All of Us


In the 19-ish hours since I first posted about my resignation, I’ve been called a lot of things: Brave. Courageous. Bold. Hero. A whole lot of people—some of whom I’ve never even met—offered support, told me they’re proud of me, applauded my integrity, said they admire me. I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement and love.

But. Please, please let’s not lose sight of this: It’s not about me. It’s about all of us.

It’s about all of us deciding enough is enough—that we will not tolerate the mistreatment of any human being. Ever. 

It’s about all of us pulling our assumptions and biases and prejudices out from under the moldy tarps in our heads and looking at them in the light—critically, honestly, and completely.

It’s about all of us deciding to see the sacred in one another. When we move about the world wearing those lenses, we can’t help but love people. Yes, even the ones who make us absolutely crazy with their ridiculous opinions and stupid voting decisions and illogical conclusions and horrible, horrible taste in music (I’m looking at you, Nickelback fans). Because there’s sacred in them, too.

It’s about all of us coming to this radical, paradigm-shifting understanding: We don’t have to agree with one another to love one another. In fact, I can’t think of a single pre-requisite to loving someone. My friend, Jennifer, demonstrated that so profoundly today. Her response to my post was a simple, “I love you, Kelley.” She could’ve added a dozen qualifiers… but she didn’t. There’s just nothing more life-giving than pure, unconditional love.

It’s about all of us being broken, right out in the open. We’ll be so much better off in a “Me too!” culture than in this mask-wearing, facade-bearing thing we have going on right now. Not a single one of us has it all together. (In fact, I’ve decided that the plural of person might as well be mess.) We can “get” each other—we just have to be willing to show ourselves first. 

It’s all about of us raising our hopeful voices (thank you, Glen Hansard). Something amazing happened today, friends. By participating in our conversation—through likes or shares or comments—you inspired hope. And I, for one, was in desperate need of that.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s keep talking, okay?


*The photo at the top of this post is of a necklace my dearest friend gave to me tonight–as a reminder that there is hope. Our world can be different—better—and we can help it along. I will probably wear it every day for the next three years. Don’t judge me. Also, please take a peek at The company employs people transitioning out of homelessness (LOVE!), and you might just find a key for someone who needs it.

No Tent Big Enough

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.”

The week before Easter, I received a text on our church’s Google Voice line:

“Hi. I am looking for a church to attend. We are a same sex family.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d received a text like that, and I had the same response both times: absolute paralysis. I wanted to reply, “No worries. You’re welcome at our church” or, “We’d be honored to have you as our guests,” or even, “We’re a safe place.” But I couldn’t, because while those statements are true to a certain extent, they’re true… to a certain extent. I couldn’t figure out how to approach the text honestly without sounding horribly judgmental:

“We’d love to have you as our guests! But you should know a few things before you visit. You’ll never be able to hold a leadership position, you won’t be permitted to become an actual member, and our church’s doctrine would say your relationship is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ But, you’re welcome at our church.”


To soften the blow, I considered adding, “By the way, I don’t personally agree with any of that.” But then I imagined the person asking, “Well, then why do you work there?”


That’s a fair question—one I’ve asked myself 100 times over the last several months. I’ve had many rounds of difficult conversations with Jimmy, my boss/pastor:

  • Even if homosexuality is a sin, why does it seem as though some denominations are elevating it to The Worst Sin Ever?
  • Why does it seem like the Church at large is okay with interpreting some scripture through a cultural and historic lens (e.g., women in leadership and divorce), but won’t apply that same interpretive logic to the passages about same-sex relationships?
  • Why do I see angry, greedy people in leadership positions in all sorts of churches, but they won’t ordain people who are gay?
  • Doesn’t the Church at large see that we’re saying, “You’re welcome here” and “You’re not good enough” in the same breath?

The outcome of these conversations with Pastor Jimmy was always the same. I’d feel grateful he was willing to have them–over and over again. I’d go home and write a rant about the Church and homosexuality, and Pastor Jimmy would allow me to publish it on my blog–something I suspect many Lead Pastors would forbid. I’d feel nauseous and helpless. I’d cry. I’d lament to my husband. I’d consider quitting my job. I’d justify not quitting by convincing myself I could be influential somehow. I’d do some reading on both “sides” of the debate. Meanwhile, I could feel my integrity slipping away as I continued to invest significant time, energy, and resources into a denomination that’s systematically marginalizing an entire group of people.

Then the Supreme Court went and legalized same-sex marriage, and Facebook exploded.

I have gay friends for whom the SCOTUS decision was life-changing, and I wanted to celebrate with them. I have straight friends who’ve been tirelessly advocating for the LGBT community, and I wanted to high-five them. But our church has social media guidelines (that I wrote) calling for “appropriate caution” from our leaders when it comes to controversial topics. Typically, “appropriate caution” has translated to “complete silence,” and I’ve honestly been (mostly) okay with that.

But on that Friday morning, I began to wonder what “appropriate caution” really means. Is it “appropriate” to keep my mouth shut about injustice? Is it “appropriate” to let people assume they know my opinion, by virtue of my position on a church staff? Is it “appropriate” to say nothing when other people are running off at the mouth, spewing “us v. them” language instead of extending grace and mercy and love?

No. It’s not.

It’s at that point I decided I was willing to get fired for celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision, and I “liked” a variety of status updates that morning—gay friends who were thrilled to have their relationships recognized by the Court, straight friends who felt justice had been served, and friends who disagreed with the decision but who did so with a posture of humility.

In the end, Pastor Jimmy didn’t fire me or even call for my resignation. But last Monday morning, I submitted my notice.

I’m not mad at him. And I’m not really even mad at the institutional Church. I’m just… sad. Pastor Jimmy has frequently remarked that he wants to build a church whose tent is big enough for all sorts of opinions and perspectives, and I fell in love with that vision. The problem is, there’s no tent big enough for them all. At some point, his perspective—as a Lead Pastor who is rightly honoring the vows he took at ordination—prevails, and that’s going to leave some people standing outside. I get it. My tent will only stretch so far, too; after all, I’m leaving a staff position and a church I love because my tent requires full inclusion of people in the LGBT community.

Let me say it again: I’m sad. Sadder than I thought I’d be. I’ve found meaningful friendships at The Way, and I’m afraid they’ll disintegrate–either because we disagree about homosexuality or simply because we won’t be around one another as often. I’ve been proud of how The Way is trying to push beyond our walls and truly love our neighbors. I’ve seen people in our church community becoming more generous and more compassionate. In other words, they’re looking more and more like Jesus, and that has been incredible to witness.

Please know I’ve not made this decision easily or carelessly. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. (I do that a lot lately.) I’ve talked. I’ve listened. And the outcome is always the same: I want to be an advocate and ally for marginalized people—not only those in the LGBT community, but anyone who’s looked upon as less-than: people of color, people without homes, people with mental illness… and I can’t do that, authentically, without saying some hard things. Some controversial things. Some decidedly non-cautious things.

So, heartsick and poured out, I’ve resigned from my position at The Way. I’ve only just begun to experience the fall-out of my decision—or rather, the fall-out for the reason for my decision—and I’m sure there will be some ugly stuff down the line. I’m a people-pleaser, so that’ll be painful. But the pain of staying has become greater than the pain of changing.

And it’s time for me to go.

The Evils of War

She walked in right at noon—the moment the doors opened—and it was clearly her first time at The Bridge, a day shelter for people who are homeless.

“Where do I sit?” she asked.

“Anywhere you’d like,” I responded with a smile.

Moments later, a security guard corrected her/me.

“Hey, those tables aren’t open,” he barked. “You need to sit up here.”

She shrugged and found a seat at the front of the room, near the serving line.

“My bad,” I said.

The guard didn’t care whose bad it was.

“What time is lunch served?” she asked, hope in her eyes.

I delivered the bad news:


Her shoulders sank. She was clearly hungry. Hungry, hungry.

Several minutes passed. I made eye contact with her, and she asked for the time.

“12:11,” I responded.

She sank lower in her chair and wrapped her arms around her mid-section.

“Hey, do you want to play cards or something to pass the time?” I asked.

She hesitated, but then said, a bit shyly, “All right. Sure.”

I pulled the cards from my bag.

“Do they have brushes here?” she asked as I sat across from her. “Like to brush your hair?”

(Side note: This was the second hair-related question I’d had that morning. The first was a woman on a desperate search for a pair of scissors so she could cut out her tangles. I could probably round up six brushes at my home. Some people have none.)

“Ummm, I don’t know if they have brushes.”

I paused.

“But your hair is so short! You brush it anyway?”

Her hair wasn’t just short. It was buzzed.

She ran her hand across her head.

“Well, yeah,” she responded (with a hint of “duh”).

A nine-year-old who’d come along to serve sat down between the two of us. We did introductions, and after I was certain another guest at the same table didn’t want to play, we dove into a game of War.

We were having a blast, laughing and complaining about the junk cards being passed around. T–who had seemed so dejected–positively came to life. We’d just had our first actual war (between Kings, which she won) when I felt the security guard behind me.

“You can’t play cards in here,” he growled.

“Excuse me?”

“You can’t play cards in here.”

“But . . . why?” I asked.

The most ridiculous scenarios flashed through my head. Is there some gang association with cards? Is it because we’re playing War? Have they had fights break out over losses?

Nope. Nothing like that.

“Because we’re in a church,” the guard said, his tone condescending.

“But . . . but we’re not playing for money,” I said, my tone bewildered.

“You can’t play cards in here. You’re in a church.”

He walked away. Swaggered a bit, really.

I looked across the table at T–. Her shoulders sank as I collected the cards.

“Well, that’s just stupid,” she muttered.

“Yes. It is,” I responded. “Really stupid. Sorry.”

After lunch, T- approached the table where the chef and I were sitting.

“Thank you so much for lunch. I hadn’t eaten in two days. It was real good. Thank you.”

“Aww, you’re welcome, Boo,” the chef replied. (Everyone is Boo.)

I later learned that the actual reason cards are disallowed in the dining room has to do with a gambling ring they had some time ago. Whatever. I imagine T– would still say, “Well, that’s just stupid.

I’m glad she had a good meal that day; she was clearly hungry. But she was also clearly starving for something more than food. Maybe something like normalcy. Make something like companionship. Maybe something like being seen as a human being, worthy of attention. Worthy of the exquisitely simple pleasure of playing War before lunch.

On Planks & Specks

Planks and Specks

Last night, I returned home from an annual gathering of church planters called Exponential. My time there brought to mind a post I wrote (on my old blog) about last year’s experience, and it’s important enough to me that I wanted to share it again. I’ve made some minor edits to the original.

I have some things to say.

I suspect some of you will call me brave, and others may be more inclined to use words like stupid. I feel neither brave nor stupid; I feel frustrated and sad. And a little fed-up.

A few weeks ago, I attended an annual gathering of church planters called Exponential. This year’s theme, “Seek and Save,” was focused on evangelism. Much of the content was stellar. We were challenged to both announce and demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ. We had conversations about why fewer and fewer people are interested in attending church gatherings. We lamented the bad behavior of Christians and culture’s concomitant skepticism, cynicism, and hostility toward the Church. These were important, timely conversations.

Unfortunately, however, there was a nasty undercurrent I discovered in the first moments of the conference. It sounded something like this:

Our church has evangelism down pat! We’re converting prostitutes and drug dealers. And criminals. And homosexuals!

In many of my conference sessions, I was presented with a list of people who, presumably, are the most difficult types of people to convert and, apparently, I was supposed to feel impressed and inspired by that ministry’s evangelism efforts. I think my reaction was supposed to be, “Wow! If they’re able to reach those people, they must be doing this right! I mean, they’re even reaching the gays!”

Well . . . that wasn’t my response.  At all.

Instead, I found myself feeling irritated and annoyed and, eventually, angry. Righteously so. “Soooo, let me get this straight,” I wanted to say. “You’ve just listed some categories of ‘sinners’ and I’m supposed to be really impressed because you’re saving, like, really bad people?”

Herein lies the problem: We’re all, like, really bad people, but I didn’t hear anyone bragging (and that’s what it felt like) about sharing the Gospel with housewives and CEOs. I jotted down some sarcastic notes: “Key takeaways . . . A pimp’s salvation is worth more than a school teacher’s. And you get more points for a drug dealer than a middle schooler.”

And then there’s the stuff about same-sex relationships.

Twenty-ish years ago, I became friends with a gay man. Since that time, I’ve wrestled with the “Is homosexuality a sin?” question. I know many of you think there is no such question; you’re certain that Scripture clearly defines same-sex relationships as sinful. I’m not about to try to convince you otherwise. That’s a reasonable interpretation of Scripture. However, I have ridiculously bright, incredibly faithful, Christ-following friends—clergy friends*—who interpret Scripture differently. So, I wrestle.

But the is-it-or-isn’t-it debate really has no bearing on this particular conversation. What I’m so frustrated and sad about is this: For some reason, gay and lesbian persons seem to have become the poster children for The Worst Sin Ever. What upset me the most at Exponential was the implication that homosexual people represent the Ultimate Conversion. In nearly every list I heard, “homosexuality” seemed to be the punchline. The save-the-best-for-last. The ultimate score.

Not one Exponential speaker celebrated the number of overweight people they brought to Christ. No one talked about how successfully they’ve been reaching gossips. I heard no hushed “Wow”or “Amen” from an audience because a church baptized a slew of people who have a habit of saying, “Oh my God,” speak poorly of their parents, or express envy over their neighbor’s new boat.

Now, my goal as a Jesus-follower is to live the way He said I should. I’m not even close to fulfilling that goal. (“Love your enemy”? Mhm. Yeah, right. Whatever.) Since I don’t get to hang out with Jesus at Starbucks and ask him a bazillion questions, Scripture’s my go-to resource for how to be more Christ-like. If I were to ask Him about the Worst Sin Ever, I suspect he’d respond like this:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5, NIV)

Some of you just yelled at your screen (or at me), “But we’re supposed to hold each other accountable! If I don’t talk about the sinfulness of same-sex relationships, I’m condoning the behavior!” If that’s where you are, that’s fine. But sharing an inflammatory Facebook post isn’t exactly the best posture for those conversations. And I’m only suggesting we should be holding one another accountable, not just a particular group of people. And maybe—actually, definitely—we ought to begin with ourselves.

I was venting my frustrations with a dear friend yesterday. At one point she said, “I just don’t get it. It’s about love. We’re supposed to love people.”

Yes, Church:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31, NIV)

Love your neighbor. The fat one across the street. The divorced one around the corner. The gay one in the office down the hall. The trucker-mouthed one you see at QT most mornings. The one at work who never shuts up about how much she loves (or despises) President Obama. Love them. Right now. With no conditions. With no ulterior motives. And if you’re still hung up on the accountability thing, just keep in mind that accountability without love feels an awful lot like judgment.

Love people. And until we’re rid of our planks, that’s our only responsibility.

*For clarification, The Way (my employer) is a United Methodist Church, and the official position of our denomination is that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. I’ve had hours and hours of conversation with Pastor Jimmy about this issue. When I mentioned having “ridiculously bright, incredibly faithful, Christ-following friends–clergy friends–who interpret Scripture differently,” he’s one of the folks on the “it’s a sin” side.


The Bridge

He’s a young, African American—early 20s, I’m guessing. From where I’m standing, I can’t tell if he has dreads or braids under his bright red, Cardinals flat bill. He’s wearing aviator sunglasses, a gray zip-up hoodie over a plaid shirt, low slung jeans revealing blue boxers, and spotless high tops.

I’m at the front of the serving line, dishing up pork roast, cabbage, and potatoes. Emily’s next to me, adding watermelon and bread. T–, a Bridge guest, is helping behind the line tonight, capping off the trays with thick slices of donated pies and cakes.

Aviator is not happy with T–. Apparently, there’s some disagreement about whether he’s already been through the line once. Or maybe he’s angry on behalf of the woman in front of him, Miss S–, who seems to be hoping for seconds. I feel for T–, who’s just following the rules: No seconds until/unless the chef gives the okay.

It’s not going well down at the end of the line.

I’m trying not to eavesdrop. It’s none of my business. Except Emily is right there, so I’m listening for any indication that she needs to step away.

Aviator gives up and walks off. Miss S–, a sweet, 70-something with thin, gray dreadlocks and a deep compassion for the birds outside her apartment building, tells me that if her arthritis weren’t acting up, she’d give him a knuckle sandwich. I’m not sure to which “him” she’s referring, but I laugh, because it’s clearly what she’s expecting from me.

Aviator’s now pacing back and forth in front of the serving line, offering just barely audible commentary. Emily, who heard more of the original skirmish, assures me that whatever he’s saying, it’s not directed toward us.

“You’re supposed to be helping people. This is bullshit.”

“All you have to do is look me in the eye. I’m a person, too.”

And then, “Half of y’all are racist anyway.”

“Oh,” Emily says. “Maybe he is mad at us.”

I’m mortified. Racist? Did that guy just call me racist?

I start to walk toward him. To assure him I’m not racist. To ask him why he would say such a thing. To find out what I can do to prove that I’m a good person. But he is really agitated, and Emily pulls me back. “No, mom. Not a good idea.”

At the end of our shift, I’m surprised to see Aviator sweeping the dining room—because I’ve already decided he’s a jerk, and this is not jerkish behavior. “Where’d the dustpan go?” he yells across the dining room, and I hand him the one I had been using. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Maybe, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve obviously misjudged you. You are clearly not racist.” He says nothing.

And then it hits me: People have made all sorts of assumptions about me over the years—but not one of those assumptions has been based on the color of my skin. Aviator, though? My guess is he encounters this kind of thing daily. Daily. 

I’ve written before that we don’t love one another because we don’t know one another. This morning, it occurred to me that maybe we dislike one another because we think we do know one another—based on skin color and attire and taste in music and all sorts of ridiculous qualifiers that have absolutely nothing to do with what makes a human being worthy of love. We jump to conclusions. We don’t offer the benefit of the doubt. We see issues instead of people. I wonder if thinking we know people is actually more dangerous than not knowing them at all.

The next day, I’m back at The Bridge, hoping for a shot at redemption. Aviator’s there, too. He approaches the table where I’m counting guests as they come through the line. I tense up. I hate that I do, but I do.

“Hey, can I have a napkin, please? Or a paper towel or something?”

Here’s my chance! Racial reconciliation via paper products! (Yes, I know I’m ridiculous. Remember: It’s part of my charm.) And I cannot find a napkin. (It doesn’t occur to me that I have hundreds of napkins sitting right in front of me, wrapped around plastic sporks.) AGH! This is my moment! Seriously?! Where are the freaking napkins?

I give up. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know where they went.”

“Ah, no worries,” he says. “You’re good,” he says.

I don’t know about that, Aviator. But I’m trying.

I’m trying.

But I Know This

Urban Blight

Jack and I were driving through St. Louis not too long ago when I had a sudden outburst.

“Okay, I have some questions,” I began. “Why is it that neighborhoods here seem to be separated by skin color? And why is that the areas of town with people whose skin color is anything but white tend to be more run down? And why are those run-down places more dangerous?”

Please understand that these are existential questions for me. I’m convinced I must not only take personal responsibility for figuring out the answers, but I must also do something to right the wrongs. Those of you who perceive me to be mildly (or thoroughly) high-strung now have a deeper understanding of who I am. At my core, I am angst. I don’t feel it or express it. I am it.

I know my questions could be answered be exploring history and public policy, sociology and criminology. I also know the answers are complex and convoluted. The conversation is further complicated by judgments and assumptions that get swirled together and then presented as fact:

  • It’s because they’re lazy.
  • They should just move to a better neighborhood.
  • Their mothers are crackheads.
  • They keep having babies so they can get more government benefits.
  • They could get out of poverty if they wanted to, but they obviously prefer living off welfare.

Let me speak to those, just super-quick:

  • Yes, I suppose some people could be described as lazy. But why? What’s going on that some people decide, “Why bother?” No, I’m not trying to justify bad behavior, and yes, people should take personal responsibility for their lives. However, it seems many people do everything “right” and nevertheless continue to encounter systemic obstacles that prevent them from moving forward. I suspect I’d quit trying at some point, too. Isn’t that better described as oppression than laziness?
  • If you think it’s easy for people to just pick up and move to a “better neighborhood,” please recognize that gentrification is making better neighborhoods wholly unaffordable.
  • Tennessee implemented drug tests as a prereq for receiving public assistance. Know how many applicants are users? Less than one-quarter of one percent. In fact, “economically vulnerable people are less likely than the general population to use drugs.”
  • State regulations vary, but when I worked in social services in Nebraska, babies born after benefits started didn’t count in the formula. In other words, more babies does not equal more money.
  • Have you ever seen a welfare check? “Living off welfare” is an oxymoron. (Okay, in all fairness, if people are benefitting from every available program, they’ll be better off than some people with full-time employment. Which, of course, is a whole ‘nother conversation.)

Here’s the biggie question, I suppose: Why is it that people in poverty are disproportionately people of color? I don’t believe for one tiny second it’s because White folks are more hard-working. I think it’s because having white skin offers some unfair advantages. (Normally when I say that, someone–always a White person–suggests that I’m experiencing undue white guilt. I don’t feel guilty for having white skin; I feel guilty for not working against power structures that perpetuate white privilege.)

Listen, I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of the race conversation in America today. I almost didn’t finish this post because I feel critically under-qualified to approach the topic. I can’t speak with any authority about the systemic issues that give rise to economic injustice. I have a vague sense that education is a massive piece of the whole mess, but I’m unable to speak intelligently or persuasively about potential solutions. In other words, I’m basically clueless. (And I’m almost certain someone’s going to argue with me, which I’ll take personally, and then I’ll have to eat my feelings. In fact, I’ve already eaten a large-ish bowl of Lucky Charms in anticipation of the forthcoming backlash.) (I’m what you’d call a piece of work.)

Anyway, like I said–I don’t know all the intricacies of this race conversation, but I know this: If the Church were doing her job, the questions would disappear.

Economic injustice wouldn’t be a thing, because we’d each have only what we need, and we’d give the rest away. That is not socialism. Well, maybe it is; but it’s also biblical. Unfortunately–in my experience–it’s Bible-carrying folks who tend to be the the least merciful and the most judgmental about “those people.”

It’s so much easier to ignore a problem when we dehumanize the people whom it affects, isn’t it?

The whole concept of “those people” would disappear, because we would recognize everyone whom we encounter as a person of great worth. There would be no divisions based on race or class or gender or nationality or whatever. Also biblical.

Here’s where things might be breaking down: The Church seems to think that our purpose in serving “the least of these” is to introduce them to Jesus. So, instead of being Jesus to people living in poverty, we’re trying to bring them to Jesus. Ludicrous. Some of those most faith-full people I’ve encountered were also the most destitute. I’ve had people without homes in St. Louis and people without shoes in Guatemala pray for me. And if people in poverty have given up on Jesus, it might just be because we haven’t represented Him well. Or at all.

Also, we’re prone to feeling a bit superior and calvary-ish when we decide to help in some way. Our posture’s all wrong, even if our heart’s right, and because people in poverty in this country tend to be not White, we inadvertently widen the mental gap between “us” and “them.”

Agh. My brain’s all over the place, so let me sum up:

I don’t understand everything about race and poverty, but I know this: Some people experience a radically different quality of life because of their skin color. That’s abhorrent. And the Church cannot continue to ignore it.