Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why Can't We Be Friends? (Part II)

Well, Buffalo congratulations. You're no longer the only pro sports team in America to play a game with no fans in the stadium. Of course, it took a national crisis for this particular instance, where in the case of the Bills, all it takes is for them to play more than 1000 miles from Ralph Wilson Stadium.

In case you missed it, the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox now have the dubious honor of being the having played the only game in an empty stadium. And, in case you missed it, the reason why the stadium was empty is because Major League Baseball  felt is was unsafe for the fans to come to Camden Yards for a ball game. And in case you missed it, that's because people in Baltimore, where Camden Yards is located are setting cars on fire and looting shopping centers. So now, because some ignorant fools want to answer violence with violence,  we have to put our lives on hold and can't even enjoy something simple like a ballgame. In case you missed it.

And in case you missed it, you should go back and read part one of this blog post, because it gives this part context. It's the yin to this yang. Or is it yen? Whatever, you know what I mean.  The emotions that these things stir in me are strong. I had to get out of bed at 3:00 this morning and remove some profanity from part one of my first blog post. If you happen to be one of the 12 people that saw it, I apologize. But the feelings come from a place that I'm just now coming to understand. Sadness. I love my country, perhaps I'm an idealist, but I believe in the American dream, and to see it violated saddens me deeply. To turn on my television, and see people so angry that they're taking to the streets in violent protest... Well, it made me weep. And it's frustrating. What do we do?!? It seems like the only people that can fix the problem are the problem!?! Who do you call to protect you from the police? And it Pisses. Me. Off.  When white people turn on their televisions and see black people in the streets setting things on fire and looting stores, what do you suppose they're going to think?

Again, If you read Part I, (Last chance. If you didn't, do it now) you know where I stand on the system being broken. But that's only half the story. Fair or not, we can't control the system. All we can control is how we respond to it. And we can't expect it to help us, especially if we don't stand up and help ourselves.

And perpetuating a culture of violence is not helpful for anyone. We already have enough obstacles to overcome in 21st century America that we don't need to create more, and yet we do. Who are our black male role models? Celebrities, and athletes! Ask a 15 year old black kid who Chris Brown or Drake is, and I guarantee you they'll know the name. Can we say the same about Cornell West or Ben Carson? I'm not so sure. Hip-Hip has it's place but it's entertainment, not an aspiration. And men like Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, while they're musicians, they're also successful businessmen, who worked their butts off to get themselves out of the ghetto. Maybe we should give a little more attention to that.

No, instead we glorify drugs and violence while objectifying women. The problem with that is a rap song only lasts five minutes. A felony conviction lasts forever. And what happens when you make role models out of gangsters and thugs, and men that call women bitches and hoes? You get boys that want to be gangsters and thugs, that call women bitches and hoes. And why wouldn't they? It worked for Jay-Z, and he landed Beyonce!

And that violence and misogyny goes far beyond our music. Perhaps your heard about Demitria Latrion Powell the 28 year old black woman arrested in Flint, Michigan for child abuse. If not let me fill you in. Powell allegedly found a Facebook page her son created, her 11 year old son, mind you. And on the page, he calls himself a thug, or something along those lines. So Powell and her mother decided to whip the boy viciously. Which is bad enough in and of itself. But they also thought it was a good idea to give someone a camera and have him record it. Who, you ask? The boy's father. Who wanted to participate but had just spent ten years in prison and didn't want to violate parole(on camera). And yes, it get's better, while they're beating this boy, they say "call child protective services if you want to" and then they post it on FaceBook for the world to see. And I imagine if you're not familiar with this story (or black) you're completely dumbfounded. Well, you might want to get a clean pair of shorts, because that's still not the end of the story. The video was shared on FaceBook over 1000 times before someone actually DID call child protective services. There were just as many people commending those women for beating up an 11 year old boy as there were condoning them. And those of us black people over the age of 25 or 30, even if we don't condone it, we understand it. Because if it didn't happen to us, we all know people it did happen to.

And, I have to ask again, to what end? I'm willing to bet his father was raised the same way, and look at the good it did him. So we have another black boy growing up without a father. And once again, his mother didn't like his actions and her first instinct is to give him a "whuppin' " Okay, fine. But don't be surprised 15 years from now when your son gets mad at his girlfriend, and his first response is to give her a whuppin' because you taught him that all conflict can be solved with violence, and his father wasn't there to teach him how to respect women. And yes black men, there is a reason why black women have a reputation for being 'bitches'. Because we have a well earned reputation for mistreating women.

Brace yourself, here comes another disturbing video This time, we have an unnamed gentleman, who apparently is distraught because his daughter has been missing for three days. When she does finally turn up, you know, to show how relieved he is, he gives mom a camera beats the crap out of her, while holding her by her hair. All the while calling her a bitch and a ho.  Oh yeah, and because apparently, it's the "in" thing to make grotesque videos of you abusing your children and have them go viral, he put in on  FaceBook for the whole world to see.  And again people came out of the woodwork to defend these animals!  Here's the interesting thing, Apparently pops was distraught, because he thought his daughter was "dead in the woods" somewhere, while instead she was out having a good time with some fellas that she knew. Hey dad, a little tip. Spend more time teaching you daughter how beautiful she is, and how she shouldn't give herself to a man that didn't treat her with the love and respect that she's due. You know, instead of beating her up when you're mad.

There is never, ever a good reason for a man to hit a woman. And if this girl is getting this from her father now, what are her relationships with men going to be like going forward? And so, the cycle continues.

Sadly these are not isolated incidents. Google father beats daughter and a whole list of videos will come up. Dad found sexts on girls phone. Dad caught girl twerking. And we've all seen the video of the woman smacking her kid around for rioting in Baltimore, yes? She's become a national hero! So we have a boy, who's out in the street rioting, meeting violence with violence. Where do you suppose he learned that? Do you think that was the first time his mother smacked him around? I'm guessing not. And so she's telling her son it's wrong to riot and be violent, meanwhile she's smacking the kid upside the head.

And the whole idea of beating your children so they respect you is not only misguided, it's cruel. It doesn't create respect, it creates fear. When your child is afraid of you, their going to do whatever it takes to keep from making you angry. They'll lie, and keep things from you and build walls that don't need to be there. Fear is not an effective parenting method, you'll have children that act out, and resent authority, and you may have a strong willed child (like me, for instance) that learns to overcome their fears. Then what? What happens when the threat of a whuppin doesn't work anymore? And, eventually fear turns into anger and resentment. And anger leads to violence. And the cycle continues.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them

Proverbs 13:24 (NIV, Emphasis mine)

It wasn't until I was an adult that my father and I began to have conversations and I got to know him as a man, as a person, and not just the man who gave out the whuppins. And the conversations and interactions we have now, if we could have had them 25 years ago, I imagine our relationship would have been a lot different. My father is a respectable man. And when I look back now, at some of the things I've done, as a son? I'm ashamed of myself, because afraid or not, I was disrespectful and there were plenty of times when I deserved to be punished. Strongly. Stern discipline is important, it's biblical. People love to quote that, when they're about to beat their kids, but for some reason nobody seems to remember the second half. It's not my place to say whether you should spank your children or not, but if you do, you're supposed do do it from a place of love and care, not a place of anger. The Bible does not give you license to beat your children, and using scripture as an excuse for child abuse is despicable.

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. 

(Ephesians 6:1-4 NLT)

This is a command to the parents and the children. Children honor your parents. It's a recurring theme in the Bible, and Paul lists parental disobedience along with murder and blasphemy. Ouch.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 

(Romans 1:28-31 NLT)

Of course, Paul is talking about the Romans. From Rome. In the first century. Of course it doesn't sound too far off of what we'd find if we turnd on the tv or the radio, is it? Don't we want better for ourselves? Our children deserve better. They're not born knowing how to honor their father and mother. That's something that has to be taught. And that part about provoking your child to anger. I don't know about you, but if someone made a video of me getting beat up and put it on FaceBook, I think I might be a little angry. Just sayin'

And of course the media jumps on these things, and the stories blow up. Thus perpetuating the violence culture and the racist society. Again, if I'm a white father and I see a man doing that to his daughter. And I see other people defending it? Unless I know other black people, which a LOT of people don't, that may be my only exposure to black culture. Rock on! My father worked a full time job and served in the army reserve for 30 years while me and my brother and sisters were growing up. That, is an example. My cousin Loyd served in both Iraq wars. The list goes on but we don't hear about those, and that's the problem. We have to control our own destiny, and we have to stop giving the news media stories like Demitria Powell.  And for God sakes, when someone does something that terrible and pulls their head out of their ass long enough to film it, don't open your mouth and defend them!

People died so we could have the right to get an education. Our grandparents, aunts uncles and parents faced attack dogs, and fire hoses and all sorts of other unthinkable things so we would have the rights that we squander today. Yes, we live in a racist society. Yes, as a black person, you're more apt to be arrested convicted and incarcerated than a white person. Suck it up and get over it. You can't control that. The only thing you can control is how you respond to it. And the race card only takes you so far. Eventually you have to step up and take personal responsibility for your actions.

Black America needs to make a change. We as a people need to put our collective foot down and say enough is enough. We want better for ourselves, and we're going to do what it takes to get it. We are a strong people, we're tough. And I believe, once we get our ducks in a row and decide that we're going to change things for the better, then we will. But we have to clean our house first. First and foremost, we need to stop hurting each other. Stop meeting violence with violence. And let's stop teaching our children to solve their problems with violence by using it as a sole means of discipline.

I watched this video last night too, and I wish I could meet these guys. When I heard that rival gang members were planning on uniting in Baltimore to kill cops, I was disgusted, but not surprised. Violence culture. But then my friend Ben McKnight directed me toward this video.  Ben and I have been friends for over 20 years. After Heather, there's nobody that knows me better than he does. Ben has an optimism, and the ability to see good in people that I envy. After all I just said, to hear these men say what they're saying is proof to me that we, as a people can overcome this trial.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Can't We Be Friends?

"They were going down Jefferson Avenue breaking storefront windows. Going right past certain stores, and throwing bricks throw windows of other ones. Setting some of them on fire"

"I remember hearing the cops yelling 'Get Inside Now!' and our living room was full of people. Some of them we didn't even know. And we waited..."  - Michelle Hardaway (age 11 during the Rochester Riots)

Rochester  New York
July  24, 1964

Around 10:00 PM the Rochester police department arrests a young man at a block party for public intoxication.  After other reports of police misconduct and brutality, including the assault of a pregnant woman, and a K-9 unit attacking a minor, the crowd becomes violent. By 11:30 a crowd 400 people had collected in the streets, throwing bricks at police cars. By the time the Rochester Riots ended, 1000 people had been arrested, four people died and large parts of the city lay in ruins, never fully recovering from the damage done during those three days.

(Joseph Ave facing north)

The riots in Rochester didn't happen because of one event. It was a culmination of events that lead there. Rochester, as were many cities in the northeast  a hub of manufacturing. Kodak, Bauch & Lomb and Xerox, locally referred to as "The Big Three" were all headquartered there. And yet blacks remained unemployed in living in sub-standard public housing.

Walter Cooper, who moved to Rochester as a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Rochester, said that in 1954 he was denied almost 70 times before him and his Wife and daughter found an apartment in Corn Hill. Some people didn't even bother to hide their racism telling him flat out they "don't rent to negroes."

I have heard my mother's account of the Rochester Riots many, many times. And I was in school during Black History Month when they taught us about the Civil Rights era, and while I'm well aware that those things happened and are a part of American history, I never thought I would see the day they would be current events.

But last night when I turned on the news, and saw those people in Baltimore, looting the stores and setting fires. I thought to myself is this 21st century America? We have a black president. Black businessmen. How can this be happening. Again? Another dead black man. Another funeral and still no answers. Every single week we hear about another officer killing another black kid. Always different details, same story. Cop stops kid, kid resists, cop shoots, kid dies, cop walks. NEXT.  And now we have people rioting in the streets.

Freddie GrayWalter ScottMichael BrownTamir RiceJohn Crawford IIIEric HarrisAiyana Jones, the list goes on and on. All unarmed black people who were killed by police officers. Walter Scott was shot eight times in the back while running away. Freddie Gray's spinal cord was served from his head. Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy, was shot by police 2 seconds after they found him playing in the park with a toy gun. And the list goes on and on. And our justice system does nothing. As it stands now, even though all seven of those black people are dead, not one person has been charged and convicted. And why would they? We can't reasonably expect cops to send cops up the river, can we?

Aiyana Jones

The worst part though, is the indifference of the people. I can understand why police want to cover their own ass. And I've grown to accept government corruption as a reality. I've also grown to expect systemic racism. Racism in America is no less rampant than when Rochester was plunged into chaos 50 years ago. Now, we just cloak it in pleasantries and political correctness. AKA B.S. Some of you may remember last year when the crap hit celebrity chef Paula Deen's fan? Just in case you don't, let me refresh your memory. Deen was being sued by a former (black) employee for discrimination, and was asked if she'd ever used the word "Nigger", to which she responded yes. It was like she said she had a crush on Hitler and worshipped Satan. She got fired from the Food Network, her cookbooks got pulled from shelves, Americans were PISSED! And do any of you remember Donald Sterling? He's the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was dragged through the mud for making "racially insensitive" comments to his (half-black) girlfriend about former pro-ball player Magic Johnson. He was illegally recorded in his telling her he didn't want her showing up at Clippers games with colored people.. Didn't go over big. Again, America was upset! They fined him, took away his team. He didn't go on the Today Show and cry like Paula Deen did, but he didn't exactly walk away with his head held high either.

And that's why we love America right? Because when a recording of a 90 year old guy making racist remarks, while in the privacy of his own home, surfaces we are outraged and disgusted and call for his head. However, when a recording of a police officer shooting a black man in the back eight times while he's running away surfaces, we act indifferent and say let the system work it out. We're willing to string this poor woman up for something she said years ago,  yet we "Can't say whether those boys deserved to be shot or not, because we weren't there".  And you wonder why people want to throw bricks through windows and set stuff on fire?!? And a better question is this; we have a 93 year old man and a 60 something southern belle, and you're surprised they've made racist remarks? Really?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" 

There are few things that hurt more than betrayal. Cuts heal, bruises fade away. Betrayal stays with us forever. To be betrayed by our country, is particularly frustrating and heartbreaking. To compound that, there are people who claim to love and care for you and have no possible understanding of said betrayal tell you you're  overreacting, or that you have no right to feel betrayed. Perhaps you deserved it. I'm not speaking in hypotheticals, I'm speaking for myself and tens of thousands of people of color who are being marginalized minimized and ignored. When a southern TV chef is martyred for saying nigger 30 years ago, and police officers aren't punished for gunning down 12 year old boys playing in the park, we have a problem. How does having my child gunned down in the park translate to the pursuit to Life, Liberty, or Happiness? Well, I figure since the boy is dead, we can toss life out the window. And I have no problem speaking for the black community when I say, in this particular instance.. Happiness? Try again. So that leaves liberty. Does a child have the liberty to play in the park without being gunned down by police officers? Well, if you're a black child, don't bet on it. (Or else you might get shot for illegal gambling)

"I saw it as a rebellion. People were just fed up being treated like animals. Living like animals. Being cussed at, hollered at," Porter said, adding a lack of access to government to the grievances. "You had frustrations of all kinds, and you get to a point it's like a dam. You got a little crack ... you keep the pressure on it, the flood gate is going to crash — and here comes the water." -former  Rochester school board president Darryl Porter, who was 15 at the time and living with his older sister and brother on Clarissa Street.

The people in Rochester were angry, and they had every right to be and so do the people in Baltimore. I'm angry. I am beyond angry. I'm somewhere between angry and enraged. I don't like this particular side of myself, and learned to bury it a long time ago. I don't get angry easily, but when I do, I can be mean and I can be vicious. It is one of the few thousand reasons I detest my Alma Mater.  I was perpetually angry there.  And I was always on the outside looking in. I was called nigger. I was harassed by police. I was kicked and spit on. I was told I didn't belong in Fairport, and on more than one occasion to go back go Africa. I may not be a violent person, but I believe in justice, and I believe in right and wrong. And there was a time when I thought violence was a means to exact justice. I've since grown older, and hopefully wiser, so I no longer feel that way. But I understand people who do, and I honestly don't really blame them at this point.

Over and over again I hear how Michael Brown deserved to get shot. And over and over again I say THAT'S NOT THE POINT! Forgive the yelling, but some are apparently deaf, stupid or have their hands over their ears and didn't hear it the first fifty times. So we'll go over it One. More. Time. If you don't understand this time, have an adult read it to you. There are tens of thousands of innocent people that were killed before Michael Brown. Were we supposed to wait for another innocent person to die before we started to protest? Do you have any idea how moronic that sounds? Yes, he robbed someone, yes he attacked the officer. So, yes, perhaps it was justified. But what of the 3,500 blacks that were lynched between 1880 and 1950. Of course, we know that each and every one of them had it coming too don't we?

But even if each and every one of them did, which we all know of course they didn't, but even if they did, it's not 1950 anymore, it's 2015.  In 2015, I shouldn't have to worry if today is the day get shot just for walking down the street. In 2015 it shouldn't take millions of black people saying police in America are racist to get something done. And what I don't get, and what keeps me up at night, is why the people that I love, the people that know me and claim they trust me just don't get it. Don't believe what you see on TV? Fine. Think the internet is full of crap? Me too. But do you really think all the blacks around the country are protesting because its fun? And how can you look your black friend in the face when they say they're being mistreated and say "I don't believe you" or "no you're not". Imagine if that were your son or daughter, and they came home from school one day, and told you their teacher hit them. Would you say, "Well, since I wasn't there I can't say what happened" and leave it at that? The whole idea of it is stupid. And yet, that's what we get. From people who claim to care. Hey, we have a black president, who nobody respects, so that must mean racism is dead right? Do you have any idea how condescending and presumptuous it is to tell a black person that there's no racism in America? Or better yet, how to deal with the police. Is there one white person out there that walked a mile in a black mans Air Jordans? No. The next time you want to tell a black person how to deal with the cops, unless you're asked, don't. You don't know what you're talking about and you're advice is neither helpful or prudent. In other words, stay in your lane.

Over the course of the last year, I have heard white people blame, the media, Democrats, Republicans, Barack Obama, and blacks as a whole for starting this racial tension. What very few are saying is 'Maybe they have a point'.  The same way people clam up when you mention 'white privilege'.  Another personal favorite is "It's not a skin problem it's a sin problem", as if the two were mutually exclusive. Now, I don't know who came up with that little piece of drivel, but I'd love to see them in a rear naked choke. Maybe Jon Jones can do it I hear he has some free time now. Just to put that nonsense to rest, police murdering children in their beds and shooting people in the back is a problem. The simple fact that these people all have the same color skin, is also a problem.
 It's easier to blame the media or the government than to take a good hard look at yourself and find that maybe you got where you are on the backs of others, whether you had any say in it or not. The idea of your benefitting from someone else's suffering is troubling. Life's a bitch ain't it? And it's easier to use platitudes like "It's not a skin problem..." than to admit that the people beside you are being oppressed, but we are. Your choosing ignore it or write it off as the devil's work makes it no less real or deplorable. Racism isn't a problem as long as your skin is the right color. Or, if you're willing to deal with it, and only complain when celebrities use racial slurs, and not when people get murdered.

When this whole thing bubbled to the surface, I felt so alone, so isolated. I'm 2300 miles away from all of my friends. All of my friends who are white and have no idea how I feel. I was fully prepared to go it alone. It broke my heart. But God has blessed me with some beautiful friends who don't seem to know what race is. They love me, I love them and that's it. Together, we are going to right this wrong. Thank you, I love you. But there are other friends who just don't understand, and never will. I say to them, I love you too. My friends are all great people, and friends stick together. So, yes I'm angry and you may not understand why. And we will probably argue about these things but I tell you this, if I call you friend, you can consider me your brother.

One of my friends, Matt Gonzalez is a police officer for the Rochester Police Department. He's a fine man, and if all policemen were like him, blogs like this wouldn't be needed, but they aren't, so here we are. Every day thousands of police officers strap on their badge and gun, and see and do things that most of us will never have to deal with. The men and women that do that job need to be commended and respected, and we cannot allow the actions of a few rouge idiots poison our opinion of an entire group of people. To do so would make us no better than them. And while I understand a violent reaction, I have to say that it's wrong. It's no better to kill an innocent police officer than it is to kill a civilian. And frankly, the issue stretches far beyond the walls of our police departments, into our cities, into our towns and our neighborhoods.

My wife and I recently moved to Scottsdale, AZ. I kept asking 'Why am I Here?' Scottsdale feels like what Fairport wants to be when it grows up. Stuck up, sports cars, rich people. Why are the only people of color here the people that work here?  One day I said to my wife "I feel like I'm David in the land of the Philestines'. But, now I know why I am here. I am here because I needed to remember.  I had forgotten how much I hated racism. I had forgotten how much I hated being marginalized. I needed to remember. I needed to remember that I am a black man, and I need to stand up and say this is not right. I remember now.

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
1 Samuel 45-47

Of course two sides to every story right? Make sure to read Why Can't We Be Friends? Part II

Monday, April 27, 2015

Piece of Cake

Once a week I tell myself I'm done with social networking. I don't give a crap what color the dress is, and it's been 20 years since I sat in a classroom so I don't know the right answer to your algebra riddle. Because just like I told my math teacher, I've managed to get by just fine as an adult without knowing the order of operations (I do by the way, I'm just making a point.) And then there are the friend requests. I get "friend requests" from people that I was sitting next to in that classroom. People I wouldn't talk to then. If I didn't speak to you when we sat next to each other every day for a year what makes you think I want to know what you're having for lunch 25 years later?

But more than that, more than anything actually is that cat Memes and recipes for Jell-O shots get the same amount of attention as real world issues like war and police brutality. One incident that stands out, I pointed out that more Americans knew about Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMA's than Syrians being gassed by their government, and that I found that disturbing. One of the twenty something's who I knew from Church commented "What's it to you?" Literally. Why do I care if people are more interested in a woman shaking her butt on television than a foreign government murdering it's citizens? He went on to say, there's nothing I can do about it, so I don't worry about it. Are you freaking kidding me? Did you hear ANY of the things we taught you in church? It made me want to bang my head against the wall. And it seems like it have one of these discussions every day. And every day I promise myself it's the last one. Be it police brutality, our commander-in-chief or, Kirk vs Picard, (Picard, all day) this is going to be the last one. Until the next one.

So when my friend Pastor Cory Hunneyman posts an article about a Christian couple being fined $135,000 for refusing services to a gay couple I think, oh boy here we go again. Now, if there's anything I've learned about me and my fellow Christians over the course of my lifetime is we can argue with the best of 'em, those of us that have been aroud for a while anyway. Spend enough time in the church and you can  have a scripture reference for everything, and this argument was no different. This person chiming in as to why they'd make the cake (The whole discussion started over a wedding cake, which I still think is stupid in the grand scheme of things, but that's not the point) the other person explaining why they wouldn't and why it's a sin. And not only did I make my case, I said the conversation was silly in the most condescending text I could conjure, not worth arguing about. Seriously, I was in my evangelical zone. I went to bed quite proud of myself, hoping those people would read my wise words and realize their folly. Ha! No such luck. The next morning, I look and someone had the nerve to disagree with me! What I said came right out out of the Bible! What the hell is wrong with these people??  And again, are we seriously arguing about cakes you morons? Hello!? Bible, eternal souls, is this thing on? Perhaps, if I quote scripture directly they'll listen and stop wasting time on silly things like cake.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” 

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

There it is, in black and white. Or, red in this instance. What isn't there to get!? And yet the argument continued. Do you make a cake for Nazis? Does a mechanic refuse to fix a gay couple's car? Is turkey bacon legally considered bacon? That one actually got really heated, but that's another post. Just pray for them. Now, early on in the conversation a gay woman chimed in and gave her opinion. Is she a Christian? She didn't say. But to be honest it doesn't much matter. What if I were a gay man, and reading those comments, and my life was reduced to an issue, or a tweet? That wouldn't exactly make me feel the Christ like love that we Christians are called to share. Christianity is about love and grace and yet my Christian brothers and sister's aren't getting it. What is wrong with these people? That's Christianity 101.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6

I sat down full of piss and vinegar, ready to call out my Christian brethren. Are they (it's not we anymore) being patient or kind to these non-believers? I think not! It's like they're some some modern day phairasees or something. The nerve of some people!

Ever hear that one about,  Judge not lest Ye be judged?  Waiter? We'll take a double order of judgement over here! Here's one of the beautiful things about the God I believe in, he can use your idiocy to help you grow, as long as you get out of the way and let him. When I stopped arguing and started reading the scriptures I was quoting, this whole thing took on an entirely different light. Throughout this discussion, have I been patient? No. Patience hasn't always been my strong suit. Normally, I'm able to make up for it with my endless charm and stunning good looks, but that didn't even work here. Kind? Not exactly, I seem to remember saying something like "Tough $hit" about the bakery going out of business. They made the bed, let 'em sleep. That's a kind Christian approach isn't it? So, looks like I totally dropped the ball on the 1 Corinthians 13 thing. Well done Ray! Another hypocritical Christian. Let me clue you in on a little secret. I am a hypocrite. And so is everyone else who professes to follow Christ. I believe every word in the Bible, and every day, I try to live out what I believe in However, every day I go against my principles, I violate scripture, and I don't quite practice what I preach. You know why? Because I'm human.

It infuriates me when people use scripture to create division, and yet in my rush to defend unbelievers, I did just that. And to what end? I obviously didn't convince my Christian friends. And what of the non-Christians that see this conversation? We talk about being loving, and yet argue amongst each other like children.

I worked as a volunteer youth worker for five years. In that time, some of my closest friendships were forged. There was one particular boy though that just drove me crazy. It seemed like whenever he got the chance he would irritate me. He loves to tell the story of how I lost my temper and gave him the middle finger in church when he was in Jr. high. With both hands. Fast forward four or five years, and apparently he was listening at church, because even when his youth leader was a little off track, he was clear headed enough to be the voice of reason;

"There is further sin hoping in or being satisfied by their financial hardship, even if it is a consequence.

there are times people suffer these types of consequences and I want to put on my "serves you right" hat....but as a Christian, I'm called not to."

Words of wisdom from the kid I flipped the bird.

As for the Miley loving twenty-something I spoke about earlier, he and I are no longer FaceBook friends. We were never particularly close, and that discussion showed how very little we had in common. Besides, we hadn't talked in a few years anyways. Shortly after he graduated high school, he stopped coming to church. He seemed to sever his ties with all of his church friends. Coincidentally, he's gay as well.  Did he feel he couldn't  talk to those of us who were supposed to be supporting him? I don't know.  Christians don't exactly have a reputation for being 'Gay friendly'  But I know this, Christ died for him as much as he did me, you and everyone else. So, let's try to keep that in mind next time we have one of our theological 'debates.'

There will always be difficult discussions that need to be had in church. And every day the Church will take a stand that goes against what society is right, or status quo. But honestly, it doesn't much matter what the issue is, be it gay marriage,  or the rapture, or whether Coke is better than Pepsi (it is) we need to come at it from a place of love. Christianity is about relationships. The only reason why you're a Christian today is because someone loved you enough to share the Gospel with you. The only reason I'm a Christian today is because Christ loved me so much that he gave his life so I wouldn't have to. That my friends is the gospel. That's the good news!

He said to them, “You are to go to all the world and preach the Good News to every person. (Mark 16:15 NIV emphasis mine) 

And one of the most beautiful things about the Gospel, and the God I believe in is that my God loves men, women, gay, straight, bhuddist, Democrat, game show host, whatever. *

"Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

1 Timothy 2:14-17A 2:19

*Joey, it took a little research, but I found out that working for satan doesn't disqualify you, so that includes lawyers too!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Coming out of the closet

So, I don't normally post blog entries that I've written when I'm angry. I write them to vent, put them aside, and move on. But this will be posted, I ought to print it it and drop it from airplanes, this needs to be said.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a Christian. It is a central part of my identity. I am a Christian, I'm a man, I'm a husband, in that order. I'm proud of that, and I will not hide it. No, I'm not one who wears 'Jesus Saves' t-shirts, or anything like that, but I make my faith part of my life. I say this for context, so you get an understanding of me. Christians have a reputation of being judgmental, closed minded. People call us opinionated, hypocrites. That's another discussion for another day. But now that I've set that stage, let me get back to why I started writing in the first place. Every morning, I have my breakfast and I check three websites. One about food, FaceBook, and Google News. This morning, like many others, I opened FaceBook and was inundated with people bitching about President Obama. Not surprisingly, most of it was from my Christian friends or people I went to church with, who I don't know, but I accepted their friend request because they were church people and it was easier than having an awkward situation on Sunday morning. On to Google News, and there it is, on 'Is Obama Really A Christian??' The blog writer then examines Obama's policies and makes the case, if he were a Christian he wouldn't believe in gay marriage, abortion, etc. Now I'm not God, and neither are you so you can't say whether Obama is Christian or not, and to do so is presumptuous and arrogant.  But I can say with certainty that I am a Christian, and I agree with President Obama on more things than with my fellow church attendees more often than not. Imagine that!!! A Christian that's not a fundamentalist conservative! So I'm going to break it down for you, if President Obama's views disqualify him as a Christian, then I'm disqualified too. But anyone with a basic understanding of Biblical Christianity knows that your stance on the Common Core has no bearing on your eternal salvation whatsoever, and yet we're willing to write our president off as Beelzebub because we disagree with his ideology.

Do I think that gays in America should be able to get married? Yes. The fact that we disagree with it doesn't mean it should be banned. If we outlawed everything that was a sin, everyone would be executed or in jail. As one half of an inter-racial couple, the idea of the government deciding who can and can't marry is offensive to me. Now, that does not mean churches should be obligated to marry homosexuals. That's why I love America. It's the land of the free. The church has every right and responsibility to decide who gets married within it's walls. I believe in the separation of church and state. If a church doesn't want to marry a couple, for any reason, so be it.

Do I think abortion should be illegal in America? No. I believe the choice to have an abortion is the choice of the parents. That being said, I believe that life begins at conception and I consider myself to be pro-life. But clearly, the way the church is handling the abortion issue is not working. Instead of being punitive, we need to be supportive of women with unwanted pregnancies. Instead of being punitive about this issue we need to be more supportive. Imagine the difference we could make if Christians stood outside Planned Parenthood telling these people that God loves them, Christ loves them, and we're here for you no matter what you need. Maybe that might be better than showing pictures of fetuses and calling them murderers. Faith, Hope, Love? Anyone?

If you're one of my Christian friends, and you're reading this, I'm sorry I disappointed you. Although, I'll get over it quickly because I'm medicated. That's right, I smoke pot! Why? Well because it's the only way I can function. Otherwise I could spend $2500 a month on opiates and spend 24 hours a day in a drug induced insomniac haze. And constipated, yeah good times. But on the bright side, I wouldn't remember any of it. If you know a chronically ill person, you know someone who would benefit from medical cannabis. Simple things like walking, sleeping, eating, things you take for granted?Would not be possible for me without it. I am alive today because I use medical marijuana.

All it takes is some idiot like to Don Imus say 'gay marriage should be illegal' and people buy it hook line and sinker. Or 'don't vaccinate your kid, let 'em get polio instead' and it becomes a national issue, and nobody bothers to think these things through. There's an assumption in America that if you're a Christian, you're a conservative. I am here to say, thankfully that is not the case. In fact I'm begging. Please, PLEASE don't put me in that group. There are plenty of other Christians out there like me, but we don't talk about it because we don't want to be called bad Christians. Of course it's perfectly acceptable to vote for a mormon, (See Mitt Romney) but a Christian who actually wants everyone treated the same? NOPE! He's the antichrist. Well, I have finally gotten to a point in my faith where I don't care what other people think of my Christianity.

I  have a reputation for being outspoken, and always saying what's on my mind, which is generally the case. This has been on my mind for 10 years and only now have I finally worked up the gumption to say it. What will my mother say?  (She's either crying or pissed) Will my Christian friends think less of me? (If so, they're not my friends anymore) The fact that Christians are afraid to have discussions about real world issues in Church (trust me, they are) says maybe we've earned our reputation of being judgmental and opinionated.  If Christians don't feel comfortable talking to other Christians about difficult issues how on earth do we expect to reach non-Christians? (We don't. Check the numbers) When the world ends, and Christ returns is it really going to matter if pot or gay marriage was legal? (No. Look it up) There are many people that agree with me, but we're a silent minority. So instead, we get people like Pat Robertson as an ambassador. Until we speak up, people will assume the loud obnoxious voice of the Christian Right is the only voice.

So, to sum it all up, I believe in gay marriage. I believe abortion should be legal. I am completely for the legalization of recreational and medicinal cannabis. I loathe and detest Fox News and would rather see Homer Simpson as president than Sara Palin. I'm a democrat who believes in open borders. But first, I am a Christian.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

It's All God, It's All Good.

By the time I was ten, I had been on life support and in intensive care
By twenty-five I was on dialysis, had lost half my body weight due to severe nausea. According to certain doctors, the strain the kidney disease put onto my system lead to a heart attack. 
By thirty, I had had a kidney transplant, been in respiratory failure and spent a month in a coma.
By thirty-five, I'd had close to twenty surgeries. Some minor vascular surgeries, some major, like brain surgery. I'd also dealt with kidney failure twice. 
I'm 37 years old now and if you were to add up all the time I've spent in hospitals, dialysis units and other various health care facilities, it would easily be a third of that. And you know what I think, when I look at it right now? I think wow, I am truly blessed.

Hold on, stop, wait! Did this dude just say he feels blessed? Sounds like somebody's been hitting the pain meds again. I assure you, that's not it. What it is, is this. Right now, at I time of peace, I am able to sit back and take a look at what God has done for me and praise him for it. We're are always happy to accept God's blessings when they feel good, aren't we?  For example, Heather's brother and his wife, after years of trying, were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. He's all smiles and sunshine. Truly a joy to be around. My nephew is more proof that God is good. I have another nephew. His mother, Christina was my older sister. I say was because she died when she was 31 years old. His father died from cancer shortly thereafter. Did God bless my sister by giving her a painful cancer? No. But he used that so the people around her could see how a Godly woman handles struggles. She was an inspiration to the people to knew her. Anyone who got to know Christina during that time would be blessed by knowing her. Now she is in the very presence of Jesus Christ, singing praises to The Lord. I can think of no greater blessing than that

When something like illness or death happens to us, we often ask "God, why are you doing this to me?" Or "deliver me from this trial". Perhaps we should try a different tack. You see, God is incapable of malice. God cannot lie to you. So often we use the term 'mixed blessing'. This part was cool, but I could've done without the rest. 'My new boyfriend is great, but his sister is kind of annoying, so it's a mixed blessing' Let me clue you in. Everything The Lord does is for your good. Now that doesn't mean it's going to feel good, but if it's from God it's for good. You can take that to the bank. To get a loaf of bread, you have to put dough in a hot oven first. A diamond is coal that has been placed under immense pressure. In that same way, we can use our life experiences to grow in The Lord. People ask me often how I handle my health issues, and I have to be honest. Nine times out of ten, I don't. 

On more than one occasion I was ready to throw in the towel and call it a day. However God saw fit to keep me here, and for that I am thankful. So instead of asking why all of those things happened to me, I should thank God for what he's done for me. I know that God was holding my hand through every tear, ache or pain. I know this because there is no way I'd be able to do all that on my own strength. I'm tough guy, sure. But I wasn't born on Krypton, and everyone has their limits. Countless times I've been pushed to my limits and been ready to call it a day. Countless times God has blessed me with the stregnth and character it takes to deal with those struggles. 

He has also made sure I've never had to do it alone. God regularly puts people in my life to help me as I navigate this struggle. Relationships like that don't just happen. Some people never get close personal friends like the ones I have been blessed with. Friends that would wake up in the middle of the night and bring you a sandwich while youre in the emergency room. Or a friend who'll drive 8 hours in a snowstorm to attend your father-in-laws funeral. For me to have so many is truly a gift from the Lord. My friends are a blessing. 

I could spend the next 12 pages talking about how wonderful Heather is, and it still wouldn't describe how there is no doubt that she is a gift grom God. Or relationship is special, and unlike any other I've seen. I also have wonderful supportive parents, people who are there to back me up when I need it, but love me enough to tell me when i'm headed down a drak path, as any loving parent would. 

Not to mention my boyish charm and stunning good looks. Okay, so God also gave me a sense of humor.. God has blessed me with the gifts and talents to pursue the career he's called me to. I'm content for the first time in a very long time. Even with all I've been through, and all the pain I've suffered, I can't help but take a step back and thank God for everything he has given me. Last week would have been Christina's 39th birthday. I wonder sometimes what she would be doing if she were here. Raising her son? Pursuing a career? I guess it really doesn't matter. Christina is standing at the foot of God. And I believe there will be more people there because she was here. She was a blessing. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Take what you want and leave the rest.

After my first blog entry, Heather sent me a link to a sermon online by Pastor Frances Chan. My only previous experience with Chan was when I started a book he wrote called 'Crazy Love'. At the time I was a youth worker, and the youth pastor, Cory Hunneyman wanted all of us volunteers to read it. Cory is a trusted friend and an outstanding pastor, so when he recommended the book I was anxious to read it. The book, starts by saying how much God loves us, which I had been taught for years. However in the next chapter, he says something which rubbed me the wrong way. Something along the lines of "You Don't Matter". Now, for someone who's never felt like they fit in, and struggled with low self-esteem their whole life, telling them they don't matter isn't exactly a good way to earn brownie points. I closed the book and gave it away. I just figured Cory dropped the ball on this one. Nobody gets it right all the time

Fast forward 3 years or so. I'm no longer a youth worker, Cory is 2500 miles away. And my wife sends me this video. Now, I learned a long time ago that when my wife 'suggests' that I do something like that, she really means "If you know what's good for you, you'll do it". So I start this Frances Chan video, and sure enough It's a sermon based on that crazy book. But again, I've learned to trust my wife on these things, so I tried to watch with an open mind.

I can't even say that I remember most of the message. I remember agreeing and saying 'Amen' in my head a few times, but like with many sermons, it didn't stick with me. At least not at first. But toward the end of the message, Pastor Chan said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said he disagrees with the Bible A LOT. Here, this bestselling author and then pastor of what would be called a 'Megachurch' in modern vernacular is standing in front of his congregation and questioning the Bible. If that weren't enough he posted it on YouTube for the whole world to see. This dude really is crazy! But what he said next changed my perspective, and my opinion of him entirely.

 "I don't have to agree to obey. Because even though I disagree, I know that God knows better than me." Amen! After I came off my high horse, and was honest with myself, I knew there are things in the Bible I feel the same way about. There are things that go on in our world that just didn't exist when the Bible was written. It's easy for Solomon to write be slow to anger, He never dealt with rush hour traffic. And in his letter to the Romans, when the Apostle Paul chastised them for their sins, he included homosexuality, and disobeying their parents with theft and idol worship. Did Paul have gay friends who were in a committed relationship? People that truly love each other? I don't know. But I do. And I honestly don't understand what is wrong with it. I read a story on CNN that made me cringe. A father and his wife locked their 5 year old son in a closet, in the dark for weeks. When authorities found him, he was emaciated from malnutrition and wearing a filthy diaper. Does God honestly expect someone to obey parents like that? Yes, I believe he does. When he says forgive, he says forgive. Not forgive people you like. Forgive people who have only done certain things. Before my wife and I met, her cousin sexually abused her for years. Around that same time, I was growing up in a small town outside Rochester full of elitist snobs who chastised anyone who was different. A fat black kid, for example. I have forgiven a lot of people for a lot of things. But I hate that man for what he did to my wife. And if you talk to me long enough, you'll find out I'm not too fond of my 'home town' either. Forgiveness isn't exactly my strong suit. But I'm able to acknowledge that as my own shortcoming, and not an error in God's word. Because whether I like it or not, as a Christian, I am called to forgive. Even people who hurt the ones I love. And if you think Chen or I are crazy for obeying a God we don't agree with, consider this. I don't agree with the entire US Constitution either. But I respect it, and I obey it. And I would give my life to protect it. Wouldn't you? Why then, should the Bible be different?

So many people reject the Bible because there are things about it that are uncomfortable, inconvenient, or don't line up with their lifestyle or personal beliefs. The problem with that is our lifestyles change. Our beliefs change. So what then? What if something you stood firmly against at one point, is suddenly acceptable? Well, then you change your beliefs accordingly. But God does not change. He is eternal, and so is his word. More times than I care to count I've let myself down, lied to myself, and took the easy way out when it was convenient.  God has never lied to me. God has never let me down. And if you know me at all, you know that he has never let me take the easy way out when it was the wrong way.

God is not a buffet, where you take what you want and leave the rest. God will always tell you what you need to hear when you need to hear it. But it doesn't do any good if you don't listen. If you want someone that's going to tell you what you want to hear, look up Joel Osteen. He's another pastor at another 'Megachurch'. Joel is really good at spinning the word, and telling the 'Good News' in a way that suits 21st century America. He's also sadly misguided, and would serve himself and the millions that follow him by taking his head out of his butt, and sticking his nose into the book he professes to believe.

Another thing that Paul wrote, and something I try to live by can be found in his letter to the Ephesians

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10, 11, 14-17 NIV Emphasis mine)

He doesn't say put on whatever parts you agree to. He doesn't say put on the comfortable parts.  He says the full armor of God. The FULL armor. The word of God is the truth. The word of God brings righteousness. With the gospel comes peace. Without the full armor we can, and do fall into the devil's traps. And yes, as Olsteen and many others demonstrate, Satan uses the Bible to deceive. And when he does it's particularly destructive. Far too many people hear part of the word, and miss the rest. And they will pay a price for it that no one should ever suffer.

Paul also says take up the shield of faith. Faith is believing what you don't see. Faith is trusting. So, yes there are parts of the Bible I don't agree with. And there are parts that I don't, and may never understand. But I have put my faith in God. And I'm not so arrogant to think I know better than him. So when I come those points I don't agree with, I obey them anyway. Because like Pastor Chan says, you don't have to agree to obey. Maybe Cory was right about him after all. (But don't tell him that)

Check the sermon out here. Be warned, there's some heavy stuff.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What are we waiting for?

So I want to start of with some statistics. In 2013, the average American income was just a bit more than $51,000 a year. Down from $58,000 in 1999. As I'm sure you've all heard, the 'middle class' is disappearing. The rich get richer, as more and more Americans live in poverty. According to the US census bureau there are about 50 million Americans living I poverty today. They define poverty as family of four who makes less than $23,000 a year, which comes out as about $450 a week, or one person who makes just under $12,000 a year. Again, you probably have heard these numbers before. Then there are statistics like this, which again, I'm sure you've heard. 

Last year golfer Tiger Woods made $78,000,000. That's right seventy eight million, to play a game. In Major League Baseball, the top five teams alone spend almost $900,000,000 on their payroll. Just to play a game. And that doesn't include the other 25 teams. Then you have football, basketball, the list goes on and on. Not to mention the movie and television industry. 

Now here's some things I'll bet you didn't know. 40 percent of the worlds population, or about 2.8 BILLION people live on less than $2 dollars a day. That's right. Almost half the worlds population couldn't take a days wages and walk into McDonald's and buy a 'happy meal'. Another interesting fact. There are 27,000,000 people living in slavery today. More than any other time in history. In Calcutta, a woman can be purchased out of slavery for between the equivalent of $200-2000 in American dollars. In other words if the Dodgers, Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox used one tenth of their annual payroll to buy women out of the sex trade, instead of paying self indulgent arrogant men like A-Rod to play baseball, they could buy at least 45,000 women out of the sex trade. More than enough to fill Fenway Park. 

The fact of the matter is, Americans have it pretty darn good. People ask, 'Why does God allow famine?' Or 'Why does he allow war?' The truth is, God gave us everything we need on this planet. He also gave us free will. So the fact that we're willing to pay an adulterous golfer $78,000,000 a year while half the worlds population lives on a tiny percentage of that is not God's fault, it's ours. You've heard that guns don't kill people, people with guns do. People with guns also start wars. Don't blame it on god because man has managed to take our natural resources and use them to destroy our fellow man. There is enough food and water on earth to feed every single man woman and child 2500 calories a day. 

As Americans we consume on average 100 gallons of water per person, per day. Every day. Meanwhile there are people who walk miles to get water. And yes I know it's expensive to transport water to the desert, but if we're willing to pay men billions of dollars to play a game, why aren't we willing to pay that to ship food and water to those who need it? In Scottsdale where I live, I see Porsches, BMWs, Bentleys, you name it. People are willing to spend $100,000 on a freaking car! Then we sing feel good songs like 'Imagine' and 'Waiting On World To Change'. Here it is in a nutshell. You can imagine there's no heaven all you want, that don't make it so. And the Bible says it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. And if you're reading this, on a cell phone, a laptop, compared to a large percentage of the world, you are a rich person, whether you believe it or not. And we can keep waiting on the world to change as long as we like, but it won't. Not as long as our priorities are so skewed that we're willing to pay criminals millions of dollars just because they shoot a good jump shot.