12.08.2015

In Christ Alone


This is just my opinion – but I’ve been doing some musing and I thought I’d write it out. It seems to me that with the gun-border-anti-Muslim debates going on in our country these days – amongst CHRISTIANS no less - we’ve forgotten two basic things:

First, we’ve forgotten the bigness of the God we serve. When we declare in the worship songs we sing that he is the Almighty, the Deliverer, the Savior, the Protector – I don’t think some of us actually believe that. Because if we did, I don’t think we’d be saying to ourselves that we trust in the goodness and ability of God to protect us, but just in case, I better get a gun so I can protect my family as back up. We declare that we trust in the goodness and abundance of God, but if we open our borders, there won’t be enough for everyone.

Second, we’ve forgotten that our life is not our own. We’ve forgotten that this life is already fleeting. We’ve forgotten that true life is eternal. As King David says in Psalm 56:

3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise---
in God I trust and am not afraid. 
What can mere mortals do to me?

And again:

10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise---
11 in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can humans do to me?

We’ve suddenly become so fearful of what humans can do to us that we’ve forgotten what we’ve started doing to each other. Shutting our borders? Blaming all Muslims?

One of the things I love about the body of Christ is how we all read the Bible so differently. Constantly bringing out new perspectives and vantage points – but I do think it has become detrimental the way we qualify our love these days. The way we justify who God would allow us to cut out in order to protect ourselves and our families. God sacrificed his own SON, I don’t think it’s likely you could justify much by way of excluding even the most vile of criminals and perpetrators in the name of Christianity. It goes against the central tenant of our faith.  

I understand the urge. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging. I think it’s completely rational to want to find someone to blame for the violence in the world – because then you could make yourself feel safer. It makes sense to get a gun, because then you could make yourself feel safer. And I'm not against guns, plenty of people I know owns guns (I grew up in Illinois!), but what I don't think makes sense is running out to get a gun now because you're fearful of the recent mass shootings. Especially when you don't really know how to use one. 

Because all of this makes you feel more in control. But these things won't necessarily make you more in control, and certainly won't make you any safer. At least not any safer then you are right now. In Christ Alone.                  

8.20.2015

You Can’t Love the Sinner if You Spend All Your Time Hating the Sin


I would have loved for Subway to make a statement that went something like “We are heartbroken over this devastating news. Our thoughts and prayers are with the children enslaved in the pornographic industry that they find healing and justice. But our prayers are also with Jared, that he find healing and redemption now that this has all been brought to light. Sexual addiction is a serious and debilitating disease that no one should face alone.”
But that’s not politically correct. You can’t side with a monster. And that’s what he is now, right? A monster? Because if you side with him at all, if you choose to try and see a glimpse of his hurt, shame and humanity – that means that you aren’t on the side of the children – the victims.
I refuse to believe in this dichotomy. What he’s done is horrific. Nauseating. Terrible in every sense of the word. I won’t deny that. So many children in this country are taken advantage of; abused, tormented and neglected. They need a safe haven. They need advocates. They need justice.
But what saddens me is how our response, I think, perpetuates the system. Perpetuates the darkness, shame and hiddenness of sexual sin and addiction. When we KNOW that what we struggle with most in the hiddenness of our lives would make others abandon and disown us – it is no wonder we just keep it to ourselves. And daily battle between a struggle to fight or just give in.
I think this is why I hate the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” because we never actually do that. We’re so focused on our righteous responsibility to hate the sin we don’t actually get around to loving the sinner.
Never ever ever ever ever should this happen to children. But it does – and when it does – I think punishment should follow. I think the Jared’s of the world should serve time in prison and should pay fines. But I also think we should stand beside those who solicit prostitution and look at pornography…even child pornography. I think it is important we take a moment and consider their pain and brokenness and the life circumstances that perhaps brought them to this moment in time. Not to excuse it, hear me on that, not EVER to excuse it, but to love, heal and walk with them through it.
If we continue to abandon and disown those who disgust and confuse us most with their sinful behavior, the world will never heal.

7.15.2015

Vision


A brief testimony I gave in Fuller Chapel today. Thought I'd post it here (since I am terrible at being a regular blogger!)

Today’s topic is VISION.

And I think a lot of times it is hard to catch a vision - especially God’s vision. Or perhaps it’s not hard to catch it, it’s hard to keep it for the long haul - over all the ups and downs and obstacles and through the darkness. At least that’s my experience. We’ve come so far in After Hours. A lot of girls have been impacted - but there is still so much darkness and defeat. It’s easy in the harder moments to turn to God and say this is impossible. We're not really doing ANYTHING. I can’t even truly relate to these men and women. When are YOU going to step in and do something? Can't you just end all this pain and darkness? And time and time again He says - do what you can. Care for them. Listen to them. Walk with them and tend to their brokenness. And sometimes I feel like all I can do is laugh at the insignificance of it all. 

But I think at times the men and women I get to minister to feel the same way. One courageous, strong, feisty woman I have had the privilege of walking alongside for about seven years now is one of my heroes. She’s overcome SO much. And the fact that she loves God after going through all the trauma and neglect and sadistic abuse she has is mind-boggling to me. And yet, she doesn’t see it! She can’t see past all her pain and medical issues and fall backs and anger and psychological issues to see HOW MUCH she’s grown and how far she’s come. So many people in her life have let her down that she thinks it is her fault and that somehow she’s would be more healed now and farther along if she was better at this life thing - and had her shit together better. 

And that’s when the pieces fit together better for me. When I can see her with the eyes of Christ it allows me to give myself a little bit of grace at the same time. She blows me away every day by just being her. By brining her perspectives and artistic eye and smile and laughter and street smarts to the table. By just getting up out of bed every morning and being brave enough to face the darkness. By bringing who she is and what she has to the table, to God, and saying “okay - let’s do this - I trust you” 


And that’s all God is asking me to do. Why should I think what I have to offer is any less sufficient of an offering? 

5.26.2015

john school


I had the privilege of attending the “john school” or Prostitution Diversion Program at the 77th precinct in Los Angeles this last Saturday. The program began in 2008 by two retired LAPD detectives under the belief that education is more powerful than punishment. That if these men who have been arrested for soliciting prostitution only knew what was really going on and all the dangers involved – they would make better choices in the future. Since the program began in July of 2008, 1,533 men have gone through the program and only 4 have been repeat offenders.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the training. To be honest, my fear was that the school was going to be very shame-based. But it was delightfully refreshing. I walked away with such hope, inspiration and encouragement for what this program is doing and what more we can be doing to help the men of Los Angeles.

This program educated, challenged, encouraged and inspired (at least me! But I think the men that were there as well). The men were treated as decent humans who would make better decisions if only they had the information to make those decisions. On one of the breaks we were talking to a detective who was telling us about some of the past men they have come through the program. One man was in a moment of extreme loneliness and depression after his wife of 40 years had just passed away a couple weeks before and he got caught. I think we often jump to the conclusion that these men are gross and misogynistic. But I think you’d find that a lot of these men have a much larger and tragic story that we most often don’t consider. 

Throughout the day the johns ask questions, they answer questions, they’re involved and even engaged in laughter at different parts of various lectures and presentations. The presenters really know their stuff – and they don’t pull their punches – but they also treat the johns as intelligent men who are capable of thinking through the consequences next time to make better decisions since they now have the information.

I go through the whole day below, each speaker that came and what they talked about. If you care to read in more detail – keep going!

On Saturday’s training there were 23 men present, of various ethnicities. I counted 8 wedding rings in the room and guessed the ages ranged from early 20’s to early 50’s. Their current situation was explained to them. You were ARRESTED for prostitution, but not CONVICTED – and that’s how it’ll stay on your record if you complete this program and successfully stay clean for one year of probation after completing this program.

“We’re not here to discuss if prostitution should be legalized. We’re not here to point fingers. We’re here to help you make better decisions. You’re risking your life, health, reputation and your family’s life and health. If you go back out on the street, you WILL be arrested.”

Not everyone is eligible for john school. A man cannot have prior arrests for prostitution, drugs or violent crimes on his rap sheet and must be willing to submit to an HIV blood test. Each john shells out $600 to cover the cost of the class. And if they keep clean for their one-year probation, no conviction goes on their permanent record. IF, however, they are to solicit a prostitute again and get caught – they would go to jail immediately.

The day was packed full of highly qualified, entertaining and informative speakers on a variety of topics. The day starts with an explanation of HIV testing which is required of each man that goes through this program. Throughout the day, each man is asked to leave the room one by one and go out to a mobile station parked outside to get tested. They will get their results immediately.

The first speaker was Lt. Rick Shields to give the police perspective. He explained that years ago there were hundreds of prostitutes out on the street corners, but those numbers are declined due to the internet, out call and in call services, backpage, newspapers, etc. The game is changing and how we must respond is changing. He discussed some of the sting operations that the police have going which most likely resulted in these men getting caught and sitting in this room! He framed it all as an overarching community problem – prostitution impacts our churches, schools and neighborhoods in ways we don’t think about. Represented by the simple fact that many of these women are FORCED in this and what we don’t see are the killings, fights and rapes that place. He also reminded these men that a majority of the women they are soliciting are actually under aged although they might tell you they are 18. And if you get caught with a girl under 18, even if you claim you didn’t know – that’s an automatic felony!

The youngest girl arrested (for LT Shields) on the streets in Hollywood for prostitution was 11 years old. The oldest was 69 years old.

Next a city attorney representative, Sonja Dawson spoke. She started by making it clear that her job was to prosecute them! But at the same time, they were supportive of this program because they realized that they could not arrest their way out of this problem. She explained the specifics behind getting arrested for prostitution, the penal codes. She also took the time to explain what would happen if they violated probation or had a second (or third!) offense.

Next was Jason Dawson from the Public Health Administration to talk about HIV and AIDS awareness. Let me tell you – THIS is the sex education we need in high schools! Terrifying. He explained all the science behind what HIV and AIDS actually are as well as many of the statistics from LA, giving many different gender and ethnic statistics.

Then Heather Northover came and gave a presentation of STDs….with pictures. Again, if this was incorporated into more of our sex education, I can’t help but think more teens would stay away from sex…FOREVER! (just kidding…only kind of). STDs cost $16 billion in health care each year. And HIV can run up to $40k annual to treat. At one point she asked each man to look around the room and then asked “how comfortable would you be having sex with someone after they’ve had sex with everyone in this room?” That’s basically what’s going on when you have sex with a streetwalker, you just don't think about it because it’s their job. Sex workers are 10x more likely to have STDs and inconsistent condom use.

Then we had a lunch break, which was really ill-timed since we had just looked at a ton of penises with STD’s.

The afternoon, to me, was the most powerful part of the training. I know not everyone who solicits prostitution is a sex addict. And the training is not implying that either – but bringing in several men from sex addicts anonymous was really powerful. I think it gave freedom to relate to the stories of those who suffer from addiction to find yourself in their stories and be able to get the help you need. I won’t share any of the details of the stories that were shared, but know that they were raw, vulnerable, gut wrenching and powerful. There were lost jobs, divorces, revoking of professional licenses, loss of property, lost children, having to register as a sex offender, and many more. Their truth telling was so powerful, it really conveyed the human experience: fear of mortality, fear of failure and a deep seeded desire to be loved, wanted and needed.

Their biggest suggestions:
1.     Go to meetings
2.     Meet with a sponsor
3.     Have a support group you meet with (out of SAA) that you talk to about life and challenges
4.     Cold call others within SAA so you can ask how they are
5.     Share your story: it is only through authenticity and vigorous honesty that you can get freedom.

They then had Dr. Barbara Pavlo come in and talk about some of the brain science behind addiction and specifically sex addiction. After that they had an ex-prostitute from the area (she had worked one of the tracks After Hours works on for 15 years!) speak to the men about a prostitutes perspective. And the day ended with a community member talking about the impact prostitution has on the neighborhood. She brought up many things I had never thought of before! It was really moving.  

I was encouraged by humanity on Saturday! Those that came together to present this amazing program, retired LAPD officers Art and Bill who have put this program together and continually improved it over the years. Their belief that the men of Los Angeles can make better decisions. The passion of the community members, the vulnerability of the men from SAA who came to share their stories and let those in the training who may also suffer from addiction know that they are not alone.


Everyone deserves a second chance. Thank God for grace. Thank God for community members that do what they can to educate, challenge and love those who had a moment of weakness. And for those it wasn’t a moment of weakness for, who dare to repeat – they’ll pay the consequences! The dark underbelly of prostitution in Los Angeles is a difficult thing to get your mind around – but this program is doing a great job getting the word out there.

5.24.2015

Competing Wills



"Do not get angry about what people say; let them talk while you try to do God's will. As to the will of men, you could never come to an end of satisfying it, nor is it worth the trouble." -Francois FĂ©nelon

5.15.2015

You're Asking the Wrong Questions



I think I ask all the wrong questions.

I strive for meaning in life out of what I do - who I am as a friend or colleague or student - what I'm achieving - what others are recognizing in and through my intelligence or work - what I get public recognition and fame for - if there is a pedestal - influence - changed lives - impact - how good of a listener am I - am I a good supervisor - what do they REALLY think of me - is this making a difference - is it time to move on - am I using my skills in the best way I can - is this really all there is - and the list goes on and on and on

But I think the only thing I should be focusing on - or the only thing that REALLY matters that will make all the other things fall into place is intimacy with God. How much do I love God? What can I do to get to know him and seek him in new ways today? How can I renew and deepen my love for him?

Am I living my life the way I do because I love God? Or because God loves me and these are the rules and standards I think I should meet. The way the church taught me a good Christian exists. Always achieving - always reaching for more - always doing good and striving.

Is my life a natural flow of the love and connection and intimacy I have with my creator
or a relentless rat race?

and is the cheese at the end of the race really going to fulfill me?

4.29.2015

Sweeping Statements


There are a few things that have been driving me crazy lately – and one of those things is some of the sweeping statements I see coming from bloggers.

Christians don’t care about reconciliation
Christians don’t want to hear the truth
Christians don’t really want to welcome everyone to the table
White people don’t care about black people or understand racism
Christians don’t actually CARE

Sweeping statements drive me CRAZY. I understand people are trying to make a point about some sort of inconsistency or hypocrisy we’ve seen in the church or somewhere – but I think all we’re really achieving is making people want to listen to us less – feel defensive and closed off.

It aggravates me when I go to a justice conference and someone stands up front and says “Christians just don't care that women are raped and beaten – Christians don’t know this is happening over here – Christians think this is a problem that is only overseas” or statements to that nature. Because that’s not true. I know and I care. And plenty of wonderful people in my life do as well and have dedicated their life to being an abolitionist. And, frankly, if someone is AT that conference – they probably care!

I think this is one of my biggest frustrations with many of the emergent Christian voices today. Their twitter accounts drive me batty. They want to believe they are the bullhorns in the marketplace or the martyrs in the city square. If they call God a “she” they’re edgy. If they say they have “doubts” their the ONLY one and should be given a medal and everyone comfort them because “CHRISTIANS DON’T UNDERSTAND AND JUDGE ME”

We’re all on this journey together. We all struggle in different areas. We’re all broken. But we aren’t ALL the same. Not ALL white people are indifferent to the racism that plagues our nation. Not ALL Christians [insert whatever cause you care about that you don’t think anyone else cares about].
How about we engage in a little more conversation and a little less critical observation. Extend a little more grace and a little less judgment.


Was this whole blog a sweeping statement? I hope not :)

4.27.2015

Boundaries


Where is the line between knowing that your time is not your own – and setting boundaries? Being part of a community and putting others before yourself – but also being sure to pay attention to self-care?

This becomes even more frustrating in ministry and work situations – when your decisions affect more than just yourself. When deciding to hold a strong line for your own personal boundaries puts more pressure and responsibilities on co-workers because of your pulling back.


When is it appropriate to draw those lines? When is it selfish to draw those lines? When are boundaries just an excuse to not put forward extra effort and really be part of the team? When are boundaries healthy and when do we need to take up the call to serve and put others before ourselves?

4.24.2015

Healing


I am wrapping up a 15-week inner healing program, which has started to bring into focus to some of these things God has been doing in my life. Bringing healing and clarity and freedom from some of the shame in my life. Healing broken relationships. Creating healthy boundaries. Extending forgiveness to others and myself. And finding my own voice again – as well as the courage to use it.

I’m single. (I am sure a lot of you knew that. But there are enough of you I have talked to recently that seemed totally shocked when you found that out that I thought I would clear the air. A surprising number of people in my life have told me recently that they “totally thought you were married!” So…just to clear the air, I’m not.)

And I haven’t even dated anyone in about two years, when the dream I was dating abruptly ended things with me in an email. I think he ripped part of my heart out in the process. I am not one that easily trusts or embraces vulnerability – but he made it easy. And I really did think he was perfect for me. I also think I wrongly associated some of the work God was doing in my life with his presence at that precise moment in my journey. He brought a lot of insight to the darkness I was experiencing, gave me new language and new literature and helped me reach the surface again so I didn't feel like I was drowning anymore. So when he walked away, I was left standing perplexed and have since resisted wanting/seeking/trusting love in any sort of way for quite a while.  And I wandered around confused. Trying to find myself again and who I thought I was and what I feel I am worthy of.

It has been a longer road than I would have liked. But God has brought me to some beautiful places. It took wandering through the wilderness to break me of some of the broken identity I had been living with. And to figure out that it was God all along that had been walking with me and processing my brokenness, I just put all my hope and feelings in this more tangible man. It is frustrating that God uses the wilderness in that way – but he always has. The Israelites had to wander through the wilderness for many years, to break their identity as slaves. The first thing God commanded them to do was practice Sabbath. Because slaves never get a Sabbath – their worth is in their work, what they produce, their ability to bring about an end product. And I was putting my worth in all of the wrong things. Placing my identity in what others thought. I LIKED God, a lot actually, but it was a painful process to go through to realized that I didn't actually LOVE God (more on that later!)

That’s partially what renewing this blog has been about. Trusting my healing - trusting my voice. Having the courage to share my thoughts and opinions and being vulnerable enough to even share the stupid stuff. To share my experiences again. To wander with God again. And realize that maybe a bit of it just might be relatable.