Waiting for the new arrival

So to provide a little balance in my posts, I wanted to share the following as our cast of characters will be adding a new bundle soon.

20160126_164755

Referred lovingly as “Monkey-Shark” by Boo, our newest little bundle will be arriving within the next couple of weeks at the latest.  So now the full rounded out family will include me, N, D, Boo and Monkey-Shark.  Although in thinking about it, I forgot to include the four-legged baby we adopted last year – Riley.  Plus Roomie, our wonderful roommate without whom I would get very little yard-work done and who is a great help with Boo and dishes.

It has been an interesting journey being faced with the prospect of having two new little ones in my life at the same time.  For the first 16 years or so, it was just D and me.  I gotta say, having two under the age of 3 at the same time is a little terrifying, even though I have a wonderful partner in N to help take care of and raise them.

But any anxiety aside, I am impatient to meet Monkey-Shark.  Already she is developing her own personality quirks that are very different from Boo and I am curious to see what Boo thinks once the new baby arrives.  It is a real joy to get to experience everything that goes on with pregnancy, not just once but twice.  (D’s mother and I broke up near the start of her pregnancy so I didn’t get so spend as much time with her as I have with N).

The house isn’t ready.  There are sockets still unprotected, corners that need covered.  Some of the cabinet locks have been lost or broken or stolen by Boo to be used as instruments.  I still haven’t put Monkey-Shark’s crib together.  Lord knows my pocket-book isn’t ready for another baby.  But in the end, those are all things that can be overcome.  If life has taught me anything it’s that not giving up is what matters.  Because while Love wins, sometimes it takes a while and life looks pretty bleak in the meantime.  That’s why I won’t stop loving ANY of my children.  D, Boo or Monkey-Shark.  I still believe in you and I still love you….

 

I will always be your dad…

20160327_1829471

I have watched over you since before you were born, reading to you over the phone when you were still in your mother’s belly, watching you with your mother in the hospital and for every year afterwards.  I volunteered to take over raising you not because I wanted to take something from your mother, but because I honestly thought I could help provide a safe and stable environment for you, and because I wanted the chance to be a dad.

You were unexpected.  You were unplanned.  But you were not and have never been, unloved.

And while I cannot rescue you from the choices you have made to this point, I still love you.  And I am still your dad.  That’s why this hurts so very much.  I know we have not always had the easiest of times communicating with each other.  I don’t like expressing or talking about the feelings I struggle with, your step-mother and both my ex-wives can attest to that.  It was even harder to share with you, watching you struggle without knowing for sure what all was going on.  I still remember the first time I really really knew how bad things were for you when I got a call from the counselor at school.  She told me to ask you about something you had written in her office that day.

So when you came home, I asked, and you showed me a piece of paper that said “Sometimes I wish I was dead.”  You were 10.

And in that instant my heart broke… and has remained that way for years.

I am not your friend.  I am not a “yes” man.  I am not going to give you everything you want and let you do everything you think you want to do.  I am your dad.  That means that it is my job to teach you, to care for you and to raise you to the best of my ability.  I made mistakes, like all parents.  I was not perfect, but I did and have and will always love you.

I wrestled with you to help let the emotions out when they were just too much.  I dried your tears in so many of my shirts, I don’t think I have a one left that hasn’t had tears or snot on it.  We read together, listened to old radio shows together…  I thought I was doing okay.  And maybe I did…

But somewhere along the way things went sideways.

Whatever the cause, illegal drugs replaced the ones the doctor proscribed to help your mood.  Lying became the norm and you stole.  Not just from me, but from family, friends and stores.  Nothing like being surrounded by store staff demanding you to empty your pockets.  We yelled, we cried.  We fought, but I tried to never let go.  Even in the end when I sent you out of the house to your mother’s, I never let you go completely.  But to keep the rest of us, including your baby sister safe, I had to make the hard choice.  That has bothered me every day these last couple years, especially as I am still seeing patterns of behavior that concern me.

It is like nothing we did, or fought for, or spent time trying to talk about or fix matters.  And I cannot tell you how much that hurts.  If you would believe them you can ask my friends how many hours, days, weeks, I spent agonizing over the questions of if I was doing right as a parent, how to help show you how much I loved you, how to raise you right.  I cried more nights than I can remember, worried about the future.  Seeing it happen now is like a nightmare I can’t wake up from.  Not because it’s inescapable.  You can still pull out of it.  You can still fly.

But I can’t fix it anymore.  It’s up to you.  And for any parent, that’s a terrifying thing to face.

I love you D.

I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, especially right now, with everything that has happened lately.  But I do.  Sometimes love means protecting people from themselves.  And it’s not fun…for anybody. I still hope you can pull yourself up out of the hole you are in.  But I won’t help you dig further down.  I am your dad…and that’s why this hurts so much.

Inviting doesn’t mean you have to like it

I don’t understand it when perfectly good-hearted people say things like “Well we couldn’t invite this drunk homeless man in to our church on Sunday because we don’t know what he’s capable of.”  Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are valid safety concerns and it certainly wouldn’t be one of those things where you let the person wander around un-escorted.  But why wouldn’t you invite the person in, let them get warm, offer them coffee or something warm to drink?

I guess for me it comes from having spent the last decade or so working in (and for some years, pastoring) a congregation that welcomed in people exactly like that to our Sunday morning services…still do.  It’s disruptive, it wasn’t what we planned on doing.  It hasn’t always been easy or comfortable.  We’ve had to call the police sometimes, but we keep doing it.  Because it’s Christ’s mission, it’s our mission.  To reach out to those most desperately in need of hope and reconciliation to the community.

When our congregation started, we spent time in groups determining what our mission, focus and name would be.  We thought we knew what we were doing and our name came from the neighborhood we lived in – Open Arms.  But living out the mission contained within that name has proven to be anything but comfortable or easy.

Living Open Arms, being a representative of the body of Christ means welcoming in those you would just as soon leave outside your doors.  It means welcoming the felon, the drunk, the homeless and more.  It means welcoming those who have never been to church before, who disrupt the service (either knowingly or unknowingly).  It means dealing with crisis, with people who have mental illness challenges.  It means not getting to sit in a pew, listening to the service for sometimes months on end as you visit and mentor and just sit with people for whom Christ is known more as a curse-word than a friend.   It means being around people who smell, who make you uncomfortable, that drive you nuts.  It’s draining and it hurts…and it asks a lot of you.

But if we are true to our calling, Christ didn’t call us to follow him to make it easy.  He didn’t say that come to church on Sunday, accept me and then you’re off the hook for doing anything else.  He lived an example that says we HAVE to do more than this.  We MUST do more than this.

Christ’s mission was to a world in need.  A world hungering for positive news of hope, renewal, a re-connecting.  That hasn’t changed.  We are still called to reach out, with Open Arms, to those who most need our love and support.  LGBT, bikers, homeless, addicts, abusers and abused, people in poverty, felons… people for whom whatever reason, society says are “less than,” these are our brothers and sisters.  These too are God’s sheep.

Dare to reach out.  Dare to invite in.  Dare to be vulnerable to Divine Grace and then let the Spirit breathe.

Talking in public

I can’t tell if social media is helping or hurting our discourse.  In part because I have friends from so many political, religious and ideological sides, I see a variety of articles, comments and arguments about ISIL, gun control, the US presidential election and so on.  Some I vehemently disagree with, others I find articulate my own ideas and position well.  But one theme is constant among almost all of it… a sense of loss and confusion, on both sides of the issues.  Both sides seem unable, or perhaps unwilling, to understand how the other side sees the world.  Convinced that their side is the correct one, both sides seem more intent on trying to convince each other or defend perceived attacks against their position rather than trying to listen and carry on a discourse that uplifts and encourages one another.  The good Lord knows I’ve been plenty guilty of that myself, unfortunately.  Thankfully I have friends who are willing to put up with me and forgive my mistakes, even if we still don’t agree on things.

That being said, I don’t know how to help improve the situation…  I see people, whom I know to be kind loving individuals in person, take on wholly different personas online and it makes me wonder how I come across to those who disagree with me.  What will it take to get us to a place where we listen to each other, truly listen?  One of the things that has been coming to mind recently has been something I was taught in my interpersonal communication class many moons ago about “active listening.”  One of the features of active listening is to first empty yourself of the response.  Listen, reflect back what you have heard and then once you are both clear on what was said, then move forward with the next point of discussion.  It requires patience, time, and a willingness to not immediately jump to your next point.  I need to start putting it into practice more.

But I wonder, in the age of Trump (and I group him separate from the rest of the GOP field), if the idea of discussion is going the way of compromise and collaboration, as words and ideas that are somehow too toxic for people to use.  One of the most disturbing things to me during the first Democratic debate was Hilary’s response when asked who her enemies were.  First, what the hell was the point of asking that question?  But more importantly, she listed Republicans as her enemy…and even if she was speaking in jest, it belies the greater problem in our current public discourse.  Listening to Ted Cruz say most violent criminals are Democrats just adds fuel to the fire.

I have friends and family both who are both Republicans and conservatives (as I have learned from them, they are NOT always the same).  I do not consider them my enemy, although I am most decidedly liberal in comparison, nor would I want to be considered their enemy.  When we start demonizing our opponents we are already far far down the path towards a world in which our children will wonder why we let things get so bad.  I disagree with many of my conservative friends on a variety of issues.  But I respect them as people and friends first and foremost.  Maybe we should start there…

But what do I know?

Taking a breather

I have decided to ban myself from Facebook for a few days.  Despite what I am sure it may feel like to some of my friends, it was not a hasty decision or even prompted by any specific incident.  It was rather a culmination of things that just became too much in the wake of the Paris attack and our conversations about it.  Although admittedly I’m not sure conversations is even the right word for what was happening.  Demonizing might be a better word.

The Left was dehumanizing the opposite side by calling them racist, xenophobic, challenging their beliefs, ignoring their valid concerns and engaging in name-calling.  The Right was dehumanizing the opposite side by making crude comparisons, ignoring their valid concerns, refusing to see any side but their own and engaging in slander against a whole group of people, innocent and not.  I am not proud of the fact that I was one of these voices at times.

It just got to be too much.  Too much negativity, too much anger, too much hurt.  Everywhere I turned people that I know and love and respect (whether I agree with them or not) were posting things that vilified one group or the other, were arguing with people that I know they also love and respect in ways that frankly bothered me.  It was like someone has tossed a grenade of fear into social media and we were using the shockwave to reinforce our worst perceptions about each other.  Whether “pointy-headed, naïve commie liberal” or “racist, ignorant conservative”, the discussions were less about sharing ideas and finding ways to build common ground and more about pitting “my” version of reality against “yours” and proving my way is the only right way to see things.  And I engaged.  I did it to… and for that I am truly sorry.

As a minister in a faith community that claims the name of Christ, I feel like this last week was not one of my better weeks.

I was not a presence of his love, peace and justice among the world in which I live.  I did not lift people up, care for their wounds, or listen to their concerns in the ways that I probably should have.  I struggled to show love to my neighbors.  I questioned whether I even wanted to remain known as a “Christian.”  But I believe God is real.  I trust in the experiences that I have had and others have shared with me throughout my life.  I trust that Christ is love and calls us to live a better life than we see is possible now.  I hope for and have faith that the world can be a better place.  But I can’t build that world, which we call Zion, if I do not walk the walk as well as talk the talk.  And this week I hurt people.  Whether I meant to or not is irrelevant.  I showed people a caricature of a Christian who says one thing but does another.  I screwed up.

So I am taking a break.

I hope to spend the next few days with God.  As Christ showed us, sometimes we need that break.  To pray with Him, to be with Him… to recharge so that when we reenter the world we are not over-come by it.  I pray for all those affected by the Paris attacks, and yes, that includes the killers and more importantly, their families.  I pray for the thousands of refugees around the world who will suffer needlessly because of the actions of a few.  I pray for me, that I will be a better mirror of Christ’s love to the world I live in.  And I pray for us all, that as God promises, Love will overcome Fear and Division.

See you in a few…

Faith in difficult times…

I have seen a lot of posts since Friday about the attacks in Paris. Some I agree with some I very much do not agree with. But as I have expressed myself, through memes and comments, I have found myself having people question why I do feel or believe what I do, especially as it relates to the ISIS terrorists (not just Muslims in general). So this is sort of an explanation of my beliefs, not a competition or critique of anyone else’s beliefs. I have many friends and family members who disagree with me and that is okay. I love them anyway and in some ways, because of their beliefs. I don’t judge them for it and I certainly do not claim my way is the only truth or true way to believe. I am not so arrogant as to think I have it all right. This is simply the best I can do as I understand it. So, to return to my thoughts….

I understand that for many people the attacks highlight and underscore concerns they already have about Islamic faith and people from the Middle-East. I understand that the attacks are scary in that they remind us how familiar, formerly safe places can become deadly and dangerous experiences with little or no warning. I understand that those who carried out those attacks will most likely not stop until either those who disagree with them are either converted or dead or they themselves are dead. I understand that for many people there is a righteous indignation that calls for vengeance and justice in the same breath.

But I cannot get on board with such understanding. And even though I understand it, I do not agree with it.

As a friend of mine put it, I was welcome to put my family in harms way but they weren’t [going to]. I am not actively advocating for throwing my family and children onto a battlefield in Syria. But what about those who don’t have that luxury? I am not saying we cannot screen those who come to this country as refugees, but to deny them entry entirely because somewhere, somehow, there might be a danger to us lurking in their midst? I believe in a faith that is judged especially on how we treat our enemies, the stranger, and the refugee. My faith would be poor indeed if I only prayed for the victims of Paris and not also the families of the aggressors.

It is easy in some ways to forget exactly how radical Jesus’ message was at the time he was giving it to his listeners. For his fellow Jews, his call to the promise of God being for Romans and Greeks and others was as radical and troubling as me saying we should accept all the refugees from Syria that want to come. His lack of concern with overthrowing the Roman overlords in Israel was in some ways as crazy as the idea that we don’t need to respond militarily to ISIS in Syria. The way people felt about “the other” whether it was fellow Jews who collaborated with the Romans, the Romans themselves, the Samaritans and more, are no different than how many people, including a number of public and prominent self-proclaimed Christians, are talking about the immigrant, Muslims and others.

As a Christian, I believe with all my heart that I am called to be a bridge to bring together the “others” of the world. I am not naïve enough to assume this would be without cost. Early Christians understood that their ministry might call for their martyrdom. In places where Christianity is the dominant religion we no longer have to worry about such concerns, and in some ways I think, forget about what Christ says about there being a cost to following Him. I realize this could mean my family is at risk, could be put in harms way. But we are everyday anyway. Look at Charleston, look at the school shootings, drunk drivers, robberies. It is not a matter of whether we are safe or not, it’s a matter of how much risk are we willing to tolerate. And if my faith in God’s promise is of any consequence, I have to believe that no matter what happens to me in this life, if I love my neighbor as myself and love my God with all my heart, might, mind and strength then it will all be well. If not for me, than perhaps for those who come after, either my children or your children. I am not willing to give up the future because change in the present is too dangerous or costly. I am not promised that life will be easy or that things will always go the way I think they should.

In my own lifetime I have seen the Berlin Wall come down, peace in North Ireland and more. Places and situations that people thought would never heal were not corrected by war or violence, but through peace and perseverance in faith that things could be better. It involved cost, loss and time. These are things I think we sometimes forget in a society in which so much is at our fingertips. Am I willing to let the possibility of harm come to my family if it means standing up for what I believe in? Yes. Do I want it to happen? No. I’m not dumb.

D_Boo Library 1

But I have faith. I don’t need to believe in the scriptures as literal history to believe in God’s promise. I don’t need archaeological evidence to “prove” that things happened in the Bible to see how Christ’s love can make a difference in someone’s life.  I can be just me and still influence those I am around and those I come into contact with thanks to the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ’s love.  I am called to be a peacemaker, not a warrior. And if that involves my death or the death of my loved ones, I can hold true to the lessons of Job and give thanks to the Lord even in the midst of loss and turmoil.

That is why I say the things I do and why I believe the way I do. No, it’s not easy and no it’s not naïve. So please don’t think I am. It’s scary and challenging and pulls me into places I don’t want to go. But as Christ reminded us in the Garden of Gestheme, “Not my will, but thine oh Lord be done.” Sometimes we just need to believe.

Racism in MY state?

So I know, I haven’t been on here for a while.  I tend to go through spurts, so for the readers that hang in there through my dry-spells I appreciate your support.  It may get even more sketchy here in a few months as N and Boo and D and I are expecting to add another member to the family next Summer.

Family 1

But today I want to relate something else, relating to the controversy at Mizzou.  Having grown up in the area, I am not at all surprised by the concerns the minority students raised about racism.  Not being minority myself I get to experience a level of comfort granted to me simply by being a white male.  But I remember vividly as a teenager listening to two other white young men talking in the bathroom at school about going to beat up “that uppity nigger” after class.  I remember too that there was a right side and wrong side “of the tracks” to live on based on your race, without anyone having to say it.  And this was in the late 90’s.  Not all that long ago really.

I remember too, when D was about 7 or 8, we were in line at a Wal-Mart near down-town KC.  It happens to be the Wal-Mart on that side of town, that is most frequented by minorities and is staffed mostly by minorities.  The cashier was taking forever to get through the line, chatting with all the customers and I was in a hurry to leave so I switched lanes without really thinking anything about it.  D, with the honesty that comes from children, piped up and asked me if we had switched lanes because the cashier was black.

Now…  I have grown up with friends of color.  I am fairly sure that I am not racist in what I do or say, nor is my family.  That being said, I was shocked by D’s statement and observation.  The cashier taking forever was in fact an older black lady who enjoyed visiting with each of her customers.  And had I not been in a rush to leave I probably would have stayed in line.  But the new cashier, who was moving through her line at a fast pace was white.  Growing up attending urban schools with minority students (way more than I ever had in my classes growing up), D still sensed/knew there was something unequal about our skin tones even though I had tried to make sure he grew up with a respect for all persons.  It was one of many times over the years I have had to re-evaluate what I thought I knew about race and privilege and the state of our country today.

So, back to Mizzou and the present day.

I was talking with a friend about the controversy surrounding the campus when they mentioned something that struck me.  The friend mentioned that they thought it was “ironic” that the black student doing the hunger strike that kicked off the protests had called the (mostly) white administration privileged when he himself comes from a family who apparently makes millions.  The friend couldn’t understand how this student could claim to be un-privileged simply because they were rich.  We engaged in a friendly, and I hope insightful, discussion where one of the points I made was that the whole point of privilege is how we look/think about it.

As a white guy, I can afford to think of privilege in terms of money because I don’t have to worry about being pulled over for being black, or worry about being followed in the store because I’m black, or being denied a job because of my race.  For me privilege can be a fairly straightforward thing.  But minorities don’t have that luxury.  For them, insofar as a white guy with no sociology training can assume so for that I’m sorry, privilege is much more multi-layered.  It involves equal opportunities that I simply don’t have to worry about and equal access to things that I just get through no action on my part.

However, this leads to another point and I think, the most relevant one.  When we talk about race and privilege it becomes easy for us to talk past each other.  In speaking with my friend, I realized that what they were talking about when it came to privilege in no way really resembled what the student was talking about.  It made me wonder how often that happens in our conversations to each other.

I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know how soon things will get better.  But I believe that what the students at Mizzou did was necessary and I know we have to keep trying, to talk, to raise awareness… if we stop talking about race the way some people want, then like an open wound, it will just scab over without really healing.  We have to get past and through the muck and mess and hurt that has built up over generations and we can only do that by continuing to talk to and with each other.  Sometimes in conversations, sometimes in protests.

Just remember to be patient with each other and that in the end, things CAN improve.  For all of us.