Talking To Your Kids About Their Front-Bottoms

It was just like this, only slightly less sexy....

It was just like this, only slightly less sexy….

I can clearly remember humping the banister by the stairs of the house I grew up in. Come to think of it, as a kid I also had an occasional romantic relationship with an area of sunlit carpeting  near our bay window. It was warm, and soft, and never said no. What a strange thing to think about now…. There was no one to explain any of the quasi-sexual urges and changes that seemed to be overflowing naturally out of me, and I had to kind of navigate that stuff on my own: Waiting a few extra minutes before getting out of bed on some mornings, finding the magazines under my dad’s bed, exploring the way those images made me feel, processing the shame of being caught…. It’s a lot for a kid to work through on his own. As a kid, you think you’re the only one.

Not this kind of morning wood....

Not this kind of morning wood….

I wish I could talk to that little, pre-adolescent version of myself. I’d tell him that it’s natural. And he’s (relatively) normal. And that he’s not the only one. Here—on this side of parenthood—it is so clear that all kids are a bunch of little freaks. They are a bunch of little walking balls of hormones and urges and ego…. Any parent of a boy could probably tell you a story of the first time they hugged their son and had the “rude awakening” of being greeted with his morning wood. Most parents could probably tell you about finding a daughter sleeping in the morning with her hands down her pants. It is humanity. It is perfectly natural. If you put something nipple-sized into a baby’s mouth, it will start sucking on it. And if a banister grazes against a boy’s crotch in just the right way, that boy is going to hump that banister. Especially if that boy was me….

Let's talk about all the good thing and the bad things....

Let’s talk about all the good thing and the bad things….

And still, for whatever reason, I find it difficult to talk to my kids about sexuality. I don’t know what it is…. It’s like echoes of shame from a far away, long ago place—like voices whispering “You shouldn’t be talking about this sort of stuff.” But I’m here to tell you: THOSE VOICES ARE LIARS. The fear of speaking frankly, honestly, and openly to our kids is one of the main engines that enables the cycle of sexual abuse. So many of us are prudes with our children, and it is at their own peril. We are afraid to say “penis.” We are afraid to say “vagina.” We do our children a disservice when we listen to the voices of our youth, telling us to be ashamed…. And we do this at a time when 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys (or 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys, depending on who you ask) will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.

Never EVER a kid's fault.

Never EVER a kid’s fault.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. One of the things I do when I’m not blogging is I educate kids about child abuse. There are still schools that shy away from our Child Abuse Prevention program–because the topic makes them a little too uncomfortable. And a big reason for this hesitancy is the fear that the parents will be angry if people talk to their kids about the “taboo” subject of sexual abuse. But if you could only see the things I have seen with some of these elementary-aged kids, you would be DEMANDING that programs like ours are coming to schools. We talk to them about what child abuse is, and about what child abuse isn’t. We teach them about the concept of an unsafe secret. We let them know that if someone tries to do something to them and gives them an uncomfortable, “uh-oh” feeling, that they can say “NO!” And before we leave, we always remind them of two very important things: 1) Child abuse is never, EVER a kid’s fault. And 2) This stuff is okay to talk about.

Everyone does it....

Everyone does it….

And that message is one that grownups need to hear as well. THIS STUFF IS OKAY TO TALK ABOUT. I know it’s not easy to talk about, but it’s okay to talk about. And beyond being “okay” to talk about, it’s desperately important to talk about. As parents, we can’t trust that our kids’ schools are going to do a sufficient job of educating our most precious people about this. You can’t leave something this important up to the hope that a program like mine will be coming to your child’s school. This topic is only as shameful as you let it be. Every kid poops. Every kid discovers their own sex organs. And every kid needs to learn about appropriate and inappropriate touching…. Without any shame involved. Maybe one of the best things we can do for our kids is to help them understand they don’t need to be ashamed.

There’s a point in our child abuse presentation where one of the puppets asks, “Do you still feel weird talking talking about stuff like this…. You know, kind of embarrassed?” And the girl who has experienced sexual abuse answers, “Not anymore, because I learned what happened to me is NOT MY FAULT.” And you know what? It’s not your fault either. It’s not your fault that you grew up being told that it was shameful to talk about sexuality. It’s not your fault that this kind of stuff is hard to talk about…. But if someday, someone is able to hurt your kid because you were too afraid to talk about this sensitive topic, you might bear some responsibility for that. Talk. To. Your. Kids. Let them know what child abuse is. Let them know that they are allowed to say, “NO!” Let them see that you’re not ashamed, and let them know they don’t need to be either.

Not this kind of front-bottom.

Not this kind of front-bottom.

And by the way, when you talk to them, use anatomically correct language. When my kids were littler (they’re still little), they developed the term “front-bottom.” I’m pretty sure it was entirely on their own. They had their “front-bottom” and their “back-bottom.” But those sorts of euphemisms are born out of a place of shame, and there should be no shame in using the right terminology. Referring to a private part as a “hoo-ha” or “thingy” or “flower’ or “noodle” is made of the same stuff that suggests to a kid that it’s too shameful to tell anyone about what happened. Every professional agrees that using anatomically correct language is best, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.  You can do this! Repeat after me…. “Penis.” “Vagina.”

Last thing: If you just have no idea what to say when talking to your kids about child abuse, there are resources available. You can Google the words “How to talk to your kids about child abuse,” but beyond that, there are some great, kid-friendly books. Here are a few, with links to their Amazon page:
“It’s MY Body: A Book to Teach Young Children How to Resist Uncomfortable Touch”
“I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private”
“Your Body Belongs to You”
“Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts”

Posted in 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Saving A Murderer’s Life: Who Would Jesus Execute?

An example of the sorts of fun little pictures you get to see if you like my Facebook page....

An example of the sorts of fun little pictures you get to see if you like my Facebook page….

Today is the second Boston Marathon since the bombings in 2013. Tomorrow begins the penalty phase of the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Dzhokhar is pronounced “Joe-Car,” but most of the people he knows call him Jahar). Jahar was found guilty of all 30 charges brought against him…. Many of which carry with them the possibility of the death penalty. The trial is happening in Boston, but because Massachusetts has outlawed the death penalty over 30 years ago, Tsarnaev has been charged under Federal law in order to insure the death penalty as a possible punishment.

Great hair is wasted on mass murderers....

Great hair is wasted on mass murderers….

There are a lot of reasons why people might want to see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev put to death. It’s clear to anyone who has seen pictures from the streets of Boston after those two bombs went off two years ago that this young man and his older brother did something horrible that day. They spread misery and fear, killing three people and wounding over 100 more—some losing limbs. It was a heinous act that deserves punishment…. But the question I’m asking is this: What possible good comes out of taking another life because of this tragedy? What sense does it make to kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong. The answer is this: It doesn’t make any sense.

There are all kinds of practical, non-religious reasons to be against the death penalty. Here are a few:

  1. China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia…. These are the names of the other countries in the world’s top five in numbers of executions. Is this really the sort of company we want to keep with human rights practices?
  2. There is well-documented racism involved in who receives the death penalty. Black folks make up 13% of the U.S. population, but they account for 34% of the executions. In addition, even though since 1977 about half of all homicides have been black folks getting killed, 77% of the times the death penalty was handed down it was for killing a white person. Also, 82% of all the executions that have taken place since 1976 have occurred in the South.
  3. We’re sentencing innocent people to death. In the past 42 years, 140 people have been released from death row due to evidence coming forward of their wrongful conviction. During that same period of time, the United States has executed over 1200 people. Innocent people are being killed in order for us to quench some sort of ancient thirst for “eye-for-an-eye” style justice.
  4. It costs way more to kill people. In Tennessee (where I live) death penalty trials cost 44% more than ones seeking life in prison. In California, having the death penalty as an option costs them about $125 million extra every year.
  5. It doesn’t work. States without the death penalty have consistently lower levels of violent crime than those with the death penalty. Here is what that looks like on a graph: Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 5.47.04 PM

Beyond the pragmatic reasons for ending the barbaric practice of killing people for killing people, in Jahar Tsarnaev’s trial the defense is making the case that Jahar was pressured by his older brother Tamerlan into helping carry out this crime. Many times in capital punishment cases, they give the accused the option to plead guilty in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table. In this trial, that was not offered, so there was no reason for him to plead guilty (allowing for a more lengthy appeals process if they decide to sentence him to death). They knew the evidence was overwhelming, and his attorney is just trying to save his life. Doing that will depend on the jury believing a narrative in which Jahar was pushed down a dark path by his brother. But how could we ever know this for sure? A man is either going to live or die based on whether or not his defense can show his dead brother’s influence more clearly than the prosecution can portray his autonomy. I just can’t wrap my head around this….

This is so awesome it makes me consider buying a Fusion.

This is so awesome it almost makes me consider buying a Fusion. Almost.

And I am aware I am in the minority in this country because of my stance on the inherent immorality of the death penalty. People in the United States LOVE their death penalty. When Hospira (the maker of the sodium thiopental that is a crucial part of the three drug cocktail used in lethal injection) decided to stop producing the drug, a nationwide shortage began. The maker of the drug decided to stop making it because they didn’t want a drug they developed to help people being used to kill people…. Go figure. Now people are writhing in pain while they are being put to death when they are trying to use a substitute, and courts are halting some lethal injections because it might be “cruel and unusual.” But that is just a small setback in our quest for death as a punishment. Here in Tennessee, they passed legislation making the electric chair legal again. In Utah, they are bringing back the firing squad.

And the craziest part of this whole issue–to me, at least–is how many people who identify themselves as Christians argue for state-sponsored killing. You’d think that people who follow a man who was brutally and unjustly killed by a state-sponsored execution would be at least a little bit suspicious of the death penalty. We follow a man who died forgiving his murderers. We worship a God who has–multiple times–chosen to use murderers as his representatives and mouthpieces and leaders here on earth….

People like Moses.

People like David.

People like Paul.

I wish this weren't so true.

I wish this weren’t so true.

And the saddest part about this “Pro-Death” stance by so many Christians is how utterly hopeless it is. It doesn’t believe that God is powerful enough–that love is strong enough–to redeem the lives of murderers (certain murderers, that is. The death penalty is applied very arbitrarily. “Of the 15,000 to 17,000 homicides committed every year in the United States, approximately 120 people are sentenced to death, less than 1%”). Imagine if Paul had been “brought to justice” and put to death for the crimes he committed as Saul before the road to Damascus. Paul presided over a group whose JOB it was to persecuted and kill Christians. People look at the horrors being committed against Christians by ISIS right now, and they cry out for swift and brutal justice against the people doing the killing…. But do you know who those people are? They’re Saul. They’re Saul before he was Paul. They’re Saul BEFORE he met Jesus.

That or it turns the whole world into pirates.... Either way, it's bad.

That or it turns the whole world into pirates…. Either way, it’s bad.

Very recently, I have sat down and talked with murderers. They are living with the consequences of their actions, but they are living. And they are being redeemed. They are still worthy of love, whether they believe it or not. This death penalty stuff should make no sense for any of us, but it should be ESPECIALLY foreign to those of us who claim to follow the one who said, “You have heard it said…. But I tell you.” We leave behind “an eye for an eye.” We are the people who even love the ones who hate us. That’s what makes us different. And we do it because we believe in a God who loves his enemies as well. You might be able to rationalize wanting to send Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to hell as soon as possible, but if this is you, I’ve got some news for you–You’re not following Jesus. If I know anything at all about Jesus, it’s that….

Shane Claiborne wrote about speaking with a death row inmate. Here is what he said:

“He confessed to having done something terrible, which he will regret for the rest of his life. But then it got even more interesting. He told me the story of his trial. During the course of his sentencing, the victim’s family argued that his life should be spared, that he should not be sentenced to death. “They were Christians… so they talked a lot about mercy,” he told me matter-of-factly, as if every Christian was against the death penalty. He went on, “They believed that Jesus came not for the healthy but for the sick. And they argued that God may not be done with me yet. So I was spared the death penalty because of the victim’s family.” Finally he said, “I wasn’t a Christian then. But you better believe that I am one now.”

Posted in 1) Jesus, 2) Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

10 New Ideas For Laws Now That They’ve Voted The Bible As Tennessee’s Official State Book

This decision was less than inspired.

This decision was less than inspired.

If you haven’t already heard, the Tennessee House just voted to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee. If you hear this and think “that is so freaking asinine,” congratulations–You passed the test! It’s a test that I like to call the “Dip Shit Test.” I really think that the Tennessee legislature does this sort of stuff to send a message to liberals to let them know that they are not welcome here. Here are a few more pieces of legislation that they’re working on to let non-Christians know that they need to look for another place to live….

1.  From now on all intersections will be known as “cross-sections” as a reminder of the cross that Jesus died on.

2.  Easter eggs will now only be referred to as “Resurrection Eggs.”

3.  When people get sworn in in a court of law, they will be required to say, “So help me Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

4.  The flat tire repair aerosol at people carry in their cars with them will now be known as “Crucifix-A-Flat.”

5.  Any street address that is currently 666 will have to find a new number, as that is obviously Satan’s address. Actually, you know what? You’re getting rid of all sixes. Sounds too much like sex….

6.  Police badges will be replaced by pins in the shape of Jesus fish.

7.  No more working on Sundays. It’s the Sabbath, y’all…. Businesses whose hours of operation differ from those of Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby are just asking for trouble.

8.  The official state drink will now be Communion Wine (Welches Grape Juice).

9.  Moving Citations will be accompanied by requiring five Hail Mary’s and an Our Father.

10. Levitical purity laws will be checked and enforced on all new marriages. Women who are found to not be virgins on their wedding nights will be stoned to death. Also, the missionary position is the only legitimate way to have sex. People caught having any other kind of sex will be issued a Moving Citation (see #9).

Dear Tennessee House: PLEASE STOP TRYING TO MAKE OUR STATE THE LAUGHINGSTOCK OF THE COUNTRY!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Living Generously, Even When God Isn’t Angry Anymore

Homer Simpson's contribution to the offering plate.... "We can spare it, Marge.... We've been blessed!"

Homer Simpson’s contribution to the offering plate…. “We can spare it, Marge…. We’ve been blessed!”

Earlier this year, the Church my family and I attend made an official statement of inclusion for the LGBT community. You can read about it in a post I wrote titled “What Happened When My Church Decided To Start Marrying Gay People.” Though many people were relieved and even overjoyed at this announcement, many were not…. And many of those people decided to find a new place to worship. Along with them, about half of our church’s board left. But this was something that was not unexpected–Taking a stand on a divisive issue like this comes at a price. Beyond the difficult process of saying goodbye to people you love and have been in community with, it turns out that many of the people who felt led to move away from an affirming Church are also the ones who pay most of the bills.

Many of the seats that were left empty are being filled by new people–Folks who are encouraged and inspired by the stand that GracePointe has taken. But it’s only natural that people who are just visiting and learning about our community are probably not going to be giving at the same level as the folks who considered this their church home. A lot of times it takes a while to have that sort of buy in…. So now I watch as our home Church struggles with finances as they go through this transition. And I have watched this all against the backdrop of a fight in Indiana over whether people should have the “religious freedom” to discriminate against gay people. You’ve probably already heard that a GoFundMe campaign raised $842,000 in two days to support the Indiana pizza parlor who said it wouldn’t cater the numerous same-sex couples who are lined up to find just the right pizza shop to cater their gay weddings.

It's MEMORIES Pizza?!? All this time I've been thinking it was Mammaries Pizza. I haven't been this embarrassed since I messed up that Richard Marx song, "Hold On To The Night."

It’s MEMORIES Pizza?!? All this time I’ve been thinking it was Mammaries Pizza. I haven’t been this embarrassed since I messed up that Richard Marx song, “Hold On To The Night.”

But this isn’t the first time tens of thousands of dollars have been raised in support of people who taking a stand for discrimination. People lined up around the block to show their support for Chick-Fil-A’s stance against “the gays” (I wrote about that HERE. The parallels are frightening). And they also raised a bunch for this florist in Washington who believes she is called by God to refuse service to people she views as sinners:

Something tells me she will still take money from people  who are getting married for the second time. Or drunkards. Or gluttons....

Something tells me she will still take money from people who are getting married for the second time. Or from drunkards. Or from gluttons….

What an amazing contrast. On one side, a Church struggling to make ends meet for saying everyone is welcome…. On the other side, businesses bringing in more money than ever for saying the exact opposite. And when you consider that most of the people giving money to these crowdsourcing funds were doing so because of what they believe they are called to do as Christians, it starts to read like an O’Henry story. With this kind of grand display of support for discrimination made by Christians, it starts to feel like everyone and everything that has to do with the church is full of shit. I’m sorry, there’s really no other way to say it.

For people who talk about how the Church should be taking care of those in need instead of the government, all you need to do is compare this GoFundMe page with the other. $6475 raised in four months for a struggling mom of a kid with cancer, and $842,442 in two days for a pizza parlor refusing to cater gay weddings.

For people who talk about how the Church should be the one taking care of those in need instead of the government, all you need to do is compare this GoFundMe page with the others. $6475 raised in four months for a struggling mom of a kid with cancer, and $842,442 in two days for a pizza parlor refusing to cater gay weddings.

This is not okay. We are better than this!

Is this what God is like?

Is this what God is like?

But fear is a fantastic motivator–Fear of hell, fear of punishment, fear of an angry God…. And when people paint a picture of an angry God with an itchy trigger finger, it’s easy to raise money. There are many, many people out there are still worshiping the volcano god, who requires a virgin be thrown in every so often to appease its fiery fury. It’s a very old story….. In Biblical times, when they told each other the story of Abraham hearing God’s voice telling him to sacrifice his son Isaac, the people would have been very familiar with that sort of occurrence. Human sacrifice was a common thing back then. God was angry, and in order to appease his anger, we had to sacrifice the things we held dear…. And there is nothing dearer to us than our kids. Everybody knew about the god that requires the life of your child. But what people don’t get is that even back then, the story of Abraham and Isaac is the story of God telling us, That’s not who I am. I am different.

Seriously, you guys.... Seriously? Seriously. #facepalm

Seriously, you guys…. Seriously? Seriously. #facepalm

The Bible tells another story of church leaders becoming uncomfortable with the sorts of folks Jesus was hanging out with. They started grumbling to the disciples about how much their teacher was eating with the tax collectors and sinners (By the way, “disciple” is just a word that means “learner.” Jesus was the teacher, and the disciples were the learners…. A fact that might change the way you think about the verse where Jesus tells us to “Go and make disciples of all nations….”). Anyway, as Jesus was explaining why it makes complete sense that he would be hanging out with “sinners,” he says to them, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” It’s interesting that he would pick this one little verse from Hosea to quote to them–I desire mercy, not sacrifice. They’re complaining about him hanging out with sinners, and he says to them, “It’s not about sacrifice. It’s about compassion.” Sacrifice was based on fear, but compassion is based on love. I believe this is what was behind Jesus’ continued frustration with the Pharisees: The fact that they were so concerned about keeping every detail and letter of the law that they were missing the heart of the law. And still today, much of the Church is so concerned with the letter of the the law that they are missing the heart of the law. And that heart is love. But the voice of Jesus still speaks to us today: “Go and learn what this means….

"Love me, or else" is not the  way that a loving God functions.

“Love me, or else” is not the posture of a loving God.

We are not a people who love each other out of a fear of punishment, but unfortunately a large part of the Church still functions that way. And when we, as a community of believers, proclaim that people are loved–not because of what they have done, but because they are a child of God–we take away a big motivator.  “Do the right thing OR ELSE!” responds to fear, whereas “Do the right thing because you are loved, because you are made in the image of a generous God, and because it’s the right thing to do…. and you are being transformed into the sort of person who does the right thing even when it’s hard” speaks to a totally different audience. The second one only works on folks whose level of consciousness is at a place of leaving fear behind, but there are a lot fewer of those sorts of people walking around right now. But “perfect love casts out fear,” and the good news is that God is a God who loves us perfectly–with a love that casts out fear…. Now if we can just get people to start seeing him that way.

So if you are a person who feels inspired by a Church who takes a stand to fully include our LGBT brothers and sisters in the good news that we are the beloved children of God, maybe you’d be inspired to HELP SUPPORT IT. If you go to another Church, and your community is a long ways away from taking that step toward becoming inclusive, but you just feel like you want to help…. YOU CAN. If you feel let down by the Church and think you don’t want to have anything to do with it ever again (believe me I KNOW THAT FEELING), I want you to know that this community has healed many hearts like mine that have been broken by the disfunction of Church, and you can REINFORCE THAT SORT OF PLACE. Maybe you believe all this “God” business is just a bunch of BS, but you can still feel deep inside of you that something horrible was released into the universe when almost 30,000 people raised $842,442 in TWO FREAKING DAYS to support a pizza shop that said it wouldn’t cater a gay wedding, and now you want to dole out SOME SORT OF KARMIC WEDGIE to counteract that colossal act of communal hatred that was funded almost entirely by people who claim to follow Jesus.

Please?

I need somebody.

I don’t advertise on this blog, and I have never asked you guys to support me financially…. I might someday. I don’t know. But I do know that this church is too good of a place for them to be struggling with finances because of a decision to vocally extend the radical love of God (as well as all the sacraments) to folks who are LGBT. I give finically, but I wish I could do more to help…. At this point in my life I don’t have a whole lot of dollars to give. But we all help in different ways. If you are in a position where you are able to help, I’m asking you to consider it. You can GIVE ONLINE (There are a whole lot of ways to give, including PayPal). And if you’re not in a place right now where you can give, maybe just consider sharing this post and passing it along to a friend. Either way, thanks for reading.

Posted in 1) Jesus, 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

10 Encouraging Things To Come Out Of This Indiana Garbage

If you’re anything like me, you have probably gotten more than a little discouraged by the news coming out of Indiana over the last few days. I wrote a bit about it HERE, if you feel like reading it. It is understandable to be discouraged–It’s a really discouraging situation. You might even be tempted to despair…. But take heart! It is not all bad news. There are actually some really good things to come out of all of this crap…. Here are a few:

To begin with, there are a bunch of people vocally lending their voices and support to the cause of embracing diversity and equal rights for the LGBT community. Like Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts….

Wilco cancelled an upcoming concert trying to take a stand against discrimination….

And even Seth MacFarlane got into the act….

I see where he’s coming from–It does seem to many folks like this law is taking a giant step into the past….

Except for Indianapolis, because they don't play along with the whole Daylight Savings thing....

Except for Indianapolis, because they don’t play along with the Daylight Savings thing….

Even when someone does something really gross–like a pizzeria trying to get some free press by declaring that they wouldn’t cater a gay wedding (as if)–good stuff still comes from this sad action. That good thing? The Yelp Reviews are freaking hilarious. You have to weed through some really hateful ones (from both sides), but the funny ones are worth it. There are also some funny pictures….

This pizza is miraculous....

This pizza is miraculous….

Another cool thing is this front page editorial from the Indianapolis Star. An even cooler this was this amazing letter the paper received from a man named Nick Crews who was encouraged by the stand the paper had taken:

“With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield’s Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother’s grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.

At the grave I opened the Star. I said, “Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all.” Then I read aloud as much of the paper’s editorial as tears would let me get through.

And today I’m doing what I never thought I’d do. I’m renewing my subscription to the Star. I’m doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to the Star whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.”

After your eyes dry out, you can read his entire letter HERE.

And then, take a few minutes to laugh with Conan at the absurdity of it all….

Even Honey Maid graham crackers got into the mix….

Political Graham Cracker sounds like a pejorative term for a South Carolina Senator.

Political Graham Cracker sounds like a pejorative term for a South Carolina Senator.

Still, I think this one is my favorite. It’s by Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer….

I love Jesus.

I love Jesus.

This one gets to the heart of it. I know that it’s easy to get down when people keep representing Jesus in a way that everyone but them can see is shameful…. But things ARE getting better. A while ago (after another discouraging setback involving gay Boy Scouts), I wrote THIS POST. I just reread it, and think it still holds up (I have a healthy self-image). Sometimes losing a battle hurts, but the war has already been decided, and LOVE WINS! Human consciousness is progressing. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it’s bending toward justice. There is reason to celebrate. There is reason to laugh. There is reason to be hopeful.

Posted in 1) Jesus, 2) Politics, 3) Bathroom Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Protecting Our Freedom To Not Sell Flowers To Gay People

We have to serve you if you're black, but if you're black and gay, you're going to need to find another soda shop.

We have to serve you if you’re black, but if you’re black and gay, you’re going to need to find another soda shop.

In the past week there has been an “AVALANCHE of intolerance” that has taken place. Now, you might think I’m referring to Indiana’s new law (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) making it legal for businesses to discriminate against people who are LGBT, but according to Indiana Governor Mike Pence, it turns out that that actual intolerance is coming from the folks who REFUSE to tolerate Indiana’s intolerance. I mean, you’d THINK that people who are so sensitive to intolerance would be able to recognize their own narrow-mindedness, right?!? This wave of intolerance has come not only from individuals…

but also from companies like Apple….

and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff who tweeted….

Even the NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis, is reconsidering how this decision will affect its relationship with Indiana. Angie’s List has also cancelled an expansion in Indiana over the RFRA, but I think that the idiocy of this position is best summed up by America’s Best Christian, Mrs. Betty Bowers (a woman “so close to Jesus He uses my birthday when He plays Lotto”), who tweeted…

I love it. I love it so much....

I love it. I love it so much….

So listen, I know this type of story is the sort of thing people have come to expect me to write about, but I have been trying to stay out of it. It’s just such a tired, sad, obvious wrong that I figure if you don’t already see that, chances are nothing I’m going to write is going to change that. Also, so many other people have done such a good job of pointing out the ridiculousness of this whole situation that I didn’t really feel like I had a lot to add. One of the best I’ve read is THIS ONE by Gene Robinson…. Here is a quote from that article:

Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”

I mean, the idiocy of this law…. It is like an anti-axiom. But when I saw this morning’s interview with Governor Pence on ABC News’ “The Week,” I had to pass it along. Everyone needs to see this, and if my writing this gets the few people who frequent this blog to watch this extraordinary interview, it’ll be worth it. Warning: If you don’t enjoy watching politicians squirm, you probably won’t enjoy this: http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=29987447

If you're wondering who that guy standing behind Gov. Pence at the signing of the RFRA, his name is Eric Miller. He is the head of the state's latest anti-LGBT organization called "Advance America." They must have used their religious liberty to keep all the black folks out of the room....

If you’re wondering who that guy standing behind Gov. Pence at the signing of the RFRA is, his name is Eric Miller–the head of the state’s latest anti-LGBT organization called “Advance America.” They must have used their religious liberty to keep all the black folks out of the room….

Now just in case you don’t actually watch the video (I can see how many of you actually click on the links–It’s a pretty small percentage of how many people read the posts…. You should all be ashamed of yourselves), Indiana Governor Mike Pence went on “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos to do some damage control after Indiana started getting loads of bad publicity for the bill that the signed into law. He plays the victim by blaming the left for being intolerant of his state’s attempts to make it legal to discriminate against people who are LGBT. He actually says the words, “Is tolerance a two way street, or not?” The interview ends with Governor Pence being asked, “Do you think it should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays and lesbians?” After being asked multiple times, the governor could not seem to bring himself to give a simple, “No, I don’t think it should be legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians.” One can only guess at the reasoning behind his refusal to say yes or a no….

That’s about all I’ve got in me. Sorry. It’s just so freaking discouraging…. Anyway, I am reminded of probably the best article about understanding religious liberty that I have ever read. It was written by Rev. Emily C. Heath, and it is titled “How to Determine If Your Religious Liberty Is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” Even if you’ve read it before, you should read it again. She ends her article (and I’ll end mine) with these wise words:

The only way to ensure your own religious liberty remains strong is by advocating for the religious liberty of all, including those with whom you may passionately disagree. Because they deserve the same rights as you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Top 10 Things a Pastor Can Do With His New Gulfstream Jet

All things are possible with God. And one of those possible things is a pastor driving around in a Bentley.

All things are possible with God. And one of those possible things is a pastor driving around in a Bentley.

Being a mega-church pastor is a very demanding job. With all those fundraisers, and book tours, and real estate deals…. Sometimes it seems like it’s almost impossible to find time to get on TV to ask people for money, let us know about their new book, and start a new capital campaign. These guys have so much to worry about! The LAST thing these men of God need to be worrying about is getting to the airport early and trying to find a seat on a commercial flight with the rest of those reprobates in first class…. Or–God forbid–even trying to wedge yourself in between a couple of runny-nosed schlubs in COACH. Lord knows the only “Coach” in the life of a mega-church pastor is his wife’s handbag….

This is a picture of the Gulfstream G650. I happened to get this particular photo off Pastor Bill Johnson's Facebook Page.... But whatever.

This is a picture of the Gulfstream G650. I happened to get this particular photo off Pastor Bill Johnson’s Facebook Page…. But whatever.

Some of you may have already heard about Creflo Dollar, the pastor of Atlanta’s giant World Changers Church International, asking for financial help to “achieve our goal to purchase the Gulfstream G650 airplane.” The G650 goes for a cool $65 million, but don’t worry–If a Church buys it, they don’t have to pay any tax on it. The G650 happens to be the same model of luxury private jet that Bill Johnson, pastor of Redding California’s Bethel Church, was “believing God for.” It’s a nice jet–WAY better than those crappy $18 million Learjets that are barely fit for those Scientologist hobos Travolta and Cruise to fly. God’s men deserve only the very best. And after 200,000 people commit to “sow” $300 or more, Pastor Dollar will finally be flying in the style he–and Jesus–deserves.

Here are some ways that a $65 million jet can be used by a pastor to further the Kingdom of God: 

  1. He can finally have a straight flight to bring medical supplies to Africa without having to lay over in Tampa.
  2. It doubles as a nice, quiet place to read the Bible.
  3. He and his wife can finally enter the Mile-High-Club on a king-sized mattress as God intended, and not some cramped, stinky bathroom. #MissionaryPosition
  4. Two words: FULL BAR! And the cool thing is that the wine in the airplane bar can be used in a pinch for Communion….
  5. The seats have really nice night lights, so you can do devotions at night.
  6. The prisoners he visits will be hella impressed.
  7. Ample cargo space can be filled with food for the homeless folks who might live near the airport. And the money they saved on the religious tax exemption can be used to start a soup kitchen to feed the poor.
  8. Able to have fun buzzing the tower with his associate pastor, Goose (Negative, Holy Ghost Rider, the pattern is full).
  9. His $5000 suits won’t come out of all wrinkly, like they do when you have to check your luggage like the commoners.
  10. Can finally prove, once and for all, that God blesses the faithful with great riches.

He works in mysterious ways, you guys…. If you have more good ideas for things that belong on this list, please post them in the comments.

Posted in 1) Jesus, 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

I Hate To Tell You This, But Those Aren’t Praying Hands

prayer-emoji

Seeing this emoji as a high five is the social media equivalent of the “In Bed” game that makes fortune cookies suddenly fun.

I’m about to rock your world. Ready? Here it is: That little emoji that people think is praying hands? It’s actually a high five*. Those little lines are not some holy prayer power emanating from the hands–turns out they are a cartoon illustration of the noise that lets you know the high five made a good sound*. I understand that some of you have already heard this atomic bomb go off, but if this is the first you are hearing of this, for you, everything is probably different now. I’ll give you the natural pause that is a paragraph break ending in an ellipsis to let you recover….

This information has some serious social media implications. My time on Facebook has been made exponentially more funny with this revelation. Now, when people post something they are struggling with (sickness, sadness, loss of a loved one) and someone posts a little high five emoji, I imagine them saying, “Alright! Way to go!”

“Driving to the vet to say goodbye for the final time to our faithful dog, Samson.”
Gimme five!

“Turns out I have a strange disease that makes me bleed out my eyeballs.”
Up top!!

“I lost my job, my wife is having an affair, and this medicine I’m taking is causing a truly embarrassing amount of anal leakage.”
Slap me some skin, my brother!!!

When I saw the high five for what it was, it was a very "That's-no-moon-It's-a-space-station" sort-of feeling....

When I saw the high five for what it was, it was a very “That’s-no-moon-It’s-a-space-station” sort-of feeling….

See? Everything is funnier. Empirically funnier. And this is not to say that we should be laughing at other peoples hardships. Sometimes in life people just need to share what they’re going through and reach out for a little support and sympathy… I’m simply suggesting that maybe our response to those times should not be cute little impersonal cartoons. If you feel led to pray for someone, just pray for them–You don’t have to type six emojis. Or call them up and pray with them. Better yet, go visit them. Sit down with them and tell them you love them. Bring them some chicken noodle soup. Bring them some cooling wet wipes for their bloody eyes and leaky anus. It’s bad enough when people share a status about being in need, and the comments section is filled up only with people saying, “Praying,” “Praying right now,” “Lifting you up in prayer,” etc…. I’m not quite sure why this is so annoying to me.

This is my emoji for my feelings about reducing prayer to a one-click cartoon.

This is my emoji for my feelings about reducing prayer to a one-click cartoon.

Maybe it’s because prayer is more than a cute Emoji. What we believe about prayer directly influences and reveals what we believe about God. When we pray for God to “be with” someone, we paint a picture of a God who is not with us–at least not until we ask him to be (and even then, is one prayer enough, or do we need a whole bunch of praying hands? Are seven “Praying Hand” emojis somehow better than six?). A God who is in control of every little detail of our days can quickly turn into a monstrous thing when we are surrounded by misery and pain. A God who is in enough control to miraculously assist with the safety of the people of a town destroyed by tornado is also in enough control to have steered the tornado out of the path of the town. These are not simple questions that can be answered by a little Emoji… Especially when that Emoji is actually giving a high-five*.

*This may or may not be true. I actually have no idea…. There are some (Like Gawker) who are trying to say that it isn’t a high five (My wife doubts the chances of both high-fivers wearing the same color shirt). Others disagree. Some might tell you that it is actually called the “Person With Folded Hands” emoji, but that’s just ridiculous, because “folded hands” obviously don’t look like that. Others say it is an Asian “Please” or “Thank You.” Regardless of the artwork’s original intent, I think we should all continue to spread the rumor that these hands are high-fiving. It only makes things better. I mean, even if they actually WERE praying hands, their only proper use would be to be used ironically. Do we really want to live in a world where something as mysterious and mystical as prayer is reduced to an emoji?  No…. No, we don’t.

This public service message has been brought to you by The Boeskool. If you’d like more nuggets of wisdom like this, you can like my Facebook page HERE, or you follow me on the ol’ Twitter right HERE.

Posted in 3) Bathroom Humor | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

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….

Posted in 1) Jesus | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

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.

Posted in 5) Not Quite Sure | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments