Free Speech Doesn’t Exist

Bills. I hate them. If I had realized what a drag paying bills would be when I was younger I would have… well, I would have enjoyed the lack of responsibility more, I guess. Since no one has found a way to reverse aging or time, I am continuing on the inevitability train further into adulthood. And, again, I figured people at my age, and certainly older had things all put together. The older I get the more I realize no one has any idea what’s going on and some people are much better at faking it than others.

A couple of days have passed since the first 2016 Presidential debate and I have been puzzling over the debate itself (of which I watched only 20 minutes before vomiting a little in my mouth and switching it off) and the resulting flurry of analyses – oh and the Facebook posts and tweets, let’s not forget them. People feel as though free speech has been under fire now for several years, what with “political correctness” (whatever that actually means, now) and different movements pushing for understanding, justice, and inclusive language. Speech has never been free, nor will it ever be free.

Don’t tune out. This isn’t going where you think it’s going. You’re expecting me to launch into how men and women have fought and died for your ability to say what you think and feel. And I am happy to shortchange that expectation. You know that already, none of us need that lecture again.

No, so few of us consider the cost of our words. Jesus pointed out, rightly, that we will have to answer for every careless word we say. Our words interact with a kind of budget, and eventually we will have to have a divine audit to see what we did with our budget. I say cost in that whatever we say takes or gives. Consider that we are capable of saying whatever we want, but not everything is helpful, productive, or worthwhile. (Everything is permissible, but not all things are beneficial, to be Biblical about it.)

When we carelessly, or intentionally, say hurtful things we pay a cost in two ways. One, we carve off a bit of our own humanity to pay for that comment. Causing pain to others is not how God designed humanity, and when we go against that design, we remove, little by little, those things which make us most human. With each hurtful phrase we carve off compassion, mercy, empathy, understanding, and we become less. Secondly, when we say hurtful things, we also carve off a bit of the person we hurt to pay for our words. We carve off bits that make them human as well: dignity, self-worth, identity. As my family has always said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Meaning, no matter if it seems free, someone had to pay or work to make that free-ness possible. This is what Jesus is talking about when he talks about contempt in Matthew 5:21-22, contempt doesn’t just damage the abused, it also damages the abuser.

On a more positive note, though, we can make investments. in others, and ourselves, by using language that is uplifting, helpful, and thought-through. There is so much venom and hatred being spewed out like some nasty sci-fi monster on the internet today, why add to it or share it? Instead, why not pray for one another, use kind language, and listen to others when they speak? When we listen, understand, and think through our words, we give ourselves and others the dignity they deserve as images of God.

And here’s the kicker… and the scary part. If humans are made in the image of God, any abuse or violence, physical or verbal, directed toward them is also directed toward God. Just sit with that for a moment and let it sink in.

What words do your kids hear you use to describe others? Do your children see you listening and using understanding, or leaping to conclusions? How can you better model a Jesus-like example of using constructive, beneficial language?

Special Delivery Babies?

It had been a busy July day for 7-year-old me. I had been on an airplane back from the grand state of Texas, down near the Southern border. My mother had been visiting some of her stores out their and dad and I got to tag along for the small vacation portion of the trip. We had enjoyed ourselves and had eaten well, of course. When we arrived home, the sun was setting and a knock came on our door. When the door opened, some of our family walked in with a baby boy… Truth be told, I’m sure I knew where babies came from at that point, but special delivery had never really been one of the options. From that day on, that baby boy lived with us, and we loved him. He was the roundest baby you have ever seen, and had trouble walking for the longest time because he was a such round baby.

Sometime later, I vaguely remember some legal proceedings, seeing some stress on my parents faces, and a final court date that still didn’t get me out of standardized testing. We all gussied ourselves up and went to the courthouse where the judge declared my brother an official, legal part of our family. (To be clear, he was part of our family the moment we first saw him, but leave it to the legal system to feel like it can declare when that sort of thing happens.)

I watched as my aunt took in foster children and adopt them. Christmas was always exciting there for a while, because we never knew who might be coming! Eventually that family hit its sweet spot, and I count all of those adopted kids as my cousins.

I grew up around adoption, though I haven’t actually been through the process as a parent, yet. I am watching friends go through the process, and their stories are different and wonderful, full of tension, compassion, and hope. I have met mothers who have presented their children for adoption in the hopes of giving that child the best life possible. I have met adopted children all over the world and from all over the world. I have even considered international adoption myself and wear a ring to remind myself of that dream (as well as to remain connected to Asia and China, in particular.)

I have a respect for all sides of the adoption process, from the adoptive parents, to adoptees, to the many counselors, case workers, and administrators that make adoption possible. The idea of adoption is so rich with spiritual implications that it is difficult to pick just a few to touch on.

Consider that adoptive parents have the opportunity to understand more deeply what it means for God to choose us, not on merit, but out of love, compassion, and grace. The adopted child has done nothing to earn adoption and acceptance, but these parents give of their love, space in their heart, and acceptance willingly, and gladly. How great the Father’s love for us, that we are adopted as co-heirs with Jesus, the King!

Take a moment and think about the selflessness of birth parents, who, wanting the best for their child, present as a precious gift this little life to open arms. These are not men and women selfishly removing a child from their lives, but men and women willing to place their trust in other family to raise a child. These parents are not “giving up” in any way, form, or fashion, they are stubbornly, admirably providing for their child in whatever way they can. This is much like when we entrust our lives to God, selflessly placing ourselves in his hands.

And everyone who helps to mediate this process: isn’t Jesus called our mediator? He is the one who bridges the gap between heaven and earth, who makes knowing the Father possible. These counselors, case workers, and other administrative personnel work tirelessly to make this process as smooth as possible.

Regardless of the reasons, participating in the adoption process on either end is an honorable, even holy, action. I say holy with no reservations, because in it, parents are imaging God and telling His story. Adoption, whether being a birth parent, adoptive family, or otherwise, is Kingdom-building work – it is holy work.

I have never personally experienced any negativity on account of my brother and my family’s adoption story, but some friends I know have. I wonder why fellow Christians take issue with adoption, treat birth parents with such contempt, or seem uneasy when the topic is addressed. Perhaps, this is just inexperience talking, a lack of knowledge and empathy.

If you know people involved any any aspect, past, present, or future, of adoption, support them. Encourage them. Listen when they tell their story – theirs are fascinating. Be willing to set aside whatever notions you have and replace them. Be open. Be Jesus.

Does your family have experience with adoption or the foster system? What conversations do you have at home about adoption? Who do you know who is or has been involved in adoption? How can your encourage them this week?

It Can Defend Itself

Have you stopped to listen to the words of the National Anthem lately? The song is about the flag surviving a rather brutal attack, with shells falling all around. Despite the ferocity of the combat situation, “our flag was still there.” And we can even read the last couple of lines as a question, “O, say, does the star-spangled banner yet wave […]?” Does it? Yes. Have men and women died defending it, yes. Do we as civilians need to defend the flag itself, or has it stood the test of time as Americans of all colors, sizes, and creeds have defended the ideals of what it stands for – “the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Yes, the defense of the flag and national anthem, plus several more shootings, have sent every armchair pundit rushing for their corners for the inevitable media boxing match with each side not giving a single ear to the other side’s point of view. But, for some history, the national anthem was not really used at sporting events for the reason you think it has been used. Originally, it was not used at the beginning of the game, if it was used at all. The anthem was first introduced to a sporting event, specifically baseball, in 1918 during the seventh inning stretch as a mood booster for a small crowd suffering from the effects of WWI and several other national stresses. The effect of the military band striking up the song was immediate and dramatic, with the song becoming a regular part of sporting events after receiving so much attention. (Source here) The anthem has since become a way of promoting good will, togetherness, and spirit during modern sporting events. One could even make a very cynical argument that the anthem was kept due to its money-making ability to draw crowds by promoting a sense of patriotism. Regardless of its history of inclusion or its purpose in sporting events, we can understand that not all people view the symbol in the same way. Some have had negative experiences in dealing with that flag and may be hesitant to support what they believe it to be about. Others have positive experiences and are clearly ready to support what they believe it stands for.

Consider also the idea of God. Not everyone has experienced God in a positive environment. Some feel abandoned, scandalized, or abused by religious groups. Some feel accepted, healed, and wanted by God because of a loving group. Can we understand how these different groups of people feel when presented with the idea of God? How do we wrestle with the way that some Christians, and other religious groups, feel it is their vocation to defend God through anger, violence, shouting, and legislation? If we truly believe that God is the Creator and King of heaven and earth, what makes us think that our weak self is what God needs to defend Himself?

If we want to honor God and defend His name, let’s obey His commands: love God, love others, make disciples. If we want to honor the flag, let’s stand up for ideals of the nation for which she stands: freedom, equality, justice. American ideals do not survive through arguments and mere words. These truths that we hold to be self-evident survive through men and women of all kinds living them out in their daily lives, showing with their actions that they have chosen to build something concrete, instead of building flimsy edifices with empty words. God’s Kingdom does not hinge on our grasp of apologetics or whether or not certain laws are on the books – His Kingdom has been established already at the cross and it has no end.

May we all filter out the myriad of voices to hear the voice of our King.

How do you approach patriotism in your home? What do conversations about current events look like in your family? Do they happen? How do you instill trust in God and responsibility for actions?

The Importance of Silence

I had a moment of startling clarity this past Saturday morning. I realized I hadn’t really experienced silence in a long while. I realized that I constantly have some music or podcast streaming information into my ears at nearly all times. I am constantly reading, absorbing, but never processing.

So many times in the gospel accounts we hear about Jesus going off by himself to pray, usually right before being interrupted. Think about the passage where Jesus calms the sea, brings order from the chaos: “Peace. Be still.”

But, if you haven’t this week, take your silence now. Turn off the radio, headphones, computer screen. Just sit, or stand. Experience the silence. My articles are about 3-5 minutes long… so take the remaining 3 and just be.

The Victory Procession

He walked through the streets of that city with a burden on his shoulders, the very instrument that would build his throne. His steps were heavy, weary with the preparatory ceremonies of interviews and practices runs. The soldiers had dressed him so that he would not feel uncomfortable in royal robes, they had placed the crown on his head, though it was ill-fitting and cut his head. The powers that be had done everything they could to stop his coronation and enthronement, but each step they took brought him closer to his defining moment.

The current king’s representative could only stand by as he led a victorious procession up the main street and out of town, decidedly subverting the normal practice of leading the captives into town. Those in the procession mocked and derided him, claiming the current king as their Lord, though their words were markedly futile. The prince’s friends had gone into hiding, awaiting the moment of truth when his reign would begin and they could announce the good news.

They lifted him up onto his throne outside the city, and his breath left him. His throne was uncomfortable, to say the least. And after a while, his body gave out. And, yet, in that very moment, the powers that be realized their weakness, realized, too late, that their rule was ending. The earth went dark, and the Spirit began moving again, much like it had at the very beginning. A new thing was beginning, creation itself was being made new, and as the prince rested on the seventh day, a hush fell over creation in anticipation of the mighty action. The first day arrived, and light burst forth, new life begun and the prince rose up in his glory, mighty in power and justice, abounding in grace and mercy. Creation had begun again, and now, the King’s rule would work in earnest to set things right again.

We’re coming up on another period of fasting, Advent (sure its a month or two away) and my mind is turning already toward Lent. We see the crucifixion so often as a moment of defeat. Why? This was the moment of victory. Revelation points out that the slain Lamb is the victorious one, not the powers of violence, chaos, and death. The cross, for all intents and purposes, is the moment Jesus ascended to his throne. He had led a victory procession out of the city, out of slavery – contrary to the Roman rulers who would enter the city bringing captives and subdued people into slavery. His victory at the cross is solidified by the resurrection, the first act of re-creation.

I wonder, then , what Jesus, who had his calling in mind, thought when James and John asked their famous question, “Can we sit at your right and left when you come into your kingdom?” I imagine Jesus grimacing, and asking, wryly, whether they could drink the cup he would drink, as he imagined the kind of people who would be on his right and left on the cross.

Jesus was victorious not through earthly power (violence, coersion, death, threats) but with the power of a servant. His great Kingly act to bring peace, to defeat his enemies, was to die himself, to accept that pain, absorb it, and destroy it. His pronouncements from that throne of the cross included, “Forgive them,” “Take care of my mom,” and “The work is completed.”

We could spend days, years, hundreds of thousands of words looking at how this impacts our lives. Suffice it to say, we serve a King who conquered through serving. We follow a King who is victorious over the world. We serve a king who is renewing and restoring all things out of his immense love.

What do you think about being called co-heirs with our King? What would it mean to accept our royal responsibility for working out God’s purpose on earth? What would your family, church, or community look like if God were really in charge?

(This post was inspired by How God Became King by NT Wright.)

5 Tips for Scam Dodging

I was recently listening to one of my podcasts when the topic of scams became the topic of conversation. Reply All, an internet culture podcast, decided to report on a particular scam in the form of a website that claimed to help people find lost items left in New York City taxis. In truth, this website was, and still is, a scam that requires money to list the item on their database, in order to let that information sit uselessly on the internet. These individuals would often have their phone numbers listed, leaving them vulnerable to future scam calls. (Link to the episode at the bottom.)

Now, the best advice I have to give is to fact-check everything. Scams depend on the individual to be in a state of panic or desperation – which impedes thorough thought because our “fight or flight” instinct has inserted itself into the situation. People who end up scammed are quality folks, generally well-rounded, and often feel like they would never end up at the wrong end of one… until it happens. Here are a few tips to avoid scams:

Stay Calm, Fear Is a Weapon Against You

Scam artists are trained to keep you confused, worried, afraid, and alone. Many scam calls will attempt to hurry you along in order to keep you from having time to think through the situation. Scam websites will be vague enough to keep you guessing without giving any solid information. If you are not given time to think, or solid answers to questions, consider the possibility that you may be in the midst of a scam. The more calm you can be, and the quicker you can seek help, the better off you will be, as someone else you trust who is outside the situation may be able to keep a clear head.

The Government Won’t Call You

As a general rule, government agencies, such as the IRS, prefer to communicate through letters. If they have something they’d like to discuss, you’ll get a letter in the mail informing you of the situation and then leaving your response up to you.

If You Receive a Threat, Hang Up Immediately

If you do receive a call that purports to be a government agency, and in response to your reasonable questions the caller then proceeds to threaten you with police or other action, get off of the phone. Often times these calls will require you to not mention the situation to anyone or there will be legal action. Unless you are under previous direct orders from a trusted official not to speak about a pending case, this is not true – you are allowed to seek help. And, truly, if you begin feeling scared, get off the phone and get to somewhere you feel safe.

Google Adwords Don’t Mean a Website Is Trustworthy

If you are searching for help with something you desperately need, don’t always be so hasty as to click the very first website you come to. Scam websites also have the ability to pay Google to have their website (according to search terms likely to be entered) listed at the top of the results pile. Google is continually working to evaluate websites using their service, but some can and do slip through the net, no pun intended. Be aware and double check the website’s credentials by scanning each page for red flags and disclaimers.

Teach Your Children To Think While They’re Young

This may seem like an adult problem, but kids can be scammed as well. Teaching your children to watch for signs of being lied to and misled can help them to avoid fraud and scams. Teaching them to be willing to ask others for help – to not always “handle it themselves” will keep them from becoming isolated. Teaching them to ask good questions will help them to evaluate decisions well. Teaching them to be wise about who they trust will give them the ability to choose not to give their trust naively to others.

Have you ever been affected by a scam? How did you feel during the experience? How did you feel after you discovered the scam? What steps did you take to prevent future problems? What conversations can you have with your children to help them better evaluate situations?

Reply All Episode 76 Lost in a Cab (Some Explicit Language in angry response to these scams.)

Holding Back the Social Media Tide

I’ve heard some conversations between kids and parents recently that piqued my interest. I overheard that a local school had sent out a letter to parents warning them about the social media app called “After School.” This app allows students in a school to post anonymously in an open-forum style message board that any other student can view. The app specifically states that cyber-bullying is not tolerated, but other apps, such as Yik Yak, have been used in order to share personal information and humiliate others. To be fair, though, most users are only participating in order to share funny quotes, jokes, anonymous confessions, and other student-related scenarios with fellow students.

Sure, stuff like this sounds terrifying, but the real issue comes down to character and integrity. If your child has been raised in such a way as to have high moral values, then they will more than likely avoid bad internet behavior and seek out more innocent forms of communication within the varied social media landscape. However, as parents and adult leaders, we have a responsibility to discuss good social media practices before students reach the moment of decision.

This is a situation, much like conversations about sex, alcohol, language, movie choice, that can allow for sharing of values from one generation to the next, especially if those conversations are had early and regularly. Regardless of your family’s stance on these topics, conversation must happen. Simply saying “no” or “yes” to any or all of these topics will create a barrier for further conversation. Be open to questions and be thorough enough for nuance and different situations your child might find herself in.

Social media will find its way into your child’s life, much like sex, alcohol, language, and other media, whether it happens at home, at school, or at a friend’s house. Teaching your child how to behave while online, digital citizenship, is crucial in today’s world. Resources like IGuardian and Netsmartz will provide you and your child with the information you both need to make informed decisions about social media and internet interactions.

Take the time to read up on the latest social media apps. Have conversations with your child about how he uses the internet, and create a safe, open channel of communication where your child feels comfortable sharing with you without fear of a lecture or an angry outburst. In other words, you may not be able to hold back the tide, but you can help your child build a boat to ride the waves.

What social media outlets do you use? Does your child interact online? What sites or apps does she use? What are your fears regarding your child’s social media use? What resources have you used to try and alleviate that fear?