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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What you need to know... and what I need to know.

Lots of silence. I've heard precious little about Tamir Rice from people in my community. Back when he was shot and killed last November, I didn't hear much. And now that we've learned that the people responsible for his death won't be indicted, I still haven't heard much.

I understand that white people aren't always equipped to discuss matters of race. People fear saying the wrong thing, many of us aren't raised with any level of comfort around talking about race. I get that. And maybe people aren't watching the news. Maybe you really don't know about what happened to 12 year-old Tamir and his family.

So here's what you need to know:

Last November, a 12 year-old boy named Tamir was shot and killed by police for having a toy gun on a playground.  The 911 call indicated that it was likely a toy and that he was a juvenile. That important information wasn't relayed to police and he was shot by a police officer within two seconds of police arrival. And there's a video of the entire incident. This week we learned that the two police officers involved in shooting 12 year-old Tamir Rice will not be indicted.

You need to know that although Tamir didn't die until the next day, no one offered him any aid for 4 minutes. Police officers stood around a 12 year-old boy they had just shot and did nothing for four minutes.

You need to know that when his 14 year-old sister came running over to help him, she was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a police car to watch her brother die. The same police officers who stood around and failed to render aid to the 12 year-old they had just shot, handcuffed his big sister. Audio from the scene reports that she was saying "He's moving! He's still alive."

You need to know that the the police officer who shot him had been identified by a former police force as having had a "dangerous loss of composure" during firearms training. He had been labelled as not being emotionally equipped to handle the stresses of the job.

You need to know that this happened in an open-carry state. So even if Tamir had been a grown man with a gun on the playground, there was nothing he was doing that was illegal.

You need to watch the video. I normally don't advocate watching violence. But this happened here. In our country. To a child. You need to see for yourself how quickly Tamir was shot, how his sister (also a child) was treated, and how long it took for anyone to provide any aid.  Citizens and all of our good police officers deserve better than this: no indictment means no accountability for police officers who act like this.

And then there are some things I need to know. Why would we stay silent when something like this happens? I don't understand how any of this is acceptable, how any of us could not be moved to tears, to anger, to frustration, to SOMETHING, to know that this has happened. Police officers, people we trust to protect us, not only killed this boy but the system isn't going to even try to hold them accountable for their actions. Supporting our police means holding them accountable when they go awry. Good officers know this. Good officers want this. This isn't anti-police by any means.

Christians... Jesus gave us the tall order to love our neighbor as ourselves. He said that's how we can show how much we love God. There's a mother out there who not only lost her little boy, but whose daughter was traumatized by seeing it happen. A mama who's daughter was thrown to the ground and handcuffed when she ran to help her little brother as he lay dying on the ground, shot by the people who were supposed to keep her safe. She is our neighbor. We need to stand with her and call for justice.

Christians... that same tall order calls for us to love those police officers. I don't know what has happened to them in their lives that brought them to the point that they could shoot a child and then stand around not helping him. But they deserve to be held accountable. Saying that their actions that day were acceptable is enabling a broken system and is no way to love them. We need to call for justice for them as well. They are our neighbors too. Give them justice and a chance to change, a chance to provide some kind of restitution.

And I need to know: if you don't care about this now, what will you say to me when it happens to my child? Will you speak up then? Because by then I'll have lost my baby. What Tamir did wrong on the playground that day was have the wrong color skin. The system that is failing to provide justice for Tamir is sending me a message: the life of one of my children is much less valuable than that of the other two.

Silence about this sends that same message.

I need to know if you understand how harmful your silence is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Calling All Elf Parents!

from huffingtonpost.com 
Are you an Elf Mom? Or an Elf Dad? Welcome! Let's have a little chat...

If you are anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with your Elf. Our Elf's name is Clark. And I love how much my kids love Clark. I love their excitement when they find him in a new spot. I dislike, however, that I never seem to remember that Clark exists until AFTER I've gotten into bed. If I had a penny for every time I said, "Dangit! I forgot to move Clark!" I could probably fund Christmas for everyone. I also dislike the crazy weirdness that Elfhood somehow sparks in parents when we compare ourselves to one another based on our Elf-selves.

My challenge to all of us, Elf Moms & Dads, is to remember the cool stuff about the Elf tradition. Elves, much like the moms & dads behind them, have different personalities, different energy levels and differing amounts of buy-in to this whole ordeal. I love that every family does their Elf-thing differently. In my family, although we do believe in Santa, we don't teach our kids that Santa only brings toys to good kids. It just doesn't jam with our parenting style to use Santa for behavior modification. And it's so nice that our Elf falls in line: we don't read the book, and Clark has become more like a liason between Santa & my kids. They send Santa notes through Clark sometimes but there's nothing about being good or reporting on behavior. It works for us.

All this diversity in the Elf community also means that some Elves will be a little more lazy. Some will insist upon good behavior. Some will be over-the-top. Some will be creative and some, like Clark, will never intend to move every single day anyway. And all of that is okay.

We love to hate each other on the internet, don't we? I admit I have gotten a little eye-rolley over some particularly fabulous Elf photos I've seen on social media. And I've nodded along as I've read articles about how parents need to keep their Elf-mania in check.

But you know what? Someone else's fabulous Elf-skills really aren't hurting me and my family. That comparison & judging is all in my own head. My kids have come home and said, "So & so's Elf brought them money!" Or "So & so's Elf had elf-sized donuts for breakfast and has a new outfit every day!" It's tempting to think that the Elf Mom or Dad behind Super-Elf is making me look bad. But they really aren't. I can calmly say, "Hmmm... why don't you leave some of your cereal out for Clark for tomorrow?" or I can even just say, "How cool!" and leave it at that.  It's okay for kids to see that life looks different for different people sometimes. It might even build character or something crazy like that.

So let's stop judging and comparing one another through our Elf-selves. If you have phenomenal Elf-skills and have decided that it's worth your time to do amazing Elf-antics, I applaud you! I'm glad there are fun people like you out there in the world. I do actually enjoy seeing the pictures of the over-the-top stuff you do.  And I promise not to roll my eyes at you this year. Are you a lazy Elf or a forgetful Elf? Have you decided that amazing Elf-scenes just aren't worth your time? No worries. Solidarity, friend - I'm in this camp. And I bet the amazing Elf Parents will promise not to roll their eyes at our lackluster attempts at Elfhood.

And I have a Christmas present for you: some Elf Printables! Just print these cards & cut 'em out. Now you have a fun little card to stick in your Elf at 2 am when you've woken up out of a deep sleep haunted by the sudden realization that you forgot to move the damn Elf. I always plan for my Elf to stay in the same spot a few times so that it doesn't seem weird on the days I forget (planned laziness: it's an acquired skill). I also included our "Minivan Express" tickets. I have our Elf bring them every year on the morning that we were already planning to go drive around & look at Christmas lights. And, of course, feel free to use these cards to create a flawless Elf scene involving your children's toys and some flour. Or something.

You'll also find the tags I use for our gifts from Santa. We do the "something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read" thing and it has really helped me keep a handle on not making Christmas about all the stuff.

I love y'all. Parenting is hard. Our Elves don't have to make it harder. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Buying Guide

A few weeks ago, I posted a challenge to get all your Christmas shopping done by December 1. That's tomorrow. Are you done? I'm not. But I'm close!

So if you aren't done yet, here's your rescue! Finish up your holiday shopping at these amazing places!

For Kids:

Kiva Loan -

Give your kids a Kiva Loan! www.kiva.org. This is a loan based on the Grameen bank principle (learn more about this Nobel Prize Winning idea here) to give people in poverty a loan so that they can buy what they need to start up their business - this empowers them to be self-sustaining. The way Kiva works is really cool: your kiddo gets the gift card (minimum of $25) and then he/she gets to go online and look at all the people/projects to invest in. Kiddos pick who they want to lend their money to and they will receive regular updates on how that individual is doing! The loan is then paid back and your kids can choose to take the money for themselves (it has to go into a paypal account) OR they can choose roll it over again to invest in another person.

Connected in Hope - www.connectedinhope.org or check them out on FB: www.facebook.com/ConnectedinHope


Connected in Hope has two adorable kid-sized scarf options. See their Kid Collection here! A fair-trade scarf that helps a mama in Ethiopia earn a sustainable wage, free from the abuse, stigma, and trauma of carrying heavy loads down Mt Entoto. They also have a super-cute scarf & book bundle - you get "My first book of Amharic words" with a pronunciation sheet and a scarf!


Self-promotion alert:
My fundraiser tosend Rob to Swaziland next year is still going on! I have some great kid stuff on my Facebook Album: personalized ornaments, paint-your-own-canvas kit, bag tags for backpacks, bracelets & earrings for girls. You can check it out here!








Jewelry & Accessories:
oh so many amazing options!

Heart for Africa - if you live here in Greensboro, I have a box full of Heart for Africa jewelry you can check out! 100% of the proceeds go to support Heart for Africa. While HfA has a Children's Home for abandoned or relinquished children, they also work to support moms who want to keep their children. Khutsala Artisans can live on the farm, receive training to learn how to make the jewelry and then work in the Khutsala shop to earn a sustainable wage. And their children get to attend school at Project Canaan Academy for free while they live & work on Project Canaan. Amazing.
Not local? Check out their online shop here (free shipping Monday & Tuesday too!): https://squareup.com/market/heart-for-africa



Connected in Hope - looking for the perfect leather bag this Christmas? Ethiopian leather is among the finest in the world and Connected in Hope has fair-trade leather bags. Y'all - they are gorgeous! Connected in Hope also has amazing jewelry and scarves (I own a lot of their stuff and I get compliments EVERY TIME I wear something of theirs): http://www.connectedinhope.org/shop/.  Not only are their products fair-trade (providing a sustainable wage for their workers so that they can provide for their families), but they provide free education for the children & grandchildren of their Artisans. Our family sponsors one of their preschoolers and it has been such a blessing for us to get updates on that sweet boy and his family!



Clothing
One of my favorite places to buy clothing is Elegantees. They have fair-trade clothing, sewn by women who were rescued out of the sex trade in Nepal. I know buying clothes for others can be tricky, so I'm so excited to see that they offer gift cards. I have LOVED everything I've ever bought from them - it's all comfy (a requirement for me) and cute. And I've found that their sizing runs true-to-size
http://elegantees.com/products/gift-card



Stocking Stuffers 
I love buying stocking stuffers from Thistle Farms. They are based here in the US - in Nashville, TN, with women from hard places. Women survivors of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution can live in their therapeutic residential program and then find employment in one of their storefronts or in making the lovely bath & body products!


Ten Thousand Villages is another fabulous place to find gifts & stocking stuffers. And if you check out their website before midnight tonight, they have 12 items on sale for 70% off! And the Artisans still are paid their full-wage.


Donations:
What do you give the person who has everything? A donation in their honor. The gifts I remember most are the times when someone has donated in my name to an organization that I care about and then given me a small token to remind me of the gift (for example, one year I someone donated a flock of chicks to heifer.org and gave me a little chick beanie baby).  Looking for great places to donate? I gotcha covered:

Did you know there are an estimated 30 million people entrapped in slavery today? Say that out loud: "TODAY, there are THIRTY MILLION people in slavery." That's insane. Slavery isn't part of our history - it's part of our present.  I'm participating in Dressember this year - I'll be wearing a dress every day for the entire month to raise awareness about human trafficking. You can donate to the International Justice Mission and A21 - two amazing organizations that fight human trafficking both here in the US and internationally through my Dressember page:
https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraise/team?ftid=62329
A donation to Dressember along with an ornament in the shape of a dress would be a fantastic gift!


Consider a donation to a local organization. My favorite agency in my city is the Interactive Resource Center. They work to fight against homelessness in so many ways: empowering individuals AND advocating for better services for people experiencing homelessness. How to make this a gift? Donate in the name of your loved one and give them something small & cozy as a token (mittens, a small blanket): a reminder that your gift will help keep them warm AND keep someone warm who is experiencing homelessness this winter.

So there you go... happy shopping!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Homeless Vets Argument



I might step on some toes here. I'm not calling out anyone in particular. I've seen the "Homeless Vets" argument again & again on social media. And trust me, I wholeheartedly believe we should help homeless veterans. I often find myself sitting across from a veteran when I'm volunteering at our local day center for people experiencing homelessness right here in my city.

But here's the problem with the argument: Unless you are one of the few who are already actually working to help homeless veterans, this argument falls really flat.  Intended or not, this is a distraction tactic. Life is complicated, economics are complicated. We can, in fact, help both homeless veterans AND continue to accept the 10,000 refugees from Syria that our country had pledged to accept.  (Side note: there are an estimated 3 million refugees... the US pledged to accept 0.3% of  them. France, by comparison, is about the size of Texas and has just increased their pledge from 24,000 to 30,000. Just so you know.)

Why can do we both? Because right now, this is a made-up issue. There is no organization saying, "Hmmm... should we help refugees OR should we house homeless vets? What to do? What to do?" There's no government committee right now agonizing over a decision, or even being forced to choose between those two groups of people. The tension between refugees and homeless veterans exists NOWHERE outside of Facebook right now.  The reality now is that we do need help with better programming and resources for homeless veterans AND we also should be part of what's going on in the world and do our part to help refugees. Because we would hope that other countries would help us, should we ever need to flee our country, right?

In addition, this sentiment places value on American lives over the lives of those born elsewhere. Maybe you are okay with that. I'm not. And, I'm speaking to Christians here: God clearly doesn't do that. Our Bible never says, "America first!"  Nowhere. The message of Jesus was never "Take care of you & your own first, then consider others." It's just not there. I've looked.

But guess what. If YOU want to choose, you can! Want to do more? Here you go:

Are you concerned about our veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness? I am SO glad. Go get involved. Did you know there is a staff member at the Interactive Resource Center here in Greensboro dedicated to working with our veterans? Call him up & see how you could help. Maybe the gift you want to give someone for Christmas is a donation (or even better, a recurring donation) to help our homeless veterans or to eradicate homelessness in general. They sorely need it.  Check out http://gsodaycenter.org/.

Or maybe you are an advocate - get involved in the cause and connect with the VA here to see what they are working on to help end homelessness for our veterans: http://www.va.gov/homeless/.

Are you wanting to be more involved with refugees? Let me tell you, the organizations working with refugees need some serious support right now. They are fighting crazy amounts of misinformation (tossed out by some of our trusted elected officials, sadly), they are dealing with threats, they are comforting refugees who are already here who have been targeted in the past week. If you live locally, go check out World Relief of High PointChurch World Service, and North Carolina African Services Coalition.

You can advocate for Syrian refugees as well - tell Congress to welcome them here: http://bit.ly/1WZxoqB.

There are so many ways to get involved and be of service. I promise you, any hour you spend helping your fellow man (or woman!), is an hour well-spent. I have yet to regret any minute of time I've spent voluntering, even on the frustrating days.

And if you aren't going to do either of those things, please at least educate yourself on the topic. Most of us know nothing about refugees, or asylum seekers, or even the reality of homelessness for our veterans right now. I get it - it's easy to share a photo or a meme or a link. But it really helps if you get the facts straight first.

Here's a link to an admittedly very long Facebook post from World Relief of High Point. Please take the five minutes it would take you to read it. It will make your life better than a puppy video, I promise:
https://www.facebook.com/WorldReliefHighPoint/posts/10153225113733803

So let's do this, folks! Go DO something. Help out our homeless veterans - they need you to stand with them.  Help our refugees - they are citizens of the very same world we live in.  Go be the change, my friends. We can do hard things.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Advent Conspiracy - a CHALLENGE!

I have a hard-and-fast rule: no Christmas decorations until Thanksgiving is over BUT that doesn't mean we aren't already getting ready for Christmas. Our church participates in Advent Conspiracy every year and we have found that it s a really meaningful way to stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas instead of getting bogged down with materialism and holiday stress.

You can learn a little more about the Advent Conspiracy here: (I seriously can't watch this without tearing up!)



Advent Conspiracy is summed up in four parts:

1. Worship fully -Christmas should be the seasons when love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. When we let go of the materialism and the stress, we can focus on the true meaning of Christmas... and truly celebrate!

2. Spend less - It's just that: We spend less! Don't buy something for the sake of buying. Stop buying crap for your people. And don't spend so much. The dollar sign on the gift you bought says very little about you, your life, or how much you love the recipient.

3. Give More - Give of yourself. Give your time. Give an experience together instead of a thing. Spend time making a gift instead of purchasing something. Or it could look like the opposite of #2 - spend more on a gift because it's fair-trade, making your purchase benefit someone else.

4. Love all - That money you saved by spending less and giving more? Give it to organizations that make a difference (our church gives to people experiencing homelessness and to Heart for Africa). We can use our resources to give gifts that truly honor Jesus.

Simple. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, friends. This has made our past three Christmases pretty amazing.

And here are the new things the Cassells are doing this year. I challenge y'all to join us!

1. All Christmas shopping done by Dec 1st. Figure out what you need to buy now and spend the next three weeks making your purchases. Then you are free to truly enjoy the Christmas season in December.

2. For your kids, stick to this little rhyme and buy them only four things!

Something you want, 
something you need, 
something to wear, 
and something to read.  

We try SO hard every year to keep Christmas day under control. The last thing I want to do is to teach my kids that Christmas is about all the stuff they get and unfortunately I think that is exactly what we do. I understand that Christmas is fun... I enjoy buying cool stuff for my kids and love seeing their faces when they open a much-desired gift. But at the end of the day, I want them to learn that Christmas is about celebrating the gift that is Jesus and focusing on what it means to truly follow him. There's no room in there for ridiculous amounts of toys. Especially when I know come February they won't even remember what they got for Christmas and probably can't find all the pieces if they do.
Confession: we still do Santa, so those four things will be from us and Santa will bring one more thing per kid. I still think five gifts per child under our tree is MORE than we need. Our Santa has only been bringing one gift in the past, so I didn't want to suddenly have him bringing more! Plus, I kinda hate giving Santa all the credit for the cool stuff. Santa at our house tends to bring the less-desired toy. Heh.

What about you? I'd love to hear the ways that you've made Christmas less about stuff and stress and MORE about Jesus.

And because I love to be crafty, I made up a few fun tags for your four gifts! Feel free to print these out & use them!
You can download them here:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Better Boo - Third Edition

I post a variation of this post every year and watching this information spread, seeing my friends DO something about it, has been one of the most amazing blessings of my life. Truly.



Confession: I used to buy the big bag of Halloween candy as soon as it shows up in the grocery store and hide it from my family. I pretended that I was hiding it for Halloween... but then I'd sneak a piece every once in a while a few times a day and long before Halloween arrived, I'd have to buy another bag.

And, of course, I had to buy the "good candy." None of that cheapo chocolate for us. I insisted upon buying the bag that had Twix, Kit Kats, and Reece cups. Oh and then the other bag because it has Almond Joys in it.  Because, you know, I really care about the children in my neighborhood and I wanted to be remembered as a house that had good candy. Plus... see above paragraph.

And then a few years ago, I was shocked to learn that the vast majority of American chocolate was farmed by children.  In slavery or close-to-slavery conditions. I thought to myself, "The companies must not know!"

I'm naive sometimes.

Turns out, the major chocolate companies here in America are fully aware that the farms where they buy their cocoa use child slave labor. They were told back in 2001. And they've done very little about it, other than to rally together to prevent legislation that would have required a label to tell consumers which chocolate was produced without slave labor (you can read more about this here). A few, including Nestle and Mars, signed something saying they'll work towards total eradication of child slave labor by 2008. That was SEVEN years ago and it's still happening. I think Mars at least has signed a new one with the new goal of 2020. And Nestle plans to buy 150,000 metric tons of sustainably produced cocoa by 2017. While that's great, the global harvest is 5 million metric tons... so this is a drop in the bucket of overall harvested cocoa. Supposedly there are some fair trade Kit Kats out there right now somewhere... I need to go check! Let me know if you have seen one!
Photo from The Dark Side of Chocolate

Our children's Halloween chocolate comes at the expense of another child.  This is happening y'all. 

This is happening so that we can dress our kids up in fun costumes and eat yummy chocolate.

This is happening because we just really love Kit Kats (and I really do love them - I get it.)

This is happening because our chocolate companies are continuing to use forced child labor.

It's happening because we are letting it happen.

Americans buy more chocolate for Halloween than we do for Christmas and Valentine's Day. Over 90 million pounds of chocolate. 90 million pounds of chocolate, mostly harvested by children who are beaten and starved, not allowed to go to school. Whose still-growing bodies are suffering because of the hard physical labor forced upon them before their little bodies can handle it. Many who were stolen from their communities and trafficked. All this for my chocolate fix. All this for "trick or treat!"

I want to blame the chocolate companies. Okay, I do blame the chocolate companies. But you know what? They sell chocolate because someone is buying chocolate.  If we refused to buy it, the companies would be in a pickle, wouldn't they? 

What if we supported fair-trade companies? What if this year for Halloween, we gave out responsibly-sourced chocolates? I don't know about you, but I would feel a million times better about Halloween candy if  I knew families were choosing not to give out chocolate that was produced by child slave-labor. As much as I love chocolate, it just no longer tastes good to me when I know that children the same age as my kids had to farm it in horrific conditions. That takes the sweet right out of my beloved Almond Joy.

And I've told my kids. Not all the gory details, but I want them to know. Riley loves Twix (since we only buy fair-trade, he's had just a few when he's gotten them at school!). I don't blame him. But when I told him about how Twix are made, he was pretty upset.  And he and I have searched the internet to find our own Twix recipe so we can make our own using fair-trade chocolate. He's happy we can do something to rectify the situation (and still have our sweet treat, of course).

Want to join us and do something about it this Halloween? Oh, good - I knew you would! :)

Here are some ideas:

Order your Halloween chocolate this year from Equal Exchange. I've gotten their chocolate minis to hand out and have ordered baking chocolate from them. They have fabulous stuff! And there's usually some kind of free shipping or coupon closer to Halloween. I'll update if I hear about it.

Go Chocolate Free. Be part of the Teal Pumpkin Project this year. Find something else to hand out: stickers, pencils, tattoos. And put a teal pumpkin by your front door to indicate that you are handing out something other than food (SUCH a treat for kids with food allergies).

So now you know... and you can DO something. Be the change. Let's teach our children about chocolate and let them help us decide what we want to do differently this year.  I've seen this happen in my family and my friends' families as this information spreads.

We can have a Halloween that wasn't produced by child slavery.

Good news! We don't have to give up chocolate! You just need a list of slave-free chocolate companies. And I aim to please:
http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/ethical-chocolate-companies/

Friday, September 18, 2015

Healthy

Deep breath. I've been trying to get up the courage to post this.

Okay, folks. I need to tell y'all something.

I'm healthy. And I don't look like this:

from: www.womenshealthmag.com
Funny buy not-funny: I googled "healthy woman midriff" and this was the first image that came up.

I am pretty sure I'm healthy. I exercise regularly. I finally managed to get in an eight mile run this week (although if you are friends with me on FB, you know it didn't quite go how I planned). The physical health benefits are nice, but I honestly exercise for my mental health. I finally found the thing that helps me fight depression, feel good about myself, and spend time doing something I enjoy that's just for me.

And I think I eat pretty healthily too. We eat real foods most of the time. But I eat chocolate when I want to need to. And I drink wine with my friends. I don't count calories or even know how much I weigh. I'm not saying those things are bad. But I know myself and I know that, right now, I don't need any extra pressure or standards to try to measure up to. I get enough of that from external sources without doing it to myself.

So I'm healthy. And here's why: I'm taking care of myself: physically and emotionally. I think I'm beautiful. Not physically - I still find myself fighting the battle against our society's standards of beauty. But I love my heart. I fell in love with Jesus and am doing my darndest to be more like him and I know my inner beauty comes from God. Life has given me so many opportunities to act like a beautiful person. I am so thankful for the times I've actually followed through. And more thankful for grace for the times I haven't. When I look around me, I realize my friends are amazing. They push and challenge me when I need it and help me pick up the pieces when I need that too, all while living their own beautiful lives... I figure if they want to be friends with me, there must be something to that, right?

So maybe today your Facebook or Instagram has a "motivational" picture of some perfect abs (along with beautifully styled hair & makeup).  Here's my contribution. This isn't a BEFORE picture. It's not an AFTER either. It's just ME.  No makeup. Hair how it decided to be this morning. This is what healthy looks like. This is a body that's almost 37 (eek!). This is a body that can run. This is a body that eats well, runs around with kids, grocery shops, volunteers in the community. See the stretch marks? This body birthed two babies, one with an epidural, one without any pain meds; both good choices. See those arms? They carried a frightened, sick toddler out of an orphanage in Ethiopia. See the wrinkles? Laugh lines from laughing with friends over glasses of wine. Or maybe a little from caring about politics and frowning at the internet. The bags under my eyes? Oh man, I stressed over that part of this picture almost more than anything else. I just don't get enough sleep, I guess. Right now, motherhood is winning over pretty eyes. Messy hair? I got to snuggle with my husband for a few moments before the kids woke up this morning instead of jumping up and taking a shower. And, you know... hair. Maya Angelou said it's our glory. I'm not always sure.



Social media gives us the chance to put forward only our "best selves" or sometimes our "imagined best selves." It's pretty easy to create a perfect persona. I'm guilty of it too. We all do it.  So here's some REAL for today. I didn't even know how to take a selfie in a mirror - this was an almost impossible task (what's the secret, folks?). And I had to clean the mirror first- see the cleaner bottle in the corner? I kept that in there for y'all. Oh and the scar on my belly-button from that great decision to pierce it when I was 18... lovely.We make such good choices as teenagers, don't we? Keepin' it real, mamas.

So be YOU today. Do something that makes you happy. Love that body of yours - I know it has done great things. Find the opportunity today to be a beautiful person AND find grace for the opportunities you've missed. Beauty has lots of shapes and sizes. But mostly, it's about the shape of our hearts. We've got this.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I didn't want to write about gay marriage anymore

I kinda thought I wasn't going to write about gay marriage anymore. I thought, naively, that once the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal, we were done.

But I was wrong.

Today, a clerk in Kentucky is refusing to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. She's saying it's a religious freedom issue, she's saying she's refusing on "God's authority."

I no longer believe same-sex relationships are a sin. I can no longer say with confidence that the Bible is clear in condemning gay marriage. But I know and respect lots of folks who disagree. I'm not asking anyone to change his or her mind. This has nothing to do with that.

But I do wish we could agree on this: We need to choose people over theology. We need to choose actions that display the love of Christ, that bring people closer to him. God is in charge of the judgment part. We can trust that he'll be fair - he can see our hearts, our true intentions, all the things that others can't see. Jesus didn't come and die on the cross so that we could take God's place as the Decider of What's Right. Part of the problem when Adam & Eve chose that infamous apple was that mankind no longer trusted God, saying instead, "we want to decide for ourselves the difference between Good and Evil!"

The clerk in Kentucky does not need to believe that same-sex marriage is okay. I would tell her she can absolutely hold that conviction. She can hold it near and dear to her heart. But I would also tell her that she's free. She's free from having to decide what others should do. She's free from having to worry about whether she participated in someone's sin. She can make sure that everyone is treated fairly under the law, even if she holds a different belief. She holds an elected office in our government - her job is to uphold the law of the land. She can even do so in a way that glorifies Christ, with grace and humility.

As Christians, we have a unique opportunity to bless all those who come across our paths. God is gracious. He is the God of second chances, he loves us. Nowhere does he say "change first, then come follow me." As a Christian, I can listen to others, I can support them, I can tell them "God is FOR you." And I can even tell my friends when they are doing something unhealthy, harmful, or destructive... but I must first to earn the right to speak that way to them. We can't just do it willy-nilly to folks if we aren't actively involved in their lives, actively loving them.

Think about it this way: good things won't bear bad fruit, right? And we've seen that the strategy of refusal, the strategy of keeping people out, of declaring that we have to "stand on the Bible" or "stand on the side of God," has pushed people away from Jesus. I know of zero stories of people deciding that they want to know more about Jesus when his followers have pushed them away, called them an "abomination," and refused to acknowledge (or denied access to) their civil rights. The Kentucky clerk believes she's doing the right thing. I know she does. But as a follower of Jesus, I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that the nation is seeing her actions, that the nation is seeing that following Jesus means pushing people out, that it means a religious conviction is more important that a person. Her job isn't to define marriage or even approve of it.  If she knows and loves a gay couple and she wants to be involved in their life together and earn the right to tell them what she believes the Bible says about their relationship, I respect that much more.

Christians, we are free from judgment and free from being the Judge. God sees our insides. He sees our hearts. If you believe that he would condemn a same-sex marriage, yet you provide a marriage license for a couple because your job is to uphold the law, he's not going to smite you. He never placed us here to be the Moral Police. He never told us to force others to believe as we do or to follow the same creeds. We get to be free from that. And imagine if we engaged with gay people. If we invited them to dinner, got to know them as individuals, brought them chicken soup when they were sick or a margarita to celebrate a job promotion? What if we laid this "issue" aside and made it about people, about humans, about souls? That couple in Kentucky wants to be married... those are two people, two precious souls. Two men who love one another, who want to commit to spending a lifetime together. I remember my excitement going downtown to get my marriage license with my husband. I remember the giddiness, the love, the respect I had for the institution of marriage and how excited I was to make such a strong commitment to the person I loved.  And it breaks my heart that this couple's experience has been so tainted.

God loves people. I know he does. I believe he loves people more than he loves rules. I believe he'll judge us fairly. I trust him that way. Let's trust in that too and not let our differences divide us.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How we disagree...

This little blog started as a way for me to keep close family and friends updated on our adoption process. I still don't know how it turned into a real(ish) blog where I write about things I'm passionate about. Somewhere along the way, it happened.

And I honestly don't know who all reads it. I see the stats and I know about how many "hits" it gets but I'm pretty sure I don't actually know all of you. I'm sure thankful for those of you who read my words.

Most of the time, I get sweet comments on FB or nice words when someone sees me in person from folks who agree with me. It makes me feel less alone when I hear from people who say, "me too!"  But something else happens: I also get to have wonderful, amazing conversations with open-hearted friends and strangers who disagree with me or who are struggling along with me. We find ways to hear one another, to challenge one another, and sometimes even change each others' minds or point out a different point of view. And, of course, I get the occasional hateful comment. No worries - I've developed a much thicker skin in recent years.

Honestly, it's those conversations that keep me blogging. Those of you who have engaged with me when we differ, the ones who pray for and with me, the ones who say, "I respect you and I love you and let's have this hard conversation together." You've taught me that we CAN have tough conversations, that we CAN love someone when we don't see eye-to-eye, that we CAN find unity within our Christian faith when we disagree on an aspect of what it looks like to follow Jesus. It's the most beautiful thing when we humbly say to one another "we're both working this out... let's do it together." And so many of those conversations have happened on Facebook, a place I typically throw under the bus as the worst place for reasonable civil discourse ever. (Sorry, Facebook, I owe you an apology.)

I wanted to write about it. I want to testify to the fact that in this polarized society, as we head into an election year when everything will be about THE GOOD GUYS (insert name of your political party) versus THE BAD GUYS (insert name of the other political party), true conversation is still happening. We are reaching out to one another, we are talking. We are looking at things from different points of view, we are doing the hard work of understanding each other. Sometimes it results in the realization that we agree on more than we thought. Sometimes it means we find a way to disagree yet still really love each other and encourage one another as we try to be more like Jesus. It's amazing. Y'all are doing that. Thank you.

And over the years, I've come up with some "rules" for myself for disagreeing with someone. These are just my rules, but maybe you'll find them helpful.

1. I don't make assumptions. Just because someone feels a certain way about one issue doesn't mean they'll feel a certain way about something else. If someone is member of a particular political party, that actually means NOTHING about the character of their heart. I don't assume that someone who disagrees with me is my enemy. I don't assume that I know everything there is to know about what it means to follow Jesus.

2. I make assumptions (ha- see what I did there?). I assume the best about others. I assume someone is coming from a solid place, that they are good-hearted. I assume that everyone has a story, a background, an experience that heavily influences the way they see the controversial, divisive issues. And I assume that those experiences are valid (I won't dismiss someone's experience just because it doesn't align with my own).

These are my tried-and-true rules for keeping hate from creeping in. It works. Does it mean that every hard conversation I've had has been beautiful? Nope. I've had some that were fairly disastrous.  But when I keep my focus, when I remember that we are all on different parts of this journey, I'm encouraged, even by the tough experiences. I pray all the time that I will retain a teachable spirit. I love working out the hard stuff with y'all. So thank you, thanks for reading, thanks for talking, thanks for doing the hard, heart-work of being vulnerable and talking about the big stuff. Y'all rock.

And here's a teeny tiny plug for my church for those of you who live in Greensboro: this is the stuff missio dei is all about. If you are looking for a place that keeps Jesus as the center and encourages you (and challenges you) to figure out exactly what that looks like to follow him, to impact our community for him, come visit us! We are a place where the hard conversations can happen. We don't all agree on every tiny thing but we love each other, we honor each other, and we encourage one another to be more like Jesus. We're trying to do the hard things and have the tough conversations. I am so thankful for our little church!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lessons from my 8 year-old: How to follow Jesus.

I have a new favorite activity with my oldest child: running together. He ran his second 5K back in May and has been wanting to run another. So we have another one coming up in a few weeks and he's been getting up early to run with me before school.


Early-morning, post-2-mile selfie in which I discover there are no filters in Instagram that
will make my skin look good next to his perfect baby-skin. sigh

Yesterday on our run, I asked him, "How do you think you can serve Jesus in your class this year?"

And then this conversation happened:

R: I'm not always sure what it means to serve Jesus.
Me: Well, what do you think it means?
R: I think it's doing things that help other people. Because since I can't give God a hug, I can give a hug to someone he loves.

Um, YES.

Sometimes I think we make "being a Christian" too complicated. It really boils down to two things:
1. Love God
2. Love others.

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22: 36-40

I love this. How do we know we are loving God with all our heart and understanding and strength? Look at how we are loving others. Because Jesus said the second greatest commandment is just LIKE THE FIRST ONE! That's how we can tell. The Bible says we are to be set apart, to be holy... this is how. This is it. That's supposed to be our "calling card," our mark. It's how people are supposed to be able to tell we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35).

And you know what? This is actually harder than following a set of rules. It's messier. Christians aren't meant to be defined by what causes we are for or against. We aren't to be identified by the signs we hold, the politicians for whom we vote, or the radio station set in our cars. We love others because we love God. We love other Christians, above and through our differences over exactly what the Bible says. We love non-Christians, we see that they are image-bearers of God, that they are precious and beloved. All that isn't easy, it's deep-down, heart-level hard work.

There's nothing about loving others that means we need to be so concerned about making others behave like us. I can love you in all your weird quirkiness that looks nothing like my weird quirkiness. I can love you when we agree and I can love you when we disagree. I can love you when you are on-track and all is well and I can love you when you lose it and scream at your kids and  hide in the closet and eat chocolate chips. Jesus didn't come for behavior modification. His whole purpose was not to turn us in to moral enforcers. He came to show us how to love sacrificially. And besides, what he's working on in my heart might not be what he's working on in yours at the moment. That's okay. This might be why I'm so drawn to loving the gay community. I think good-hearted, sincere Christians have been thinking we were loving them but in ways that hurt them instead.

So there you go. We can't give God a hug, but we can hug someone God loves. We don't need to work to bring down systems that keep God impoverished, but we can sure do that for the people God loves. We don't need to identify and eradicate systemic racism that keeps God oppressed, but we can sure do that for the people God loves. And on a person-to-person level, we can love each other. Really, actually, dirty-messy-there-for-the-good-and-the-bad love each other. And there might be times we need to be concerned about the behavior of someone we love and we need to say something... but only after we've earned that solid place in their lives. Think about who has traction in your life, who has been there for you in the good times and the bad. Those folks love you. They have the right to speak truth to you, even when it's words that might be hard for you to hear, right? Well, we need to be those people. Want to speak truth into someone's life? Be there - love them. Until I truly love someone, I really have no right to make any comments about their behavior or their beliefs. And you know, once I love them, I just might find I no longer need to.

Friday, July 24, 2015

#Blessed?

Blessed.

Or, to be more tech-savvy: #blessed. (the young people on my trip to Swaziland were sweet enough to help me try to be cool last week. They are the best).

I have a real problem with this word. I don't think we fully understand what it means.

I did a quick search on Twitter and FB for "#blessed" and this is what I got: 

Great day at the beach! #blessed.
Look at this cool thing my kid did! #blessed.
{Picture of me looking pretty} #blessed
I'm so glad I'm where I am right now. I love my life! #blessed
My new car!{or other great thing I have}. #blessed.

Are those things really blessings? I'm not convinced they are. Someone once told me how God blessed her while on vacation and arranged for her to meet someone kind of famous who was inspirational to her. But this conversation happened while I was in Swaziland. All I could think about while she was talking was "Really? God blessed you by arranging things in your life so that you could meet someone famous while you were on vacation? What about God arranging things in the life of the child in a hut a mile away so that she could have food and clean water? Or, you know, not be raped?" I'm often left confused and shaken by what we consider blessings.

I cannot follow a God who "blesses" people in first world nations with new cars, fun opportunities, pretty faces, and awesome vacations while people starve, babies die of malnutrition, and women and children are raped just a plane ride away. I can't believe that God blessed my family with our lovely little home, while at the same time knowing the reason Amani's birthmother couldn't raise him had everything to do with poverty in her country.

In the Bible, blessings look quite different. In the Old Testament, blessings are a strengthening of an individual or a people. God blessed people in order for them to carry out his will, to continue his work of restoration and redemption. Many times, the blessing is children: adding to their number - more people to do the work of God.  In the New Testament, blessings seem to describe when someone fully experiences God, or gains a true understanding of God.  In both cases, the blessing doesn't directly benefit the recipient: it's something used to carry on the overall work of God and in turn benefits someone else.

What if we started talking about blessings that way? My heartbreak over poverty in Swaziland and Ethiopia is my blessing. It's an honor to cry and hurt for someone else. Ultimately, it makes me stronger and helps me do the work God has for me. And it makes me fight harder... not just for poverty in developing countries, but for issues here at home. The blessing of being broken-hearted makes me a better justice fighter.

The past 18 months have been kind of awful for me.  Losing my dad was the hardest thing I've ever experienced. But I have learned so much about the heart of God. I experienced God's presence in ways that I never had before and it both shook and strengthened my faith. Is it weird to say that losing Dad was a blessing? I hate it. I'd give anything to have him still here with me.... yet what God did with that experience was absolutely a blessing. And because of how I experienced God through that difficult time, I am following Jesus more closely. I'm more committed to God's work of restoration.

Life's not easy in the Cassell household these days. We planted a church about three years ago and while it could probably support a full-time pastor, we've made a commitment as a church that we will never spend more money on ourselves than we do on others. So until half of our tithes can support a full-time pastor, my husband has to work a second job. And his current second job is a contract position. It ends in two weeks. He's been applying for jobs for the past 8 months with no success so far. Our financial future is shaky at the moment. But we have this amazing little church. We've gotten to see people fall in love with Jesus. We get to be part of teaching others what following Jesus can look like - how we can be part of God's work to redeem and restore all the brokenness and injustice and oppression in this world.  It's a blessing, isn't it? We've sacrificed our financial security (and on some days, our very peace of mind); there has been no material benefit from our church plant. It's scary... but it's a blessing. I'm certain of it because it has made us decide that our convictions are important enough to make the sacrifices. We've decided following Jesus is worth it.

And this. I want to post this picture on Facebook with the hashtag "blessed." This is sweet Ellie with one of the children at the homestead we visited. She's 16 and traveled halfway across the world to bring a smile to the face of a child in Swaziland. Not only that... because of a last-minute problem with documents, she came ALONE. She had to leave her grandmother and her cousin at the airport in the States in order to come and she had about 2 minutes to make the decision to go.  She planted gardens for the hungry. She clothed the naked and while we didn't go to an actual prison, many of the people of Swaziland are imprisoned by their circumstances, held hostage by poverty.  She visited the suffering in prison. It was hard. She experienced what it's like to be part of God's work this week and I pray that her experiences in Swaziland will strengthen her to continue to follow Jesus, doing hard things. That is a blessing. It's a blessing I hope for for my own children one day. I can't wait to see what God does through that kiddo!



And then there's Sharon. I didn't ask her permission to tell y'all this, but she's 70 (I'm confident that she loves me enough to forgive me for telling you). And she has wanted to serve Jesus in Africa for her entire life. I was so excited for her to come with me to Swaziland. She sat on uncomfortable bumpy Combi rides for hours every day (I even caught her in the very back!). She hiked uphill a half mile after helping plant a garden and crawled through barbed wire. She held sick babies for whom she's been desperately praying. She pushed herself so hard she got sick one day and had to stay back at our hotel. She managed international travel and the stress of getting pulled aside repeatedly by security. And the woman with her in this picture pulled her all around her homestead, showing her every nook and cranny. And just this morning Sharon posted on FB that she is forever changed because of her experiences and that she hopes God will continue to change her. That woman never ceases to challenge and inspire me. What a blessing!



May we continue to seek out blessings such as these: hard days, opportunities to put our own needs and comforts aside for the good of others, fighting poverty, standing up against injustice. I pray today you may be truly #blessed.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Unmoored

I love going to Swaziland to serve.

I really hate coming home.

It doesn't make sense: I came home to my husband and my children whom I really missed while I was gone. I love my job and my friends and my church here.  And I'm certain that, for right now, Greensboro is home.

But re-entry after serving in a developing country is never pretty. Yesterday was my first full day home. I woke up feeling as if someone dumped water on all the circuits in my brain. I made it to the gym in an effort at normalcy but felt foggy & disconnected. And I spent the rest of the day fighting the urge to go to bed and cry.  

I live in a culture where it's perfectly acceptable to focus on myself and what I want. It's not only okay to be selfish and hoard our resources - it's encouraged. We buy big houses and fill them full of stuff only to declare that we don't have enough space and need a bigger house. I've been telling my husband recently about my plan to figure out how to raise the ceilings in our home because I don't feel they are tall enough.  My refrigerator is often full of food that goes bad and I have to throw it away. My kids have toys they never play with and clothes they outgrow before having a chance to wear. Just before my trip to Swaziland, we emptied out our attic and had a giant yard sale and I was shocked to see all the stuff we had been "just holding onto" for the past ten years.

And last week I delivered clothing to some families in one of the communities surrounding Project Canaan in Swaziland. One child's only pair of pants were threadbare and holey in the bottom. And we didn't have any bottoms in his size so we had brought two tops. When the family asked about pants for him, the best answer I could give was that at Christmas that family will be invited to Project Canaan to come and pick out clothing for themselves.

The best answer I had for a child with pants full of holes was the hope that a new pair might be available in 6 months. When my kids bust a hole in the knee of their pants, I toss them without a second thought. And I don't have to run out to buy new ones - they already have many extras in the drawer. And this same child, the one whose only pants are full of holes, put on the fleece jacket we had brought and did a dance of joy. He didn't complain that there were no pants, he was thrilled with the new cozy fleece. And I'm once again shamed and humbled.

In Swaziland, people live on homesteads. A homestead is generally 2-4 small mud huts with thatched roofs. One is for cooking, others for sleeping.  Here's one I visited last week:
Both of these buildings are sleeping quarters - but notice the one on the right is in disrepair.

The rain has washed away the mud holding the wall together. This building is still in use. People sleep here. If it rains, they just get rained on. 


This is inside of a sleeping hut in the rafters just over the bed. Imagine this like your bedside table. At home, my nightstand is filled with a lamp, books, jewelry, and pictures of my family. Here it's one of the few places to stick some tools and store things off the ground.

I'm unmoored. I'm angry. Everything I will do today seems meaningless. I'm going to take the kids to the library to return some books and to Barnes & Noble to turn in their completed summer reading lists and pick out their free book. It should be a lovely day. But instead, I'll fight tears as I look around me, remembering the children with whom I played, whose joy in receiving a piece of much-needed clothing (but not even the most-needed article) was greater than my kids' delight in their free books today. 

I'm unmoored. I'm heartbroken. There is so much wrong with this. My prayers are filled with "whys" and "I don't understands."  It is so hard to look poverty in the face and find hope. It is so hard to return to the excesses of everyday life in the US and not want to scream and cry. I will never have an acceptable answer for suffering. But I will never stop trying to be part of bringing peace and hope. I pray all the time that God will break my heart for what breaks his. And he has. And sometimes it's more than I can handle.

I want to remain unmoored. I want to stay heartbroken. I want to keep my anger. Traveling to Swaziland brings with it the honor and the responsibility to tell the stories. I have a friend who calls me her "personal dark cloud" because I'm the one who tells her about modern-day slavery, about poverty worldwide. But she says it with a smile because she's made changes in her life to do something about it. Seeing the dark makes me responsible to bring it to light so that we can work together to change things.

And here's what I know: Jesus came to bring restoration. God's plan is to redeem all of this. I can choose to make life about me or I can choose to be part of the work God's been doing since the beginning. For me, the choice is simple. It may be heartbreaking and overwhelming but I cannot imagine life any other way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Coming Out as an Ally

photo credit: http://taboojive.com/straight-but/
It hasn't been all that long that I've been publicly "out" as an ally to the LGBTQ community. And I regret that. I've always been in favor of equal rights but I hid. I held my personal views close and kept them to myself, not feeling safe to share. I wasn't brave enough. And for that, I apologize to the LGBTQ community. I missed chances to advocate for you because I valued my "safeness" over you and I am deeply sorry.

I've been thinking about my journey from secretly supportive to true ally. It's been scary. I grew up in the conservative Christian Church (granted, it was in Massachusetts, but it was a Southern Baptist Church in Massachusetts), my husband went to a Baptist seminary and we spent 10 years in ministry in traditional, conservative churches before starting our little church plant, missio dei.

That means that as I have made it public that I not only support equal rights in marriage but have also changed my belief about what the Bible says about gay marriage, I've taken a stand directly opposite many of my brothers and sisters - people I love. It means that some people who love me, people who have worshiped with me, who taught my children, who welcomed me into their lives when their kids were in our youth group have changed how they feel about me.  I've lost some friends. From places where I was once considered a woman with a strong faith, I've been told I'm not a committed Christian, that I've been blinded, that my faith is damaged, that I've elevated my own opinions over the Word of God. I continue to be shocked every time someone assumes I changed my belief because I no longer value the Bible.

I think about my fear the first time I posted a blog post in favor of marriage rights. I was so anxious I couldn't sit still. I almost threw up. I still get anxious sometimes. I added some new Facebook friends recently and as I clicked "add friend," I thought, "Oh gosh, they are going to see my rainbow profile picture!" I still fear. My selfish heart still craves approval from man. It still hurts when I'm told I don't love Jesus enough, that I've thrown out the Bible, when I'm told that I am valuing myself over God. It still hurts to know I'm no longer "in."

But this change - admitting I was wrong about what I thought the Bible said about gay marriage - has come from my love of God's Word. It has come from my love of God's people. The only prayer that has stayed truly consistent in my life has been this: "God, make my heart more like yours." Don't get me wrong - I have a long way to go. I'm still selfish and prideful and quick to anger (just ask my kids). But I also see changes. I feel power to love those that I normally wouldn't. I agonized over walking away from my firmly held belief that God ordained marriage for a man and a woman. I cried. I begged God not to let me make a decision based on what I wanted to see. And yet, as I studied the Bible and saw how gay Christians were in loving, committed relationships, I began to understand just how wrong I was. And the peace I've felt since I finally changed my mind is indescribable. It's that "peace that passes beyond understanding" from Philippians.

I speak out now because of that fear. It was (and is) scary and difficult for me to be out as an ally. I can only imagine just how much more scary and difficult is for a gay person to come out. Can you imagine this? What if the only way for me to be who I am, to be MYSELF with the people I love involved admitting I was gay - risking losing my community, my support system. Risking my life, in some cases. I have a choice here - I don't have to be an ally. I can keep my personal views to myself and leave the LGBTQ community alone. I don't have a dog in this fight. But I can't do it. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, to love one another, to fight FOR (not against) one another. The more I read my Bible, the more convinced I am that I am to put my own comfort aside, to put the needs of others before my own. And if there's ever a time to do so, it's now.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Problem with CLEARLY

"The Bible CLEARLY says..."

I have seen these words about 47 billion times since the SCOTUS decision. I'm actually kind of wondering if anyone in my life ever said those words to me outside of the gay marriage issue.

But there's a problem. There's very little that the Bible is truly CLEAR about. I believe the Bible clearly says that Jesus died for all of us because God loves us that much. But there are Christians who would disagree with me even on that (the ALL part).

Here's the deal: As Christians, we believe the Bible is Truth. We use lots of different words to describe that Truth: inerrant, infallible, inspired, Word of God.

I believe all those things about the Bible: it is inerrant, it is infallible, it is the inspired Word of God. However, I don't believe those things about anyone's interpretation of the Bible. Including my own. I hold my theology loosely. The minute I start claiming my particular interpretation of the Bible as "The Truth," it becomes quite a mess.... um, kind of like the one we are in now.

The Bible wasn't written yesterday. There are layers of information to sift through: cultural norms of the time when it was written, the position and history of the writer, the purpose of the writing, what tradition says. We also have to weigh it against new information (for example: the Bible talks about the four corners of the Earth so until science caught up, the belief held that the Earth was flat and had four corners. Now, of course, we consider that passage to be figurative).

So we have to "pick and choose."

Okay, okay. I know that's a bad word in the Christian world. But we really do. We have to choose how we are going to look at different passages. We don't do it arbitrarily - we do it with a lot of prayer, a lot of study, a lot of discourse with others in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We look at what we've traditionally believed and decide if we still think that's right. We also look to see if a particular view is "bearing fruit" - meaning, is the result of this belief bringing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (are you singing the song with me?).

A lot of Christians like to claim that we own absolute truth.

But this is so dangerous. Guess what? The vast majority of us are going to find out one day that we were not right about everything we believed the Bible said. I know for a fact I'm wrong about some stuff. I just don't know which stuff yet. Look at our history. All of these things have been said are CLEAR in the Bible:

  • the sun revolves around the Earth (this is why Galileo got in such big trouble)
  • Christians can and should keep slaves
  • Women should keep silent in church
  • Interracial marriage is a sin
  • Women in leadership positions in the Church is sinful

We've changed our views on these "very clear" issues through much study, discussion, and gnashing of teeth in some cases. Some Christians still believe the Bible mandates a secondary role for women, but now those folks typically say it's "complementary."

I hear you if you believe the Bible CLEARLY says that same-sex relationships are sinful. I've seen the verses. At face value, it appears you are right. But maybe you could hear me too? I've studied, I've looked at cultural lenses, I've looked at the overall message of the Bible as it relates to marriage. Plus I now know gay people who love Jesus and whose relationships are "bearing fruit." And I don't think it's so clear anymore. I'm not going to tell you the Bible CLEARLY affirms gay marriage but I can no longer say with certainty that there's no place for my gay friends' marriages in God's eyes.

What if, as a Church, we took a stance of humility. What if, instead of the bumper sticker above, we said this to the world:

"We have this beautiful book. It's a love story. A story of how the God who created us is both letting us have the free will to mess everything up but also inviting us to be part of redeeming the mess we've created. He loves us so much that he sent his son to die to atone for all the ways we've failed. We are always working together to hammer out the details, but one of the promises in the book is that God says he'll live in you, he'll guide you, he'll start to change your life when you choose to follow him. He says he'll make our hearts more like his: we'll love more, we'll fight for those without a voice, we'll seek to end poverty, injustice, oppression. We will, together, lift one another up by putting the needs of others above our own. You are always welcome with us. Your voice matters to us. Let's read this book together and continue our path to learn more about the heart of God."

That, my friends, is how we cease to "look like the world." It's not about following the right rules. We don't own Truth. But we have an amazing God, one who will absolutely take our lives and turn it upside down for the good of others, bringing glory to himself and pointing others to Jesus. This is why I'm still a Christian: the hope of Jesus, the promise that he's bigger than any mess we get ourselves into. Clearly.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I stand with Conservative Christians...

photo credit: theblaze.com
I wasn't sure what picture to use for this post: honestly, this one creeps me out, but I think lots 

of folks do link Christianity and Patriotism... but that's a post for another day. 
I've been thinking about Conservative Christians. I was at work so I wasn't at any church this weekend, but I imagined the frustration that some folks must have been feeling in church on Sunday. And I imagined how some church services might have gone this morning. I imagined some of the words that may have been said.

And I want to say something.

To those of you who believe that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman: I will stand by you.

I don't think you are right. We may disagree but I stand by your right to interpret the Bible the best way you know how. All of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus are trying our best. In our country, you have the right to try figure out the best way to follow Jesus and I will protect your right to disagree with me about what that looks like.

I'm not a patriotic person, but one of the things I love about our country is our freedom and the way we protect it. This is a place where we are free to believe or not believe, where we are free to worship in whatever way we see fit. America is a place where people can seek to find and be themselves.

While I secretly hope that Christians will find unity on gay marriage and that we'll all suddenly decide to agree, I will honor the right of those who have interpreted the Bible differently from the way I have interpreted it.  Honestly, I secretly hope that everyone I know will fall in love with Jesus like I have... but I will fight for their right to not to. I will honor the right of those around me to worship how they want to worship, even if it's not of my God.

Here's why: Jesus. Jesus came to restore us back to God. He left an amazing legacy and example for those who would follow him: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:40). Following Jesus' "yoke" meant he wasn't a rabbi who piled rule after rule and standard after standard upon his followers. And he, unlike most rabbis of his day, accepted the outcast, invited in the sinner.  Jesus didn't come to force us to follow a moral code. He came because God is working to redeem everything. He's working to make a "new heaven and a new Earth" (Isaiah  65:17) and Jesus' sacrifice is about much more than giving me a "ticket to heaven."  He makes things right. He is justice and goodness and peace. Jesus has room for those of us who believe that gender is not the defining factor in marriage AND has room for those who believe God intended marriage for a man and a woman. We are on the same team with the same goal: to love all with the love of Jesus. And we have no examples of Jesus forcing himself on others when they disagreed. Instead, he laid down his life for them. "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do" were his words from the cross.

And, you know, we are a country. We call ourselves United. Unity doesn't mean "agree." We aren't the "Agreeing States of America."  Instead, we are a place where we honor difference. I don't want to my government to force me to celebrate someone else's faith... and I shouldn't ask my government to force others to honor mine. We have this beautiful separation of Church and State so that our religious differences don't cause too much trouble. At least they aren't supposed to.

If I may offer some consolation to any of you who are sad or scared following the SCOTUS decision: Gay marriage being legal in the US isn't about religious beliefs. It's about securing the same legal rights and recognition for all. It means that all men and all women can be protected by the same laws and enjoy the same benefits, regardless of what they believe about marriage. And, in turn, the same constitution that protects gay marriage protects your belief about marriage. And none of that has anything to do with Jesus. We can still serve him, follow him, and show his love to our neighbors. Our path hasn't changed.

You may absolutely continue to believe that God ordained marriage for a man and a woman. And I may continue to believe God will bless a same-sex relationship. As Americans, we enjoy that right. And I would love to have respectful, thoughtful conversations with y'all about that.

It's not likely that I'll stop encouraging people to re-think their ideas about gay marriage or how the Church treats gay people... but I will defend your right to believe in a "traditional marriage." I promise.