Five Things I Learned In Prison

Bringing light into dark places.

Bringing light into dark places.

I celebrated my birthday in prison this year. Our Church is part of a ministry called Timothy’s Gift.  They go into prisons to remind the inmates that they are human, that they are not forgotten, and most importantly that they are loved by God–Not because of anything that they have done, but simply because of of who they are. When they invited people to go on the trip, my wife asked me if I wanted to go. I told her I would love to, but I had to work, and we really didn’t have the money. It was a four-day trip that took place over my 40th (I know, right? Crazy) birthday, and she knew I didn’t want a big party, so she devised that she would surprise me with this trip as a gift for my birthday. She made a “Send Chris To Prison” GoFundMe page, and within a day, more than enough money had been raised. I can’t thank the people enough who gave to support me going on this trip. I felt so loved… Though I didn’t let it go to my head, because I think some of them might have thought that I was actually being incarcerated.

I'm the tall, good-looking bald guy in the back who doesn't look a day over 39....

I’m the tall, good-looking bald guy in the back who doesn’t look a day over 39….

We drove from Nashville to Florida and visited four maximum security prisons–One women’s prison, and three men’s prisons. Like many other folks on the trip, I was nervous about what to expect. I was afraid it would feel like a trip to a zoo…. Like we would be observing some sad, dangerous animals from a distance. But it was nothing like that. What I really wanted was to GIVE these people something, but it was nothing like that either. I wanted to show them love, but instead I was shown love. I wanted to bring them hope, but I have never been as hopeful as I am right now. I wanted them to meet Jesus, but instead I met Jesus in a more profound way than I had ever before. Everyone always says that you can’t describe a trip like this–that you have to go and experience it for yourself…. But as much as that is true, I am sure the hell going to try. I can’t share everything that I took away from this Hope Tour, but here are a few of the things I learned:

You are loved. You have great worth.

You are loved. You have great worth.

TOUCHING THE HANDS OF JESUS
We were instructed early on that the only contact we were allowed to make was with the inmate’s hand (for the prisoner’s safety, as well as our own). This was especially difficult for me, because I am a bit of a hugger. At the first prison we visited, I served Communion to about 100 women. For each inmate I placed my hand beneath her open hands waiting to receive, I looked her in the eyes, I called her by her name, I tore a piece of bread from a loaf held by another prisoner, I placed that bread in her hands and said, “God loves you because of who you are. He calls you ‘Beloved.’ This is the body of Christ, broken for you.” Some people believe that in the Eucharist, the bread turns into the actual body of Christ…. I’m not sure about that. In the Bible Jesus says the words, “I was in prison, and you visited ME,” and I can tell you this: I am sure that as I touched those hands, I touched the very Body of Christ. It was one of the single greatest honors of my life.

TAKING OFF MY SHOES
One of the first things I noticed inside the prison walls was the faces of the men and women there. In my head when I imagined people in prison, I saw prisoners as outfits. I saw them as outlines of people. But they are whole people, even as they are broken. They have faces–Some of them wrinkled and weathered, some of them so shockingly young. We walked into a dorm of inmates who had made a commitment to be missionaries in the confines of the prison, past the indignity of a windowed bathroom, to inmates cheering our arrival. It was surreal. They sang us a worship song, and before it was over we were singing with them–As one body, tears rolling down our faces. And I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to take my shoes off, because it was clear to all of us that we were standing on holy ground. But as Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

REMEMBERING HOW TO PRAY
After the women sang and prayed for us, we had the opportunity sit down in small groups and talk with five different inmates for about 30 minutes each. We just sat there and listened to their stories. We encouraged them and told them they are loved. Two of the women we spoke with had never had a visitor in all the years they had been locked up. One woman we spoke with told us about so many hurts…. And she said she had a goal to find a good Church when she got out (in about five years), a “real” Church–One who would pray for her. I asked her what she would want them to pray for her about, and she said, “Strength and guidance.” Now, I don’t understand how prayer works. It has been YEARS since I have said something as “churchy” as this, but I heard myself say to her, “Do you mind if I pray for you?” I have no idea what I said, but I felt like it was powerful. And sitting there in that prison library, holding the hand of a criminal, talking together with our creator…. It felt as natural as breathing or laughing or falling asleep.

I climbed up two rickety old ladders to get to a dusty old balcony to get this shot. There were more than 400 prisoners who heard a message of hope.... As well as some really kick ass music.

I climbed up two rickety old ladders to get to a dusty old balcony to get this shot. There were more than 400 prisoners who heard a message of hope…. As well as some really kick ass music.

LETTING GO OF MY BURDEN
As I was walking out of one of the men’s prisons, I was carrying a 40-pack of bottled water on my shoulder. It was a hot day, and it was getting heavy…. So I decided to start asking people if they were thirsty. And as my burden got lighter and lighter, what I can only describe as the voice of God whispered to me, “Why don’t you think about that for a moment.” So many of us are burdened with hurts. And fear. And shame. But as we meet others in their place of need… And we give of ourselves… And as we stand with the broken and the vulnerable, we truly discover what it means to love and be alive and be free. In letting go of the things we have, we find what we’ve been needing. In standing with the broken and the and the vulnerable, we are actually standing with Jesus….

“I DO NOT CONDEMN YOU EITHER”
A big part of the message we were bringing was that these people are not defined by their worst mistakes. And that is true for you as well…. Whoever the “you” is who happens to be reading this right now. Not only does God know you, but God knows you AND God loves you. When the angry crowd was ready to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus silenced them with the words, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” After everyone left, the story goes on, “Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” Many times when people use this passage as a picture of God’s giant Mercy and Grace, people who believe that point of the Bible is eliminating sin will focus on the “sin no more” part. But when you read it again, you see it says, “From now on….” First comes the knowledge that he does not condemn. That he is on our side. That we are loved…. THEN–“From NOW on”–comes the “sin no more” part.

It’s just like in the story of the Prodigal Son–It was a story of TWO sons. One who made some really bad decisions, another who stayed at home and did all the right stuff…. But neither of the sons knew their identity. And all of us–whether we are on the inside of a correctional institution, or whether we are outside working like a slave–ALL of us need to know our identity. And that identity is this: We are the beloved children of God. He knows us AND he loves us. Nothing my children could do could ever make them not mine and not loved. And God does a way better job of loving his kids than I do….

If I have done even a halfway decent job of describing this experience, please know that it is a poor substitute for the ACTUAL experience. If you ever have the chance to go on one of the Timothy’s Gift Hope Tours, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Please watch this video for a better understanding of what they are trying to do:

This trip has changed my life and my heart. If you are inspired by what Timothy’s Gift is trying to do, you can support them RIGHT HERE. It was in every way amazing, and just in case you are worried, there was never even one moment where I was afraid for my safety. I joked on the bus ride about trying to check things off of the list in Matthew 25 (“When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty you gave me something to drink…” and so on) in order to try to get into Heaven, and a new friend (this amazing woman here) said, “Maybe it’s not a list of stuff to do. Maybe it’s where we go to find him.” When we feed the hungry and we get people clean water, and when we invite in the stranger and we get people clothes who need them, and when we take care of the sick and we visit the prisoner…. Maybe we are literally encountering Jesus.

Maybe…. Who knows. But what Shane Claiborne once said sounds really true to me–now more than ever, “Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.” We can’t know about loving the poor by hearing about loving the poor.  It is the difference between hearing about chocolate and tasting chocolate. It is the difference between seeing a picture of a mountain and actually standing in front of that mountain. It is the difference between hearing  about Jesus and touching Jesus’ hand.

Now, if you want to give me a really amazing 40th birthday gift, share this post….

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The Coolest Way To Save Someone’s Life

Yesterday I saw what is probably one of the most beautiful pictures I have ever seen. It wasn’t of a sunset or of some untouched mountain lake…. It was a picture of a woman–a mother–embracing a young woman and pressing her ear to her chest. She is listening to a familiar sound. It is the sound of her son’s heart–a son whose life was taken 18 years ago–A steady beat that is alive and well in the chest of a woman she had never met…. At least not until that day. Here is the picture:

This is what it looks like to hear your son's heart beating inside of a person whose life he saved.

This is what it looks like to hear your son’s heart beating inside of a person whose life he saved.

The meeting happened this past Valentines Day (which also happens to be National Donor Day). Vicki Brannon is the mother of Matthew McIntyre, who died in 1996 after being accidentally shot by a friend. A day later, Matthew’s 14 year old heart was given to 13 year old Jennifer Lentini. Jennifer arranged the meeting with Matthew’s mother as a way of saying, “Thank you.” You can read more about this amazing reunion (and see more of Tim Boyle‘s powerful photography) if this article from the Daily News.

Every girl I knew in high school loved this movie with their whole being. How surreal to watch it now with daughters of my own....

Every girl I knew in high school loved this movie with their whole being. How surreal to watch it now with daughters of my own….

I had tears in my eyes as I showed this story to a coworker today, and she told me a story of a childhood friend whose father had died while she was still young. The father was an organ donor, and his heart went to a man whose life was saved by this simple act of generosity. Years later, when this friend’s sister got married, the man who had received her father’s heart agreed to walk her down the aisle. The family can be thankful that I was not at this wedding, because no one would have been able to have heard any of the ceremony over the sounds of my very loud sobbing. That story is so freaking beautiful. For the life of me, I cannot think of one reason why someone wouldn’t want to be an organ donor. It is such a purely good thing. It is completely good.

Here are some things you might not know about organ donation:

  • Every day, 18 people die while waiting for organ transplants.
  • One person who donates their organs after they die can save the lives of up to 8 people, and drastically change the lives of 50 more.
  • Every major religion supports organ donation.
  • Just about anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can be an organ donor.
  • No one is ever going to get “lesser care” just because they are an organ and tissue donor. This is a ridiculous myth. The only time that donation is even considered is after every single thing that can be done has been tried and the patient has died.
  • People who have donated their organs can have open caskets at their funeral, and they look exactly the same as if they didn’t donate.
  • In some states it is not enough to simply sign the back of your drivers license. If you want to be registered as an organ donor, you can CLICK RIGHT HERE and be taken to a handy map where you can click on your state and resister.

It is so easy, and there is no easier way for you to possibly save someone’s life. Refusing to be an organ donor is like finishing a meal next to a starving man, and insisting your scraps get thrown in the trash. And the other cool thing is this: If we all decide that this is something we ALL value as a community, YOUR life might end up being the one that is saved someday. YOU might be the man walking down the aisle next to a young woman whose father’s heart beats within you…. YOURS might be the chest with the ear pressed against it, listening for a familiar rhythm….

Organ donation is like the ultimate form of recycling.

Organ donation is like the ultimate form of recycling.

For my day job, part of what I do is educational puppetry for elementary-aged kids. We used to do a program on organ donation. It was so very sweet. The kids who saw our presentation got to meet a little girl whose brother had died and donated his organs, saving the lives of multiple people. They also met a young boy who had cardiomyopathy and was close to death, but whose life was saved because the family of a girl who died cared enough to talk about becoming an organ donor. We almost never do this program anymore, because teachers and parents were afraid that it was to much for the kids to deal with. But I think that behind that fear is subtile lie that we tell ourselves when we avoid talking about death. We all walk around like we’re going to be here forever. But we’re not. We’re all going to die someday…. We might as well go out being a hero for someone who needs the stuff we don’t need anymore. Stuff that can let someone see for the first time, stuff that allows someone to take a deep breath without the help of a machine, stuff that can send the very essence of life through our veins…. Talk to your kids. Talk to your loved ones. Register online. Be a hero. Be an organ donor.

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I Doubt The Homeless Folks Who Slept At My Church Last Night Care About Our Stance On Gay Marriage

You know the law: Two moms enter, one mom leaves.

“You know the law: Two moms enter, one mom leaves…. with some bread.”

Like many places across the country, bitterly cold weather is moving into our area. There’s even talk of snow…. Which, in this part of the world, means that most people start thinking about a few things: Worrying about bad roads, hoping for school closings, and trying to get to Kroger before they run out of bread and milk. I made the mistake of stopping by a Kroger after Church yesterday, and the bread aisle was one shopping-cart-collision-with-a-mom-having-a-really-bad-day away from turning into a scene from “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” For most of us, the cold weather is little more than an annoyance we must endure between the time after we leave our warm houses and the time it takes for our cars to warm up. But for some people, a stretch of cold weather is way more than an annoyance.

Yesterday at our Church, a man named Steve stood up and told the congregation that he needed our help. As he told us about the cold weather coming this way and the desperate situation that the homeless community in Nashville faced, he seemed visibly shaken. He talked about how there were more people on the streets than there were beds at the mission…. But he didn’t say it like someone telling a congregation a statistic–His words had the urgency of someone who was worried about his friends. And that’s probably because many of those people needing a place to stay WERE his friends. And so he asked for our help. And after the service was over, he was surrounded by about 30 people who were asking what they could do. It was unorganized, and it was beautiful. There is nothing so holy in a Church service–no prayer, no song, no bread and wine–as a time when someone in need is surrounded by people asking how they can help. 

And so, once again, our Church made some make-shift beds out of the chairs in our sanctuary. They had people show up with a bunch of blankets and pillows and toiletries. Some other folks brought some amazing food. The whole scene looked like this:

And what's really cool is that any church with some cushy chairs can do something like this!

And what’s really cool is that any church with some cushy chairs can do something like this!

A kid from our Church set up a Snuggling Station, just in case the people who were staying there needed some snuggles.... [Cue me crying]

A kid from our Church set up a Snuggling Station, just in case the people who were staying there needed some snuggles…. [Cue me crying]


Our Church is in the suburbs in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and there aren’t nearly as many vulnerable people in that area, so we picked up folks from downtown Nashville and drove them out to our church to sleep. I’ve got myself a really nice 1997 GMC Safari that fits eight, so I volunteered to be a driver. There was a young woman named Lindsey who had found the folks who needed a warm place to stay and introduced them to me before I drove them out to the Church. I think I expected…. well, I don’t know what I expected. I guess I expected more B.O. in my van (more than normal, that is), but most of the folks just smelled like campfire–Which makes sense, because it was cold during the day too. Cigarettes are definitely a currency in those circles. There were things that people needed that I never even think twice about–A bandaid, a comb…. well, I’m bald, so…. anyway, but you get my point. I was just surprised by how normal everyone was. From the people needing a place to stay, to the people taking the lead who were in relationship with those folks, to the people who were working together to make it happen–They were all just regular folks, doing nothing particularly spectacular. But everyone together was something…. beautiful. It was Church.

Some of you who read my stuff regularly already know that my Church came out in support of LGBT inclusion recently. I wrote about it HERE (and if you haven’t already, you should go watch the updated link at the end that explains how you can completely value scripture and still end up as an open and affirming Church). Through this painful process, there have been a lot of people who found it necessary to find another place to worship. It’s weird, because you don’t want something like this to divide people, but also it’s something that is important enough to take a stand on…. So I get it. But as I looked around our sanctuary, transformed into 20 beds for people to sleep on, I couldn’t help but think about how little the people staying there probably cared about our Church’s stance on LGBT inclusion. If someone is giving you a hot meal and a sleeping bag, you probably don’t care if they believe God blesses same-sex marriages.

But I LIKE saying stuff....

But I LIKE saying stuff….

So I’m thankful tonight for all the regular people–People on both sides of this whole “gay marriage” debate–who take the time to cook some food, who take the time to gather some blankets, who take the time to go buy some pillows, who take the time to stay at the Church all night long…. And I’m thankful for the chance to meet some new friends, and sing some Journey song in my minivan with people I’ve never met before, and even hear the sad stories of kids kicked out of their homes and families…. But today I am especially thankful for those regular people–For Steves and Lindseys who are in relationship with folks most of us have thrown away a long time ago. I’m thankful for the ones whose hearts break when the weather gets this cold, the ones who are spurred into action, the ones whose passion inspires the rest of us to get a little less comfortable. And I’m really thankful for the Church.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Shane Claiborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical”:

“I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor…I truly believe that when the rich meet the poor, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”

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5 Things To Do Instead of Going To See “50 Shades of Grey”

Calling this woman "Plus-Sized" is like calling Jimmy Walker obese

Calling this woman “Plus-Sized” is like calling Jimmy Walker obese

It’s Valentines weekend! And I have to tell you, it has not felt like a good week for a guy trying to raise two beautiful daughters…. Or a son, for that matter. We’ve got the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue making a huge step forward for woman’s rights by putting a “Plus-Size” model in their magazine. To the right is a picture of what “Plus-Sized” looks like. But really, no one has ever accused the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue of of being a force of good in the world when it comes to bettering the treatment of our daughters and wives and sisters and mothers…. So I suppose that’s not really TOO surprising. What is far more surprising is how so many women have bought into the idea that there is nothing wrong with celebrating the crap-fest that is the “50 Shades of Grey” phenomenon.

50ShadesOfGrey_600x_AnastasiaSteele_21

Doesn’t make sense to me either.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called “50 Shades of Skank” that detailed my thoughts about this. I talked about going to a strip club in college, and having the realization “I am so much better than this.” I compared it to eating at a Shoney’s and looking around at all the actual plus-sized people around you, and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?” While talking about the movie coming out this weekend (based on the book that sold over 100 million copies!!), I have realized that the issue might not be as clear as I thought it was when I wrote that older post. I don’t have time to go into all of that complexity–I have to wake up early tomorrow–but I remain convinced that this book, this movie, and all the hype around it is just the lowest common denominator of our humanity, and it is a net loss for all of us.

The only thing keeping Christian Grey from being a complete horror story stalker is the fact that he is rich and good-looking. Imagine an unattractive man saying things like these to a woman:

“…if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday. He said it then and all I could concentrate on at the time was being his. All the warning signs were there. I was just too clueless and too enamored to notice.”

“I like the control it gives me, Anastasia. I want you to behave in a particular way, and if you don’t, I shall punish you, and you will learn to behave the way I desire. I enjoy punishing you…I need to control you.”

“If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you.”

A lot of people have pointed out that the difference between a stalker and a suitor is often how attracted the person who is being pursued is to the one coming on to them…. SNL poked fun of this phenomenon years ago (Crap, it won’t embed. Oh well. Click and watch).

I don’t know if there’s anything I could say to change the minds of people who believe that stuff like this in harmless. I just believe it makes us less than what we were before we saw it. That’s really what porn does. It makes us all less–especially the variety that exploits and degrades. In my life, I have had plenty of experiences with pornography, and I can tell you that it never made me feel more enlightened or closer to God in any way. I think most of us deep down have an innate sense of the counterfeit-ness of porn, and the sense that we are diminished by it instead of being strengthened….

So here are 5 things to do instead of going to see “50 Shades” this weekend:

1) Watch this review of the movie. It is, in the reviewer’s words, “quite simply the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” Another telling quote from the review: “It’s domestic violence dressed up like erotica, and there’s one thing this movie IS NOT, it’s erotic.”


2) Talk to your kids about it.
Here is an AMAZING article titled “Fifty Discussions to Combat Fifty Shades” written by Dina Alexander, MS. It isn’t enough to just decide we’re not going to see it–We have to talk to our kids about WHY it’s so messed up. She starts out with the question “How can a critically ridiculed book, with a weak plot and ridiculously pathetic characters make so much money? (If it is salacious and/or controversial and/or marketed accurately, anything can make money.)” And then she goes from there…. Every parent needs to read this article.

3) Watch this beautiful video about Real Women. And then let your kids watch it. It shows four women who agree to go through photoshopping into “cover girls.” It is inspiring and beautiful for all the right reasons. Here is a quote from it: “Once someone else has done your makeup, and someone else has done your hair, and someone has directed the way your body looks, and then taken your imperfections…. There’s not much left of who you really are.”


4) Make a donation to a Domestic Violence Shelter instead.
 There is a Facebook community called “50 Dollars Not 50 Shades.” They describe themselves as “a grassroots, women-led campaign, encouraging people to boycott the 50 Shades of Grey movie & give a donation to domestic violence shelter/agency. You should like them. And then, if you can, consider giving some money to some people who are actually trying to HELP women. I come from a family profoundly affected by domestic abuse. The people running these shelters need your money way more than the folks profiting off of 50 Shades….

5) Share this post. And share posts like it. Use the little bit of influence you have to try to make this world a little less messed up. Keep up the good work! 

And as a post script, Happy Valentines Day to my beautiful wife. Thank you for being such a strong and loving and wise person in my life. Thank you for your perfect body that somehow managed to create and birth three perfect kids. Thank you for being able to smell bullshit from a mile away. Thank you for all of your complexity and opinions and stubbornness and humor. And thank you for being absolutely nothing like Anastasia Steele.    I love you!

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Teaching Your Kids To Swear

The missing letters are actually U-B-U. Get your head out of the gutter....

The missing letters are actually U-B-U. Get your head out of the gutter….

My son came home from school with a new swear word the other day. While we were eating dinner, he let us know that a friend wrote a swear word on a piece of paper and showed it to him. My wife asked him what the word was, and he was very hesitant to share…. But after a little prodding, he confided that that his friend had written “The F-Word” (Yikes, right? The BIG one!). To which our oldest daughter responded, “Oh, I know what it is…. Does it end with a T?” Leading me to immediately assume she was talking about the word “FART,” which would be so much better than the F-Word with which I am familiar (Some might say I’m a little TOO familiar with it). When she hinted that there was an A in the middle, I was still thinking “FART,” but then finally she whispered, “You know…. FAT.” 

"By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth." ~ George Carlin

“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.”       ~ George Carlin

I was so enamored by her innocence–That our sweet little public school kid would be so careful with her words to think that she had to whisper the word “fat” to us. I think that the level of the stuff we are exposed to depends more on the other kids in your class than it does on your school. A good friend with a kid in Christian school told me a story about his child telling of a “naughty” classmate who said “The S-Word.” When asked to be a little more specific, the child said, “You know…. S-H…?” Turns out the word was “Shut up.” I, on the other hand, spent my whole life going to a Christian school, but I’m pretty sure by fourth grade we were very familiar with words that would have made George Carlin blush. And there were probably quite a few different F-Words on that list, but “FAT” was not one of them.

Anyway, the “F-word” that was written on a note to my son was the word “FLUCKING.” Which as far as swear words are concerned, the more I think about it, is pretty flucking awesome.

Privates, groin, nuts, balls.... These words are all synonyms.

Privates, groin, nuts, balls…. These words are all synonyms.

We can’t protect our kids from all the naughty kids and all the swear words in the world. I remember when my boy was old enough to read but still needed some help in the bathroom, and we went into a public restroom with some colorful language written on the walls, but no matter where I positioned myself, I couldn’t stand between him and all those F-Words…. At least not without covering his eyes completely. And it wasn’t that long ago, after his little sister kicked him between the legs and I asked him what happened, that he first declared, “She kicked me in the NUTS!” Up until that day, any talk of that area of his body was only referred to as “my privates.” But when your little sister kicks you between the legs, “She kicked me in the privates!” does not get the point across nearly as well as “She kicked me in the NUTS!” Anyone who has ever gotten kicked in the nuts knows that….

After the flucking disclosure, I got serious with the kids for a little bit. And I talked to them about words. It was one of those rare times where I felt like I said something that made sense to them. So I decided to share it with you, just in case you’d like to use it yourself (I should mention that I am a little less proud of myself than I was a minute ago, because I just Googled “Words are like a hammer,” and there are 49,500 results. And there I was, thinking that I came up with something new…. Oh well). Here is the gist of what I said:

Please Hammer, don't hurt 'em!

Please Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em!

Words are neither good nor bad…. Words are tools. Words are like a hammer. You can use a hammer to build something up or tear something down, but how it is used depends of the person swinging the hammer. We are the ones who are in control of the tools–Not the other way around. When we decide that there are some words we can’t say, we give those words the power to control us…. But we are not controlled by words–We are the ones who are in control. When we are at our best, we are using our words to build a person up, and when we are at our worst, we are using our words to tear a person down. Words are very powerful, but it is the heart behind the words that determines how that power is used. Very early on, we learn the word “Pig,” but that word–that tool–used by someone with the wrong heart can take that little three-letter word and hurt someone way deeper than with any word we think is so “naughty” that we feel the need to whisper it or only refer to it by its first letter.

Anyway, I think that is a good way to explain swearing to kids. I talked to them about how there are times where some words are less appropriate than others, but no matter the situation, WE are always the ones in control of the words. We give them power, and we can take that power away too. There are some words that have become so painful to certain groups that even an attempt to wield them with good intentions can still cause unneeded pain, and it’s okay to LET THOSE WORDS GO… Words like faggot and nigger and retard–Cruel and painful words that have evolved into a tool that only seems to have one purpose. But even those words mustn’t have power over us. They are like guns: We pick them up to put them away…. hopefully for good.

And for my first miracle, I'd like to keep this party going a little bit longer....

And for my first miracle, I’d like to keep this party going a little bit longer….

So, last week a very good friend turned 40. At his birthday party, many of us stood and made toasts. We stood with drinks in our hands (alcohol is another tool we have been given–and just like any other tool, it can be rightly used or it can be misused), and we shared our words and raised our glasses. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember finishing by looking at my friend and saying, “You are fucking fantastic.” And you know what? It was a holy time. I chose my words carefully, and I meant it. If Jesus himself was standing in that room with me in the flesh, I wouldn’t have said it any differently (The only difference would have been that maybe the wine would have probably been a little better). Still, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to start dropping the F-Bomb in front of my kids–Not even “Flucking.” There is a time and a place for words like that…. And that time and place is called High School.

Posted in 3) Bathroom Humor, 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Michael Moore Loves Our Troops Way More Than You

This past week, Michael Moore made some comments about the movie “American Sniper” that got him in some trouble with many of the “American People.” He basically tweeted that he–coming from a family where his own uncle was killed by a Japanese sniper 70 years ago–grew up being told that snipers are cowards.

People basically lost their freaking minds. There was lots and lots of stuff like this: Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.15.51 PM Later Moore attempted to explain on his Facebook page (you can read the whole post HERE). Among other things, he wrote, “Most of us were taught the story of Jesse James and that the scoundrel wasn’t James (who was a criminal who killed people) but rather the sniper who shot him in the back. I think most Americans don’t think snipers are heroes. Hopefully not on this weekend when we remember that man in Memphis, Tennessee, who was killed by a sniper’s bullet.” Much of the sentiment was very similar to what I wrote on this post titled “MLK and the “American Sniper” — A Tale of Two Heroes.” In fact, the first sentence of my post was “There is a film about an American hero in the theaters this MLK weekend, but that film is not called American Sniper.”

I love this guy.

I love this guy.

BelowMichael Moore’s Facebook post there are almost 25,000 comments, and I’d say the vast majority of them are just dripping with hatred and anger at the notion that someone might speak up and question the hero-worship of a man who killed hundreds of people from very far away. Even within military circles, there is a lot of debate about the ethics/morality of killing someone from a distance, but when a liberal man like Michael Moore questions it, people get very, very angry. Now, I realize there are trolls out there who will say anything in an attempt to make people angry…. But I want you to see some of these comments. There is a lot of anger here, but sometimes it is hard to spot…. See it you can find it:

***WORDS OF WARNING***
There is some…. Let’s say “colorful” language in these posts. If you get really offended by strangers dropping F-Bombs, implying that overweight people are worthless, or calling for people’s death, you might want to find something else to read. You have been warned….

Sometimes the anger is hidden just below the surface: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.28.46 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.30.28 PM Sometimes the anger comes in what appears to be a stream of consciousness poem. Here is what appears to be a poem titled “Lazy Moron”: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.10.35 PM Sometimes the anger is directed at an elderly woman making a call for peace: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.18.25 PM Sometimes the anger is directed at a defender: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.37.37 PM Sometimes that defender happens to have a hispanic-sounding last name: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.27.04 PM Sometimes you can tell the angry person is really holding back: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.31.13 PM Sometimes the anger turns people into bad spellers: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.39.03 PM Sometimes the response to the anger is just perfect: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.56.48 PM Sometimes the anger is just plain scary: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.22.23 PM Sometimes the anger comes with some free advice: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.25.21 PM Sometimes anger is contagious for people on both sides of an issue: Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 9.05.35 PM In addition to Michael Moore, Seth Rogen caught some flack over this tweet:

(The movie Rogen is referring to is a Nazi propaganda film glorifying their deadliest sniper) There were even some celebrities who got in on the action. Kid Rock, the “American Bad Ass” himself wrote, “Fuck you Michael Moore, you’re a piece of shit and your uncle would be ashamed of you. Seth Rogen, your uncle probably molested you. I hope both of you catch a fist to the face soon. God bless you Chris Kyle, Thank you for your service.” To which Seth Rogen awesomely responded….

And you know you done messed up when Sarah Palin gets mad at you. Here is the–God help us–almost Vice President of The United States of America posing with some patriots. Notice the subtile crosshairs on the O’s of Michael Moore’s name….
PalinSign2

It can be so very, very sad watching people get swept up in anger and hatred. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless, but once again I just want to take a moment to encourage you to SPEAK UP! DO NOT let the only voices being heard be the crazy ones who are doing their best to spread their anger, hatred, and fear like seeds on the soil of our nation’s heart. When our eyes are blinded by all that anger and hatred and fear, it can be hard to see the irony of this whole situation: That a person is being called “UnAmerican” for using his constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, and that the people eviscerating him with calls for violence are probably the same ones speaking out those crazy Muslims calling for violence against Charlie Hebdo. It is summed up perfectly by one of the comments on Michael Moore’s page:
Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 8.41.35 PM

In response to the cries of “Michael Moore hates the troops,” Michael Moore has written something titled “My 12 Years of Support for the Troops.” <– You should definitely click on this and read it. But just in case you don’t read it, you should know this: Michael Moore has done more to support the troops than you have–Whoever the “you” is who is reading this. A couple of highlights: He is a tireless advocate for hiring vets and patronizing establishments that employ vets. He owns some theaters in Michigan, and in addition to allowing veterans to use his theaters for discussing PTSD issues and hosting PTSD summits there, his admission policy (since the theaters have opened) has been “Admission to all movies at my theaters is FREE, 365 days of the year, for ALL active duty military and their families.” He has raised tens of thousands of dollars on his website for Wounded Warriors. And in addition he writes, “From the Dept. of Irony: I only hire Navy SEALS and ex-special forces for when I need security – such as this week, when so-called supporters of those SEALs want me harmed.” 

And even on a list of ways he has actively supported our troops, there are still going to be people posting more and more anger and hatred and fear….
Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.44.21 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.45.42 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.48.56 PM

Anyway, despite all the haters, there is a lot more that he has done to support the troops, but you’ll need to read the link…. HERE IT IS AGAIN.

I’ll leave you with one last quote from Michael Moore, who does way more for the troops than you or I ever will do:

“Because only “haters” of our brave young men and women would recklessly send them into harm’s way for something that had absolutely nothing to do with defending the United States of America…. In the end, the thing I’m most proud of for what I’ve done for the troops was sticking my neck out 12 years ago to become a leading opponent to Bush and the war. I tried to save more lives than a sniper ever could hope to — by preventing us from going to war in the first place. Well, I failed at that. But I’ve done everything else humanly possible to try and make it up to those troops when they return home — that is, the ones lucky enough to return home.”

Posted in 2) Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What Happened When My Church Decided To Start Marrying Gay People

Some see this as a cause for celebration, others see this as a cause for separation.

Some see this as a cause for celebration, others see this as a cause for separation.

A week ago, the Church that my family and I attend came out (so to speak) as completely open and affirming of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. This was a little bit of a shock to me…. Not because I didn’t want it to happen (I wrote some thoughts about Gay Marriage a couple of years ago. You can read them HERE), but because I thought our Church was ALREADY open and affirming. Turns out it wasn’t. It was welcoming. It was definitely never judgmental or condemning. But when they started a conversation about the Church’s response to LGBTQ people a couple years ago, they didn’t have a policy of full inclusion–LGBTQ people could be members and get baptized and take communion, but as far as taking positions of leadership, baby dedication, and marriage, those parts of church life were not extended…. Anyway, that all changed this last Sunday.

Now, some of you probably just got upset when you read that first paragraph…. Probably for different reasons. Some of you got upset that a Church (in your head, you might have put air quotes around the word “Church”) would be “preaching” the false gospel that God loves gay people every bit as much as he loves the rest of us, and that someone could be so completely theologically deceived as to think God might bless the union of a same-sex couple. Others of you might have gotten upset at the fact that a Church that claims to follow Jesus could have operated for so long with such a clearly discriminatory policy toward the LGBTQ community, essentially giving gay members of the Church three fifths of a vote when it comes to being part of the Body of Christ. I understand both of those points of view.

If the words of this book are so stinking clear, then why are there almost 40,000 different Christian denominations in the world?

If the words of this book are so stinking clear, then why are there almost 40,000 different Christian denominations in the world?

Some of you out there may have experience with this sort of process. It’s nothing new in the life of the Church. When I was a kid, the denomination I grew up in started questioning whether or not women could be in positions of leadership. Women were allowed to work in the nursery and teach the kids, but the Bible their interpretation of the Bible seemed to prohibit female leaders. While the Church wrestled with this issue, there were some congregations who started letting women be Deacons, and others even had female Elders (!!!). There was talk (in my very sheltered world) of some congregations that even had women Pastors–as oxymoronic as those words felt together…. And as congregations moved toward inclusion, people were alienated on both sides of the issue. And people left. Some left because they felt the Church they loved had abandoned “the clear teachings of scripture,” and others left because they felt the Church they loved had abandoned them, and the clear calling they felt on their life. Others stayed….

People who live in black & white worlds don't always understand spectrums....

People who live in black & white worlds don’t always understand spectrums….

Some of us have a very clear view of what is right and what is wrong. Then there are some who are in the middle…. the “undecideds.” If one side says “RED” and the other side says “BLUE,” there are always plenty of people who say/ask “PURPLE?” Some Reds can have grace for Purples, and some Blues can have grace for Purples, but it’s often very hard for Reds and Blues to have grace for each other. Some people are so hardcore certain about RED or hardcore certain about BLUE that to even hint that PURPLE might be a possibility is seen as a betrayal. And don’t even THINK of trying to explain that the colors between Red and Blue are might actually be Green, Yellow, and Orange…. Or that there are actually all different kinds of light outside of the visible spectrum that we can’t even see. The Church is like this.

Even Papa Frank disagrees with me on this. That's alright.... I still love him.

Even Papa Frank disagrees with me on this. That’s alright…. I still love him.

There are Churches out there who are Blue on the issue of full inclusion for people who LGBTQ. There are some who are Red and will never be anything else. And there are a growing number of Churches who are increasingly Purple. It’s important to remember that some of these issues are complicated–even when they no longer feel complicated to you. And the measure of the grace in our own hearts is how we respond to people who have landed at a different place than you did. The hard part is being able to love even the people who have come to a different conclusion than you. For some people (people like me), it is easy to love the one who is way outside the group…. But I have a lot less grace for people in my own group. I feel like they should know better.

It’s not easy for Church leadership to take a stand on something that they know is going to cause division. Some might try to simplify it into just “doing the right thing.” But when doing what you believe is right cause people you love–people with whom you are in community–to feel like they must leave, it’s never as simple as people make it out to be. I mean, when it got out that World Vision decided to hire gay Christians, there were so many people who pulled sponsorships that it threatened their mission. Then again, sometimes staying in the middle can cause people on either on both sides of the issue to feel the need to find another Church home. If an issue that divides people were simple, it probably wouldn’t be an issue that divides people.

The Bible tells that the rainbow was a sign of the covenant between God and ALL THE CREATURES OF THE EARTH.

The Bible tells that the rainbow was a sign of the covenant between God and ALL THE CREATURES OF THE EARTH.

When our pastor made the announcement that our Church would no longer discriminate against people who are LGBTQ and even extend the Sacrament of Marriage to gay couples, he conceded that some might feel the need to leave. When talking about those possibly differing journeys, he said, “May we commit to those journeys knowing that the greatest guide is the guide of love.” Many stood and cheered. Some stayed in their seats. All of us were loved by God. I felt bad for the folks who stayed in their seats–it must have been hard for them, and I know it wasn’t out of a place of hatred…. But as hard as it was to see those people who–for whatever reason–were unable to stand, it made it easier for me when I looked around and saw a bunch of face of folks who are gay, standing side-by-side with allies who are committed to following Jesus with all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. There are many safe places for people to land who believe that the Church should be in the business of condemning people in committed, same-sex relationships…. There are not that many safe places for people to land who are gay and somehow manage to really love Jesus at the same time.

I am so proud of my Church.

And I can think of no better time to write about the civil rights of our gay brothers and sisters than on the national holiday set aside to remember and celebrate the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people don’t know this, but right up until she died, his wife Coretta Scott King, worked very hard for the cause of equal rights for people who are LGBTQ. I’ll leave you with her words, still ringing like freedom….

“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people, and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.” ~ Coretta Scott King

***UPDATE***

If you want to hear the best case for inclusion that I’ve ever seen, here it it:

Posted in 1) Jesus, 2) Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

MLK and the “American Sniper” — A Tale of Two Heroes

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Chris Kyle, Husband and father of two....

Chris Kyle, Husband and father of two….

There is a film about an American hero in the theaters this MLK weekend, but that film is not called American Sniper Premiering this weekend, the movie American Sniper is based off of the autobiography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. You’ve probably seen ads for it–It’s the one that was directed by Clint Eastwood and has Bradley Cooper as Kyle…. the one where the guy is talking to his wife on the phone about finding out the gender of their baby when the the convoy is suddenly hit by at IED (This movie will almost certainly do very well at the box office, as I’m betting that there are quite a few people out there right now who wouldn’t mind going to the theater and watching some Muslims get shot….). Chris Kyle is known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, having 160 confirmed kills (kills that someone else witnessed) out of a reported 255 kills.

Eddie Ray Routh, the man with PTSD who killed Chris Kyle and took his truck. Afterward, he told his sister, "I traded my soul for a new truck."

Eddie Ray Routh, the man with PTSD who killed Chris Kyle and took his truck. Afterward, he told his sister, “I traded my soul for a new truck.”

Now before I go any further, I have to admit that as a Christian who believes that Jesus has called his followers to non-violence, the glorification of this sort of killing is something that is wholly foreign to me. And really, if I’m being honest, pretty disgusting. I just don’t get it. I’ve tried. I’ve watched some videos of interviews of Chris Kyle talking about his kills…. and I guess I understand a mentality that says, “It’s either them or us” (I keep writing “kills,” but really it’s “PEOPLE who were killed.” I suppose “Kills” is an easier way to say it than “hearts stopped” or “people whose lives were taken by a soldier in an invading army from a country that started a war with your country under false pretenses”). I’m not writing this to say that Chris Kyle is a bad person–After his tours, he worked to help military families and tried to help people who were dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He and a friend were killed in 2013 on a shooting range by a friend who they brought to the range in a misguided attempt to help him with his PTSD. There are many people in this country who consider him a hero…. I am just not one of them.

When we ask our soldiers to sacrifice that part of themselves that knows it is wrong to kill, it has devastating effects.

When we ask our soldiers to sacrifice that part of themselves that knows it is wrong to kill, it has devastating effects.

Chris Kyle’s story is not a heroic story….  It is a tragic story. I take no joy in questioning the legacy of an American Soldier who is no longer alive, but I think it’s an important conversation to have. Do we really want to be the sort of nation whose heroes are the ones who have killed the most people? Can we aspire to more than that? A lot of people think it’s crazy that groups like ISIS claim to kill in the name of God. But in order to glorify a man who killed somewhere between 160 and 255 people, you have to believe that that man was doing God’s work. You may not realize you are looking at it that way, but if you believe in God and you support this sort of thing, you probably believe that God is behind it. Sure, the country is the one giving the orders (and giving the deaths legitimacy), but somewhere in your theology, you probably believe that the country has the authority to take those lives because God has given that authority to them….

His friends also call him Legend.

His friends also call him Legend.

Please follow me here: Imagine someone from the Crips goes out and kills 20 Bloods…. that person is probably going to be a Legend among the Crips. But to the rest of us, it just looks like gang crime, right? And if an assassin from AT&T goes out and kills 160 people from Verizon who were trying to take over their turf, we all would look on in horror…. That is, of course, unless you consider your primary loyalty or allegiance is to AT&T. In that case, you might think those killings are completely warranted. Then again, if your allegiance is to Verizon, those killings look like murders and terrorism. How you view the taking of another human life depends on which kingdom you have given your allegiance to. For example, while Chris Kyle was in Iraq, some of his fellow soldiers referred to him as “Legend,” but the Iraqi people called him “Shaitan Ar-Ramadi” (The Devil of Ramadi). And when John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo did their sniping in and around the D.C. area, we called them murderous terrorists, but some people in other parts of the world might call them something completely different.

Is this how we settle things?

Is this how we settle things?

So if you look at the killing of Iraqi people as legitimate, where does that legitimacy come from? Many would start quoting Romans 13 and say that God has given the government the authority to swing their swords…. The trouble is this: There are a whole lot of governments out there. If it’s one government versus another government, how do we figure out who has the authority? Do we fight it out–winner takes all–and then figure that the victor had God’s blessing? Do we really believe that “might makes right,” and settle our governmental differences with some sort of deadly arm wrestling match between city states? Or, more rightly, a chess match where the pawns are the poor souls (usually figuratively AND literally poor) who the king has managed to convince that to die and kill for him is ordained by God himself? It’s just strange to me.

"And to the reception for which it stands. One service under U-Verse, with internet and WIFI for all...."

“And to the reception for which it stands. One service under U-Verse, with internet and WIFI for all….”

So from the vantage point of citizens of the United States of America (with our hand over our hearts, pledging our allegiance), an assassin from AT&T killing 160 people from Verizon just seems like some bizarre and tragic turf war…. But here’s the thing: A Christian’s allegiance belongs to a different Kingdom. And if your allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, then that’s what all these wars start seeming like–some bizarre and tragic turf war where the people involved think their killings have legitimacy. But really it’s just like some dude from AT&T killing someone because his CEO told him it was okay. And the crazy thing is that in reality, AT&T is bigger and richer and more powerful than some sovereign countries in the world.

"Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

This morning, the Academy Award nominees for best picture were announced. Among the list of nominees were two films about American Heroes–American Sniper and Selma. One of those heroes was taught by our military to use a rifle to take the lives of men he didn’t know. The other hero had his life taken from him by the rifle of a man he didn’t know–a man who was taught to kill by that same military. One man looked down the scope of a gun and killed somewhere between 160 and 255 people who he had identified as enemies. The other looked out at a crowd of people and told them, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” One man died at a firing range in Texas, bringing a friend there whose mind was shattered by the horrors of war in the hopes that firing some more guns would help his PTSD. The other died on a balcony in Memphis, standing with striking sanitation workers in the hopes that he could help bring some attention to a group of garbage men looking for a living wage.

If there is a hope for this world, it is not in putting a bullet through our enemies. As Dr. King said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” The heroes are not the ones dispensing bullets; they are the ones dispensing love. I’ll leave you with one more heroic quote:

“The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.” MLK, from “Pilgrimage to Non-Violence”

Posted in 1) Jesus | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Public Service Message About Fat Babies

Babies are like eating at Logan's.... The more rolls, the better.

Babies are like eating at Logan’s…. The more rolls, the better.

I learned something recently. I learned that not everybody in the world likes it when you comment on how fat their baby is. Who knew? And here I’ve been, walking around all this time, congratulating people on their chubby little babies. I’ve been walking up to strangers like, “Excuse me ma’am…. You probably already know this, but your child has roughly three extra folds in the skin of his forearm. I just wanted to say, ‘Well done.'” It turns out some folks don’t like it when people point things like this out to them.

I mean, I guess it makes sense. At some point in every kid’s life, you’re not allowed anymore to comment on how fat they are…. I just thought that we were allowed to compliment a baby’s chunkiness AT LEAST until the kid starts talking. No one’s telling parents what a cute little butterball their middle school daughter is. But BABIES?!? Actually, I have always felt bad about pointing out how skinny a baby was. If I noticed a skinny baby, I kept it to myself…. I didn’t want to say something and offend someone. I could never get the words to come out without them sounding disappointed. I would say, “Oh, he’s so skinny” the way one might say, “Oh, you’ve got some ketchup on your shirt.”

I like babies to look lie they have multiple rubber bands around their arms....

I like babies to look lie they have multiple rubber bands around their arms….

All it took was one person cautioning me about the mother of a chubby kid being sensitive, and now I am second-guessing myself around ALL fat babies. For example, the other day at the restaurant, a couple sat down in my section with a remarkably fat baby. His head was at least one-and-a-half times wider than it was tall. The weight of his chipmunky little cheeks and jowls seemed to have caused his neck to disappear, and he had dimples where no dimples belonged. His arms were out to his sides like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story, but he was wearing a short-sleaved shirt. He was as cute as babies get, and everything in me wanted to squish his fat little oversized head. And, for whatever reason, I wanted to discuss his excess cheeks with his parents, but now I’m all worried about making people feel bad (It should be pointed out that his parents were both thin people. Of course, I would never have a conversation with overweight people about how plump their kids is. Everybody knows that…. That’s Fat Baby Etiquette 101).

I'm not ashamed to say that I want to eat this baby's cheeks. I want to eat them.

I’m not ashamed to say that I want to eat this baby’s cheeks. I want to eat them.

This whole thing has me very confused and a little saddened. Is there really no point in a person’s life anymore when you can vocally appreciate how fat they are without offending someone? Everyone knows that fat babies are objectively cuter than skinny babies. And many of those skinny babies are going to grow up to be a skinny adults (with all the advantages that brings)…. We’ve got the rest of people’s lives to congratulate them on how skinny they are. Can’t there just be a short period of time where we celebrate and acknowledge that a kid is chubby, and that chubbiness makes everyone around her happier?

This is one of my own little chunky babies. Notice the ample ham hocks....

This is one of my own little chunky babies. Notice the ample ham hocks….

For some people, having a fat baby makes them feel good because it’s obvious that their kids are getting enough to eat. I know that it was this way for us when my wife was breastfeeding our kids. All three of my kids had ham hocks that would test the tensile strength of their tights. The waistbands of their clothes would make noises like stressed metal. And I wore their pudginess like a medal, showing it to anyone who pay attention. If you are a parent who gets offended by people who point out how portly your kids is, please don’t. And if  you’re a person like me who thought that you were complimenting parents when you commented on their pudgy little person, be aware…. Sadly, some people don’t like it.

 

In closing, please look at this fat baby’s face:

The way that this baby feels about having to wear this hat is the way that I feel about finding out I'm not allowed to complement people's fat babies anymore.

The way that this baby feels about having to wear this hat is the way that I feel about finding out I’m not allowed to complement people’s fat babies anymore.

Can we all just agree that fat babies are awesome?

 

Posted in 3) Bathroom Humor, 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Stop Saying “Islamic Terrorist”

Something tells me I can't know everything I need to know about this person because of this one blinding display of ignorance....

Something tells me I can’t know everything I need to know about this person because of this one blinding display of ignorance….

About a month ago, some co-workers and I went to the Islamic Center of Nashville. We met with a man who was part of the leadership at the Mosque, and he spoke to us about some of the issues Muslim kids in public schools have to face. He was very kind, and sort of endearingly nerdy. During his powerpoint he showed some pictures of some of the discrimination that Muslims have to deal with in their lives and on social media…. Pictures of burned down Mosques (local Mosques), hate-filled graffiti, and inflammatory Islamophobic pictures that people shared on Facebook and Twitter (like the one that I wrote about HERE detailing “How To Wink At A Muslim”). As he showed all these hurtful images, he didn’t seem upset or angry. He seemed more resigned to those sorts of images as a fact of life. It was more like, “So yeah…. that’s just a part of what we have to deal with.” He was just calmly stating a sad reality.

The only time I saw him even get a TINY bit worked up was when he spoke about the term “Islamic Terrorist” (Thinking back on it now, he probably doesn’t feel much freedom to show a lot of passion about the daily prejudices that Muslims face because he doesn’t want to come off as “angry,” even when there is plenty to be rightfully angry about…. But I’m speculating). Anyway, he showed just a bit of emotion as he talked about “these maniacs” (his words) who murder and terrorize being described as “Islamic Terrorists.” In the face of all those examples of ignorance and prejudice, the only thing that brought his frustration to the surface was the fact that every time another one of these crazy people killed somebody, it was equated to Islam. And again and again, a religion of peace was being associated with the worst sorts of violence.

This is the most powerful image I've seen about this tragedy.

This is the most powerful image I’ve seen about this tragedy.

And as sat there in that Mosque and I listened to him talk, I knew how he felt: That frustration of watching a misguided group effectively hijack a term you care deeply about. I think about it every time I hesitate before identifying myself as a Christian. A lot of what I do here is attempting to defend Christianity from the people out there who are trying to make it seem like following Jesus is all about fighting against gay marriage, tax cuts for the wealthy, and arming yourself to the teeth. So as I watch the horrors unfold as the news covers the tragic murders at France’s Charlie Hebdo, I think again of sitting there with my shoes off while listening to this kind man trying to contain his frustration with the term “Islamic Terrorist” when the term “Terrorist” would suffice.

That makes it easier to understand....

That makes it easier to understand….

When crazy people freak out and start killing people and credit their Christianity, you know what we DON’T call them? Christian Terrorists. At the end of last year, a crazy person named Larry McQuilliams fired more than 100 rounds in downtown Austin on his way to try to burn down the Mexican Consulate. He credited Christianity as the inspiration for his extremism, and in his van was a book called “Vigilantes of Christendom” and a note calling himself a “priest in the fight against anti-God people.” The Norwegian nut-job who killed 77 people (mostly kids) in 2011 described himself as a Christian. Timothy McVeigh was hugely influenced by the “Christian Identity” movement in forming the sort of belief system that would blow up a building. Just about every white supremacist credits Christianity for their hatred, and acts of violence and terrorism against gays in this country is overwhelmingly done by people identifying themselves as “Christians.”

No one in the Christian community feels the need to distinguish themselves from these lunatics, because they are so clearly opposite to everything that Jesus was about. When I saw a Muslim friend of mine for the first time after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, even though he is very aware of my understanding of this issue, he still felt the need to say, “This is not us.” Maybe we shouldn’t expect every member of the Muslim community to distance themselves any time some deranged person credits Allah for their murderous intent (Though, if you want to hear some of the reactions from Muslim leaders to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, HERE IS AN AMAZING LIST.)

The face of a hero.

The face of a hero.

Maybe instead of making the face of Islam those murderous masked men, we can focus on a different face…. The face of Ahmed Merabet. Ahmed was a policeman assigned to protect a woman who worked at Charlie Hebdo who had received death threats because of insulting comics the magazine put out about Islam and Mohammed. He was a French man, living in the birthplace of liberty, and he was a Muslim. He died, gunned down in the street by deranged killers–killers whose professed “Islam” was as foreign to him as the Westboro Baptist’s religion is foreign to me. And he died defending the rights of a magazine to insult and ridicule his faith. This is the face of a hero, it is the face of freedom, and it is the face of Islam.

I don't.

I don’t.

So what can we do? We can remind people that allowing these lunatics to inform your understanding of Islam is itself lunacy. This sort of stuff is the very definition of prejudice, and it is the beating heart of the sort of discrimination that leads to even more tragedies like what happened at Charlie Hebdo. We can tell the story of Ahmed Merabet. We can remind people that Christianity has been used every bit as effectively in the past as a justification for killing people who are different. We can post rational and loving comments on threads that are filled with hatred and fear. We can remind people (or inform them if they don’t already know) that most of the people fighting against this sort of murderous religious extremism are, in fact, MUSLIMS.

You know what? That’s a good name for it: “MURDEROUS RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM.”  It is NOT Islamic Terrorism…. It is not a matter of Christianity versus Islam. It is a difference of ideology. I am an ally in the struggle (the word “jihad” actually means “struggle”) against a radical fundamentalism that seems to be spreading…. Against a black & white, “us & them” way of thinking…. Against a dangerous certainty. I feel much more closely connected to a Muslim looking for peace in the midst of all of this violence than I do to a “Christian” who is using this tragedy as a rationale for even more killing. If you are using your religion as a justification for killing people, you are part of the problem…. Regardless of your religion. Beloved, let us love one another.

***Three things: 1) Don’t use the comments section to make your case for all the reasons Islam is not a religion of peace…. Christianity’s track record with killing people who disagree with them is every bit as disturbing. 2) I am trying to write a book. I’m sorry to make you wait longer between posts. You’ll get over it…. And 3) Don’t let the pushback from all the crazies out there make you afraid to share this post. Be brave and loving and rational. Also, thanks for reading.***

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