Monday, May 2, 2016

Clarifying Gender Identity

So, probably like a lot of you, my Facebook feed has been filled with various perspectives on bathrooms. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about various statuses related to what transgender really is. Much of it seems to be related to our sex-obsessed culture that seems to see sex in everything.

Gender identity simply has to do with whether someone identifies as male, female, both, or neither. When one's gender identity doesn't match their biological sex, that is when the term "transgender" starts to be used (although it's more complicated than that, as well, such as genderqueer, but we'll keep it simple here). Also, know that there are not necessarily just two genders--other cultures around the world have more than one gender that does not necessarily correlate to biological sex (Samoan culture is one good example).

To be clear, transgender has nothing to do with sexual orientation. People make this mistake a lot, likely in part because "T" is part of "LGBTQ," although it's one of the most misunderstood of the letters. Sexual orientation/sexuality has to do with who you are sexually attracted to.

People who identify as transgender can be considered heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. The orientation is defined by their gender identity rather than their biological sex. And again, don't assume sexuality has anything to do with gender identity.

Transgenderism also is not the same thing as masculinity or femininity. These latter two concepts are related to cultural-specific expressions of gender. Masculine women and feminine men are not transgender. Again, biological females who have a masculine tendencies who still identify as women are still women. They're not transgender. And they're not necessarily lesbians. I've seen posts going around confusing masculinity/femininity with gender identity. They're not at all the same thing. Boys who play with dolls are not necessarily either gay or consider themselves to female. They're just expressing behaviors that our society labels as more feminine.

Transgenderism is not the same thing as transvestite or cross-dressing. Some people, for a variety of reasons, like to dress as the opposite gender at times. Despite the appearance, this has nothing to do with gender identity. It's closer to the masculinity/femininity discussion above. Cross-dressing also does not necessarily mean anything about sexual orientation. Biological men who are heterosexual sometimes dress as women. They never actually identify as a woman nor as gay.

It's interesting to pay attention to research on transgenderism. Discrepancy with one's gender usually starts very early and causes significant distress. More masculine or feminine expression doesn't solve it because it's not as much about expression as it is identity--being able to considered male or female. Transitioning to the other gender relieves that distress, which I think conveys something significant about how real it is. (Of course, we cannot understate that transitioning also adds a whole lot more due to societal non-acceptance. Transgender populations have one of the absolutely highest suicide rates because of this.)

I find it quite interesting that people of many faiths are increasingly able to accept non-heterosexual orientations, but are quick to reject transgenderism, which has to do with identity more than behavior. Morality is fundamentally about behavior rather than identity. Identify informs behavior, and when we have identity conflicts, bad things happen.

The only argument I've heard against transgenderism is that God creates everyone and doesn't make mistakes, so therefore transgenderism isn't "real." One only needs to scratch the surface of birth defects to undermine that argument, which is also extremely poor theology.

So if you're going to make arguments for or against policies and laws related to transgenderism, please be informed with fully accurate information. It's also important to listen to real people's stories and stop sexualizing everything. Accurate knowledge allows us to have adult conversations rather than promote ignorant fear mongering.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Defeat Evil with Good

The sermon I gave at the First Baptist Church of Redlands on Sunday is now available online. I explore the Scripture below (the underlined portions being the responsive reading) with examples and application from our community's response to the December 2 San Bernardino shootings.

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:9-21‬ ‭(CEB‬‬):

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.

An additional Scripture was ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:13-16‬ ‭(CEB‬‬):
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.
The benediction was‭‭ Galatians‬ ‭6:2, 9-10‬ ‭(CEB‬‬):
Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Speaking Sunday

For those interested, I will be giving the sermon at the First Baptist Church of Redlands (51 W. Olive Avenue, Redlands, CA 92373) on Sunday, April 24. The service is at 10:15AM. The title of my message is Defeat Evil with Good, and the Scripture will be ‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:9-21‬.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Priorities

Having a toddler and infant can be... exasperating at times. But then you see the smiles, the hugs, and the kisses.

This weekend, the little ones reminded us of priorities in life.

We went to the LA Times Festival of Books, where a heavy downpour started. As everyone ran under tents, the toddler promptly ran into the middle of it, face to the sky, with the happiest look ever, tongue out, dancing in the rain (and puddles). Our first reaction was, ugh, he's going to be soaked, dirty (etc., etc.). But then we noticed his joy (and the joy he brought to others around him). Water dries, and clothes can be washed.

Sometimes it's worth getting wet to be able to dance in the rain.

And then on the way to church, it was a very overcast today. We were rushing (as usual) and got on the freeway. As we change freeways, the toddler exclaims, "Oh my gosh! There's clouds! Look at the clouds out your window! And there's clouds on my window, too!!"

Don't just stop to smell the roses. Clouds can be pretty cool, too.

At the Festival of Books, we got to hear a talk by Buzz Aldrin and then get a book signed by him (yeah, that was pretty cool). My toddler and I listened to 40 minutes from someone who walked on the moon, so lots of stories, right? Well, the interviewer at one point asked Aldrin how one pees in space, and he talks about a UCD (urine collection device), and how it's important to empty it. He tells how he sees Neil Armstrong successfully walking on the moon surface, not sinking or anything bad. So Aldrin decides before he goes down the ladder, it would probably be good to, um, empty his UCD. The interviewer says, "So while Neil is taking one giant leap for mankind..." Aldrin finished, "I peed in my pants." Everyone laughs, and Brendan looks up at me with a smile and says, "He peed in his pants?!"

Be careful what you say. Little ones (and adults) will not always remember what you want them to remember.

The kingdom of heaven truly belongs to the children...

Monday, April 4, 2016

In Support of Flip-Flopping

During the election season, there is much criticism over candidates' "flip-flopping," or changing positions on issues. In many cases, the argument is that the particular candidate isn't a "dyed in the wool" person committed to a particular set of values, but rather being someone who came to a new position later.

But why is changing one's mind a bad thing? Especially for leaders, don't we want someone who can consider new information and potentially change their minds? Aren't intelligence, wisdom, and leadership built upon these principles? Someone whose mind cannot be changed and has shown no history of thoughtful development doesn't seem to be a mature person who deserves to be a leader. Especially at the level of President, an individual needs to be able to hear and see new information and make new, informed decisions, which might even surprise themselves.

Another argument against flip-flopping is that the candidate isn't sincere and is just saying what they think people want to hear. Now, I want a candidate who will sincerely uphold what they say they'll do. However, isn't it our elected officials' jobs to listen to the people and uphold their will as much as is possible? If a candidate knows a position is what people want, it is their job to advocate for that position, even if it doesn't match their own perspective.

Now someone who is claiming one thing and doing something else entirely does have a problem. And many candidates do claim a certain value system that is pretty obviously false. These can definitely be issues of integrity and trustworthiness.

But someone changing their mind and stance isn't a problem in my mind. It's mature.

Monday, March 28, 2016

In Support of Political Correctness

Political correctness frequently gets a bad rap, and this election season is no different. Supporters of some candidates love their celebrity politician because of their lack of political correctness because they just "say it like it is." I see comments like this on Facebook and elsewhere all the time related to politicians, pastors, businesses, etc.

The distaste for political correctness is valid in many ways. It can be frustrating to figure out how to say something so as not to offend anyone. And there's a point at which we just need to say what we need to say. If something needs to be said, sometimes people will be offended, and we can't always make everyone happy.

There's truth to a lot of this, but I think those who constantly advocate for the end of being "PC" are missing some significant things, particularly when those critics are Christians.

First of all, when I hear of people not being PC and instead "telling it like it is," almost every time what was said was just plain wrong. Sure, some people may think it, but the facts are false. If you need to be blunt and direct and step on people's toes, the facts need to be accurate.

More importantly, political correctness used properly is not about avoiding conflict or making people unhappy. Rather, it's fundamentally about loving our neighbor, recognizing that we don't always understand another person's perspective, and so we don't want to unintentionally offend someone else by violating their values. It's not about not having values and perspectives and strong beliefs, opinions, and stances of our own, but rather it's about not forcing that worldview on someone else.

Especially as Christians, our jobs are to put others before us and understand where they are coming from. We are not called to impose Christian values and particular denominational theology on others.

Good political correctness demonstrates values and particular perspectives without disregarding other values and perspectives. It's about being appropriately sensitive to know what other people might be thinking or feeling. It's about getting our facts straight and only stepping on toes when we really need to, not just when we're mad and having a temper tantrum.

Offending people unnecessarily while getting facts wrong isn't a virtue to extol, "telling it like it is" and being appropriately politically incorrect. It's just being a jerk.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Holistic Look at Guns

A lot has been said about guns in the past three week, but what I have found is that all the arguments are very narrow in focus. Memes focus on how mass shootings are reduced with someone "good" with a gun, while others emphasize how there are exponentially more gun casualties than military men and women lost in the war on terror.

What happens when we put all of this information together? What happens when we acknowledge the validity in both sides of the argument (yes, both sides have something important to offer!)? What is the overall impact of guns when not just looked at in one sphere? What happens when we ask honest questions about it all rather than just attempting sound bite arguments that don't capture the real world?

Let's look at those numbers and assume the memes are correct (I haven't verified their claims). So if everyone was armed, mass shootings could be reduced to an average of 2-3 victims, probably saving hundreds of lives a year. Let's not understate this fact. This is powerful and significant. Saving the lives of the innocent is tremendous. And the sense of safety that can give us is important.

The pithy comics emphasizing how gun control wouldn't stop terrorists completely miss a big picture, but the point is well taken.

But let's also look at the other side. The cost of having the opportunity to have guns is that tens of thousands die annually. Let's not mention the injuries.

So let's do the math: hundreds of lives saved versus tens of thousands of lives lost. All are tragedies, but is my life worth more than someone else's? It's a similar argument I made just before the San Bernardino shooting asking whether the cost of security and self-preservation is worth it.

While I would follow good gun safety of course, as every gun owner would say, it's the irresponsible folk who die or whose families have problems. What is our responsibility to create a safe society, not just a safe household? What is my responsibility to help protect the kids of a family who may not provide the best supervision or follow all gun safety rules? Is my sense of safety worth another family losing their child to a gun accident? And I guess I need to be particularly vigilant about screening my kids' friends' families' gun safety practices, too...

And then there's the memes about guns not being dangerous, but rather it being the shooters. The best one I saw was of Anakin Skywalker and the Padawans he slaughtered. I understand this perspective quite well as I have used it myself. However, the difference between modern guns and even lightsabers is that no other weapon allows someone to kill and maim so many people so quickly and so far away. A lightsaber is only so dangerous in the hands of someone uber trained. Two terrorists would not have been able to kill 14 people in 3 minutes with knives. Evil still happens, but the consequences of it could be contained. Remember that guns at the time of the second amendment only shot once before taking a minute to reload, and the accuracy and distance of the bullet wasn't that impressive.

Then I consider the culture that is created by wanting to carry guns. What is the psychological state I have to be in to need to carry a gun constantly? What state does carrying a gun reinforce? I can only imagine the anxiety I would regularly feel carrying a weapon like that. I wouldn't be able to grab my son and throw him up in the air freely. I'd always been on some level of higher alert. Do I want to live like that?

Further, what are the consequences of having many people carrying guns in this state, especially when we're a bit more hypervigilant? The people who own guns now are probably more likely to really follow proper gun safety techniques than someone who went through the bare minimum processes to get one out of fear. That means the casualty numbers would jump even higher, and at probably at a higher rate, if more people armed themselves just because of accidents.

So when we start arguing that arming ourselves will help reduce violent attacks, let's also remember that the cost of their guns for the chance at saving lives is tens of thousands of lives of collateral damage and a culture of fear.

Are guns worth it?

Questions?

Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).