Reflections on #NCCPilgrimage16

This week, my 13-year-old, Mary, shares her thoughts and reflections on this year’s Pilgrimage, a weekend-long worship extravaganza for United Methodist youths. 

I had been looking forward to Pilgrimage 2016 since last year, when I went to Pilgrimage 2015.  The youth conference was only for United Methodist youth and was located in Fayetteville, North Carolina at Crown Coliseum.  The youth could bring friends, which almost all the youth in my small church youth group did happily last year.  We arrived in high spirits and had a joyous time singing and worshipping together with 5,000+ United Methodist youth from all over North Carolina in one place, youth of different colors, languages, and pasts.  I learned that we all made “Pilgrimage clothespins,” which were plain, wooden clothespins with inspirational messages on the sides.  We would then clip them onto the clothing of other people and merge into the crowd, knowing later they would read it and it would make them smile.  Getting clipped was an amazing thing, reading at night encouraging and uplifting messages of hope, love, and God.

This year, I began to count down the days until Pilgrimage 2016.  I was excited, as was my entire youth group.  This year, we didn’t bring friends and instead of a hotel we stayed in a camp.  We were looking forward to arriving at the coliseum for a life-changing experience, as we had last year.  I spent half the summer making Pilgrimage clips, painting them in bright colors and putting brilliant life quotes and Bible verses on the sides.  My buddy and I passed out a few of our clips Friday night, feeling grand knowing we made people smile.

Saturday morning, again, my buddy and I passed out clips, giving away my remaining twelve.  We sat down, ready for the hope of an amazing second session of Pilgrimage.  Instead, we were told that if we had a Pilgrimage clip on our being we would be immediately sent home.  The speaker of this year’s Pilgrimage sessions dished out hate at the clips.  Everyone was told to throw away their clips at the trashcans near the entrances; whether or not everyone did and instead risked their time pocketing the clips, I don’t know.

That evening, when we arrived at the coliseum, the cheerful atmosphere was missing from the entire building.  Everyone was more subdued than normal, not much chattering was going on, everyone in almost a thoughtful silence.  Passing out those clips was tradition, and in fact, taking that away angered many adults.  The knowledge of not being able to do that anymore took out half the joy in Pilgrimage, because with those clips, you knew you’d make someone smile.  We all took our seats half an hour before the third session started.  Once it had begun, one of the Pilgrimage coordinators went onstage and explained why we couldn’t have the clothespins.  A few Hispanic, Latino, and Asian youth groups had gotten bullying pins that said, “I love Trump!” on one side and “Build that wall!” on the other.  One of the chaperones from a Hispanic youth group – Stacy – got up and took the stage.

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The beginning of Stacy’s speech was good, explaining how she felt unwanted because of harassing clips her youth group had received and stares that greeted her the day before.  She made mention of how she’d grown up being bullied and understanding how it felt to be an outsider.  In school, she had to teach herself English, because her family didn’t know the language.  During recess, when everyone was playing dodgeball, people would say, “Get out that Mexican girl!  Get her out so she could return to where she came from!”

She explained how hurt she felt as she walked into the coliseum when people were looking at them as if to say, What are you doing here?  You don’t belong here.  However, then she started to make comments, such as how “the message of the red hat and the message of the wall is not the message of the gospel.”  A few youth that greeted her were wearing red Make America Great Again hats, which she found offensive.  “The message of the red hat was not a message of inclusion and welcome; it was a message of disinclusion (sic) and discrimination.”  More of the speech told us that the hat represented a person whose message was unwelcome and discriminatory toward women, Latino, African American, and Hispanic people as well as others.  “And this is not the message of the gospel,” Stacy told the many thousand youth listening.  “So today, we wanted to tell you, if you really believe that the Holy Spirit is here, if you really want to welcome the Holy Spirit, then take off your red hats.”

Being a true American citizen, she had a right to say that.  The freedom of speech is still true, no matter where you are.  But many of us believe that she was speaking to the wrong people.  Here we were, in a place supposed to be a destination to learn more about God and worship together, only the chaperones able to vote, getting politics in our faces.  It seemed as if all us Caucasians were labeled as Trump supporters and racists, even though there were only a few people at fault.  We were labeled as haters towards anyone who is darker colored, and I know that that is not the truth about most of the youth present that night.

See, as Christians, we are supposed to be loving towards everyone, not just people with the same skin tone as us.  Stacy judged us in her own stereotypes, taking the little she knew from the few minutes they stayed the first night and running and accusing all of us of being like that, when I know that loads of youth groups there would’ve welcomed her in.  She tried to blame us all for something only a few people did.  You don’t know the past of the youth who wore those hats.  No one in our youth group saw them.  They might have been using them as warmth, given that inside the coliseum was still really cold.  They might not have had much money, so since it was cold around the coliseum and outside, that one hat may have been the only one in their family.  We never know what the inside story about people are until we get to know them, but we often don’t take time to and instead make snap decisions.  Stacy was willing to tell us about her back story, but she didn’t take time to know the stories of others.  We as people have our own opinions, and if we want to wear a hat with our opinions on it, why should we be stopped?  What Stacy did was right in the respect that she did have freedom of speech, but wrong in many respects.

1) Wrong place, wrong time.  She should not have thrown politics into the matter.  She started off strong, but she quickly fell.

2) How many of us youth could vote?  That’s right, next to none.  Again, she shouldn’t have put in politics.

3) She didn’t respect the fact that we all have our own opinions.  Instead, she made a bigger issue out of it all.

4) She labeled us all incorrectly instead of just the people with the hats.  She labeled us all as haters and Trump supporters, not Christian people who would welcome everyone gladly.

I was grateful when our livid youth leader said that we were leaving after the speech was over.  We decided that since the Pilgrimage pins were taken from us, we would make up some and return to church the next day where we knew we’d be accepted lovingly so we could clip these pins on people.  We were up bright and early Sunday morning to get on the road, and we had fun clipping others.  I have made up my mind that every time I visit that church, I’m going to clip a handful of people.  I can also do it at general places such as grocery stores, restaurants, and gatherings.  I can spread love easily through a simple clip.

On a closing note, I believe that our image of what the weekend was going to be was different from God’s plan.  I was really grateful that we returned to church early, because we made many people smile with the joy we shared and the enthusiasm we brought with us at the sheer idea of returning.  Our pastor was absolutely livid, something I’ve never seen before in my life, and she explained that what happened should not have and that there was no place for it in a church setting.  Everyone went out of their way to show us some extra love after the horrible time we’d just had.  We all learned things from that experience, but the most important of them all was just how it feels to be labeled as one thing when only a few people were the cause.  Such as how Hispanic people are all being labeled as illegal, lazy, and/or drug dealers, when I know many who are perfectly legal, have great jobs, and hate the idea of drugs.  We think that Muslims are in support of ISIS, and that Blacks are associated with gangs and ‘hoods.  But really, it’s not true.  There are White gangs as well, and yet we never want to look at them.  What we don’t want to realize is that there are actually only a few immigrants who are illegal, and yet we want to say that every one of them is here illegally and subject to deportation.

 

But Boys Will be Boys, Right?

I’m keeping this blog nonpartisan, choosing only to address underlying issues.  Please don’t assume endorsement for any candidate.

The media is all abuzz this week after a video came out from over a decade ago featuring Donald Trump saying some pretty vile, disgusting things about women and how, because of his wealth, he was at full liberty to touch women inappropriately.  He blew it off as “locker room talk.”  As I’ve never been inside a men’s locker room, I can’t say if it is or not, and if I ever were to hear men speaking that way with all that false bravado or sheer cockiness, I would assume their big mouths were overcompensating for a significant lack in penile endowment.

BRMHS boys locker room 1

BRMHS boys locker room 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This type of talk, though, only perpetuates the whole concept of rape culture.  In the aftermath of this video coming to light, women started talking about when they were sexually assaulted by men who thought they could get by with it, usually because of their seniority in some way (age, position, wealth).

I remember being 13 when it happened to me, though mine was by a classmate.  It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and as I walked down the hall to class, a boy – one of the popular, cool kids – came from behind me and groped my breast.  I never told anyone – never have until now – but I remember feeling so ashamed.  And helpless.  This guy thought that, because I had large breasts – larger than any other girl in my class, anyway – that they were available to be grabbed.  He further thought that, being one of the popular boys, he could get by with it.  (Karma, anyone?  She found this guy.)  I didn’t say anything, because who would believe me?  Boys are gonna be boys, right?  No harm done.  Nevermind that I was painfully self-conscious of my breasts already and that a lot of less-developed girls hated me for them.  I never asked for that particular genetic “blessing.”

The proliferation of images of naked women online perpetuates this idea that women’s bodies exist only for men’s pleasure and consumption.  I have a guy friend who shall remain anonymous who enjoys looking at nude pictures of barely legal young ladies online, and he gives positive reinforcement to those who post those images by downloading, sharing and liking them.  Who are those ladies, though?  Desperate college students who needed a few bucks eight years ago and never thought their pictures would be plastered all over the internet?  Someone’s ex-girlfriend who posed for her boyfriend, never knowing that he’d sell her pictures after the breakup?  However those pictures came to be there, the message is the same:  The woman’s body is only for the pleasure of men.  It does not belong to her at all.

Ten years ago, out of boredom and because I like showing off my creative endeavors, I wrote erotica and posted it online (under a pseudonym, of course!).  The feedback I received was very rewarding for the most part, though some of it was less-than-welcome.  I was honestly surprised at how many men thought I’d want to hook up with them for sex, just because I wrote about sex.  They assumed that, since I put a few sexual fantasies out there for public consumption, that I was eager to put my whole self out there for whoever wanted it.  Absolutely not!  (And my husband has always loved reading these stories, so don’t go thinking that I did this behind his back.  We also laugh at the not-so-subtle requests for sexual favors.)

The popular thought in rape culture is that all women are “asking for it.”  We’re “asking for” the leers, the sexual assaults, the gropes, the frotteurism.  It doesn’t matter how a woman dresses or what she does; none of us are “asking for it.”  So some women choose to show their bodies off; it doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to outside of the proper relationships, nor that we want the touches.

Here’s a novel idea:  Parents, choose to teach your sons the true value of women.  Now I get that there are people out there who totally agree with Mr. Trump about women not being worth more than a man’s thrills.  For the majority of people, though, that’s not the case.  Teach sons to grow up respecting women, teach them that women’s bodies belong only to us women, and teach them that women are not objects.  We are people created by God  in the very image of God to be co-equal and complementary to men.  (Sure, I’m not as physically strong as my husband, but he’s not as emotionally strong as I.)  God loves us women exactly as much as God loves men.  Jesus died for women just as he died for men.  Slowly but surely, generation by generation, hopefully we can eradicate the rape culture prevailing in our world and teach men a whole new appreciation for women.

 

The Compassion of a Child

I’m sitting in my home along the SE US coast, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pay us a visit.  Am I worried?  Not particularly, though I did feel a strong sense that we needed to do more to prepare for this storm than we typically do for others.  We’re prepared to this point, though we’ll have a bit more to do come Thursday and Friday.  Worst case scenario, we pack the kids and the cats into two cars and head west; the cars are fueled sufficiently.

This morning as the girls and I tracked the storm, we saw that some people weren’t so lucky.  As we pulled up the tracking map online, we saw that at that moment, the storm was right over Haiti and eastern Cuba, with a course dead-straight to the Bahamas.  While this is devastating for all these island peoples in the Caribbean, our hearts really went out to the Haitians.  It’s like they can’t catch a break!

So we prayed.  Then H, my seven-year-old who’s diligently saving up for a pink sparkly boat about the size of a massive cruise ship, started outlining her plan for rescuing people in such situations.  This plan involves using her boat to take them to safety on her own private island, complete with three hospitals, just to make sure everyone gets the care they need.  (I guess she’d need more than one island, so she’d have options depending on which direction the storms are going.)

As the pink sparkly boat is still quite a ways off, H spontaneously thought about what she could do now.  Her solution?  She wants to donate some of her shoes and clothes to children in Haiti who’ll lose everything in this storm.  I immediately grabbed my phone and texted the children’s minister at church, asking if there’s any reception for those sorts of donations.  No, but there are organizations, like Hope Changes Everything, who already have boots on the ground and need money to supply the Haitians with exactly what they need, be it clothes, food, or housing.  (That link will take you right to their site, and you can donate there.)

Our minister suggested a yard sale.  Truthfully, I don’t relish the idea of putting together a yard sale, but the weather will be good again, and there are a lot of things we can get rid of for this cause.  While I don’t look forward to the work and administration of doing this, I’m excited, because this is something H can lead off on.

I am understandably so proud of my daughter for having a heart that wants to reach out to people who have been so devastated by this storm.  More, though, is how she’s overcoming her own fears of the storm in thinking about others.  All morning, we talked together about what we need to do to make sure our home and property are ready for the storm.  I presented it as, “We need to be prepared, but we’re gonna be OK.  Worrying won’t change the storm at all.”  Still, though…  She is seven, and she’s not so thrilled with regular ol’ thunderstorms, let alone a hurricane due for a direct hit.  Once she started thinking about how to help others, she forgot to be afraid.

H is such a good teacher, even reminding her pastor momma about some truths that are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

  • We need a change in perspective sometimes.  Things look challenging for us this coming weekend, but they’re much worse for thousands upon thousands of other people who have no evacuation routes and limited resources.
  • When we’re afraid, it helps to think about others and become unafraid.  I find it also helps remembering who controls the storm.
  • What we have can be used to serve other people.  This girl has plans for her life, plans that involve a good deal of education and helping vulnerable creatures.  Yet, her heart remains for people and desiring to help them.

The Bible tells us so many things about children.  “A little child shall lead them.”  “You must have the faith of a child.”  And the Psalmist writes, “From the lips of infants and children, You have ordained praise.”  We oh, so busy adults need to stop sometimes and listen.  The still small voice of God I’m hearing this week isn’t coming from a gentle breath of wind, but from the lips of a little girl.

God, Give Me Faith!

God, give me more faith!” I prayed in the shower this morning.  Yet, even as I prayed that, I thanked God for God’s provisions and affirmation the previous night.

As I did my rehab and exercises this morning, I reflected on that prayer.  Uh oh, I thought.  What if praying for more faith is like praying for more patience, where you don’t actually get it, but you get opportunities to practice and cultivate it?

We’re a two-entrepreneur family now, and I told my husband last night in the midst of frustration and discouragement, “I know you’re doing everything you can.  No question.  And I still believe this is what God has led us to.”  There were no buts, no “if onlys,” just a simple assurance that we’re still on the right track.  Within half an hour, I received an order from a customer from whom I wasn’t expecting another order.  Yeah, I see it as a God thing.

“God, give me more faith!”  The story of the man with the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 came to me.  The father wants to believe.  In fact, I believe he truly does.  Yet, the doubts creep in; after all, his son had been possessed by this evil spirit for years, and it’d tried to kill the boy numerous times.  So the father cries out, anguished, “I believe!  Help me to believe more!”  Some translations have that as, “I have faith!  Help me have more faith!”  That’s me this morning.

It’s a pure, selfless request, the request of the striving, growing believer.  Those moments when our faith slips can lead in two directions:  One, we can say that God obviously doesn’t care and turn away completely; or two, we can pray for more faith.  Pray for it.  Ask for it.  We can’t do anything more than this to get it.  We can’t put our good works into some vending machine to get what we want back out.  All we can do is humbly, sincerely ask.  It is in humbling ourselves that we are most receptive to receiving greater faith.

In the Mark 9 account of this demon-possessed boy, there’s a request, there’s a faith lesson, then there’s healing, followed by God granting exactly what the father needed.  Both father and son needed something on this day.  This morning, I prayed a request, the Spirit led my meditations, there was a revelation (not so much a healing for us), then God gave me what I needed.  While I was doing my rehab, I’d heard my husband come back in after having left for work before leaving again.  I texted to ask if everything was OK.  He’d gotten two voicemail messages, both for estimates, one for a subcontract job with growth potential.  God gave us an opportunity to increase our income (always vital in the new stages of entrepreneurship), and God had affirmed that we were still on the right path.

God gave me more faith!

God in the Little Things

I prayed.  And I prayed.  And I prayed some more.  I prayed – admittedly – to calm myself down in order to fall back asleep when worries and anxieties woke me during the night.

I’m generally pretty casual when I pray.  No “Holy Father, thou art God.”  In fact, unless it’s a liturgical prayer, I pretty much never pray in the King’s English.  My husband had been trying to do something grand and wonderful, and there was roadblock after roadblock in his way.  So I was in the shower one day a couple of weeks ago, having a little conversation with God that went something like this:

“OK, God.  You know what’s been going on, and you’ve seen how frustrated Peter is getting.  Tell me something.  What’s your plan here?”

Then like a bolt – ZAP! – to the back of the head, the message came loud and clear:  “Get a line of credit on your business for him to use.”

There are a bagillion reasons why I would think that’s a bad idea, including the fact that I’m opposed to buying anything on credit.  But I didn’t argue.  I also didn’t run right out and go to the bank, either; my husband and I discussed it first.

The next business day, I went to the bank, and I applied for that line of credit.  And for whatever reason, it took over a week to hear about a decision that usually just takes 48 hours.  But I did hear, and I did get it.  As a result, he has a chance of seizing a dream that he’s held onto for at least 20 years.

It’s such a little thing.  Well, it’s big to us, but in the scope of the world – the universe – this is a pretty insignificant thing.  And yet, God heard my prayers, even the one from the shower, and God let me know God heard them.  Look back at what happened.  I asked God for guidance, not a cash infusion.  The choice was still mine as to what I did with that guidance.

We read in Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (NIV).  Darn if we don’t want that light for our path to be something like  high-beam headlights or those mega-watt halogen lights used for nighttime construction work!  Right?  Of course.  We’re “big picture” people.  But no.  It truly is a “light for [our] feet,” a tiny little keychain flashlight that illuminates a 24-inch circle, just big enough for our next step.  We don’t get to see the big picture, and we’re not meant to.  Instead, we see enough to take the next step, but no farther.

Taking that first step requires a great deal of faith.  It does get easier with each successive step, though.  Until it’s not so easy.  Until a crisis hits and our faith is shaken, and we’re not at all sure we can take that next step, because we can’t see far ahead.  We can’t even see the light for ourselves until someone – friends, family, minister – convinces us that it’s still there.

Every step, every little foot of ground covered, God is there.  In the exciting times, like starting a new business, God is there.  In the freaky-exhilarating times, such as departing to another continent on a mission trip, God is there.  In the dark valley of the hospitalization of a child, God is there.

I pray that you’ll let these words comfort you in the dark times and comfort you in times of uncertainty.  When you encounter someone who needs the reminder, share these words, share the message.

The Sacred God-Moment

This week has been insane for our family.  Last Saturday, my husband’s mentor, friend, and supervisor, Lenny, died after a brief battle with cancer.  Sunday night, I got the call that my grandmother had died.  Lenny’s funeral was an hour-and-a-half away on Tuesday, and Grandmother’s was 3 hours away today.  I feel like I’ve spent most of the week on the interstate.  Naps were missed, the emotional energy was high, we didn’t sleep great.  We’re completely wiped out by this point and savoring the idea of a weekend of rest.

As we came home from Lenny’s funeral Tuesday night, this amazing vertical rainbow appeared in the sky.

Fascinating vertical rainbow in the sky Tuesday night

Fascinating vertical rainbow in the sky Tuesday night

We were awed, as we’d never seen a vertical rainbow before.  Taking a look in the rear view mirror revealed a gorgeous sunset (sorry, no picture of that).  It felt like God was hugging us.

Then, this evening we were returning home from my Grandmother’s memorial service.  I was driving, and I was tired.  Traffic for the first 25 miles had been hellacious, with normal Friday-summer-afternoon-eastbound-traffic meeting the Construction Zone from Hell for 8.5 miles.  I was sustaining on a frappe and determination, watching cars, attending to the light traffic and the road, enjoying my Jim Brickman play list.  My eyes rose to the sky ahead, and there right in front of me was a rainbow.  I pointed it out to my family so they could enjoy it, too.  It was faint, but there, and we eventually were able to make out the other end of it.

Around this time, I took a peek at my phone to see which selection was playing.  It was “Sacred Moment,” and I recognized the tune as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”  Wow.  Just…  Wow.  The rainbow.  That symbol of God’s promise never again to destroy the world by flood.  And God has kept this promise.  If God keeps this promise, would not God also keep the other promises he’s given us?  My cousin Mark read the words of Jesus from John 14 today:  “I go to prepare a place for you.”  I looked at that rainbow and listened to that tune and thought, This is God’s promise, fulfilled for us in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  This rainbow served as a reminder that God keeps God’s promises – all of them.  I seized the holy teachable moment and took the opportunity to talk to my girls about it.  My younger one said, “It’s like the promise for Great-Grandmother.”  Yes!  Yes, it is.  And that promise is for us, too.

I haven’t cried for Grandmother.  She’d been sick since February and psychologically ready to die for over a year.  But I could cry over the magnitude of God’s promises and how they have been fulfilled for her.  She’s with Grandpa again, turning 67 years of marriage on Earth into an eternity of marriage in Heaven.

My Thoughts About Bathrooms, Hate, and Transgender People

I tried to stay silent about this as long as possible, but my “as long as possible” didn’t last very long.  At the end of March, the North Carolina General Assembly convened a special legislative session to push through a law, HB2.  That law was passed in both chambers and signed off by the governor before the 11:00 news.  It went into effect on 1 April 2016, and things have gone downhill since.

HB2, aka, “the Bathroom Bill,” says, among other things, that people must go into the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate.  This means that, a transgender male – imagine someone 5’8″ tall, buff, bearded, and visibly male – who has not had gender reassignment surgery or had their birth certificate changed, must go into the ladies’ restroom.  Am I the only woman and mother of young daughters who’s not comfortable with this?  I have nothing against people who are transgender; as I’ve said before, I have friends who are transgender.  My problem is, now I don’t know if that man described above is a transgender male obeying a civil law, or if he’s a sex offender taking advantage of the ease of going into the ladies’ room this law provides in order to attack my daughters or me.  Should I wait and see if he’ll go into a stall, or if he’ll pull out a knife or gun, by which point, it’ll be too late?  So, thank you, NCGA, for creating the very opposite situation of what you claimed to be after and putting ALL us women and our children at risk for sexual violence – not at the hands of people who are transgender who are just in the bathroom to do their business, but at the hands of violent sex offenders who don’t care about laws and never have who can now walk into public bathrooms claiming to be transgender.

As a result of HB2, my state stands to lose federal funding for education.  So much for our General Assembly and governor being “about the children.”  My state has lost businesses.  My state has lost wonderful, tax-paying citizens who no longer felt safe living here who have moved to other states.  North Carolina has already lost a significant amount of revenue and stands to lose billions – yes BILLIONS, with a B! – more.  My state no longer allows people who get discriminated against at work based on religion, gender, age, race, or orientation sue for discrimination at the state level; those suits now have to go to the federal courts to decide, a process which takes an easy three years, far longer than the 180 days the state gives for resolution in such matters.  HB2 prohibits teachers from going into students’ bathrooms in schools.  Hopefully that mean, nasty bully isn’t beating your child to a pulp in the bathroom between classes, since the law is so about “keeping children safe.”

And in the most ironic element of this law of all…  In HB2, the state prohibits individual cities from passing their own anti-discrimination laws and their own minimum wage laws.  In case you haven’t figured it out, yet, the North Carolina General Assembly and the governor are all far right conservatives.  You know, smaller government?  I’m sure they thought it was an abomination when the US Supreme Court decided that gays and lesbians have equal rights and made this federal law the law of the land, totally overstepping states’ rights to govern themselves in this matter.  Yet, the North Carolina government is doing the exact same thing in our state to our counties and cities!

Obviously, when this law came out, there was talk everywhere.  To be honest, I finally had to step away from Facebook for a while, because the plethora of “Pat McCrory saved our children!” posts were going to cost some friendships, and I try to respect my friends’ views, even if I disagree with them.  Over against that was the continued hate speech against transgender people, mostly the result of manufactured fear by the media and ignorance.  Here’s the thing – transgender people are so much like you and me.  They get up in the mornings, go to work, fulfill their responsibilities to their bosses, come home, spend time with family, go to bed.  They pretty much live under the radar, just like the rest of us do.  And they’re fine with that.  In fact, they feel safer under the radar.

The transgender people I know (that I know are transgender) – both women – are smart, attractive, bad-ass, loving people.  One is married; I went to her wedding 3 1/2 years ago.  There, incidentally, is where I met the other, who is engaged.  In fact, I just found out the married woman is transgender about five weeks ago, and the latter, last year.  These women live their lives, do their things, take care of their loved ones.  The fact that I’d known them both so long before knowing their backstories should tell you something:  Neither of them flamboyantly advertised the fact they’re transgender.

And I think that J and S are typical of almost all transgender people in America – and the world.  Caitlyn Jenner is not the face of and spokesperson for people who are transgender, and, personally, I don’t consider her brave or admirable.  Bruce probably went to some extremely private hospital in another country with the top gender reassignment specialists in the world, took a six-month “vacation,” and came back as Caitlyn.  Now, Caitlyn claims she wants to “be just like everyone else.”  Maybe she should give up her cadre of body guards and come hang out in a state where transgender people face police harassment, threats, government-sanctioned discrimination, and threats of and actualized bodily harm – all because her physical, outer self didn’t mesh up with her mental/emotional inner self.

Pediatricians and geneticists are now recognizing that people who are transgender could have genitalia, brains, and chromosomes that don’t match up.  For example, a person could have male genitalia (“look” male), but have female chromosomes and female brains.  Brain science research is now providing us with a reason why transgender people, even from an early age, may “feel” like they’re the wrong gender.  At birth, doctors determine gender only by outer genitalia, not chromosomal testing.

For those of us in the church, this presents something of a theological conundrum:  Did God make a mistake?  Short answer – No.  Do we look at a child with Down’s Syndrome and think that God made a mistake?  Of course not!  Do we think God messed up when a child is born with a deformed arm?  Never!  God doesn’t make mistakes in how God makes us.  Each and every one of us is created in the image of God.  The Psalmist says, “I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  This goes for all of us.  Sometimes, we face challenges in how we’re made – life challenges – and those challenges will either break us if we try to rely purely on ourselves; they’ll give us a source of strength and determination; or through our uniqueness, we will allow God’s love to appear to others.

If I may borrow from my younger daughter’s favorite Disney movie to wrap this up…  “Love is stronger than fear.”  As we are made in the image of God, and God is love, then we also are called on to love our neighbors who are transgender.  You may see them differently than I do, and that’s OK.  But for heaven’s sake, get to know someone who’s transgender.  If you’re going to profess Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, then (literally) by all that is holy, act like it and love even those who you feel are unlovable.  And you know what’ll happen?  (This is great!)  You won’t be afraid of them anymore, and you won’t hate them anymore, and you’ll begin to recognize all the bull crap the mainstream media and social media outlets are spewing for what it is.  And you will please God.  I’m thinking that’s a win all the way around.

Let me take a moment to direct you to this great article I drew some from, written by a fellow Baptist: https://baptistnews.com/2016/05/13/seven-things-im-learning-about-transgender-persons/#.VzgsSsiznvB.facebook.

Helping Children Soar

Yesterday, we got to church for our weekly groups early enough that my younger daughter had much-loved time to play on the playground.  She wanted me to support her across the monkey bars.  WOW, did that test how well my knee rehab is going!  (Quite strong and stable, given that I was standing and walking backwards on loose beach-type sand holding 45 pounds.)  My daughter loves to swing, and, sure enough, she hopped on the swing, asked me to push her, and informed me, “I want to go high!”

I pulled her back and gave her the initial pushes.  As every parent knows, though, when you’re pushing a child on the swings, there’s not but so high a parent can push their child.  The parent can start them, but then the child has to pump her legs, and truly, her height is completely up to her at this point.  The child pumps and rises, eventually getting to the point where the chains start to go slack and she can see over the bar at the top.  She can lean back in the swing, letting her hair flow back and down in the breeze, or the more adventurous can decide to jump out of the swing at this point (with hopefully no broken bones).  The point is, though, once the child takes responsibility for her own swinging altitude, she can then choose what to do with it.

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On her way to the sky

As I stood with my daughter, watching her swing, I thought about a situation a friend is going through with his daughter.  The daughter’s mom think she’s “keeping her safe” by doing everything for her, way more than a near-teen needs to have done.  As a result, this young lady is lazy and slack about her self-care, especially pertaining to her medical needs.  You see, this mom doesn’t know that it’s time to stop pushing and time to trust her daughter to pump her legs.

Watching a child getting crazy-high on the swings is a bit heart-stopping:  Will she fall?  Will the chain mysteriously snap?  What happens if she loses her grip?  Answer:  She’ll get hurt, but likely survive.  In the meantime, there are squeals and giggles carried on the wind, fading and growing with the Doppler effect as she goes back and forth.  There’s the memories of exhilaration of being a girl on the swing, feeling that “oh my gosh!” as you remember seeing the chains go slack and feeling like you were so high.  And you realize, you just can’t take that away from her, because this child will likely never fall out of a swing, but she’ll experience a million moments of soaring thrills as her legs pump her higher and higher and higher and she leans back to feel the wind in her hair.

Sure, a child is safer being kept close under mother’s protective wing, but she’ll also never learn what she can do on her own.  That child will swing as long as she’s in mom’s reach, but she’ll never soar if mom won’t let go of her.  Sadly, the child will never learn she actually can soar.  As parents, there has to come a time when we let go of our children, trusting them to hang onto the chains, but only as long as they want to.  This is the only way we will empower our children to rise up to be all that they possibly can be.

Learn From History or Repeat It

In the grand scheme of world history, eighty years is like a blink.  In the youth of our country, eighty years is a bit more substantial, a full one-third of the U.S.’s life as an independent country.  It was about 75-80 years ago when the Fascist governments were beginning their aggression towards their European neighbors, aggression which would become World War II.

As most students of U.S. history know, the U.S. didn’t enter the war until very early 1942 following the unprovoked bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on 7 December 1941.  Yet, prior even to this date, even before 1939 when the war would begin, the U.S. was persecuting some of her own citizens out of fear.  They don’t usually teach this in U.S. History, not even AP history; they didn’t when I was in school, anyway.

As Fascism grew in Italy under Mussolini‘s dictatorship, the U.S. government began to incarcerate Italian-American men and Italian immigrants in our country out of fear that they’d be sympathetic to Fascist Italy.  The government shipped these men by cattle cars (Cattle cars!  Sound familiar?  It was the Nazis’ preferred mode of prisoner transport, too.) to prisons in Montana and New York.  In doing so, they split up families, leaving thousands of women and children to survive without their primary bread-winner during the continuing dark days of the Great Depression.

As the war continued, especially following the attack on Pearl Harbor, German nationals who were stuck in the country because of the war and German-Americans (naturalized or citizens by birth) were monitored closely and over 10,000 of these were incarcerated.  Some of those citizens had one or both parents who had immigrated from Germany.  They were still citizens, though, regardless of their bloodlines.  These Americans lost their homes and their livelihoods, and many families were split up with children being sent to orphanages.

We know, perhaps, about the incarceration and relocation of the Japanese-Americans the most.  The government forcibly relocated thousands of citizens of Japanese descent from California to internment camps in the central United States, believing that they would aid our Japanese enemies otherwise.  Whole families were forced to leave their homes and jobs and live in crowded conditions, surrounded by chain link and barbed wire, with armed guards watching them around the clock.

Some of these prisoners were held until 1948, three years after the war had ended.  A fairly vast number of them had relatives serving in the armed forces, fighting the enemies without; I know one guy of German descent who served with honor in the Pacific Theater in the 1st Cavalry division of the US Army.

And now there’s talk during this election year of wanting to imprison Muslims.  Who in history imprisoned people based on their religion?  Yes, Adolf Hitler, arguably one of the vilest dictators in world history (and there are some doozies!).  And now we see how the U.S., just like Hitler, imprisoned people based on their heritage – and fear.  Are we as a country going to repeat this embarrassing, unjust bit of history?  I think about my Muslim friends and my friends and neighbors from the Middle East.  They’re Americans with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities we all hold dear.  My next-door neighbor is almost 90 years old, and he doesn’t speak of his time in the Iraqi army nearly as much as he does his late wife, his grandchildren, and his Master’s degree from one of our state universities.  But would a government run by fear know that, or would it just see the color of his skin?

We as Americans need to stop listening to the fearmongering, need to stop letting those political earworms manipulate how we think.  We need to step back, reassess, and recognize that we are dealing with people here – people with families, homes, and jobs.  This isn’t about “Us versus Them”; we’re all “us.”

Why Do People Hate People who are Transgender?

I realize that, by posing this question, I’m likely opening myself up to being exposed to a large amount of hate and vitriol, but I am genuinely curious.  I have at least one transsexual friend who I share with other friends.  There’s so much hate and violent sentiment directed towards this segment of the population, and I really, truly don’t know why that is.  I’ve heard them referred to as “freaks.”  Really?  That doubly appalls me; while transgender is listed as a psychological disorder in the DSM-5 (which I can see necessary in some cases), still, calling people who are transgender “freaks” is about as sensitive as calling the following “freaks”:

  • An Army vet with PTSD
  • A little girl on the Autism spectrum
  • A woman with schizophrenia
  • A man with depression

Get my point there?

So, please, tell me why people (maybe you, even) hate people who are transgender and wish serious harm or death to come to them.  If you’re going to site scripture, please do so in a way that honors God and respects the Bible (or other holy book, dependent on your faith) with faithful use of scripture.  This includes using the scripture in its context within scripture, but also with respect to historical context.  And for those of you who would dare to say that God hates people who are transgender, please read your Bible all the way through before commenting; there’s only ONE “I hate” statement attributed to God in the WHOLE Bible, and it has nothing to do with the LGBT community.