When Students Ask About Trump

america, Evangelicalism, lessons, politics, social activism

The only thing Trump and I have in common is that we both cannot control our facial expressions.

One of my favorite parts of our 7th Grade Confirmation is the “Questions Jar” that students can put questions about anything in. It says on it “Write ANY question you have down on a piece of paper, and Heather may answer it on a Sunday morning! It can be about God, Confirmation, family, friends, a weird Bible verse, sports, the meaning of life, food, whatever you want! Think of this as a human Google machine.”

Students ask a variety of questions, and I kind of love it. I love answering their hardest questions on-the-spot (even if it makes me sweat and panic a little). We host three panels each Confirmation year and commit to answering all the questions.

At our last panel, I pulled out the question, “How does God feel about Donald Trump? What do you think about him?”

I handed it to my boss and said, “Do you want this one? Or do you want me to handle it?” I didn’t know what I wanted in that moment, whether I wanted to go for it or defer, but he told me I had it.

I read it out loud, took a deep breath as everyone giggled, and said something like this:

There’s a story in the Bible that goes something like this: A rich man came to Jesus and asked him, “What must I do to live eternally?” Jesus told him, “You must sell all your possessions and give them to the poor.” The rich man walked away from Jesus, and Jesus told the crowd “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19)

What does this have to do with politics?

Well, Donald Trump has a lot of money, like many other politicians. Many view running for president as a way to get more power and more possessions. And when you are fighting for power, often times you are forgetting the least-of-these that Jesus talked about. When you’re focused on getting more, you forget the people who have less.

We know that our purpose on earth is to take care of one another. Many politicians have lost sight of this. So what do I think that God thinks of Donald Trump? I think that God is very disappointed with him, because he could be using his money and power to help people. But I think God is disappointed with most politicians, because they all seem to be doing the same thing–taking advantage of others in order to gain more for themselves.

But the thing is–God still loves them a crazy amount. It can be hard to see at times, but they were also made in God’s image and God loves them very much. So as much as some politicians disappoint God and disgust us, they still deserve a certain degree of respect and honor. They are still our leaders, even if we don’t like them.

But let’s not forget that Jesus fought to change the political systems in place that oppressed people through his own actions, and that’s what infuriated people and got him killed.

So, don’t hate Trump or other politicians that aren’t taking care of the people. Be part of the solution by doing the things that Jesus asked of us, even if our government and president won’t.

I think that was about the best I could do on the spot. But the more I think about it, I think that the Holy Spirit guided what could be a really messy conversation (Trump literally makes me vomit and cry) into a conversation about our role in the world. We can’t rely on the president to fix our problems.

On a personal note, today in the primaries I voted for the one person in this crazy circus who I think resembles Jesus. But even if they were to make office, it doesn’t take away from my role on earth to take care of the least-0f-these.

No president will ever “trump” our role to take care of one another.

This is MY Ferguson

america, social activism

My hometown is a national headline, and for reasons that feels surreal, yet admittedly it’s representative of a problem that has been there my entire life.

Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, MO, has been headlining news the past few days. Michael Brown, a recently graduated senior from Normandy High School, was killed by a police officer. There are multiple accounts of the story going around; however, one thing is clear: Mike was walking away. He had his hands up. He was unarmed. He was shot multiple times.

Words cannot express the tragedy.

I grew up in Ferguson and the cities that surround it. St. Louis County is made up of a bunch of tiny little cities that are practically on top of each other. We call Ferguson and the cities that surround it (Florissant, Berkeley, Calverton Park, Jennings, Normandy, Hazelwood, Dellwood, Riverview, Kinloch, and so on) North County.  North County has had a terrible reputation for a very long time. One of the most segregated cities in the country, you can see it here. North County has a lot of low-income housing made up of primarily minorities, especially blacks. However, there are little pockets of white communities, far nicer than the hoods, that are in the midst of it. Put that together, and you have a ghetto right next to nice suburban neighborhoods.

Because of the socioeconomic difference between whites and everyone else, this caused extreme segregation. People mostly stuck to their race.  The first school I went to was in Normandy, and I was beat up almost every day because I was the only white person. Even though we were young, we were all taught the differences between “us” and “them” in a very ugly way.  My house was tagged by gangs with spray paint. There were drug dealers on my street. Then I turned 8 and moved to the edge of Florissant, which is Ferguson’s sister.

Fortunately, my experience in Elementary school didn’t stick.  I went to McCluer High School, which is in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.  We had a lot of different races, including a nice population of exchange students and immigrants.  I didn’t really fit into the “white crowd,” because my family was extremely poor and full of addiction, very like most of the black communities in the area. Truthfully, I didn’t really fit into any crowd.  I found myself starting “Club International,” a school-sponsored organization that was to unite people, no matter their race, socioeconomic background, or religion. My inner circle of friendship consisted of all kinds of different races and skin tones. It was beautiful.

This was what Ferguson had to offer me: a thorough education of the different cultures and customs of our world. It’s what inspired some of my friends to pursue degrees in international business, foreign languages, and missions work.

Even though most  who are impoverished find themselves stuck in a place of poverty, Ferguson was a place where a person could gain redemption through education.  I was able to take the ACT twice, not needing to pay either time. My high school offered free prom tickets to those who scored a 21 or higher on the ACT, and I wouldn’t have been able to go to my senior prom if not for that. I had teachers work with me on my writing skills, my grammar, and my attitude.

This was my Ferguson; my North County. It wasn’t perfect.  But it had something to offer me.  The difference is that, as a white female, I had an advantage. Everyone expects you to get out–after all, there was a major White Flight from North County many decades ago. However, if you are black, and especially a black man, there are little expectations, especially because the majority of the city is run by white people.

As I watch my friends from high school and church back home in the midst of these riots, my heart aches. I wish I could do something.  I wish I could go home and remind them of the Black History classes we took every year, about how it was those who stood for PEACE that we celebrated in class, not those who caused riots. Those who stood their ground, who didn’t back down, yet did it without the added violence.

And as I think about Ferguson, my home… I think about all the beauty that’s there, things that were added to add life.  I think about Whistle Stop, and how at Ferguson Middle School we would walk there as a class field trip every year for ice cream.  I think about Street Fest. I think about live music in the summers.  I think about having home-field advantage there as outfielder on my winning softball team, the Ferguson Fire. I think about Girl Scout parades through the town.  I think about the new bicycle path put there in just the last few years.  I think about all the little family-owned restaurants and bars. I think about how I want to avoid Marley’s, a bar that consists 90% of people from my high school.  I think about January Wabash Park, how we’d watch fireworks every Independence Day, and how we did the mile run there in school…with the terrible hills. I think about the church I grew up in, which is right across the street from the looted shopping center on West Florissant Rd. I think about all the times I told my mom I was staying after school, but really roaming the streets with my friends.

And I think about the injustices that never seem to end. Racist white leadership. Black-on-black violence. A struggling economy.

So this is MY Ferguson: Complex. Yet it has beauty. Ferguson was a city really fighting for something to give its residents…and it infuriates me that people (who, are PS, mostly not even from Ferguson) are looting, burning, and causing violence.

But if you ask me the truth, I have to wonder: The things put in Ferguson to give it beauty and life–who are they reaching? If we have 2/3 black and 1/3 white, why are there country music concerts in the summer time? Why are there bike paths–not for commuting to work, but for exercise?  The beautification isn’t for the poor, but for the middle class to have something nice to look at, widening a gap and making blacks even more disenfranchised. “MY” Ferguson is in most cases, the white Ferguson.  Even though I’ve seen the poverty, I’ve also had interests catered to my Caucasian culture. Because again: I am white and therefore have a privilege in that area, whether I’m poor or not.

Despite not having the automatic white privilege I have, Mike Brown was making better for himself. He graduated high school from Normandy High, a school that is one of the roughest around. He was to begin college this week at Vatterott, a trade school with a great reputation. Mike could have made a great life for himself. Whether he did anything “wrong” in this situation, he didn’t deserve to lose his life. He was no threat. He was a kid achieving things that most don’t get to do.

I ask that you partner with me in prayer for my hometown. It shaped a lot of who I am, and although I’m in a different city now, I miss it. I wish there were easy answers.

I also ask that you pray for Mike’s family. I can’t even fathom what they’re going through right now, watching Mike’s legacy being “honored” by riots full of vandalism and violence.

Lastly, I ask that you join me in prayer for prejudism to be removed from our hearts. That we’ll learn to give respect to one another, no matter their color, their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, their background, their socioeconomic status, their waist size, etc.  I pray that the Kingdom of Heaven will slowly be revealed more and more on earth, and that we can be restored…and quick.

What Millennials Want

america, christianity, church, millennials, unchurched

I hear so much talk about “how to reach Millennials” in the Church. In case you need a refresher or a definition on what a MIllennial is, it is the group of people born from early 1980s to early 2000s. Seeing as I was born in 1990, I am smack dab in the middle, so you could say with all confidence that I embody a Millennial.

Here’s the thing: I hear all this talk about how to reach my age group, a group of people who have fallen in the cracks and who the church have lost.  I see committees get together on how to reach me, I hear people talk about how to savvy up their technology to reach me, how to hire people in positions specifically to reach me, and how to make these fun parties or events to reach me.  But guess the average age on these groups of people making decisions for me? Mid-40s-early 50s.

No one is asking me what want for my generation.

Some people argue that it’s because Millennials don’t know what they want. Oh, the contrary. Millennials are the most educated generation yet, and even our criticized love of entitlement says something bold: We have a dream, a specific dream, and we won’t stop until we get it. We will kick, scream, and even leave the Church if we don’t get what we want.

And let me stop to say a disclaimer and something that may shock you: If I wasn’t in youth ministry, I would probably not be in the Church, too. My vocation has committed me to the Church, and it is difficult most days.  It is difficult serving in an environment where everyone is old enough to be my parents and, in most cases, my grandparents. I find it embarrassing when a new young person comes and the only person that can connect to them is me.  Because I have a huge desire for my lost generation, I do it and I don’t complain, because I am passionate about it and love it.  Yet, it gives a huge message from the Church to that person coming in: We have nothing for you except for this one person. Now, multiply and build us a young adult ministry.

Doesn’t work like that. Church, if you want to grow younger, which you need to if you don’t want to die, then you need to get involved. Here is proof that Christianity is dying, and it is up to you:

So here are a few things us Millennials want:

We are tired of the gimmicks.

Most churches think that to reach a younger generation, they have to change themselves to look younger. So, they spend a lot of money updating their sound system, their building space, and their music to reach young people.

But, let’s be honest: If I wanted those things, I could get that just about anywhere. But I’m not anywhere. I’m lost in the cracks.

If you want to reach me, then you need to be real with me. You need to show me what it is like to authentically walk in faith. Quit deceiving me with gimmicks. I view hundreds of advertisements a day that are selling me something, I don’t need to be “sold Church” with those same gimmicks. Give me something real. Give me something authentic. And don’t try to “sell me authenticity” too, just prove it.

We want to get back to the fundamentals.

You may not have noticed this, but there is actually a resurgence within Christianity among young people that is calling for a more conservative Christianity in terms of theology.  We are reevaluating classic debates in early Christendom and getting a little more classical and traditional.   Even reformed theology is even getting trendy, something that I grew up thinking was “evil” but somehow find myself in camp with.

Not only is our theology getting more fundamental, but so are our ethics and traditions. There is the call for men to get back to becoming men, and start leading again. I have friends who grew up in congregationalist churches running to liturgical churches, because the tradition is beautiful to them. Even I, who grew up very congregationalist, am finding comfort in a church that is famous for its traditionalism.  There is something refreshing here, probably because it’s authentic and it’s not being pushed on me, but I chose it for myself (back to that first point!).

We want you to care about what we care about.

Millennials are passionate about social justice, and that is rooted not only in our culture but in our spiritual and religious beliefs. We believe in a radical Jesus who helped the hurting and gave a political message of love for everyone. This translates into everything that we do: This is why we’re all over “green initiatives,” human trafficking, racial equality, healthy  and ethical eating, and even gay marriage. We believe in equality, regardless of background of a person. And we believe that comes from Jesus. And since we believe that came from Jesus, we need you to see that, too.

We want the destruction of dichotomies.

You may have noticed that some of this contradicts itself: How are Millennials getting more conservative theologically, yet at the same time fighting for gay marriage? Ha, great question!

That’s because we are sick and tired of being put into a box.

We see you guys fighting in the White House, and think there is a third option to being a Republican or a Democrat. I don’t need to be labeled as Evangelical or Mainline. I am not Conservative or Liberal. I can vote for gay marriage and think it’s incompatible with my religious beliefs, because I can believe that there is a separation between church and state.

You cannot put Millennials in a box.

And the beautiful part of this article? This is the way one Millennial feels. Although I feel like this article sums Millennial Christians up, there will still be some variance, and that’s what makes Millennials: Millennials. We are unique and have unique voices.

And church, that’s why you need to pay better attention: Because we are ever-changing, ever-growing. And, the next generation is up to bat, which means it’s our turn to shape them.  And how can we do that if the generation above us hasn’t shaped us?

We want YOU.

We cannot do this alone. As a generation that values learning and knowledge, we need to get this from somewhere.

We need you. Sometimes we scare you, and perhaps rightly so; but quit running away from your responsibility to train us and equip us with wisdom.  We are an abandoned generation by the Church, and we need to get back on track. However, we cannot do it without you.

As a disclaimer: When I say “Church” I mean the Church as a whole, and not one specific church. I appreciate some of the efforts the church I am blessed to serve in is doing, and I look forward to being a part of the visioning of how to reach younger people.

Don’t just "understand" the other side, EMPATHIZE.

america, Blogs about Heather, christianity, church, faith, freedom, leadership, lgbtq, love, sin, social activism, theology, unchurched
I have half a dozen or so documents in my laptop right now of “potential blogposts” of different rants and ramblings about politics; from Chick-Fil-A to the ability for a Christian to vote different political parties to my stance on gay marriage, I have been wanting to speak out for a while now.  But I have held back.  Why?  Because there are others who can say it better.  Because I’m no expert.  Because I’m still learning.

That is what I want to emphasize today in my all-encompassing post on politics, ethics, and anything else that seems to matter these days.  I am extremely irritated with the election, as both “sides” of the United States are exposing their dirty ignorance and disregard for people who do not agree with them.  It is this mentality of, “If a person does not agree with my political stance, which is the only way, then their entire character must be attacked publicly.”  One day I posted on Facebook, “I think it says a lot about President Obama’s character for him to visit Joplin a year after the tornado came through.”  I wasn’t making a political statement, just a statement of appreciation for the remembrance of a small town near me that had been devastated by a storm.  One parent of one of my youth wrote, “I think we should all worry about Heather’s character.”  Then a full-fledged debate began on my status about gay marriage, Obama being a dirty Muslim from Kenya, etc.  One of my friends wrote, “Shame on all of you.  This status wasn’t about any of that.”  And it wasn’t, but to many Christian brothers and sisters that I respect, a politician that they don’t agree with can’t have any redeeming qualities.

I think it’s extremely dangerous to claim to hold absolute knowledge of any subject.  I’m sure some of you are shocked, as I am a Christian and you probably are too; how can I say that I don’t know undoubtedly that God exists?  Simply, if I knew it wouldn’t be called faith.  I know it in my heart, but empirically I do not know that.  I’m not a skeptic, and I’m not saying that if I don’t know things, that I can’t express my opinions on them; in fact my faith in God precedes all other faiths I have and consequentially demands me to express that faith.  The point I’m trying to make is:  It is extremely important to be empathetic to opinions that differ from your own, for you do not know your opinions to be fact.  In fact, it becomes dangerous when you claim to know it all and aren’t empathetic.

Why?  Because once you claim to hold the key to knowledge on a particular subject, you get arrogant.  You push people away from you with your words and your attitude.  For example:  Those Christians who are outspoken about gay marriage push people who agree with it away; it scars the LGBTQQ community and its allies and pushes people away from the Christ who ate meals with prostitutes, tax collectors, and the self-righteous.  Christians (and everyone else) definitely have the right to discuss their opinions and alleged knowledge on a subject; but if we aren’t empathetic of the other side, we can and will push them away.  I took some time trying to understand the LGBTQQ community a few years ago when a group came to my conservative Christian university to speak out against our allegedly persecuting contract that we had to sign in order to be a student there.  Instead of pushing my doctrine, I took the time to listen; a time of learning and growth.  Once I heard the stories of how they’ve been treated by people inside the Church, I began to understand that it’s not necessarily my place to indoctrinate a homosexual upon meeting them (and that’s just the beginning of that journey).  It went without being said what I believed.  I spent time trying to be empathetic, not with the sole goal of strengthening my argument, but because there were things on the other side of the debate that I never even considered.  And my opinion, although not perfected today, has come a long way.

I think this is also apparent in the Neo-Calvinist movement within the SBC, trying to take it back to its supposed Calvinistic roots and forcing churches to adhere to them and teach them as if it’s an essential truth in order to believe in God.  Every time I found out someone that I knew was a Calvinist, I would judge them.  I am currently very sympathetic to Calvinism, but took a long time telling anybody; I was fearful that I would be labeled as an arrogant, close-minded reformer like many of the Neo-Calvinist leaders are looked at. Also, I’m not 100% sure on any of it.  I once thought I was when I was anti-Calvinist, and then I read scriptures and listened to people and changed my mind.  I might change my mind again.  But more importantly, why is it necessary to be sure on this topic?  It cheapens God’s sovereignty in my claim that I am all-knowing on any subject.  When we become face-to-face before God, we’re going to learn that a lot of our political, ethical, and even religious beliefs were wrong (I honestly can’t wait for God to go, “Heather, remember how you were so arrogant about __? Well, you were wrong, and there’s grace for you because I was more important to you than even that.”).

This goes beyond politics and quarrels within the Church.  This comes to our everyday life.  It is well-heard, “Before you judge someone, walk in their shoes.”  I think it’s dangerous to form an opinion, and especially to claim knowledge of a subject, without hearing all sides.  More than hearing them, but understanding them (taking their place and walking in their shoes).  Understanding a side different than yours takes more than reading a few books or listening to a few podcasts.  It takes learning from people, talking with people.  This should be especially true within the church.  We are to be in community with one another, and it strongly discredits Christ’s love for the Church when we break off communion with one another on topics that we haven’t taken the time to understand.  Maybe that person is a Calvinist because they don’t believe they could have found God without Him choosing them.  Maybe that woman hates hymns because she didn’t make it past 8th grade and has a small vocabulary.  Maybe that man isn’t a fan of small groups because his last one gossiped the entire time.  Maybe that man doesn’t come to church on Sundays because the only job he can find works those days.  Maybe that woman is pro-choice because her sister could have died in a pregnancy.  Maybe that Christian man is a Democrat because the fight against social injustice overrides the need to ban gay marriage.  Maybe that lady is for gay marriage because she separates legal marriage from covenant relationships.  Instead of judging people, understand them.  You don’t have to agree, but you don’t even need to tell them that either (with proper discourse, that will naturally come in a non-pushy way).  You just need to see people the way Jesus sees them: broken, fallen, and beautiful.  Christ sees you that way too.  You are just as much His bride as the rest of the Church; in fact, you are His bride together and that entails the need for empathy.  And at the end of the day, if you still disagree with them, that doesn’t mean their entire character should be shattered, especially if they are a follower of Christ; if you agree on the essential truths of salvation, then you are still a part of the Church and should edify one another.

Occasionally, you are going to run into a person who says while debating with you, “I’m listening to you, but I’ve heard this all before.  I’ve thought through this topic and have my opinion.”  This translates, “I’m listening to your comments, but I already know all there is to know on the subject and there is no new information you can give me.  There is no point in debating me, because I won’t change my mind but will debunk all your arguments in the most mocking way I can.”  THIS. IS. DANGEROUS.  I can’t tell you how much I have thought through, prayed through, and talked through different topics.  I may have strong opinions on subjects, but the day I claim to have it all together: please take me out of the local church before I infect people with my arrogant ignorance. Can you tell I am hurting right now?  Yes.  Because I used to be the person who was arrogant to think that they knew it all and only struck up debates to be the smart conqueror of them.  Because right now, people are discrediting me for being provocative in thinking and trying to be the “Devil’s Advocate” and understand both sides of issues.  But primarily because in a world where we have tragedies such as mass murders, children starving, public shootings, and great moments of glory like the young people beast-moding the Olympics; we are more concerned about our disagreement with a single politician or company that supports an ethic stance that differs from ours than for understanding our brothers and sisters.

ps, as I finish this post, I’m like “what do I even name this?!” hah.

Let Freedom Ring

america, christianity, freedom

I have been reading through Acts recently, and as I read I grew more and more amazed at the way the disciples would proclaim the message of Christ and the Gospel. Not only were they bold about proclaiming it, but they did so in areas where they weren’t free to do so; they faced persecution countless times. When I compare this to Christians in America, I am surprised—we live in a culture that has freedom of speech and freedom of religion, yet I rarely see Christians spreading the gospel.

I even see Christians go overseas and risk their lives over there to spread the message of Christ more than I see Christians over here spreading the Gospel. And they don’t even have to risk their lives over here. There are so many people right here in our neighborhood that need to know grace and salvation. Yet we don’t spread that message.

We are so blessed to live in a country like the United States of America. I’m not saying that if we proclaim His name, we won’t be persecuted because of our freedoms. If we are proclaiming His name correctly, than naturally we should be persecuted; the message of the Gospel is completely counter-cultural and provocative. I want to proclaim Christ in a way that takes full advantage of my freedom of speech, and I want to see my brothers and sisters do the same thing.

Happy Independence Day! :)