Category Archives: Culture

What Psalty the Singing Song Book Taught Me That Veggie Tales Never Did

1477884_704949259524389_411273419_nBeing a nanny and an aunt means that I get to revisit things from my childhood often.

You’re watching the kid shows the children around you are watching and you start comparing the kids stuff of today with the kid stuff of your time. You wonder, “Would they like the original My Little Ponies?” You know, back before the Equestrian Girls (horse girl hybrids) showed up.

For Christian homes there were/are always alternatives to watching Disney, Nick Jr, or Sprout and let’s be real, sometimes they are completely made of CHEESE.

I was in youth group when Veggie Tales became a thing and we ATE. IT. UP. It was quite the departure from my generation’s Christian Barney equivalent, Psalty the Singing Song Book. We loved Bob the tomato and Larry the cucumber, even though they were meant for kids a good bit younger than us. The bright and comical retelling of favorite bible stories (at least in the early days) was fun and engaging, and who didn’t love Silly Songs With Larry or Love Songs With Mr. Lunt? To this day I know all of the words to the cheeseburger song.

A day or so ago the woman I nanny for and I were talking about good ol’ Psalty and recalling when the churches we grew up in had done different Psalty plays (because oh yes, there were plays) and how ridiculous they had been, but how much we had enjoyed it all at the time anyway. In that conversation she mentioned that she had recently purchased Kids Praise 1 and 2 for her two year old because she thought he might like the songs. So yesterday we had some fussy time I was trying to defuse and usually a little music helps, so I put on the Kid’s Praise album and had a moment… The kids enjoyed it, but I cried. Psalty made me cry and here’s why:

First it was like stepping back in time, I hadn’t heard any of those songs in probably 20 years, but hearing them and seeing the album covered I was taken back to my parents living room where they played the record for my sister Kristin and I, I couldn’t have been more than four.

I knew ALL of the words to these songs after all that time of not hearing them AND what astonished me the most was realizing that Psalty the Singing Song Book is responsible for a number of scriptures I know by memory to this day.

The songs on that album are fun and engaging, but they aren’t about hairbrushes, water buffalo, or cheeseburgers.

The words I remember from Psalty’s songs are things like,

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us… that we should be called the sons of God”

“Jesus, name above all names, beautiful Savior, glorious Lord, Emmanuel God is with us, blessed Redeemer, Living Word.”

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you, hallelujah.”

“Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another! 1 John 4: 7& 8″

“Father I adore you, lay my life before you, how I love you!”

“Because you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile, you gave me Jesus and you made me your child, and I just thank you Father for making me me.”

Psalty may have been cheesy, and sure, he was probably the only book every known to have a blue afro, but it’s precious to me today to know that when I was four and five the words in my heart and in my mind were from God’s word and that they have stayed with me all of this time.

I am so grateful.

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Courage to Doubt

Last week I read a Relevant article called 4 Things Jesus Never Said which I enjoyed tremendously and highly recommend that you read. My biggest take-away from this all-around great post was in the second section of the four things Jesus never said under the subtitle “Doubting is Dangerous”.

The author reminds us of our biblical friend “Doubting” Thomas  and the notorious moment where earned that nickname, then neatly follows that up with a reminder that Thomas was not the only disciple to doubt, quoting Luke 24:11 in which all of the disciples “couldn’t believe” that Jesus had been resurrected.

What stood out to me was this bit,

All the disciples doubted, but Thomas was the only one with the courage to admit he needed proof. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). And when Jesus finally encountered Thomas, he did not rebuke him. Rather he gave Thomas what he needed. He invited Thomas to touch his wounds, and only then did Jesus tell him he could stop doubting.

The beauty of this is Thomas had an encounter with Jesus none of the other disciples did. He is the only one who touched the wounds of Jesus, because he had the faith to doubt. Nowhere does Jesus condemn doubt; rather he meets people right where they are in it.

Courage to admit his doubt… faith to doubt… interesting.

Very shortly after reading that article I came across a video of Simon Sinek on the subject of serving those who serve others (which I will post below). I have, for years now, been a fan of how Simon Sinek teaches about leadership and stumbled upon this particular video while looking up things about his new book, Leaders Eat Last. This video is long (and totally worth watching all the way through) but in the first 10 minutes I heard something that reminded me of what I had just read in the previously mentioned Relevant article.

In response to being asked how he knows so much Simon describes how he’s learned to ask questions so that he can simplify complex ideas into something he can understand. He references a story from his own life in which he was challenged to go 48 hours without lying, not even employing “little white lies” to avoid humiliation. He points out that we all lie this way constantly, telling waiters that our food is good when really it wasn’t because we don’t want to create a fuss, or telling a friend that we’ve heard of the film/music/what have you they’re speaking about when we haven’t to avoid looking out of the loop. In the middle of this challenge Simon had an appointment with a speech writer for a politician and as soon as they sat down the speech writer asked how much research he had done before this interview. Under normal circumstances, not being in a no-lying-challenge, his answer would have been something like, “a little” in order to avoid looking unprepared, but instead he answered truthfully that he done no research and the woman went ahead to fill him in on on the details he needed to know.

His point was that, had he lied, he would have missed out on hearing vital information and that we feel so much pressure to have all of the answers all of the time that we miss opportunities to know what’s most important.

After hearing that I thought of Thomas and what if he had, instead of expressing his doubt, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure, it could be true.”? Maybe Thomas would have encountered Jesus in the flesh and it would have been enough to convince him. Maybe. But because he wasn’t afraid of looking like a fool or a coward, Jesus reached out to him and said, “Here, touch me and don’t just believe that it’s me, know

I wonder what our faith would be like if we had the courage to stop trying to spiritually save face, to stop pretending that we have the answers, and we could face our fears and our doubts at the feet of a God who has infinite love and mercy for us. I wonder if we could be brave in this way how God might extend his nail scarred hands to us and give us the opportunity to not just believe in him but to know him.

I do deeply desire the kind of faith that follows Christ out onto the surface of the sea, but I also want the kind of faith that looks to the Father as a child and can say, “God I don’t have the answer, I don’t understand what you mean here, I don’t know what I believe, please show me!”

What do you doubt?

What do you not have an answer for?

What do you not have the strength to believe?

Can you, can we, be like Thomas?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8-dhTodlKI

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Why Do We Sing?

worship3I recently asked social media for inspiration because I needed side project to sink my teeth into for a while. In response I received the following question from one of my students,

On the subject of Hymns: What’s your opinion on the modern day version of “church music”. Which is to say, do you think that the music has become more representative of the modern church and, if so, is that something that should be avoided?

Great question and timely.  I’ve been thinking and talking about worship with some of my close friends lately and wrestling through my thoughts on the subject and what I want to role model to the young adults I lead as a person who believes that worship is very important.

I’ve experienced worship in many different settings; from the extremely conservative to the rock concert variety to the ancient traditions to the super emotional… I could go on…

If I’m being honest, I have to say that I have a lot of frustration with the idea of boiling worship down and making it all about music and singing. That’s not to say that I don’t like music, music is a very important part of my life, it’s essential to my personal creative process when it comes to writing, and God has often used music, with lyric and without, to speak to me in ways that have pulled me out of very dark places. Music is powerful, it’s a language of its own and it’s something that, I believe, is linked to the soul of humanity and the essence of being made in God’s image.

That being said, I strongly believe that worship is something we do with our lives and not just about the songs we sing on Sunday morning and how we sing them.  And I know that’s not exactly addressing the question being asked here, but stay with me, I’m going somewhere.

The biggest complaint I hear from young people about current praise and worship music is that it’s self-indulgent and too emotional, and I get it. I do. And I have been right there with them at different points in my life thinking, “I’m singing ‘it’s all about you Jesus’ but it sure feels like it’s all about me and what I’m getting out of this whole thing.”

The truth is, at least in my opinion, even when you look back at old hymns, and I love old hymns, if you consolidate them into everything that encompasses worship, then they don’t really come out looking much less indulgent than the stuff we have today. So there’s this thing that happens in Christian music where we work out what we’re going through in these songs and it is emotional. I found it really hard to relate to until several years ago while I was living in Dallas and going through what were some of the most desperately sad times in my life. I’d lost my mom, my job was falling apart, and I was facing people saying horrible things about me in a way I had never experienced before in my life. And in that pit of a place that my life was then I started reading through the Psalms and where I used to think David was the whiniest guy in the bible suddenly he was reading my mind. And at that time in my life those songs that had seemed indulgent and over-emotional to me before were suddenly my prayers, they gave me words when I didn’t have them and God spoke back to me through them.

So after that I couldn’t see those songs as not having a place and I couldn’t honestly say at that point if I was worshiping God so much as having a conversation with him through song.

In the midst of that time I also was introduced to ideas about worship being a way of life, worship being something we do with our time and our attention and our obedience, worship being about our lives.

So maybe this doesn’t answer the original question at all, maybe it does, but I don’t think, if worship is only going to be about music, that we can get it right. There wont be a type of song, or a way of singing that will be holy or reverent enough.

Yes, there will always be crappy Christian music. And it’s just crappy because it’s poorly written or maybe it’s intention is to force you to cry. That happens and I support people avoiding crappy music as much as possible.

What I know is this, personally I can’t tell you what kind of song God prefers coming out of your mouth more… traditional, mainstream, chanting, or anything else you can think of.  For me whatever the words or style, worship has a lot more to do with why we’re singing and what we’re doing with our lives to honor God, than it has to do with the style of our songs.

I hope that in some way answers the question. =)

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Love Without A Disclaimer

A photo from ProjectJAIA

A photo from ProjectJAIA

Today is my first official day of not being an employee of retail cosmetics. The decision to leave a job that has held me financially steady for six years was a scary one, possibly one of the hardest easy decisions I’ve ever made.

I say “hardest easy” decision because knowing that my time with the company I was with was over couldn’t have been more clear. Everything going on in my heart and my life pointed right towards the door, but taking the actual steps to walk out and facing the fear of all of the “what ifs”, took every bit of guts I have.

And here I am.

I jumped with both feet because I couldn’t not.

My constant prayer these days is, “Here is my life, God. Wreck it. Ruin it for your glory.” But don’t go thinking I’m super brave because most of the time I have to choke the words out in between sobs. I oscillate between terror of the unknown and a sense of adventure unlike anything I have ever experienced every day.

A big part of what has driven this big change in my life has been trying to wrap my head around how I am loved by God.  I realized that I was living a huge lie. My mouth claimed that God loves me just as I am while my heart believed that there were parts of me that were unlovable and I was in constant turmoil trying to cover, hide, and mask those parts. I could logically understand that God sees everything, but it didn’t stop me trying to block him out of the dark parts of my soul or pretending to others that those parts didn’t exist.

About a year ago in a moment of divine disaster God’s voice thundered through my head and my heart and said, “I see you Katie Elizabeth Brown and I LOVE every piece of you. ” And for the first time in my life that truth felt like a refuge in a storm instead of a threat.

The world needs THIS kind of love.

The answer is love and it always has been because God IS love.

I am determined to love without a disclaimer because I am loved without one.

A disclaimer is a statement that denies something, usually responsibility. In Christian culture we are used to “loving” with disclaimers that say things like, “I love you, but I don’t accept your sin”, “I love you, but only when you do what I think is right”, or “I love you, but don’t hurt me and or I will cut you off”. We are fearful of guilt by association when those we love fail, get dirty and maybe don’t get right up. We don’t want to be stained by their sin, hurt, or have to sacrifice anything in the process of helping them up so we hold these disclaimers up so we can deny responsibility and make it understood that our love only reaches as far as their ability to deserve it.

God’s love doesn’t do this to us.

God’s love took responsibility for us on the cross. God CLAIMED us as we are and I believe with all of my heart that he asks us to do the same for each other.  1 Peter 4:8 says,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

How would the world change if we loved like this? If we claimed each other in love, if we didn’t hold anything back, if we took responsibility by going all-in for one another?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to put my whole life into finding out.

One of the ways I’m committed to “walking as a child of Light” (Ephesians 5:8) is by working with a bunch of students on a project called Just As I Am. ProjectJAIA is an opportunity to come forward with those parts of ourselves we’ve worked so hard to hide from God and everyone else and to step out into the light of God’s unconditional love for us. Through our pictures we hope that ProjectJAIA will encourage us all to let God and  his love for us into the places we feel the most vulnerable and that in the process we will learn to see each other the way he sees us.

I hope you will check ProjectJAIA out and if you’re feeling brave add your own photo! What have you let make you feel unlovable? Bring it into the light.

You can follow ProjectJAIA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. If you have questions, comments or would like to email a photo submission for the project you can contact ProjectJAIA at projectjaia@gmail.com. You can also participate by hashtaging your photo #projectJAIA on any of the social media sites mentioned above. 

 

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What’s not to like about the like button

20130916-083106.jpgLast week Kristin and I were discussing blog stats for Tourniquet. I’m not really a stats person, the information is too broad and impersonal in most cases for me. This is a striking difference in Kristin and I’s personalities, because she’s fantastic with managing stats. I pay attention to the stats enough to get a vague understanding of all the things you’re supposed to understand when looking at statistics, Kristin, on the other hand, is driven to understand in great detail the ebb and flow of traffic, where it comes from, what produces more of it, etc.

In our conversation we got to talking about how many times something or other had been ‘liked’ and people ‘liking’ it on facebook versus ‘liking’ it on our site. In all that talk about ‘liking’ I told Kristin how much I don’t like the like button sometimes. To me it feels like pseudo communication, you push the like button to communicate a vague sense of appreciation or approval of what a person is saying or posting, but there’s no real commitment there because there are no words there to indicate whether you like because you sympathize, agree, approve of their passion whether or not you approve of their message.

Then there are those comments that you do get time to time in addition to a ‘like’ or without one that go something like, “I wish I could super like this!” or “When are they going to invent a ‘dislike’ button?” And I want to shout, “USE YOUR WORDS!”

Don’t get me wrong, I was up on my proverbial soap box about ‘liking’ and fully admitting that I am just as guilty of employing the use of the like button as the next person. It’s convenient when I’m on a break skimming my Facebook news feed to blanket like status updates and things that have been shared. It’s easy, it’s quick, and it says, “Hey, I see you said that.” And I’m for letting the people in my sphere know they are seen even when they’re just broadcasting what they had for lunch that day.

The thing is, as I thought about it then and ever since that conversation a week ago today, what I’ve realized is, I don’t want the ‘like’ button to be my default response. I crave communication and understanding of how and what people think, so I really appreciate it when people take the time to leave comments on my updates and blog posts. I have to assume that if ‘likes’ make other people feel good, that actual communication with them and expression of how whatever they’ve said has impacted me will make them feel better.

This is especially true in a world where a dislike button has NOT been created. Don’t you think that’s just a little funny? Our social media outlets are set up so that when we agree or approve we have the “convenience” of expressing it quickly and vaguely, but we read something we don’t agree with or approve of and we want to express ourselves we’re forced into confrontation. Therefore, the majority of the time when we’re actually communicating with words, we’re communicating something negative or upsetting. That’s just sad.

I gave myself a little challenge after that conversation with my sister in order to “be the change I wish to see in the world” (ha) and I’ve spent the past week taking as many opportunities  to comment and leave words in place of or in addition to ‘liking’ what people have to say. I’ll be honest and say it’s not always been easy. Getting out of like-brain is a little difficult at first, which just made me all the more determined because  it indicated just how deeply the habit was rooted.

Yes, commenting has been more time consuming.
Yes, there were times when I had to sit and think for a minute about what exactly I wanted to say, or why I actually liked something or even if I actually liked it.

At first it felt as though there was gravitational pull to the like button, but more quickly than I could have hoped for that feeling started to fade and I found myself reaching for the comment link automatically. I also found that I was paying attention to things differently, my brain was looking for things in my friends words to respond to. It’s great!

The real reward, however, came late last night when after leaving a very simple one word comment on something one of the teenage girls I work with had written, she commented back saying, “I really appreciate your participation in my status updates lately!”

We haven’t had any deep conversations.
We haven’t even had long conversations.

All I did was replace my ‘likes’ with words and it mattered. It was noticeable and appreciated, because real communication is important.

I’m not suggesting we all abandon the ‘like’ button completely, even though it would be nice, I know it will never happen. What I suggest is more awareness for the words we leave behind us and not let them be mostly negative. We have many wonderful words in our vocabulary to communicate love, approval, agreement, encouragement and comfort, to name just a few, let’s not limit ourselves to ‘liking’ things and take the time to communicate what we really feel.

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Dear Mrs. Hall

Dear Mrs. Hall,
I work in youth ministry, it’s one of the things I’m most passionate about, so when your blog post directed at teenage girls showed up in my Facebook feed this morning it caught my attention and curiosity.
I’d like to preface this note by saying I am neither a mother or a married woman. I do not have a family of my own, but I am an Aunt to two precious nieces and four rough and tumble nephews and I hope and pray that I care for the youth I serve as if they were my own children. It is the deepest desire of my heart that the young men and women in my care are ceaselessly pointed towards the God who fearfully and wonderfully made them. And that they come to respect and care for the opposite sex the way God intended. I’d also like to make it clear that I am in NO WAY promoting the use of suggestive facebook (or any other social media for that matter) pictures.
That said, I was more than a little disappointed in your blog post. I respect, applaud, and admire your desire to raise young men who honor God and respect the young women in their lives, however, I’d like to suggest that there might be a better way to do that than the way you’ve chosen. Again, I know I’m not a parent and I’m fully aware that fact might discount my entire opinion for you. But your blog post reflects something I see happening in culture, not simply in parenting, and it concerns me.
First there’s the obvious double-standard that’s presented when you chastise (in a friendly way?) young women for their scantily clad photos on Facebook, while illustrating your blog post with topless photos of your male family members [Edit: Due to the overwhelmingly negative response to these photos Mrs. Hall has recently changed the blog post to only include fully clothed photos of her sons and removed or edited some of the statements commenters voiced concern over. While we appreciate this effort, the concerns we voice in this post remain the same.You can read the post in it's original form here.] The comment thread on your blog indicates that I am not the only one to notice and be bothered by this mild form of hypocrisy. Let’s hope for the best and assume that we all have common sense and clearly understand that yes, there is a difference between young women imitating poses only naturally assumed by amateur sex-workers and young men enjoying a fun day at the beach, but as other commenters mentioned, given the tone of your blog post this seems like a really poor choice on your part. Especially considering that, for a woman who clearly values protecting the purity of the young male mind, you didn’t give a moments thought to the young men with same sex attractions who may come across these photos of your sons.
But the pictures aren’t even the bigger cause for concern for me. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that the strong emphasis on female modesty is one step away from Sha’ria Law, that we live in a country that is about to start yet another war because we’re supposedly against Wahabi Islam and that St. Paul talked about freedom in Christ, not hajeeb. It’s the underlying messaging of your writing that is the problem for me. I realize you may be completely unaware of it and I have to believe for the best and hope that you don’t mean to sound as condescending as you do. Please allow me to explain my perspective.
The biggest problem I have with your post is that you are unwittingly perpetuating the exact messaging that encourages those girls on Facebook to dress and pose provocatively– Value based on performance and behaviors. Culture says, “You are valuable when…” you are sexy, when people are attracted to you, etc. Your blog post sends the same message using a different method– “You are worth my son’s time and attention when you are modest”. In both cases the message is that value is measured by the ability to act a certain way, in neither case is the emphasis on our value as human beings who are loved by God. This is a problem because the consequences of believing you must seek value for yourself versus knowing that you have value are devastating.
You mentioned at one point in your post that the provocative image of a young woman, once seen by a young man, cannot be unseen. While this mentality is frustrating to me because I believe feeding the stereotype that all men are slaves to their sexual impulses is dangerous and relieves them of fully learning the discipline of self-control, I’ll use your comment as an example to say that the same sort of principle can be applied to young women– Once the seed of doubt about their value has been planted, they cannot unlearn to question their value as an instinct. They will fight the rest of their lives to understand how they are valuable and a life lived seeking value will result in a lot of painful lessons, the least of which is not confusion about their personal relationship to God.
Posing in sexually explicit Facebook pictures becomes the least of our worries when we start to pay attention to the young men and women committing suicide because they feel no sense of value or purpose. There are children in the world starving themselves to be thinner, requesting plastic surgery to be considered more attractive and therefore acceptable, having sex and reproducing to feel loved, and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain when they don’t measure up. And all of it extends out beyond youth and into adulthood and then the men and women we have left have no sense of who they are, no sense of who God is, and no sense of what it really means to love or be loved.
I am sure, as a woman, you can appreciate and understand (perhaps have even experienced) how easy it is for teenage girls to feel unworthy and worthless. The self-esteem of most teen girls walks with a limp, they come out of the gate already believing that they have to get enough “likes” to matter in this world.
Dangling your attractive young sons like carrots in front of their female Facebook friends and denying friendship to those who fall below the purity line may well produce results, but I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Modesty motivated by a desire to gain value through someone’s approval isn’t any healthier or beneficial to these young women than provocative Facebook pictures motivated by the desire to have attention and feel valued is. The damage done to the girls through that message will be much greater than the damage your sons will suffer by encountering racy Facebook pictures. What will be truly damaging to your sons, however, is that you are objectifying them and thus teaching them to objectify others by making them bait to get young girls to do what you believe is right. Let’s be brutally honest, your sons are handsome young men, probably a part of the popular crowd, and you know that gives you some leverage with these young ladies. We wouldn’t be writing these blog posts if your sons were acne-prone and awkward and maybe that’s a little shocking of me to write, but we all know it’s true.
Bottom line– As Christian men and women, parents, leaders, and influencers of the young we should not be shaping children around their weaknesses. Reinforcing the idea in young men that they are subject to their sexual urges by putting so much emphasis on female modesty sets them up to fail the very first time they encounter temptation in the real world, and it insures that young women feel like their bodies are their enemies, whether because they attract too much attention or not enough.
If we really want to raise men who are Godly and treat women with respect and women who know their worth and are confident in their God-given beauty, adults MUST make relationships with young people a priority. Truth be told, Mrs. Hall, those girls you are blocking are probably the ones who need young men like your boys as friends the most and they would most definitely benefit from having a woman like yourself invest time in them. We should be trusting God with the youth in our lives and encouraging them to take every opportunity to see beyond sin and to the person. To look for what God sees in spite of what our impulses may draw our attention to and for love of God and other people, choose to recognize true value and build relationships rather than find offense and reasons to separate ourselves from others.
Sincerely,
Katie Elizabeth Brown
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Food For Thought: Part 2

part2In yesterday’s post I used some quotes from this post by Brent Bailey.  I’ve decided that my thoughts and comments on this one blog post are probably going to be spread out over three posts of my own. I just can’t seem to cram it all into one or even two.

Today I am just going to write about a concept I started thinking more about after reading it and I’m going to start by telling you the story of one of the single most horrifying moments of my adult life. I bet you’re ready to read now, aren’t you? =)

In March of 2010 I moved to Dallas for work in the cosmetic industry. I was offered a promotion with the company I was with, and at the time it seemed like I was going to have a very strong future with this company, so I took it even though I had no family or friends in that area, and I had never lived that far from my friends and family in my life.

I had known that it would be a challenge, that there would be loneliness, and in His mercy God eventually brought me the best friend I could ask for (and Sarah if you’re reading this, I still believe that getting to know and hang out with you and Mark made Dallas totally worth it), but I was not prepared for just how lonely lonely could be.

I am a born and raised Central Texan and I like to be outside in the sun. I wasn’t expecting the extreme weather differences I’d experience in North Texas. In that first winter there I dealt with having to drive to work in three feet of snow, the most snow I’d seen on the ground in my life. I learned I don’t care for snow, or being cold. At all. Between the weather and the loneliness I was facing some pretty serious depression.  I knew I needed to try to find a church to get involved in, so I emailed a man I’d met through work who had become a youth pastor for the Fort Worth campus of a certain mega church in the DFW area and he put me in touch with a female friend of his who was a member of the campus closest to where I lived.

After a nice chat on the phone, I agreed to meet the woman in the church book store Sunday morning and sit with her group for service. I was so relieved to be getting some interaction with people outside of work, I gathered all my courage and braved icy roads and a 45 minute drive to get to the church on time.  The other woman and I met, her friends were kind and welcoming, and the service was pretty much what I expected at a church like that, which I don’t say to sound negative. It was just a typical Sunday in a BIG BIG church. After the service was over I was prepared to head home and have lunch, but the group encouraged me to come with them to a “class” they all attended after the service. Things had gone well, so I thought, “Why not!” This is where it all started to go downhill.

We went upstairs to what looked like a youth room… except for adults. As we were walking in the door the group I had been with dispersed and I was on my own. There was a guy greeting people, handing out name tags and assigning them a table. At that point I wasn’t overly worried, I’d seen similar things before. I assumed there would be small group discussion and table assignments were a good way to mix the group every week.

I headed to my assigned table where there was exactly one person seated. Something about her body language suggested that she wasn’t at all comfortable with the whole set up and that she was probably new as well. I decided to sit next to her, perhaps it would make us both feel better to be next to someone in a similar situation.  I’d barely gotten seated when she leaned over to talk to me and the conversation went something like this:

Worried Girl: You’ve never been here before have you?

Me: No, this is my first visit.  Have you been in this class before?

Worried Girl: Just once. Last week was my first time… Do you know what you’ve gotten yourself into? Did they tell you what kind of class this was?

Me: *starting to feel nervous* No? I was told it was just a young adult class, I assumed it was something like a Sunday school class.

Worried Girl: *glancing carefully around the room and leaning closer to whisper* It’s not a young adults class… it’s a single young adults class. This is a class to teach you how to date. I didn’t know when they convinced me to come.

Me: *panic beginning to rise*  What!?!

Worried Girl: That’s right, a dating class! And just wait… in a minute this table will be full, there will be a talk about how to be more successful at dating and then the leader of this table will ask you really uncomfortable questions. Get ready.

Me: Is this just a series they are on right now? Will it be over in a couple of weeks?

Worried Girl: Nope. I asked. All of the people here are looking for spouses, so they have the class and mix the group and hope that they eventually find a match.  I don’t know why I came back, except I’m curious to see if it works.

Me: *panic rendering me speechless*

singleAt that point my worried friend took the opportunity of filling my horrified silence with talk about her cats, all six of them, and I started wondering if I was really awake or if this was all a nightmare. Sadly, she wasn’t exaggerating, it was absolutely a dating class and the horribly  awkward question I was asked during our small group discussion was if I would share how I learned about “the birds and the bees” in front of my whole table.  I passed on the question, much to the tables disappointment, and then passed on ever going back to that church again.

After I read Brent’s post, specifically the parts about knowing God’s intent for our lives and sexuality within the church, I got to thinking about this experience and it really sunk in how uncomfortable most churches are with singleness and the pressure and frustration that can cause for people.

Much harder to bear than my own feelings about singleness are how some of the people around me feel. The idea that one could be single and celibate for life is viewed by many as a last resort rather than a reasonable option. After some conversation about that very idea, I have to wonder if maybe that also plays a part in the observation I quoted yesterday about gay Christians in more traditional churches and their sense of belonging. Both Catholic and Orthodox churches have traditions of celibacy, which is something that Protestant churches have stepped far, far away from, but I think those traditions help keep singleness from becoming its own sort of taboo within the church and allows for less pressure on individual people.

I suppose, having most of my church experience come from Southern Baptist and Non-Denomination churches, I find liturgical churches fascinating. In my experience, especially in the last 10 years or so, there’s a lot of “what you see is what you get” mentality in mainstream church culture in an attempt to be very “authentic” and “real”.  Churches seem to want to be approachable and informal in a way that makes people feel welcome and accommodated, I just wonder if in that process we’ve lost touch with meaning, and more I’m starting to question whether this style of church is even coming close to accomplishing the end goal that’s supposed to be justifying the means.

Maybe, just maybe, some of the answers we’re looking for aren’t in something new, but in something ancient.

Look for Part 3 on Monday!

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Food for Thought.

Food-for-thoughtYesterday I came across a blog post on Twitter  called The Crisis of Relationship with God by a man named Brent Bailey. I don’t know a whole lot about Brent just yet, but I really appreciated some of the insights I found in that blog post and wanted to share some important things I think it highlighted, here. I definitely encourage you to go and read the whole post for yourself though.

For me this blog post identifies some issues that I think are very much worth paying attention to and some that I, personally, don’t see come up very often. I’m going to use a couple quotes from the post and then respond to them with my thoughts–

It’s a bizarre time to be a gay Christian if you’re connected at all to conservative circles. Only recently has a gay-affirming sexual ethic gathered momentum on a broad level, and gay Christians who once received a conclusive answer from other Christians about homosexuality now encounter ambivalence when they seek to determine God’s will for their lives. That ambivalence can be soothing when it provides much-needed space to ask questions and give words to emotions that have long felt unutterable, but that ambivalence can become maddening when it sends gay people on a seemingly endless journey to determine what they believe and whether they’re prepared to handle the consequences of those convictions.

The key word for me that flew off the screen was ambivalence. I feel like I’ve been sensing this emotion permeating mainstream Protestant church culture for a while, but somehow never put my finger on it until I read it in that paragraph. I’m going to do a whole lot of leveling the playing field here because, while I understand Brent’s point is to speak directly to how these issues are effecting gay Christians, my purpose is to find common ground. And not only that, but to see Christians come to place of unity, where we recognize the issues facing The Body and support one another, not as gay Christians and straight Christians, or liberal Christians and conservative Christians, but simply as brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of the biggest problems I see in mainstream churches today is that there’s no real discipleship going on. I see it most commonly in “seekers” or “new Christians” and I can most definitely see it being a frustration for gay Christians as well. So many churches have adopted a habit of openness, which in theory seems good, grace-filled, and loving, but doesn’t actually give much direction. Once you cross the threshold of being out of relationship with God to being in relationship with Him, often people find themselves wondering, Now, what does being in relationship with God look like in my life? And, unfortunately, in a lot of mainstream churches you’ll be hard-pressed to get a real or consistent answer from anyone. We are very concerned that people know that God will meet them where they are, and that’s good, but the trouble is that instead of exemplifying that truth in the way we relate to the people around us while being committed ourselves to loving God back through obedience to Him in our own lives, we’ve kind of turned that on its head.

I know that it’s not something that’s limited only to my generation, but it’s something I see my generation in particular becoming more and more fed up with– Since love has become deluded down to a general sense of positive feelings towards God and other people, we don’t understand how love and relationship means self-sacrifice and what that looks like realistically in our lives. This should be where discipleship steps in, where we learn, through faith and church tradition, what to actualize relating to God and to others looks like day-to-day, but in mainstream Protestant church culture ‘tradition’ has come to be viewed as a dirty, oppressive word. Which leads to the next quote…

[Side note: A friend and I recently noticed how gay people involved in more established, historical traditions that emphasize submission to church authority, like Catholics, rarely seem to face this same uncertainty about what they ought to believe—not because they’re unthinking or uncritical, but because they’re confident in church teachings and trust the church will support them in their obedience. Those Christian circles with more diversity of belief seem more apt to engender the anxiety I’m describing.]

The emphasis there is mine because from my perspective this is really important observation. This makes me want to sit back, take a deep breath and just think for a while. It’s sobering to me on a lot of different levels. I don’t question that the intent of how we’ve tried to be open in churches has been bad, but that we’ve gone about it in much the wrong way, and as a result people are struggling inside the church with trying to relate to God. I am absolutely FOR people knowing that they don’t have to clean themselves up to know God and I am absolutely FOR churches discipling  people as they learn to relate to God and I believe with all of my heart that church tradition plays a major role in that.

Trust me when I say I know how old-fashioned this could make me look, and I know I run the risk of causing people to believe that I am too conservative or legalistic in some way or another, but if you know me at all, you have to know that is not true. I believe that these ancient faith traditions are bold, that they teach us to reach for something beyond ourselves in a culture that is constantly encouraging us to only look inside ourselves. I need that and clearly so do other Christians.

There’s a LOT more in this post that I can dig into, honestly, it has the wheels in my brain turning so fast I can hardly keep up, so I may revisit it in a second post of my own. Again, I want to emphasize that I feel really passionately about losing the labels we have for one another, and not to water down Brent’s experience as a gay Christian, for which I am really grateful that he took the time to share. I know that the mainstream church has only just begun to wrap their heads around the idea of gay Christians and that it’s still met with a lot of vehement opposition, but I almost feel as though we needed the label just long enough to undo it. That what we should be striving to see is that none of us should be a Christian with a subtitle, but that we are all Followers of Christ who sin and struggle with the common goal of relating to God and understanding how we are loved by Him.

I welcome your comments… unless they are to tell me that I’ve become and old woman, to which my response will be to throw my cane at you. ;>

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Gay Parents or No Parents. What’s Better?

holding-hands-380x252Like being a hair stylist or a bar tender, when you work in retail cosmetics people tell you their stories. It’s amazing to me sometimes how compelled people seem to be to talk when I have them in my chair. I’ve had people weep, spill their deepest secrets, and talk all kinds of crap about their next door neighbor. You get used to it after a while.

Last week I had an interesting one. I say interesting for several reasons… I was working with a woman who I guessed to be nearing 60. She was a kind, soft-spoken woman who struck me as being a little overwhelmed in her surroundings. It was no surprise to me at all when a conversation about her skincare turned into a conversation about her daughter who was going through a divorce. She felt her daughter was making a bad decision and was concerned for both her child and her soon to be ex-son in-law, whom you could tell she loved very much.

After that she went on to lament how the world was changing. She took a long glance around the store I work in and then quietly asked if I work with many gay men. It’s important to understand that I live and work in a small town. This small town is pretty liberal in its views– to an extent. But at the end of the day it’s still a small town and the majority of the people here are senior citizens. I replied that yes, having been with the company for nearly six years I had worked with quite a few gay men. She commented on how places like my store and salons always had lots of gay employees, and then with a look of plain confusion admitted that the gay men who’ve cut her hair had always done the best job. I was doing my best not to chuckle and agreed that I’ve had many male co-workers who are amazing artists.

I could see in her face that she had more to say and just about the time I thought she’d decided against it she stepped closer to me and her thoughts just started pouring out. She told me that she is a social worker and deals with the placement of foster children. A lot of her job has to do with monitoring how a child is doing in their foster home and sometimes seeing to the details of adoption when the fostering goes really well. She was particularly concerned over a set of parents she would be meeting in a couple of days, gay men, who were fostering a little girl who had been removed from a heartbreaking abusive home. It was clear without her having to say the actual words that her moral compass dictated that she believe there was no way that this gay couple could be good parents for the little girl, the trouble was that all reports were to the contrary. Everyone she spoke to who had visited the couple couldn’t say enough about how much these men love that little girl and how well she was doing in their care. There was nothing but praise for their parenting.

As she spoke I could see the battle going on in her mind. Her face showed how she was weighing her genuine desire to see children safe and happy against her understanding of truth.  Right and wrong as she understood them were colliding in a way she didn’t know what to do with and were causing her to pour her heart out to a sales girl in a makeup store.

As I listened and wrestled with my own questions I felt compassion for this woman and grateful that she was wrestling too and not just making hard and fast decisions. Once she’d finished talking I asked  for myself as much as for her, “You said the little girl came out of an abusive home, can we trust God enough to believe that it’s better for her to be loved by two gay men than to be abused by a straight couple?”

In the moment I had forgotten where we were, that she was a client– we were just two people having a conversation about very real things in our world. As soon as the question was out of my mouth, however, I remembered and I was a little nervous that this was a little more than she’d bargained for out of her trip to buy cosmetics. Fortunately her response was one of gratitude, relief even. Maybe she just needed someone else to ask the question, I don’t know, but we both walked away liking one another better and with something to think about.

I’ve been thinking about it for a week now, actually I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.

It’s interesting to me that the conversation happened at all. If she’d have gotten pretty much anyone else in the store to help her and had that conversation the chances high that she would have offended them. So I just wonder why, knowing nothing about me personally, she felt safe to talk? I can only assume that it was God.

I haven’t been able to get that little girl off of my mind and a couple of nights ago as I was thinking about her and the whole situation God brought a new question to my mind.

“I can use all things for good. Can you consider that maybe I am using the love of two fathers to teach my child who I am?” 

I can’t imagine being a little girl in a world where the mother and father you are born with aren’t the anchors of love and safety they are meant to be, but instead are the cause of pain, fear, and abandonment. It is humbling and powerful for me to realize that maybe for the hurt she has suffered, the love and protection of two fathers is exactly what she needs.

I believe in a God who can use all things for good. Because He is God.

This understanding doesn’t change my ethics when it comes to sexuality, but it does change my heart for the way that we, as followers of Christ, view the bigger picture and how we relate to other people. Whether or not that gay couple adopts that little girl, they have made an impression on her life for love. What will it say to her about God as she grows if His followers are dead set on condemning the people who showed her kindness and protection when she needed it most? The answer to that question bothers me.

This is a challenging place to be in, it’s a challenging way to force myself to think, and yet, I have to. I have to believe that we can do better than we’re doing.  I’m not suggesting that we give in, or that truth doesn’t matter.

We need to be careful to focus on individual people, not categories and labels. There is no universal solution to a problem based on categories or labels, only individual solutions to individual problems based on individual people. It is a lot harder and messier, but it is the only way to be loving. In the thick of things it’s easy to lose sight of the actual lives involved. I see it happen all the time– a lot of Christians seem to want to think that because only families made from married heterosexual couples are “real” families and so all of the pseudo “families” out there can’t possibly have real bonds to one another and we become disconnected to their real human feelings, we don’t empathize with the fact that from where they’re sitting it sounds like we’re determined to tear their families apart. When we make a habit of categorizing people and giving them labels instead of relating and engaging with the people, we dehumanize them and justify treating them as though they have no feelings.

We also need to consider that if we’re going to be opposed to a solution, such as gay couples adopting and fostering when there are SO many children who need safe homes, then we have to have an alternative solution that we personally help make happen. We have no right to kick and scream when gay couples foster and adopt when we aren’t doing anything ourselves to solve the problem of parentless children. Remember, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me.”  The problem it’s easier to fight other people’s solutions than to find them ourselves, and I think in doing that we’re missing the entire point.

Through it all we can’t lose sight of truth, which means actually and actively seeking it. It’s hard work, it means not only investing in our relationship with God, but being invested in relationships with others and it will cost us everything we have, but it’s worth it. The problem with our culture is that people want everything to be not only black and white, but black and white all the way down the column–  If you think same-sex attraction is a sin then you’re anti-gay marriage, anti-gay fostering and you don’t want any gay people (even chaste ones) in your church. Likewise, if you think it is ok for gays to adopt then you can’t possibly believe what the bible says about sexuality and that you must completely condone homosexuality. The thing is nothing, not people, not issues fits into these black and white standards and we miss what God is actually doing when we try to force them.

What it all comes down to is that we can’t allow a desire to affirm the good in a bad situation turn into a willingness to let what is merely good not be better. We have to let what we believe speak through our actions, we have to know what we are for and then give our lives for that, rather than sitting back and raising hell about how other people have sought to meet needs in the world around us. This is where we find the balance in truth and love, when we take responsibility instead of casting blame, when we choose to find reasons to relate instead of reasons to draw a line in the sand and choose sides.

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Exodus International closing- an open letter

You can almost not help having heard the news that Exodus International announced last Wednesday that they were shutting down. We’ve been reading a lot of “open letters” to Alan Chambers, and to Exodus, a lot of press accurate and inaccurate, a LOT of comments by people on all sides, and a lot of disclaimers.

Kristin and I felt it was important now (that we’ve had some time to rest after a very busy week last week) to add our own voices, though they may not be heard as loudly as some, to this subject.

Kristin and I are second generation (and now last) generation Exodus– the organization has played a significant role in our lives as our parents have been the directors of a member ministry for most of our lives, and as we became involved ourselves. We are deeply thankful for the ways in which Exodus has blessed our family, it’s leaders have served as role models for us in our youth and have become dear friends as we’ve grown up. In our deepest time of grief the Exodus family was a family to us who knew our parents; their hearts, their heart to minister to those in need, and their desire to love the lost, the lonely, and the broken the way that Jesus does, and stood beside us as we lost our Mom. It has been a great privilege and honor to learn from and serve beside so many fearless men and women of God and we thank each and every one of them for the years of blood, sweat and tears they have put into the ministry of Exodus.

That said, and while we grieve to see the end of an era, we also couldn’t be more excited about the road ahead. We stand beside other leaders and are hopeful for the chance to start a narrative that will build a bridge between the church and not only the gay community, but all those seeking a relationship with Jesus, no matter their walk of life. While holding firmly to biblical sexual ethic, it is our deepest desire to communicate the love of God in a way that heals instead of brings division, and that opens hearts to truth instead of leaves them defensive and alone. In all of this we are confident, in spite of the doubts some people have expressed, that the views being expressed by Alan Chambers and other leaders like him are God-inspired, and we agree with them whole-heartedly.

“Love The Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31

 

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