Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tamir Rice

I wasn't going to say anything, because it has all been said. Because my news feed is bombarded with tragedy already and I sometime just feel too overwhelmed by the brokenness and sadness to engage. 

But then I realized, some of you might not know. 

You might not have heard that just over a year ago a 12 year old boy was killed in a park and that now his family has had two Christmases without their son. You might not know that he was just twelve years old, and that's just the same age as my baby brother, my little best friend. You might now know that he was playing with a toy gun, and that the officer who shot him took not even a second to evaluate that it was a child in the park, that the gun was not real, or to even tell the person he thought was an adult to drop the weapon. Window halfway down, less than two seconds, the 12 year old boy with a toy in a park is gone. 

You might not have heard that the state of Ohio is an open carry state, and since the officer claims to have perceived Tamir Rice to be an adult, it would have thus followed for it to be legal for him to have a gun. And you might not have heard that the police officer who shot the 12 year old boy had been deemed unfit for duty in the last police department he had worked at. 

And then two days ago, maybe you didn't hear, it was ruled that the police officer will not face charges for the killing of Tamir Rice. Not the killing, the murder.

He was 12 years old, playing in a park with a toy gun in an open carry state and killed by a police officer who was "recommended to be released" because he could not control himself or follow orders.

My brother is 12 years old. He's white. Tamir Rice was black. So my brother can play in a park with a toy gun and the officer won't shoot him on the spot. He'll probably ask him to drop the weapon and treat him like the human child he is. Because he's white, my brother would live.

Tell me again racism doesn't exist. Tell me again that our system isn't broken, systematically oppressive and racist and unjust. Tell me again, and I will keep telling you the stories.

From Martin Luther King Jr:

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

"The time is always right to do what is right."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Unexpected Prophets, Part 1

Some of the most influential and shaping things I have heard were not from well-known speakers on stages or platforms, but from passing comments made by unknown prophets - folks full of humble wisdom. 

It always seems to be the most unexpected moments and words that stick in your mind, resurfacing in at unlikeliest times, challenging you to reframe your perspective and move forward with a different understanding, perhaps a broader understanding that allows you more freedom to move and breathe and believe.  

I've found that happening to me, continually my worldview is challenged, my opinions shift, even if ever so slightly. These movements in a new direction are gradual, until one day someone tells you how much you have changed, and you pause to revisit all the moments that carried you this new way.

We all know life's a journey, there are however many thousands of inspirational quotes and pretty Pinterest-worthy text-images about life being about the adventure, the journey along the way, not the destination. It's a nice thought, that I wonder how many of us actually believe. 

I think faith is like that. That journey-thing.

People talk about how faith is just about the journey, not the final destination. But behind that quotable statement, the person behind the curtain is still trying to figure it all out, still trying to find all the answers, still trying to KNOW. 

But what if we can't know? What if God is unfathomable and the journey of faith is finding that you can never really understand, that there is nothing concrete to discover, and that all the things you think you know are part of a vast mystery? What if that is the beauty of God, that He cannot really be known? 

Christianity talks about knowing God, goodness I use that phrase all the time! And I believe God allows us to know Him in part, and I also believe part of that knowing is surrendering to the unknowability of God. 

“The argument is made that naming God is never really naming God 
but only naming our understanding of God. 
To take our ideas of the divine and hold them as if they correspond 
to the reality of God is thus to construct a conceptual idol 
built from the materials of our mind," 
says author and philosopher, Peter Rollins. 

What if God is a mystery and faith isn't about knowing more the older you get, but knowing less? What if wisdom isn't about possessing more knowledge, but developing the humility to acknowledge you don't know?

This was the idea presented to me through an offhand comment made by the husband of someone I know through mutual friends and the beauty of Denver's network of servant-hearted, Jesus-loving folks. 

It's so clear, sitting at a round table at a fundraiser. We were towards the back, a table half-filled with people, but full of depth in conversation. I don't remember his name, and I have no recollection of what our conversation was about, or what brought us to the topic of our journeys with Jesus. But I remember what he said. 

He said when he was younger he thought his faith was all about knowing more about God, and expected that as he grew older he would eventually know everything. "But the older I've gotten, the more I see how little I know, and the more God is a mystery to me." 

How beautiful. This being a child, simply in awe of the love and beauty of the Father/Motherliness of God and not feel the need to know everything to be safe in His love. 

God is with us. He is not for, He is not again, He is with. Can we allow that to be enough? 

He is unfathomable, He is not completely knowable. But like Mr. Beaver tells Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe"‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

And again later, "“He'll be coming and going" he had said. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down--and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” 

         He's a mystery,
         This wild, untamable God.
         He's safe, 
         This sacrificial, surrendering Lord.
         He's calling, 
         This mother waiting to hold her child.
         He's faithful, 
         This running, open-armed Father.
         He's near,
         This heartbroken, Friend.
         He's scary, 
         This unknown, unfathomable Spirit.
         He's good, 
         This merciful, steadfast King.
         He's kind,
         This God who sees and knows. 
         He's a refuge,
         This Spirit with sheltering wings.
         He's everywhere,
         This God whose name is Love.

         He's a mystery,
         This God inviting you to simply abide.
                        (Original poetry by Katy Owens)

Will you let go? Surrender to the mystery? It may be the only way we can ever "know" this crazy, loving, mystery of a God. 

•  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  

“Here God is not approached as an object that we must love, 
but as a mystery present in the very act of love itself.” - Peter Rollins

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reality and Restoration and Stuff on the Streets

He usually wears a smile and he has a different earring every time I see him. Every finger wears a ring, contrasting the dirt under his nails and worn hands. I don't think we've ever had a conversation, he's usually muttering to himself as he pours a cup of coffee, stirs in creamer, and dumps way too much sugar into the cup.

Michael Marshall.

Just another homeless guy. Likely judged by most who see him on the streets and assume he's a drug addicted alcoholic who shouldn't be helped or humanized because he deserves what he gets.

Michael Marshall.

A friend. A regular. A favorite. Known by those at Network, staff and clients. In fact, when you go to the Network website, his smiling face, filled with laughter, is first to greet you. You'll see him in the Network video, sunglasses on, earbuds in, head shaking to the music we can't hear.

Michael Marshall.

A brother. Someone with family who cares.

Michael Marshall.

Not a nameless face with a cardboard sign on the street corner. He has a name, he has family, he has friends.

Tonight I received this text,

"Hey friends, sorry to interuupt your Friday evening... Something ugly has happened to one of our regulars and favorites..."

From one of the directors over at Network, linking us to a news story telling us of Mike's arrest and violent encounter with Denver police, resulting in him having a "massive heart attack." He is now on life support in intensive care at Denver Health.

I could say so many things. I could talk about how horrible it is that our system is not set up to care for the mentally ill. "According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25% of the homelesspopulation in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. In comparison, only 6% of Americans are severely mentally ill."

We could talk about police brutality. Folks whose job is to protect and serve, and yet often are the broken people in this deeply broken system acting out the violence rather than protecting from it. And I could go on because this incident ties all my worlds together, with this police violence against a black man being exactly what the Black Lives Matter movement is talking about, and the lack of care for the poor and marginalized.

Oh I could talk about these issues, these deep injustices and violences against humanity (against all of humanity, the oppressor and the oppressed are both suffering violence). My heart is so broken and so longing for the healing of this world.

But tonight, I'm just overwhelmed by sadness.

We often live in multiple worlds, say our work world from 8am to 5pm and then our "lives" with family, friends, hobbies, and such. We can bounce back and forth, leaving work at work and not letting it affect our lives.

But relationships don't work that way. You can't turn them off and stop caring, because there's something so deep in your soul connected with the people you care about, you can't compartmentalize them, separate the worlds.

And I'm tired of being expected to turn it off. To turn off the sorrow at injustice, the worry for my homeless friends, the heartbreak at the racism plaguing our world.

I cannot compartmentalize the tragedies.

I know it's hard to understand, because for me, my time spent with the homeless isn't just volunteering. It's not me doing a good thing so I can feel good about myself because I helped someone. It's time spent with friends, it's the place I want to be.

When I get to see Alan or Jerry at church on Sunday, I'm overjoyed. When I see a friend pitching their tent outside or flying a sign on the street corner, I struggle to hide the tears welling in my eyes.

Sometimes, I don't know how to just go on living, to not be constantly affected by the tragedies. There are weeks where I'm filled with hope, there are weeks where the heaviness of the stories I hear weigh me down.

And it's like I'm expected sometimes to just turn it off. As if I don't know the things I know, haven't seen the things I've seen, don't care in the ways I care. Like I can choose moments to exist in a world that isn't deeply affected by the brokenness all around, the brokeness that so many do choose to simply never see.

Like it's so hard for me to go downtown at night to just hangout or have fun. I see folks on the streets, in the cold, trying to find a place to sleep. And I'm out to drink a little and laugh a lot with friends and go back to my warm bed and privileged home. And often people don't even see them, and they're all I can see.

Seared in my mind, people and their things strewn across the sidewalk outside Samaritan House.

How do I just go on with my life when my heart is breaking and I can't just turn off all the tragedies?

I remember going downtown once with a friend. We were wandering around and found a bar to check out. There was a man with a cardboard sign sitting on the sidewalk outside the place. We got to the bouncer, pull out our IDs. All I could think about was how I was going to spend $5-7 on a drink, when this guy is hungry and in need. So I walked away from the bouncer and gave the guy the cash I had, then went back to get my ID checked. I think the young guy's name was Roger, he's all I could think about.

And so tonight, when I get that text. When I learn a friend is on life support. That his mental illness, not understood or cared about, likely affected the cops interactions with him, ending in the police enacting violence and Mike having a heart attack. When I learn this, how do I just go on with my Friday evening plans like nothing has happened? There's nothing I can do, except sit beside Jesus and give Him my burdens. But the heartbreak is still so real.

Some days, the world just feels so heavy.

That doesn't mean I cry myself to sleep every night and fight back tears every moment of the day. There is hope for this broken, wounded world.

But the world still feels heavy, and the work is finding the balance between reality and restoration.

- - - - -

"[Network] is the living room of Christ. It is a place where we communicate dignity to those who don't experience much dignity in the city."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Sense

a wednesday evening

candles burn

a glow reflects in the window

my eye is captured
can't let the light go

growing things stretch necks upwards
towards daylight now unseen

my mind is captivated
stop and grow

something fluttering in the wind
of light and growth and searching

change in the air

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Radical Generosity

The homeless are some of the most generous people I have ever met.

At Network (the coffee shop for the chronically homeless and those suffering homelessness) there’s a bar or counter where folks can serve themselves tea, “juice” (Kool-Aid), water or coffee. It’s where we serve PB&J sandwiches every Tuesday. It's where I spend much of my shift behind this counter, washing dishes, brewing coffee, helping manage the shower list and handout clean towels and whatever else folks need. It’s also where I have the gift of seeing a little more of Jesus every Tuesday I serve there. 

A few weeks ago I watched a guy come in with a bag of canned food. He opened all the cans and shared with others in the room. He could have easily saved that soup for tomorrow, or even later that day when he was hungry again. But he wasn’t concerned about that. There were hungry people there, now, why save it for himself for later?

I watch people do this again and again. If they have two sandwiches, they give one away. Three granola bars, two go up on the counter (the “free-to-take” spot). Rather than worrying about themselves tomorrow, they concern themselves with the needs of everyone today.

It reminds me a little of the widow in the Bible, the woman so poor all she had was two coins, worth a fraction of a penny (Mark 12 and Luke 21). But she had what she needed for today, and there were others poorer than she (if you can even fathom that), and so she gave away what she could have used tomorrow to care for those in need today.

Radical generosity.

Someone told me that the poor do not have the luxury, the privilege, of worrying about tomorrow, or of planning for the future. I never thought of my worrying and planning for the future, even just for tomorrow, as a luxury. I know where I will sleep each night, I know that I will be fed tomorrow, and so I can worry and plan for the future because my present is taken care of.

Yet as I ponder this, I realize I am not the privileged one. The poor are the privileged, the blessed, the lucky. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God” (Mathew 5, Luke 6). I like the New Living Translation's verbage, "God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs." For isn't the Kingdom of Heaven about being with God. And how can we be with God if we do not realize our need for Him? And how can we realize our need for Him if we do not realize that we are poor? 

Clearly the Bible states that we are not to worry about tomorrow, for He shall worry about it for us (Matthew 6). 

I worry about tomorrow, because I have the privilege to, while the poor cannot plan for the future or even worry about their tomorrow because they have to be concerned with surviving today.

Blessed are the poor…for they see God.

My friends get to depend on God in a way I do not. My friends get to experience God in a way I have not. My friends get to be God to one another in a way I am not.

And so I find myself, week after week of hanging out with Denver’s homeless, understanding why Jesus speaks so much of the poor. I believe He is especially fond of all of us, but those who are poor (be that physically or those who have come to understand and embrace that they are poor in spirit) are especially fond of God.

I am inspired by the radical generosity of my homeless friends, and I long to deepen in my dependence on God until I have given up my privilege to worry and plan and simply depend on the grace He has given me for that day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Untitled :: Poetry

Lips press 
'Gainst forehead 
Of a broken child
Shame rolls in tears
Streaks down a face
Marred with hurt
And hidden pain
Grace's tears
Fall faster
To wash pain
Love kisses forehead
Of a beloved child
Human with human
God with us
And the Spirit dances
While the
Son of Man kisses
A child of God

Friday, September 4, 2015

#‎KiyiyaVuranInsanlik‬ #SyrianRefugees

Humanity washed asore
My heart bled out,
eyes awash in its blood
But my tears
don't help them
didnt help him

What will it take
for the whole world to hear?

Little kids are dying
Onto shores their bodies washing
Humanity washed ashore
My eyes bleeding
aren't doing much anymore

How long
until the whole world heals?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Heaven, Hell and a Disoriented Faith

     Let us imagine we have died and are waiting to stand before the judgement seat of God... Try to imagine how it feels to look over your life - what you are happy about and what you regret... Now imagine being brought into a magnificent room within which there is a great white throne. Upon this throne is a breath-taking being who shines as if full of light...
     After a moment the one who sits on the throne begins to speak: 'My name is Lucifer and I am the angel of light. I have cast your God from his throne and banished Christ to the real of eternal death. It is I who hold the keys to this kingdom. I am the gatekeeper of paradise and it is for me to decide who shall enter and who shall be forsaken.' 
     Now imagine that this angel stretches out his vast arms and says, 'In my right hand I hold eternal life and in my left I hold death. For those who would bow down and acknowledge me as Lord, I shall grant them safe passage into paradise, but for those who refuse I will vanquish to death with their Christ.'
     After this the devil moves his arms so that each of his hands is placed before you and asks, 'What do you choose?'
     It is only as we experience Holy Saturday [the day between Christ's death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday] that we can ask whether we would follow Christ regardless of heaven or hell, regardless of pain or pleasure, whether we would follow int he midst of the uncertainty that Holy Saturday brings to our lives. It is only here that we can ask if we have truly offered ourselves to God for no reason other than the desire to offer ourselves as a gift. Faith does not die here, rather it is forged here. 
                                                                            -Peter Rollins, How (Not) To Speak Of God

I picked up one of Peter Rollins' books, The Orthodox Heretic, about six months ago, and read the above story for the first time. Like many of the other tales in the book, it challenged and pushed my faith in an entirely new capacity. I have found myself frequently contemplating what faith truly means, what we are honestly desiring as Christians, what this Christian faith is actually about.

Because too often, it seems to be about what we can get, not what we give. Often the Christian faith gets boiled down to where you will go when you die.

I remember going to a Christian summer camp when I was sixteen. At the time I genuinely enjoyed my time and my faith grew, though I'm sure if I attended it now I would have strong disagreements with the theology preached. It's a beautiful thing that God can use almost anything for our growth. But anyways, the last day of the camp was "evangelism day." I clearly remember awkwardly walking around the college campus with other young teens, pamphlets in hand, the question "Do you know where you're going when you die?" emblazoned in white on the black cover. Approaching random strangers, we asked them this question. Depending upon their response, we would open a different tab of the pamphlet which led them to more questions, further answers, and eventually a place where, if their "faith" was not already "placed in God" they could pray a prayer and do so, thus assuring they would not burn in the fiery pits of hell upon death. I remember not being very fond of that part of the camp, though at the time my reasons for disliking this form of "evangelism" were not yet formed.

That's merely one example of the many, many pamphlets, "evangelism" trainings, and various other plans I have seen and learned about. All are designed to get people to one place: praying the Sinner's Prayer* to earn their get-out-of-hell-free card and can hangout in eternal bliss forever.

But to me, it all misses the true point of faith, which is not to simply avoid the suffering of fiery hell by any means possible. This mentality reduces faith in Christ to something deeply selfish, something that actually has very little to do with God at all.

What if being saved from hell or going to heaven were removed from the equation and faith was simply about knowing Jesus? What if being a Christian was just about Christ? What if serving others had to do with just seeking to look like Christ, rather than good works done in the hopes of earning more jewels in one's crown?

When Christians worry so much about where they'll go after death, the focus of faith is shifted. Like the long, long ago days when people thought the world revolved around the earth, rather than the sun. They thought the earth was the biggest, most important thing in the universe, because it was the most important thing to their understanding of the world. If heaven, eternal paradise, is the most important thing, they miss the point that the sun [Son] is actually the center, and without the glory of that brilliant light, nothing else can exist.

*Note that the "Sinner's Prayer" is not actually in scripture as a means of salvation.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Are We All Sinners If We Sin

Jesus, Jesus, there are those who say they love you
But they have treated me so damn mean
And I know you say 'forgive them for they know not what they do'
But sometimes I think they do
And I think about You
If all the heathens burn in hell, do their children burn as well?
What about the Muslims and the gays and the unwed mothers?
What about me and all my friends?
Are we all sinners if we sin?
Does it even matter in the end if we're unhappy?

These soft-sung words, these deep, crushing questions, have been circling my head for hours. And for days, weeks, months before. Each time I hear the song, lines from that stanza play again and again. 

"Are we all sinners if we sin?"

It's been on repeat...

I know all the answers, to Noah Gundersen's questions. The ones we've all asked, in some shape or form, if we're truly being honest. I grew up in church. I know the theological answer from a variety of doctrines, what various denominations think about "the Muslims and the gays and the unwed mothers." I know we're all sinners and we all sin. 

But that isn't the point of these questions, these questions opening a door into a soul that simply hurts. 

The question isn't one begging a theological answer about one's sinful nature. It's a plea to know, "Lord, how do you see me? Do you just see me as a sinner, just a soul who disappoints you with my sin? Can you see past my sin and love me whether my label is "Christian" or not? Because I know a lot of Christians who sin too. Do you love them more? Are we still sinners if we sin?" 

I know these questions. Begging...

God, sometimes, I wonder
am I more saint or sinner

And how, how can I know

when Your voice feels so far off? 
Am I saint, or sinner?
When Your voice isn't sounding, and, all I hear is silence
I beg, plead. Lord, am I a saint or a sinner?

Sometimes I can't breathe, my soul suffocating
in questions without answers

What do you see, in me?

Saint, or a sinner?
Do I delight or disappoint, 
You and others, with this life I'm trying to live?
Questions begging answers
can't rest until they're found
Saint or sinner?

So what do we do with these questions that often render answerless. Sure, the Bible has answers. It is full of things to tell us how we should feel and what we should do. But sometimes the Bible's answers don't feel like enough. Sometimes I'm tired of the Christian answers telling me if I would only pray more, read my Bible more, then the problems would go away. "Do more, and God will do more for you," is the (blatantly not Biblical) message that often is taught. And so I'm left in a pile of guilt and shame, because dammit I did all the right things! And God still didn't seem to come through. 

So what do we do. 

What do we do when we're walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and we are full of fear. When we feel alone, and the Lord's rod and staff are not only not-comforting, they don't even seem to be present. What do we do when that dark journey is full of fear, the pressing darkness of feeling utterly alone. When comfort has not come and you fear a table in the presence of your enemies because like Noah sings, they seem to know what they do and they have been so cruel. When goodness and love do not seem to follow. When we are walking and the valley is dark, and the shadow is heavy, and the promised comfort is nowhere to be felt. 

What do we do? 

Because who hasn't heard Psalm 23 (and John 3:16, and 1 Corinthians 13 in every wedding ever) and known that the answer is that God is with us and we shall not fear. That the words I used above fit into a very different narrative when David writes, and that there is no fear because of that rod and staff of comfort in the midst of the darkness. We all know the answers, so what do we do when the answers aren't enough and the darkness crushes and your soul weeps because you have never felt so alone? 

I've felt in and out of these moments of darkness and crushing fear for nearly two years, if I'm honest. 

Bar's too high
can't reach that high

How much more do You want me
to die?

When do I get to cry

"it's finished"
Have given enough to
once again feel
Your touch

When all I want

is to know You more
and this world around keeps
pushing me to the floor

Are my ways ever good

when only Your ways are God

Do I only reach higher

when I find myself lower
Cuz every damn day
I fall even shorter

I'm seeking perfection seated

on a throne
and today feels like I'm battling alone

I don't know how to answer all these questions. What to do when it feels as though we are battling alone. What to do when I know that God knows me deeply and loves me fully, that He is always for and never against me, that the love He has for me is so great He was nailed to a tree in the face of despise and mockery, so great He conquered death that I might live fully alive in Him...what to do when I know all these things, believe these things, and still sometimes feel so alone I can only sit on my floor hugging my knees sobbing until there is no breath in my lungs and I wake up with swollen eyes and a sore throat. What do I do when I still feel so alone I sleep on my couch for nights in a row because it somehow feels less lonely than my bed in an empty apartment. What do I do, when I know God loves me but it doesn't always feel like it. 

Are we still sinners if we sin? 

Does it even matter in the end if we're unhappy? 

So what do we do when the answers written in Christianese aren't enough anymore, when just handing me a Bible and an order to pray more doesn't suffice anymore? Because I prayed and I read and I still felt alone. My soul has longed for something deeper, some truth that permeated the valley of the shadow of death where I was dwelling in fear, to bring light into those spaces that felt hopeless and give me a more tangible reason to hope, a deeper presence of love than placating quotes typed up on pretty pictures to post on Instagram. 

And so I find myself in a place of beautiful tension. One where I can both make the choice to trust God even on the days when I cannot feel His touch. A place in which I am seeking to thirst for Him more and more each day by choosing to spend time with Him, to sit and listen and wonder. But also a place where I can question and doubt, where the darkness can come and I can press into it, because Jesus is in the darkness too, and I can learn to open myself up to feeling the comfort that never actually went away. And a place of tension where I can still ask, "are we all sinners if we sin?" 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Charleston Hearbreak

The words in my brain
won't stop pounding out the names
The killers and the killed

And the news stream
to be blurring all the lines
So that a black boy killed
is labeled a thug
but somehow a white boy killer
can't be a terrorist,
poor boy's actions just
product of a deranged mind

What about our deranged society
because they still took him in alive
But for some
possibly stolen Cigarillos
that officer knew nothing about
they killed him

He couldn't breathe
and they killed him

He was playing in a park
and they killed him

She was driving a stolen car
and they killed her

She was sleeping in her bed

But they, were just doing their duty

And the numbers keep on rising
will we notice when
our streets literally run red
with blood like
the French Revolution images in my high school history books?

My heart's so broken
tears can't even come
I'm split wide open
When will it all be done?

Cuz we've been crying for ages,
"Lord, come soon"

Oh dear revolutionary Jesus
I know you're here with us
But please change things soon
Because Your people
aren't doing much
too much of the time

And today
I'm out of grace
for people who just won't see
Who call the dead kids "thugs,"
and the live killers just "crazy"
Would they say the same if it was their kid
lying four hours dead, in the streets

Dear revolutionary Jesus,
may the blind see
and your deaf children hear
And may my heart remain broken
Until in justice is no more
Come soon.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner, Homelessness, Racism and Christians

This isn't really a blog about Caitlyn Jenner, it's about how we respond to Caitlyn Jenner.

This isn't a blog about whether it is right or wrong to change one's identity, because I believe I should spend more time getting the log out of my own eye than picking the speck from the eyes of those around me. With my remaining time, I want to spend it like Jesus did, seeing and loving the human being in front of me - regardless of their gender identity, race, sexuality, socio-economic status, education, or religion.

In the past week since Vanity Fair released their magazine cover with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, I have watched the internet blow up, and a lot of the responses have honestly broken my heart.

I posted this on my Facebook page, "You know what makes me sad? All the "Christians" who are blowing up about Caitlyn Jenner and starting Facebook arguments about how wrong being trans is, but have spent the past year turning a blind eye to the sins of racism, oppression, and injustice in our country and world. Let's spend our energy fighting for peace, love, and justice, not tearing down people we don't know without stopping to ask and listen. The question, "what would Jesus do?" should preface your Facebook posts and your real-life interactions. Remember who Jesus hungout with, remember the Samaritan woman He befriended."

There are a lot of people who align themselves with the religious institution of Christianity who have voiced some very strong opinions about Caitlyn Jenner, and as a result about all transgender individuals. Many of these comments have varied from disrespectful to downright cruel, from calling Caitlyn Jenner disgusting and a disgrace, to simply refusing to call Caitlyn "her" and refer to her as "Bruce."

Here's the thing. I think if Jesus were standing here today, He'd call her Caitlyn. I don't care to argue God's opinion on changing one's gender. I don't know God's mind, and so I won't pretend to speak authoritatively on something that has not been revealed to me. But whether He agreed with her gender change or not, I believe Jesus would respect her desire to be called Caitlyn.

Because here's what I do know about God. I know God is love. And I know God met and meets people where they're at. God is this beautiful person who comes to where we are, He doesn't expect us to ascend the mountain top to find Him after becoming perfect on our own strength. He comes wherever we are, and stays there with us until His unending love has moved us.

I know this because of the people Jesus spent time with when He as on earth.

He ate dinner with tax collectors, people who took money form the poor to put extra food on their own tables, people truly hated by nearly everyone. He spent time with prostitutes, He even let one touch His feet and wash them with perfume. He got near enough to lepers to heal them, people who were so unclean with a highly contagious disease they couldn't be near the cities and had to live outside the city far away from friends and family, He got close enough to heal them.

Once Jesus met a woman at a well around noon. In those times, women went to the well each day to draw water, they typically went in the mornings because it was cooler and they could avoid the heat. Noon was the hottest part of the day, when no one would usually be at the well, and this was the time this woman, the Samaritan Woman, went to the well. She went at this time to avoid all the other women, because of her lifestyle and the choice she had made, she was looked down on and considered a disgraceful woman. And Jesus met her there, risking His own reputation by talking to "that kind of woman." And He saw her, a woman in need of love. He met her right where she was at, loved her in that moment, loved her as "that kind of woman."

This is the Jesus I wish Christians looked a little bit more like.

We spend so much time drawing lines in the sand instead of getting to know a fellow human being. So much time is spent preserving the wall between "us" and "them," focusing on what keeps us separate instead of what makes us all human, what makes us all divine beings created in the image of the Almighty God of the universe? Flawed creation, by our own doing, yes...but His divine creation nonetheless.

I think if we spent a little more time seeing humanity as God's precious creation, we'd have less time to spend pointing fingers and posting angry, hurtful, and damaging things on our Facebook pages.

What I've found is that the more I interact with people who are different than I (gender, sexuality, religion, race, education, housing situation, mental state), the less I see a "them" and "they" and the more I delight in being an "us." See, it's really easy to judge "them," because they are separate from me. I'm not grouped in with whatever they aren't doing right, whatever is wrong about them. It keeps me clean while allowing me to still cast the judgements. But when it becomes about us, I suddenly am confronted with my own issues, with whatever isn't right about myself. And that's harder to deal with, but that also breeds a space of compassion and empathy, because suddenly we are all humans together, all broken together, and all beautiful together.

It's easy to tell people you don't know how they should live, what they should do, what they're doing wrong, and how they should change. And we like to do that. Keep people impersonal, walk up to a stranger on a street corner and tell them to clean up their act and get right with God, stop living this "life of sin." But what I've discovered is when I get to know people, I no longer want to tell them how they should live, what they're doing wrong, and what they need to do to be a better person.

I think it is in this space of relationship, of seeing what we have in common rather than our differences, that we see God.

See, when we draw all these lines between "us" and "them," we lose humanity. When young black women, men, and trans individuals are shot by the police and media call them "thugs" and say they deserved it, or ignore peaceful protestors in Baltimore and call all the protests in Ferguson riots. When poverty is criminalized and homelessness is made illegal. When someone on the street corner with a cardboard sign is labeled a lazy drunk undeserving of money who should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. When someone comes out and is suddenly labeled a "sinner" going to hell...

Jesus didn't put up these walls. He drew designs in the sand and asked the man who was sinless to throw the first stone. And when none could stand blameless and all had walked away, He was still there to kneel down by a naked, shaking, shamed woman and held out His hand to bring her to safety.

When we put up these walls, we miss Jesus.

One of my favorite places in all of Denver is The Network Coffee House. It's a place for my homeless friends to hangout, a safe space to have coffee and relax without fear of the weather or harassment. It's a place to be human. It's where I've learned the most, and where I meet Jesus every week in the face of my broken friends who simply know they are loved. They know they don't deserve it, and they know they are His children.

What I see more and more clearly, the more I interact with the poor and those who, on the outside, look different than me, is that we are truly all the same. We should be united in the fact that we are created in the image of God, the divine in us. And we should be united in the fact that we are all broken, sinful and flawed, the dirt. Dirt and divine, that is who we are. Created out of dust into the image of the Divine. What a beautiful God to create us and love us so spectacularly.

And so as I see it, my job is not to inform people to stop living in sin, God can handle that if He desires. My job is to follow the greatest commandment, to love God, myself, and my neighbor. Because if I love God, I will love myself, as His image-bearer. And I will love my neighbor as myself, for I will see they too are created in the image of God. Beautiful and lovely just as they are.