Sunday, November 22, 2015

Secrets, Sex and Church

“Mom, they can’t play this commercial!” “Why, what’s wrong,” I asked. “They can’t say sex on the radio.” “They aren’t,” I replied. “This is for Sexton Orthodontics.” I hesitated. “Do you know what sex is?” “Yes my friend Billy from school said he’s having it.” I started to panic inside. My third grader may know what sex is and he didn’t find out from me. I pull the car into the garage, run inside and yell for my husband. Long story short, yes my eight-year-old has learned what sex is from another eight-year-old from school. I go into panic mode, mostly because I failed as a parent. Why is my son talking to another boy about sex and why is an eight-year-old bragging about his sex life?

I found myself panicking mostly because I didn’t know how to appropriately talk to my sons about sex. I don’t remember much about how I discovered sex. I think it was sex education at school that scared me about pregnancy and STDs. I didn’t get any education elsewhere. In terms of my Biblical and moral understandings I made my own conclusions about the “virgin” Mary and what wearing a white wedding dress meant. Most of my friends and I wanted to wait until marriage but that rarely happened. In college, my husband as part of his football scholarship at an evangelical university signed a “no sex” agreement. We made it to our wedding day, I could wear my white proudly, but in looking back, did it make a difference?  I can’t honestly say.

I turned to my United Church of Christ denomination for help. I ordered some information called Talking With Your Child About Sexuality. I read it and realized that I had missed the boat. Talking with my boys shouldn’t just be a onetime event. I should have been giving them honest information from birth on. Yet I still wasn’t comfortable giving them information. I made an excuse that I would talk to my younger son when he entered third grade.

Now as a seminary student we have spent the last two weeks covering sexuality; all kinds of sexuality. And for the first time in my course studies I felt like a prude. I was reading about sexuality from different perspectives and I felt my face turning red; partly because I have been closed off to some of it before and partly because my youngest son is now halfway through third grade.

Why do I feel compelled to be a part of this big secret called sex? Sex has either been a big secret in churches or grossly misrepresented. Actually, many denominations demonize sex and sexuality outside of heterosexual marriage.  But let’s be honest, that isn’t really working for most Americans. And no one needs another reason to feel ashamed. I think it would be far more helpful to everyone, including this mom, if churches would have open and honest discussion about sexuality.

Obviously, being secretive and demonizing about sexuality has not been beneficial for the church. It has been horrific; sexual abuse, cover-ups and silence. What more has to happen to children and others to get the churches to wake up to what is not working? Let us all go back to scripture and reexamine past interpretations. Adam and Eve did not get married, marriage was not about sex and love but a property contract with several women and Jesus did some very “loving” things with his disciples. Let us look back at art and see how sexuality was portrayed. Some of that art would be labeled as pornography today. Let us examine ourselves and discover what is truthful.

I know I’ve been trapped in this secretive mindset. If I want the church to be more open and honest, it has got to begin with me. I commit to talking to my sons about sexuality, puberty and what is safe. I’ve ordered books and I’ve got a plan. And I pray that I do.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Demon of Our Day

This past week I got to spend a few days on the beach. My husband planned a trip for just us two to get away after I spent an exhausting summer working as a chaplain intern at a local hospital. Our anniversary is also coming up and he has work obligations so it was an early anniversary trip too.

After the third night of dining on our trip, I find myself shivering in the air conditioned restaurant that was recommended by our hotel. The restaurant was very popular; the only restaurant that we dined at that had a wait to be seated. I hate to admit this, but for the first time ever while at this restaurant, I became aware of my white privilege in public. I mean, I’ve read about it, I know that I benefit from it, but I usually notice it in hindsight. I first realized that for the third night in a row we had white, male waiters.  I whispered to my husband to ask if he noticed. He said that he did. Then I leaned back and started to observe. In this particular restaurant, I’d say 90% of the wait staff were white males and 10% white females; 100% of the bus boys were black males that I observed. I leaned over and whispered to my husband, “this place is racist.”

Racism is something that many white people do not want to admit still exists and that is evident in the fact that All Lives Matter is trying to replace Black Lives Matter.  Racism doesn’t exist like it once did with public lynchings and separate bathrooms, but it does still exist. Modern day racism is found legally in our justice system. Our jails are full of black men and the death penalty allows for us to legally kill those men.  

Yes, all lives do matter, but when have white lives not mattered? The black men and women in the news that have been killed recently are not the first to be killed by police. Black youth in America have been taught by their parents to run from the police for a reason; because they have been killed since the days of slavery. They have been killed and white people have not noticed.

On Sunday, I sat in a new pew in a new church that I am about to begin my field study at as a seminary student and I was reminded that Jesus’ healing and restoring acts were not for the wealthy and privileged. In the Gospel of Mark 7:24-37, Jesus cast away the unclean spirit and made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. Reverend Rebecca said that “racism is the demon of our day.”                                                             

Jesus is at work in the Black Lives Matter movement. Jesus is calling me to notice his children. Jesus wants me to acknowledge that I am privileged. Jesus wants me to write and post this blog even though I am scared of the comments I’ll get. Jesus wants me to proclaim that Black Lives Matter to me.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Turn, Turn, Turn

I am okay with death when I know it is coming. I am not okay when it slaps me in the face.

When I was young girl, I used to prepare for my parents' death. But somehow they kept on overcoming the roadblocks of life.

My first real experience with death was with my brother Bradley Jay. He was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I knew it was serious, but I thought he would beat it, I really did. Deciding to turn off the life support was the last thought on my mind. The hardest thing I ever had to tell my parents. But turning off the life support was still in a way a control over death; one where we could all be present and say our goodbyes.

Saying goodbye to Dad was long and painful. Watching as his body deteriorated from dementia and kidney failure was a heartbreaking experience. I don’t know what is worse; the way Dad went or the way Mom went. Answering the phone to my sister’s blood curdling screams that she can see mom on the floor through the window and screaming for me to come with the keys; praying for mom to be alive and opening the door to find her dead.

All I know is that God is with us. I’m glad the cop that arrived before I did didn’t have the equipment to break in. I’m glad that my keys allowed my sister and I to both go in together. I’m glad my mom didn’t suffer and we didn’t have to watch it. But no one got to say any last words to her and for that reason I am angry.

But as I write this, I am asking myself what I would have said that she didn’t already know. I am special because I had the most sweet, caring and strong mother that ever roamed the earth. I made it through because my mom encouraged me and shared her faith with me. And I told her anytime I talked to her that I loved her. And she told me how proud she was of me so I am not sure what she could have said to me that she hadn’t already.

What is hard for me with both of them now gone is that I no longer have that unconditional love that comes from parents like mine. And I feel incomplete. I know I have people who love me, but no one who has to love me and it is a really scary feeling. Knowing that there will be no going “home” is too much too soon.  

I knew that I would be young when they left me, but I still feel like it is unfair. For some reason God included me into this family, kind of late, but God included me. And even though I am not sure of the reason and I may never know while I am on this earth, I have to trust that my sister’s prayers for a baby sister were granted for a reason.

I have been listening to God thus far and I guess I just need to keep on listening. God, I don’t need an answer right now, but I do need my mom’s strength to finish up this semester. Mom, I miss you and I wish you didn’t have to leave us. I hope you are enjoying heaven, where everything is beautiful to you.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Prophets in America

 It is not a time of celebration. It is a time to reexamine our hearts and our words.

This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. As a seminary student I just finished reading James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree, and as a white Christian I will no longer keep silent.

As an American, I am sickened and saddened. My husband and I both asked each other, what really happened at Selma? We looked it up and we were embarrassed with how much of our public school education left out the horrific details and thus how clueless we really were.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree covers the question: Where did all this hatred go? The hatred is found in our criminal justice system. The hatred is found in the number of African Americans being targeting for crimes and other violations that come with citations that cost them money and keep them in poverty. There are more African American men in prison than enrolled in college. And in the words of Cone, the “legal lynching system” today is found in our death penalty.

In President Obama’s Selma speech he said, “We just need to open our eyes, ears and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.” As Americans we can no longer be ignorant of the realities of life. White Christians, myself included, cannot claim to be Christians if we ignore the injustices committed to our brothers and sisters in Christ; we cannot keep silent.

As I turn to scripture in the Jewish Study Bible, I look at the prophets of the Old Testament. God tells them that it is their duty to speak truth to power, but they will not listen to you. Jeremiah 15: 19-21, “Assuredly, thus said the Lord: If you turn back, I shall take you back and you shall stand before me; if you produce what is noble out of the worthless, you shall be my spokesman. They shall come back to you, not you to them. Against this people I will make you as a fortified wall of bronze: they will attack you, but they shall not overcome you, For I am with you to deliver and save you—declares the Lord. I will save you from the hands of the wicked and rescue you from the clutches of the violent.” Ezekiel 2: 3-7, “He said to me, ‘O mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, that nation of rebels, who have rebelled against Me.—They as well as their fathers have defied me to this very day; for the sons are brazen of face and stubborn of heart. I send you to them and you shall say to them: ‘Thus said the Lord God’—whether they listen or not, for they are a rebellious breed—that they may know that there was a prophet among them. And you, mortal, do not fear them and do not fear their words, though thistles and thorns press against you, and you sit upon scorpions. Do not be afraid of their words and do not be dismayed by them, though they are a rebellious breed; but speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious.”

We have had prophets among us like Martin Luther King Jr. who like Jesus died speaking God’s truth. We have prophets among us right now like James Cone and President Obama. We Americans are just like the Israelites. We are the thistles and thorns pressed against them; against those who put our sins in front of us. We are the Americans that rip apart our very own leader every time he puts God’s truth in front of us; we even accuse him of not being a Christian.

We are also the Americans that claim that we are the home of the free, but we really mean where only the white Americans are free. We too just like the Israelites rebel against God by committing idolatry. Not only did the Israelites worship other gods but they made gods of themselves by ruling over others and oppressing them. Amos 2: 6-8, “Thus said the Lord: For three transgressions in Israel, for four I will not evoke it: Because they have sold for silver those whose cause was just, and the needy for a pair of sandals. [Ah,] you who trample the heads of the poor into the dust of the ground, and make the humble walk a twisted course! Father and son go to the same girl, and thereby profane My holy name. They recline by every altar on garments taken in pledge, and drink in the house of their God wine bought with fines they impose.”

God wants us to do better. Cone believes there can be hope

“beyond tragedy” if America is willing to face our great sin of white supremacy. God calls us too in Isaiah 1: 16-18, “Wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from My sight. Cease to do evil; Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow. ‘Come, let us reach an understanding,’—says the Lord."

God’s work is done through us. We get to chose whether we allow God to use us or if we will simply be a thorn. God calls us to create God’s kingdom here on earth. God’s wrath in the Old Testament and Jesus’ anger when he overturned the tables in the temple is to save us from our worst selves; an unjust America.

It is not God’s kingdom when we are only concerned for ourselves. We are called to work as one for we are all the body of Christ. “'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me (Matthew 25:45).'”  

Your heart is either of stone or of God’s spirit. Your eyes are either open or closed. You must be called to action. Your silence is your approval.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Faith, Religion and the Church

Last night after a prayer and conversation about God using both male and female pronouns to refer to God with my seven-year-old son he said, “I think God is both a boy and a girl. One side has a pony tail and the other side has a mullet.” I was so proud of my son I shared it on facebook.

Humor added here!
I was then challenged by my cousin to prove my understanding of God with scripture.

Though I am a seminary student, I do not like to engage in Bible verse competitions. Being in the United Church of Christ however, we often find ourselves having to defend our interpretation of scripture. And lucky for me, I didn’t have to come up with a single verse, others did that for me.

I was raised in the church, but I didn’t have much interest in it. My mom had to make me go. However, that did not mean that I didn’t have a relationship with God. We were actually already quite tight when I was a youth. I only recently realized that my understanding of God as a being of light and energy that encompasses both male and female characteristics has been my understanding as a long as I can remember. To me, it was just the way I knew God to be. The only way I can describe the relationship is that I can feel God always walking along side me and if I need clarification I will literally ask.

So when I discerned my call to ministry, I literally asked “what am I supposed to be doing?” I heard God, but I didn’t like the answer. God had sent another human being to say, “I think God is telling me that you have the gift for ministry.” And I responded with becoming a department lead at Kmart. And as I walked that path I could feel the weight of my invisible back pack get heavier. So when I finally allowed myself to not only hear God, but to follow God, another human was sent again to tell me that I am worthy and capable of representing God, and I finally listened. And the backpack was gone.

The truth is I was actually afraid to go to seminary because I was afraid that this relationship I have with God would be disproved when I read scripture. In the past I would read scripture and say, I don’t understand that, I don’t believe that. I would doubt myself as a Christian when I struggled with the words in the Bible. Then I realized that the only thing between me and scripture were the words selected. I know that when I refer to God as he or she, I don’t actually mean either, but I don’t have any other language to describe God.

When I was finally able to listen to God and to trust that I understood what God was calling me to do, I was able to read scripture with a new understanding. See, I was worried that my relationship with God was wrong and that a right way to interpret scripture exists. The reality is there is no person on earth that completely understands God. Our human minds cannot adequately understand nor do we have the words to adequately describe. When it comes to interpreting scripture there is no right or wrong; winner or loser.

Religions and churches can claim they have the only answer because we in American have an obsession with winning. I’m not concerned about being right. I’m concerned with how we act as Christians with other people. When I sit in my church I know that we don’t all agree on theology. What is amazing about being in a church like that is we can mostly agree and sometimes disagree but still love and accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

So therefore, I will not dispute over words. If you try to find God merely in scripture without forming a relationship with God, you have religion. Scripture is a tool we have to understand that God exists. What really matters is our faith.  If you truly sit with God and listen to what God puts into your heart, you will understand scripture. When you truly give God your time and attention you will understand your faith. If you then understand God to be a man or if you then understand God is both boy and girl with a pony tail and a mullet, who am I to question you? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Pastor with Purple Hair

My hair is constantly changing.

My friend Bob shared my last blog post on his facebook page and included in his comment was “I think the world needs more pastors with purple hair.”

I’ll be honest and say that I am concerned about being judged over my hair. Though my fellow congregants remind me of how my hair is what makes me Julie and I agree, I wonder in what ways it could stop me.

Me outside my dorm room.
My relationship with my hair began in college. While most college freshman were partying, going out, drinking and all the other things that goes with that type of fun, I “acted out” and “experimented” with my hair. I would have my friend put pink streaks in my very otherwise boring hair. I thought it looked cool but hair dye from Hot Topic is not my idea of cool hair now.

After college when I had to get a real job the pink hair died. So then I began experimenting with all kinds of regular colors that I paid a professional to do; different styles, different cuts, different highlights, different streaks. I tried it all. I really wasn’t doing much self reflection at the time so I don’t really know why, other than it fit my personality because I get bored doing the same old thing.
Short with streaks.

When I was a stay-at-home mom and seriously doing my Mary Kay business, I started experimenting with the not so natural colors again but with professionals. I know one of the reasons were because I was starting to feel old and going back to my college years where I discovered myself made me feel young again. Another reason was because in Mary Kay we talked about image; how we never knew when a selling opportunity would take place and if you tried to run into the store without your Mary Kay on, you’d always get caught. It was then that I made sure to always be “dressed for success” when I left the house and I still continue to do so.

Brown with one pink stripe.
Now that I am more focused on offering God’s grace than offering someone a makeover, I still prepare as if I was going to makeover someone. I had to really reflect on why that it is so. Becoming a pastor is not about putting on a fashion show or being entertaining. What it does for me is to build my confidence in knowing that I am prepared to makeover one’s heart.
Black with blue stripes.
If I ran out of the house with no makeup and my hair in a pony tail, I would give myself an excuse to avoid others; to avoid getting caught in a conversation.

Blonde with purple and pink.
What I’ve found about my purple, teal, blue and pink hair is that it does two things. It starts conversations with total strangers and it sometimes leads to conversations that mean something to people. The other day, I met a parent at my son’s school who started talking to me about my hair but ended up telling me all about how she adopted her son and all the things he is struggling with.  The most important thing that I think my hair does is that it sends the message to others that I’m not going to judge; that I have an open mind and an open heart.
My fellow congregant,
JoAnne put a little
purple in her hair!

And if I’m right that this all starts because of my hair, this soon to be pastor with purple hair will keep on dying.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Saying Goodbye

The last time I spoke to my dad was on Christmas Eve. While we were there he was wide awake. My seven-year-old Aydin gave him more hugs than usual and talked to him more than he played his video game. I sat by his side and we mostly just stared at each other because I guess there wasn’t anything more to say. I know that all my dad wanted was for God to call him home. The next time I saw him, he was no longer responsive and by the 28th he quickly slipped away. I feel blessed that God took him before the dementia took his mind completely away from him; that he didn’t have to go through anything more than he already had. 

I still hurt. I hurt because it is one less person to love me. How selfish of me, but it’s true. In my selfishness, I’ve realized that I’ve been so concerned with how I love other people, I haven’t allowed or expected anyone to love me. On Sunday, I broke down twice. The first time Aydin came into my room to hug me and get me tissue. The second time, my nine-year-old Austin came into the kitchen and hugged me too. Later I realized that I feel like for the first time in Austin and Aydin’s life, they realized that I have feelings. The more I thought about it, I realized that I don’t think they are the only ones.

I realized that perhaps more people think of me as a “minister” already, a thought that never occurred to me before. Because in their attempts to console me, they were really just telling me about the grief they have experienced. And in response I am trying to give them encouraging words, when I really want to say is "I am hurting too." 

As I am trying to listen for what God needs me to hear, I realize that this life to come as a minister is going to be more of what I am experiencing at this moment. That I will be focused on loving other people and they will forget that I too have feelings. Perhaps they think I am God’s super woman and my faith is enough. Today there is no one who will call and ask how I am doing and will truly want a real answer, there is no one to sit by my side even if no words are said and there is no one to offer to bring over a meal so I don’t end up ordering take out for two weeks straight, and they certainly won’t be there tomorrow.  

Am I able to take on the life of a minister that loves her flock beyond what she will receive? I guess it seems as though I have already been living that life. God, I’m still listening.

Dad, I’m glad you are where you wanted to be, but I miss you. I miss how much you loved me.