“Because I Said So” needs an upgrade

The other day my wife and I were arguing over something trivial. If I remember correctly it was what TV show an actress in our current show, had been in previously. Without needing to know who the actress was or what the TV show might have been… I can, with reasonable certainty, tell you she was right. I’m terrible at pop culture. The point, however, is what helped us decide the answer. When we could not agree, I said, “well google it”. An endearing phrase we hold close to our heart. In fact just today a co-worker and I were teasing each other over the random crap we choose to type into the search box. 

We live in a world where the answer is quite literally at your finger tips. Even if the request is something absolutely insane like, “hitler mustaches on cats”. What you seek, you normally can find. 

Armed with this prescription of today’s quick paced question and answer lifestyle, to me it’s no wonder the church continues to take a backseat. Now, to be careful here, I want to clarify a few things before moving forward. While the ‘church’ I reference is one of a Christian origin, based in the ideology of grace through a cross, I believe fundamentally all of us who find ourselves at the center of any faith can agree we are challenged in today’s quick resolutions. 

The agenda at hand is to create a dialogue around an ever growing question the church is faced with… Why are people leaving? Why aren’t people coming? And I don’t mean this just physically – I mean this emotionally as well. 

Personally this question is painful for me to process, it hurts in a way. I don’t mean that to say I’m offended or you’ll find me in Union Square park anytime soon preaching on the corner. It hurts me because it sheds light on the deeper issue – the ever growing gap between a world of innovators and a church of decreed absolute. 

I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know the whole answer. Like most things in life the answer is normally the sum of multiples, but I do believe we can begin to understand a piece of it. To start pulling at the the root of this there is an assumption we need to get our hands around first. This assumption that the more we know, the more technology that advances, the more science that surfaces, and the more innovation that comes to life – the less of God there is. Or at least the less of the church there needs to be. 

I agree with this, but maybe not in the way that you think. 

I think the old, dusty way of “because I said so” needs an upgrade. Some will immediately argue with me, with ruffled feathers, assuming I’m in the business of changing God or defacing biblical messaging for my own use. This is what some have become comfortable with calling “alternative facts”. I have no intention of changing God, because well… I can’t and second because I don’t need to. Hear me out.

One of my life mantras is centered on the belief that we can only give and understand as much GRACE as we’ve been given. The basic principle here is that if life has been easy for you, if your greatest struggle was not getting into your first college choice or favorite wedding venue, or getting a speeding ticket… then you have had a blessed life so far. We celebrate that and are happy for you. In the same breath, your need of grace would be less than someone who has lived a rougher story and therefore your understanding of that need of grace would be less. However, if your life has been difficult… if you have experience the pain of loss, the depths of loneliness, or the darkness of rejection/self hatred/ hurtful decisions… then your need of grace (either now or in the past) is much greater and therefore your understanding of that need much higher. 

You can only understand grace to the depth of which you have received it. I sincerely believe this (and am happy to talk more on this further another time!). If that is true, then we can also take it a step further broadening the topic and ask – what if that is the same about God? What if we can only understand God to the depth we’ve been able to discover him? 

There are so many arguments around not allowing the church to grow as our culture grows – that God should not morph to our ever changing standards (inclusivity, gender issues, etc). I’ve never seen it that way. I believe the more we are able to grow ourselves, see outside ourselves, and inside the heartbeats of those around us – the more we realize God is far more complex than we can or ever will be able to imagine. We are not changing God as we grow, we are simply catching up. 

I believe that pews are collecting dust on Sundays in far too many churches, but I do not fault the ever changing times… I fault the never changing church. We cannot remain grounded in theologies that no longer make sense now that science and generations have shown us otherwise. It’s like arguing that it’s not raining, while it pours down on your “I have to be right” parade. It doesn’t make sense, there is literally profound evidence all around you saying otherwise, and it’s not effective. In fact, it is hurtful. 

I have about a million wounds from the church, which I suppose is a story for another day. What I did learn from the church, however, at a young age that has stuck with me through the times are two things 1) Love one another and 2) remain humble. Over the years how I understood those two things, how I often failed at them, and how I came crawling back to them has brought me here… to this point. If our job as messengers of grace, as walking stories collected through experiences, is to love… then turning people away doesn’t work. If our job is to remain humble and open to those around us… then rejecting the changing norms around us doesn’t work. If our job is to defend the gospels above all else… then preaching fire and brimstone doesn’t work. 

There are so many gorgeous torches of grace around this world right now. Eager pastors and counselors and reverends and just every day folk wanting to share the real light of love. And I want to be careful that I am not saying all churches, everywhere are falling short. I am say too many churches, anywhere are not taking up the calling to grow as God opens our minds to grow. 

Think about it this way… Science, culture, technology allowing us to have any known answer right in front of us at any moment, actually allows us to know God more. We have the opportunity to know God more than any generation before us. To understand how other cultures and communities worldwide praise God, see God, and respond to him. To learn, in detail, the reasoning behind different denominations who agree with us or disagree with how we, ourselves, respond to God. 

Opportunity, however, is a choice. A choice on which lens you use to view the world, technology, God, and grace. Pews fill when hearts feel safe. Hearts feel safe when the message of acceptance is circulated. The message of acceptance is circulated when people are able to more openly hear and learn from each other. And the list continues… 

In a generation of innovators and pace changers, overly educated millennials have a responsibility to motivate the church back to its center. To create grace space. 

Romans 14:1 “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”

Grace calls us to seek understanding in one another – not through judgement, but through a sincere desire to let each story to be heard and celebrated.

Let us keep seeking – to learn who God is and the glory he can create through his creation. Through the people around us, the stories they are writing, and the challenges they are overcoming. 

Let us keep hoping – to learn more through all the channels we are now so freely given. 

Let us keep growing – to never believe we’ve come to the end of God… but merely continued to learn yet another beginning. 

Today we mourn, but tomorrow we rise.

First, we mourn then we rise.

It’s ok to mourn – this is a scary time for a lot of people. It’s ok to feel the weight of this because right now this is heavy stuff. Many people feel unwelcomed in a nation they call home. Our culture(s) and progress feel threatened. And it’s not about a candidate losing… it’s far more personal than that. It’s about your neighbors and fellow countryman actively choosing a platform that promised to oppress you… whoever you are, in whatever minority you find yourself.

It’s ok to mourn – this isn’t something you can sweep under the rug and pretend didn’t happen. You will face many people who don’t understand but will try. Give them grace as they do. And you will face people who tell you to get over it. They need grace too, but it will be much harder. I understand that.

It’s ok to mourn – and you aren’t alone in it. I, too, am trying to process how I look the people I love in the eyes who chose this. It’s not just me. The MySilentHalf inbox has gotten to over 400 emails now. Many of us are scared. Many of us feel unwelcomed. And far, far too many people feel unloved…

“… how do I sit across from them this Thanksgiving and act grateful for the pain they voted was ok for me to go through”

“I’m scared of the hate that will blow up in my town. If I thought it was finally safe to come out I was wrong. A transwoman was egged today on my way to school.”

“My parents voted for Trump because they didn’t want to be the odd man out in their church group. Am I suppose to tell my daughter that grandma chose peer pressure over her and her father’s human rights?”

“My Facebook feed is full of hate today. People saying they hope we move and laughing at our expense. These were my friends, what do I do now? Am I supposed to pretend this doesn’t crush me?”

It’s ok to mourn – it’s human. It’s healthy. It’s needed. I’m so sorry that in the midst of what should be a celebration for our nation, you find yourself hurting. I’m so sorry that while others cheer, you are choking back fear of what the future holds. Right here, right now there are two very important things you need to know: You are not alone. And you are deeply, astronomically loved.

It’s ok to mourn – do not let anyone take that away from you. You do whatever you need to do to process. Processing takes work and you, my friend, are worth it. You owe it to yourself to battle through this. We need you on the other side.

Tomorrow we rise.

Tomorrow is a figurative time frame, one that looks at the days after this present moment. Once we allow ourselves to grieve and work through this, we must move forward. Moving forward is not forgetting. It is an awareness that action must now take place. It is an awareness that we have felt the depths of what this decision means and now we are moved to act.

Tomorrow we rise. As we pray that this new president is not the man he claimed to be throughout his campaign… as we pray that he values the lives of ALL he will govern, we cannot sit idol. We cannot let a platform of judgment, hate, and negative rhetoric break or divide us. Instead, my greatest hope is that despite all of that this makes us stronger. Time after time as human rights have progressed forward they have done so because brave men and women were moved to act. They participated in dialogue around their story and the story of so many.

Tomorrow we rise. You are more than the perception of someone else. You are more than the scars on your arms and the bruises this election has left on your heart. You are a collection of memories and memories to be made. And all of this adds up to an incredibly important piece to the next puzzle we are going to map out together. Let us all be brave enough to lay our piece of the story onto the table. Human rights, civil rights, the LGBTQ community, and the rest of our family in this minority circle are not just a clump of unknowns. We have faces and names and experiences. We are living, breathing stories. We are Americans too.

Tomorrow we rise. As hate fills your screens, as flags of segregation are lifted in towns where fear was already present, and as questions circle your own hearts – we will rise. Let us match hate with grace. Let us not let them forget we are human, and in the same breath, let us not forget they are human too. The radical task ahead of us is to never forget that. And if they are human, then they have a chance to grow just as much as we do. This will take time. This will take healing. This will take courage.

Tomorrow we rise. Let us not script the ending of a story that has yet to start, but let us not be passive either. Together let’s search each day with hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, hope for the movement of grace, and hope for a nation in desperate need of healing.

Six of the most scarring words in history: “Hate the sin, not the sinner”

“You obviously aren’t praying hard enough”

Words from a counselor when I was 19. It was the first time I went to a counselor since the mandatory sessions after my parent’s divorce. No offense, state legal system, but as a really young kid, your mandatory counseling was one of the most scarring parts of the entire divorce. And to be honest… this experience was just as bad.

I had been going for a while, but this was the first week after telling the counselor I was attracted to women. She told me if I was still struggling, I obviously wasn’t praying hard enough. She told me all I needed was her to teach me and for me to get my “sin” under control.

She told me not to worry; she didn’t hate me, she just hated my sin.

Scarring words those are. “Hate the sin, not the sinner”

I know most people mean well by them. They mean it for those who hurt others and for those who do wrong. They mean it to be kind; to tell you, as a soul, you are wonderful, but your actions are not. I can, in some ways, understand the saying.

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But as a 19 year old battling with her faith, fear, and sexuality, telling me you didn’t hate me, you just hated how I felt was a wound I would carry for a very long time. It would also be a tool used inside my own depression to convince myself I was broken, disgusting, and a sinner for how I felt and who I was attracted to.

So when I began realizing this wasn’t something I could run from, that it was part of me just like the blood in my veins and the hope in my heart, I tried to hide it. I couldn’t change it, I couldn’t pray it away, but I could damn well hide it. And that was my theory. I could mask it with serial dating and careless commentary that held no volume. And I could have relationships in private.

I’m not insulting privacy. I’m a private person. You’ll never see me post on twitter about my relationship problems if I had any. You won’t see me having public sex or anything of the sort. And I understand the process of coming out – I understand it because I just went through it. So please know my commentary on private relationships isn’t a stab at others, it’s how I went about these private relationships that is the problem.

You see, I had private relationships and still tried to date men. I tried to pretend that my want or attraction to women was only temporary. I only felt that way because I hadn’t found the right guy yet. This wasn’t true. I didn’t hurt people on purpose, but by bringing them into my broken reality, I chipped at pieces of them too. I thought I was going around the system, instead I was truly just hurting everyone…including myself.

And honestly, this small piece of my story is an amplification of something I keep saying. Words are powerful and words matter. I did all the hiding and broken navigating because of the seeds planted by someone who told me my sin was hated, my insides were hated. That I wasn’t praying hard enough. Does that justify the pain I personally caused? No. I own that. But it does give insight into the reality that words really do have influence.

Today’s confession is: I still carry those words around. They no longer sit like an open wound. Over time life has callused them, reopened them, and healed them again. But the scar tissue will always be there – a scarlet letter I wear without choice. All because of thoughtless words… proof that the pen will always be mightier than the sword.

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(Book Confession #30) http://www.lulu.com/shop/rae-schneider/the-mysilenthalf-project/paperback/product-21700967.html

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(Graphic Borrowed from John Manzo’s blog on Jesus never saying anything about homosexuality)

My upcoming marriage… and the debate it’s stuck in

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing the word “yes” come from the lips of the person I adore most. There was nothing fancy that happened. We didn’t walk on the beach or sit in a public place. Instead it honored everything I love about her – a night of conversation, with our favorite wine, in our home. It wasn’t planned (in fact I was planning for a few months from then) but I just felt it in my heart. The moment I had been trying to organize was happening organically and I went with it.

I’ve known for most of our relationship I wanted to marry her. She is easily the best person I’ve ever met and she makes me better every single day. Ask our friends and family, who truly know us, and they would tell you we’ve been on this road for a long time. But in that moment, with that ring hidden behind my back, my voice shook and my hands started to sweat. I was also not prepared for how deeply emotional it would be for me to hear her say “yes”. It was a powerful night and we kept it to ourselves until the next morning.

The next day it was so exciting for us to tell those closest to us. Having them celebrate through calls, texts, and hysterical emoji’s was just a blast. Joy filled us. We were the center of the universe, or at least in our little universe, for that day. To say we were on cloud nine would be such a limited way to describe it.

Unlike so many of our friends and family, however, our upcoming wedding still continues to have a word put in front of it. We can’t just have a marriage. People still continue to call it a gay marriage. And while we are more than blessed with those who are excited for our pending nuptials, not everyone joined the celebration. For me to list those people I think might be as cruel as their responses – so I won’t. I do, however, bring this topic up on purpose: we aren’t the only ones dealing with this.

People have asked me what I think about the gay marriage debate. First, I want to say I am grateful for it. I am grateful we are revisiting translations made centuries ago. I am grateful we are taking the time to truly understand what the context of words, poetry, and verses actually mean (especially to the culture and civilization It was being spoken to), rather than just claiming it as truth because someone told us to. I am humbled by the millions of people saying “no” to outcasting the lgbt community in the biblical, “Christian” world. I am excited to see more and more states acknowledge that all are created equally and all deserve the same rights as their neighbors. You see right now there are still states (and churches) that believe gender is what creates a good marriage and I am quite worried we’ve created a skeleton out of the contents of what was once deemed so sacred. Every day marriages are happening, without question, not because these two people will uphold their marriage, but because they are attracted to the opposite sex.

I am honored to be part this movement of change, but if I were honest, I also can’t wait until it’s over. I cannot wait until there is no more gay marriage, but just marriage. I cannot wait until we, as a society, are calling a marriage good because of the character that marriage displays – not the gender of the spouses.

Because here’s the thing: I am not planning a gay wedding, but a wedding. And I’m not looking forward to a gay marriage, but a marriage. My marriage is going to be incredible, exciting, challenging, and loving. And it will be all of these things because two people have dedicated themselves to each other. Two people have chosen monogamy, trust, and devotion. My marriage is going to be amazing and the gender of my spouse will have nothing to do with it.

The marriages I look up to are those that are filled with kindness, love, joy, patience, graciousness, loads of laughter, adventures, and strength. These are the characteristics I find myself always noticing in marriages I am honored to be around. Most specifically these are the things I hope to bring into my marriage. Just like I try to bring them in our lives every day. Far before I put a ring on it we were already doing life together. Now mind you I have many places I can grow for her and for us. I have the patience of a small child. I am constantly having to work on that. There are days I feel I can be more kind or less lazy. Sometimes I could give more and take less.

There are a dozen ways I could improve and now with a simple “yes” I get a life time of learning with the person I love. That, to me, is what marriage is all about. Finding someone you can grow and learn through life with. I will not always be the best, but I will always try my best for her. I will not always get it right: there will be days I get annoyed and there will be days I am annoying. There will be days where she has to be patient for both of us and others where I move us into action. We will go through hard times, simple times, powerful times, exciting times, and just every day times. And that excites me because all I want is to spend all the time God gives me, on this earth, with her.

Whatever angle you find yourself on – whether you have an upcoming wedding or a loved one has one or just a random person on Facebook you don’t really talk to has one – I just want to remind you of one thing. Gender has nothing to do with the success of a marriage. But love, joy, happiness, humility, graciousness, and kindness? Those do. And every human has the ability to bring or remove those things from the vows that they give.

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Advice to those who are marrying (or married or dating) but are feeling some backlash: Be happy. This doesn’t mean every day will be easy. You deserve to be unconditionally loved and I am so sorry that someone has told you their love is conditional. I am so, so deeply sorry. That pain is not ok and that pain is not small. I understand that myself and I watch people I love go through that as well. Inside that, however, stay true to your core. Do not let that pain sway you into a world of darkness. Shadows are not your friends but just outlines of a life you shouldn’t have to fake. Stay true to you. Love who you love. This is your life. Be mindful who you invite into your marriage (ANY MARRIAGE) and who you allow to influence your decisions. You are amazing. You are beautiful (handsome) and wonderful. As you are. And you deserve to have the story of your dreams. Live it. It doesn’t matter who you are there will always be dragons to slay and now you have a partner to slay them with you. Lucky, lucky you. Cherish that. Nurture that.

Advice to those who may be part of the backlash: Your words matter – be careful. If what you are trying to do is understand while going through your own junk I first want to say thank you. So many of us are better off because of those who were willing to adjust their views – but your words still matter. Be wise and be willing to listen to actually hear what is being said… not just so you can talk again.

However if you are lashing out with cruel words and judgment please realize that isn’t going to help anyone. You will not only damage the person you supposedly love but you may also end up pushing them away or by default deleting them from your life. Demanding your own views onto someone else is a very unhappy way to live because in most cases it leaves you very, very alone. And I don’t want you alone just as much as I don’t want someone damaged by words. Be willing to step back and see if maybe it is you who needs to move not the other person.

Advice to those in between: Your words matter too. If you have a loved one where you don’t care who they love but others do… they need you. And they are sure as heck lucky to have you. The world is a kinder place for that person because you are in it. You allow them to be fully loved in your presence and if ever you’ve had that taken away from you… well… you know how precious such a feeling truly is. You are in a very unique position because your words may actually be the most influence of all. Not many people realize that, that those in the middle actually are often the ones moving mountains in the lives of those they love. I repeat: Your words matter. In the moments you wonder, “Should I say something?”, you probably should. Your support is everything and anything you can do to continue that will heal more than you know. In fact if I could say anything to you it would be… thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And please… please don’t stop being you.

Shake it off – It’s your story, not their story.

I broke the school record for Women’s Long Jump when I was 14 years old. I wish I could say I had been anticipating the moment or that I had trained hard for it. I didn’t. There wasn’t anything crazy that happened afterwards either.

I lined up at my spot during our conference tournament, took a deep breath, and just ran as fast as I could. The only thing I thought about was hitting the line and making the jump. It was just that simple. In long jump you get three jumps and with my first one I broke the record. My next jump fell just short and my third jump tied it again. Many told me it was clear to see I had a track career in my future – maybe if I trained hard enough a college scholarship.

When I broke the record I ran over to the fence that surrounded the track and hugged my mom. Because long jump was relatively early on in the track program meant she would have left work early to make sure to see me. The picture that was taken of her and I that day I still have, fourteen years later, in my nightstand. As a teen I liked the picture because I thought my mom looked pretty and my smile looked nice. As an adult I like the simplicity the photo represents – the life my mom worked so hard to make sure we had.

The next year I trained and to be honest I overthought. I never broke my own record and by Senior Year of High School I stopped running track all together. The girl who broke the record couldn’t even finish out her high school career. What used to be a place of freedom for me, where I could run wildly and fly into the sand, became a place of overthinking and self-consciousness.

Why does that happen so often?

Why does the transition from childhood to adulthood reflect the same thing my track “career” reflected?

Why does the glamour and glitter of a free spirit get replaced with the belief we must carry the burden of people’s opinions of us and call them truth?

This self-consciousness and overbearing weight would walk with me most of my life. Let’s be serious it wasn’t just track – it was everything. In high school, if not sooner, you become acutely aware of what’s in, what’s out, and what you don’t want to be. Rather than keeping up with the Jones it’s more about not being THAT guy. You don’t need to be number one you just don’t want to be last.

“As long as I’m better than THAT person I’m ok.”

Most people survive it, get to college, and then begin to allow themselves to let go and learn who they really are outside the fences they grew up in.  Some people, however, don’t grow outside of that mindset. They set off to understand who “THAT” is and grow entire principles and theologies against them. Race Wars. LGBT Outcasting. Sexual Slander at women. Disgusting immigration malice. That part of the company against this part of the company. Fat Jokes.Them verses us. I don’t see it as color verses another color or straight verses gay or man verses woman or legal verses illegal. I see it as human verses human.

These are human beings, breaking down humans beings, to be better than “THAT” human being.

When I’ve said this before people think I’m being too simplistic. But strip back the speeches full of fluff and hate … and you find humans hurting other humans. So yes simple but in a raw, ugly, painful kind of way.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. The side I landed on. Those who carried around those opinions as if they were truth cemented as their identity. The one who could no longer jump freely because the heaviness of being wrong or broken or simply not enough felt overwhelming.

Isn’t that the meat of it all? We just want to be enough. We just want to know we matter. That our story is worth reading… to somebody. And not in the way that pages will be torn out and plastered for those to ridicule and snarl at. But in a way that maybe someone feels hope or inspiration or just… kindness towards us.

So the story that could have been written begins to type out in invisible ink. The fear of rejection, cruelty, and abandonment strips us of the author pen. I don’t mean to dismiss God – I know he’s out there and watching me every day. I also know that we are meant to be active participants in our stories and when we hand over our story for someone else to write we rob ourselves of the two things everyone was created to experience.

Happiness. Worthiness.

The critics aren’t going to go away. Where there are people still needing to be better than THAT guy and opinions who can only see so far, there will be ridicule. What I’m trying to say is living out your story, your TRUE STORY, isn’t easy. Most of the time it’s a series of hard choices, moments of doubt, and sometimes even guilt. Yes guilt. Guilt of removing the bondage of someone else’s opinion of us. Opinion isn’t fact and letting someone else decide who you are isn’t the way to live.To be pretty brutally honest even if you do live exactly how someone wants you to that doesn’t mean they won’t find the next thing to pick at. Critics will always be critics and to a lot of us that is  a scary thing.

With those scary moments, though, there is also freedom. A freedom I cannot give you in real words. A freedom that almost feels mystical because so many of us are so far from it.

Some people would rather live in the comfort of being hidden and less because it feels safer. Don’t be that person. Who you are matters. That is my daily, hourly, moment by moment mantra. It is tattooed on my heart and before I die I hope to tattoo it on the hearts of as many people as possible.

Be you. Be whole. Say no when no is appropriate. Stand up and push back with grace and humility when someone tells you that you are less. Break down hate with the reciprocation of compassion. When people throw punches it may bruise from time to time but don’t you dare let it scar. You are more than the opinions of others. You hold more value than the depths of their wounds.

Day by day we have to remove the weights wrapped around our ankles and stop drowning in the opinions of others. Critics are going to be critics. Haters are going to be haters. Or in the words of T. Swift “The Haters gonna hate, hate, hate… Shake it off, Shake it off.”

The fact of the matter is people are miserable out there – but you don’t have to be one of them. Changing takes courage. It takes the willingness to go against the current. Some days it will be liberating and other days it will be exhausting but it will always be a worthy cause because it’s your cause. Your life. Your story. We either go out there and write our story or we live the narrative someone else puts together for us.

Critics will always be critics. It’s not your job to change them because it’s not your choice – it’s theirs. You want a chance at improving people’s perceptions? Go out and live a life that makes them watch (even if they don’t want admit it). A life of Wholeness. Happiness. Worthiness. Grace for others and yourself. Take a risk on yourself.  Surround yourself with a few really great people who actually want you happy and lean on their advice. Don’t depend on the advice of those who are only around or positive when it’s about meeting their needs. Remember false guilt should never be a motivator. Stop chasing past expectations and start dreaming of new horizons. Let it scare you a little – that means it matters. Be proud of who you are even if that means you are a work in progress.

Want to know how to get started? Be you… and see where that takes you. I bet it’s pretty freaking amazing.

Rae

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