What do Mark Driscoll and Bill Cosby have in Common?

19 Nov, 2014

cosbyThey can both fill auditoriums with people who want to hear them speak

They are both very entertaining, and can be very funny

They both are known for speaking down to their constituents

They both were surrounded by infrastructures that shielded them from consequences and stymied ridicule

They both had power and hierarchy over others

driscollThey both come across as family men

They both speak out against filth, flarn, filth

They both, apparently, had secrets

Both of their empires are crumbling

I’ve seen a lot of angry responses regarding ‘the unfair judgement and treatment’ that Cosby is getting due to the rape and abuse allegations of (now) 15 women:

  • From a CNN reporter asking one victim why she didn’t just bite him. (It is always the woman’s fault she was raped and for bringing on the advance…)
  • From the reputations of the victims being challenged. (She was using him to gain fame, let’s check out her sexual history…)
  • From the motivation of the victims being challenged. (Why was she alone with him in the first place? Why did she work with him again? Why was she drinking if she was underage? She just wants some of Cosby’s money…)
  • From the timing of the victims being challenged. (If these allegations are true, why didn’t the women speak up when it first happened? What would make them conspire against him now?)

All while never stopping to know the long history of abuse claims against both men.

While it felt nice to elevate these men as heroes it wasn’t without a cost and right now we are paying it.

The real heroes, in my eyes, are the victims who gained a voice, no matter how long it took them. They don’t want their jobs back at Mars Hill. They don’t want Cosby’s pudding pops pennies. Both offended groups would like a real and a sincere apology from these fallen giants once they acknowledge their brokenness and how they have broken others.

What these victims want from the rest of us to give a damn instead of just wanting to be entertained.

A Second Follow-up to my Article about Churches and the LGBT Community

15 Nov, 2014

Today the Idaho Statesman posted a letter to the editor regarding my guest article: With legalities settled on same-sex marriage, churches need to show love.

Letters-to-the-EditorChad Estes’ guest opinion reflects the superficial understanding of the Bible that many “ordained ministers” have of God’s word. His statement that many conservative denominations continue their stand against any coupling that doesn’t fit their definition of marriage flies in the face of numerous verses in the New Testament condemning such homosexual relationships. Is he suggesting we delete these verses from our Bibles? Look at the recent problems of some old-line Protestant churches in Boise when told to include homosexuals in their leadership. The Apostle Paul in writing to his young preacher friend Timothy said this: “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Chad needs to reread his Bible.

Larry Woodard, Meridian

Here is the response I posted online:
Larry,While I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my article, you didn’t actually address any of the questions I raised. I take from your response that you are unwilling to do so. I understand, but find that disappointing.You may find my understanding of the Bible as superficial, but my degree and work in inductive Bible study through the years suggests something different.

Here is something to consider, your suggestion that the NT has numerous verses about homosexual relationships is actually incorrect. The Greek word Arsenokoites is only used by the Apostle Paul twice. It is a term that in context is a social and sexual sin, however, it has not always been interpreted as homosexuality. There is a history of it being interpreted as oral/anal sex with a man’s wife, masturbation, and as child molestation. The meaning of the word, as it was written for the initial audience may not ever be known to us. The term wasn’t interpreted as the English word homosexual until 1946. To use it as a proof text about loving same-sex relationships isn’t helpful to the discussion at hand.

No, I don’t suggest that we remove those texts from the Bible. Yet I will be honest that there are other issues I have from the Apostle Paul’s writings that I have chosen to set aside in light of our present culture and understanding. I don’t require women to wear hats or head coverings to church. I don’t expect women to remain silent while in our gatherings. I do not treat remarried couples as adulterers. I do not suggest that women should remain in any sort of abusive relationships under some religious reading into the male being her authority and covering. I do allow women to teach and I am an apt pupil to many amazing women teachers.

My wrestling with any of these above issues should not be taken as dismissive on my part. It is because I honor and respect the scripture and don’t mind doing the very hard work to wrestle with it even when it becomes very difficult.

In closing, if I have to hang my hat on verses that will direct my steps I will do it with those that are the most clear. This understanding (again, from Paul) seems very clear to me – Prophecy has its limits, spiritual gifts diminish, knowledge fades away – but love, love never ever fails. So if I err with my biblical interpretations and applications, it will be on the side of love.

A Follow-up to my Article about Churches and the LGBT Community

12 Nov, 2014

I figured there would be more of a response to my recent article in the Idaho Statesman regarding same-sex marriage and how it will affect our local churches. I guess it won’t be an issue if these families don’t want to attend church, but don’t we want them too? Their presence may make us squirm as we figure out how to be family, but isn’t that a good issue to be faced with? The worse situation, in my opinion, is if same-sex couples don’t want to join one of our communities. If this happens we know that a forcefield is firmly in place around our churches keeping some sinners in and other sinners out.

On the newspaper’s website I was disappointed that there was such vitriol against the churches in the comments section. I was hoping to create a discussion, but it didn’t happen online. I’m not sure what the Christian church needs to do to break through this hatred towards them… (Actually, I do know what they need to do, but it seems to be more advantageous to play the ‘Look How We Are Being Persecuted card’ than it is to lovingly engage our neighbors.

On the website there was only one reader who wanted to challenge me. He wanted me to declare whether or not I thought homosexuality was a sin. Since sin management wasn’t the point of the article – nor, for that matter, is it supposed to be the purpose of the Christian church – I deflected his question.

On my own Facebook wall there was drama when I posted a link to the article. While I shared for the purpose of being thought provoking, I rewrote it several times in an effort to engage instead of offend, thus I was disappointed in some of the harsh judgements (not towards me, but to the LGBT community) that I still received.

This created tension in my own family. I wanted to delete the offensive posts. I was counseled to leave them and allow other readers to police the offenders. Even when this happened it just seemed to create more tension. In the future I won’t hesitate to delete that kind of judgement on my own Facebook wall – it is, in fact, My Space. (did you see what I just did there? ;-) ) My dissenting family members now agree; the free speech clause of the constitution doesn’t have to apply to my Facebook page. A large part of this decision is that I have many close friends who identify with one of the LGBT definitions – so for me this isn’t about an issue – when we discuss these topics I see my friends’ faces.  (If it matters, I am a bit more relaxed when it comes to comments put here on my public blog.)

The good news is that I did get some very nice comments about the article – that it was thought provoking, respectful, and meaningful. The weird thing is that my mom got most of this feedback and it was passed on to me secondhand. Go figure.

The harder situation was that I was contacted by a former, local pastor from my town who asked if he could take me to lunch. We hadn’t seen each other in several years so I figured it must be about my article. We spent the first half hour catching up on our families and the last two hours discussing the LGBT community and whether or not we should be creating space for them in our church gatherings.

He was frustrated that I hadn’t offered any answers in the article and had only posed questions. I told him it was the very reason that it made it a good article. While my position is hardly shielded I chose to leave room for individual churches to wrestle with these issues. Trust me, nobody is going to get out of this LGBT debate clean – it requires some flat out, honestly naked, head-vs-heart, sometimes painful, often shocking, tear inducing, and exhausting wresting in a very muddy playing field. If you are still trying to fight this battle merely by raising your voice from the safety of the spectators’ seats while voting with thumbs-up or thumbs-down of who should be shown mercy and who should be sacrificed, you need to know that the only real judge doesn’t care what you think – or even what you believe – He only cares how you live.

We bounced back and forth with hypothetical situations – “Chad, if you were the pastor of a church would you let a gay man teach a Sunday School class?”

He wasn’t happy with my answer in the form of another question, “Which gay man?”  I explained to him that I have several gay friends that are more than qualified to teach a Sunday School class.

When we talked about the rotating schedule of the parents working in the nursery in his church he didn’t know whether or not the lesbian mothers would be asked to fulfill their obligation, or be asked not to.

When it came to marital support we hit another big wall. I asked him how he would respond if a same-sex couple came to him for counseling if they were having trouble in their marriage. I had to hold my jaw off the restaurant table when he told me that he would explain to them that the reasons they were having difficulties is that they weren’t really married in God’s eyes and that it was unnatural for them to try and have this level of commitment together. I asked him if it would matter if they had children together. He told me no, that it was his obligation to “set them straight” (did you see what he just did there?) and that they would just have to deal with the well-being of the children in the future. When I told him that his position was untenable he just looked at me.

There were many other discussion points – wedding chapels, transgendered bathrooms, gay parades, cross cultural marriages, discrimination, free speech, separation of church and state, children born with ambiguous genetaila, the difference between sexual attraction and gender identity, Sodom and Gomorrah, contextual interpretation, fear-based-thinking, and even Jesus being infamous for hanging out with the wrong crowds. But it was the last point that had me leave our lunch shaking.

Thank God my kids came home with ‘normal’ spouses. If they hadn’t I would have met them at the door and told the they weren’t welcome unless they sent the other person away.

prodigal_sonIt was then I realized that he and I, though professing the same brand of faith and valuing the same set of scriptures, the two of us are following very different Fathers. The one I know will run undignifiedly down the road to meet even a wayward son, embrace him, cover him, welcome him, feed him, and love him.

I don’t think his will.

 

Responding to Ebola Fears with Education

05 Nov, 2014

If you learned that your child’s teacher had just returned from Africa, would you be concerned that they had been exposed to the ebola virus?

If so, maybe you’d call the school office to find out where the teacher had traveled to.

If they had traveled to one of the countries in western Africa where people have been infected maybe you’d have some follow up questions. But if they hadn’t, would you let the issue drop?

In Kentucky a school teacher who had recently returned from a medical mission trip to Kenya resigned after being asked to take a 21-day leave. Initially the school asked her to use her vacation days (of which she had already used to go on the medical mission) and when pressured the school said it would pay her for the days off. She refused, saying that unfounded fears of some parents and staff were triumphing over truth and reason. She and her husband, a doctor, offered to hold an information meeting about their work in Africa, but the school wouldn’t schedule it until after the 21 days were over.

In New Jersey two children were kept from attending school because they had just relocated from Rwanda.

Here is a little geography lesson, starting with the location of Kenya and Rwanda.

keafricarwafrica

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Below are the locations of the nations dealing with the Ebola virus.

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Here is the size of Africa, with some comparative images.

true_size_of_africa-d0d0c226

The reality is that the teacher was farther away from the Ebola virus while in Kenya than the rest of her school in Kentucky was by being ‘near’ Texas. Yet I would imagine that if a school staff member had visited Texas, Dallas, or possibly even visited a relative in the same hospital that was treating an ebola patient, they would have been asked to quarantine themselves back in Kentucky.

It is one thing to be careful when it comes to infectious diseases, it is quite another to let fear-based panic cloud rational thinking. ‘Better to be safe than sorry’ is sometimes just an excuse for irrational behavior.

If you are concerned about Ebola then get some education regarding the origin, symptomology and transmission of the virus. I was glad that the hospital where I volunteer offered an online module to stay up to date on this disease.

Here are some helpful links:

Thanks to Kai Krause for creating the fascinating size of Africa map and making it available to share.

Dear Pastor Chad – The Gay Niece Issue

01 Nov, 2014

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extramile

This morning I received the following email. I am thinking about starting an advice column.

Good morning Chad

I sure do miss you and your great sermons. I have a question to ask you that my family and I struggle with.

You remember Shirley, the gay niece, well she has been through several partners now and is planning on marrying this one. Last Christmas, we had our family gathering at my brother’s house. Well Shirley sent a text and asked my brother and his wife if she could bring a friend. Well my sister-in-law answered her with a “No” and nothing else. Well of course she didn’t come. However, one of our relatives picked up Shirley’s little adopted girl so she could be with us.

Ok.This year Christmas is at our house. And we all have 9 little grandchildren. None of us want Shirley here with her family, other than my sister, her mom. But over the years Shirley has displayed so much unnecessary PDA with her partners, even kissing.  We do not want our grandchildren exposed to this.  And frankly we don’t want to see it either.  So when I send out the notice and info regarding this Family Christmas, I’m sure Shirley will call or text and ask if she can bring her partner.  I don’t want to just say no, but I would like to tell her we do not agree with her lifestyle she has chosen and don’t want it displayed around our little ones.  I would love to tell her she and her daughter are welcome and we love them but we prefer she not bring her partner.

It will be hard to say this to her even in an email but I do think we need to be a Christian about it. Some in the family think we should invite them and try to witness to her.  But, she thinks she is saved already.

Now. What is your opinion on this subject?

Mary

Here is my response.

Hi Mary,

I have read through your letter and have a couple of questions for you to consider before I give you my opinion.

  • If your niece was attracted to men, would you be bothered by her asking if she could bring her boyfriend to your holiday gatherings? Would it concern you if the boy she was dating this year was different than the boy she brought around last year?
  • Whatever your stand has been on Shirley’s relationships in the past do you feel any different about it now that she is engaged? This woman is going to be legally married to Shirley, will that change they way your family will react to her?
  • Have you considered how Shirley’s daughter is going to grow up thinking about her extended family when she knows her parents aren’t welcome in your homes as she is?
  • Do any other couples in your family show affection at family get-togethers? Do they hold hands, give each other a kiss, cuddle next to each other on the couch? Is it because Shirley is part of a  same-sex relationship that it is unacceptable for them to show any affection for each other?
  • Are you concerned that Shirley’s same-sex attraction and relationship with her fiance is going to negatively affect your grandchildren? Seeing that same-sex marriages are legal in your state, don’t your grand-kids see same gender families around town, at their school, on TV, etc? Do you think keeping them from Shirley will really shield them from homosexuality in our culture?
  • While you may not agree with Shirley’s life, is she not still a part of your family? Are there other family members that aren’t welcome in your home because of their choices, habits, relational failures, bankruptcies, or perceived sins?
  • Do you think that Shirley really needs to be witnessed to? I’m assuming it is pretty evident to her based on what you have just shared here that she already knows what the family thinks of her and her dating life. What would change in your relationship with her if instead of trying to fix her you simply embraced your niece?
  • Have you ever asked Shirley to describe her relationship with God to you? If she says she is saved, do you have a reason to doubt her? Are you, or I, even in the place to do so?

These are some tough questions, but ones that I think are worth soul-searching, self-reflection and prayer. I hope we both are up to the task.

You asked for my opinion, so I will share a bit more.

You mention that your family needs to be Christian in responding to Shirley. I am not sure if that means you feel the necessity to defend your faith or if it means you are looking to respond to her in a Christ-like way. Often one will trump the other.

I’m reminded of the teaching that Jesus gave his followers about going the extra mile. In his day the Roman’s were hated by the Jews. They were a foreign army that had invaded and conquered Israel. They were heathens. They were idolaters. They had sinful practices. Yet the rule of the land (that had been forced upon them) said that a Roman soldier could conscript a Jewish native to carry their equipment for a mile.

When I think about how I’d feel to be approached towards one of these soldiers I don’t like what I feel inside. Being asked to carry their equipment – perhaps the same tools and weapons that had been used to conquer the land – is offensive. I think I would be angry and defensive. That is why I’m so taken back by Jesus’ response when he encouraged his disciples to carry a soldier’s load an additional mile beyond the legal requirement. In Jesus’ Kingdom, there was something more powerful by demonstrating real hospitality – beyond what was required – no matter how undeserved it seemed.

While I don’t want to belittle your emotions or your personal concerns for Shirley, I wonder how things could change for you, your extended family, and for Shirley, if instead of being met with resistance Shirley and her immediate family were met with Kingdom hospitality.

As you go into this Christmas season be mindful of our Savior’s peace and of God’s demonstration of favor that the angels said was so evident in the birth of the Christ-child.

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all people.

Chad

PS. If Shirley wouldn’t feel comfortable with your extended family this Christmas, please let her know she is welcome in mine.

PPS. From the header of your message I see you intended to send this letter to a different Pastor Chad. I am not the man who used to be on staff at your church (but I did used to preach great sermons). I am very glad your message found my inbox, but please contact your church to get the other Pastor Chad’s correct email address if you want his opinion as well.

Note: The names and a few descriptive elements in the original letter have been altered for the purpose of protecting identity.

I found a lump

23 Oct, 2014

I found a lump under my right nipple.

My first thought was, “Oh, God, no…”

My next thought was, “There is no way in Hell…”

Then they dam broke and the thoughts flooded in:

  • “Now you will really be able to relate to you friends’ journeys.”
  • “But I already cared deeply about them. I didn’t need to experience it too.”
  • “No, this has to be something else, the odds are different for men.”
  • “But I have male friends with breast cancer.”
  • “Still, the odds are in my favor.”
  • “But maybe I was drawn to breast cancer for this very reason.”
  • “Shit.”
  • “I know exactly what treatment for this looks like.”
  • “I’m nowhere near as tough as my friends who have gone through this.”
  • “I’m glad I got health insurance last year.”
  • “I’m glad I have life insurance. I wish it was worth more.”
  • “No one is going to believe me.”
  • “Maybe it will go away.”
  • “I’m scared.”

This wasn’t discovered with a self-breast exam. I found it because there was a sharp pain above my nipple. It was sensitive to the touch, I could feel it when I stretched, I could feel it when I rolled over on it as I slept. Then I stopped sleeping because it bothered my head more than my chest.

Fear would bully me all night long. After one very restless night I sat down on the couch with Jamie and just blurted out, “I think I have breast cancer.”

She didn’t laugh at me, she just listened. It was what I needed. I decided to give it another week to see if it was something glandular that would simply go away.

It didn’t.

In the midst of this scare I was trying to get my article on Metastatic Breast Cancer finished for the local paper, finishing plans for the American Cancer Society 5k fundraiser that I was helping with, and wrapping up the portraits and stories for the Reveal Mission that would be exhibited at BSU. One afternoon I sat recording a story of one of my friends and I just blurted out that I had found a lump. She responded by asking me why we were working on her story when I should be focused on my health. I promised her I would make steps that day.

I called my wife’s doctor first. I know, that doesn’t make much sense, but when we found a lump in Jamie’s breast years ago when she was breastfeeding he was who we went to. He diagnosed it as a swollen milk gland, patted us on the back for being vigilant, and didn’t even charge us for the office visit. He has been her (thus our) doctor for 25+ years. I figured he knew a lot about breasts.

His office gave me a referal to a specialist and they called me the next day. I was surprised to find out that the first available opening was two months out. Honestly, what is the good of early detection if you can’t get in to see a doctor for 60 days? I’ve seen how fast some tumors grow.

It was at this point I knew I needed advice. I have made myself available to help share the stories of women with breast cancer. These women have become close friends. They have trusted me with their journeys and I knew that I had to, wanted to, needed to reciprocate with my own healthcare journey.

All of them gave me the same, basic advice. “You have to be your own advocate. Do not wait 60 days on this. Get seen now.”

I listened. I called one of the breast cancer centers and tried to set up an appointment. I was informed that I needed a referral. Even though I had avoided him at the beginning, I called my doctor. He saw me that same day.

In retrospect I wish I had called him first. The reality is, he knows me. When he came into the room he asked good questions, he examined me and my nipple, and then we had a good talk.

I told him what I already knew – my nipple is sore, and that is good, because most breast cancer tumors aren’t painful. My nipple still looks the same, it hasn’t changed, is normal color, hasn’t inverted, and isn’t expressing fluid or blood – and all of these things are good. I know the typical breast cancer signs too well.

And then he told me what he knew – that because of the work that I do, because of my friendships, because of what I do know, that he knew I (and thus, he) wouldn’t be satisfied until we had proof this wasn’t a serious issue. He ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound.

Then he looked me in the eyes and said, “Chad, I could send you across the street for emergency tests right now. Yet I know your heart and I don’t think you want to take the place of someone else who may need those emergency scans today.”

That felt right. If he thought I could wait two weeks for the diagnostic scans, I would peacefully wait as well.

He never once made me feel stupid for feeling scared. He didn’t belittle my pain. He didn’t shame me for relating to the stories I have grown so close to. He did, however, offer this statement on my way out of the exam room, “And for goodness sake, you are already empathetic enough with breast cancer survivors. You don’t need to go through the same thing yourself for them to accept you any more!” That made me smile. It didn’t, however, make the pain go away. Though I waited another 12 days for the scans, my symptoms didn’t change.

This health scare has given me a different perspective. Now I truly know what it feels like to find a lump. I have felt the breath of breast cancer raising the hair on the back of my neck. I know what it feels like to wait, in fear. I know what the difference is between a screening mammogram that is done just to make sure there is nothing suspicious in the breast tissue, and a diagnostic mammogram that is done because something has already been found.

I also recognize that my journey is quite different from that of my friends. I don’t think that as a man I would be shamed by a diagnosis of breast cancer as some men have been. This is due to the fact that I’ve been educated in this area and know that it isn’t just a ‘woman’s’ disease. I wouldn’t have the same emotions to deal with if I had surgery and lost breast tissue and a nipple as many of my female friends have. I wouldn’t have to deal with the decisions around reconstruction, modesty or scarring. If anything men’s scars are considered badges of honor.

Even so, I don’t need no stinking badges.

Today was my scheduled appointment for a mammogram and an ultrasound. I have a lifelong friend who is a nurse in the clinic and she made time to sit with me and answer my questions and walk me through what to expect.

She explained that at worst I would know today that if they found something they didn’t like. It was even possible they might be able to fit me in for a biopsy this afternoon if needed.

She introduced me to the technician who would perform my mammogram. I asked her if we could call it a man-o-gram and she was happy to comply. As she was clamping me in I told her that I had always wanted to witness one of these procedures, but I hadn’t expected to be quite this close. I was surprised by how much she manhandled me, but then maybe that is normal when a person doesn’t have a lot of breast tissue. It was awkward fitting into the machine, but I think I was much more focused on getting results than having any concern for how the procedure felt.

hairynippleShe invited me back to her screen to show me the comparisons between my left and right breast images. She showed me the blood vessels, the lymph nodes, and the position of the small bb she had taped to my right nipple before we took the scans. While the tissue under my right nipple is a little different than that on the left, it didn’t look like a drastic difference. It also didn’t show anything that looked like a lump or a mass. She left the room to consult with the radiologist and returned within a few minutes.

My man-o-gram images were clear enough that the radiologist didn’t feel the need to do an ultrasound. They diagnosed me with gynecomastia.

Before you are concerned that they are going to send me back to Jamie’s gynecologist, let me define the condition. Gynecomastia is a painful swelling in breast tissue in men caused from changes in hormones. So no, I don’t have breast cancer, but I guess I am in man-o-pause. It will probably just go away. If it doesn’t, I’ll go back and see my own doctor.

This afternoon I sent a message to the survivor who pressed me to take action when I was interviewing her. When I explained that I am just a hormonal man with sensitive nipples she responded that I should be wary of hot flashes and be grateful for nipple sensitivity. She no longer has hers.

I am grateful to have gotten results back today, and positive ones at that. I know there were others sitting in the waiting room with me today that won’t be feeling the same way tonight.

The Reveal Mission at BSU

12 Oct, 2014

Reveal_WebBanner_reception
It is the eve of my biggest art show to date. I have an amazing venue to share the Reveal Mission on the Boise State Campus. I have an amazing backing in the University at the request of the Association of BSU Students. I have a reception on Wed night that BSU is hosting (yes, that means they are paying for the Mediterranean hors d’oeuvres that will be served). The advertisements are up all over campus, created by the campus art department. The Reveal Mission art show is now on metal prints, not needing any framing; it is easy to transport, and even easier to hang. Needless to say, I am very excited!

Despite what should be considered an epic win, what I experienced yesterday at a gathering of my Reveal Mission colleagues was more important to me than anything that will happen the rest of this month. In the afternoon we gathered at the home of one of the participants from the first show from two years ago. She and her partner opened their home so we could do a pre-show for all of the new Reveal Mission participants. It was their idea and it was simply marvelous – it so captured the heart of what this project is all about!

The main reason that Jamie and I started this project was so that our friends who had experienced breast cancer would have the full freedom to share their stories without shame. Yesterday, getting to experience these breast cancer warriors and survivors interact with each other and significantly share their stories was extremely meaningful and fulfilling.

What I have experienced in these past three years is that every person’s journey through breast cancer is significant. Each of these individuals have unique challenges and perspectives. Each one of them deserve to be listened to. Each of their stories deserves to be championed.

It has been very significant to me that these champions have allowed to use my camera to capture a portrait of their reality. This whole concept was so outside my grid when I started the project I really didn’t know what to expect. My concept of bodies, body image, breasts, scars and transformation has been radically changed since when I started this journey. Each person that has allowed me into their sacred space has given me a gift. I only hope that what I am offering back is valuable to them as well.

I also love to capture their stories in words. I’ll admit that when I read great writers I wince at my own writing limitations. However, I love seeing the response when one of these survivors reads my retelling of their journeys and feels a sense of validation. Though I always feel convicted for leaving out any details of their journey, I know that the art of rendering down a chapter of their life into a single page so that it can be absorbed by a captivated audience, is what storytelling is all about. When these survivors feel validated, when they know they’ve been listened too, when they know their story is being shared with honor, and when they know their vulnerability is making a difference, then I know that together we have won.

It is also very significant when one of these survivors decides to write their own story for the Reveal Mission themselves. When this happens I celebrate that they have found their voice that drowns out the lies that Shame has been whispering to them.

If all we had been working towards was the sharing that happened yesterday, then this past three years would have been worth every single moment. Yet the incredible thing is that there is more. Tomorrow, I have 17 friends that have chosen to share their stories publicly. Their statements will be accessible from October 13th through the end of the month. I hope that you will attend. I hope that you will see. I hope that you will listen.
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Prayer and the Reveal Mission

01 Oct, 2014

Yesterday an article about the Reveal Mission appeared in a local magazine near my home. The editor of the magazine is breast cancer survivor herself and wanted to highlight our project. We chose some magazine friendly images and she wrote the article herself.

It is coming up on three years that I have made myself available to the breast cancer world. I began by learning to listen, to provide a safe place for women and their families to talk about diagnosis, treatments, and their newest chapters of life. This journey started with a portrait, a woman with a single breast mastectomy shared by her husband, a professional photographer in Portugal. The image and their story was captivating. It encouraged me to pursue my own friends who had faced this disease. What I learned is that many of them wanted to be able to share their stories but didn’t know how to, or felt ashamed because society oversexualizes breasts, or maybe they just needed encouragement, permission, and a venue to be able to do so.

Years of professional, pastoral ministry benefit me when it comes to listening to these stories. Yet it is obvious to me that I’m not the same as when I was behind my church office desk. Now I am not expected to have answers, to come up with solutions, to offer any fix, to give religious platitudes, provide scripture, or try and make God look good in very difficult circumstances. (I can’t speak for any other ministers, this has just been my own reality.) This has taken a lot of pressure off of me. There are no ‘right or wrong’ answers when it comes to breast cancer, but there sure are a lot of decisions to make:

  • Which surgeon, oncologist, and plastic surgeon to use
  • Which tests to have performed
  • Whether or not to be included in a medical research trial
  • Having a lumpectomy or a mastectomy
  • Removing the affected breast or both
  • Whether or not to go through chemotherapy
  • Whether or not to install a port
  • Whether or not to have radiation
  • Whether or not to take follow up drugs that affect hormones
  • Whether or not to force your body into menopause
  • How to combat side effects from different medicines
  • What do do when something isn’t working
  • Whether or not to wear a prosthetic
  • Whether or not to have breast reconstruction
  • When to get reconstruction surgery
  • Where to get the muscles and skin to complete breast reconstruction
  • How far to stretch the expanders
  • What size and type of implants
  • Whether or not to have nipple reconstruction
  • Where to get the skin for the new areolas and nipples
  • Whether or not to use micropigmentation/medical tattooing instead of nipple surgery
  • Whether or not to be involved with the Reveal Mission

I have friends that have made different decisions with each of the above processes. I can stand with all of them because surviving isn’t a black and white world. There is no preferred course and this is no magic cure.

So when I received an email this morning, from a man who read the article in the Eagle magazine and had a solution for me, I was undone. He belongs to a local church and helps lead their healing-prayer team.

healinghandsI read his message over and over. He was kind with his words. He complimented me on my photography and mentioned that I must obviously care for these women. But then his next comment exposed his real reason for writing me, These women do not have to suffer through chemotherapy, etc. I see many people healed of cancer through Jesus. Then he listed Bible verses, an example of a physical healing, and a link to a video for me to watch.

Though possibly not intended his message came across as this – “If you really care about these women, you would just send them our way so we can lay hands on them and cast out their disease.

I’m struggling to write him a kind response.

Here is what I know – my faith, is not in crisis. Though I have many fewer answers than I used to pretend that I had, I am still very much a man of faith.

I even have the benefit of having experienced and witnessed physical healings, some in my own family. My grandmother had pancreatic cancer and was given four months to live when I was a small boy. My grandfather – an alcoholic and very wayward Catholic – fell to his knees when he got the news and told God he would never drink again if he healed my grandmother. Why his desperate prayer was heeded I don’t know but my Grandfather never drank again (though he did lose two legs to diabetes and ultimately his life before he was 70), and my grandmother lived to see my youngest son at the age I was when she was diagnosed to die, some thirty years later.

If there was some sort of healthy pattern in my Grandpa’s prayer I would follow it.

If there was some real guarantee by the man who sent me the email I would happily advertise his church and prayer team, but the reality is, there isn’t. For as many healings as that church wants to claim, there are twice as many ailments and just as many deaths.

Faith isn’t a cure.

Yet faith still empowers me.

No, I don’t make it a habit of ‘laying on of hands’ when I meet with a woman who has breast cancer. In fact, since I am often taking pictures of them revealing their scars I am careful not to touch them at all. But I also don’t hesitate on giving them one of my hands to grip during the middle of a procedure or exam. And I get a lot of chest to chest hugs (though many of them don’t have the nerve endings to feel it any longer). And the last time one of them kissed me it was from her deathbed and I don’t think that I’ve ever received such a holy kiss.

So while I am always desperately in prayer for each of my friends, if forced to make a choice I will opt for acts of love and being physically and emotionally present rather than emphasizing a particular theology and repeating religious words. But then, that is how I experience the life and story of Jesus.

Our Great Big American God

28 Jul, 2014

These days I don’t review as many books as I have in recent years. After reading 50+ books a year for a couple of years I found myself burnt out. I’d built up a good reputation in the publishing world and even moved into the top tier of the Amazon book reviewers. I had a constant stream of Christian books being delivered to my doorstep without me having to request them. One author even asked me to write a blurb for the front of her book, along with other well known ‘names.’ I was enthralled with myself. I read her book, wrote a few well-worded sentences, and sent it to her and her publisher. When my promised, published copy came in the mail my name, and statement, had been left out. I realized it hurt too much, and that this silly reviewing game was more about sales and popularity than it was about the message of the books.

I divorced myself from my marriage with these publishers and instead found a job where I actually earned money to review fiction and literature. While I wasn’t going to make a fortune or get famous, I still appreciated getting paid to read the latest Stephen King novel and interpret it for my Christian culture audience. The job lasted a couple of years until that website folded. Since then I have only reviewed items that really interested or inspired me- which sadly to say, hasn’t been many.

About a month ago I saw that author and blogger Matthew Paul Turner had a new book coming out. I’ve got to know MPT a bit through the years. It was actually his first, big release, “Churched” that started me reviewing Christian books. I had heard him interviewed on a podcast in 2008 and personally connected with his stories of growing up churched. I pre-ordered his book and when it arrived a few weeks later I stayed up late reading it all in one sitting. The review I wrote wasn’t all that spectacular (I compared the book to an Oreo cookie), but since I laughed through the book, and gave it to my kids so they could understand my churched upbringing, I thought I’d message MPT and find out what else out there was worth reading. He gave me some great connections and I was off and running.

In 2010 MPT followed up his collection of stories about growing up in the church with a follow up book about his time in college and in the Christian music industry. The book was titled “Hear No Evil” and my review is still listed as “The Most Helpful” on Amazon’s website (6 out of 7 readers of my review agree!). Both of these books offers insight into my generation’s maturity through Christianity, fundamentalism, and pop culture. Did I mention his books are funny?

americangodSo even though I’m in semi-retirement from the Christian book reviewing circles, upon my request MPT graciously sent me an electronic copy of his latest book, “Our Great Big American God.”

Good Heavens, I read this one again in the space of 24 hours!

Dear God, when did Matthew grow up?

Instead of the Christian, biographical stories of his own past (as he did in Churched and Hear No Evil) in his newest book Matthew Paul Turner refocuses his attention to the biography of God since the time he crossed the Atlantic to establish Himself in His new Promised Land. America was the land of opportunity and God needed a fresh start from His messy history in Europe.

We often hear broad, sweeping generalities from pontificating politicians and preachers pounding pulpits that the United States needs to return to the God of our forefathers and/or we need to return our nation back to God as it had been originally established. But upon honest reflection, do we really know what that means? The question Turner asks in his book is, “Who is the God of American Christianity?”

Turner has done his due diligence to research the journey of the American God starting from the Puritan perspective and the Calvinist influence of the early colonists. His chapter on Jonathan Edwards, who Turner believes is ‘one of the most misunderstood individuals in American history,’ is worth the purchase price of the book alone.

Turner then covers George Whitefield and the Great Awakening and some of the perceptions of our country’s Founding Fathers. While he doesn’t attempt to answer the question of whether or not the birth of America was divinely inspired, he does a good job of painting the historic worldview of that time and how it has affected us ever since.

Preachers, theologians and the laity don’t interpret God in a box, nor do they use just scripture. Their views of economics, poverty, social justice, war, slavery, civil rights, feminism, sexuality and politics color the way they see God, and the way they see God affects the way they approach economics, poverty, social justice, war, slavery, civil rights, feminism, sexuality and politics. Turners addresses these factors as his chapters take us through America’s movement away from a Calvinistic God, mostly because of the influence of Methodist ministers. Already the American religious culture redefined God to be something significantly significantly different than their one forefathers.

Is this the God we should return to? Turner reminds us (again with thought provoking research) that at this time of American history we were still a country that supported slavery, which was backed up by some of our most revered, Christian-American heroes. From their perspective they had the Bible on their side. Turner explains, “How a Christian views and understands that Bible will dictate not only his or her worldview but, more importantly, how they interact with the worldviews of other people.” And this really does become a crux in the matter of knowing who God is, as our history with Him has been to subject to our interpretation of scripture. Again, Turner – “Much of America’s big God isn’t about God at all; it’s about the Bible. For many Christians, the Bible is God – the Word in Flesh, translated into English, and printed on pretty paper.” And yet, as we read our own history we have to face how many times our interpretation of Scripture (and thus our interaction with God) has changed over, and over, and over again.

And from there Turner takes us to the birth of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and the marriage of religion with marketing and presentation. We get to see D.L Moody and Billy Sunday at their best, and at their worst.

He also addresses the impact that dispensationalism view of scripture made on our culture by Darby and Scofield. Even though this theology is so relatively new, the concept and resulting focus on the End Times, and the creation of the Rapture is in some American circules presented as having been as old as Noah himself. A good portion of my friends still view God, the world, the nightly news, and the happenings in the mid-east through the Scofield footnotes found in an authorized King James Bible.

America’s God didn’t stop on our shores, instead once He established Himself here He decided He wanted to take the American version of Himself to other countries. Our missionaries have often taken more than just Jesus to foreign fields. Often our clothing, culture and politics have been almost as widely preached. Turner takes us back to observe this history and these decisions.

UncleSam06And before closing the book the author addresses the history and practices of the Moral Majority, the role of organized religion and a God who is consumed with American politics. He also gives an overview of the journey of Billy Graham (some of which was very new to me), including his split from some of his fundamentalist friends. He also includes the significance of the Pentecostal influence, which I found particularly interesting because of my own church history, and how it led to ‘health and wealth’ interpretations of the Gospel, and of God.

 

For those who enjoy Turner’s writing style they will be happy to know that Turner is still Turner. He hasn’t got over his personal frustration with Calvinism (but if you were chosen to survive it, how can you blame him?). His writing is fresh and makes this book about an interesting topic a very easy and enjoyable read. He also provides plenty of footnotes so those who would like to jump into the research themselves have a good place to start.

Turner leaves us with a couple of important questions, “Dear God, who are you in the context of America? Are we a Christian nation, and if so, what kind/brand of Christian nation is it?” And though we may have thought these answers were obvious with our rendering of a Great Big American God, the reading of the book may leave us as better and more honest Americans than before – even if God isn’t wearing our great grandfather’s Uncle Sam outfit.

More than ever it looks like the American Jesus needs a new public relations team.

“Our Great Big American God” is released on August 19th and is available now for pre-ordering. 

To Tattoo, or Not to Tattoo

03 Jul, 2014

I don’t have any tattoos. The biggest reason is that I hate pain – especially my own. I almost got a tattoo when I was in Scotland, but it would have required a lot of scotch, and since I was leading a missions group at the time it seemed wise not to imbibe. Instead I took the group to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which had nothing to do with body art, but was a festival of military bagpipe bands.

WANHG-ODThe other time I considered getting a tattoo was when I was staying in a mountain tribe in the Philippines. Some of the older ladies still didn’t wear shirts in the village but instead decorated their chest and arms with tattoos. These tribal tattoos are spectacular, yet the means to get these designs is using a bamboo stick to hammer ink into the skin using a sharp thorns that have been dipped in charcoal. It is so painful that it can take months to get a design finished. I wasn’t going to be in the village that long, it didn’t seem all that sanitary, and like I said, I don’t like pain. This hasn’t stopped me from being interested in viewing other people’s tattoos, and especially since I like hearing people’s stories, I don’t hesitate to ask people about their body art.

_DSC1214wLast month I connected with a woman who loves tattoos and has covered her body with them. When I told her about the Raw Beauty ME project she was interested in participating and sharing her story. Taking her portraits was a great experience. Instead of posing, Aliki just started sharing the stories of the various images on her body. As she talked, I’d snap the shutter. We were both very happy with the results. While I will wait to share the details of her story, part of what she experienced has been judgment from others regarding getting tattoos, even by those close to her. Honestly, after meeting her and hearing her story, I don’t understand.

Then again, after last week’s news, I do.

During a segment of The 700 Club, Televangelist Pat Robertson answered a question from a viewer about whether or not it was okay to get a tattoo if the art was of Jesus. “It doesn’t make it okay because it’s religious, believe me,” Robertson responded. “I mean, it could be a tattoo of some hoochie-cooch girl. It doesn’t really make any difference.”

To be honest, I had to look up what a ‘hoochie-choochie” girl is. Wikipedia tells me that it was a “sexually provocative belly dance that originated in 1876 and became wildly popular during the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893.” All this does is reaffirms to me that not only is Robertson old fashioned, he is also really, really old.

Robertson continues to muddy the waters, “Tattooing is heathen practice. It is not a Christian practice, to mar the body that [God] gave you. And you see people that have gone crazy on this, and their bodies are just filled with these things. It is a heathen practice, and it is prohibited in the Old Testament. So that fact that it’s Jesus doesn’t make a bit of difference.”

Yep, another Old Testament law that is taken out of its cultural and historical setting and imposed on people today for the sake of biblical literalism. I think maybe Pat forgets that Jesus’ own, ressurected body has some significant markings and holes. I think he also conveniently forgets the Old Testament verses about ear piercings being a way to mark slaves (yet he doesn’t speak out against them). Heck, he even forgets the NEW TESTAMENT rule that women shouldn’t wear jewelry – yet I can Google photos of Pat’s own wife wearing gold earrings.

If I had my druthers, St. Peter would have a tattoo shop outside of the pearly gates, specifically set up for Pat Robertson’s arrival. He would have to get Galatians 5:1 tattooed on his forehead and on the back of his hand so that he and everyone else that came into contact with him and his brand of religion would be reminded, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” That sounds like Heaven to me.

P.S. There are some really horrible ‘Jesus’ tattoos out there. I wish Pat would just take a stand against bad, religious art.

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