, really, what is the point?  To add to the cloud of unheard voices feels…depressing.

Don’t for a moment buy that I have been a paragon of virtue in this pursuit of listening to understand.  There have been people who angered me to the point of slapping back.  There are falsehoods that I have been unable to scroll by without offering a snarky retort.  There are times when my inner voice speaks through my fingers before my brain scans the bigger picture.   The sarcasm runs deep in this one, and she likes to use it.

But, it is now past time for kindness and consideration to overrule stubbornness.  It is past time to insist that our facts are facts when someone proves otherwise.  It is time to accept that different opinions may have things to teach us.   It is time to admit that some things are unknowable.  It is long past time to accept that the greater good, the atmosphere of our community, matters more than insisting we are right.  Are we really so proud that we can’t even imagine that we may have bought lies unwittingly?  We can’t all have the best brain.  We can’t be infallible.  Are we so certain of the foundation of our beliefs that we need not even consider other possibilities?  It’s a big world out here.  There are people smarter, more educated, and with more expertise, than us.

Or perhaps certainty of our rightness is not the core reason for digging in our heels and covering our ears.  Perhaps we are afraid.  Afraid that we may be wrong.  Afraid that admitting our mistakes would be terribly embarrassing.  Afraid to acknowledge that we’ve never actually looked deeply into many things we say we believe.

I caution you to proceed with the following recommendation with some wariness (or even a little trepidation).  Examine and question your beliefs.  All of them.  Questioning our beliefs– if they are real; if they are correct; if they stand the test; is frightening territory.  Not knowing the ending chapters to that mystery is unsettling.  Often times painful.  Uncertain days will lie ahead.

If you are unwilling to take the time and mental and emotional energy to consider the very real possibility that you might be wrong, then don’t.  We all have that right.  Sometimes we need to just float along the surface for our own health and sanity.  Sometimes we need to watch puppy videos and giggle at Pinterest fails.

But, might I suggest, we are missing out on so much if we stay in our comfy inner tube and never risk diving in.  We miss the wild flailing as waves knock us under, yes.  We miss the frantic search for daylight and air after getting flipped around under water.  But, then we also miss digging our toes into the sand too. We miss feeling particles as old as the earth under our feet.  And that is worth the turmoil.

I have spent roughly the past year or two intentionally questioning my beliefs.  Are the things I was taught in Sunday school true?  Are the nuggets of wisdom repeated generation after generation really the core teachings of Jesus?  Or are they a mashup of opinions, biases, and thoughts, of old teachers?   Are the tenets of faith so vehemently defended by the loudest and most stern voices really what are the most important lessons of Jesus’ life?

Are the predominant political views of those claiming Christian faith correct?  Do they line up with the teachings of Christ?  Do the things that anger us?  Upset us?  Grieve us?

The journey is not complete and, I suspect, will never be 100% concrete in all facets of faith and life.  Questioning means we need to accept change, expect change, embrace change.   I have reached some conclusions that change everything in my life.  Because perspective changes everything.

We who grow up in the evangelical tradition are taught that we are to be different from our culture.  We are to forge a clearly different path than those who don’t believe.  But do we?  No.  We don’t  Not in the areas that matter most.  Not in the areas that were modeled directly through the life and words of Jesus.

Jesus reached out to people who lived on the fringes of society.  He ate with them.  He touched them.  He told others to love them (recall the story of the good Samaritan in the book of Luke 10).  He fed them (the miraculous feeding of the crowd is a Sunday school favorite).  He lived simply.  He rejected political power.

The American church that I see speaks of love very well.  But when it comes to demonstrating love, I must confess, my agnostic friends do as well if not better.  I have watched them spearhead campaigns for the rights of others.  I have seen them clothe someone else’s children.  Open their homes and hearts to distressed and difficult teens.  Not bat an eye at a goth kid with a septum piercing.  And one of the most beautiful examples I have observed is a rag tag group of friends who created their own family of support and love.  They are all different personalities, all different temperaments, even different ages.  But they love.  They share their lives regularly.  They eat together, go to events together.   They accept each other–annoying quirks and all.  The way we Christians are supposed to.  But do we?  I have been a part of many small groups through my years in the church.  Not one group has made me feel completely and unconditionally loved.  Not one group has known much about my life, nor I of theirs.  We didn’t spend time together outside of Bible studies.  We never really knew each other’s children.  I never felt completely comfortable to speak up when my thoughts differed because when I did I was nearly always quieted or shot down.

This is not to say that Christians don’t do any of the above things.  Some do them very well.  But what I see more often than not is that those things come with strings attached.  I will love you if you come to church with me.  I will feed you if you let me pray publicly for you.  I will give you a warm coat if you promise to …. (fill in the blank).   I will accept you as a friend as long as you think and act in an approved manner.  What I then observe is disappointment, disapproval, even resentment if the generosity is not recognized or unspoken rules not followed.   To me, this does not appear to be different at all than the culture we rage against. Do and say the things I find acceptable and I will care for you.  If not, you may be on your way.  This does not seem like unconditional, Christlike love to me.

When Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one of them returned to thank him.  The rest just happily ran off.  When this story is told in churches it is often used as an illustration of how we must show gratitude.  But is it?  Jesus made a point to say that the one man who came back to thank him was a foreigner, a Samaritan.  The very people that were culturally unacceptable.  Jesus used that man as an example.  Could He have been trying to tell us that we have much to learn from those different than us?  That even our enemies can make good choice?  Could He have been telling us to not assume we know people or how they will react?  Could He be telling us to care for all people regardless of background, faith, status or outcome?

I am passionate about caring for the poor and neglected.  I make no apologies for beating that drum every single day.  And I need to tell you that the people who break my heart on a regular basis in their dealings with the poor are the American evangelical church.   I’ve had people argue that clothing school children is just enabling bad parents.  If those parents can buy cigarettes and tattoos they can buy sneakers for their kid!  Yes.  Yes they can (…maybe).  But, it is not the child’s fault when they don’t.  And nowhere in scripture do I see evidence of a mandate to help only the responsible poor.  (Which, by the way,  seems to be an oxymoron in a majority of American Christian’s eyes).  This is where Christ’s teaching hits its core.  Love God, love others.  This is where the example of Jesus was countercultural.  And this is where the American church is so very very wrong.   Help.  Meet needs.  Love.  Not only for those who never buy drugs or alcohol.  Not only for the loving parents.  Not only for the clean.  Not only for those who listen to us.  All.

What is the difference between poor oversees and poor in our backyard?  There is an ocean of difference in the way many Christians talk and think about them.  Many Christian homes have a picture or two on their fridge of someone they sponsor oversees.  They are pleased to hear progress and updates about these people.  They are proud of their financial part in making their lives better.  They do not ask questions about what led to their sponsored person being poor.  They do not ask about parenting, drug use, abuse.  Do we fool ourselves into thinking those problems don’t exist in third world countries?  Are we playing the savior to these poor, lost, and clueless souls in our own minds?  While tsk tsk-ing the poor, lost, clueless souls we can actually see and touch in our own community?

We need look no further than the example of Franklin Graham to see this mental and moral disconnect.  He is the head of a Christian international aid organization.  Among other things, his organization helps make sure disaster victims have food, shelter, and medical attention.  They have set up medical tents for refugees and delivered supplies to camps.  Wonderful!  Yet at the same time, after touring refugee camps in the middle east, he is speaking into his large megaphone that we need to close our borders.  Think of our citizens first.  For our safety.  Are those seeking safety and asylum here not the same people in the photo op oversees?  He claims it is not a faith issue.  Isn’t all of life a faith issue?  Can anyone point me to the story where Jesus talked about His safety?  Where is the teaching on putting ourselves first?

THIS is where the church should stand out.  THIS is where there should be so much contrast  to the rest of the culture that there is no denying that something is radically different about those who follow Jesus.  Instead, I see fear of the refugee.  Fear of the immigrant.  Fear of the homeless and poor.  Fear of judgment from others for getting too close to the messiness of life.  Fear of anything or anyone who may invade our protective bubble.  Fear of questions.  Fear of uncertainty.  Fear of being wrong.  Scorn for the possibility of enabling a less than “worthy” person.

But who decides who is less than worthy?  I thought that we loved to quote “For God so loved the world…”  Doesn’t “world” include everyone?  Even the refugee?  Even the smelly poor parent who doesn’t take proper care of their child?  Even the gay person? Even the alcoholic?  Even the scared woman considering abortion?  Or the girl who already had an abortion?  Even the screwup that keeps coming back to the food pantry after spending all her money elsewhere?

Yes, you purists who haven’t given up in disgust by now–I know the rest of the above verse.  I know that it speaks of Jesus being the savior of the world.  I know it speaks of people choosing to follow Jesus to find life.  But I can’t help but wonder how many people would want to follow a Jesus who only chose to love refugees from a vast and safe distance.  How many people’s lives would be impacted by a Jesus who only gave to the poor single mom but not the poor addicted man?  Isn’t that man part of “the world”?  Isn’t the woman in the hijab just as loved by God as the missionary?  Isn’t the gay couple just as loved by God as your own children?  What if they are your children?  Does the definition of God’s  love change then?

You see, I don’t believe it was an accident that Jesus used the example of the Samaritan.  It was no accident that he had lowly, working class people in his group of closest friends.  It was no accident that he befriended prostitutes.  No accident that he ate with sinners and crooked tax collectors.  He was teaching by example for those who would learn of Him later.  Just like parents whose children imitate us, He wants us to imitate Him.

That is difficult.  Insanely difficult at times.  I find lovable people more…lovable.    I want to be sure my resources and time are best served.  I love to be in control.  But, as one who claims to follow Jesus’s example, I don’t get to decide who to love.  All the world.  All.  Even those who hate me.  Even those who live, believe, and behave differently than me.  Even those who will only take from me and disappear.  Even those who may be dangerous.  And I don’t get to tell them what they must do in return.  I don’t get to condemn them.  I don’t get to feel superior to them.

Didn’t the early followers of Jesus end up being led by the man named Paul?  Many current day Christians actually seem to  prefer his teachings over Christ’s (but that’s another topic).  And yet that man had been a persecutor of them before then.  Saul had taken pleasure in trying to destroy the followers of Christ as a way of keeping his religion pure.  He was being pious and godly (he thought).  But God changed him (and renamed him Paul) and made him a key player in His church for all of history.  Is our current day God smaller than that? Is He not capable of turning would-be terrorists of us into alibis and leaders for us?  So why so afraid of Muslims?  Of Hispanics?  Of “others”?  Church, why no different than our culture in this area?

Why is the Church so tied to one particular political party?  Why are the Church leaders seeking power and influence in the political arena?  Didn’t Jesus teach by example when he rebuffed the calls to become the political  king?  It had to be flattering to have followers tell Him that He would be a great king!  But he wholeheartedly rejected accepting political power.  He was here to teach, to love, to guide.  He was never here to rule.  The church seems to have lost the ability to copy Him on that one.  Humility and service.  Not power and dominion.

So, what do all of these thoughts and realizations have in common?  They are all the results of allowing myself to ask questions.  They are more meaningful facets of genuine faith that I never would have come to if I had not risked being wrong.  If I had stayed in my comfy inner tube I would never have seen the pain in the eyes of the Christian woman who  regularly feels she is out of line for wondering if Jesus really stood for…..(fill in the blank of hot button topics).   If I had not been bruised by the waves crashing on me, I would never have looked at poverty from a completely different, and refreshingly nonjudgmental, perspective.  If I had not known the panic of searching for the sky while my lungs burned I would not have been able to put my arm around my unsettled friend and say (with deep sincerity), “I understand.  It hurts.  It’s lonely.  You will upset friends.  You will upset family.  You will upset you.  But you will not upset God.  Ask.  Wonder.  Doubt.”  And my friend can take comfort in knowing that I found my way to the sand beneath my feet.  My toes are digging into the ancient earth.  The sand still shifts.  But now I know that it’s okay.




Epic Fail: The Prequel

I’d like to tell you a little story about my last post entitled “Epic Fail”.   Maybe this will help those who are confused to understand my decision to share such a painful and troubling experience.  What good could it possibly do?

This is not the first time we have walked away from a church.  In all my years I had never considered leaving a church family until we found ourselves being pushed out the door in a previous home.  We had been key leaders.  We had our hard work, time, gifts, and financial resources supporting nearly every ministry there.  For over twelve years.  And we were pushed out.

To this day, I cannot clearly answer why that was done to us.  I can say that we were definitely not the first family that was treated in that way there.  So, in that regard, I should not have been surprised.  The pain should not have been as deep as it was.  The dark days that followed should not have been so black.

But, being human, it was a dreadful time for our family.  And yet, we chose to leave silently.  We decided that we did not wish to stir up any divisions by stating what had been done to us.  We chose to let people believe that our moving to a new home was the reason for our exit.  Happy happy church joy for all that way.

I now question that decision.  Were the friends left behind in the unhealthy environment served by our silence?  Was the leadership who chose to behave in this way given a chance to grow through our quiet departure?  No.  Clearly, no.

So, our family has found themselves at a difficult crossroads again.  This time we chose to speak.  This time I chose to write.  This time I had hoped that maybe it could be a learning experience for all involved.

For those who have expressed concern for our family and for me personally, I thank you.  It has been truly touching.  Know that it was never my aim or desire.  But support and care displayed is never a bad thing.

For those who worry about my soul being lost, my faith in God destroyed, or in me becoming some angry atheist–please do not worry.  I am not lost.  My faith in my God is strong.  My desire to follow the life and teaching of Christ is still very much my goal.

For those dying to know what exactly happened–um, nope.  Those who need to know, do.  Those who don’t, won’t.  We have addressed every bit of the problem in the best way we know how.  We have followed scriptural teachings in doing so and are now ready to just rest and heal.

But my reason for writing about this is in hopes that this very personal example might illustrate the problems I have been writing about since I started my blog.  Actually, I have been talking and writing about some of these problems for many years.  Maybe this time people in the greater evangelical church might listen?  Maybe this time people will ask themselves the questions that I pose?  Maybe now they’d look and see that it is not just my lone voice screaming in the wind?

I must admit that I have been shocked by the amount of response to these words.  I have said nothing earth-shatteringly new.  I have written many times before of nearly everything in this post.  I have consistently asked questions of the American evangelical church that I believe need to be asked.  I have consistently pointed out hypocrisy, contradictions, blind spots, and weaknesses.

Is it because this time I actually said I have had enough?  Is it the fact that I blatantly point out that some of those “other church” issues are actually present in my own?  Is it because my family’s health is more important to me than the potential bruised feelings of a few?  I hate to break it to anyone who might doubt it—but all churches have a messy underbelly.  All churches have wounded people.  All churches have people who hurt others.  All churches have some people who think they have all the answers.  All churches have some people who judge those who are different.  Because all churches are filled with people.  Imperfect, fallible, struggling people.  Don’t believe anyone who would tell you differently.

You may not have noticed, but my name is nowhere on my blog.  You may not notice, but the church I’ve attended is never  mentioned by name.  The personal stories I include are altered just enough to protect those whose stories are important to tell (while protecting the very real humans behind them).

This is on purpose.  This is very much for a reason.  I don’t need anyone to really know who wrote the words.  I don’t need anyone to be able to pat me on the back.  I don’t wish my family to be attacked (or have any other ripple effect caused) because of my words.

I want for those who read to be able to put themselves in the middle of whatever topic I write about.  I want you to be able to say “she’s talking to me!” when you see words of support.  I want you to ask “have I ever done or said that?!” when I point toward our common Christian stumblings.  I want you to sit and think, “does any of this happen in my church?”  “Have I been guilty of causing hurt in others because of how I express my faith?”

I write out of love for my God, my faith, my community, and my church.  I do not write to attack.  If you see things that way, I cannot change that.  Instead I would ask you to question why you believe I am attacking you.

I have been surprised by how many non-church-going, non-christians read my blog.  It is humbling.  It is sobering.  It is a huge responsibility in my eyes.  I write to them.  I write for them.  I write to show them that we are all messed up.  That the “perfect church people” who’ve hurt them are not perfect.  That the only perfect example of love and grace is Jesus Christ.  The one who we Christians take our title from.  The one we claim to follow is the one who needs to be looked to when people are jerks.

The one who chose grace and forgiveness over judgement and condemnation is the one who should be heard.  Not the loud, ugly voices of church people on tv.  Not the protestors with signs condemning gays.  Not the protestors with signs condemning women outside clinics.  Not the one making excuses for a morally bankrupt president.  Not the ones asking for money so you might be blessed.  Not the ones who have hurt me personally.

The one who told the crowd to put their stones down rather than kill a woman who messed up.  The one who loved the unlovable, touched the untouchable, scolded the unteachable.  That one.  That’s the example to follow.

And, as I have so very often before, I will quote His words once more.  If I could have them tattooed across my forehead I would.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:37-40)

Let’s give those words a try.


Epic Fail

I nearly made it.  Nearly reached 47 years as a good, obedient, evangelical Christian.  Alas, I have failed.

Well, to be brutally honest, the church has failed.

As one who has attended church from even before she was born, I must admit that it is quite sad that the evangelical church can’t even keep me.  I should be thoroughly indoctrinated.  I should be thoroughly submissive.  I should be loath to question and afraid of the grey.  I should unblinkingly support the republican party.  I should parrot the words of Franklin Graham and those like him.  I should happily condemn homosexuals and those who consider abortions without stopping to ask why.  I should worship the flag, this country, and the military.  I should rage against the moral failings of Bill Clinton while dismissing and outright excusing Donald Trump’s.  I should do all of this un-ironically.  I should do all of this without seeing the blatant disconnect from the faith I claim.

But I don’t.  I can’t.

I blame my mother.  Ok, I really don’t.  But I do acknowledge her for being a strong woman with a critical mind who wasn’t afraid to think.  I blame my childhood surrounded by boys and daring to think that I could talk to them in the same manner that I talked to girls.  I saw no difference in their worth than my own then.  I don’t now.  I went toe to toe verbally with any boy and will still do it to this day.  But, I must confess, many men of the church do not appreciate a woman getting all logical and smart and stuff.  Cuz, you know, breasts and periods and all.  And submissive women.  And blah blah blah….men retaining power over all.

I like to think.  I like to question.  I like to seek.  I refuse to submit strictly because a man tells me to.  I refuse to follow tradition simply because the church decides to.  I will not shut off my brain for fear of shaking my faith.

And therein lies the problem.  When one ceases to fit into the tidy box created for us in the evangelical church one risks exile.  One risks attack.  One risks pious prayers for our lacking discernment and wisdom.  Pity.  Anger.  Disdain.

Really.  I tell you no lies.  I have been the blessed recipient of all of the above.

I have been on a fascinating journey in my faith for many years.  But it has come into picture perfect focus within the past year.  Thank you Donald Trump.  Thank you Franklin Graham.  Thank you Westboro Baptist.  Thank you stubborn homophobic cake bakers (it’s a cake people!!  A stinking cake!).  Thank you alt right, confederate flag waving, nazi saluting, gay condemning, conservatives.

Thank you for exposing the hypocrisy and self-told lies in my own mind.

For years I had complacently looked past the bigotry disguised as love in my own faith community.  I accepted the notion that those scholars who researched and found flaws in translations of scripture were out to destroy the Bible (yes, I have heard this statement many times).  For decades I bought that we alone had the correct interpretation of scripture.  For nearly half a century I happily lived amongst the Pharisees.

Yes.  The Pharisees.

The Pharisees were those in religious power in the days of Christ.  They were the recipients of Jesus’s most direct displays of anger and rebuke.  They were blinded by their own righteous thinking.  Blind to their own snobbish hatred of those beneath them.  Completely clueless that they had left their God long before and traded it for power and rules.  Lacking the discernment of the Truth in front of them.

Sound familiar?

Today I step away from this toxic brew of political power and pious judgment the American evangelical church has become.  Today I close the door to those who wish to guide me off of the path I am on.  I am on this path because of my faith, because of my seeking, because of my prayers.  Not in spite of.  Not opposed to.

Does it not seem arrogant to even suggest that we have the definitive interpretation of the gospel?  Does it not seem foolish to think we and only we understand God’s teachings, God’s reasons, God’s will?   Does it not seem counterproductive to quash those who dare to be different?  Dare to ask questions?  Dare to follow with both their heart and brain?  Why would it be wrong to leave some questions unanswered?  Some facts unknowable?  (Who is right when declaring God’s will for hurricanes?  Is it judgment for homosexuality, abortion, lack of support for Israel?  Or is it God teaching us to love and depend on each other?  I’ve heard all those variations and more.) Why can’t we admit that not everything in life was outlined clearly in scripture?  That life is full of grey.  Isn’t that the definition of faith?  To use our brains for as far as they can take us and then leap for the remaining unprovable parts?

I find myself at a point where I can no longer suck it up for the sake of community.  In fact, I find that notion laughable given my community lately.  Parts of my community have regularly blamed me for being unkind and harsh.  I have been confused if they were referring to my constant pleading that we  reach out to the marginalized OR to the fact  that I disagree with them politically.  And that…THAT is just pure heresy!!!  Is my dysfunctional heart reflected in my devotion to charity or to my disdain of falsehoods?  Is my poor discernment proven by my questioning the Christian defense of despicable personal beliefs OR by my belief that we are to strengthen each other’s faith through challenging that which is against Christ’s teachings?  I must say that I am confused about these things.

I have had a rotten few days.  I have not seen the loving side of my evangelical brethren lately.  My children have witnessed their cruelty cloaked in piety.  They have seen the venom dripping from lips claiming to love me.  My family’s faith has been damaged.  It is too soon to tell if the damage is permanent.  It is too fresh to know when or if the wound will heal.  But I grieve for my children.  I grieve for their pain and concern over mom’s red, swollen eyes.  I grieve for their worries about implications to their own lives.  I grieve their innocence in thinking that Christians really do love each other.

And what caused such grief?  Pettiness.  Stubbornness.  Wounded pride.  A desire to quiet different thought.  Assumptions about me based on nothing other than my gender, my defense of facts, and my refusal to back down on the core of Christ’s teachings.  The core of love and grace to all.

Literally all people.

LGBT included.  Poor included.  Addicts.  Those who don’t plan ahead.  Those who vote democratic.  Those who’ve had abortions.  Those who fight fascism.  Fascists (yeah, that one stings).  Atheists.  Single moms who’ve never been married.  Dads who have walked away from their responsibilities.  Divorced people.  Parents who neglect their children.  Children who are disrespectful. Christians who think differently than the unwritten evangelical handbook says they should.

I’ve thought back over other times when loving, caring christians have felt it necessary to scold me for causing others to stumble.  Yes, this accusation has been used several times.  Most, if not all, have been over a difference of political opinions.  When I refused to apologize for thinking that our current president is much like Saul  in the book of Isaiah, I was condemned.  I guess God only agrees with blind support of political leaders.  Because He placed them there.  How dare I suggest that perhaps they weren’t placed there for the reasons they believe.  Are either stances provable?  Absolutely not.  But, I suppose my version of unprovable is far more blasphemous in the handbook.  And they have freely pummeled me with verses to confirm their superior view.  Pay no attention to the verses that don’t.

Please pay no attention to past religious giants who have stood in opposition to government leaders due to their personal Christian beliefs.  I’m sorry Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you should have followed Hitler.  My apologizes to those Christians who hid Jews in their homes.  Martin Luther–how dare you nail your treatise to the door!  Daniel should not have prayed because the king said so.  Tsk tsk Moses’ mom for hiding him from Pharaoh.  I can’t for a moment think that the disciples who found themselves in jail defied any government authority!  Could they have?  What were these good people thinking?!?!?   Clearly out of line.

There are far more examples of Christians disobeying authority because of not in spite of their faith.  But, hopefully my point is clear.

I also will address the painfully large elephant in the room.  Many do not take too kindly to a women suggesting that their views may be skewed.  People bristle when a mirror is held up by a….girl.  They’d rather break the glass than study the reflection.  Many faithful men are shaken by a strong, thinking woman.  But not Esther! (from the book of Esther)  She was an excellent and godly example.   She spoke truth to power and we revere her for it.  Or Abigail.   Let’s not forget her strength. (Google her story).  Hmmmm…  I guess book examples are fine since no one can witness you learning from a woman that way.

So, I apologize for the epic fail of my American evangelical christianity.  I apologize for choosing to follow Christ’s example over all else.  I apologize for taking Jesus at His word when he stated that loving God and one another were the greatest commandments.  I am sorry that I passionately fight for the poor, the wounded, the marginalized.  I am sorry that these choices are causing people to stumble in their faith.  I am sorry that these choices are causing you pain.  I am sorry that I cannot control my tongue when calling out destructive beliefs or behaviors found in Christians.

Or better yet, I will move on with my faith while it is still intact.



A Title Without a Heart

Dear Friend,

I’m writing to you today to make a simple request.  Well, it seems simple.  But I recognize that change is hard.  I’m requesting that you stop calling yourself a Christian.  Please.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you tell me that “God hates sloth” in the midst of a discussion about poverty.   I am fairly certain my God loves poor people too.  Even lazy ones.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you rage about the worthless addicts who brought trouble upon themselves.   I’m certain my God would help them try to break their mental and physical chains.  Again and again and again.  No matter how they got there.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you berate and demean your family member in public over differing views.  And please stop using the Bible as a club when you do so.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you condemn a gay friend and call them an abomination.  My Jesus never condemned gays as He ministered on Earth. He loved.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you rant about “your money” and how it is being used by the government.  Didn’t Jesus say to give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s?  Wouldn’t those taxes no longer be yours?

Stop calling yourself a Christian while simultaneously calling yourself a “deplorable”.  Those two things cannot go together.  If you think they can, then you are misunderstanding one of the chosen labels.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you spread lies found on conspiracy theory and hateful sites.  My God is a God of truth.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you continue to spread propaganda veiled as news.  Lies that can easily be disproven with minimal effort.  My God wants our words to be trustworthy.

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you pretend to love while seething with anger and venom.  Telling someone you love them as Christ loves them is not only impossible, it is laughable and false.  Even Jesus got angry.  Are you more holy than He?

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you fight against government help for the poor, the sick, and the dependent.  Stop telling others that it is the church’s job as your justification.  Is the church doing it?  Is the church able to pay for the healthcare of a few of its members let alone the community?  Does your church have a free clinic?  Does your church pay for housing for those without jobs?  Does your church fund rehab for addicts?  Does your church clothe the children of disabled single moms?  Does your church supply groceries for the hungry? Could your church financially survive the $60,000+ MS drugs needed by some to function?  How about an organ transplant and the subsequent lifelong drugs?  Diabetes?  Heart disease?  Complicated births and NICU?

Stop calling yourself a Christian as you demand we protect ourselves from scary refugees.  My God is not a God of fear.  In fact, we are told not to fear.  And we are told to care for the foreigner.



Yes, I know you think I’m too simplistic in these requests.  It is simplistic to suggest that love is the greatest tool we’ve got against all evils.  But I’m not the first to do so.

Politics are separate from our faith.  *Even though our faith is to permeate every portion of our lives.

You are loving people as you tell them they are deviant sinners.  Tough love.  Truthful love.  *Except that condemnation and harsh words drive people away, not toward my God.

The church must protect itself because it is always under attack.  *Did Jesus protect himself?  Don’t we say that “if God is for us who can be against us”?  Or is that just a catchphrase?

Well, we know we are living right if we offend people.  *OR, we are just being jerks and using faith as an excuse.



So, friend, I plead with you today to stop calling yourself a Christian while ignoring the example of your namesake.   Stop saying you will pray for something yet never praying.  Stop saying prayers for needs without looking for a tangible way of meeting those needs.  Stop preaching rules before love.

Until you stop taking the mantle without demonstrating the radical love of your Christ, you misrepresent Him.  Your humanity is out-shined by atheists and agnostics.  Your generosity is eclipsed by rockstars and actors.  Your fight for the weak is pathetic when compared to the humanist social worker.  Your support of the sick is laughable when compared to a fast food clown.

And, friend, since you claim to represent the God  I love, I will continue to speak out when you don’t do so.  I will continually point to the original example of love when the non-churched are confused by your contradictions.  I will apologize to those you’ve damaged.  I will listen to those you’ve hurt.  I will help those you brush aside.  And I will try to lead them back to the God I love.  The God who loves them.  The God you seem to have lost in the anger, fear, and prejudice.

Thank you for considering my request.






Self Inflicted Martyrdom

Today I have a heavy heart.  I have been on a long journey to readjust my path based more closely on what the Bible says we are called to do.  I have found this journey both exciting and exhausting.  It is simultaneously freeing and joyful while being filled with a sense of constant loss.  Loss of long-held beliefs.  Loss of ability to float along the unexamined tide of Christiandom.  Loss of respect for old leaders who have chosen anger and fear over love and grace.  Just…loss.

I have been renewed by discovering the simplicity of Christ’s teachings.  Love all.  Show grace to all.  Let God work on people’s hearts and minds.  Be willing to tangibly help others, sacrificially.

I have been saddened by how often the church does not mirror these teachings.  Rules.  Lack of acceptance of differences.  Forcible lecturing  of “our ways”.   Crying out about a perceived loss of “our rights”.  Budgets strained by the “needs” of the church rather than the community which they serve.

My heart is not heavy for me today.  My heart is heavy for several people I love.  I have watched their trust in the church as a place of health and healing…dissolve.  I have seen the hurt in their eyes when recounting the venom spewed at them when they dared to ask questions.  Just questions.  Or, worse yet, I have listened as they talked of their fear of asking questions.

These people I love have come directly up against the claim of love and grace presented with narrow minds, immovable opinions, and…no love or grace.  When faced with the words  being quite contrary to actions seen it is difficult to soothe troubled souls.  The life of Christ and His beautiful example has been overshadowed by the present blind hypocrisy.

I have often told people that it is ok to ask questions of God.  It is ok to get mad and yell.  It is ok to have doubt.  He knows anyway, so we might as well be honest.  I’ve told people that God is big enough, powerful enough,  and wise enough to draw us to Him even when we don’t know who  or what we are searching for.

But today those truths are harder to trust.  Today those truths are connected to the journey of people I love instead of myself.  So I worry.  I hurt.  I grieve.

I am incapable of wiping the tears from their eyes with any genuine advice to live by.  I cannot say “Trust God” when that is exactly their struggle.  I cannot say “dig into more scripture” when they now wonder if there is anything to be found in those pages.  I cannot say “pray” when they have been told repeatedly that they should feel connected and emotional when they pray when all they feel is….nothing.  I cannot say to talk with some other friends when those are exactly the people who have made them feel less than.

For some of my loved people, church has become a hospice instead of a hospital.  It is a place where faith and love go to die instead of where doubt and fear go to heal.  It has become a place of hollow music sung without reflection and words spoken but not heeded.  It is a place where we can lie about our commitment to others, our commitment to God, and our willingness to grow.  We can hide under the umbrella of the good christian while never offering any goodness to anyone standing in the rain.

It is a place where we say we must love others but we must support a president who lies, mocks, and accuses.  It is a place where we must “die to self” yet continually “fight for our rights”.  It is a place where the poor are blessed (according to Jesus’s beatitudes) yet the poor are seen as lazy and deserving of where they find themselves in life.  It is a place where we cry out about the sanctity of life while cheering  the turning away of refugees.

It is a place where those who embrace Christ’s teachings of submission and turning the other cheek in all of life are mocked as weak.  It is a place where life-long elders can say, without irony, that we should let addicts die after two doses of the drug to revive them.  Then they had a second chance.  I am at a complete loss for where Christ’s example would back that up.  And yet I have heard it with my own ears.  I have read it with my own eyes.  Calloused and hard hearts toward real, actual, skin-covered humans struggling with a horrible addiction.  Such is our current Christian rhetoric.

Church is a place where we teach our youth how to share their faith with others before teaching them how to live their faith.  It’s easy to pass on rehearsed answers to genuine faith questions.  It is not so simple to just let those questions be.  It is far scarier to encourage the journey to be personal and in one’s own time.  That involves an inherent loss of control (which, quite honestly, we never had in the first place).  Church is a place where we really don’t trust God.

I have listened as one said they could not accept that Jonah was swallowed by an actual fish.  This made them a bad believer.  This meant that some other Christians thought they had weak faith.  But why?  Can’t we learn from the story of Jonah even if it is an allegory?  Can’t the teachings of scripture have just as much power even if they are stories used to illustrate lessons in language understood by those being taught?  Why get hung up on a minuscule argument?  Can’t a big God speak through direct history AND figurative language?

We argue that God is male because the Bible uses male pronouns.  Who chose those pronouns?  During which translation did they appear?  Is it not more realistic to say that God is too big and too complex to be either exclusively male or female?  If not, I’m wondering how we women can claim to be made in His image (as we church folk are taught).  Isn’t God big enough to either create the universe in six days OR set things in motion that created the universe over millions of years?  Why must those who wonder be seen as lost and lacking faith?

So today I sit here with several beloved souls on my mind.  Beloved people who have been damaged by the church.  Beloved people who are struggling to find faith in something to trust again.  Beloved people who are hurting as the ground shifts beneath them.

No, this is not the handiwork of an evil enemy preying on their minds.  It is the direct result of being treated as inferior for being divorced.  It is the direct result of being taught to use your talents for God, but only if we approve of your methods and opinions.  It is the direct result of  the anti-LGBT post by the loving Christian being read by the gay teen.  It is the direct result of the horrific abortion images posted by pro-life Christians being seen by a woman who had made that painful decision in their youth.  It is the direct result of famous church leaders stubbornly defending a morally bankrupt presidential administration while atheists shake their head in disbelief.   It is the direct result of Christian’s refusal to honestly examine their beliefs, motives, and behaviors.

We, the church, are our own worst enemy.  And until we realize that and work toward repairing our self-inflicted wounds we will continue to be less and less and less vital in our communities.