Here We Have Idaho… Unfortunately

07 Mar, 2015

Idaho-capitolGrowing up in Idaho I heard a lot about prayer being taken out of public schools: Madelyn Murray O’Hair was public enemy #1, the End Times political upheavals were just around the corner, Gorbachev was the anti-christ, and Jesus’ second coming would be one of vengeance (most unlike his first visit).

I never had to worry about the godless, public education system. My parents provided me a private, Christian school education. I’m very grateful for those years for many reasons. Unfortunately, though, I bought into some of the fears that my religious community held regarding public education. When it came time to put my own kids in the jr. high that I would have attended at their age I felt the need to warn them, “Be careful, they keep the devil in that closet over there.”

They corrected me, “No, Dad, that is where they keep our skateboards during school hours.

I’ve grown up a lot in the last (not quite) half-century in Idaho. Unfortunately Idaho hasn’t always done the same. This week not ten minutes from my home, in the center of our State’s political system, a guest chaplain was delivering the daily invocation in the Idaho Senate. The problem that caused several senators to withdraw from the chamber in protest wasn’t because they are atheists (our godless leaders in Idaho know how to bow their heads and close their eyes as to not offend their more religious colleagues), it was that the chaplain giving the prayer was a Hindu.

In Idaho we live and die by the First Amendment – We demand our freedom of religion (as long as it is Christian); we fight for our freedom of speech (as long as it agrees with ours); We expect the opportunity to peacefully assemble (unless you want to Add The Words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s human rights act); We want our freedom of the press (as long as it is bashing the liberals and that foreign-born, muslim loving, America hating, Constitutionally challenged, *non-white* president).

This is why in Idaho we can’t have nice things (like health care reform, better education, and higher wages).

I remember the days of trying to sneak out of chapel during school, or taking an extra long bathroom break in the middle of morning devotions. I also remember trying to stretch out some chapel meetings when the next period included a Social Studies exam. So when a quarter of the State’s GOP Senators chose to play hooky during what they viewed as an offensive, opening prayer they could have chalked it up to last night’s burrito, their morning alarm not going off, or trying to find parking around the Capitol building- that is, until a couple of them opened their mouths.

One senator actually lodged a complaint against guest Chaplain Rajan Zed for his Hindu prayer. Another piped up to say, “Hindu is a false faith with false gods.” When asked to apologize by religious leaders from several different expressions of faith the senator doubled down, “I said it was a religion with false gods. I’m not going to give an apology.” She even said she would have attended if the invocation had also included a “Christian prayer.”

This makes her remarks even more alarming. What she, and apparently her constituents want (she ran unopposed in the last election), is a preferred religion at our State level – because in her words, “I’m in a floor session bound to follow the Constitution. … It is a Christian nation based on Christian principles.

As an American, what I wish this senator knew is that the heart of the First Amendment is to make sure that there is no establishment of a religion by the government. Honestly, this is basic, foundational, constitutional law. If our elected officials bring their personal, religious discrimination into their government roles where they are tasked to represent all of the people, they’ve failed miserably. She should be censured, if not replaced.

As a Christian, I’d suggest that any person with a worldview that equates modern day America with Old Testament Israel is a failure as a Bible student. It is abhorrent to me that some Christians think that any people who don’t abide by ‘our’ religion are uncircumcised Philistines and belong outside the camp (if not worse). I’d also suggest that the care, tolerance, and example that Jesus shared presents us with a much different approach.

And as someone who prays, there are several Idaho State Senators who would have walked out of my closet this morning if they had heard my laments and petitions.

Hiding From Myself

23 Feb, 2015

hidingfrommyself1A couple of summers ago I received an email from an author who wanted me to review his book. It wasn’t an unusual request. I had spent a couple of years building up my presence on Amazon.com as a top book reviewer and parlayed my status into a job with a Christian web company. I loved getting paid to review new literature and fiction. I also stopped accepting a lot of the freebie work, for Christian authors, even through books kept showing up on my doorstep each week from writers and publishers.

When Bryan asked me to review, Hiding From Myself, I was honest with him that my reviewing queue was long and full. To this day I still have a couple shelves full of books and manuscripts I never got to. However, what I didn’t tell Bryan is that other things he shared in his letter intrigued me. It was my review of “Love Is An Orientation” by Andrew Marin that caught his attention. As I reread that review the other day I can see how it could have given him the hope that I could be an open-minded, maybe even open-hearted reviewer with his story.

Reading [Love Is An Orientation] was personally painful. I recognized many attitudes and actions in my life that have been anything but loving. I recognized how I was good at trying to prove a point, but I didn’t have much to show for being “right.” I recognized that I was better at burning bridges than building them. I recognized my desire to fix people has kept me from genuine friendships. I also recognized that my heart was built for love and was tired of expressing anything less.

This isn’t much of a book review. It’s more of an endorsement. I feel people need to read this book, including those who think they’ve been righteously homophobic, those who have been compassionate to the GLBT community but want to be better at building bridges, and those who have put their head in the stand thinking that this issue doesn’t affect them at all.

And now, because of that statement that encouraged everyone to read Marin’s book, I have an author asking me to read his biography. Bryan hooked me. I clicked on his link, downloaded his book to my Kindle, and moved it to the front of my queue.

That weekend I went camping with my family and several friends along Idaho’s gorgeous Snake River. Even though it was a time to get away from it all I brought my Kindle along so I could continue reading Bryan’s book. What I read captivated me; Bryan could have been me. We were born around the same time. We both were raised in Christian families. We had similar church backgrounds. We were both in Christian organizations, attended the same Christian events (Promise Keepers the same years; different locations), both believed the same ways, held to the same truths, and kept the same faith.

Yet Bryan and I had different responses to our first glances at Playboy. I certainly felt that Schwing while Bryan didn’t feel a thing. I solidified my hetorosexuality while Bryan had to question his. While I went on to adopt gay slurs, Bryan went on to inwardly wince at them.

While I had no problems integrating my spirituality and sexuality as a Christian, Bryan found himself conflicted. I could focus my energy on finding the right woman to marry (and trying to keep myself pure in the meantime) while Bryan found himself willing to forgo the purity requirements of his belief system in relationships with women in order just to prove to himself, and to God, that he wasn’t gay, believing that was point of demarcation of entrance into God’s kingdom.

This hit me really hard.

If we have created an environment where a Christian feels it is somehow more acceptable to “sin” in order to not have a same-sex orientation, then we ourselves have gone astray. We have attempted to fix our LGBT brothers and sisters (as if broken), heal (as if sick), exorcise (as in demon possessed), and convert (as if lost). When I read that Bryan would think that God would cheer, or at least look the other way if he had sex with a woman, just in order to prove that he was not gay, I literally cried.

It was this reality that shook me from my staunch homophobia a few years before I read Bryan’s book the first time. I had a young, college-aged, gay man entrust me with his eternal soul. He asked me to get him ‘straight’ on the straight-and-narrow. He then began experimenting with relationships with women. While I fully wanted to validate his newfound heterosexuality it was painfully obvious to me that he was only using these women to try to prove something to himself, to God, or at least the god that he thought needed this sort of sacrifice. Though I desired him to be “normal,” if only for his own sake, I began to despise his use (and abuse) of other people that I also cared about in his attempt to make this transition.

When I finished Bryan’s book that weekend on my camping trip I drove back to my home so I could call him without the roaming charges. We talked a couple of hours about his book and about our lives. Now Bryan has recently published the book and I just finished reading it for the second time, cover to cover. It again has challenged and impacted me.

His story covers a decade of his life fully committed to purge himself of his apparent sexual orientation. He even manages to get a job at the Playboy Mansion, working his ways into the holy of holies – Hugh’s bedroom. “I am in Hugh Hefner’s closet, drowning in a sea of silk pajamas.” And I wonder what Bryan’s next sentence, his reality, will mean to the mainstream, Christian mindset at all: “My objective at the Playboy Mansion: to be tempted and to stumble would be a miracle.

When your religion pushes you to the place where you think that humping like a bunny, with a Bunny would be a God-given miracle, well, then you know that your religion has led you astray. So then what? Bryan presses forward with the hope of a 180° turn, now with the help of a professional counselor, but has to admit, “Psychology would point to my theology as the root of my pathology.” (This makes those of us with ministry credentials squirm, thinking of the young, gay men who have sought us out for counsel, guidance, and above all, change. I wonder if we have helped or hindered them. My fear is the later.)

In the words of Bryan’s Jewish counselor, “You are a case study of what happens when we cut ourselves off from feeling our true feelings. As I’ve said many times before, the judgement of your innate impulse and the way you punish yourself for not being able to live up to the expectations of your family, friends, and church are leaving scars. And until you learn to accept yourself, and all the parts, without this awful judgment you attach, you will continue to suffer and self destruct…

Seriously, how screwed up is it that we, in our religious efforts to ‘help’ someone, have actually been leading them to where they are self-destructing? In Bryan’s life it led him to the point of suicide. His quote is one that I’ve heard from several people and read in too many news headlines: “[I have a] head full of questions all pointing to a fundamental truth: I’d rather die than be gay.”

I, for one, am done with this practice. I don’t want to sacrifice the lives of my LGBT friends who find that they are ready to end it all just because they don’t want, desire, or practice the same sort of sex as me. I am also done with seeing my heterosexual friends being emotionally and physically used to try and alter my LGBT friends’ sexual orientations.

In Hiding From Myself, Bryan shares a decade of his life, starting in college, feverishly jumping through all the straight hoops available to him. It is impossible, for me, not to see myself in this story. I could have been his best friend, college roommate, accountability prayer partner, Promise Keeper buddy, professional counselor, personal pastor, or his co-worker. I am left to wonder where he would have written about me and what difference I would have made.

There are those of us who would ask Bryan to just choose something different, as if his same-sex attraction was something that he willingly and knowingly opted for. Bryan writes, “What’s disturbing is this stupid assumption that a person is ‘choosing a homosexual lifestyle.’ Do you know how ridiculous that is? If it’s as simple as ‘choosing a heterosexual lifestyle,’ do you really think I’d be sitting here across from you in a mental ward?

So here is what I am left with. Bryan and I are two boys who grew up the same. He is the one who prayed for a miracle and yet I am the one that God chose to heal.

Here is why I would like all my friends, especially my Christian ones to read “Hiding From Myself.” Bryan doesn’t attempt to fix anyone’s theology. He doesn’t come across as angry and he doesn’t have an axe to grind. He simply paints a very real picture of what life was like for him struggling with his sexual identity in the context of his Christian world and worldview. His experience and his perspective is valid and important. And for those of us who are heterosexual and followers of Jesus we’ve been tasked to love – which means authentic empathy – which may mean that sometimes we need to shut our mouths, still our hearts, and really listen.

For those of my friends who don’t have a religious background, reading Bryan’s book will help you understand what it is like for a kid who fears they are gay to grow up in the typical, Christian experience of the past couple of decades. It may help you have more compassion for their journey.

While “Love Is An Orientation” is a great book from the outside-looking-in to the LGBT world, Bryan has offered a personal story that encompasses what life looks like from inside the Christian world when you fear that you are gay. He is honest, real, and raw (as well as a damn good writer). He has captivated me both times I have read his story and I am a better man, and a better Christian, having read his biography.

Finally, Bryan’s testimony begs an audience of those of us who have made sexuality one of our political and religious platforms. We have many Christian brothers and sisters who identify in the LGBT realities. If we aren’t loving enough to really get intimate with their stories than it is we who are hiding from ourselves.

Jesus Take The Wheel

02 Dec, 2014

blowntireWe blew a tire on our way home from Portland on Sunday. We had just come over the mountain pass known as the Blues and saw the results of the dangerous, icy roads. Within a quarter mile there were two big SUV’s on their sides with emergency vehicles attending both accidents. I was definitely white knuckling the steering wheel until I saw the town of LaGrande approaching. An hour further down the road I was grateful to have Ladd Canyon, another cold weather road hazzard,  in my rearview mirror.  I anticipated a relaxed final two hour drive to Boise with dry roads. It was then that our tire blew. I was going 70 in the left lane, making good time when I heard the thump, thump, thump and the wheel start to jerk. Within a few seconds we pulled off the interstate and piled out of the minivan to see the damage and the smoking, flat tire.

It’s a new vehicle, to us, so we hadn’t changed a tire yet. We unloaded the back of our very packed van and made a pile of our luggage on the gravel shoulder. It looked as if the Beverly Hillbillies had decided to make camp on Interstate 84.

Unfortunately we found out that the jack didn’t come with the van, nor did the accessories needed to lower the spare tire from its hiding place underneath the vehicle. We had no options other than to call roadside service. Knowing it was after hours on a holiday weekend, and knowing that I had cancelled my AAA membership in order to save money this year, I figured the bill to get us back on the road would be paramount to highway robbery.

My family hardly blinked. They gathered blankets, jackets, and extra pairs of socks and then stood in a wind defying circle to keep each other warm as the sun disappeared behind the mountain range. I wish I had been able to have fun with them but I think I was still in shock of what happened and trying not to think of what could have happened. I also knew we weren’t out of the woods yet. They danced, laughed and made the most of the moment for the next hour. They joked that Jesus had taken the wrong wheel. Then somebody passed gas and they told me they were so thankful they weren’t still trapped in the van as it could have been a deadly situation.

When Superior Towing showed up Jeremy had a tool to lower our spare (which he then gave to me). The doughnut that was hiding underneath could only barely be called a tire. He looked at me as if to say, “You know you can’t ride to Boise on this, don’t you?” but when he saw my face he knew I knew.

He had a good idea, “Let’s put the doughnut here in the back and put this full-sized tire up front since you have front wheel drive.” I nodded my assent and watched him change two tires instead of one. Then he asked me to come up to his vehicle and figure out the next step. I learned there were no tire shops open in Baker City but he thought he could get in touch with the local auto salvage owner, although it was closed, and see about finding a good, used tire.

We packed up the the van and everyone got back in the vehicle. I tried to shut the rear door but the latch had frozen in place and wouldn’t close. I had to use the tools that Jeremy gave me to pry the lock back into place. Then once I took my own seat and turned the ignition I found we had used all the van’s battery with our hazard lights. Jeremy saw me running after his vehicle just before he was going to pull back onto the interstate. He backed up and jump started our vehicle.

We drove the seven miles into town while Jeremy went to help someone else in need of roadside assistance. We sat in a fast food restaurant grateful for the warm building and the hot french fries. I couldn’t eat much though, because while I knew we were now safe, I still felt a bit stranded and was trying to figure out our options if we couldn’t locate a tire.

About 45 minutes later Jeremy called me and led us to the auto salvage shop. The owner had just gotten back to town (from Boise) and was willing to help us out. He and Jeremy found a tire, remounted it on our rim, and then Jeremy changed our tire once again. While I paid both men and their companies for the goods and services neither of them took advantage of our situation. I didn’t hesitate to call Jeremy’s boss the next morning and let them know about how he represented his company and cared for his after-hours, holiday-weekend clients. She told me that she was writing down my affirmation to add to his employee folder.

I drove the last two hours home without talking much to my family. Once we had unpacked the vehicle for the second time that day I gathered us all into the kitchen to thank them for the way they handled the crisis. I also apologized for getting us into the mess. I felt there was more I could have done on my end to make sure our vehicle was road worthy. While I had checked all the fluid levels and put chains in the van in case of bad roads I had looked at the tires and thought they were good enough for another thousand miles. I was wrong and wished I had asked a professional. They were gentle with me, which I appreciated, but I don’t want any of them ever making the same mistake I did, so I didn’t want to downplay the situation either.

When they all went to bed I finally cried. Life is so goddamn fragile.

One last note before I put this blog post to rest. In the hour that my family stood on the intersate shoulder beside our obviously disabled van only one person stopped to offer help. When I explained our situation we knew that his truck was not equipped with the tools we would need to lower our spare tire. I thanked him for stopping and let him know that Superior Towing was on their way. We shook hands, him looking at my family standing behind me in the gravel, me looking at his family in the warm cab of his pickup. It didn’t matter that we were of different ethnic backgrounds or lived in different towns, we both were husbands and fathers with all the responsibilities that the role entails. That was all that mattered.

I’ll never be a Jeremy. I don’t have the mechanical ability to rescue people and their vehicles the way he and Superior Towing does on a day-to-day basis. But the other guy that stopped, I want to be like him – not in too much of a hurry to stop and help out a family on the side of the road. I don’t blame the thousand other vehicles that sped on by, I just don’t want to be one of them.

My family and I went to Portland for Thanksgiving. I learned to be thankful on the journey back home.

 

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.

 B1sVUG6CMAAcEX2

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

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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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