Orlando

I was actually thinking about deleting this blog this week, but I wanted to put this somewhere so I guess the deleting will have to wait at least a bit…

TL;DR: I dunno, I guess the last paragraph?  Most of which I didn’t actually write? 

I debated whether or not I wanted to post this for quite a while.  In some ways I wrote more for my own processing than for others.  A lot of people have said a lot of things already; I don’t want to regurgitate what’s already been said (and likely more eloquently), yet I want to say something.  Then again, there’s nothing new under the sun…

I see three main issues portrayed: 1) guns, 2) terrorism under the name of Islam, 3) prejudice against LGBT+ people under the name of religion.  It’s a false trichotomy to portray the tragedy as a consequence of only one or another of these things, but because I’m a good Presbyterian and an IS(N?)TJ, lists are how I understand the world.  Other than mentioning them above, I’m not going to spend any time discussing the first two items.  They’re barrels of monkeys that merit entire posts of their own, but ignoring them completely would be a glaring omission.  And so I’m choosing to stop here, except to say, be good to each other, folks.

49 people were murdered on Sunday.  That’s only 8 people fewer than were in my graduating class in high school.  4 fewer than can be on an NFL team’s active roster.  Each of those people had a story, and many of those people’s stories happened to include identifying as part of the LGBT community.

Almost half (48%) of people who identify as LGB in the US also identify as Christian, according to a 2015 Pew survey (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-4-the-shifting-religious-identity-of-demographic-groups/#religious-composition-by-sexual-orientation).  Although this is substantially less than the straight or overall populations, which usually poll around 70%, it also appears to be substantially more than the Jesus-vs.-The-Gays scenario that the media/popular culture, and some Christian groups, would have us believe.  These 48% are our brothers and sisters.  And, though perhaps not theologically, so are the other 52%.

A 2013 Pew survey (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/#religion; the 2015 survey may also include this question, but I’m having trouble navigating their website…) asked about how people perceived religions’ (un)friendliness towards LGBT people.  Not surprisingly, the Church did not fare well.  This likely explains at least some of the ~20% difference between the religious composition of the general population and the LGB community.

As Rachel Held Evans wrote on her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/rachelheldevans.page/posts/10153956026774442), “Many [Christian] leaders have publicly grieved the massacre and called for Christians to ‘simply love’ the LGBT community in this hour of need…which is good; that’s the right thing to do. But what I’m hearing from my Christian LGBT friends in particular is that these calls to grieve and love ring a bit hollow when coming from pastors and church leaders who have never spoken out about hate and violence directed against LGBT people before or who have spent years perpetuating the very misinformation, stereotypes, and theology that hurt LGBT people every day.”

Sentiment matters.  49 people died violently in one night; that shakes our worldview, our framework of security, our ideal of freedom of religion, belief, and expression.  And yet, around 11,000 people ages 15-34, the age group most affected by the shooting, commit suicide in the US every year (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf).  Being LGBT has been shown repeatedly to increase the risk of suicide attempts drastically: anywhere from 2 to 4 times greater (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss60e0606.pdf).  Taking the conservative estimate of doubling the rate, and assuming that between 3 and 10% of the population identifies as LGBT (from the 2013 Pew survey; we’ll take the average, 6.5%, since more younger people identify as LGBT), that rounds out to be around 1,400 lives lost every year in the young LGBT community.  This is not to trivialize the loss of 49 people in one day—indeed, this shocks and horrifies us for good reason—but to point out an ongoing problem.  Is this the fault of the Church?  Of culture?  Of being LGBT?  No, no, and no.  Suicide is sometimes conceptualized as a blameless tragedy, in that it takes a complex collection of events and actions and environments and genetics and thoughts and feelings to proceed.  But it can be stopped.  And for those of us who aren’t doctors/social workers/counselors /public health advocates, one of the most important roles we have in preventing injury or death, whether self-inflicted and externally perpetrated, is how we treat other people, implicitly and explicitly.

Sentiment matters.  The motives of the shooter are yet to be uncovered, and it’s likely we’ll never fully untangle them.  Although a mass-murderer isn’t created by culture alone, it would seem that culture can have a normalizing role in prejudice and hatred, hatred that can, it seems, infect even those it affects.  Throwaway derogatory comments can seem harmless in the moment; indeed, perhaps they are—in the moment.  But the prevailing atmosphere may have greater effect than we realize.  The same way “rape culture” is impugned for normalizing the boys-will-be-boys attitude that seems to have led to the highly-criticized sentence in the recent Stanford case, perhaps prejudice, bigotry, and even violence against groups with whom we disagree, dislike, or merely see as different from ourselves is normalized through our everyday attitudes, words, and actions.

If we claim to belong to the Church, we are held to the highest standard in this regard—even if we think the other party is wrong.  Just as our love for someone does not excuse us from confronting tough problems, personally wrestling with a theological or moral issue cannot excuse us from loving, fully and not hollowly, those with whom we disagree.  As Julie Rodgers wrote on her blog this week (http://julie-rodgers.com/?p=16473), “You do not have to support same-sex marriage to fight for safety and protection for human beings made in the image of God. Your solidarity will not be taken as theological agreement, and it’s hard for me to understand how grieving the death of 50 beautiful people can feel complicated for a Christian. It’s always right to grieve with those who are grieving.”

And likewise, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints—a bastion of modern conservatism and orthodoxy if there ever was one—said this at a vigil on Monday (I highly encourage reading the entire speech; besides being rhetorically interesting, the words need to be heard https://www.ksl.com/index.php?sid=40209267&nid=148&title=lt-gov-cox-speaks-at-vigil-for-orlando-my-heart-has-changed): “How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.”

The shooting in Orlando is not a philosophical conundrum for politicians and pastors and pundits to toss around like a football.  Nor is it a stone to hurl at people with whom you disagree(—and it is largely on this point that I hesitated to post this: in some ways, it seems to waver between a reflection, an appeal, and a bludgeon).  It is a human tragedy.  In light of everything that is being done and said, remember that we are people talking to and about and arguing with and about other people.  If you find yourself thinking angrily/bitterly/condescendingly/disgustedly to yourself, “The gays are [scornful descriptor],” remember that someone somewhere is probably thinking, “The Christians are [scornful descriptor]”—and vice versa.  (…or if you’re thinking “The Muslims/atheists/Mexicans/gun owners/Democrats/Republicans/ whatever-group-that-isn’t-like-me are [scornful descriptor].”  We’re all someone else to someone else, and whenever we point a finger there are three pointing back at ourselves.)  Remember that on the other side of your thought or word or action—negative or positive—there is another person, receiving, listening, or perhaps just observing.

Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with thy God.

I’m not sure what to think about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson–not only because I’m ignorant of the legal system but also because I don’t have all the facts (and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone–not even Wilson himself–does or ever will).  But St. Louis has slowly become my second city over the past two and a half years, and so in that respect, I’m sort of obligated to have an opinion.  After all, what are the dinner guests going to ask me about at Thanksgiving after they’ve finished peppering me with questions regarding my classes?  Ferguson, of course.

Beyond having an opinion about the situation–beyond the rhetoric and the talking heads and the angry voices–I care about the situation because I am human.  Just like Michael Brown.  Like Darren Wilson.  Like each of the twelve jurors.  Like the protestors.  Like the innocent citizens whose businesses and livelihoods were damaged by rioters.  Yes, even like the looters.  And by caring, I choose to listen.  Not just to hear the shouting and breaking glass and cable news headlines, but to listen to people’s stories and hearts and lives–when I agree, when I disagree, and when I don’t know.

Most important, I believe we are called “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).  I don’t think anyone knows or every will know what true justice is in this situation, much less how to implement it.  But even when justice and mercy seem fundamentally opposed, as they do to so many right now, we must both search within ourselves and look to our God to bring justice and to show mercy to our neighbors.  Because when Jesus called us to be a light to the world, He didn’t mean for us to light Molotov cocktails (metaphorically or literally).

For some further insights from people more mature and better educated than myself, see this article on Christianity today and this sermon from a local St. Louis church (audio link near bottom of page).  Edit: NFL player Benjamin Watson posted this extended Facebook status, which is also worth reading.

After Seattle Shooting, the Media Watched Us Pray

One more post in light of the shooting at SPU I found worth sharing.

TIME

Last Thursday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., a senseless act of violence visited Seattle Pacific University, where I teach. Within minutes, squad cars, fire engines, ambulances, helicopters, and TV news trucks had converged on the scene of shooting that took the life of one of our students and injured two others. The campus was on lockdown for several hours. But by 7 p.m., the mayhem had subsided and the campus community did something that has seldom been seen in the aftermath of the many school shootings that have occurred lately. It prayed.

And it was the praying, almost as much as the shooting, which seemed to capture the attention of the media in the next couple days.

SPU is a church-related school. All employees are professing, practicing Christians, and so are the majority of students. It seemed to be the most natural and needful thing for us to do at that…

View original post 606 more words

#prayforSPU

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You’re probably aware at this point that there was another university shooting, this time at a small-ish Christian college in Seattle.  It’s funny, because thousands of people die every day by violence and injustice and hatred and evil.  People who are sons and daughters, teachers and grocery store clerks, parents and siblings, janitors and doctors, strangers and friends.  And to these we often give at best a passing thought.  Because of course, bad things only happen to other people in other places.  But of course, everyone else is “other people” to other people.

So when it happens at a place so close to my home–and my heart–I pause.  I didn’t actually apply to SPU, but if I had been a slightly faster runner in high school, maybe I would have.  Maybe Otto Miller Hall–home to the mathematics and engineering departments–would have been my building.  I went to SPU Falcon Running Camp the summer before my senior year of high school: the people I met and the experiences I had there changed me.  But that’s irrelevant now.  Many of my friends attend SPU; the father of one of my good friends from high school (only girls in the low brass section!) works at SPU and his office is in the building where the shooting occurred (thankfully, he wasn’t on campus at time).  The student who took a risk and tackled the shooter went to high school near me and ran for their cross country team–we ran against them and went to camp with them multiple times.  All to say, though I didn’t really know anyone involved, it was alarmingly close to home.

On Thursday, one very evil thing happened.  But since then, hundreds or thousands of good things have happened and still are happening.  I thank God that it is the latter that has been mostly covered by the media.  That the name of Jon Meis, rather than the name and face of the perpetrator, is what people will remember.  That SPU is being portrayed as a school in shock and grief–but not despair.  That the community is lifting up victims and each other in prayer–as well as the man who acted out this evil, for it has not been forgotten that he too is made in God’s image.  That the church can be a place of life and light and hope in this time of darkness.

In the past couple of days, many other things have been said about the events that have occurred since Thursday afternoon.  Three articles/posts, each from very different perspectives ([updated] newspaper reporter, student, faculty member, alumni/local pastor, and the student who tackled the suspect), I would recommend follow:

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023794834_spufaithxml.html

“We can experience anger, even rage, but we do not give vent to vengefulness. We can experience intense grief, but we do not lose hope. We recognize the brokenness in ourselves and therefore try to extend compassion and mercy to other people whose brokenness has been unleashed,” Steele said. “This is our darkest day and our finest hour.”

http://laura-nile.blogspot.com/2014/06/Pray-for-SPU.html

I am grieving in so many ways that seem so small, at first I feel ashamed to even feel them. But as my favorite professor, Dr. Frank Spina, reminded our community last night- being a Christian forces us to be honest. In light of this tragedy, we must be honest...
Today SPU gets the terrible, awful, privilege of doing what we always do– modeling what a grace filled, Christian community looks like. With the world watching, we get to be reflections of the abounding of love of Christ. We get to reflect the Father’s broken heart for the evil in this world. We get to reflect the active and powerful movement of the Spirit.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jack-levison/after-the-shooting-at-spu_b_5460475.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

I’m not quite ready to talk hope. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, yes. I believe in the life everlasting, as the creed puts it. But for now I grieve, as sad at dawn this morning as I was at dusk last night. Sad for the mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends grieving a lost son, urging a daughter back to life. But I confess, too, to a certain deep consolation–maybe it is hope after all–lying somewhere inside me next to that ball of grief, as I recollect the faces and faith of my students.

http://www.theunitive.com/hope-in-heartache-a-letter-to-my-seattle-pacific-university-friends-tyler-gorsline/

I saw you giving interviews to media members and inviting them to pray with you, only to have those very media members weep alongside you. In your shared confusion and lack of answers, there was hope for those trying to tell your story, for neighbors, for our city, and for our world.

[updated] http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/spu-shooting-hero-jon-meis-releases-statement/ngG9x/

…what I find most difficult about this situation is the devastating reality that a hero cannot come without tragedy. In the midst of this attention, we cannot ignore that a life was taken from us, ruthlessly and without justification or cause. Others were badly injured, and many more will carry this event with them the rest of their lives. Nonetheless, I would encourage that hate be met with love. When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man. While I cannot at this time find it within me to forgive his crime, I truly desire that he will find the grace of God and the forgiveness of our community.

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Things I Have Learnt About Marriage, and Why I’m Scared of It

In the recent past, three of my friend’s parents or my adult friends themselves have gotten divorced or separated.  All of them were doing all the “right” things–and yet it went wrong.  When I was growing up–and I think the same would be true of my friends–I was told that divorce was something that non-Christians did, something people did when they gave up or quit trying.  That it was better to live in a miserable marriage than to separate (with careful exclusions made for abuse and affairs).  I don’t know if that’s true anymore.

While the Church is busy having a conniption fit over the issue of legalizing gay marriage (As to the legal issue, my opinion is somewhere along the lines that even if the Bible does actually mean that marriage is intended to be between only heterosexual couples, which I honestly don’t know, I don’t think it’s necessarily the best decision for the Church to try to impose its own moral standards on the secular world because it distracts from our actual mission.  That is, the religious and secular/legal definitions of marriage don’t necessarily have to be the same.), there seems a much bigger problem of marriage within the pews: the divorce rate amongst evangelicals is (arguably, see here and here for different takes on the statistics) pretty much the same as that the general population.  Whether these divorces are explicitly sin or just results of our state brokenness doesn’t matter for the sake of argument: what does matter is that it hurts people and is emblematic of the corruption of what was intended for good.

Marriage terrifies me.  Two people like each other and then decide to spend what they hope will be the rest of their lives together.  Half the time, neither of them have any experience being married.

So, in all of my expansive two decades of wisdom, here are four things I have learnt about marriage, why it’s hard, what makes it work, and when it doesn’t:

1) One of my friends whose parents recently separated said something to the effect of, “Well, my family is holding together, for now.  No one has tried to run away from home, yet.”  If God preserves and God reconciles, they’re definitely at the preservation stage right now.  Also, did I mention that marriage is terrifying to me?

2) On the opposite end of the spectrum was another one of my friend’s parents.  My understanding is that they married when they were both atheist/agnostic after college, but then the wife became a Christian and the husband turned back to his Muslim roots.  Yet they made it work.  The last time I saw them together was at their son’s graduation party before we left for college.  We were doing toasts and the things the husband said about his wife were some of the sweetest, most beautiful, honorable, loving words I have ever heard.  Despite their massive worldview differences, their love for each other was profoundly evident.  I’m not sure if he had become a Christian yet at that point, but I know that when he died this fall, his family had full knowledge that he went home to rest in Jesus’ presence.

3) A college minister told me, “Even when you’re married, you keep changing.  Think about how much you’ve changed in the past five years: it’s still like that once you grow up and get married and have kids.  What can happen is if you aren’t careful, you have kids and then they go off to college, and then all of a sudden, you realize you aren’t living with the same person you married twenty years ago.”

4) On the van ride home from state senior year, I was eavesdropping on the coaches as usual.  One of them was about to get married and asked the other coach for advice.  She told him: “If a woman tells another woman, ‘Oh, I couldn’t go to the store today because the dog threw up and the kids had soccer practice late and all these other things happened,’ the other woman will say, ‘Oh, do you need me to pick something up for you?’  But if she tell that to a man, there’s a good chance he’ll just hear all the things that happened that day and not read into the fact that she’s actually asking for help.  How men and women communicate differently is a big deal.”

Week 6: Goodness

As you may have noticed, my enthusiasm for the eight weeks of the fruit of the Spirit has waned a bit.  I’m sure this change is due partly to the fact that I am increasingly busy (Three exams in seven days?  Story of my life.  But at least I’m not BME.), but I think it’s also partly due to the fact that I’ve had a hard time generating related content the past couple weeks.  This, I think, may be due to the fact that I just don’t really understand things like Kindness and Goodness outside of the context of Love, which I was the first fruit I addressed.

Instead of me aimlessly rambling, I’d like to share this trailer with you.  It’s a preview of a documentary produced by a USC undergraduate about the plight of abandoned infants in South Korea and what one pastor has done to change those lives.  This encapsulates goodness.  I appreciate in particular as one who was adopted from China as an infant; every day, I am more and more in awe of the Hand that brought me to where I am.  It gives me hope.

“”They’re not the unnecessary ones on earth.  God sent them to the Earth to use them.”

Week 5: Kindness

Well, we’re halfway there (cue Bon Jovi).  In my journey through the Fruit of the Spirit, anyhow.  I must admit, I’ve lost my focus a bit.  I find myself thinking of the fruit of the week less and less as time goes on.  Unfortunate this past week, because I really do need to work on patience.  I think I’m better at it than I was, say, a year ago, but in no way am I a patient person.

But as for this week, I think I’ll define the trait in terms of other people’s kindness to me.  Kindness is the people who hold doors open, the people who ask how you are and really mean it, the people who listen not because they have to but because they care, the people who love people they don’t like, the people who give spontaneous hugs, the people who are slow to anger, the people who are willing to give themselves to help others.  I think the thing that differentiates love and kindness is that love is the innate characteristic, while kindness is one expression of love, both for people to whom we are close and for humanity as a whole.

One tangible example: today, one of my friends at church got baptized, and his parents drove over from Chicago.  The college students went out for lunch after the service, as we usually do, except there were about twice as many people since a number came to see the baptism.  The parents covered the whole meal: dim sum (Yeah, smart, going to a dim sum restaurant on Lunar New Year, right?) for at least twenty people.  His parents were twenty people’s favorite people in the world.  They had no reason to do that–I don’t even know their son that well, and I’ve certainly never met them before.  But that’s one thing I like about the Asian culture.

But yeah.  This post is kind of rambling because I stayed up until 4:00 am on Friday night at my other church’s women’s retreat, I had two exams last week and one this week, and I want to go to bed.