Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cost of Resistance

All of the focus on religious freedom legislation and the Supreme Court hearing arguments on gay marriage has refocused the nation’s attention on an Oregon case where the proprietors of a family-owned bakery may be forced to pay up to $135,000 in damages for refusing to make a cake for a lesbian wedding. Aaron and Melissa Klein are Christians who owned and operated Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon. Back in 2013, the Kleins were approached to make a wedding cake for two brides, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer. The Kleins refused, citing religious reasons, and Rachel Cryer filed a complaint with the state of Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries. Now two-years later, following four days of testimony, the bureau has ruled in favor of the brides, recommending $75,000 in damages to Rachel and $60,000 to Laurel.

The fact of the matter seems to be that the Kleins did violate Oregon law when they refused to provide services based on the couples sexual orientation. The Kleins claim that participating in a same-sex wedding would violate their religious beliefs and that compelling them to do so violates their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Unfortunately, for them, case after case has shown the courts do not agree that commercial activities such as baking cakes have anything to do with one's religious practices.

Regardless of how anyone interprets the First Amendment, the Kleins could have easily avoided this situation and still have a thriving business if they would have realized one thing. Their understanding of religion was betraying them. 

Jesus would have told them to make the cake.

Jesus’ cake-making command was given in what is probably his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. The words spoken by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 5:38-48 apply perfectly to this and similar scenarios. Here, Jesus describes how we should approach situations where we are being compelled to do something against our will. It’s where the famous “turn the other cheek” phrase comes from. Jesus says, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (v 39). He further goes on to say, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (v 41). 

In those days, Roman soldiers were allowed to conscript able-bodied men to carry their gear for one mile. If the soldier picked you out, you went with them for that mile, against your will if necessary. I can only imagine that many of the chosen did their duty with a great amount of anger and malice in their hearts. The Jews were not terribly fond of their occupiers. Jesus tells us that going one mile is not enough! We should go two! How many people would go above-and-beyond when they were already being pressed into service against their will? Few, if any, but this is what Jesus is asking us to do! Furthermore, he tells us in verse 44 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Think about what all this means in context of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion. Even after asking his Father to spare him, Jesus handed himself over to the temple guards. When he faced a kangaroo court staged by evil, jealous and power-hungry men, he did’t say a word in his own defense. He did not resist. When he was beaten and a crown of thorns was forced onto his head, he did not speak a word against his oppressors. He turned the other cheek. In the midst of suffering a long and agonizing death at the hands of the Romans, he prayed for their forgiveness. He loved his enemies. Jesus showed his love for the world by paying the ultimate sacrifice. The Kleins were asked to bake a cake.

Rather than stubbornly holding fast to their mistaken religious views, the Kleins should have jumped at the chance to make a cake for this wedding. They should have put their hearts and souls into creating the best wedding cake in their company’s history. They should not have resisted. They missed a huge opportunity to show love. We are called to love all of God’s children and we’re ALL God’s children, even those who refuse to acknowledge Him. Even those who claim to honor God and love Jesus, yet persist in sinful lifestyles. They should have prayed for the couple, for the couple’s friends and families. They should have done everything they could, in the window provided them, to make a positive impact in the couple’s lives and then thanked the Lord for the opportunity to represent Jesus to someone who may not otherwise come into contact with him. They should have gone the extra mile. Would it have made an impact? We will never know.

The religious freedom debate currently taking place in our country represents a choice between resisting evil or going the extra mile. The Kleins could have followed Christ’s teaching and gone the extra mile. They chose to resist. What is the net result of their choice? Anger, bitterness and resentment on both sides of the debate. Add to that the loss of their livelihood. The opposite choice would have resulted in none of those things and would have even provided the possibility of a Heavenly reward. Given the outcome, the correct choice seems pretty clear.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mind Dump

I don't have anything to say.

It seems like I should, but I don't.

I feel like, maybe, I've moved on, but really I just don't think about the terrible tragedy that struck my little family a little over two weeks ago. It's easier not to think about it. I don't know how to quantify it, or wrap my mind around the reality of it, or I don't want to, so I don't.

I don't know what to think or do; how to process this.

It's so much easier to go on as if nothing happened. I don't have the constant reminders that Val has, so it's easy. But our baby girl is gone. Haley's little sister is gone.

I have so grown to love being daddy to a little blonde haired, blue eyed angel. She is my princess and I get to play the role of her prince. She bats those baby blues at me and says, "Daddy... I mean, Prince? May I have this dance?" And we dance to whatever music is playing (or not playing). There are few things that make me feel as warm in my heart as I do in those moments.

I was so excited to have another princess to love and defend... or not. Maybe she would have been a tom-boy who liked to spit and throw rocks; who would rather wear ratty jeans and a t-shirt than a "princess" dress. Maybe she would have been something in-between. I would have loved that little girl just as much, but we'll never know what Harlynn would have become.

When we went to the hospital that night, it was with the intention of bringing a new life into our family. A life that we would cherish and love. One who, on certain days, we would snuggle one minute and discipline the next. We hadn't ever considered the possibility that we might leave empty handed. It wasn't an option. It wasn't.

I'm afraid that I will take the easy path and just put this time of my life into a box with a heavy lid and store it in the deepest darkest corner, never to be retrieved. I hope I find the strength and the will and the way to avoid that path.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Sister's Love

Haley is an amazing little girl and she is a genius. She understands so much more about her little sister's passing than we initially thought she would be able to. We've tried to tell her as best we could what happened to Harlynn and why she couldn't come home. We've also tried to explain to her where Harlynn is now and how she got there. Some of it is encouraging - we will get to see her again. Some of it is scary - she doesn't want to die. Through it all, we have tried to make the right decisions every step of the way and have taken a "no regrets" approach.

At the visitation, Haley wanted us to open the casket. She wanted to see her little sister again. We struggled with how to explain why we couldn't do that. I made the mistake of telling her that Harlynn was sleeping. She continued to ask to see Harlynn. "I promise I won't wake her up," she said. Not having a better answer, we just insisted that it wasn't possible and left it at that.

Eventually, Haley went to another room to play with her cousins and watch Alice in Wonderland. While they were in there, Haley's little cousin, Asher, was struggling with being away from his mom and dad. The poor guy had been on the road 12 hours the day before and was sleeping in and going to strange places, so who could blame him? He was bawling and making a ruckus.

Haley began to get angry with her cousin for being so loud. "Asher, be quiet," she yelled. Her words had no affect on the distraught one-year old. "Asher, you have to be quiet! My baby sister is sleeping!"

Nobody in the room said a word. They didn't know what to say or how to respond to the three year-old angel who was trying to stand up for her helpless infant sister. What can you say?

I never should have told Haley that Harlynn was asleep, but it was the thought of her sister being disturbed by all the noise that kicked her sisterly instincts into motion. Though her understanding has improved in the time following that night, at that moment Haley did not realize there was nothing that could wake Harlynn. I made a mistake, but I'm glad it gave Haley at least one chance to do what she could to protect her baby sister.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I don't believe in coincidences. It happened a few years ago. I don't remember exactly when, but I started to notice a pattern. When I wanted to brush something off as a random but convenient intersection of separate but related events I began to recognize God's hand; helping me side-step a pitfall to temptation, make a difficult decision, or even just letting me know he is with me and cares about me. When you stop believing in coincidences, you begin to see God much more frequently, which is something I had desired for a long time.

If you know me, chances are you know that my wife Valerie and I recently suffered a great loss. Our baby girl, Harlynn, was delivered stillborn April 10th, 2013 after 37 weeks of pregnancy. If you haven't already, read about the experience from Val's perspective, here. She says it better than I ever could.

Despite the fact that I've spent the last three years working at a bank, I did not own a suit jacket. I wanted to look nice for my little girl's memorial service, so we went to JC Penney and found the one jacket I didn't hate that almost fit. I'm not a small man, but I am short. Those of you that wear/help shop for suit jackets won't be surprised to learn that there aren't a lot of 50 S jackets out there. We did find a 50 R, which would need to be pinned or altered to have the sleeves look right. The odds of finding someone to alter a jacket on the weekend are slim. Thank goodness for Facebook.

I reached out to my Facebook friends and was given several names and numbers to try. I called the first couple. One was not open on Saturdays. Another was on vacation in Florida. Then I got to the suggestion from my friend Michelle. She had given me the name and number of her cousin's husband's mother. I looked her up online, trying to find a website, but only found a number, so I called it. I got an answering machine. I went back to Michelle's post to make sure I had the right number. It was, but I called again, anyway. This time, there was an answer.

Maria welcomed me in, even though I arrived an hour earlier than she had asked me to. I wasn't listening closely enough during our phone conversation and couldn't remember if she'd said a quarter to 11 or 11:45. She ignored my mistake and led me to a bathroom to put on my jacket. She was just finishing up with a bride-to-be. After wrapping up that visit, she came back to get me.

Maria is a woman with a story to tell. She is a political immigrant who has witnessed genocide first-hand. I didn't get to hear details, but I got the impression that she has been through and seen a lot more than most people would be able to endure. She is also a true gem with a warm heart and an incredible faith.

Maria treated me like her own son. She started by giving me a hug and sharing that she had also lost a child, many years ago. Maria spent significant time struggling with that loss and being angry with God about it. I won't go into the details of how she came to terms with that loss and became reconciled with God, but she did. Today, she collects rocks from all around the world. She sees slices of heaven hidden in the amethyst, granite, obsidian, and many other pieces of creation in her collection. She showed me a few of her favorites, including one with a striking representation of a lamb and two hearts naturally woven into the face of the stone. These are not idols, but reminders that this temporary world gives us glimpses of our eternal home.

Maria and I shed tears together and I left with a strong sense that God was involved in this meeting. When I returned to pick up my jacket, which was perfectly altered to fit my t-rex arms, we shed a few more tears and she presented me with a card and a gift. She had taken some of those stones, which are so precious to her, and crafted a cross out of them. She gave that to me and Val, along with a poem she had written. This is her ministry. She reaches out to people who have experienced pain and loss and does what she can to show them they are loved and they are not alone.

Meeting Maria was no coincidence. It was no coincidence that I called the same number twice. I knew it was the right number I had dialed the first time. I hate answering machines and would never intentionally put myself in the path of one. I had four or five other people to call, but I called her again and she picked up. God did that.

God did not ordain what happened to Harlynn, but he is working mightily in the aftermath, putting people around us that he can use to pour out his love on us. This world is broken and full of trouble, but God is here and he is working.