Judging Others

Spoken Word – When Did We Lose Our Souls?

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I sit and I intently ponderEmpty Soul

mind focused and filled with wondering

when, where, how, and why

did life become so parched and dry?

So empty of any depth or meaning

filled with loud, judgmental screaming.

Shouts of “justice” and “my rights”

verbal outbursts, tantrums, fights

all while claiming to be seeking

peace and harmony

fairness and equality

hand-shaking unity

when in actuality

The order of the day has become

division and strife.

No regard for any life

save our own – me and mine.

Don’t disagree with me this time

or I’ll unload my every thought,

feeling, and selfish opinion all over you and yours.

Hiding behind computer screens

phones and social media scenes

fingers clicking furiously

to rip apart right from the seams

anyone who dares to disagree

or have individual thoughts, unique perspective,

or a mind that thinks differently, no matter how refective.

What an offensive

concept.

The “causes” of the conflicted day:

marriage for the straight or gay,

exposed nipples for baby’s meal

or modesty.

Are leggings real

pants?

Black lives matter.

Blue lives matter.

Lions and elephants and dog lives matter.

All lives matter.

Except of course

those that haven’t left the source

of sustenance that is their mother’s womb.

They don’t matter til they’ve crossed into the room

caught by a doc

and uttering that first crying wail.

Oh hell.

Don’t even go there.

Refugees and aliens

Open the borders. Shut them again!

They’re dying, and starving, and being killed.

But they’ll come into our country and steal

our benefits, our jobs

our dignity.

Really?

Do we give it up that easily?

Fly the colored rainbow flag.

Stars and bars

No that one’s bad

Why? Because “I said” it is

since one man wore it when he did

a horrible

heinous

evil act.

In fact…

My cause is greater than your own.

My voice is louder

passion prouder and

Damn it, I. Am. Right.

Is this what we have become?

People who scream

riot and ream

anyone and everyone over the coals

who dares to oppose

our singular views?

Judgmental “truths”.

Closed-minded, open-mouthed expectations of compliance

with nothing but selfish reliance

on platforms that are so wrapped

in politics or personal agendas

that we’ve forgotten how to live?

How to love?

How to be simply

humbly

authentically human?

And allow others to be the same…

Respectfully humane.

When did our hearts become so hard?

When did we lose our souls?

We must hit our knees. Get on our face.

Crawl into the secret place

where we can quietly

silently

wide-openly

heart-rended

weepingly listen, and plead

for mercy from the One Whose bleeding

hands and feet and sword pierced side

spirit surrendered died

for every freedom and hand-crafted life

that you are targeting with strife

and hatred

and vilifying accusations

of bigotry

ignorance and…

Just.

Stop!

Can we extend our hardened wounded souls

out to the Father to be made whole?

And cry compassionate tears for those

who are hurting

lonely

abandoned

and longing

for someone to affirm that they belong.

Allow His love our hearts to pierce

and His eyes to be ours with grace so fiercely

extended to everyone bought by His death.

That bear His warm life-giving breath.

His adoration.

His absolute and undeserved grace.

Just as we do.

I earnestly

fervently

passionately pray that we can truly repent and

Recover.

our.

Souls.

image, by Cheppy Japz, found at: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/empty-soul-cheppy-japz.html
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Are You One of The “Tolerant” Swine

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My son and I were recently discussing the current cultural fad of crying for tolerance while being completely intolerant of anyone who dares to disagree with an individual’s particular views, lifestyle choices, beliefs, etc.  We were both explaining our frustrations with the immaturity that is so evidently displayed by those who demand that one think, act, or believe exactly as they do or else be given the moniker “Intolerant Bigot!” or the like. And then there’s the ever over-used, misquoted and misrepresentation of Christ’s words “Judge not” if one dares to speak a word of dissension with a popular opinion.

We both find it amazing that so many are completely blind to their intolerant “tolerance” and are so very narrow-minded and arrogant that they are unable to entertain, or even calmly listen to, a differing perspective – and will vehemently debate that theirs is the only right perception – all while hurling insults and infantile name-calling towards the offender who dares to not share their opinion.  Simply, and discouragingly, amazing.

While talking about the increasingly argumentative nature of society and their intolerance for varied viewpoints, I said simply “Don’t cast your pearls before swine.  It’s not worth the argument.”  This got me thinking (a dangerous thing at times) about the nature of swine and what this portion of scripture could possibly mean.

Consider: Swine will eat anything.  They have no discernment or discriminating tastes. Whatever is placed in front of the swine, if hungry, will be devoured.  A swine will eat until he is full, but as soon as there is a vacancy in his stomach, he will devour whatever else is immediately available to satisfy his hunger urge. Isn’t this a picture of what has become of our society?  Whatever is most visible, and touted as important most often, is grabbed hold of and devoured by indiscriminate people who swallow it all without question and then look round for the next great outcry that they can scarf up to feed their hunger for drama and self-importance.

The government says that an issue is critical (like, for instance, a flag) and throws out its “feed”, filled with vilifying language, particles of semi-true information, and subtle innuendos that all who don’t swallow the hand-fed swill are hateful and bigoted folk.  So society gobbles it up without bothering to examine what they’re devouring for corruption, rottenness, or truth-vacant toxins.

“Religion” throws out the seeds of dissension and animosity, under the guise of “righteousness” and “favor”, and demands that others live up to impossibly perfect-looking standards created in the mind of a pompous (not pious) human who claims to be speaking for God.  However, the example being set is a far cry from the examples  of grace, love, humility, and even truly righteous judgment – given by Christ.  Yet because it is peppered with improper scripture and seasoned with legalism disguised as holiness, it is gobbled up almost madly by those who are naive and emotionally vulnerable – only to be self-righteously vomited back out over others in an effort to obtain some sense of spiritual self-significance………… (Isn’t that kind of an oxymoron?)

The media feeds one-sided images of violence and controversy every few days, seeming to delight in the fact that their negative, offense-stirring, hatred laced “commentaries” do nothing to improve society or encourage unity in a nation that is torn.  Instead, they throw around words like “bigots”, “racist”, “intolerant”, and “prejudice” with a glibness that testifies to their belief that society is but a mass of ignorant beasts who will fight and battle for a piece of whatever has been thrown at their feet to eat.  Sadly, much of society has proven the media’s belief to be true by acting like mind-numbed, illiterate swine who cannot think for themselves and are too lazy to try.

For God’s sake.  When did our society become so obtuse?

Is it not obvious that society is being led to the slaughter completely engorged on the tripe with which they have been slopped? Devouring the fecal matter that is being fed by a self-aggrandizing government, some very visible but very wrong religious charlatans, and an arrogant media – all while refusing to seek out the truth buried in the filth, or to graciously allow for differing perspectives, opinions, and choices – is the norm for most these days.  The crude simpletons.  The “swine” of our society.

How about wading through the waste that is being offered and digging through the dung to find some balance?

How about refusing to swallow the rubbish that everyone who disagrees with you is an intolerant bigot, and give tolerant space for differences?  (I thought intolerance was the refusal to accept differences anyway.  But I must have gotten that wrong somehow.)

How about having intelligent conversations about important issues instead of stale squabbles about things that will be nothing more than refuse in the grand scheme of things?

Here’s one.  So many things go on around us while society gnaws on and feuds over the noxious and negligible filth that we’re being malnourished with to distract. How about actually reading and researching some of the real crises happening?  Things like people being slaughtered for their beliefs.  Children being sold as sex-slaves.  Personal agendas being passed through government – riding incognito on the coattails of a bill – that take away more of those rights everyone so adamantly cries out for… the list is long when it comes to real things we should be feeding on instead of the tripe that is so easily accessible.

Refuse to be a swine. Read. Research. Entertain opposing opinions.  Listen to perspectives different from your own. Seek out truth.

You might find some real pearls of wisdom amidst all of the rubbish.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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11056543_10152919842641179_8700559709711379137_oAs the internet is overrun with the story of the Duggar family’s skeletons in the closet, and Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce) coming out, the opinions and commentaries are on the verge of “breaking” the internet.  Opinions range from staunch defense of the Duggar Family or Jenner’s choices, to absolute outrage about the same.  There are those who attribute every perceived failure to Obama and the Democrats – or to Conservatives and Republicans (which, btw, are not one in the same).  Others cannot voice their opinion without it being done via creating an argument that blames the issue on religion and either the belief in God, or the lack thereof.  Still others seem to have lost all sense of decorum, dignity, respect for others, or even self-respect and spew their thoughts with vile words, profanity, and crass indifference to the feelings of any family members who may be hurt, or offended, by their damaging words.  Disagreeing with “popular opinion” earns the labels of “hate mongers” or “bigot”, “Intolerant” or “ignorant”.

It’s a disturbing trend.  A quick and violent shove towards mind-numbing same-ness and lack of sufferance for those who dare to be different – or at least those who dare to express their opinions that differ from the supposedly moral, or immoral, majority.

Can we put our big girl/boy britches on and grow up?!

Disagreement with an opinion, no matter how popular that opinion, does not equal “hate speech” in an intelligent and thinking society. Simply disagreeing with someone – or their lifestyle – does not indicate hatred or evil. It is entirely possible to disagree, even vehemently, yet continue to treat one another with civility, respect, dignity, and fierce love.

This, my friends, is why we were designed with a mind, will, and emotions rather than created as clones of one another all marching in the same direction and step. What would be the point and purpose?

Will we always agree? Of course not.

Should we be free to express our varying opinions? With respect, kindness, and appropriateness – absolutely.

Will we convince others to agree with our feelings? At times we may.

When someone disagrees with us, and will never agree with us, is this a sign of an evil heart or villainous motives? Come on. Really?

And this one is specifically for those who claim “Christ-follower”….
Is it our responsibility to condemn others “outside the faith”, convince them of perceived wrongs, and convict them in the courts of our minds and social media feeds? No. It is not.
It is our responsibility to point them to the heart of Christ through our own actions, words, faith, and evident love. The rest is between them and their Father, God.

Why intolerantly crying for tolerance – from either side of the opinion – when what we really want is for everyone to think, act, and be as we are or they’re wrong, Wrong, WRONG?

For the sake of intelligent thought and growing up, let’s give room for mature and civil disagreement without cutting people off, arrogantly “unfriending” those who have other opinions, calling names, and resorting to overall petty immature arguments.

Please.

PS Christ-followers: (Holding fellow Christ-followers accountable to scripture is another thing entirely. We’d better be doing that – with all love and humility – or we can’t truly love one another well)

My Last 2.5 Years as a Teacher at Y.A.L.E.

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Today marked the end of one often frustrating, yet fulfilling, leg of this journey called life. Today marked the official end of the Y.A.L.E. program (Young Adult Life Enhancement) where I have worked since October 2012.

For the last 2.5 years I have worked with 18-21 year olds, most of whom were considered “youthful offenders” or “at risk youth” when they were underage. I was their Leadership and Lifeskills Teacher. I was their Case Manager. I was their “don’t come to me with the same problems over and over… CHANGE things” advisor.  I was their encourager. I was their “mama”.  I was their friend.

“But you can’t be a friend to your clients”, the age-old mantra says.  Really?  You can’t?  Oh but, there are times when you must.

You see, a friend loves in spite of………. They’re not a “yes man”, agreeing with everything that you do or say in order to stay in your good graces, but a friend will tell the truth, and often disagree, even when it’s most painful to hear.  A friend sees through the bravado and posturing, listens past the words, and reaches in to get to the heart of an issue. A friend lays down his/her life for others.  And a true friend sticks closer than a brother.

Many of the students that I spent the last few seasons with had no brother.  Many had lost family at the hands of another through street or domestic violence. Some had lost family due to their own mishandling of life and they had shoved them away with their anger, violence, or drug use.  Others had lost family to mental health issues – whether the family member’s or their own – it didn’t matter, they were lost.  And then there were those who still lived at home with family.  Or perhaps I should restate that… there were those who still inhabited the same four walls as those who have borne the same blood yet were not safe, nurtured, or appreciated there.  They had no brother.  They had no real “home”.

These were the lives of our students.  And so we, the staff, became their friends who stuck closer than a brother.

There were the days when we got to celebrate with a student who passed a portion of their GED – or that all important final test was completed with a pass. Days when one (or several) completed a training certification, graduated from high school, or enrolled in college or trade school – and really attended. Perhaps it was that a student handled their anger in a more appropriate way, or approached a conflict with calm but direct words instead of weapons of flesh and steel.  Or when one of our students got a job, drivers license, first car, or the keys to the first place of their own.   Oh the celebration!  Some students would quietly stand holding evidence of their accomplishment, but the grin that was spread across their face spoke so very loudly.  Other would march proudly in the door, yelling loudly for all to hear “I passed!” or “I did it!”  There were always high fives, “I KNEW you could do it”s, and hugs all around. We did know they could do it.  Sometimes they didn’t know.

There were also the days when we cried with our students.  Like when one had to bury her child and she was but a 21-year old mother.  But more often there were the days that we cried FOR our students.  When a student told us – after a few days with us – that he had been sleeping in a slide outside at a local park when he left orientation each afternoon.  Or when another was a victim of domestic violence yet would not let us help for fear of being “alone again”.  And I won’t soon forget the 6-foot tall, strong-in-body, young man who told us he was “lost” and had no idea where to even start to change his life, tears ran down his face, and ours ran unchecked as well as we talked about options for the taking, possible solutions, and hope.

There were oh-so-fascinating days when we were able to take our students outside of a staunch and stifling setting and get them out into the world, where many of them had never been.  We laughed belly laughs when a student saw a real live cow for the first time and referenced a Wrong Turn movie when we took him to the country.  We huffed and puffed and then watched faces light up in wonder when we hiked The Cascades.  We walked and talked about futures and dreams when we took them to RU and VT campuses – places many had only heard tale of.  We played basketball, served the community, saw the Globetrotters.  Our students shone like stars with their talents and service at a local Black History celebration.  And we whooped and hollered, with shouts and cheers, when some conquered their fears on ziplines, high ropes, and even in canoes.

But the most heart-gripping of all were those days – and sometimes nights – that were consumed with reading and watching the news, listening to the “street gossip”, making phone call after phone call, and waiting with baited breath to see/hear if any of our students was involved in a local news stories about youth who were perpetrators of violence or wounded victims of the same.  Despite every effort made, pretty regularly, we would get the word that “one of ours” was making headlines in the news, or sick, or homeless on the streets.

It was always a heartbreaking thing when these reports came. Hard to hear. Often hard to understand.  Because when you pour your life into someone, you want them to grab hold of the truth that – regardless of what they’ve done, or been, in the past – there is hope for something different.  Something better.  You desperately want them to “get it”.  You want them to understand, without question, that there is at least one “someone” who believes in them, loves them, hopes for them.  And you want that understanding to empower them to change… to choose a better course that may be difficult due to unfamiliarity, yet knowing that they can handle it because they are strong.

I’ve witnessed many a changed course while working with Y.A.L.E..  Many causes for grand celebration.  I can list every success with absolute joy and pride for the young men and young ladies who did, indeed, “get it” and squared their shoulders and determined they were worth – and capable of – so much more than their past.

And I’ve witnessed many who, it seems, don’t have the strength to shake off the iron grip that holds them, like the hands of a captor covering their eyes and strangling the life out of them, pulling them back into their past.  It’s life and comfort for them.  It’s all that they’ve known.

One of my students shot another of my students last night.  He’s one who can’t quite summon the courage to escape the fingers of the grip of his past to break free into something better.  Something different.  For some like this young man – although the consequences will be, ultimately, much harder to live with – the security of living what they know is much easier than risking ridicule and retribution with change.

So there’s a glimpse into my season with Y.A.L.E..  Celebrations and heart-breaks. Conversations and consternations. Graduations and GEDs. Adventures and awards. Courtrooms, jail cells, and funerals.

Given the chance I might do things differently.  I would be more firm – or more gentle – with some.  I’d try one more home-visit in an effort to get through to someone.  I’d push for more outings and adventures where our students could experience things they hadn’t before.  But one thing that I couldn’t change is how much I love and believe in each and every one of those 100 that crossed my path through this job.

Did it change things for them?  Some it did.  Others, I may never know.  But what I DO know is that love never fails.  And sometime, somewhere down the road, that love that was shown will come back to mind and maybe, just maybe, it will spark something in them where they can begin to fully recognize that they are valuable, capable, believed in, and loved.

2.5 years of my life as a teacher.  I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Bob Dylan and Religion

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“Christianity isn’t a religion… “It’s a reality.”

My friend of 24 years said that to me during an interesting conversation last month.  And that should be the truth.

Christianity… following Christ… being Christ-like… should be a reality for those who wear the label of Christian.  Yet, in reality, how often do we justify our words, actions, treatment of others… (or hear them justified) by convincing ourselves that “our faith” (or the label of “Christian”) is the reason that we have reacted/responded a certain way?  Judged someone?  Mistreated someone?  How often do we claim to be “defending our faith”… “defending scripture”… “defending God”… when, in reality, we’re defending ourselves?

If your faith is, indeed, a reality – it does not need defending.  If scripture is, indeed, a reality – it does not need defending.  If your God is, indeed, a reality – He, most certainly, does not need defending.  These things… faith, scripture, and God have stood the test of time and do not need your “defense”.  They stand on their own.

In 1979, Bob Dylan publicly professed to have a relationship with Christ.  And in 1979 and early 1980 he wrote several songs that spoke – very clearly – about this relationship.  Songs such as: You Gotta Serve Somebody, Slow Train Coming, and he released a “gospel” album entitled Saved that brought Dylan heat from every direction.  His concerts during this time contained most of his new songs and Dylan, himself, “preaching” between songs, even as his fans cried out for him to play his older – more well-known music. 

In November of 1980, Bob Dylan began a 2-week concert run where he performed his older songs, and some of his newer songs recorded later in 1980.  When asked about why his newer songs were only “remotely religious” in comparison to the others written and recorded in early 1979-1980, Dylan replied: “They’ve evolved.  I’ve made my statement, and I don’t think I could make it any better than in some of those songs.  Once I’ve said what I need to say in a song, thats it.  I don’t want to repeat myself.’  [Dylan] saw no need to repeat himself by continuing to write gospel songs or continuing to preach from the stage; truth is truth, and it stands forever.” From the book Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan  

Dylan saw no need to continue to “defend” his faith, scripture, or his relationship with Christ.  Yet Dylan, like many others who have proclaimed faith in Christ and simply try to live out their understanding of Christ’s character the best way that they know how, is viewed by many who claim to be “Christian” themselves, as someone who saw Christianity as a passing fad and now has no relationship with Christ.  Why?  Because he doesn’t talk about it unless asked…  and doesn’t use every platform that he’s given as “an opportunity to share the gospel”.

When did being a Christian become so narrow-minded a thing?

Because Dylan, again like many others, doesn’t fit into the boxed in definition of how his relationship with Christ began (it wasn’t in a church saying “the sinners prayer”), how his gifts should be used in a way that CLEARLY separates him from the “secular” industry (he still does “secular” concerts/appearances), how he lives out his relationship with Christ (he still attends and supports Jewish functions – his children are raised Jewish.  He doesn’t make “Christian” appearances.  He supports “secular” causes.  He doesn’t “preach” aloud about his faith.  He doesn’t attend a church service regularly), then he is ignored as a Christ-follower by many in “the church” at large.  What a shame.

And all around us are other, not-so-public persons, who don’t fit into someone else’s narrow-minded, “in the box” definition of what a Christian should be.  Yet they live out Christ in their hearts, minds, words, and actions on a daily basis.  They believe fully in Him and His deity.  They want to model His heart and life.  They study Him and His words.  Quietly.  Without boasting.  Without pomp and circumstance.  And with much more success at demonstrating Christ, and reaching the hearts of others, than those who piously and publicly (and loudly) proclaim – from their perches of self-importance and self-righteousness – that they are “Christians” yet treat those unlike them with disrespect, shame, and contempt.

Do you know some “Dylan-esque” persons that say they know Christ yet don’t do what you think they ought?  Someone who professes to have a relationship with Christ but doesn’t fit into your God-box?  Perhaps your box isn’t one given by God Himself, but created by you in order to keep you safe (and defended) in your own mind.  …Perhaps.
Selah.

Kill the Beast!!

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Here they come.  You can see them outside the window of your heart as you attempt to hide. They’re gathering supporters in the dark and getting closer.  Carrying their torches and their pitchforks.  Their voices growing louder as they come near yelling.  Shouting.  Thrusting their fires of anger into the air crying “Freak!”, “Traitor!”, “Monster!”.  And then the dreaded roar as they rush forward screaming “Kill the Beast!”

Your crime?  Struggling.  Falling.  Failing at something.  Causing the way that they see you to change.  The expectations that they had of you have been shattered.  And so has your image.  How dare you defy what they believe about you?  How dare you mess up?  How dare you embarrass them?
You are now a failure.  Ugly.  A monster worthy of dragging into the streets and ridiculing – persecuting – abusing in front of the world.  You are nothing short of a hideous beast!

Ever experienced this?  You fail at something and your heart is shattered and broken.  You hide behind your pain because you are ashamed and hurt.  Struggling to forgive yourself.  And to make things even more difficult, your judges seem to be beating down the door to shame you further.  It can make for a challenging recovery.

In those times you can often count the number of those who still love you – unconditionally – even in your “beastly” state – on one hand.  But that hand is critical.  In times of falling and failure it is vital to keep hold of those who are able to look past the mistakes into your damaged heart and are willing to listen, to love, to help, heal and restore.  Whatever you do, don’t push them away.  Don’t hide from these.  Don’t ignore the hand that is reaching out to help in the midst of chaos and judgmentalism.  Grab hold and don’t let go.

And when the fires of anger have subsided – when the soul-piercing shouts of judgment become silent, when the crowd of vigilantes has disbursed and you feel safe again – walk out from the rubble.  With a humble heart, and head held high, take step after stumbling step, hand in hand with those who have been willing to endure the chaos that has resulted from your failing.  And go and tell.

Tell of the obstacles in your path, that you didn’t avoid, that brought about the stumble.  Tell of the turmoil and struggle within your own soul.  Tell of the pain and humiliation of falling… of the endurance and determination that led to recovery and restoration.  And tell of the wonder of unconditional love that has led you out from the rubble.  Your telling may be the salvation of another.

But most importantly remember.  As you see another stumble and fall, remember how you hid and watched the angry mob swarm to persecute you and resist the urge to pick up a torch of judgment and join the crowd yelling “Kill the Beast!”