Sunday, June 19, 2016

Privilege and the Quiverfull Movement

Many years ago, our family unwittingly became tools of the quiverfull movement. I didn't know it at the time, and believed we were in the middle of a good church family, but we were young, and we homeschooled, and as we had children, we were encouraged to have more. In conversations, we heard terminology about "having a full quiver" and about God directing the size of our family that I would come to realize much later was part of a well organized propaganda campaign of the movement.

Now, don't get me wrong; we are and ever will be fully responsible for our own actions and decisions, and do not regret them. But ion the climate where I was a low paid factory with nothing more than a high school education, it was probably not best to encourage us to have more children. The ensuing years gave us challenges that I embraced, but they also saw us thin of resources that had to be spread carefully across the large family. And we find ourselves, mid career, holding our own, but without retirement savings with shorter years left to catch up.

As I watch people admire and emulate families like the Duggars and look back on our own lives, I have to recount that we weren't admired, we weren't emulated. As a matter of fact, in some of the same circles where families would turn on the Duggars faithfully, they held us at a distance. And while we struggled, we faced a general attitude that we had made our own bed, and we were welcome to lie in it. And in some cases, we even faced quite nasty retribution from church members who felt it their Christian duty to try to relieve us of the burden of so many children.

It is one of many reasons I do not trust the church any more. I have not abandoned my Christian faith, but experience is teaching me that a church body of Christians seeking to serve the Lord in sincerity is extremely rare; in my experience, in fact, it doesn't exist. I trust that it does merely out of hope.

But I am thinking of this and how it speaks to privilege. We worship large families who are wealthy, we hold them up as heroes. But large families that struggle through from paycheck to paycheck are chastised as entitlement seeking leeches, while the irony of church members that consider themselves "prolife" escapes them.

The Church will not escape the criticism of those who stand outside it as long as they remain inconsistent on their views of life. It is either sacred or it is not. And if it is sacred, it is always so, and working families deserve as much encouragement and support as wealthy ones.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

No Way Out

In my quest to break out of my hellish workplace, I dumbed down my resume. Because presenting myself as I am doesn't work.

Well, anyway, somehow I must have left clicked the box that submits the resume for a resume critique, and basically they said as much.

What I am discovering is I think too much. The solution, of course, would be "professional" help that would select the right pills to numb that part of my mind and help me accept that simply sitting, never questioning, is the best way to spend the remainder of my existence. I can't do that.

I've looked for answers in the church, but no pastor wants to help these days. They want to solve societal problems, but they don't want to connect one on one and deal with the very real problems quite literally looking them in the eye. They provide rhetoric, not answers, and they're quite good at discussing the finer points of theology, quite poor at healing the wounds that infect the body.

The reason I have compassion for the homeless is because I know them. I understand them. They've learned to numb themselves from the very pain that I feel, not to run from it, but to surrender to it. And I look at them and simply wonder, how long.

This is not a "pity piece"; I don't do pity pieces. This is my journal, my thoughts. I had a meltdown at work the other day, and I'm afraid it's just the beginning. And I'm afraid it will happen at the next job. And the next. And that eventually I will run out of answers.

But the only answers people want to give these days come at the bottom of a bottle. Either prescription pills or illicit drugs and alcohol, pick your poison.

Life should not be a miserable existence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

This is My Hell, And I Must Live In It, Alone

As I grow older, I am becoming less and less convinced of the reality of Hell. For the mere reason that the miserable nature of my existence must surely be punishment enough for any of the bad things I have done.

For the past several years, I have genuinely tried to stretch my boundaries, to reach out professionally, to grow, only to discover that a drone will always be a drone and it is ours to accept that lot, and not upset the system. I had a taste, however briefly, of a middle class existence, and it's clear I do not belong there.

So here I sit, in the middle, awake enough to know just how terrible conditions are around me, but powerless to do anything to change it. My job is not to think, only to do, and to be guided solely by the orders of others whom society has dictated my betters.

It is a disgusting condition, and I loathe it. But it is my job to do, not to think.

I only regret that I have brought children into this existence, because my duty is to them, however wretched the world around me might become.

I have dumbed down my resume, removed my degrees, deflated my job titles, in the hopes of getting anything better than the $10 an hour that is barely survival level. I am done.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

When the Church ENABLES the Exploitation of the Poor

I spent a lot of years in fundamentalist, evangelical churches. I don't regret that time, although I do regret my silence in the face of some social issues.

As the topic turns to payday lenders, and another predatory lender is exposed, though, I think it behooves us to have the conversation about how the church enables these predatory lenders, rather than speaking out against them. And why it must change.

I spent a year in Bible college, and in the churches I attended, tithing was not optional. It was mandatory. Before you eat, before you pay rent, before you pay utilities, you pay that money to God. And yes, you tithe on the gross, not the net, because that's what it means to give of the "firstfruits".

I took it in, hook, line and sinker. I was so afraid of God that I didn't take time to truly disseminate the meaning. Because, after all, a perch in a very very hot place awaited me even as I didn't. Even as these same churches, ironically, declared that we were saved by grace through faith, and not works.

I tried it. And it ruined me financially. In fact, I must admit with some chagrin that when I didn't tithe and the car died, I honestly believed that to be God's punishment. And so I tithed with greater fervor.

My family suffered for that in many ways. But if I went to the church to ask for help, I was chided for not being faithful and supporting my family. The same family they insisted it was my duty to create. I literally could not win as I went from depressing dead end job to dead end job, including 9 months working 750 below the fiery surface of Death Valley California in the mines.

So who do you turn to when the inevitable things happen? Not your savings, you put that in the offering plate. Not your pastor, he has bigger things to worry about like a broken projector or how to bring in a big name Christian star for an outreach event. Nope, in fact the only ones waiting with money were the predators. And so, yes, in desperation, we turned to them. Our credit was terrible, but things had to be done. And in one instance in Nevada, I literally drove a car with no brakes for six months. Not bad brakes, mind you, NONE. I learned to be very skillful about using neutral and park.

We rarely went anywhere because I could not risk literally endangering my family's lives every time we took that car out.

But that tithing, that tithing had to be paid.

Earlier on, I left a truck by the wayside in Washington, an issue that caused a lifelong rift between myself and a man I once considered a mentor and my dearest friend. Because I did not even call to have someone help me out.

But what he didn't understand, and what I in my pride failed to convey, is that I DID call. And I heard the background conversation as the phone lay on the counter, the repeated sighs as here I was again asking for another favor.

Lesson learned. I learned then and there NOT to call upon people.

The church should be in the job of building up the people, not exploiting them. And laws can only do so much. A church that does not STRENGTHEN the hand of the poor and the needy is not serving God, they are serving themselves. And a church that does not properly convey that you have a responsibility to your own physical care before you give to the offering plate is sending an improper message.

The illustration of the widow's mite is often given to show that we are to give sacrificially. Yet nowhere in that verse does it say that widow was living homeless on the streets before she gave that mite. Nowhere does it say she did not have food in her pantry. We cannot read into the passage things that are not there to suit our greed.

Nowadays when the subject of tithe comes up, my response is: "get it from my boss. I am working full time making below the poverty level, so it's his to pay, not mine". Not a completely spiritual answer, mind you, but I am done trying to prove my spirituality. I think it's about time to start being real!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Going Against the Grain

It is 4 AM and my mind is unsettled. Unsettled not because I don't have a clarity of thought or purpose, but unsettled because of the difficulty of what I am trying to do. The difficulty, nay impossibility, of being a person who is wholly devoted to God and rather orthodox in personal theology and worship, but struggling to reconcile with the community around him. The difficulty of one who gravely understands the seriousness of our time spent on earth and how it reflects and honors the God I serve.

It is this same gravity and seriousness that has set me at odds with certain members of the church body. The ones who feel that, although I am straight, I am a sinner for supporting my LGBT brother and sister through their daily struggles against a society that does not, will not even attempt to understand. The ones who feel that I am evil because I demand that workers receive a living wage in a time when our culture believes that wealth should be piled among the few, and that the financial burdens of funding our government should fall upon the lowest paid. The ones who believe that I am hellbound because I would hold the hand of the woman who has made the painful and personal decision to have an abortion rather than cut it off and cast her into outer darkness.

But in the quiet of the night, as there is nothing but the sound of the window rattling from the central air running through the house, I must answer a question almost as old as humanity. It is the same question asked by the world's first murder as the blood of his brother was fresh on his hands: Am I my brother's keeper?
The Lord never answered this question, because Cain knew. We ARE our brother's (and sister's) keeper.

For that reason, I worry about the 41% of transgendered individuals who will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. There is much I don't know, much I do not understand about gender dysphoria, but if I accept the idea that I am indeed my brother's (and sister's) keeper, it is something I MUST learn. And I must learn it free from prejudice, free from fear, free from judgment. For I am not called to be a judge, but a standard bearer for Christ.

For that reason, I worry about the worker who will go home at the end of the day with less than he needs to survive. I worry about his children, struggling with undiagnosed and untreated conditions because we have placed the well being above the wealthy above the right of their parent to earn enough in 8 hours' labor to pay for the things they need to become bright and productive workers. I worry about the fading eyes as that worker struggles against the diabetes wracking his body because there is no money, no time to leave the workplace and make his way to the doctor's office. I worry about the bullets that echo through the night outside the home that was supposed to be their haven because that one place was the only one they could afford.

For that reason, I worry about the mother, who cannot support her child, but who knows her baby will not be adoptable because the skin color is wrong, or there is a genetic condition that will make it unlikely her baby will have a forever home. I worry that she will return home to the man who beats her, perhaps for one very last time before she ends up a nameless body in the county morgue. I worry that she will not receive the education she needs to provide a home for her children, and that the sanctimonious congregations I am rejecting will brand her a whore because the grace that Jesus offers is given in their world only to those who have never sinned greatly.

Yes. In the quiet of this night, my mind is unsettled. It is unsettled because I AM my brother's (and sister's) keeper, and because all of these burdens are as much mine as they are the individuals who suffer around me. And because I was called to heal those wounds, and not to hurt them.

My biggest failing is fear of how I will be received. My biggest failing is the fear that standing for those who cannot means that I will be judged by those who by the people in the church walls who believe their work ends where those walls do. That fear is my biggest sin.

The morning will come, and I will be just as unsettled. But there will be noise to silence these thoughts. There will be action. There will be the birthday of my five year old son, who will one day inherit the legacy that I have created. And I have a choice: to protect him from it, or to teach him that he, too, has a responsibility greater than himself.

I know what path I will choose. But I am finding it is a very lonely one.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Are Pastors Abusing Their Power?

As the political season advances, it kills me to see how many Americans will vote against their own self interest. The saddest part, however, is that many will do so not because its what they want, but because it's what the guy standing at the front of the sanctuary on Sunday demands.

Pastors in America have done a deplorable job in politics. They know that many in their congregation are not thoroughly versed in Scripture. They take advantage of that. Ironically, in this day and age, the Reformation means nothing, as pastors in most churches are nothing more than "little popes", believing that they and they alone, possess the keys to Scriptural understanding and are called to deliver them to the little people. Instead of "equipping the saints for His Service", they have haughtily held back the keys to the kingdom by pretending that only through an anointing by man can Scripture be understood. And nowhere is this more clear than in politics.

Let's be clear: neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party presents a Christian approach to the problems our leaders face. Abortion is wrong, yes, but so is starving the poor and presenting a mother with no options. And so is judging someone without helping them find a way out.

I say this on the issue of abortion because it's the one I wrestle with the most. While I am politically prochoice, I am decidedly and unapologetically prolife on a personal and moral level. That means that I seek to make alternatives available, assurances that the fears of the mother considering won't be realized; that her child won't live today only to find death tomorrow through disease, starvation, or the rampant violence that fills our inner cities. In my belief, I take that further to include the guarantee that the child won't have to worry about living today to find death 20 years from now in a battlefield in some foreign country, or at the end of the executioner's needle.

That, to me, is what prolife means.

And at the same time pastors oppose moral evils, they oppose a living wage. I have seen pastors post some rather nasty memes criticizing the fight for $15, when they should be joining the fight. They insist that their congregants should stay underpaid, yet they lament when the coffers of the church aren't filled with the coins that the poor collect as their portion for a week's labor.

If the pastors will insist on allowing the wealthy to steal the wealth that the poor have earned, then I insist that the pastors should collect the tithes from the employer, not the employee, as the employer holds the pilfered wages of their employees. And I refuse to tithe to any church that does not advocate a living wage, as their teaching is heresy.

Pastors are called to lead their flock, not to manipulate and twist their minds. They are to present the WHOLE gospel, including the parts they don't like. Otherwise, they are quite definitely abusing their power.

It's past time to call theem on this.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dear Pastor: It's Time We Had a Talk

I know that on this page, often my discussions come across as a bit harsh and abrasive. And you know what? Sometimes they are. I'm not really super at this communication thing and often choose less than imperfect means to express myself.

It's a fault, I admit it, and I am working to change that. I thank all of those patient enough to endure it.

So let's have a talk, shall we? A real one. About why it is that I keep hammering points home and going against the grain.

We've become a socially disconnected society, and the church, which once fulfilled a large role in the social structure of adults, has been a part of that. It's not the fault of pastors, even though it's tempting to say so. They're swimming hard against a cultural tide, and they endure massive criticism with scant praise. I get that part of it.

But if you will listen, if you will just TRY what I am about to say, I believe it will fundamentally change your ministry. And if it doesn't, just throw it away as one of those hair brained ideas, just as you would the book you bought off the discount rack at LifeWay and found less than fulfilling.

I'm speaking from a personal place here, so if you disagree with me, please do it respectfully. I will respond in kind.

Your congregants need to be heard. And not just the mental sticky notes, not just with a casserole delivered in time of need or the Christmas drive. Those things are great, yes, and they're essential, but not as essential as sitting down and finding out the things about your congregants that cannot be written down on paper.

Know them. Know their hopes, their dreams, their fears. Know their favorite baseball team, the kind of car they drive. And respect their politics even if you completely disagree. Every pastor I have ever known has learned the virtue of strategic silence. In getting to know your congregants, you may want to use that judiciously.

Realize that every congregant is a work in progress. If I have failed as a Christian, this has been my Achilles heel. I expect too much, expect everyone I encounter as a Christian to know the same things and have the same life experiences I do. That is an impossible expectation and is setting them up to fail.

Know WHY that person didn't put money in the offering plate. Know and understand the realities of people struggling to survive, who may remain silent because they don't want to be seen as complaining or begging. Know the reason why they didn't come to church, why they didn't give money when the missionaries came to town, why they couldn't buy that cake at the bake sale, or why their kids couldn't make it to summer. Know them, and encourage them. This doesn't have to be monetary support, sometimes the best thing you can do is just let them know that you care.

You are in a place to be powerful change agents, a position I wish I could have, but am increasingly understanding why I do not. In pursuing your doctorate, in meetings with deacons, in your outreach to the community, do not forget that young man who came in five minutes after the sermon started and left as the organist struck up the opening notes on the closing hymn because he has difficulty interacting with people and wanted to avoid the awkwardness.

He needs you. I need you. Jesus needs you.

And these things are far more important than the broken projector.

Blessings and peace.