Spokesperson

Last week I attended the birthday party of a newly 24-year-old gay man in a bar. I know that may come as a shock to some of you, and you might even hit “unsubscribe” because of it. Before you do, though, I hope you will hear me out one last time.
I was at a queer birthday bash in a bar because that is precisely where I believe Jesus would be. He didn’t get the reputation of being a “friend of sinners” by keeping his distance from the gritty side of life. And he didn’t get called a glutton and a drunkard by abstaining.

That can be tough to hear, I know, especially if you have spent a good portion of your life in places that teach an image of a porcelain Jesus. You know the ones, alabaster skin, waif-like beauty, clean, manicured nails.

I can’t tell you whether Jesus was man-gorgeous, but I can tell you that he got his hands dirty. Jesus was a tekton, a builder working alongside his father. He hung out with fishermen. He called himself a shepherd. None of these occupations are known for their similarities to the fragrant allure of the perfume counter.

Some of the rest of you are going to be angry because I insinuated that being at a gay man’s birthday party is gritty. You would be correct. It was one of the most low-key gatherings I have attended in a while, and I am a pastor so do not underestimate just how tame things get when I am around.

I sat at a table of people with diverse lives, histories, and backgrounds. Some had boozy drinks, others savored a craft beer, some mostly sipped water. Not one of them expected that the late-30’s mom type who just sat at their empty space was a pastor, except the person who invited me to sit beside them. That person knew my secret identity, but no one else did. So they were honest. Honest about their lives. Honest about their dreams. Honest about their frustrations.

One person spoke about their interactions with the post-worship crowds on Sunday at a local deli counter. One nicely dressed Christian physically assaulted her co-worker because they were out of his favorite chicken. Here was the moment that would out me.

I had a choice. I could have remained incognito, the one person at the table who knew me would not have revealed my secret. Honestly, though, there was no way I could not say what came next. “I’m so sorry that happened. As a pastor, that ticks me off and breaks my heart.” Then I added just for flair, “Next time he comes in, you should tell him you are praying for him.” I couldn’t help it. She would not strike the average church goer in middle-America as being the praying type.

I’m not always a good spokesperson for Jesus. I would guess that all of us fall short from time to time, and I can’t say I’ve never been the guy so mad about chicken that I blew it. (Ok, maybe not about chicken, but other things for sure.)

My point in writing this is really to call my Christ-following friends out of the closet, out of the church doors, out of our enclaves and onto a chair at a table, in a bar, celebrating the life of someone God loves with people whose only interaction with Christians is post-worship hangry-ness. If we want people to have a different view of Christ, a different impression of Christians, we have got to spend more time with them.

I can hear the objections, “But, go to a bar?” Yes! GO to the bar. “Sit with people who are drinking?” Yes! SIT with people. (Ok, sit where you are invited to sit, and maybe don’t start at a biker bar, and make good choices, and be safe, and take a friend.) But the only way you are going to look like Jesus–friend of sinner, glutton, drunkard–is to go where Jesus went and hang with those society has labeled as not enough.

Spending time with people does not mean we agree with all their choices or that we share all of their opinions. What it does in us is to demonstrate the value of those around us, and what it does for them is offer an alternative view of Christ and his church. Those open doors are worth everything.

We have done an awfully good job of dividing the world into “us” and “them.” We hang out with people who are like us, and sometimes in a very literal sense we say, to hell with “them.” I believe that breaks the heart of the One who came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility. It is uncomfortable and challenging to spend time with people who are not just like us. Growth is uncomfortable, but necessary if we are to love “them.” If our personal righteousness and reputation are more important to us than bringing light and life into the lives of others, we aren’t heeding our master’s call.

Our presence with them, hearing their stories, seeing the light in their eyes, will change our hearts. Which is great, because Jesus already loves them. If we truly believe what we say with our mouths, that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, with us at the top of the list, then Jesus Christ died to save those we have too often labeled as defective. And it’s time to peel off the sticker we’ve plastered over Christ’s stamp declaring their worth as priceless.

My friend, whose birthday was being celebrated, pulled me aside and asked, “Is it wrong or selfish of me that I am glad that all these people are here for me?” Three tables, about 12-15 people total. “No, my friend. It’s your birthday, and you are worth celebrating.”

Joining God in loving those around us,
ReFreshing

Two miles

It isn’t a secret that I am a Jesus nerd. I geek out over Bible study in parallel translations with the original Greek on the side. I love the historical context and theological minutia that would put some people to sleep. But I have this one, little problem.

I don’t like it when Jesus says something that doesn’t fit with my view of the world. It makes me uncomfortable, and I am left wondering if there are any loopholes I can wiggle through.

This isn’t really such a little problem, though, because Jesus is always saying things that rub me the wrong way.

Like “If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer them the other.” I wouldn’t mind if Jesus said we shouldn’t hit back, I understand that, but invite them to hit me again?

Also, “If someone sues you for your shirt, give them your coat as well.” And then I’ll be naked, Jesus, what about that?

Then there’s “If someone forces you to go with them one mile, go with them two.” So I should just give way to coercion? Won’t that just encourage them?

Maybe he wasn’t serious, though. Right?

Or maybe he was.

Jesus was not just a religious teacher who said one thing and did another; he practiced what he preached. Jesus was struck, spit upon, had his beard pulled out, carried the instrument of his death, saw his clothing go to the winner as soldiers gambled at the foot of his cross.

So I guess he really meant what he said.

In a time and place where these scenarios were not speculative, but very real, Jesus was teaching his followers that it is far better to be persecuted than to be the persecutor. The Apostle Paul echoed from his exposure to Jesus’s teachings, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” than to participate in systems of worldly oppression. It is far better to be cheated than the one who cheats. It is far better to stand naked on the street after a forced two mile hike, with both cheeks stinging than to be the one exercising position and power for selfish gain.

These things are hard for me. It is not easy to think of giving up my rights, I am after all an American. I am accustomed to fighting for my rights, to standing up for my rights. Laying them down is counter to my secular culture, and in many ways my church culture. You won’t find many churches or even individual believers lately who have rejoiced when they feel their rights threatened. This isn’t a scathing attack, the response is very human. The problem is that it is not very Christ-like.

What is it that will change our minds, our hearts, our instincts so that we line up with Jesus’s teachings? Practice. I wish there was a magic wand, but it seems the only way we accustom ourselves to the ways of the kingdom is to practice what we preach.

When your rights are threatened, go beyond refusing to threaten in return, go the extra mile.

Consistency in the face of difficulty.
ReFreshing

 

Don’t Kill Them, & 4 Other Essential Parenting Rules

My 5 Simple Rules for Parenting

When my first child was born, I read the books and followed the developmental charts like they were blueprints for a nuclear power plant. I didn’t want anything to explode, and knew that if something went wrong it would be a) the most terrible-awful-horrible thing ever, and b) as the mother, it would all be my fault. 13 years and two more kids down the line, I can tell you that children are way less fragile and more resilient than we could have imagined when we drove them home from the hospital at 15 miles per hour.

Everywhere you turn someone else is telling you what you absolutely have to do in order to raise healthy, happy children. They’ll scream, threaten, cajole, and manipulate your emotions to get you to follow their advice. We all want the best for our kids, right? So why is it that many of the opinions we hear completely contradict each other?

My years of experience and seeing my kids survive (so far) have brought me to a place of simplicity when it comes to parenthood. Feel free to investigate all of the parenting options out there, but I’ve boiled my personal rules of parenting down to just 5.

Parenting Rule #1: Don’t Kill Them

This is a vital piece of advice if you want them to live to adulthood. This includes things like feeding, clothing, and providing for their obvious physical needs. It also covers the very real temptation that might arise around the age of “I can do it myself” and re-emerge when the eye-rolling starts. Take a deep breath. If you don’t kill them, they will probably grow up and have children who also go through these maddening stages. Don’t we all want to see that day?

Parenting Rule #2: Do Your Best

Mismatched socks on their feet, their clothes wrinkled, and you don’t know if that jacket has been cleaned since they dripped ice cream on it last month? If that is the best you can do today, great. They are covered, and trust me their teacher has seen worse. Some days my best includes locking the bathroom door with the fan on so that I can’t hear them when they whine at me outside the door. Five minutes of solitude in the toilet just might help you follow Rule #1. You aren’t going to be parent of the year every minute of every day. Give yourself a break and just determine to do your best with what you have.

Parenting Rule #3: Love Them

I know you might be thinking this rule should probably be #1, but realistically I think not killing them wins for purely practical reasons. Love your kids. Love them sticky or clean. Love them hair combed or with rats nests. Love them with their precious gifts of art you couldn’t decipher if you were a master of cryptology. “Is that a dog? Oh, it’s mommy. Thanks, sweetie.” Just love them. Love covers over a multitude of parenting mishaps, and it will most likely help them not become psychopaths. It’s true.

Parenting Rule #4: Trust God

There are so many things in your children’s lives that you have absolutely no control over. You can’t keep them from every danger, or every bully, or every dumb idea they might decide to try out while your back is turned. If you are going to raise children, you need a higher power.

Parenting Rule #5: Everything Else Can Be Worked Out in Therapy

You know that all parenting theory is just that, theory. Someone has a good idea, it looks great on paper, but then in practice it just doesn’t work for your child. Besides, look at how much has changed in the years since you were a youngster. Could we ever have predicted that our kids wouldn’t know how to dial a phone? (I mean a real phone, selecting Grandma from the contacts list does not count.) So much will continue to change in our world, society, and in the understanding of young minds. You are bound to mess up. Besides, therapists are nice people and we should want to support their industry.

As parents we are under so much pressure to be perfect, but none of us were raised by perfect parents. (If you write to tell me your parents were perfect, I don’t know if we can be friends.) All of us are here, walking around as (mostly) productive members of society. Give yourself a break from perfection based on someone else’s theories. You will be a more peaceful parent, and your kids will need less therapy. That’s a win-win situation in my book!

Keeping it simple
ReFreshing!

Labeled

We all do it. We categorize and define groups of people. It is human, we do it so that we can easily identify who is part of “us” and who is a threat. The problem with labels is that if we are followers of Christ, we are called to throw them away. We are called to love, righteous or unrighteous, friend or enemy, advocate or persecutor.

Jesus calls us to love like the Father, who sends rain on the righteous and the sinner and sends the sun to shine on both those committed to good and evil. Did you read that? Not just on those who ignore God, or those who disobey his commands, or on those who disagree with him, but God sends the sun to shine on the evil person!

Who springs to mind when the word evil is uttered? Maybe you have a person in your life, a political figure, a historical figure that you believe fulfills the definition of evil. But wait, God loves that person.

Bigger uh-oh, God wants you to love that person.

What does it mean to love someone who we believe to be evil?

That is a tough question. Here is a short list of what it doesn’t mean. It does not mean supporting or enabling their evil behavior. It does not mean holding our tongue or going along with their evil plans. It does not mean having warm fuzzy feelings about them.

It does mean that if they are hungry, you feed them, or in need of medical attention, you get them help. It does mean that you speak the truth to them as you are able. It does mean not wishing them harm. It means, on some level, wanting good things for them.

This is not an exercise in abstraction for me. It is something I have to actively pursue out of obedience and a firm belief that when I love my enemies, I become closer to Christ. I grow as a person. My world becomes just that much better.

I did this today with a group of fellow ministers as we prayed for our leaders in the coming year. I prayed for God to reveal himself in awesome, undeniable ways to our leaders, and to make them into people that would inspire admiration. I prayed these things for leaders I did not vote for. Some of the leaders elected in November scare me with their potential to create evil in the world. But I prayed for them to prosper anyway.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

The funny thing is that I feel better. I told God honestly what I thought, then I prayed for God’s blessings, revelation, transformation, and presence to make a difference. I believe this will make a positive difference in the lives of those leaders. I believe it will make their lives better, and I believe it will make the lives of those under their leadership better, too.

When we label, and we will, if we are aware of what we are doing then we can act to make sure that our gut reaction doesn’t change the way we treat the people in front of us. We can act with kindness. We can act with respect. We can seek their good.

We can do all this regardless of whether our labeling involves sports rivalries, religious differences, cultural differences, or political differences. God doesn’t give us exceptions to the rule. Love them. Good or evil. Righteous or sinner.

When we love we may just find our labels fading into insignificance.

That would be ReFreshing!

Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is…

We are all busy preparing for the holidays, for me that means Christmas lists and carefully planning the season so that I don’t overdo it too much. Because of my health, it is so important to prioritize how I spend my time. This only increases in importance when we enter busy seasons. (A little overdoing is par for the course. My goal is not to run out of energy and have a complete breakdown.)

Along with scheduling and planning, I have some shopping to do. We have a strict limit for gifts whether for Christmas or birthday. We want it to be enough to have a few gifts, but not so much that we will get pulled into the sensational items of the season. Budgeting is key, but we also want those gifts to reflect our values.

The source of the gift is important. I care about slavery and exploited workers. I care about the environment and want to be a good steward of my resources. How do I hang on to those core values when it is so easy to walk into a convenience mega store and buy the first five cheap gifts I come across?

Also high on my priority list is spending time with my family. My kids are growing and it is so important for me to spend time with them so that they know I love them. I need to impress on them just how important they are to me. It is hard to do that when meetings, events, and appointments fill every free evening and Saturday. How do I honor my family when my schedule is packed to overflowing?

I wrote a question to help me examine my choices this season, as I shop or plan my schedule, so that I don’t walk away with a holiday guilt hangover. It is too tempting to make the quick choice, the easy choice instead of the right choice–the one that reflects my values.

Here is the question I use: Does this reflect my heart?

Before I buy, does this reflect my heart?

Before I schedule, does this reflect my heart?

Is this gift or purchase necessary, is it ethically sourced, how far did it travel?

Is this event or appointment vital for me to attend, will I be missed, does it help me make a difference?

One thing we did this year as a family was drive to a fair trade store and shop together. We have a budget and allocated about half of the budget for each person to gifts from this store. It helped us to spend time together away from home and distractions. Shopping this way also guaranteed that the items we purchased were in line with our core values.

Now, I can tell you that I am not perfect. I am still learning and it takes a lot of effort and intentionality to remind myself at every intersection to stick to my priorities. I am a people pleaser, and it is hard to say no! I also don’t relish shopping, so the temptation is definitely there to compromise.

But my heart’s cry cannot be ignored for long. If I don’t listen now, I will be hearing from my hurting heart later!

Staying true to my values at Christmas.
Truly ReFreshing!

Support without judgment, Doulas at their best!

Ever get the feeling that everyone has an opinion about everything that you do? Exercise, eating choices, your job, parenting, and yes even how you give birth are up for public criticism. I have good news, there are people out there who will listen to your thoughts, concerns and help you make the best informed choices for you!

I am speaking of course about Doulas! Doulas are not people to tell you how you should do what you do. We are there to help you explore all of your options and can help you find resources with good information, and evidence-based conclusions. When it comes to birth or postpartum care we can help you figure out what is right for you and how to have the best chance of achieving your goals!

Do you want to give birth with little to no intervention? We can help you find coping mechanisms like meditation, movement, water and positioning to reduce pain without medication.

Do you want to plug in to an epidural with the first contraction? We can help you answer questions like: how early is too early? will an epidural slow down my labor? should I try narcotics first? what other options are out there?

Are you scared about some aspects of labor and delivery? We can help you find information so you know what to expect and how to cope.

Using a midwife? We are cool with that.

Giving birth in a hospital? We think that’s great.

Home birth? More power to you.

Sometimes people think a doula will push the partner out of the picture, but a trained doula knows better. We are there to support the partner and help them be involved to the extent that they are comfortable. Some partners want to be in there, holding hands, chanting mantras, full-on coaching. Other partners need to be involved in less intense ways. Some moms don’t have partners, or their partners are not going to be present for the birth. Whatever the partner involvement, doulas can help make the experience more satisfying for both mom and partner.

You can find a doula to help you, regardless of your hopes and dreams regarding birth.

We believe that every woman should be supported in labor so that she can make informed decisions that are right for her, increasing satisfaction and reducing the risk of trauma.

Support without judgment.
How ReFreshing!

Silencing the “Shoulds” & Taking Back Your Schedule

I wear many hats. With every hat comes a list of things that I have to do in order to be a responsible hat-wearer. Unfortunately, most days there are just too many things I should do, and I am (by far) not the busiest person I know.

How did we get here and how do we do all of this without killing ourselves in the process?

Here is what I SHOULD include in my day:

Work is important, at least 8 hours a day
Health is important, 1 hour of exercise
Not smelling is important, 30 minutes to shower and get dressed
Mental health is important, 1 hour of reading
Spiritual health is important, too. 1 hour of prayer and meditation
Eating well is important, 1-2 hours cooking, 1-2 hours eating
Keeping house is important, 1 hour of cleaning
Spousal relationships are important, 1 hour of relationship building
My 3 kids are important, 30 minutes isn’t too much to ask for each of them, 1.5 hours of kid time
Having friends is important, 45 minutes of catching up
Helping others is important, 15 minutes of being a good neighbor
Clean clothes are important, 1.5 hours of laundry
Relaxation is important, 30 minutes of “me” time
Sleep is important, 8 hours to recharge

A full day, and it only took me 30 hours to accomplish it all. Good thing I don’t have to commute.

Reality dictates that the day has only 24 hours, and you only have a certain amount of energy to make it through each day. We have set ourselves up for so much heartache when we stack our plates with unrealistic expectations. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do it all. I know that sometimes we can multitask, but even with those multitasking fixes, we easily end up stealing from tomorrow’s energy to accomplish today’s goals. Realistically, we cannot keep up this pace without having a breakdown along the way.

So what is likely to get laid down first? Anything that takes extra brain power or will power. This is why the typical American diet is horrendous. This is why our physical activity is lacking. This is why our houses get cluttered, or our relationships break down. We have to put energy into everything we do, so how do we begin to bring some sanity to our overloaded schedules?

Redistribute the workload. There are things you have to do, no one can exercise for you, but if you have a spouse, or kids, or a roommate, household tasks can be shared.

Simplify. Fewer things means fewer things to take care of. Fewer clothes means less laundry. Fewer dishes means less to load in to the dishwasher.

Remove or modify the things that correspond to someone else’s expectations. A lot of what drives our schedules comes from guilt or fear of not living up to what others expect. Set your priorities and let the rest go.

Don’t kill yourself trying to be HEALTHY! Health includes your stress levels. Make changes incrementally, simplify your diet and exercise routines. Healthy choices only count if you can actually follow through with them.

Don’t be afraid to plan. Sometimes I fear that if I actually see everything that I am doing written on a page I will faint from exhaustion. Planning ahead can really help us stay on task and not waste precious time and energy on things that will be important tomorrow instead of the things that must be done today.

If we don’t take the time to ponder our priorities, we get swept along in the riptide of demands on our time and energy. We run ourselves ragged, or we shut down and nothing (important or not) gets done. Take a deep breathe and start planning a new year of less stress and more health by taking control of your chaotic schedule!

Now that’s ReFreshing!