“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. 

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)

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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“How can you justify being a lesbian to God?”

Book Confession #5

 

When I realized I was attracted to another female for the first time, I was scared out of my mind. I was also young enough to be intrigued and somehow even gutsy enough to make a move, but in the light of day and in the movements of my daily existence, the “natural” response I had was to lie; to put on a mask and pretend that intense feeling in the gut of my stomach didn’t exist.

And this “natural” response grew and matured as life aged me. My ability to play make believe only excelled as I grew older. While others grew out of it and grew into the life they were meant to live, my fantasy world was “real” life. My expressions and emotions became as plastic as they were practiced. I was numb on the outside because I told myself I wasn’t allowed to feel on the inside.

I have this question plaguing my thoughts,

“Why was it easier to lie?”

It was easier to lie because the family consequences were great. It was easier to lie because frankly that’s how I was going to survive. Even in the mid-90’s when I hit puberty and found myself to be another casualty of the middle-school awkward phase, I knew that the secret planted deep inside me could not take root and flourish. I had to continue to keep it in check by trimming away feelings and expression in order to remain as barren as possible. It would be the only way I would blend in and survive.

This is the message of my childhood and adolescence years that I’ve carried into adulthood… that life is about surviving. No wonder I’ve gone through deep waves of depression in adulthood. No wonder I have times where I have no idea who I am, or what I’m doing, or where I’m going. I’ve been living as a shell of a human being, depriving myself of real emotion and connection.

I got a DM on twitter the other day wondering (very kindly I might add) how I could justify being a lesbian to God. And I’d love to answer that here today. There are hundreds of misconceptions about Christians – some created outside the faith, but most created inside. There is this blind assumption that once we are Christians struggle and hardship deplete – that’s just not the case. But what is the case for me and hundreds out there like me, is that in the midst of my struggle I had a rock to hold onto.

God pours His grace on me hourly every day and calls me loved regardless of anything and everything. It is in that understanding of love and grace (that I have not earned, yet am loved without limit anyway) that has allowed me to be more open with who I am. And that’s how I justify being a lesbian to God…. I simply don’t have to justify it at all. God doesn’t call me to be perfect, straight, plastic, and without free will. God calls me to be me and He calls me His, regardless of my criteria.

I think it was easier for me to lie, and it’s easier for so many of us to lie, because that’s what we believe we have to do to belong. We want to be included. We want to have worth. We want to be seen. And if whatever we say could damage that, could take away our belonging, or value, or whatever it is, it terrifies us. And we protect this “belonging” no matter how broken it may be.

What I’ve come to realize (and my faith has deeply helped me in this) is that I want to belong in a real way. I want to have real worth and real value, and I want to be seen and heard for who I really am. I don’t want to be a half person and I don’t want to belong by the standards of other people. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m growing a voice.

Today’s confession is: my entire life I’ve merely just survived and called it “belonging”. I’ve fought my whole life to be accepted as a half person. I’ve worked myself into depression, exhaustion, and heartache in order to belong to something that rejects most of my secrets. I want my life message to change. I want my worth to come from who I am fully, not what part I can play well. I no longer want to survive a plastic belonging, but I want to find and even help create a belonging that is whole and real. Everyone deserves to belong…

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