The Universal Church

116This post that you’re about to read has been ever-so-slowly taking shape in my heart and mind over the past few months, and I’m finally getting around to writing it.

Thoughts are funny that way.  You don’t always even know that they’re there, or that something bigger than a fleeting opinion is brewing, percolating, and taking root.  Then suddenly you have this kind of aha moment, like I had this morning, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed to see the day’s news and happenings.  Which as you all know is pretty much centered around the Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriage is legal in all fifty states.

My friends comprise a funny and eclectic mix of people.  I woke up to find angry rants and happy rainbows, concerned hand-wringing and jubilant declarations of victory, with a few thoughtful and measured comments thrown in for good measure.  The ruling was not, in my humble opinion, particularly surprising, though it could certainly be a game-changer for Christians holding to a historic view of marriage, particularly if they are employed by the government or hold a clerical position in a church.  We’ll see how things play out, I suppose.  The court has spoken.

And it was precisely this ruling, or rather the reaction to this ruling, that finally brought my thoughts into focus and prompted me to find the space in my day to sit at my laptop and write.  I have some housework to do, and I know my kids are going to want me to take them outside and watch them splash and play in our pool at some point, but for now I’m here.

I’ll begin by saying that when my husband and I first began exploring the Catholic Church, we didn’t know much about it.  To us, it just seemed like yet another denomination, but kind of a weird one–because of Mary and the pope and all the people who belonged to it, even though there were thousands of other churches available that loved Jesus but didn’t have all that other weird stuff.  Having an admittedly impoverished view of church history, I did not understand how the Catholic Church fit with the Protestant Reformation or what place she held in the history of the world, in general.  And so we went looking, trying to connect the dots and fit the puzzle pieces together, when even just months earlier we’d had no clue that a puzzle even existed.

See we’d been pretty comfortable in our own little religious vacuum, where we read the Bible and said our prayers and tried to follow God the best we knew how, which is what people who love God do.  But everyone is different and so some people say that God thinks you should do this, while others say God says you SHOULDN’T do this, and along the way all those distinctives start to seem kind of arbitrary.

Funny thing was though that the Catholic Church was different.  For one thing, it predated the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent splintering into a bajillion different denominations over doctrinal and, let’s face it, political divides.  That was new for me, to think there was a time when if you were a Christian in the west, you were Catholic.  You accepted the Sacramental view of faith and the concept of Apostolic Succession.  Worshipping God was not so much embodied by a feel-good rock song with a chorus that repeats itself over and over again, but by assisting at Mass.  Liturgy and Sacrament.  Union with Christ had not been diminished to simply learning more about God through study, or through listening to as many sermons as possible, but instead was found through actually receiving Jesus Himself, in the Eucharist.

And salvation came via baptism–incidentally, just like the New Testament says and the Old Testament foreshadows–and not by way of a sinner’s prayer during an emotional altar call or by being smart and knowing all of the right things about all of the right things.

This was the Christian faith for centuries.  This was what Christians believed, for centuries, that Jesus founded this church upon Saint Peter and that this church was the pillar and foundation of the truth.  And that this church was for EVERYONE.  Men, women, slaves, the poor, the rich, the Jews, the Gentiles, the adulteress, prostitutes, holy people.  Just everyone.  And the nature of this church was that you didn’t have to be able to read or know lots of stuff to fully participate.  The word Catholic means, simply, “universal.”  This is why we affirm our church as the universal church, both in the creeds and in casual conversation.

And this beautiful universality cannot be overemphasized.  It cannot be stated too strongly that the historic Christian faith exists for ALL PEOPLE of all races and nations and persuasions.  We’re all sinners, every last one of us, who need to experience the mercy, grace, and transformative love of Jesus.  The confessional has always seemed a leveling thing to me, a place where each and every person is humbled and laid bare, yet deeply loved in our humanity.  You go in and pour out your sins, some of them for the seemingly millioneth time, you receive words of hope and healing and finally, absolution, and then go forward to do penance and “sin no more.”  The gospel of Jesus Christ is, without a doubt, intended to be good news.  For everyone.  The gate may be narrow, but is open to all.

This universal aspect of the faith was undeniably one of the most attractive, compelling, and surprising things to me about Catholicism, and it drew me in and kept me reading.  To this day, when I find myself frustrated with the Church, it is what leads me to ask, like Saint Peter does as recorded in John 6, “To whom else would I go, Lord?”

Yet what I’ve seen and experienced recently online from some corners of the Catholic community just plain makes me sad.  And I’m not just (or even primarily) talking about gay marriage here.  You would think some people don’t truly see our church as universal, as existing as a beacon of hope and love for all men, women and children, particularly the oppressed.  I’m STILL in shock over some of the Catholic commentary over the Charleston shootings and subsequent Confederate flag discussion.  And I’m not advocating for a shallow ecumenism or an “I’m okay and you’re okay” sort of relativistic outlook, but simply an openness and love towards HUMANITY.  Because God loves people.  Even amidst our messiness and sin, God loves us.  And yet the message that traditionally-minded Christians send is prone to being one of distaste, anger, and political fury.  And I get it, I do, because when we believe in the value of something like religious freedom (or freedom to do stuff in general) and feel like we’re maybe going to lose some of our rights, and when we think our Christian ideology is increasingly coming under attack, our instinct is to hunker down, protect ourselves, and then launch an offensive.  Because they are wrong, and we are right.  It’s us vs. them, you know.

We feed ourselves upon the inevitable spin of extremist commentators and surround ourselves with people who think just like us, and all of a sudden we really truly don’t WANT to be a universal church any longer.  Our focus narrows as we openly mock, belittle, and shame whichever class of people happens to be making news at the moment: homosexuals, transsexuals, black men, liberals, Muslims, and fundamentalist evangelicals with a reality show.  Social media platforms devolve into bully pulpits where I AM CATHOLIC AND I AM ANGRY replaces conversation and friendship and community–and if this is happening on social media channels, surely it is also happening in parish halls and neighborhood coffee shops and youth soccer field sidelines.

And the church begins to more closely resemble a grumpy old maid than Christ’s radiant bride.

Now PLEASE don’t get me wrong.  There is absolutely a place for Christians to engage in debate, disagreement, and dissent.  We need Christians in the public square.  There is a time to speak up and share why one might oppose a national redefining of marriage, or explain the reasoning behind the Catholic sexual ethic.  I especially applaud courageous bishops, priests and deacons who articulate God’s  design for life to the faithful in their respective dioceses and parishes.  That is part of their job, offering guidance and clarification and help.  But when I share something with people on my Facebook page or here on my blog, as a mother and a writer, I should ask myself if it is contributing positively to the discussion.  If it’s making God’s love more accessible and transparent.  I’ve never made my beliefs or values a secret, and occasionally I can be blunt, but I do try to be careful in how I express ideas.  I never want to give the impression that I’m trying to dupe people or promote a watered-down Christianity, but I also want to present a balanced picture of Christianity.  Because my faith is about so much more than what I happen to think about the social issue of the day.  So.much.more.

What if we spent less time reducing things to fiery political issues, and spent more time listening to people?  What if, instead of posting a snarky meme that denigrates gay people (or black people or democrat people or republican people), we looked for a bit of common ground or said a prayer or stopped to consider where those on the opposing viewpoint might be coming from?  What about the next time we hear somebody say that something was racially unjust, we empathize, and educate ourselves about the legacy of slavery and the narrative of racial difference?

What if we become a universal church, a church for all people?

See the beautiful thing about religion is that we are free from the chains of a culture’s social and political whims.  We are free to worship, believe, and live in relationship with a God who put the stars in the sky and set the earth in motion.  He existed before–and will outlast–nations, kingdoms, and governments.  And this is great news, because it means we can busy ourselves with the work of loving others, pursuing justice, and being the hands and feet of God’s mercy.  And you know, perhaps the day will indeed come when religious freedom in our country ceases to exist, or ceases to exist as we know it.  Maybe my church will lose its nonprofit status and maybe my priest will wind up in jail, all in the name of eradicating intolerance.  Maybe things will get really, really bad for Catholics like me.  Maybe the west will see martyrdom again.  I don’t know, because I don’t know the future.  But I DO know that nothing, least of all fear of the future, need get in the way of the call to radical Christian love.  Nothing need force me into the fetal position, or leave me unable to extend a warm welcome to my gay friends.  Nothing should lead me to snicker at or ignore the repeated cries for help from the oppressed–be they living in prisons, urban neighborhoods, or mental anguish.

And even if you feel a bit defensive, and like the culture cares little for your God, remember that Jesus instructed His disciples to, if they came upon a town that rejected their message, shake the dirt off their sandals and leave–NOT humiliate, attack, and destroy.

I just keep thinking about this idea that we are Christ’s Church, a universal church, and how beautiful it could be if we made the commitment to love freely, honestly, and without condition.  If we stopped conflating politics with human beings, and if we really invested in taking Jesus’ message of love and hope to the world in a way that people could hear.  We are historically the faith of the peasants, the illiterate, and the broken, after all.

And I honestly won’t have much time today to reflect on the falling sky, anyhow.  My kids have emerged, chores are done, and they’re wanting to swim.  Bathing suits are on and goggles are in hand, the sun is shining, and while the water feels a little cold to me, I’m always up for an afternoon of poolside sun-bathing in my lawn chair.  There’s talk of eating popsicles on the deck, and there’s excitement in the air because we have a family movie night at church this evening.  My children are happy, carefree, and enjoying their summer, as children should.  They love God, and they love their Catholic faith, and so they love life.  Some might say that we’re fiddling while Rome burns, but I suppose I see it a bit differently.

The Christian life should be marked by holiness, joy, faith, hope, and love, regardless what laws might pass and regardless what sort of government we have.  We may be called to suffer for our faith one day, and I pray that God will give us the courage to suffer well.  Furthermore, we have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to bring the hope of Christ to a hurting world, and that begins with how we treat our loved ones at home, and extends to how we treat the marginalized in society.  WE NEED TO TELL THE TRUTH, but we need to do it with love and clarity, not politically-fueled vitriol. 

So in case you didn’t know, the Catholic Church is a church for everyone.  We’re not perfect, but we love Jesus and we love people and we need God just as much as anyone.  You might not vote like me, and you might not like my church, but I’ll tell you that the love of Jesus and the dignity of the human person is darn good news.  Before some angry Catholic accuses me of not being Catholic enough, I will come out and say that I do subscribe to the historic Christian beliefs about creation, people, and sexuality.  100%.  I believe that Holy Matrimony is a sacrament, which God confers upon the union between one man and one woman.

But my God is even bigger than all of that, and my faith is not merely the sum total of the section in the Catechism related to homosexuality.  Regarding other recent events, my God cares deeply about oppression and racial injustice, and surely grieves over not only the legacy left behind by slavery and Jim Crow, but also over the blind eye which has been turned by whites for centuries–particularly among some religious folks, seemingly more married to Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter than Jesus’ call for love and unity.

So. I’m gonna try to just keep loving, listening, and being friends with people.  Speaking truth when I can, and hopefully cultivating a heart that is soft towards the human condition.  And no matter who you are, I would invite you to join me!

 

The word racism

mlkquoteMy blog has been uncharacteristically quiet lately, partly because I’ve been busy enjoying summer with my family.  Beautiful sunny days don’t really beckon me to my laptop, you know?

But the other reason for my silence is a bit more serious.  We’ve all heard about the horrible shootings in Charleston, which were so terribly sad, and on top of that I’ve become increasingly appalled and frustrated by what I’ve seen all over my Facebook feed.  Basically I felt like I had to just sit back and think.  Then after I did some thinking (and ranting to my dear husband), I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about it here at all, because it’s an intimidating subject and I feel utterly unqualified to write on race-related issues.  Because I’m white, you know.  I live in a white world.  I would never purport to speak for anyone or take ownership of something I will never own–I believe in the reality of white privilege, which I have lived every single day of my life.  Plus, I don’t have some sort of bloggy savior complex where I believe the internet must hear my thoughts on any and all things, or where I think that I need to tell people how to properly see something.  That’s just not me.  I write because I enjoy it, and because I enjoy you, dear readers.  Plain and simple.

And, I really don’t like alienating people.  Which I feared I might inadvertently do in tackling the topic of race, which can easily become heated.

But the whole thing just wouldn’t stop nagging me, in the back of my mind.  I’d see another photo or article about Charleston, and my heart would hurt.  I’d see another ignorant Facebook status or comment, and become frustrated.  I’d see photos of the nine victims of this horrible atrocity and feel helpless, or the photo of the killer waving his dumb confederate flag, and feel angry.

It just wouldn’t go away.

And I honestly couldn’t figure out what I’d pick back up with here, in this space, if not Charleston.  What would I write, and could I even be authentic in writing it, when the problem of racism was taking up so much space in my mind and heart?  Then another much-more-famous blogger than I basically came out and said that if we have a platform, we shouldn’t be silent, even if it’s intimidating to come out and say something.  Ouch.  I knew she was right.

So, here I am.  I’m showing up and saying what I have to say.  I don’t speak for the black community or for anybody else, just for myself.  If we purport to be good citizens and/0r people of faith, we should have a vested interest in racial issues–but I confess that my own perspective is also informed by the fact that I have four black children.  Including two black sons, who will one day grow up to be two black men.  And I’m going to tell the truth here about what I think and how I feel, in what is hopefully a humble but honest way.  You don’t have to agree or relate or resonate with what I have to say, but I do hope you hear it.

The truth is that I have found a large portion of online engagement surrounding the Charleston shootings to be terribly troubling.  I find myself, in the weeks following a horrific and premeditated hate crime that claimed the lives of nine people, becoming increasingly uneasy about the way many people view race.  Especially people who vote like me.  (No wonder Republicans have such a hard time getting elected.  Kudos to Ben Carson for addressing the problem in spite of an apparently unsupportive voter base.  Blech.)

Anyway, what I’ve seen basically amounts to this: in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, no small number of people were doing everything in their power to gloss over, minimize, or even outright deny that this act had even the slightest thing to do with racism.  It couldn’t have been racially motivated, you see, because racism doesn’t really exist.  The government is just pushing an agenda.  It’s all that democratic senator’s fault because he voted for gun control, and if he hadn’t, things could have turned out differently.  Then when it came to light that, you know, the shooter HATED BLACK PEOPLE AND WANTED TO KILL THEM, everyone was all “well we all just need to be colorblind and love each other”, clearly and conveniently avoiding the term racism.  Or they said “BUT ABORTION!!!!  THAT’S what’s REALLY hurting all the black people!”–which, you know, it is, but we’re not talking about abortion right now.  Way to deflect from something horrible in its own right.  And it’s pretty lame, in my humble opinion, to use something as awful as abortion to try and avoid, once again, using the term racism.

And then things got even crazier when folks started calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag from state property in South Carolina.  Now there was PROOF that this whole thing is all just a PC, liberal agenda designed to ruin everyone’s lives by not flying a perfectly innocent symbol with Very Important Historical Significance near the capitol building (though not technically at the capitol building).  Everyone against the flag is just too sensitive, having a kneejerk reaction, and buying into left-wing propaganda.  Let’s trot out a few black people who don’t mind the flag, and say “See?  SEE?  It’s okay, because this guy is black!”

Oh.my.goodness.

So I sat at my laptop, shaking my head and just fuming–because it seemed pretty obvious to me from the get-go that nine black people were murdered in a historically black church by a racist person, precisely because they were black.  And attending a historically black church.  I don’t really care what the government says or thinks because whether they have an agenda or not, RACISM IS REAL.  It’s ugly.  It takes various forms but it is absolutely alive and well.  I’ve seen it.  My kids have seen it.  My black kids will experience the repercussions throughout their lives.  It is what it is.

And one of the most stunning displays of racism throughout this whole thing has been the not insignificant number of people who refuse to see, acknowledge, or empathize with the idea that there is so much hatred that exists, to this day, for African Americans.  That it’s not being overly sensitive for black people to call out racism when they see it, to say that it hurts, to call it unjust.

Look.  I’m sure I’m easy  to discredit because I’m not from the South, I’m from California.  And now I live in Colorado.  It makes sense then that I have no affinity for or attachment to the Confederate Flag whatsoever and it has ALWAYS, always existed as a racist symbol to me.  I’m sorry if that is offensive to people whose ancestors fought under it, and I realize the Civil War was about way more than slavery, but my experience has been that people gleefully embracing the flag tend to be, well, making a statement about more than their state of origin, if you know what I mean.  That is obviously not true across the board, but that has been my experience in the states where I have lived.  If someone in my neighborhood were flying that flag or had a flag bumpersticker on their truck, I’d be terribly concerned for my children and for my family.  You can make the argument that the flag was wrongfully hijacked by racists, but bottom-line, for much of the nation?  We see it, and assume it means you maybe don’t like black people.  And we get why most black southerners don’t like to see it flying.  If your great-grandparents or grandparents had been slaves or lived under the Jim Crow laws, would you?

So if it makes me some sort of bleeding-heart liberal or propagandized knee-jerking know-nothing to speak up and say that much of the reaction to the Charleston shootings has been disappointing, eye-opening, and terrifying for a mother to four black children?  Well, so be it.  I will continue to identify as an ally to black men and women who live a different reality from me.  I DON’T speak for them but I do see them, I sympathize with them, and you will never convince me that racism isn’t a significant, disgusting problem in our country.  Racism is of course, ultimately, hatred, but a very specific kind of hatred that thrives best in a social climate where people deny its very existence.  If you’re white and tired of hearing about the problem of racism, well, imagine being black. Where you just plain don’t have a choice.

I could tell you stories about racism we’ve witnessed directed at our own children, but then again if the Charleston shootings don’t register as racist in the eyes of some people, those people won’t be very moved by my stories.

At the end of the day I care far less about anyone’s opinions on a flag, which admittedly symbolizes different things to different people, and far more about why they are so afraid to call a racially motivated shooting racially motivated.  This is the great disgrace, as far as I’m concerned: the reticence to say something is racist even in the face of horrible violence and loss of life due to one’s race.  How bad does something have to be before a person is willing to admit that it was indeed an act of racism?  That’s the question I’ve been asking myself, and I’m finding that I’m not too thrilled with the answer.  Because apparently Charleston wasn’t enough for a lot of people, to warrant the word racism.  And while I can’t control or even necessarily influence what other people do, I CAN do something about it myself, small as it may be.

So I’m speaking up.  Publicly.  Saying that I am just heartbroken over the precious black men and women who lost their lives in Charleston.  Hoping that people think more and more about how our African American brothers and sisters are being viewed and treated in our communities.  Demonstrating to my own children that racial injustice IS NOT OKAY.  And encouraging anyone who will listen that it’s important to call out incidences of racism when we see them.  As Christians especially we should be pursuing love, healing, and justice for all people, but especially the hurting and oppressed.  And yes I know I’m just adding more noise to an already heated debate–characteristic of blogging in general, amiright?–but my conscience demands it.

And if you too are registered with a political party (GOP I’M TALKING TO YOU) for whom racism is not generally a talking point, speak up anyway.  Don’t let politicians tell you what you should and shouldn’t care about.  Don’t let bureaucrats or elected officials or talking heads (FOX NEWS I’M TALKING TO YOU) politicize a problem that knows no political boundaries.  Be an ally and do your part to make your home/parish/neighborhood/community a safe place for people of all races.  Acknowledging in your own mind and heart that African Americans continue to struggle under the weight of racism is, honestly, a great place to start.

And if this post offended you, I’m sorry.  I’m sure I’ll be back to talking about the weird stuff my kids do soon enough.  Thank you for giving me the space to address these more serious things sometimes.  Because even if nobody reads it or everybody hates it, as a mother and a blogger, I needed to say it.

No joke

113We’re in the process of refinancing our house.

I’m not entirely sure why we’re doing it, but I do know it’s a great idea.  See, my engineer husband is the brains behind our finances (I just like to buy stuff), and he uses a lot of spreadsheets and does a lot of calculations.  And so when he looks up from the laptop and declares “WE NEED TO REFINANCE THE HOUSE”, I say “Okay, that sounds like a great idea!”

And then I sneak onto Pinterest, and scheme about all of the work I want to have done on our home in the coming years, with all of those savings.  An open-concept kitchen and built-ins in the family room?  Yes please!

Obviously I don’t make for a very good feminist.

Anyway, Kevin went to the office and signed the papers for the refinance this morning–but we failed to realize that I too had to be there, since I’m on the title.  Details.  SO, a notary had to drive out to the house this afternoon to get my signature, which I appreciated because I prefer not to ever leave my house, if I can help it.  Hopeless introvert and all of that.

When the notary pulled up in her Mercedes, the littles were down for naps and the bigs were outside, with me, weeding.  Our entire front yard (which is HUGE and, frankly, pretty random) is not unlike a jungle right now, what with all the crazy rain we’ve had–and the fact that once upon a time, somebody thought it was a good idea to xeriscape all over the darn place without putting down any weed guard or visqueen or other weed inhibitor.  The place honestly looks a bit run-down.  Kind of like an abandoned, haunted house.  Of course the truth is that there are inhabitants here–ten to be exact–and our neighborhood’s haunted house is actually a few houses down the street, on the corner.

True story.  Old, historic former dairy creamery, said to be haunted, and I had a dream it was haunted before I found out it actually is allegedly haunted.  By some guy named Heck, that smokes cigars.  Not even kidding.  Pretty sure if he shows up here I WILL PEE MYSELF.

Anyway, I pulled off my weeding gloves and greeted a pretty lady who looked like she drove a Mercedes, and led her around the big trash can of pulled weeds and bugs, and into the house.  Where we were greeted by a kid who was SUPPOSED to be napping but who had escaped, and was waiting in the kitchen with wild hair and no pants.  Oops.

“Uhhhhh…do you run a daycare?” the woman inquired as I led the aforementioned child back to her room.  “Nope, these are my kids!” I said with a laugh, because at this point in my life I’ve decided that few things are funnier than the fact that I have all these pantsless kids.

“Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed.  “They said at the office that you guys had eight kids, and I totally thought they were joking!”

I laughed even harder.  The fact that someone would hear a description about my life and assume it was a joke is pretty much the best ever.  And yes, I’m being sincere.  I’m of the opinion that people take themselves WAY too seriously–moms, dads, bloggers, clowns, everybody–and it causes a bunch of unnecessary stress and comparisons and keeping up with the Joneses-ing.  I have no use for any of that.

But I confess I didn’t always think this way.

Back in the old days I felt a lot of pressure to present a shiny, perfect picture of family life to the world, because I felt like an ambassador for big families and adoptive families and Catholic families.  Not only did I have to love my life at all times (which in all honesty, I generally do), I had to make very sure that my life didn’t seem so different from the average suburbanite’s life (which is ridiculous).  And I think this ultimately came about partly because of my own perfectionism, but also because we were living in such a goldfish bowl, garnering comments from strangers ev.ery.where.we.went.

Of course the ambassador thing is true, in a sense.  Families like mine are about as common as a day around here without PB&Js, and I do want to be a good representation of each of those kinds of families.  Because openness to life and adoption and Catholicism are beautiful things.  But as I’ve gotten older and, hopefully, a teensy bit wiser, I’ve discovered that it’s okay to admit that your family is kind of a disaster sometimes.  That life isn’t a fairytale.  That your kids do goofy stuff that embarrasses you to death.  But that you also just plain love your kids to pieces, and wouldn’t trade your life for anything, and that large families can enjoy a wonderful quality of life, but that it will look different.  

As my kids have grown and the years have slipped by, I’ve learned that life in a large family is messy, unpredictable, loud…and unbelievably FULL.  It feels like “there’s always something” because there is, literally, always something.  You get all of the kids’ bedding washed (a miraculous and admittedly uncommon feat around here), and everybody comes down with the stomach flu.  You buy a big bag of chips for the week’s lunches, and your kids tear into it like a pack of angry wolves, polishing them off within ten minutes.  You take your kids out in public to the church fish-fry, and one of them poops all over herself at the table.

I feel like my life as a mother has been a series of you-just-can’t-make-this-stuff-up’s, so it’s no wonder that someone would hear about it and assume it was a joke!

As the notary and I sat down at my gigantic dining room table to sign the papers–along with two of my big kids, who are in a nosy phase where they like to lurk awkwardly around adults–she enthused about all of her nieces and nephews, and how much fun they make the holidays.  She told me that she and her husband live in a high-rise apartment building downtown and work all the time, but want to have kids someday, and maybe they’ll adopt.  She asked if we always knew we wanted all these kids and if we planned to have more.  She was wearing nice business clothes, and I had on my thrifted Johnny Cash t-shirt.  But we got along swimmingly–so much so that I kind of wanted her to be my friend, so we could have coffee somewhere cool downtown.

Where, you know, everybody wears pants.  And there aren’t any dead dairymen smoking cigars.

Years ago I would probably have felt defensive or even judged, had somebody asked if I had a daycare–and then confessed they initially thought my having eight kids was a joke.  But not so much anymore.  (Unless they’re obviously being a jerk.  Than I get really angry.  Not gonna lie.)  I am who I am, we’re just here living life, and when you have a slew of kids?  That life really is actually pretty funny.  We probably don’t do stuff the exact same way that smaller families do (like, you know, washing the kids’ sheets on a weekly basis), but we’re doing stuff.  Together.

And the average person doesn’t see big families much anymore.  The average person is probably really surprised to drive up to a mid-century era home surrounded by scary monster weeds, and encounter all those kids in gardening gloves.  But that’s okay, because the cool thing is that we moms-to-many can still connect with other people out in the world.  I’ve found it’s a rare person that will actually DISLIKE the fact that you’re a big family, and if neither of you are plagued by insecurity or the need to judge, you’ll probably get along just fine. 

Am I comfortable enough with who I am to engage and be vulnerable with people not like me?

Well, today I was.  And now we’ve refinanced our house.  And I’m dying to get on Pinterest, but first I need to go find out why my kid is screaming and crying.

The struggle is real, people.

Having a bunch of kids is no joke.

Ricki Lake and birth control

sweetening2Someone asked me recently what I thought about Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s upcoming documentary, based on Holly Grigg-Spalding’s book titled Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control.

Ricki and Abby co-produced The Business of Being Born, FYI.

Also FYI, Holly’s book is presently sitting unread in my inbox.  Oops.  She sent it to me and I was supposed to review it, but obviously that hasn’t happened yet.  Soon!

Anyway, the fact that someone is even making this documentary is, in my opinion, really exciting.  It explores the subject of hormonal birth control from a completely secular, feminist perspective, a voice that really ought to be heard amidst the noise of today’s culture wars.

My own personal experience with the pill is that I started taking it when I got married, because that’s what people like me (young, still in college, and newly married) did.  Though Christian and pro-life, I wasn’t Catholic back then, and therefore would never have thought to search out Catholic sources for information on artificial contraception.  Even if I had somehow come across the Catholic position on birth control, maybe I wouldn’t have listened.  Maybe I would have written it off as one of those weird Catholic things, kind of like indulgences or the Rosary.  Because, you know, I wasn’t Catholic.

So, yes.  I think it is incredibly important and good that these women are offering their perspective on the pill.  I’m really kind of giddy over it.  Even if they subscribe to a different sexual ethic than I do, and even if they’re coming at it from a slightly different angle.  The truth is that they can say things and reach people that someone like me (now Catholic, with eight children) can’t.

After I’d shared with my friend about how I was feeling about the documentary, I told my husband that I suspect it won’t get much support from fellow people of faith.  Particularly, Catholics.  Why?  Because, again, it’s not from a religious perspective.  It’s not from a specifically pro-life perspective.  It’s not from a perspective that rejects the idea of sex before marriage or artificial contraception in general.  And I’m pretty sure that in addition to NFP, they also promote condoms and cervical caps as healthy alternatives to the pill.  (Whereas Catholics do not accept the use of any type of artificial contraception.  Because we’re real crazy like that.  Interestingly, all Christians were crazy like that until 1930 or so.  There’s your Christian trivia for the day.)

But I remain pretty thrilled about the whole project.  Watch the above trailer, and you’ll see why.  You’ll also see why I want to punch Dr. Phil in the face.

There is, I think, a lot of common ground out there for the taking–if only we can acknowledge that we won’t all agree on everythingMaybe it’s because I’m part of a faith now which I was not always a part of, but I’m quite comfortable with the idea that not everybody in my life thinks like me.  Sure the world would be a better place if they did (I kid, I kid), but they don’t.  That doesn’t mean I don’t express truth (in a loving way) or pretend that stuff doesn’t matter (oftentimes it does), but I do my very best not to slip into an us vs. them situation, where all I see are differences.

This is actually one of the (many!) things I’ve appreciated about sending my children to school.  Granted it’s a classical charter school with a strong representation of religious families, but those families hail from all different traditions.  And not everyone there IS religious.  Each one of my children sees his or her faith as having GROWN over the last year, as they’ve had to explain what the Eucharist is or why we have to go to Mass on a seemingly random weekday, when it’s a Holy Day of Obligation.  (Oh, those Catholics!)  Nobody around here pushes their ideas on anybody else, but sometimes it just plain comes up.

And not only are my children learning that sometimes they’re going to stand out as different (hello Ash Wednesday), they’re also learning that there is a lot they have in common with their Evangelical, Mormon, and unbelieving classmates.  Maybe they enjoy the same sport, or like the same books.  Maybe they just plain like to be together.  Maybe when you’re a kid, you like other kids, and you don’t feel the need to “other” people.  Sure they are aware of differences, but that’s distinct from disengaging.

Basically, I wholeheartedly support any effort to get the word out that women have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to the pill!  I can support anybody lending their celebrity platform (go Ricki!  go Ricki!) to the message that the pill is hurting women.  I know I would have really benefitted from something like this all those years ago, when I wanted to delay pregnancy and it seemed like the pill was the only way to go–and before I’d heard of Saint Pope John Paul II and NFP and the greatest book on marriage ever written, Covenanted Happiness.  There are countless women out there who want to avoid pregnancy for any number of reasons, and who wrongly believe that the best (or only!) option is the pill.

I’m hoping this documentary will change minds, and empower women to question the narrative!

And in general, I’m okay supporting something that comes from someone of a different persuasion than I.  I’m okay saying “I think this is a pretty darn good thing for women”, even if I vehemently disagree with some of their conclusions or opinions.  I respect that not every Catholic will think this way, and I respect that not every Christian person will be willing to promote the documentary.  But I’m excited about it, and I hope it causes people to rethink our culture’s approach to birth control.

Now I need to go read the book!

Go here to contribute to the film’s Kickstarter campaign.  This is a story that needs to be told! 

On Caitlyn Jenner and online engagement

welovejesusjesuslovesyou

Some of you remember my blog post from a month ago or so, written shortly after Bruce Jenner’s 20/20 interview.  I was honestly surprised (and grateful!) for all of the positive feedback, and I remain convinced that the majority of people out there in the world are kind and good and loving.

To the woman who rebuked me in my inbox and told me I’m going to hell, thank you for that as well. Duly noted.

Anyhow, that blog post is making the rounds again after Bruce Jenner’s big reveal on the cover of Vanity Fair yesterday.  We’ve learned that Bruce apparently now goes by the name Caitlyn, and wears a wig and satin lingerie.  The whole thing was kind of put out there like ta-daaaa!, with some people oooohhhing and ahhhhhing, and others clutching their pearls and condemning.  Just another day on the interwebz, you know.  I really don’t have anything more to say on the subject itself (because I already blogged about it and really, if you’ve seen the magazine cover, what more is there to say?), but I did want to talk about faith and the internet in general.

Seems like these days, everything you agree or disagree with must be publicly stated, dissected, and officially deconstructed.  And it’s fine, as far as it goes–what would blogging or network news be without All Of The Opinions?  But sometimes for Christians, in all of the back-and-forth of it all, the root message of Jesus and the Gospel is drowned out.

By nature, I’m a big truth person.  I really believe we do folks a disservice by affirming every single life choice they make, regardless the potential consequences.  I love clarity, and the idea of respecting someone enough to tell them the truth, to assume they can handle hearing what we have to say.  I’m not always great at putting it into practice and I’m sure I’ve messed it up a million times, but that’s just how I think.

Consider my experience taking the birth control pill: I wish someone would have told me about its potential to be an abortifacient, and about how it would put me at greater risk for brain cancer and breast cancer, and about how you don’t actually NEED artificial birth control in the first place to have a happy marriage.  But people weren’t really talking as much about that stuff back then.  I had to learn by doing, and deal with the side-effects.  Now I try to warn others, so they don’t have to do it the way I did.

So yeah.  Truth telling is good.  Painful sometimes, but good.

But what is truth without love?  And what is a good thing, without proper context?

I was just telling some friends the other night that there are some subjects I treat verrrrrry carefully here on the ol’ blog.  Homosexuality is one of them.  I’ve never made it a secret that I ascribe to the historic Christian view of creation, human sexuality, and marriage, but I don’t feel the need to use my blog as a way to beat people over the head.  Most people already know what Christians think about homosexuality, though I’d say a much smaller percentage know the why–and the why is much bigger than same sex attraction.  The why has to do with a loving, personal God who created each and every man and woman in His image, to love and to be loved.  So while I might write about marriage and sexuality and approach the why from that perspective, you’ll rarely see me blogging explicitly or exclusively about homosexuality, which is a nuanced and complex human issue.  And one which has become such a lightning rod that few people can have a rational conversation about it in the first place.  Also?  Some of my readers are gay. So while I believe that information about the Christian approach to life ought to be made readily available to people, I believe it must be done with love.

Blogging of course is a funny thing anyhow.  I put my life out there in a hopefully authentic and vulnerable way, and I hopefully make other people feel a little bit better or less alone or glad they didn’t break the mall.  I am not responsible for making sure that everybody knows precisely what I think about every little thing, although I try to be pretty open about stuff.  I also am happy to share what has worked for me and what I believe makes for a good life, and not everybody will agree but that’s okay.  And I’m becoming more and more convinced that people, in general, are sick and tired of all the nasty online arguing and fighting.  There is certainly a time and a place for speaking forcefully and telling it like it is, but in general, that’s just not my jam.

I am also convinced that the hope of Christ is supposed to be accessible to the world.  Part of what made Catholicism so appealing to me in the first place was, perhaps surprisingly, the humbleness of it all.  This is a God you can experience whether or not you’re able to read, and whether or not you feel really great about your life.  This is a God you can love whether or not you keep messing up the same dumb stuff in the same dumb way.  It is a God who understands and redeems suffering, and a God who holds women in high esteem.   A God who knows the human condition.  Catholicism (or historical Christianity) is rooted in history and answers a lot of questions, and at the end of the day it just makes a whole lot of SENSE.

And in an increasingly post-Christian culture, a lot of people don’t know the reasons behind the Christian positions on various ethical issues.  Furthermore, people these days find religion to be largely irrelevant.  This is why I question some of the tactics and strategies employed by some people online, even when I might agree with them in principle.  NO, I do not think it is helpful when the media glorifies what I (and many others) believe is ultimately a profound mental issue.  NO I do not think gender reassignment solves the root problem like people hope it will, and NO, I do not find the Vanity Fair cover appealing.  It is, to me, all kinds of sad.  But we can engage in this conversation without being mean, and without obscuring the true issue at hand, which is that we all need Jesus as our source of self-worth and being.  All.of.us.

So how DO you express Christian principles and truth in love, on the internet?  How does someone like me, who believes that “male and female, God created them”, engage the issue?  I’m honestly not sure, but then maybe that’s the point.  I can share what I think, I can explain what I believe is the beauty behind God’s design for men and women, and I can offer some humble thoughts about why we all need Christ and His Church, but beyond that?  I’ll probably stick to doing the work of loving my family and those around me–which is, frankly, oftentimes more difficult than engaging people I only know through my laptop screen or a magazine.  I’m secure in my view of God and in who He’s revealed Himself to be, and I’m not ashamed to share about it, should the opportunity arise.  But what I would wish for people to know about Jesus is so much bigger than the piece of moral doctrine related to transgenderism (although obviously that’s important too.  Not saying it’s not.)

Basically, I think a lot of people are walking around wounded and hurting.  I think a lot of people are struggling with things they’re afraid to give voice to.  I think a lot of people have family members struggling with things they’re afraid to give voice to.  Life’s hard!  And honestly, it’s a little discouraging to consider that a significant portion of what passes as Christian sharing or evangelism or whatever is really just thinly-veiled culture warring.  As for me and my slice of the blogosphere, well, I guess maybe I’m just approaching it from a different angle.

I want people to know that Jesus is for them, and not just for me and my friends.

I want people to know that following after Jesus comes at a cost and it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.  You take up your cross like Jesus did, and sometimes you fall, but He helps you get back up.

I want people to know that Jesus meets you where you’re at, but He won’t be content to let you stay there.  He loves you too darn much.

I want people to know that my faith compels me to support things like traditional marriage (and not without good reason), but I do NOT support cruelty or hatred.

So, once again, my heart and prayers go out to Bruce Jenner.  It is my opinion that he is being further exploited and canonized for a cause, when in reality he is (and by his own admission even) struggling and confused.  We should not glorify gender reassignment, but we can extend compassion to those who experience problems with gender identity.  That number seems to be increasing, and so the number of people affected by it (family members, friends, pastors) is increasing too.

All the more reason to share with our children and loved ones what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, and to speak of the dignity of the human person.

But with love.  Always, always with love.

The above image is a chalk art drawing my eight-year-old daughter did on Sunday night.  This is the daughter who spent a large portion of her first year of life fighting off repeat bacterial infections and horrible eczema, and who now battles migraines triggered by things as innocuous as the sun.  She is no stranger to life’s sufferings, even at the tender age of eight.

And that is how she sees God, and how she sees other people.  The lunch-lady at school, the beleaguered cashier at Walmart, the “problem kid” in her class–everyone has something good in them, and everyone is worthy of love.

And that is a message worth taking to the world.

We love Jesus.

And Jesus loves you. 

 

Last day of school

047

Today was the last day of school for the year, for my four oldest kids.  Pictured here, right after we got home.  (Actually, the photo was taken right after I rounded them up, because the moment we pulled into the garage they sprung from the van and grabbed their bikes and got busy having fun.)

You wouldn’t know it on account of the rain that continues to plague my beloved and typically sunny Denver, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s summertime now.  Woohoo!

Wrapping up the year is kind of a big deal, because my kids attended a classical charter school this year, the first year we didn’t homeschool.

If you’ve followed our journey at all from homeschooling to a brick-and-mortar school, then you know it’s been filled with ups and downs and ALL THE FEELS.  We’d homeschooled for five years before taking the leap this past Fall, and it was tough!  So much transition and adjustment for our family of ten.  We even dropped out for a week, but then were seized with regret and jumped back in.  I told you it was hard!

But as I read through each of the report cards for the final grading period this afternoon, I consistently came across comments like has made huge improvements and was a pleasure to have in class.  My kids are gifted in different ways and they are allllllllllllll over the map in terms of ability, but the one constant is that they worked hard this year.  So.darn.hard.  Each and every one of them.  And I am so crazy proud.

When we made the decision to stop homeschooling and enrolled (and then re-enrolled) in school this year, we were merely giving it a shot.  Seeing how it would go.  It was scary to step out and do something new, especially when you’re part of a beautiful homeschooling community and kind of hate to leave it, and so we told ourselves we were just “giving it a year”.

We are so glad we did.

Not only will my kids be attending the classical school again next year, my little Mary Lu will be starting Kindergarten with them there!  Turns out this wasn’t just a one year diversion from homeschooling, but hopefully an ongoing thing for us.  Our school is amazing, and my kids are thriving, and our family is doing well.  In spite of my husband working crazy long hours for the past two months, and in spite of us having to work through a nasty situation as landlords (that culminated in needing to prep a huge house to sell), I still feel like I have a little bit of margin and breathing room in my life.  Having my daughter home with me (along with my two year old), before she starts school herself, has been precious.

And oh, how I’m excited about summer!

Swimming, roasting marshmallows over the firepit, sleeping in, lazy days around the house, hitting up happy hour at Sonic (slushes for kids and a Vanilla Coke for me, obvs), it’s gonna be great.  I’m so proud of what my children have accomplished this year, and I’m excited for what’s up ahead.  I would never have expected to be a mom who sends her kids to school, but here I am.  Giving thanks for a fabulous year.

So if you have big decisions looming up ahead, if you’re debating bringing kids home to educate them or putting them in school for the first time, be not afraid.  You’ll get through it.  You might even just end up loving whatever the new thing is!

And if you’re grateful for something your kiddos have done or experienced this past year, please share it here in the comments section!  Sometimes as mamas we focus on how far a child has yet to go, so it’s extra awesome to look back and see how far he or she has come.  Looking forward to hearing your answers!

(Oh and if you want to know a bit more about where we’ve been with our schooling over the years, you can click on the “Education” tab at the top of my blog.)

The same me

Me.

Me.

It’s been uncharacteristically quiet around these here parts, I know.

Pretty sure when you write an eBook and are, you know, supposed to get it out there, you’re NOT supposed to up and disappear from the interwebz altogether.

Oops.

But life has been insanely FULL.  Think chaperoning multiple field trips, visits to the dentist, running my freezer meal workshop business, trying to update the look of my blog with a new theme that will hopefully NOT make me want to bang my head against the wall, running to and fro to assorted horsey things, wrapping up the end of the school year with six different kids, shuttling children to birthday parties on the wrong day, etc.  Oh and it won’t stop raining.  In May.

I’m a little overwhelmed, clearly.

Today though I have NOTHING on my calendar.  Not one thing.  Tonight I have my monthly meeting with some ladies at my church, but other than that?  I’m pretty much camped out on my couch with my coffee and my laptop.  I have declared it a “do nothing” day, so I’m taking some time to blog.  And maybe watch some shows on Netflix, because that is obviously a REALLY good use of my time.

In switching over to the new WordPress theme, I’m also taking the time to (FINALLY) categorize my blogposts, in order to give people (and myself) an easy way to navigate through them by topic.  It’s a tedious task that may just result in a case of carpal tunnel, but it’s also been pretty fun to read back through old stuff.  Bittersweet too, because time moves so fast, and my kids are growing.right.up.  Cue the ugly cry, please.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Denver for seven years now.  Seven!  Life today looks and feels so different from our early days here in Colorado–we don’t homeschool any more, we’re at a different church, I’m scarcely tuned in to the local Ethiopian adoption community any longer, and we’re living on the west side of town.

I recently ran into a sweet friend at the pediatrician’s office–one of my first friends in Denver, actually–and it felt so good to connect with someone who’s known me longer than three years!  This is someone I’ve spent a ton of time with, but don’t really see anymore.  She first knew me as a blogger, ran into me in real life at the Presbyterian church we were both starting to attend back in 2008, and introduced herself as a non-stalker.  We went on to be good friends.  But then life happened, and we don’t run in the same circles anymore.  It’s one of those things where you fall out of touch with someone, and then feel horrible about it, and stay out of touch.  And you miss them, but you don’t do anything to change the situation for who knows what reason.  I hate that.  But, it happens.

Even in the blogosphere.

I’m not sure I ever set out to transition from being an adoption blogger to a Catholic blogger, or from homeschool mom to send-my-kids-to-school-and-blog-at-home mom.  I didn’t envision myself slipping out of one social or bloggy niche and finding another.  Granted there is a limited number of hours in a day, and I am very careful about guarding my time (gotta leave room for Netflix, amIright?), but I never consciously made the decision to be someone else or do something different.  I honestly go back and forth about the whole niche thing, because I don’t like to be in a box and I like all kinds of people to be able to read and engage.  I like to keep my options open.  Supposedly that’s not good for blogging, but whatevs.

And reading over all of my past blogposts made me feel better, because it confirmed that I’m really and truly the same bloggy person I’ve always been.  I may occasionally write something that doesn’t resonate with somebody out there (read: MAKES THEM VERY ANGRY), but then again I’ve always done that.  It comes with the territory here, unless all you do is post pictures of cats and narwhals with lots of emojis.

And I don’t know how to use emojis.

I remember a little over a year ago, I spoke at a moms’ group that met at a church–but the group wasn’t overtly religious in nature.  I regularly tailor my talks to whatever the particular group is, so it wasn’t a problem when the organizer specifically asked me not to use a bunch of Christianese (Catholicese?) or scripture quotations.  Still I was a little uneasy, and wondered if my story would resonate with anybody, or if they’d all roll their eyes and hate me.  The church they met in was old and trendy, in a cool part of town (and right across from Whole Foods–which, if you know me, is kind of the opposite of me), and all the moms were pretty trendy too.  And I’m not very trendy.  But oh my goodness, these ladies were fantastic!  Great conversations afterward.  Friendly people.  An all-around great time.  Nobody hated me for having eight kids or for vaguely referring to God’s beautiful design for marriage.

This further reinforced my belief that most of us dwell in an itty-bitty vacuum the majority of the time.  Doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, most of your friends and interactions are probably with people who look and think a lot like you.  This has historically been true for me, for the most part.  It’s probably natural.  But there are great people outside of that vacuum, and it can be really nice to step out for a bit.  Sometimes you’re forced out, for good.  And when you experience some sort of significant life-shift–whether it’s changing faiths or belief systems, choosing a different schooling method for your family, adopting a child, or something else–it can be disorienting.  Things don’t necessarily look the same anymore.  Your people might not be your people anymore.  Maybe you find new people, but maybe you don’t.  It can be, well, isolating.

So I’ve been thinking about all of this, categorizing old blogposts with my sore wrist and looking back over my life–particularly my time here in Denver.  Which is home, and I love it, I really do.  We feel so settled and happy with our neighborhood, parish, schools for the kids, and relationships.  But things look so different from how they used to.  In some ways, I miss some of our “old stuff”, and at the same time am unbelievably grateful for where we are now.  My children are attending a fantastic school, our church is amazing, and we are blessed with many dear friends.  Life is good.

And as far as blogging goes, well, I figure I’ll always be me.  If you’ve been reading here a long time, hopefully you know I’m still the same me.  Apparently I’m not much for finding just one niche and running with it, in being “this” kind of blogger or “that” kind of blogger.  Maybe I don’t always want to write about adoption, and maybe I want to take a break from explaining why I’m a Catholic.  That’s the beauty of the personal blog, I reckon.  I’m glad you’re here, no matter who you are or how you felt about that book The Shack.

And if you’ve ever moved away or experienced a faith shift or changed up what you’re doing, and you feel a little lonely or conflicted or all of the above, well, you’re not alone!  Been there, done that, just about a billion times.  Like when we adopted our sons from Ethiopia and became an interracial family, when we picked up and moved from California to Colorado, when we became Catholic, and when we stopped homeschooling and sent our kids to school.  We navigate life the best we can, and life has curveballs and unexpected twists and turns.  I love where we’re at, but I also kind of love where we’ve been.

It’s a gift to be able to look back and appreciate the journey.

And that journey also means there’s an eclectic bunch of people reading along here, and that makes me happy because, well, I like people.

Even though I’m an introvert, and will spend the remainder of my day hiding alone in my house, watching a docu-reality show called American Weed.

Filmed locally, of course.

Because–and if you don’t believe me, just ask my husband–one thing that has remained absolutely consistent about me over the years is my penchant for finding bizarre stuff to watch, when I should be cleaning my house.

Told you I’m the same me.

My eBook is Here!

5 Life HackslowercaseSo, I wrote a book.

And I’m super excited about it!

It’s called 5 Simple Life Hacks for Overwhelmed Moms.  Naturally.

In the book I share five things I’ve learned over the past several years–or “hacks”, as the title says–that have really helped me in parenting my children and managing my home.  There are also assorted anecdotes about my eight kids.  Because, well, I have eight kids.  Lots of material there!

And, here’s the best part: the book is FREE!  Yes, free.

I’m quite literally giving it away, because I want to encourage and inspire fellow moms in the trenches.  Pretty much everything I know about parenting, I’ve learned through trial and error–and now I want to share some of that with you.  And maybe save you from some of the trials and errors!

To get my book, all you have to do is subscribe to my email list, and I’ll send you the link.  Easy peasy, right?

And if you find the book at all helpful?  Please tell your friends!  I believe that anyone who occasionally identifies as an overwhelmed mom can benefit from at least one of the five ideas I share here.  Thank you so much dear readers for your support, and for spreading the word!

When You Say Young Black Men

inner-cityYesterday I spent a good part of my day writing about Baltimore.

And before I could hit publish, I lost the whole thing.

After working my way through the natural progression of emotions (anger, wishing for a time-machine, and anger), I decided to move on and find something else to share today.  Maybe something a little less controversial or divisive.  Maybe a good diversion from what everyone else is talking about.  Maybe some thoughts better-suited to the typical reader here.

But then last night I noticed someone ranting on Facebook about all of the problems with “young black men”.

And I decided that no.  I AM going to write about Baltimore.

Because I have two young black men living in my home.

They are my sons.

I am going to begin this discussion by saying that no one should be defending or otherwise condoning the violent and destructive behavior we’ve seen in Baltimore in recent days.  And, few people are.  The average person on the street does not look at burning buildings or looted stores and say that’s the way to advocate for anything, much less justice.  Likewise, it is a small percentage of Baltimore’s young black men participating in these activities.  There are a number of marchers and protestors trying to get the nation’s attention, yes, but overall?  The average young black man is not breaking the law to do it.

Of course the media would have you believe otherwise.  They love capturing footage that makes for good entertainment and viewing.  And while the camera doesn’t lie, the lense is unbelievably narrow.  Anything we see has been carefully crafted by organizations that make money off of views and clicks, and every news outlet has an angle.  A narrative.

And speaking of narrative, consider an article I read yesterday from a news publication in San Luis Obispo, California, where I attended college.  The article was about Poly Royal, the epic party weekend SLO used to host every year.  Poly Royal was widely known and well-attended, and drew countless out-of-town guests in addition to the many university students.  But then one year things got out of hand, and a huge mob started rioting.  They threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at police officers.  They damaged and looted businesses.  Needless to say, the otherwise sleepy college town discontinued the Poly Royal event after that.  By the time I attended Cal Poly State University, it was nothing more than a boring open house weekend that wasn’t worth attending.

Then years later, San Luis Obispo also had to cancel the annual Mardi Gras parade (which I actually remember attending in high school), for pretty much the same reasons.  Bottle-throwing and rioting.  A mob that got out of control.  $100,000 worth of damage.  People vs. police officers.

But did you know that the affluent town of San Luis Obispo is roughly 84% white?  And only 1% black?  Did you know that it was mostly young men involved in the aforementioned riots–and predominantly young white men?  Did you know that the median household income in San Luis Obispo is $60, 534?

And yet the race of the offenders was never really part of the news reports.  Facebook didn’t exist back then, but I’m betting that if it had, nobody would have been commenting on the problems plaguing “young white men.”  No, instead it was merely a crowd that had too much to drink and got overexcited, when the fist-fights broke out.  It was a bunch of immature boys causing trouble, when they threw bricks and bombs at cops.  Today when community members complain that drunk university students are regularly pissing and vomiting on their lawns, it’s shrugged off as “kids being kids.”  A minor inconvenience.

But not in Baltimore.

No, young black men don’t have that advantage.  Instead, when young black men behave badly, they are called animals, thugs, or worse.

A desperate black mother yanking her son out of the war-zone becomes either a Facebook meme or an abuser.

The son gets speculated about all over the interwebz because I BET HE HAS NO FATHER.

Well, no, people should not be setting fires or attacking police officers.  There’s no excuse for violent behavior.  And who knows, maybe that boy’s father isn’t around.  But mob mentality is colorblind, even if the impetus for the riots in Baltimore involved racial injustice.  Even a rich community with a fancy university, and mostly white residents, finds young men making terrible decisions.

And MY young black men?  My ten year old sons who for now are boys, but are growing stronger and older every single day?  They don’t miss a thing.  They hear the messages about their identity and self-worth as young black men.  If you didn’t know, kids say stupid, cruel things like “the color of your skin looks like poop” or “I don’t want to play with you because you’re black.”  Yep, at ten years old, my sons have heard both.  And as their mother I do my very best to encourage and sympathize, and instill in them a sense of worth in being young black men.  Because hello, that is precisely who God created them to be!  I tell them I love their skin, I tell them that we are all part of the human race, I tell them most of the world isn’t white, I tell them that even though I cannot walk in their shoes, they can come to me with their hurts.  And, they will have hurts.

You can talk respectfully about the various problems facing the urban poor–for blacks and whites and Latinos alike, issues such as generational poverty, addiction, racial injustice, and gang violence are destroying lives.  The breakdown of the nuclear family is destroying lives.  But the generalizing about young black men has to stop.

Baltimore has been struggling for decades, and the community is hurting.  And it’s not so hidden now, because the wounds have been ripped wide open for everyone to see.  Will we listen?  Again I am NOT excusing or defending the violence–which is not only terrible but also a separate issue, which the media has successfully used to divert attention away from the real problems.  I condemn any and all violent and destructive actions, from what is happening in Baltimore to what happened in my old college town.  I believe the offenders belong in jail, and ought to be held accountable by their community.

But I AM talking about corruption, and about the erosion of trust between law enforcement and citizens–many of whom are working their butts off right now to pick up the pieces in their broken neighborhoods.

So let’s pray for peace, justice, and reconciliation in Baltimore.  Let’s make sure we’re seeing what’s really going on–this excellent series of photographs is a good place to start. 

Oh, and people out there on social media? Experience tells me that young black men are pretty darn awesome.  You should probably get to know some.  FYI.

On Bruce Jenner and Radical Mercy

 

brucejenner1Can I go a little outside of the box today, friends?

I don’t generally comment (publicly, anyway!) on whatever the latest pop culture controversy might be.  It’s just not my bag, partly (mostly?) because I rather detest pop culture–as in, I’m pretty sure if Western civilization ever falls apart, it will be solely due to the obsession with reality TV and photo-shopped celebrity gossip mags.

But today?

Today I’m sitting at my keyboard and writing about the pop culture thing that pretty much everyone is writing about: last week’s 20/20 interview with Bruce Jenner.

I honestly don’t really know anything about the Kardashians.  Well, except that one of them is married to Kanye West, and one of them got kicked off the Celebrity Apprentice a few years ago for getting a DUI.  (Okay, sometimes I do watch reality shows.  It’s Donald Trump, you know.  He’s kind of nuts.  Hard to pass up.)  And I know that Bruce Jenner is involved somehow with the family–I think he’s the stepdad.

And, they have a majorly popular reality show about being rich and famous and beautiful.  Which I have never, ever watched.  Refer above to my thoughts on pop culture.

It apparently came as quite a shock to people to hear that the former manly-man Olympian is in the process of transitioning into a woman.  This interview was, understandably, a very big deal.  Bruce Jenner opened up to Diane Sawyer about his life and his journey.

Something I feel like I should say before I go any further is that I hold unwaveringly to the historic Christian understanding of creation and the human person.  I believe it fundamentally impossible to “switch” sexes–no amount of hormones, surgery, or feelings can change the reality of who God created you to be.  I am a woman.  Bruce Jenner, however, is not, and ultimately never will be–even in spite of his appearance–because regardless one’s concept of gender, one’s given sex is a foundational thing.  Which comes from God.  Of course someone can live as a woman and believe he is a woman, but it doesn’t make it so.

That being said, my overall impression of the interview?  Bruce Jenner is one brave dude!  He is struggling, and has been for many years, and went on national television to tell his story.  Of course the issue of gender dysphoria is nothing new, but how we as a culture approach it certainly is.  Jenner believes, like most folks today, that taking the appearance and claiming the identity of a woman will solve the troubling issue of what he is experiencing inside his heart and mind.  And while there are people who affirm this idea, there are others who would advise him to proceed with caution, because all is not roses on the other side of that fence.  Personally I suspect that some of his demons might initially appear to be resolved by transitioning, but I don’t know that it will be as neat and tidy as he hopes.  And I also imagine new problems will be introduced, and there will be a ripple effect felt throughout his family and friends and community.  It’s sad.  But that’s just my hunch, which I humbly submit is nothing but that: a hunch.

Bruce Jenner knows that something is wrong.  He desperately wants to be whole.  He wants to be loved.  He wants to love himself.

He is not so very different from the rest of us.

So I guess I wanted to say that I am saddened by the politicization and culture warring that is swirling around Bruce Jenner’s declaration that he wants to be a woman.  The mocking and the snark on the one side, and the angling and co-opting on the other.  No, Diane Sawyer, not everyone struggling with their identity is a stereotype who aligns themselves with your particular political party.  No, religious talking heads, not everyone is happy with who they are, and not everyone feels comfortable in their own skin.  Sometimes, somebody is born one way but feels another.  Consider the anorexic who thinks she’s fat when she’s not, or the person crippled by body dysmorphic disorder.  There is a legitimate debate over the best way to approach the issue of gender dysphoria, but it exists.  And, it’s clearly no walk in the park.

Personal mental or emotional struggle (or whatever you want to call it) of course always carries a stigma.  Compassion can be hard to come by.  And there are so many agenda-driven cultural messages shooting back and forth nowadays, that people can scarcely hear over the noise!  But my goodness, why can’t we just listen?  And love?  And respond with gentle but firm truth?  You don’t have to agree that Bruce Jenner’s best option here is to transition–I really don’t believe that it is–but consider that we’re talking about a real person, with real feelings and hopes and dreams and challenges.  And this challenge in particular is no doubt excruciatingly hard.

Obviously most of us don’t know Bruce Jenner in real life, but I bet we know other people experiencing identity issues, or mental illness, or who are facing down monsters and giants.  And while I’m a big ol’ believer in sharing the truth–because there’s nothing remotely tolerant or loving about intentionally withholding the beauty of what is right and good from a person–I’m also an advocate for being a person who loves freely and humbly.  Who aspires to understand and to hear.  Who knows that I have my own frailties and shortcomings, and my own stuff.  We all have stuff!  And I don’t love people perfectly, not even close, but by golly I want to at least try to do a little bit of good.  Make the world a little better.  And it starts with caring about others.

Because Jesus’ love?  It’s a gift.  It’s good news, and it’s for everyone.  As in, the entire world.  There’s no promise that life will be easy or struggle-free when you’re a Christian or following Christian principles, but then that’s kind of the beauty of the whole thing.  Jesus gives us hope.  Hope. 

And we must pass that hope along to others.

I suspect that part of the Jenner backlash is because Catholics (and traditionally-minded Protestants) are feeling a bit on the defensive in the public square lately.  And, not without good reason.  But going after a 65-year-old man for opening up in a most raw and honest way, about his lifetime of brokenness and pain?  That is nothing whatsoever to feel threatened by!  Who did Jesus come to love and to save, but the broken?

The following is taken from Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium:

24. The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.

Isn’t that so beautiful?  But it’s hard, too, because the call to mercy is hard.  It necessitates living in the tension.  Sometimes it means keeping quiet, and at other times, saying something difficult.  But always, always, always, humility.  And love.  And grace.

And so we really can respond from this place–where we are kind, and where we listen before we speak.  We can accept that the human condition is a most messy, clumsy thing.  We can preach the dignity of the human person, and the beauty of God’s design for men and women, while also making space.  Space for questions, fears, mess-ups, and redemption.

Because the reality is that people are wounded and hurting.  They want to be loved!  So let’s not be ruled by fear, but instead begin by hearing what they say, acknowledging their pain, expressing the truth of their human dignity, and inviting them into a friendship with ourselves and with God.  And I kind of suspect that if we busy ourselves with the business of love, truth and mercy?  We will see our lives, and world, radically and beautifully transformed.

God bless you, Bruce Jenner.  I hope and pray that one day you’ll find the grace and peace you’re looking for.

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