Untold story…

I love sitting down with a good friend over a nice cup of coffee and catch up on life. The real raw discussions you know? Not just the hey how are you? Good! Ok talk to you whenever.
It is amazing when people just start to tell their story. There are the people who want their story heard so they talk about it to everyone and all the time. There are also the ones who would rather just sit back and listen, talk when they feel necessary, but then just go back to listening. Normally I like these kinds more because then I can do all the talking. Selfish? Maybe, but it is what it is.
The other day I had one of those moments where I just got to sit, sip my coffee and hear a good friends story. And it wasn’t at all what I expected. He just said, “Hey, can you listen for a bit. I need to talk to you but there are a few rules.” Right there I was caught off guard. Rules for talking to someone? He then said, “First, no matter what this cant change our friendship, and number two you cant feel sorry for me, and number three you cant think I am a gross person.”
Now he had my full attention.
He went on to tell me about his life from a early age. Things I was not expected to hear, nor did I in all honesty want to hear some of it. He started to tell me and describe in detail the horrific things that had happened to him starting all the way back in kindergarten, through grade school and on through high school. And how finally in college he was able to get away from it all. How at very young his best friends older brother would take advantage of him when he went over there for sleep overs, or when his parents were out of town and his best friends family was watching him. And how eventually his best friends dad started to join in, and he basically was their toy for the evenings he was there. He could not tell anybody out of both fear and shame. And then when he got a little older and his family moved away, and he thought the nightmare was over for good, but the same thing started happening again with a different guy, but more forceful. How he woke up in 6th grade at a teen church event and one of the older guys in the youth group was forcing himself on him, and again threatened him not to tell anyone ever. If he would not do what the guy said, then he would start hitting him. This went on for years. Basically his entire school life. He went off to college and was confused on sex, love, trust, people, God, everything. However, he hid it very well. No one knew. Not his family, best friends, no one other then the nasty people who did it to him.
Why did he talk about it to me? Not sure. I think he just needed his story to be heard. The feeling of alone is a rough place to be, and when you have nightmares to go with it just makes it that much worse. You would have no clue by talking to him or seeing him that anything happened. Sad way to live life. He wants desperately to know where God was through all this. He wasn’t asking me to tell him, he knows all the “church” answers. He needs and wants a real experience, a reason to think that this wasn’t just bad luck. And I wish I had the magic answer to make it all just go away.
I don’t know why this happened to him or any kid. I wish I could take his pain away. We all have stories, we all want or at least need to be heard. The one thing about your story is just that. Its yours.

This Feeling…

Christmas day is past. New Years has been celebrated. It was a rush. It was a good/normal Christmas. Family got on each others nerves, but we had a blast doing it. One thing was missing. Yes we celebrated the birth of Christ. One of my favorite traditions is when my dad reads the Christmas story to us all before we open gifts. I can probably quote it, but it never gets old. However, one thing was missing. Its a hard thing to explain. Everyone celebrates it differently. This year it just didn’t feel like Christmas. I guess you could say the magic feeling wasn’t there. I was focused on the wrong things. I was sad that my daughter didn’t get as many gifts as her cousins. It took a six year old to remind me that it wasn’t about that. When I asked if she was ok that her cousins were opening more gifts than she was, she says in a wisdom past her age, “Daddy, my gift was special to me, and I know it cost a lot of money. I am happy with what I got.” She clearly takes after her mom.
But I think with this last year I have had, with the questions about my own faith, church and myself I even lost the joy you get with Christmas. Not just the stress of money, but the joy over all. Until yesterday.
We are at a cabin, away from the world. We are having Christmas with my wife’s family a little late. Everyone was doing something. Playing games, watching tv or just catching up. I have an obsession with Christmas trees. I think they all tell a story. Rather the decorator means for it to or not. Years written on ornaments, pictures, funny ones little kids that are now adults have made. I look at trees and their detail. I was sitting on the couch, looking at the tree, just soaking it in. It was the typical Christmas scene. Huge window behind me with trees covered with snow, huge decorated tree, and flannel blanket keeping me warm. I sat there for about ten minutes completely alone. Yes the house was full but I felt like I was alone. Not in a lonely way, but peaceful. I just sat and looked at the tree and prayed in my head, just a few more minutes. Let me feel this way a few more minutes. No stress, no depression, just contentment and thankfulness for my life, family and this moment. It was a pure feeling. I liked it.
My 5 year old came and crawled on my lap and wanted me to play with her, so my focus was changed. But it was a good thing. Nice to be reminded from time to time that its not always about you, and that the busyness of life will pass. Even if just for ten minutes, its what this fella needed.

Sad not mad

My heart is sad. Did you know that 500 people were murdered in South Sudan this past week? You didnt? Oh…but you know that Phil is no longer on A&E right? Yeah thought so. I am not good at wording things. I like to read things and process. I read lots of blogs. Most of the time I dont agree with everything written, but I like the points people are making. I am posting a blog from someone I have never met but has been a huge part of me not walking away from Christianity all together. Mainly because he actually shows the love of Christ in humor, sadness, hope, being real and just everyday life. Read what he has to say. You may not agree with it all, but listen to his point. I am sick of being sad because Christians just cant seem to see whats really important. I think being a “fan” of the show or person and blinded from what we are here to do….but that is just my humble opinoin. Read the blog.
Here is his website, but I copied the article for you. http://www.matthewpaulturner.com

BREAKING NEWS: The Christian Dynasty in America is angry today! In fact, they are really really angry!

No, they’re not angry about the number of homeless people roaming our city streets. And no, they’re not angry about the number of children dying everyday from malnutrition. And no, their anger isn’t about President Obama (though give them some time, they’ll connect the dots soon enough).

So why are so many members of America’s Church up in arms today, filling up our Facebook and Twitter feeds with complaints, threats, and demands?

Because one of their beloved, Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson, is being persecuted y’all. Yes, PERSECUTED! No, he’s not being held hostage by Bible-haters somewhere in Southeast Asia. It’s worse than that. The eldest member of America’s favorite reality TV family has been suspended indefinitely by A&E! I know, right? This is some serious prayer chain fodder for sure.

Now, why did A&E suspend Robertson? Well, because of comments the star made during an interview with GQ writer, Drew Magary. What did he say? Here are a few quotes…

On the topic of homosexuality: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

On why he believes vaginas are better than anuses: “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

On growing up with African Americans “pre-entitlement”: “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Read more here and here.

A few hours after GQ posted that interview online, A&E suspended Phil. And that’s when a plethora of Christians began erupting into boisterous protest. My Facebook feed turned into a Duck Dynasty lament, a chaotic display of fury. Some Christians offered prayers. Some bemoaned that, in America, “freedom of speech” was officially dead. Some Christians offered phone numbers, links, and addresses, encouraging their friends to voice their disgust to A&E. Some Christians updated their statuses with opinions that bordered on insane.

Can we–members of the American Church–all just calm down for a moment and look at ourselves? Because we look ridiculous. We look foolish. And worst of all, some of us sound downright ignorant. Because how we respond to events like this matters—ducking matters!

First of all, stop making this about freedom of speech. This isn’t a freedom of speech issue. Trust me, read Phil’s interview. The Dynasty patriarch possessed all the freedom in the world to say exactly what he wanted to say. But sometimes, depending on whose offering the paycheck, there are consequences to what we say. That’s been true since America’s beginning, while you have the freedom to say nearly anything you want to say in America. Sometimes saying whatever you feel like saying comes with a backlash. This isn’t about Phil’s freedom of speech; it’s about what—and more specifically—how Phil expressed his opinions that caused A&E to push the pause button. So please, if you’re going to complain, complain with wisdom. Have your facts straight. Understand the real issue here. Don’t stoop to Sarah Palin’s level.

Secondly, remember this is about a reality TV show, a meaningless TV show about a family of outspoken rich hunters. It’s just entertainment, people! Some Christians seem to believe this is a really important thing to be angry about. But it’s not. Did you know that 500 people were killed in Sudan yesterday? Did you voice your grievance about that? Because that’s actually important. Whether or not Phil ever appears on Duck Dynasty is completely meaningless in comparison. So let’s get our priorities in order here. There are much more important events happening in the world.

Thirdly, we the Church need to remember that, regardless if you agree 100 percent with every single comment Phil said in the interview, some people were deeply offended by his comments regarding homosexuality and race. Your support of Phil and Phil’s messages, whether you mean it this way or not, is hurtful toward other people. And that should matter to us. Why? Because we are the ones who proclaim the grace and mercy and love of Christ. And Christ cares about those who are offended by Phil’s speech. Some people call Phil’s words homophobic. Others seem to believe his comments about the African American community are racist. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree. It doesn’t matter that Phil didn’t mean it that way. That’s what happens when we speak our minds in the media. We end up saying things that hurt or offend other people. And we, those who declare the way of Jesus, need to care about that. So please, before you support one rich celebrity hunter with your opinion, remember that your affections for DD might be deeply offending a large group of people. And if that doesn’t matter to you, that’s your problem, not theirs. Because as followers of Jesus, that should matter.

Fourthly, as you’re raging against A&E for putting Phil on suspension, it might behoove you to consider whether or not your own church would welcome Phil in all of his ‘Duck’ glory in their congregation or on their stage without some major edits to his lifestyle, speech, or overall image. Maybe you go to one of the few churches that accepts people–all people–just as they are. And perhaps your church would welcome Phil as he is to your congregation. But how long would it last? How many times would he get away with saying the words “vagina” or “anus” in public without getting a talking to from the pastor? How many churches would allow somebody to stand up in their congregations and say what Phil said regarding black Americans? Maybe some. But in many churches, those words would raise much concern. So really, do any of us have any room to judge A&E’s decision when most of us go to churches that tend to try and micromanage people like Phil? Would Phil be able to teach Sunday School at your church? Would you allow him to be a deacon? And remember, it wasn’t too long ago that a church/ministry canceled an appearance by the Duck Dynasty crew because they have their own brand of wine. So before you lash out at A&E for “being closed minded liberal Hollywood elite,” remember that America’s “rightwing conservative elitist” Church has a lengthy record for putting people on “hiatus” for a myriad of reasons. Let’s not be hypocrites on this.

And lastly, remember that it is we who, every single Sunday, proclaim the values of kindness, love, humility, hope, grace, and mercy. While these virtues are not exclusively “Christian values,” as America’s biggest religion, most Americans, regardless of their spiritual creeds, are well aware that it is Christianity that preaches these values of Christ as the best standards for living. A&E does not preach these values. Some of their directors might love Jesus, but the Beatitudes are not their brand. GLAAD does not promote on a weekly basis the values of Christ. They might LOVE Jesus, but it’s not something they proclaim on a regular basis as their mantra. But we do. Christians do promote the Beatitudes as their creed. So while it’s fine and necessary for us to look in the mirror and judge how we are adhering to Jesus’s teachings against hate, pride, calamity, and the like, we do not have the right to cast judgment on other groups of people or individuals who do not share our beliefs. Hatred or unkindness from other people or groups is no excuse for us to return hate with hate. Regardless what A&E ultimately decides, we are the ones who should respond with humility, grace, and mercy. Because that’s our creed. That’s what we preach every damn Sunday. That’s the message that we believe speaks louder than protest, anger, and hate. So remember that as your tweeting your frustrations about Phil and Phil’s messaging.

And in the end, Church, Phil will survive this. He might not be on TV. But he’ll survive. But to us, the Church–those of us who lift up the values of Christ–how we respond to these kinds of situations, whether they are meaningless or of great importance, will be remembered long after the controversy is over. Why? Because when we act like fools, we are adding our foolishness to a legacy of foolishness that America’s Church has become well-known for.

So let’s be wise.
Let’s be careful.
Let’s get our priorities in order.
And for God’s sake, let’s all calm the duck down.

I Need a Silent Night….

That feeling at the start of a race. Your heart is racing, you look to your left and right at the competitive people beside you, and just wait for the race to begin. It starts and everyone takes off as fast as you can. Except me, I just walked and observed. I don’t do the black friday shopping. I don’t like people enough to be out in public that late at night with a bunch of selfish people who have to get yet another tv to add to their already 3 tv home. I mean if it’s for you, great have fun, not my idea of a good time. Nothing will put me in the Scrooge mood more than this. How do I know this? Well I broke my rules this year. I went out on Black Friday with a friend just to experience it.
For a brief moment I almost lost faith in humanity. I went with my friend, didn’t plan on getting a thing, just kinda the driver, plus he offered me pizza.
We get to the mall. A place I do not frequent on normal days let a lone this crazy day. I could not believe how many people they could get in this area. It was PACKED. We got there a little early so nothing was yet open, and almost EVERY big store had security guards standing at the entrance.
WHen the time for the stores to open finally came it was like a bunch of zombies were released and chasing everyone. It was a mad house. I was pushed, shoved, glared at and even chewed out for walking to slow. I spent a summer in Africa. I saw people actually starving, giving us Americans a weeks worth of food for lunch. I stood there and watched people fight over a Elmo that Hugs you. First of all creepy, secondly….ITS FREAKING ELMO. I played with a little boy named Carlos everyday for a summer, we played with sticks and mud. No toys. We had a blast. He ate maybe, MAYBE once a day, and here I was standing in a mall full of people fighting over a damn Elmo. Merry Christmas Jesus….
I learned that I am not a good person to go out on this night. Not because I participated in Black Friday, but because I was judging all the people who were. Again, some people love it, it is a family event. I am glad they enjoy it. It made me realize I judge and throw stones just like everyone else.

Ever sense that night I feel that is how the Holidays have been. Crazy busy. Between work, family, and trying to get ready for Christmas there has been no time to sit down and enjoy it. Throw kids in the mix and it is a mess. I don’t care what anyone says. When you have little kids, Christmas is about gifts. We talk about the meaning over and over. They know the cute songs, we have a Nativity scene in our house. They watch The Nativity and explain that Jesus is the reason we have Christmas, but let’s be real. With kids, gifts trump.

I’m trying to stay focused. I don’t want to be a humbug butt. I want to love Christmas like my kids do. I use to. I think I can. I just need to focus on them, and the meaning and not the craziness I personally surround myself with. I really just need a silent night…

I do…

It is one of the most exciting days in your life. The ones you love and care about all come to experience it with you. The lights are set just perfect, the music is playing, the parents are crying and all the single people are secretly hating you because it is not them. You pray that someone drugged grandma so she wont say anything rude or offensive, but when it comes down to it, nothing matters. It is just you and that person. No one else seems to even be in the room. All focus is on what is about to happen…

One of my really good friends just recently got married. This is his second marriage. His first one was to his college sweet heart. They dated all four years, were the good Christian couple we could all look up to but after 8 years things came to an end. And it was a very ugly ending. No one knew why it happened but them two. He was mad at her for leaving, and said some not so great things about her. She was staying quiet. Was not saying a bad word about him or the marriage. She only said, “There are two sides to every story.” Of course our Christian friends all had an opinion. Not all of them had bad things to say, but you know how it is when things like this happens. Sadly the bad things blast out the good and that’s what they heard. Judgment from us. Sadly all of us.

His new marriage explains the two sides to every story. He is now married to one of their best friends while they were married. However this time he married another man. And yes, the scandal and two-sided talk started right away.  There was apparently no affair while he was married to his wife, but now that they were no longer married what was to stop him?

This is one of the hardest things for me to grasp in the Church. At a church I use to attend something happened that really made me question our motives as Christians. Now remember, I am no deep theologian, but what makes sense to me makes sense. And this did not.  There was a couple attending the church. Clearly madly in love. He was so respectful to her, you could tell they were crazy about each other. He would not go anywhere with another girl, never give another female a ride without his girlfriend. When asked about it, he said he respected his lady too much to be seen alone with another female. Men should not put themselves in that situation.  They bought a really nice house together in a nice little neighborhood. The church had just one issue…they were not married.

Now they never once claimed to be “followers” of Christ. They were attending church because that is what good families do. They just had no intention of actually getting married. They had seen it fail to many times. And they said it is a commitment to God and each other. If they were not true “Christians” why should they make that commitment to God. They wanted to keep seeking and seeing if it was right for them.  The Church did not agree.

The pastor who was a wonderful man kept pushing for it. Started out teasing but eventually you could tell that he was not kidding. So did other friends in the church. They had valid points, and I agree with most of everything. I believe you should be married if you are going to share a bed. I agree with that much.

Ok so now my friend who just married his partner. This church did NOT agree with this marriage. And I am going to be honest, I struggle hard with this as well. You can’t just shake your growing up teachings overnight. So know right now, I am NOT giving my opinion on anything in this area of what is right and what is sinful. I am just going to share where I think as a church we are once again idiots.

The guy made a valid point, “It is a commitment between God and each other.” So here two people who are NOT Christians (they admit to that) were being bugged and finally felt forced to get married. And they did. They got married, they had the church and the commitment to God. After it they both talked about how they only did it for their parents and the church. Nothing else changed, but they have the paper to show it.

How can we say marriage is right or wrong for anyone when we are not consistent? We are ok with two people who openly admit they are not Christians, but not two people of the same-sex. Neither are what the bible says is a marriage.  If we go by what we are telling one, shouldn’t it be the same for the other?

Again, I don’t know where I am on all this. I just know that if we are not consistent, we should not have an opinion. Black and white is what I was taught.

Who wants to pray…?

Sitting in a room full of people. Friends you have had for many years. They know almost everything there is to know about you. Mind you everyone has their secrets, but for the most part you are an open book. You are surrounded by the ones you love, who are closest to you, yet you feel completely alone.

This happened just this weekend. Was with a great group of friends, some who I see daily, and some who I have not seen in years. All is going great. We are at a restaurant, we are about to eat, and someone asks, “Ok who wants to pray?”  Someone finally breaks the awkward silence and says the prayer. And that’s whey my skin starts to crawl. I get annoyed, kind of angry and then just start to smile and laugh to myself.

Maybe being a former youth pastor who was completely burnt out and pretty much having my entire faith in question I tend to be a little sensitive about things.  I tend to watch the person praying, or leading worship and then the people around them, see how they are responding as the prayer is being prayed. Let me just tell you quick how this prayer went….

“Father God thanks, thanks for being here with us father god, and father god help our conversation be glorifying to you father god. Father God thanks that we can get together and enjoy each other father god…..”

This went on for a while. But you get the idea….I am pretty sure Father God did too.

Of course being the rude person I am I thought it would be funny to start talking like he did while he prayed.  At first no one really picked up on what I was doing, but eventually I think my point was made. My conversations went something like this:

“Josh, how is your coke Josh. Josh did you have a nice evening with your family josh. Josh what did you get for a meal josh. Josh do you like your job josh. Josh, when are you going to realize that talking like this is annoying to everyone including God…Josh.”

Of course people laughed, I am sure some thought I was rude. But my point is this. Christians can be idiots. I am not surprised we have such a bad reputation.  And that’s when I feel the most alone. When I am surrounded by my Christian friends. Heres the thing. We talk to people daily. We dont talk to God the way we talk to our friends. I dont get that.

However, here is where things in my simple mind don’t make sense. I do have this small group of friends. Not sure how to even describe them. But they drink sometimes. They cuss a lot. They are not your typical “Christian.” Yet they claim to be Christians. And they show Christs love more than anyone I meet. In the churches eyes they are to worldly for the church but in the worlds eyes they are to religious for the world. They really don’t have a “place” that they belong. Yet I feel myself when I am with them. I can be me.