Yes, I’m a Christan. No, I’m Not Like That.

snowflakes

Yesterday, my boys and I played a very small role in a very big project that involved three hundred volunteers from our church packing 60,000 meals for Haitians in need.  Each meal could feed a family of six, and we calculated that my little boys’ hands helped to pack somewhere around 1,500 meals.

As I looked around the room during our shift, with groups of eighteen people at twelve stations, many of whom had never met before, working in unison for the good of thousands of people we will never know, I thought about how generous and kind my Christian family is.  I thought about the people overseeing the project who had volunteered to be trained, to organize the supplies and the shipping, and to prepare to make the service project as efficient as possible.  I thought about their patience in letting our kids, who weren’t always as quick or as coordinated as the grownups, experience the rewards of service, too.  And I thought about how much I wish THIS were the stereotype of Christians that was accepted as reality.

Christians certainly aren’t the only group of people who are stereotyped, manipulated, and portrayed unfavorably, especially in political news, but if you are not a Christian, you may not realize just how ridiculous the caricatures of us really are.  It’s no wonder that people who have no experience with our faith have cool feelings toward religion if they spend any time watching the Christians in the news or if they listen to so many of our politicians talk.  The negative stereotypes are a barrier to meaningful relationships and relevant conversations between people who have much more in common than they don’t.  Plus, being misunderstood just plain hurts.  We’ve all been there before, right?

I certainly can’t speak on behalf of all Christians, but I can speak on behalf of the ones who are similar to me, and here are a few things that we want you to know about us.

  1. We are smart.

From what you have seen on television, you may think that we are religious because we just don’t know any better.  We are often portrayed as being foolish and gullible, sending our money off to any televangelist who claims God told him that he needs a personal jet with jewel-encrusted head rests to fulfill the great commission.  We are dismissed as uneducated people who are easily manipulated by right-wing politicians and who live in a bubble that shields us from the problems that everyone else in the world understands.

The truth is that God doesn’t care if we dropped out of high school or if we have a Ph.D.  The party is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bible) and open to all, and if you can’t BYOB, we’ve got you covered.

However, we are weary of the stereotype that Christians just aren’t very smart.  We are all kinds of people with all levels of education. We are doctors and lawyers and teachers and engineers.  We are tradespeople.  We are stay-at-home moms.  We are college graduates.  We are innovators and business owners.  We read books.  We watch the news.  We are interested in the events happening in the world around us.  We are seeking solutions to the same problems as everyone else.

We even believe that global warming is real.  We love science.

I know.  That one just blew your mind!

  1. We are not weird.

Okay, some of us are weird.  Some of us are really weird.  But we aren’t any weirder than the rest of the population, so please just let that stereotype die.  And, really, we think Jesus might have used the word “quirky” instead.

  1. You work and play and go to school with us, and you don’t even realize it.

When you first meet a Christian, she probably won’t be wearing a t-shirt that says, “I heart Jesus,” but kudos to her if she is.  Most likely, you will meet her diligently working in her cubicle at the office, not marching in a picket line or shouting Bible verses in front of the courthouse.  The truth is that most Christians don’t necessarily stand out in a crowd – at least not right away.  That’s because we enjoy many of the same things that you do.  We like social media and know about pop culture.  We follow sports and go to the movies and work out at the gym.  We love to have fun, and we know a good joke when we hear one.  Over time, I hope that the Christians you know will stand out because they are consistently generous and patient and kind.  I hope they model joy and compassion and grace.  I hope they apologize for their mistakes and exemplify Christian values.  But the idea that you know one when you see one, well, it just doesn’t work that way.

  1. We care about people.

All people.  It doesn’t depend on your race or your gender or your age.  It doesn’t depend on your income or your appearance or your religion.  It doesn’t even depend on the decisions you have made in the past.  We are called to love one another.  Love is not the message that you hear when many politicians’ lips are moving, but it is the truth of our religion.

Ice Cream

  1. We want you to have freedom of religion, too.

Really, we do.  Your freedom of religion guarantees our freedom of religion.  We get that.

  1. We can and do look at both sides of an issue.

We not only enjoy a good debate, but we want to understand an opposing argument – and not just so that we can challenge it.  We want to understand the complexities of an issue.  We want to know how ideas affect different groups of people.  We can even be swayed to think differently about an issue once in a while.  We don’t have to “win” every argument.  Most importantly, we don’t have to agree with you to care about what you think.

  1. We are not perfect – and we know that.

The big idea of Christianity is that God extends us grace and forgiveness through his son.  If we thought we were perfect, then we wouldn’t need that, would we?  This one just doesn’t make any sense.

8. We aren’t judging you.

Really, we’re not.  We try to leave this to the big guy upstairs.  We have to figure out what we are cooking for dinner and when we can pick up the prescription at the pharmacy and who will take off work to wait for the repairman tomorrow and how to get two kids to basketball practice in two different places at the same time tonight.  We don’t have time for this.  Please stop worrying about it.

  1. We aren’t all Republicans.

We also do not trust people just because they say they are Christians or quote Bible verses.

And while we’re at it, we don’t all watch FOX News.

  1. We don’t understand the political obsession with “moral issues.”

Any issue that is up for political debate impacts people.  Any issue that impacts people is a moral issue to us.  That does not mean there are easy answers.  It just means that our morals should influence all of our decisions – both personal and political.  There aren’t just one or two moral issues.  There are lots of them.

  1. We are not perfect – and we know that.

That just seems worth repeating.

  1. We would love to share our faith with you, but we can be friends regardless.

Even Jesus did not exclusively spend time with Christian people.  We don’t either.

As Christians, political seasons are difficult because, like so many other groups of people, we often feel unfairly categorized and misunderstood.  We don’t like being characterized as immoral, anti-Christian, or not-Christian-enough if we lean toward the left on an issue, and we don’t like being portrayed as narrow-minded, uneducated schmucks if we lean toward the right.  We definitely don’t like being associated with any extremist who will dance for the camera and drive up the network’s ratings.

In reality, we are individuals, similar in some ways yet as different as two snowflakes tumbling from the sky, human beings with messy lives who are just trying to do the best that we can with the comfort of God’s grace when we fail.  If you feel overwhelmed or misunderstood, there is a good chance that we have some idea of where you are coming from.  Please do not judge us all by what you have seen on the news or even by your experiences in the past. You may be surprised by just how much we have in common – even if our religious views aren’t on that list.

Why All the Fuss About Making a Murderer?

Why the fuss

In the past few weeks, it is fair to say that Making a Murderer has become a national obsession.  News programs have been talking about it.  Celebrities have been tweeting about it.  Netflix has been loving the success of it.  And middle-aged moms like me have been folding laundry veeeerrrry sloooowwwwwly in order to squeeze a few more minutes out of our busy schedules to watch in horrified disbelief.  It really is good television, if good television means that you will send your kids to the basement to play video games a little longer just so that you can see what happens next.  Not that this happened at my house, but I’m just saying that I could understand if it did happen, somewhere.

I admit that I posted a couple of comments about the show on my own Facebook page, fueling interest among my friends, because Making a Murderer is the kind of documentary that you JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT.  And since my husband could not keep up with my break-neck pace in watching it last week, I wanted to find out which of my closest friends on social media were on top of it.  (I might note that Netflix and I hadn’t really bonded prior to this viewing experience, but it is a good place to find other interesting documentaries like Blackfish and Fed UpFortunately, most documentaries don’t require the ten-hour commitment that Making a Murderer does.)

So what is this Making a Murderer about, anyway?  In short, a man was once convicted of a crime that he did not commit, serving 18 years in prison before DNA evidence proved his innocence.  Not long after his release, he was arrested for the murder of a photographer who had last been seen on his property.  The documentary follows his defense team through their preparation for trial and their presentation of evidence.  It also reveals details about the investigation into his teenaged nephew’s alleged involvement in the murder of this woman.  The documentary raises questions about whether the county, feeling embarrassed by their mishandling of the first case in which this defendant was wrongfully imprisoned, might have bent the rules, so to speak, in order to guarantee a victory for the prosecution in his murder trial and thereby vindicate themselves for their previous mistakes.

Since the docuseries has become so popular, rebuttals to the story shared by the filmmakers are also popping up and spreading like wildfire.  I have listened to part of Rebutting a Murderer by Dan O’Donnell (available on iHeartRadio), and I have also read this rebuttal on The Huffington Post.  The rebuttals share the other side of the story, details from the prosecution’s perspective, some of which were excluded from Making a Murderer, and many of which point to the defendant’s guilt.  They paint a picture of the accused as a volatile and dangerous man who clearly deserves to be in prison.

And maybe he does.

But in the fuss over whether or not the documentary is biased (and it is), I think we are missing the point.  The bigger conversation here.  The reason why a mom like me could not turn off the television while I was cooking pasta fagioli because I had to see how the story would unfold.

It’s not that I see the man at the center of this controversy as a model of good citizenship.  It’s not even that I’m convinced of his innocence.  It’s that he used the same criminal justice system that I may have to use someday, and, WOW, a lot of things went very wrong there.

Sure, there are people with a chip on their shoulder who ignored the bias and watched Making a Murderer for confirmation that the justice system is a mess.  Yes, there are others who viewed it who think they are legal experts because they have a season of Law and Order saved on the DVR.  But most viewers are smarter than that.  They noticed that the prosecution, for the most part, wasn’t talking directly to the filmmakers like the defense was.  They knew that they were hearing more in defense of the defendant than in support of the prosecution.  They know good, honest, selfless people who work as police officers, attorneys, and judges, and they support those people when others don’t.  And they still aren’t sure exactly what really happened in this case.

But that doesn’t make the documentary any less fascinating.

The primary argument of the rebuttals seems to be that the defendant is much more dangerous than the man that the docuseries presents him to be, and that may be true.  However, the filmmakers DO share some details about the defendant that reveal questionable ethics.  A police report shows that he once threw a cat in a fire, for goodness sake.  He wrote angry, threatening letters to his wife from prison.  And those things are IN the documentary.  In fact, they led me to having a conversation with my own children (who did not watch the documentary, so please don’t panic) about how difficult it is to prove your innocence when you have developed a reputation in the community for creating trouble.  (It seemed like a teachable moment.)  The reality is that knowing what I know from the documentary alone, I wouldn’t trust this guy.  But the bigger question raised by the documentary is not about him.  The bigger question is, who CAN you trust?

Because I want to believe that police and investigators always follow every reasonable lead in an investigation.

Because I want to believe that anyone with a conflict of interests is smart enough to remove themselves from any involvement that might jeopardize the truth from being heard and believed in a case.

Because I want to believe that a public defender would do his best for every defendant and work for the good of his own client.

Because I want to believe that there are protocols for working with juveniles with intellectual challenges so that they are treated fairly during an investigation.

Because I want to believe that the goal of the justice system is to find the truth rather than to close a case without certainty.

And, honestly, I still believe that most of these ideas are true – most of the time.  I still believe in and support all of the honest police officers, and hard-working attorneys, and selfless judges who face very difficult decisions every day.  But this guy did go to prison for 18 years for a crime that he didn’t commit, so sometimes there are flaws in our system.  Why is it wrong to ask questions about how we, as a society, can fix that?

The documentary also raises interesting points about what is and what isn’t admissible during a trial, what prosecutors can say publicly before a trial, how financial resources may impact the quality of legal representation, and how personalities can be more influential than facts when a jury deliberates.  These are issues that most of us don’t think about much.

Unless we are on trial.

The real reason that we are squirming uncomfortably in the safety and comfort of our living rooms while watching Making a Murderer is only loosely tied to whether or not we believe this particular defendant is being honest.  The reason our stomachs are in knots is because we aren’t 100% sure that we could prove OURSELVES innocent if we were falsely accused of a crime.

And if that isn’t scary and worthy of a discussion, I’m not sure what is.