A Student at a Desk

You’ve seen the video, I’m sure. The one showing a school resource officer dumping a young woman backward out of her desk and then tossing her across the room?

I’ve watched it dozens of times, each time shifting my focus to the different players—the officer, the girl, the other students, the teacher. I’ve watched an interview with the young man who shot the video. I’ve tried, more than once, to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. Surely there’s a backstory here. Surely she made some sort of threatening gesture we can’t see. Surely something terrible happened moments before the recording began that required or justified the officer’s actions.

I just can’t make sense of it.

Other people seem to understand it: This is what happens when you don’t respect authority, they say. She should’ve done what she was told, they say. She forced him to act this way, they say.

I don’t buy it, and I worry about what the other students learned yesterday:

  • If a conflict can’t be resolved through conversation, the next step is physical aggression.
  • The consequence for questioning out-of-control authority is arrest.
  • It’s appropriate for men to toss women around if they’re noncompliant.

Yes, of course I think students ought to respect one another, teachers, and administrators; I recognize there are students who are mouthy and obstinate; and I understand (to the extent I’m able) the multiple roles our educators take on: teacher, counselor, mentor, provider.

Yes, of course I think law enforcement should be trusted and respected (under most circumstances in which I would encounter them); I recognize there are people who believe otherwise (for all sorts of reasons, some justifiable and some perhaps not); and I understand (to the extent I’m able) how incredibly difficult, dangerous, and demanding law enforcement can be.

Yes, of course I know we don’t know why or how the situation escalated to the point it did; I recognize the media seems to have an anti-police bias; I understand this is surely a more complex situation than it appears.

And still, no, I do not believe this young woman “deserved what she got,” and I can’t imagine the outrage and fear such a response must stir up among the young women and men in that classroom and community.

What the hell is happening?

And what are we going to do about it?


I’m a Thinker Outlouder. It’s a dangerous title, because if I forget to write/say, “I’m just thinking out loud here,” people assume what I’m writing/saying is my actual opinion. (Which, I’ll admit is a fair conclusion to draw.) With me, though, it’s likely that I’m processing aloud what my potential opinion could possibly be. I can’t remember from whom I learned this idea, but it’s so spot-on with how my brain works: Let me hear what I say so I know what I mean.

So with that disclaimer—which, I’ll confess, may be just a way for me to avoid responsibility for what I’m writing—I’m going to talk about guns.

I don’t like them. I don’t like knowing people are carrying them around where I can’t see them, and I don’t think I’d feel much better if they were visible. I equate guns neither with sport nor self-defense; to me, they symbolize violence. I know lots of good people who have and use guns. I like those people. I don’t like their guns. I’m the mom who, when my girls were invited to friends’ homes, would call to ask their parents two questions: “Will you be home to supervise?” and “Do you keep weapons in your house?” (And later, “Do you provide or permit teenagers to drink alcohol?”) I didn’t allow water guns or Nerf guns in our house. Jack is bummed—to this day—that I asked him to get rid of his Super Soakers when we got married.

And yet, despite my far Left leanings, I don’t think we should take away everyone’s guns. Rather, we ought to be more mindful of the type of weapons available, we ought to make them more difficult to obtain, we ought to require training and licensing, and we ought to impose renewal periods–just like with driver licenses. I don’t think a mental health history should automatically disqualify someone from owning a firearm, but it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to require some type of physician’s release in certain cases, although I’m concerned about adding additional stigma to an already unfairly stigmatized group of people—a group that includes me. I also wonder if it could be helpful to impose stiff penalties on people whose weapons are used in a crime; if the possibility of their three-year-old shooting himself through the eye isn’t enough incentive to keep their guns locked up, maybe the threat of a $25,000 fine and five-year jail sentence would be. (Maybe these sorts of laws already exist?)

But I don’t think we can stop there. While those measures would likely decrease the number of gun-related tragedies, they aren’t going to completely eliminate gun-related crime. I can’t help but wonder why people are picking up weapons and using them to intimidate, wound, and kill other human beings. There must be preventive measures we can take other than ones related to the guns themselves. Education. Economic opportunity. Accessible mental health services. Before- and after-school activities. Mentoring programs. Affordable housing. All of it and more.

Hmmm… I had an “I wonder” just now: It’s been suggested that if guns had been legal on Umpqua Community College’s (UCC) campus, the loss of life would’ve been minimized—because someone would’ve taken that guy out. But if someone else had drawn a weapon, how would the police have known which one was the actual threat? And, not to complicate the issue (except let’s do), what if, in that situation, the real perpetrator is white and the hero is a Person of Color? Would certain assumptions be made? (Just in case you thought it, that’s not “pulling the race card.” It’s a legitimate concern.)

On Thursday, within half an hour of seeing the reports of the shooting at UCC, I was horrified to read the “Told ya so” and “Oh shit, here come the Liberals to take away my gun” status updates. In response, I wrote that tragedy should not be a notch in the belt of our political agendas, and I stand by that statement today. However, I did not at all mean to suggest that we don’t have some policies (or lack thereof) to address. We absolutely need to be having these conversations, but we need to be having them not as people who are smug about being proven “right,” but as fellow human beings who are not okay with people losing their lives. We may even need to have them as people who are more concerned with the well-being of other people than we are about our own personal rights. And we may need to decide that we’re not going to let money make policy decisions. And Christ-followers—we better be asking ourselves what Jesus would have to say about all of this.

No matter what, we have work to do. Now. Before it’s too late.

For those families in Oregon, it already is.

About and To

The complicated thing about sharing political, ideological, and/or theological opinions on social media is this: as we’re writing about people, we’re also writing to people.

When we like a nasty post about welfare, it could end up on the newsfeed of a parent who has tried anything and everything to get her head above water after her car accident, and she was on her way to meet with a caseworker. To see if she might quality for food stamps. She was already feeling defeated and ashamed before she saw our post, and now she knows for sure she can never be honest about her struggles because it’ll mar our opinion of her.

Oh, I know: That’s not the “welfare mom” we were talking about. But that’s the one we were talking to.

When we share a self-righteous post about abortion, accompanied by a sentiment like, “You can’t possibly be a Christian and be pro-choice,” it may confirm a young woman’s fear that the abortion she had three years ago completely disqualifies her from being part of a church community.

Oh, I know: We’re talking about the people who “use abortion as birth control.” But that’s not the woman we’re talking to.

When we write an arrogant post about people who don’t “belong” in the United States, people who should just “go back home,” people who have no business taking our jobs and clogging up our schools and taking advantage of our healthcare system, we’ve just taught our kids an important lesson about the variable worth of human beings.

Oh, I know: We were talking about the “illegals who refuse to learn to speak English.” But that’s not the kids we’re talking to. 

When we put up a hateful comment about same-sex marriage, we solidify in that young man’s mind that he is an abomination, that he is worthless, that he will forever be rejected. And so he pushes up his sleeves, which reveal dozens of scars on his forearms, and he begins to plan his suicide.

Oh, I know: We’re talking about the other kind of homosexuals and their allies—the ones who are “persecuting Christians.” But that’s not the boy we were just talking to. 

When we respond to videos of police brutality with, “How ’bout you just do what you’re told?” we’re assuming someone’s guilt, we’re declaring some people unworthy of fair treatment and respect, and we’re giving our Facebook friends permission to devalue and dehumanize people who appear to be different from themselves.

Oh, I know: We’re talking about the “thugs.” But that’s not the people we’re talking to. 

When we respond to reports of police shootings with a knee-jerk comment about race and class and unnecessary force (but we actually have no idea what really happened because we weren’t actually there), a police officer’s spouse—who was on Facebook just looking for a quick dinner recipe—sees that post and runs to the bathroom to retch because her husband’s partner was shot to death last week when he responded to a domestic violence call.

Oh, I know: We’re talking about the police who are “racist.” But that’s not the woman we’re talking to. 

I’m not saying we can’t hold the opinions and perspectives we do. I’m not even saying we can’t talk about those opinions and perspectives. But for the love of Pete…can we please stop to consider how our posts might affect the people who see them? Let’s read what we’ve just written—and read it out loud—before we hit “Post.” Now let’s read it from the perspective of someone to whom it might apply. Flinch? Delete it.

Can we exercise some empathy?

Can we maybe just hush for a little while? At least until we can get our mouths under control?

Can we decide to truly value all people? (If you’re a Christ-follower and you said, “No,” I’d like to have coffee with you.) (Actually, that’s not true, because you’ll probably make me cry. I’d like you to have coffee with Jesus instead.)

Okay, I’m going to take my own advice and hush for a little while. Have a good Monday, y’all.

Chief Opinion Holder

At my last job, my favorite unofficial title was Chief Opinion Holder.

I’m not especially confident about most things, so I invoked it regularly. If I was asked to weigh in on a decision, one of two things happened: Either I said, “I don’t have strong feelings either way,” or I’d share my thoughts and then hurriedly add, “But remember—I’m just the Chief Opinion Holder.”

Translation: “You can’t hold me accountable for anything I just said, because I was sharing my opinion, not my expertise.” 

The true, buried-deep-in-my-subconscious message behind my beloved title didn’t occur to me until relatively recently, and my Aha Moment was sponsored by, of all things, Facebook. Yes, Facebook–where I see hundreds of people writing vile, hateful, arrogant, cold-hearted, void-of-all-empathy status updates, often beginning or ending with the phrase in my humble opinion—as if such a disclaimer absolves the writer of all accountability for the effects of his or her shared “humble opinion” which, let’s be honest, is rarely actually humble and rather than being written in an opinion-ish sort of way is instead presented in an I’m-right-and-you’re-an-imbecile sort of way.

What are the kids saying these days? Oh yeah: I can’t even.

I’m abdicating my Chief Opinion Holder title right this very moment, because it’s nothing but a cop-out. I want you to hold me accountable to every word I’m about to write.

Here’s our reality: Horrible, awful, stomach-turning things are happening right now, and actual people are being affected. People with hearts and minds and worries and troubles and birthdays and families and preferences and perspectives and dreams and hopes and emotions and value and worth. Just like you and I have. 

There is not a single issue about which we’re pontificating that’s easily solved. Not a one. The complexity of the problems plaguing our world–plaguing our neighborhoods–are like massive Jenga puzzles in which solving one problem creates 14 more, and we’ve managed to shove one another into these ridiculous either-or-shaped corners where we feel forced to say disgustingly dishonoring, devaluing, and dehumanizing things for the purpose of protecting our fragile egos because we’re so damn unwilling to say, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” Hell, most of us won’t even say, “That’s an interesting perspective. Let me think about that.” Wanna know why we don’t say that? Because it feels dangerous, so we busy ourselves formulating our defense instead of listening. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of humility.

If we listen, we might have to consider the reality that Kim Davis has worth and courage and integrity and so does the same-sex couple standing in front of her–regardless of our own convictions and our own definitions of right and wrong.

If we have real, thoughtful conversations we might have to concede that #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter are not antonyms. 

If we listenreally listen, rather than just seeking information that validates the opinions we already hold—we might discover that it’s entirely possible for Planned Parenthood to be doing incredible good and have some questionable practices worth investigating.

If we’re willing to even try to understand another’s point of view, it might dawn on us that transgender people aren’t just trying to trick their way into the opposite gender’s bathroom and that it’s not quite as simpleas much as LGBTQIA advocates want it to beas,”Well, if she says she identifies as female, she gets to use the female locker room.”

If we stop arguing for just a moment, we might realize that, in many ways, we’re being pitted against one another by a media empire whose very survival depends on the if-it-bleeds-it-leads principle and we depend on that same industry to help us understandand even influencewhat’s happening around us.

If we stop and take a deep breath before we open our mouths, we might remember that when we say nasty things about a group of people, we’re quite likely unknowingly talking to someone in that group–or, at the very least, to people who care deeply about someone in that group.

If we all put away our bullhorns and soapboxes, we might come to understand that my experience–which is different from your experience–doesn’t make either of our experiences “wrong.” And oh my goodness, what might happen if we stop othering one another? 

Let’s try an experiment. Sometime in the next week, have a conversation with someone who has a different opinion about something—anything. Start small, if you have to: You can talk about Arby’s v. Lion’s Choice for all I care. Just intentionally find a point of disagreement and see if you can drop yourself into the other person’s perspective for a minute or two. And remember, you don’t have to agree with an opinion to affirm it.

“Oh, I think I see it now. The type of bun really matters to you, and you have a tough time with those onion buns at Arby’s. I’m not exactly sure how that feels, but I can tell it’s a big deal for you.”

Yes, okay: That’s a ridiculous example. Just try it, and let me know how it goes, mkay?

And if you ever, ever hear, “in my humble opinion” come outta my mouth, stuff an onion bun in there, would ya?

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

It was October or so—a little brisk, but not yet parka weather—and I’d just picked up my girls from preschool. I was a single mom, I worked as a case manager for families receiving government assistance, and I was perpetually exhausted. Still—and this will come as a shock to those of you who know me well—I more often than not managed to muster the energy to prepare reasonably nutritious meals. (I mean, I’m counting breakfast cereal as “reasonably nutritious,” and it does too count as cooking because the proper milk-to-crunchberry ratio is tricky. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi.)

Anyway, on this particular night, I couldn’t imagine doing anything kitchen-ish, and I knew we were out of cereal (except for Grape Nuts, which, let’s be honest, could double as fish tank gravel or the stuff they put under swings on the playground). I said a prayer of thanks for whoever invented drive-thrus, and I swung into the line of mini-vans at McDonald’s.

“What toys do they have, Momma?”

“Looks like a princess Barbie or a Hot Wheels car.”

“Yay! I want the car! Can I have the car? I really want the car! I can use it on my new track! Can I play with it when we get home? Can I take it in the bathtub? Why do they call them Hot Wheels anyway? My chicken nuggets will be hot, so I’ll have to blow on them. Can we go swimming tomorrow?” (Little kids are so great.)

We pulled up to the speaker. “I’d like two chicken nugget Happy Meals, please.”

“Boy toys or girl toys?”

“Your toys have genitalia?”

No, I didn’t actually ask that question. I said, with only the tiniest hint of self-righteous, feminist snark, “Ummm. Well, they’re girls. And they would like the cars, please.”

I wouldn’t let my girls grow up thinking their playtime, interests, and career aspirations should be limited by their gender. I didn’t actively prevent them from playing with dolls and kitchen sets and sparkly things; but, I also didn’t actively prevent them from playing with dump trucks and action figures and water guns. (Except not the water guns because guns are bad.) (That’s not the focus of this post, though, so no fair arguing that point.)

And no, I’m not being overly sensitive. Our kids learn through play. They develop their world-view through play. They come to understand relationships through play.

So, as you might’ve guessed, I’m cool with Target’s decision to remove gender-specific labels from toy shelves and bedding aisles. Apparently, some people are not cool with it though, and have, in fact, added this decision to their List of Infuriating Things. I’m trying to understand that reaction. I really am. But I can’t quite get there.

As far as I can tell, here’s what happened:

1. Target decided to remove some signs. Like this one:

2. Some people made lots of assumptions, took social media posts as truth without verifying facts, wrote nasty things to Target, about Target, and about the LGBT community—even though the company’s decision had nothing whatsoever to do with sexuality, and then vowed to never-ever shop there again. 

And here’s what did not happen:

1. Target issued a statement denying the very existence of “boys” and “girls.”

2. Target announced a plan to merge the men’s and women’s bathrooms and mix all the boy and girl clothes together in a big pile in the middle of the store, where busy parents will have to dig for hours to find what they came to purchase.

3. In a private conversation with Franklin Graham, the company confessed its plan for world domination: Eliminate pink and blue from the color spectrum, effectively shutting down gender reveals and leaving parents hopeless to determine their child’s sex. Mayhem! Pandemonium!

4. Target R&D has developed eye-scanning, laser technology that will penetrate our kids’ brains and mess with their sexuality if they gaze too lovingly upon the “wrong” linens. A girl’s eyeing the TMNT pillow cases? Zap! Lesbian. A boy’s thinking about the ruffly, lavender bedspread? Zap! Gay.

I know what you’re thinking: She’s blowing this waaaaaaay out of proportion. I wish I were. Those examples up there? Those are based on actual Facebook comments I’ve read over the last couple of days. People are truly convinced that Target is pandering to a small, vocal, ultra-liberal group of hippie parents, and by taking down their gender-based signage, they’re contributing to ‘Merica’s moral decay.

You guys, if this is what’s getting our panties in a twist (which, if you believe the Facebook comments, will soon be incredibly difficult to find in the new store layout), we’re in a heap of trouble. And if you’re all wound up from a biblical perspective, I think I can help out: Jesus doesn’t care if our sons are marching around with tiaras on their head, a stuffed unicorn in one hand, and a nerf gun in the other. Jesus doesn’t care if our daughters’ Christmas list included a football helmet, tickets to the drag races, and a My Little Pony tshirt.

Here’s what I think Jesus does care about: That our kids are kind to their friends who play football and to their friends who love ballet—without regard to gender.

That’s our job, you know. With or without Target.

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.

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.

Climbing Out of the Briar Patch


Here’s the other reason we don’t love one another: It’s just too much work.

We get tolerance confused with love, but that’s actually apathyWe think simply ignoring jokes that marginalize people because of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic situation, or sexual orientation is love, but that’s actually cowardiceWe think who am I to judge is love, but that’s actually lazinessWe think writing blog posts and sermons about about how Jesus tells us to love people is love, but that’s actually just… well, it’s just not: “Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close” (Søren Kierkegaard).

In other words, we think we’re loving people, but in reality we’re doing not much of anything. At all.

And I can’t decide if I’m more frustrated at the Church when it’s finger-pointing and name-calling and happily telling “those people” how they’re wrong and where they’re going at as a result . . . or when it’s doing not much of anything at all.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had an opinion on that:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.  . . . There was a time when the Church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. (Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963)

Here’s the in-my-face problem: “The Church” at which I’m frustrated—and in which MLK, Jr. was disappointed—isn’t an “it.” The Church is me.

I’ve been around, in, and about the Church for so long—and, as a result, have had so many disheartening experiences—that I all too easily slip into the briar of cynicism. Honestly, it’s been much more comfortable sitting among those thorns, leveling criticisms, than it is to fight my way out of them. But then Shane Claiborne had to go and smack me around a bit:

We decided to stop complaining about the church we saw, and we set our hearts on becoming the church we dreamed of.” (Irresistible Revolution, 2006)

The Church I dream of requires that we–I–love people: unapologetically, actively, immediately. That is just really stupid hard to do. Know why? Because love requires a willingness to be exposed, disliked, ridiculed, mocked; it requires a commitment of time, energy, emotion, resources; it requires a readiness to be wrong, to risk, to repent, to reconcile.

Well? Today, I’m willing, committed, and ready. 

Eh . . . maybe it’s more honest to say I want to be those things.

So, if you see me walking around bloody for a little while, it’s okay: I’m just climbing out of the briar patch, and I’m trying like crazy to become the church I’ve dreamed of.

Join me?

Why We Don’t Love One Another

Far From the Tree

When I’m in the car, I listen almost exclusively to NPR. To be perfectly honest, I began doing so because I felt super-hip saying, “Hey, did you hear that piece on NPR this morning?” What’s going on in my head in those moments is, “I listen to NPR, so I must be way-smart and cool, and so you must like me. Right? Please say I’m right. Please like me.” Over time, though, I began to actually, you know, learn stuff. And feel stuff. And wonder about stuff I’d never thought of before.

I was driving my little Honda Fit home from Columbia one afternoon when I heard a piece I just couldn’t shake. The gentleman being interviewed, Andrew Solomon, had a gravelly voice, and he so carefully constructed his phrases that I thought he was surely reading from a manuscript. He was talking about conversations he’d had with Peter Lanza, the father of Adam Lanza—the young man who, before shooting himself, killed his mother, six teachers, and 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. I was heartbroken for Lanza, who confessed that although he loved his son, he wished he’d never been born.

I’d only heard part of the interview, so the moment I got home, I searched online for Solomon and discovered that he’d written a book called Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. So, I did what I do: I went immediately to Kelley’s Happy Place #2, Barnes and Noble, and bought it.

(This isn’t really a book review, I promise, so hang with me for a minute or two.)

Far From the Tree is a series of essays exploring the lives of children who are different from their parents in drastically different ways—children who are deaf or are dwarfs; children who have autism, schizophrenia, down syndrome, or disabilities; children who are prodigies; children who commit crimes, were conceived in rape, who are transgender. I spent nearly a year soaking in this book, and not only because it’s 702 pages long (962 if you count the notes, bibliography, and such). It took me so long getting through it because there’s just so much humanity in there that it was difficult to take in quickly.

The New York Times Book Review had this to say about Far From the Tree: “A book everyone should read, and there’s no one who wouldn’t be a more imaginative and understanding parent—or human being—for having done so.” Yes. Absolutely. Before I read it, I would’ve described myself as empathic—maybe even forward-thinking. This book cracked my head and my heart wide open. So much more than I could’ve imagined.

I’m sickened when people are treated as “less than.” Any person. In my past life, when I did counseling, I found myself extending compassion to a child who’d been molested by his father–and simultaneously extending grace to that father as he was being led out the door of his home by law enforcement. When I hear about rioters and looters, my first thought isn’t, “What is wrong with them?” It’s “What’s wrong with the world that this is the way people try to be heard?” When I hear the hateful language being spewed about people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender; women who’ve chosen to have an abortion; or people with a religious preference that differs from their own, I want to shake my fists and scream, “These are human beings you’re talking about. They’re not an issue or a debate to be had.”

I don’t think like this because I’m a saint (but you knew that) or because I’m one of those hippie-NPR-listening-tree-huggers (which may or may not be true). I think like this because I’ve been instructed to. We’re supposed to love one anotherThat’s not a polite suggestion. It’s not limited to people who look and think and act and talk just like we do. I’m not always good at this. I don’t always say nice things about ultra-conservative, evangelical Christians, for example. My sweet husband (whom I’m sure you’ll meet in a post at some point) accused me over the summer of being so open-minded that I’ve become close-minded. That observation broke me.

Here’s the bottom line: I think we don’t love one another because we don’t know one another. I said the other day that authenticity breeds kindness. So does listening—whether face-to-face or through a book like Far From the Tree. You’ll hear me say this a lot: I’m not suggesting that we all need to change our opinion on issues. I’m only suggesting that we need to change our opinion about people. 

I don’t know how else we’ll be able to love them.