Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

And By This They Will Know You Follow Me: A Pride 2019 Love Letter

This is Love

I had a friend in high school who was– among other things–overly friendly with all the girls and an endless tease. He was funny, exuberant and had a large, fabulous personality. My boyfriend, now husband, was often irritated by his presence only because boundaries were foreign to this guy. But I loved him.

For example, he had driven me up to Summer Christian Youth camp one year where we were both on staff. On the first night while we were hanging out by the rock where everyone was going for a midnight swim he grabbed my hand and placed it on his genitals. He laughed and thought my irritated reaction and immediate retraction of my hand from said genitals was hilarious. I think I punched his shoulder and called him a jerk, but I laughed too. It was the 90’s, and discussions of body autonomy and consent were foreign. And besides, he was harmless (at least in my opinion). I chalked it up to teenaged antics. I was proud to be his friend.

A year later he stopped me in the hallway at school and said he had something to tell me. We sat down in the cafeteria and he confessed to me he was gay. No pretense. No build up. Just like that he came out to me. It didn’t make sense to me because when I saw him, I saw my friend the flirt and the one who loved all the girls. 

My first response was to say “No you’re not!” I then belittled and mocked what was to become the most defining characteristic of his life in a way that was ignorant and cruel.  I’m sure he was hoping for a more measured and understanding response. My Christian teaching had told me that being gay was wrong–a sin. He was a Christian, I was a Christian…surely he was joking. He wasn’t joking.

I can’t go back in time and do-over my response. I can’t go back in time and tell him that I am happy for him, proud of him, or even supportive in the face of what I can only imagine was certain rejection and shunning of peers and church leaders–including me.

It has taken me almost 20 years to work out my belief systems where same-sex relationships and identity are concerned. I had nearly 25 years of indoctrination to wade through, and that was no small thing. But questioning the foundations of belief regarding things such a same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships was necessary to suss out the contrary characteristics that attracted me to Christianity to begin with.

The mantra of “Hate the sin, love the sinner” rang hollow the first time I can recall questioning the legitimacy of the doctrine that told me homosexuality or gender identity was a sin. I looked back on all of the people I knew growing up who today were out and living happy and productive lives as their authentic selves with their same-sex partners. The conclusion that seemed obvious, though perhaps not at the time, was they were always gay. They were born that way. So then how could I say I loved someone when I was rejecting or judging a fundamental part of who they were? And then I watched news reports on the ongoing court battle regarding a gay couple who couldn’t get a wedding cake because the bakers had a “moral opposition” to participating in their marriage celebrations based on religious grounds. It felt eerily familiar to signs in windows that would proclaim “whites only” or “no coloreds allowed” from the days of the Southern US. And it certainly didn’t have the ring of Christian love that the mantra espoused. But Christians I knew and respected gleefully celebrated the business owners’ who discriminated on the basis of a religious precept. It felt mean-spirited and contrary to the Jesus I had often read about in the scriptures.

And then I thought about my children. Not only did they have friends who already knew their sexual orientation in elementary school, but what if one day one of my sons came to me and told me they were anything but heterosexual? What would my response be? Would I try to tell them their feelings and their identity was anything but normal and natural, or would I try to convince them they were somehow “less than” or sinful. Would I try to convert them to a way of living and loving that fit an ideology rather than love them unconditionally? Loving them unconditionally means letting them know they are loved for exactly who they are. It means accepting their partners, whoever they bring home, as one of the family. It means supporting them and providing guidance and compassion the same way I would if my children were strictly heterosexual. Anything less would feel hollow and insincere. And that was the point. The mantra that tells someone who isn’t heterosexual they are sinners, tells them they are hated for something they cannot control and is something that impacts nearly every facet of their existence. That mantra tells anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum that their personhood is wrong. Doesn’t feel very loving.

But yet today there are still countless people who are shunned by their parents, their families and their religious communities because they came out as LGBTQ. They face endless shame and discrimination. They are loved and accepted so long as they live the philosophy that homosexuality and all its constructs are forbidden. But once they come out the silence can be deafening, or the attempted conversion is damaging. Suicide rates are high still among these demographics solely due to a lack of ample support during a very confusing and difficult transition. A society that for generations has lauded heterosexual unions as the only “normal” way has institutionalized an ideology that has excluded an entire sub-group of people who have never and will never fit into that category. And though there have been remarkable strides to erase such prejudice, we still have so far to go as a society.

I am proof positive that hearts and minds and ideologies can be changed. I was once a staunch opposer to anything LGBTQ and I once parroted the same philosophies that are so damaging and hateful. I recall the boy who was best friends with one of my high school boyfriends. He had always been “stereotypical” of what one would assume a gay man to be. And my friend group in high school would openly mock him for it. I openly mocked him for it. It was the 90’s and we were insensitive Christian kids, what did we know? But after knowing him for years, when he did finally come out to my then-boyfriend, my reaction was again less than supportive. He knew it. I reacted like it was somehow contagious. This friend was in love with my boyfriend. They had several sleepovers during the course of their friendship. They shared a bed. He viewed me as competition. I started  panicking like this was somehow an affliction for ME. My reaction was selfish and wrong. From that moment on, his then girlfriend (Who he had because he was taught he needed to have and was “normal” in an effort to fit in) and my boyfriend were the only ones he would speak to. He didn’t want me knowing anything. In hindsight, I completely understand his reaction. I wish I could go back and change my reaction. I wish I had taken the time to understand and show compassion, rather than judging and condemning.

So many examples have given me hope that the hearts and minds are changing. Pastors who are affirming of LGBTQ people in all areas, even though this still has a long way to go. Entire denominations that are not only willing but endorsing same-sex marriage. Pastors who openly and publicly embrace, support and affirm their LGBTQ children. Christian writers, teachers and worship leaders who are leading the way in understanding and compassion for LGBTQ rights. (RIP Rachel Head Evans) Christian churches who show up at Pride parades to offer “Free Mom and Dad Hugs” to people who have been rejected by their parents. (Looking at you Jen Hatmaker) But where there are glimmers of hope there are far too many accounts of rejection and shunning. Parents who reject their children if their partners are with them, citing they have to maintain a standard of righteousness and can’t stand for sinfulness in their homes. Entire congregations who don’t acknowledge or show signs of support when a long time congregant not only announces his same-sex relationship or his engagement. Couples who are asked in church not to show affection for one another in church because “children are watching”.  Church leadership who post public messages that speak to their prejudice against people of LGBTQ and engage in heated public debate denying the legitimacy of LGBTQ struggles and persecution. Business owners who refuse to serve patrons based on sexual orientation because it offends their religious beliefs.

And even I have received the silent treatment because I have been outspoken about my conclusions. It’s hurt, but I’m sure it can’t compare to the pain and rejection others have felt as a result of my own hateful stance over the years or the complete and utter rejection LGBTQ kids have faced from family and friends.

I refuse to participate in a culture of belief that would erase and delegitimize an entire group of people simply based on who they love or have sex with. (And it should be noted that LGBTQ definitions are far more wide-ranging than that simple generalization, but for the sake of this blog post I am over-simplifying.)  And I refuse to participate in denying them the same rights and privileges I have as a heterosexual woman. And I will welcome my sons’ friends and partners into my home with love and acceptance regardless of gender or sexual orientation. To do anything but is unloving and is antithesis to everything I know about Jesus.

And to anyone in my life who I have judged in the past, I humbly offer my sincerest apology. I wish I could go back in time and show greater love and support for my friends. I wish I could erase my own prejudice and ignorance.  

So on this first day of Pride Month, I offer this as my first step to restitution. Apology. Affirmation. Acceptance. Equality. Love. Support.

HAPPY PRIDE!

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

The Battle for Choice

There was a time I wore the red tape across my lips and prayed for the unborn. There was a time I believed stringently that abortion equaled murder. There was a time I believed that issues surrounding reproductive issues was black and white.

I don’t believe that way any longer.

I personally could never endorse the idea of having an abortion. The idea of terminating a pregnancy is heartbreaking to me. I lived through a miscarriage and the hole that was left in my heart from a child I have never met still remains.

But my situation is my own. I have never had to face issues of poverty, spousal abuse, rape that produced a pregnancy, incest, health crises for the fetus that would result in minimal survival or hardship after birth, birth anomalies that result in brain death or physically life-threatening complications, or simply being unready for the huge responsibility of motherhood.

I raised my children with little to no outside support. I had no physical family support and was left to the responsibility of care primarily by myself. I was married, but my husband had a job where he was away for long periods of time, and so even with the security of a home and a marriage and a regular income, raising my children was at times difficult. To imagine what it might have been like for others in more dire circumstances than me is incomprehensible. But yet there are others who bring children into the world because they did not have access to birth control, or they are in abusive situations where pregnancy is not only a hardship but a complication. Its unfathomable. But all over the world there are circumstances and situations where women are forced into motherhood without the necessary education, support and resources available, and then the children and mother are left to endure hardships that could have been avoided had the mother had access to proper healthcare, contraceptive measures or even abortion services.

It wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to. I was a staunch defender of the unborn. But as with most situations revolving around social issues, things are often not black and white. A friend of mine was raped years ago. It resulted in a pregnancy. She is very open about it, and unashamed of the child that was produced. And her child is a wonderful and loving addition to her family. This child is amazing. But her mother told me on many occasions that after her brutal and traumatic rape, her doctor offered her an abortion. It would have been easy. It would have been quick. But as her doctor prepared the syringe for an injection to end her pregnancy, my friend made the decision to keep her child. She’s glad she did. But even though she too was a staunch anti-abortion advocate, it was that experience that gave her immense compassion for women faced with the same circumstances. She had a choice. That was the important part of that equation. It wasn’t forced on her, she was able to choose to carry her child. And she is glad she was able to. But she understands all too well the trauma that others like her have had to face, and she would never wish that upon anyone.

But the argument against abortion goes further to say these women should simply carry the child and offer it up for adoption. But that begs the question as to why? Why should a woman who has already been traumatized by the invasion of her body be also forced to carry the life that produced that offspring? When her autonomy and her choice has been stripped from her, she should at the very least be able to decide for herself what to do with what the product of said rape produced.

I follow Dr. Jennifer Gunter online, an internationally known and Canadian born OB/GYN. She has been an outspoken critic of certain policies that would strip women of their rights to accessible health care. And what is inspiring and formidable about her is her experience as not only a physician, but also as a patient. In her op-ed about her own experience with having to deliver a pre-term child due to complications and the resulting death gives astounding insight into the workings of the medical community and the experience of would-be parents of fetuses who are ultimately either terminated or still-born. The trauma she describes as a patient, full knowing what it means as a certified trained physician in the field of obstetrics, is alarming. The emotion and the pain her story evokes is powerful. To say that her experience woefully describes what most woman experience is an understatement, because most women are not doctors Most women need to be able to trust their doctors. Most women need to have the available choices available to them so between them and their doctor they can make a rational and informed decision to the best of their ability. And legislation limiting their choices prevents women from making the best choice for their bodies, for their health or for their well-being. But that is what is at stake. Law-makers, who are ill-informed or driven by political or religious agenda, are waging war against women and their reproductive rights. They are saying that the rights of an unborn fetus outweigh the rights of the woman carrying said fetus.

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Another doctor who had an abortion. A difficult decision regarding a wanted and desired child, but sadly ended due to a desire to not see her child suffer. New US laws seek to remove her choice.

But the issue of abortion is not simply black and white as most “pro-life” advocates would have others believe. And the issue at stake is the best health care for mother and child, whether that includes making sound choices for when a woman becomes a mother, or the life of mother and child. Without options, it becomes increasingly difficult for doctors or midwives to make sound health care decisions.

The implication that women are aborting full-term infants is absurd. And Dr. Jennifer Gunter is emphatic on that point. Laws regarding late-term abortions (terminology she says is NOT a medical and is therefore misleading and false, but that is an argument for another day) is limiting parents’ options in regards to fetal anomalies, birth defects that could result in distress after birth or distress during birth, or life threatening circumstances for the mother.

Imagine being told half way through a pregnancy that the chances of the infant’s survival after birth is minimal at best. But having to then be told you have to go through the remainder of the pregnancy, enduring all of the discomfort and emotional distress of carrying a fetus that will likely suffer during birth and/or only survive hours or days post delivery. That is what could result if laws are passed across the US limiting the scope of practice for health care providers. A second-term abortion could terminate a pregnancy and allow the parents to grieve and move on sooner, rather than waiting in agony for weeks and the still living through the same outcome.

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Laws preventing abortion do not actually prevent abortion, they simply prevent safe abortion. I was born after Roe vs. Wade. I was born during an era where Donna Martin was standing up to her mother on Beverly Hills 90210 and encouraging school health units to hand out free condoms, and when Degrassi Jr. High was tackling issues like teen pregnancy and AIDS. I do not have knowledge of the fear women experienced during the days before 1973 when abortion was outlawed and they had to seek back-alley abortions that resulted in infections and possible death. Sexual education, while even lacking in my day, has been instrumental in helping younger generations understand female reproduction, sexual choices and family planning in ways that women only dreamed of. The concept that Baby was asking her father for money to fund an illegal abortion for someone in the wildly popular Dirty Dancing film was a foreign concept and not understood by me until I was much older. I couldn’t appreciate why it was such a big deal to lie to her father in that way, andnI certainly couldn’t relate to why he was so angry about it. But to think we have legislators that are taking our society back in time to these pre Roe vs Wade days is unfathomable. The knowledge we have in terms of science and health care has made abortion a medical necessity in some cases. Women are not using this as a means of contraceptive, as others accuse, they are using this as a means of responsible family planning and as a health care measure. No one does so lightly. Whether the woman be as young as 12 and a victim of incest, or a woman of 23 and simply unprepared for the burden and responsibility of motherhood, or a married woman carrying a child with mortal abnormalities, it is not for the public to decide what is right or what is wrong with her decision to terminate. The factors that contribute to her decision are personal. And should remain so.

For the past 25 years I was involved extensively in Christian evangelicalism, and the party line has always been that abortion is wrong. Life is precious and should be preserved at all costs. But I question that, because the concept of life is more than just a fetus inside a womb. Life is a man, a woman, a child, a dog, a cat, a plant–where is the distinction drawn? Shouldn’t our compassion be for all people? As followers of Christ, shouldn’t our concern be for all life? That would include–the man, the woman, the child, the foreigner, the gay, the rich, the poor, the sinner, the murderer, the thief, the Atheist, the Muslim, the Jehovah’s Witness, the Jewish, the black, the Indigenous, the white, the Asian, the…I could go on. The amount of times I have witnessed evangelical people make sweeping accusations against entire people groups and speak in lethal terms regarding them makes me question the legitimacy of their claims to be “pro-life”. The most egregious of statements have been as of late to be about the poor, the Muslim or the LGBTQ. And it strikes me as odd that a group committed to preserving life would be so adamant about the wrongness of these other groups so as to incite or encourage violence against them. Does life begin at conception, but end once they stop fitting into the expectations of what are considered acceptable standards? It feels hypocritical on the whole, and makes me wonder what was at the root of their anti-abortion stance anyway.

Thats not to suggest that all people who oppose abortion are hypocrites. It would be the height of hubris for me to assume that all people fighting for the same agenda are in fact the same. But if I am advocating for a woman’s right to choose then I also need to advocate for the right to NOT choose abortion. And if that is someone’s belief system, then that is their right to exercise that. But I draw the line at expecting someone else to adhere to a line of thinking simply because someone else will’s it so. That is the antithesis of choice. And the entire basis of evangelical logic is that God granted us free will. It is therefore my conclusion that we have free-will to choose, even if others disagree. Whether the issue is religion, abortion, sexuality, literature, politics or entertainment–the right to choose has been fought for and won for us over decades of wars and campaigning. I do not stand for someone taking away that right from us simply because they have a difference in philosophy.

Women over the course of history have had to fight for the right to vote, the right to education, the right for equal pay, the right to equality and the right to accessible and safe health care. Women cannot continue to be subjected to the archaic whims and philosophies that have kept them powerless and victims to oppressive laws and services. And if at the very least we as a society can’t take a moment and consider the collective experiences of women across the globe in order to show compassion, we might be able to see some common ground.

The story that affected me the most and caused me to re-think everything was one my best friend shared with me, a social worker who worked extensively with children. She said, “how could anyone expect me to look a child in the eyes and expect her to carry her father’s child? And then to further expect the infant to one day learn of its parentage and not be traumatized as well?” When I had to put myself in her shoes, and realize that not all cases are the same, I was forced to see my worldview with a different lens. Our compassion needs to extend beyond the expectation of physical life and aim toward a quality of life for all.

It’s ironic, I started this blog years ago based on a book I was compelled to write in order to provide encouragement for a young teenage girl who had become pregnant at 16. The very same community that advocates for life, and are anti-abortion is the same community that balked at providing spiritual and practical support for young girls who were pregnant and facing motherhood. I was nearly alone in my crusade for providing support for these young girls, yet the same community that resisted providing the support for these young girls is the same community that would condemn them if they were to have an abortion. And I used to be one of them. My participation in that narrative is regrettable.

But at the end of the day, I am still pro-life. I am just no longer anti-choice.

Criminalizing Miscarriages; Year over year DECREASE in number of abortions performed in Canada; Rose vs. Wade, what is it?

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

While America Laughed

The news broke today that actor and comedian Bill Cosby had been found guilty of sexual assault against ex-basketball player Andrea Constand. At 80 years of age, and after a long life in the spot-light, Bill Cosby’s final years will be spent behind bars.

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Andrea Constand surrounded by supporters following a guilty verdict in the Bill Cosby rape case. –Getty Images

Over 60 other women have come forward over the years to describe abuses that span over several decades, but due to statute of limitations, only one of those cases has been brought to trial. Several of these women were in the courtroom today. They openly wept and cheered when the verdict was read. They finally had justice.

This news has saddened me deeply. Not because Bill Cosby is “America’s Dad”, the man who made us laugh and cry on a weekly basis during the 80’s and early 90’s. But because while he was in front of the camera, accepting accolades and adoration from his millions of fans around the world, there were 60 different women living with the unbearable trauma of what he had done to them; the violation of their body and their will, and knowing that they may never convince a world that the man adored for selling Pudding Pops and Jello-O was actually a sexual predator. The cost of our entertainment was far too great, and I fear it is the very thing that blinded us.

I grew up with Bill Cosby. My father loved reading his books and listening to his comedy tapes. There are very few good memories of my childhood that aren’t linked to Bill Cosby.  He was a fantastic actor that played his part so well– he had the world fooled that his on-screen and on-stage persona was his true self–but the art is in his duplicity. The mark of a great thespian is the ability to become someone you aren’t, and the verdict this week proved that he gave an award winning performance his entire life. His trophy is now a 6×6 cell.  His final bow is a tragic end in a comedy of errors.

But then I contemplated about the impact of the verdict and why it was so significant. There is little question the entertainment industry has consumed pop culture. We define our lives around the television shows and movies we watch. The portrayers of the characters we adore are played by flawed men and women, and never has that been more apparent than this past year. Each new accusation brought to public attention has spawned further discussion about sexual misconduct and who to believe. Women who have previously been afraid to speak up or point fingers are finding camaraderie among the countless others who suffered just as they have. But as a public, we contribute to the stigma preventing women from coming forward. We resist believing these women because we are so attached to the body of work these men were a part of, and to admit their guilt tarnishes the craft they helped create. Will anyone be able to sit and watch The Cosby Show ever again without thinking of the allegations levied against its largest star? Its doubtful.

But the bravery of the women who have been stepping forward is remarkable. Even in the face of continual pushback when they try to speak their truth from people who refuse to believe their idols are capable of such horrendous crimes, they are making their voices heard. And the momentum is continually building. And it was necessary, especially after the outcry from women all across the world when the verdict for the Brock Turner case was announced. The victim impact statement was the plea for justice heard around the world, and it was the plea that was ignored and dismissed by a judge who only saw a young man’s talent.

If you don’t remember her statement, here is a reminder of what no one should ever forget:

You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.

A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person…When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing.

On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately.

One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me.

The rest can be heard here. (Her words still haunt me. She had a legal system that believed her, and still she received little justice for her ordeal.)

Brock Turner was sentenced to only 6 months in jail, and only served 3 of those 6 months. The woman he assaulted will have to spend the rest of her life trying to cope with the trauma he inflicted on her when she was unconscious and vulnerable. But because he was a young man with potential and talent, he was excused and his crime was minimized by a lighter sentence.

There is still a public outrage concerning that trial, and I suspect it is precisely one of the reasons why there is such a movement among women to take back the power and the dignity these men robbed from them. Talent and power and wealth is no longer a protector of the guilty against facing their accusers. Whether it be a loss of status, a loss of employment, a loss of respect or a loss of freedom. Some argue that the price of a tarnished reputation is too great, that simply the whisper of inappropriate behaviour is enough to sink a career for any of these men. Some have even said that the women were asking for it, they wanted it, what did they expect when they pursued a famous person in such a way. All of these statements are inherently wrong because it places a greater value on talent then it does on a person’s right to have autonomy over their own body.

Women have worked tirelessly to break barriers for a hundred years in order to even the playing field in terms of rights, professions and status. Women were fed the lie by men in powerful positions that in order to get a head they had to put out and shut up, but therein lied the deception, because the men were never going to allow the women to get ahead. And so long as the men could control and manipulate with sex, they could keep the power. So now the men are having to pay their due. And sadly, the largest one to fall is the one who broke the most barriers within his career. But his success is not enough to keep him from facing the consequences of his crimes, not anymore.

The price of our entertainment should never be at the expense of someone else’s denied consent. Not anymore.

The tragic and the comic lie inseparably close, like light and shadow.

–Socrates

 

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

I Am Racism

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
― Albert Einstein

At the beginning of April after the tragic death of a bus load of Humboldt hockey players in Saskatchewan, a Canadian writer issued a tweet;

It was the tweet heard around Canada, and it was sickeningly ill-timed and in poor taste. Soon afterward she was vilified, trolled and threatened with bodily harm, rape and death.  **I want to be clear, I do not support or condone ANY of the horrendous and vile words that were spewed in her direction. I do not wish this woman ill-will nor do I think she is a horrible human being. But I did not agree with her statement. She exercised her right to free speech, and sadly the consequence was a horrible week online for her and anyone associated with her who publicly agreed with her.

But while her tweet was tactless and agenda driven, she did bring up an issue that was sorely under-pinned in Canada. Her point, while poorly communicated, is that systemic racism exists in North America. She drove that point home over and over again, especially when people would respond with such vitriol and blind hatred in response to her persistent and unapologetic argument.

The conversation about racism has been brought into the social consciousness due to a variety of factors, mostly because a new and rising generation–one not immune to prejudice–are speaking up in defiance of a system that has unbalanced the scales for far too long. Another because polarizing political structures in the U.S. and Canada have become ever more divisive due to a wider expanse between conflicting ideologies.

I started to see examples that inspired me to look further at this issue, rather than assume I was immune to this issue.

Sandra Oh, who played Christina Yang on one of my favourite television shows was interviewed by Vulture, and she revealed to the interviewer that when she was initially offered the part for her new television show Killing Eve, she didn’t realize that she was being offered the lead role.

[So] many years of being seen [a certain way], it deeply, deeply, deeply affects us. It’s like, how does racism define your work? Oh my goodness, I didn’t even assume when being offered something that I would be one of the central storytellers. Why? And this is me talking, right? After being told to see things a certain way for decades, you realize, “Oh my god! They brainwashed me!” I was brainwashed! So that was a revelation to me.

–Sandra Oh

A talented, and brilliant woman who has worked tirelessly in her field and has won accolades for her performances doubted that she was leading-lady material. This woman was born to stand out, yet the pervasive prejudice that exists within our systems of society told her that she didn’t fit the mold.

Naomi Wadler, an 11-year old from Alexandria, made headlines on March 24th when she gave a rousing speech during the Rally in Washington, D.C for the March 4 Our Lives Event.  She was interviewed extensively after the event, and in an interview with Elle Magazine she says:

I once had a social studies teacher who made it out to be that black people in the past had more freedom than they did, and I knew it wasn’t true. She said basically they didn’t have to fight in wars, they could run away, and that running away from slavery was so easy. I felt like it made all the white kids around me believe that slavery, segregation, racism were not that big of a deal.

And once, in third grade, a boy and I were playing a game, and he said how I should be the slave or the beggar woman because I’m black, so I can’t have money. I’m Jewish, too, and that same boy told me that I can’t be a black Jew because there aren’t black people who are Jews.

              –Naomi Sadler

One week ago, two young men were arrested after sitting at a Starbucks while waiting for a friend. Their skin colour alone was the reported mitigating factor in why law enforcement was called in that situation that escalated into a nationwide incident. The incident has provoked Starbucks to respond by closing all of their U.S. based stores in order to conduct bias-education for their entire employee base. A bold move for sure, but one that seems is increasingly necessary in a society where people of colour are being shot and killed or arrested in suspicious circumstances that seem to be related to race.

Prejudice is taught. Prejudice is ignorance in action, and it has to stop. The more we deny it, the less we’re able to have a civil discussion about it.

But even the discussion has become a war of words and sound bites. It’s not enough to simply shove our view point down the throat of others and then run away. (Or log off our computers) There needs to be intentional discussion with respect and dignity. Purporting one race over another has never been acceptable, so turning the tables on the balance of power is not the answer. The idea that “white identity” is being lost amidst  multi-culturalism and diversity is a fear that is being fuelled through evangelist style media reporting from the alt-right. And the issue is becoming a hostile hot bed of the ugliest side of humanity coming into the light.

There has to be a point where we stop, and listen to the experiences and the truth that belongs to people of colour. Certain sects of society balk at the idea that white privilege is even a phenomenon, but when I think about it closely I realize all too quickly that the colour of my skin has never given anyone reason to fear me or be suspect of me. It has never denied me an opportunity or respect.

I remember an incident when I was a teenager working in a retail store. One of my co-workers, who was one of my superiors, instructed me to follow a shopper around the store because she looked “suspect”. I did as I was told because I was the young employee, but other than the colour of her skin I had no reason to see what my co-worker saw. The woman I was instructed to follow was a person of colour, she had long braids in her hair, and she was wearing a large denim jacket. I remember the jacket because I was hoping it was the reason she was targeted, and not because of her skin colour. But then the woman caught me skulking around her while she browsed through children’s clothes. She knew what I was about, and called me on it. I was horrified and speechless. She was mortified and furious. And in hindsight, I couldn’t blame her. She left the store without purchasing a thing.

Twenty years later, and we are no more evolved as a society. The incident from my teens illustrated that prejudice did indeed exist, it was just disguised behind a different rationale. It’s subtle, and deceptive. But now there are hoards of people speaking up, and shouting at the top of their lungs, “It’s NOT okay!” It’s not okay to assume someone is suspicious because of their skin colour. It’s not okay to assume their intelligence level because of their race or country of origin. It’s not okay to assume someone is incompetent because their first language isn’t English. It’s not okay to assume that someone is criminal because they have darker skin. It’s NOT OKAY. If our foundation of belief about a person or people group is rooted in the colour of someone’s skin or their country of origin, then the problem begins and ends there. And it is that mindset that needs to change.

This quote, written by Dr. Debra Soh for the Globe and Mail was so inspiring yet sobering at the same time:

What is racist is placing such an emphasis on immutable characteristics a person had no say in obtaining. As an Asian woman, the way I look has no bearing on the way I think, and to assume otherwise is close-minded and patronizing.

What struck me so powerfully about this is her articulation of something so profound that it transcends the racism issue. There is a belief in North American culture of what defines normal: white, male, attractive, skinny, blonde, blue eyed, tall, able-bodied, straight, and rich. There are a few exceptions to this list, however, anything outside this “norm” is considered less-than. The amount of things on this list that can be controlled by any individual are few. We are born into circumstances and into our bodies– yet we are judged and discriminated against by the very things we have no control over.

Most people would deny they’re racist. I deny I am racist. I do not believe that I hold intentional judgements against people of another race or ethnicity from me.

Yet, truth be told, I have.

I HAVE made initial judgements about someone because of their ethnicity.

I HAVE made jokes about people groups that aren’t my own.

I HAVE mocked someone else’s accent.

I HAVE made assumptions about a people group because of their ideology or their religion.

I HAVE discriminated against someone because of how they dressed or how they smelled or how they spoke.

I WAS WRONG, and I AM ASHAMED.

But what I believe sets me apart is my willingness to be educated and humbled. I am full of remorse for my ignorant mindfulness.  And it motivates me to change and adapt my behaviour or thinking in response.

The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.

–Albert Schweitzer

Nora Loreto’s timing and tactics were poor when she made her statement that fuelled a fire storm of hate. But she wasn’t wrong. Systemic racism and its ugly prejudices need to be exposed and need to be dismantled. Society can not look backward and continue to endorse these narrow-minded and ignorant views of humanity any longer. And once we take that view, we need to take action and do something to correct the behaviour. Only then will things begin to change.

 

Reflections To Help Me Be a Better Person

Status Anxiety: Keeping up with the Joneses to the Nth Degree

One of my best friends suggested I watch Alain de Botton’s video Status Anxiety (2004), and it placed a spot light on some of the philosophical questions I have been pondering over the past few weeks and months.

In the opening few minutes of the video, Alain describes what he perceives to be the foundational reason why our culture suffers so much from anxiety, and it relates directly to the expectations we place upon ourself, or the expectation we think society places on us.

Two-hundred years ago when European settlers came across the ocean and began colonizing the Western Continent of North America, they left behind a class society or hierarchy and aristocracy. In the new land they were building, anyone could become anything. It was a clean slate. In today’s culture, where we live in a class-less society and everyone is deemed “equal” there is a pervading myth that every opportunity and every advantage is available to all of us in equal measure. Men and women are equal and are afforded the same opportunities. Blacks and Whites are equal (and every other race) and have equal value. Rich and poor are just as equally important as one another. But even reading over this list, anyone can admit that this is just simply untrue. But that is the nature of our free, democratic society. The belief that if we work hard enough, persist long enough and continually make choices to be a “better” version of ourselves, then all of the above is true for anyone. We can be the best we can be.

But the flaw in this belief is that it creates an unending cycle of striving to be something we so desperately want to be, and we are NEVER satisfied.

These are the questions I have been asking myself:

  1. What if I don’t have as many friends as my friends do, does that make me unworthy or unlovable?
  2. What if I am never recognized for my accomplishments? What if my dreams are never realized?
  3. What if my house is not the nicest or the biggest? Does that make me a failure?
  4. What if people don’t like me, does that mean that I am a failure?
  5. What if I can’t lose the weight? Does that make me unattractive?
  6. What if the things I write are never published, never read by anyone but me and never appreciated?
  7. What if I never have the latest and greatest toys and gadgets like the people I know?
  8. What if I never get to travel to the places I so desperately want to see?
  9. What if I am not as successful as the person next to me? AM I STILL VALUABLE TO SOMEONE?

The above list is only a portion of the questions I have been asking myself, and I can’t be alone. But the underlying question is Do I have value as a human being? The politically correct version of that answer is yes. But the realistic version that culture subliminally pushes on us is, no I do not have value if I am not “successful”. If I am not striving to be the next best {insert thing here} then I am failing. If I don’t adhere to the latest parenting fad then I am a failure. If I don’t make x amount of money then I am a failure. If I don’t drive the newest car, or I don’t wear the latest clothes then I am a failure. If I don’t learn the latest hobby then I am a failure, if my house doesn’t look like a Pinterest ad then I am a failure, if I don’t subscribe to the latest political ideology then I am a failure. The list goes on and on. But who gets to define success?

The problem exists when we begin to compare ourselves to our peers. The people within our closest sphere of influence are the ones we equate our identity with, and so when one or more of our “peers” advance in a stage of life we believe that we too should be advancing in the same way. A co-worker gets a promotion over us, or a friend inherits a large sum of money or has a job where they make more money than we do, a friends child receives an accolade for something they accomplished, or a friend buys a larger house–it creates a jealousy that makes us look at our own life and think, “I don’t measure up.” When we do that it creates a problem in our relationships that didn’t exist before. I nearly created a problem between a friend and myself when I admitted to my own jealousy that they were selling their house when I had been wanting to sell mine for almost as long. (When I developed cancer last year it put my life on hold and I was forced to put all of my life’s plans on the back-burner). My jealousy prevented me from being able to effectively communicate how happy I was for her (which I was) because all she heard from me was my unhappiness in my own situation. That wasn’t fair to her.

But it made me realize that her accomplishments do not diminish my own successes. It also made me realize that the things I don’t achieve are not a direct reflection of my character or my value.

If I never accomplish another thing in this life or acquire any more wealth, and simply live every day like I am now, would I be satisfied? And if the answer to that is no, then it begs the question as to why? Is it for my own satisfaction or because I am too preoccupied with a deeply ingrained cultural myth that I have to achieve certain things or do certain things in this life in order to be satisfied?

In the past few decades our culture has seen and experienced such a vast accumulation of technological advancements and wealth, has been given access to great knowledge at our finger tips, and has seen the development of a globalized economy. But in those same years we have seen a steady increase in mental illness, anxiety, depression and overall dissatisfaction. Is it because as a society we have become more adept and more open about discussing mental illness or is it because there has been such immense pressure placed on us all that we are constantly trying to attain a lifestyle ideal that is unattainable?

If you have a couple hours to kill, I highly suggest watching Alain de Botton’s video. It is long, and his voice is soothing so don’t watch it if you are tired. But his views are worth pondering, and while he doesn’t provide any answers, he allows us to consider that our happiness is derived from the things we already have and not from what we desire.

Click the link here to watch his documentary.

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

Love People, Whether They are Sinners or Not.

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Jesus never said this.

It’s from St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The phrase has become more famous as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner” (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography). 1

I read online just today about a high profile evangelical worship leader from the UK who recently admitted publicly that had been struggling her entire life with a conflicting idea about who she was. In short: she is attracted to women. She’s gay.

The response from Christians has been to boycott her music, preach to her, rebuke her, judge her, tell her how she is an abomination, how she is wrong, how she has twisted theology, or “comparing my gay orientation to someone “committing adultery, murder, rape, pedophilia or zoophilia“.”

This broke my heart. Let’s for one minute take the discussion of whether homosexuality is a sin or not off the table. She openly and courageously spoke about something that she has struggled with since grade school, and the public response from the body of Christ has been to silence her or shame her?

I hate the phrase mentioned above, because it is used as a means to cast dispersions against a people group that don’t think or act in a manner befitting an evangelical theology. The phrase has been so over-used that it is inherently unloving in it’s application. To begin with, by labelling a person a sinner, as if they were somehow in a class unto themselves because they are gay for example, is unloving.

So it begs the question, what does it really mean to love? The church is missing a huge opportunity to grow in love and they are missing it. Where the church has wrongly believed that the struggle of the LGBTQ person is because of their sin, it is more likely they have struggled against cultural norms that have kept them locked away in a prison of their own mind and body. Furthermore, focusing on the right and wrong aspect of what constitutes morality takes away from the crux of what Jesus was doing on earth.

I listened to this woman’s music. I had never heard of her prior to her public announcement so I sought out some of her previous recordings. Her worship is absolutely beautiful. I was in awe of the simplicity and the purity behind her voice and her heart. And I was reminded of the woman who came to anoint Jesus and wash his feet with her tears. The Pharisees all stood around and said, “This Man, if He were a prophet would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” Luke 7:39  The passage doesn’t describe what her sin was, it has always just been assumed. I remember growing up and hearing pastors inform the masses that she was an adulterer, or a harlot, because those were likely the most egregious sins of the day.

But this was Jesus’ response, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head…Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. ” Luke 7:44-47  Jesus sends her on her way by saying to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” v. 50.

The magnitude of that passage speaks volumes to me, but perhaps that is because I have lived a life where I have been forgiven of much. The verse in Romans that reminds us that we are all sinners is used often but in equal measure forgotten.  So why, as evangelicals, does the church single-out the LGBTQ community? Why is it so important that they be wrong and the church be right? Does their sexual orientation diminish the truth of the cross? Does their sexuality diminish the truth of God and his great love for us? And if the church truly loved them, why does the church spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to silence them or shame them? (or condemn them?)

So the question I leave the church with is this: What does it truly mean to love? If our theology is more concerned with upholding a law or a rule, rather than the concern and compassion for people then our theology is wrong. When the emphasis is so much on proving that a people group is wrong, then how is that showing the love of Christ to the world?

Things That Could Get Me in Trouble

Be Brave

The Western world has become so polarized in their political thinking that it has created a dialogue of ugly hatred. This has been especially evident in the world of Christianity*.

We live in a world where the issues are pushed so aggressively that it causes conversations to become more about the issue rather than the person or people group directly affected by it. When we only see the issues and fail to remember that every policy, every law is directly affecting someone else, we make it our mission to simply have our way and we lose our humanity.

No policy, no law should cause us to forget our humanity.

The solution to our current world condition does NOT lie within the hands of a single politician. A solitary person has the ability to affect GREAT change if they are willing enough to step up and speak bravely, without hate or malice.

The conversation I would like to see is one directed by compassion rather than agenda.

John F. Kennedy was a President who cheated on his wife multiple times, was hooked on pain medication, and yet he was instrumental in bringing about change in the racially divided South. Can a corrupt or morally questionable man or woman still influence an entire culture for change? 

We cannot be so agenda driven that we forget that the things we are fighting so passionately about have the ability to bring help or harm to our society. And in order to know the difference we have to be willing to listen to one another, learn and grow, possibly admit where we have been wrong, and have a willingness to change.

*I am a Christian, and I firmly believe that when we look at the character and life of Jesus we would see that He was a man who saw our humanity first. THAT was why He came to earth and THAT was why He came to save. He wasn’t interested in a political agenda, He was interested in US.