To Those Seeking Truth

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something that I hope we are all doing—seeking truth.

Throughout the last five years or so, I’ve discovered how much false information is floating around on the internet through our social media sites and through websites that have been created to look like actual news. I had no idea that our society could become so full of misinformation. It’s happening because so many of us aren’t seeking the truth. We’re seeking self-validating stories and things that make us feel good about ourselves instead of things that are making us grow and think through who we are and who others in our communities are.

I’ve also discovered just how much I don’t know about our world and the people in it. I have a master’s degree and have been a lifelong learner even when not officially enrolled in school. I studied literature, a little astronomy, and lots of history. But I picked and chose what I learned about based on my own interests. I didn’t take time to see that I was ignoring topics that would have helped me understand the people around me better. I saw my life as only connected to a small group of people I associated with.

But life itself is bigger than any one person or group of people. Life and its accompanying breath and love and hope draw us all together in an interconnected bond that we often fail to realize. When we disconnect ourselves from the bigger picture, we lose part of our humanity and part of our connection to a love and a hope bigger than ourselves. We limit our view of what life is like and what all of the possibilities are. We also cut ourselves off from opportunities to be loved and to love. We remove ourselves from the people doing the healing work in the world—the people willing to get to know someone different from themselves and walk through some really tough truths to help another person.

When I look back over the podcasts I’ve done throughout the last two years, I’ve chosen topics that need a light shined on their truths…I’ve highlighted groups that really seek to know the truth about people and circumstances and work to help us see the truth about others. So that sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want truth after all? Well, I know I didn’t used to think much about truth. I went about my life not thinking that I needed to know much about others. I was a “good person” after all. I didn’t hurt others, and I was trying to do the best I could as a person.

But then it became personal for me—I needed someone to know my truth. I needed to quit pretending that everything was ok. I had been taught to wear a mask for years—to look like a sweet Southern girl with an amazing family that had no problems. I shouldn’t appear to have any struggles at all. A “smile-for-the-camera” girl. Sometimes we don’t stop to think about issues until they become personal for us—when we realize we can’t handle life on our own at the moment, but we don’t know who to turn to because we aren’t sure who will understand or even believe us. I can tell you how deeply it hurts to tell the truth and have no one care or believe you.

That’s what so many of the agencies I have highlighted are doing right—they are looking at the lives of real people and telling them, “We hear you and we believe you” They are standing with people who have historically been unheard or when heard, not believed. Why? Because there are topics we are uncomfortable talking about. We are much more comfortable remaining in the dark about certain areas of life. We don’t want to admit how badly some people are suffering in our world. We don’t want to acknowledge that domestic violence and child abuse happen in our neighborhoods—in our churches—and that few resources exist to truly help break the chains of abuse. We don’t want to admit that people we are close to became addicted to pain killers or to porn or to gambling or to alcohol. We don’t want to admit that many single parents struggle with having resources to raise their children. We don’t want to admit that in our nation, no one can afford an apartment for a family making minimum wage.

We don’t want to be made uncomfortable, so we separate ourselves from truth. We either ignore it, or we deny it can be true because it doesn’t make sense to us. So, if we consider ourselves to be wise, and something doesn’t make sense or line up with what we have experienced, it’s easier to deny it.

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. I didn’t want to face the suffering of other people. I had enough problems of my own. And I didn’t want to admit that my silence or my unwillingness to listen could actually hurt others. Again, I was a good person, so I couldn’t be harming anyone.

But as I looked at agencies helping others while I was trying to find help, I found that I knew very little about other people’s lives—their families, their joys, their struggles. I had not taken the time to listen to others—to really learn about their cultures, their neighborhoods, their hopes, their faith, their fears. My silence and my lack of understanding was actually allowing suffering of others to continue because I wasn’t even acknowledging that it was real.

I started picking up magazines that covered in-depth stories about international events. I read about different faith communities. I turned on podcasts hosted by a diverse group of people. But reading or listening to a podcast would never be enough. It’s about being in community with other people—seeing them face to face—sitting at the table with them. John Pavlovitz, an American Christian pastor and author, has a book titled A Bigger Table. He refers to the idea that we need to expand our table so we are sitting and communing with new people—diverse people. It’s only then that we are truly learning and accepting others.

That’s what Thistle Farms does—they don’t just hand out money to women who have survived trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. They invite them to table to hear their stories and help them find love and hope and new opportunities for a more fulfilling life.

That’s what the Dorothy Day House does—go back and find that episode. They invite families in to share their table. They don’t just believe the old myths that you must not be trying or you must deserve your lot in life if you are homeless. They see that truth that people lose homes for a variety of reasons, and that we can all be a part of the solution.

That’s what the Big Heart Fund does…invite families to the table who have children suffering from illnesses that affect their hearts.

That’s what Mama Bears do—they see the truth that people in the LGBTQ+ community deserve love and deserve equality and have a lot of talents and gifts and love to share with all of us. They dig deeper in their faith beliefs and go back to original texts and ask hard questions as they learn. They research the scientific findings available and realize the beauty of how people are created rather than seeing their loves as a horrible choice.

It’s what the Refugee Empowerment Program does. It invites people in—listens to their stories—researches to understand what they are fleeing—sees the beauty of who they are—helps them find safety and hope—embraces their children—works to educate the rest of us so we stop fearing what we don’t even try to understand.

It’s about admitting we have a lot to learn. It’s about building a bigger table. It’s about really seeking truth. Who have you turned your back on and walked away because you just didn’t want to be around someone “like that?” Who have you labeled without sitting with? Who have you gossiped about instead of talked to? Who has asked you for an invitation to the table and you have said no because it felt too inconvenient or because you couldn’t understand their perspective?

“I just don’t understand” is never an excuse for taking away a chair at the table. Be a person who seeks truth—listen and meet them face to face. Go to a Jewish synagogue. Dine with a Muslim. Take a victim of violence out for a meal and ask if they are willing to share part of their story with you. Tutor a refugee. Read to a child over the summer through programs like Project Transformation. Create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. Ask to see their wedding pictures and smile with them. Volunteer at Pride events. Sit with them if they visit your church. Go to an original source of a news story and get the whole picture. Shut down lies being passed around. Grow a little each time. Seek truth and destroy myths along the way.

OK, let’s be real. Some of you are asking why? Why get out of my comfort zone? Why be willing to work hard to get to know someone else and help someone else reach their goals? Isn’t that what nonprofits are for? I give them my money.

First, great job if you are helping to support a nonprofit! They certainly need all of us working with them. However, we are also called to be part of the solution to bringing love and hope to this world. We are the people educating ourselves so we can employ people who are healing, encourage those who are hurting, and love those who are working to find hope and fulfill their dreams.

There’s so much joy in building the bigger table and joining in the sharing of bread with others. There’s love for us all when we reach out to others. There’s a satisfaction of seeing someone reach their goals. And there’s the words at the end of the journey: well done.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

When Moms Get It Right

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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When Moms Get It Right

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about a group of Moms I have been privileged to meet—some in person and some just online through a closed Facebook group.

Now, if you’re one of my followers, you have probably noticed that I haven’t created a new podcast in quite some time…almost two months. So why today? I waited for this moment because I had a lot to process during this time about what’s going on in the world around me and what I really want to represent here on my podcast. I chose today to reappear because it’s the last day of June—the last day of Pride Month. Many people who are in the LGBTQ community and many who are allies have marched in parades this month, attended festivals, and honored the past heroes who have stood courageously for the rights of all people.

I’m not going to go into much history about Pride here—you can look that up and find many wonderful articles doing that already. I’m going to talk about some Moms who are really working to bring love to all people during Pride month and every day of the year.

I’ll give you a short history of my involvement with Pride parades and festivals…short because my involvement is short. In the early 1990s, my cousin whom I loved dearly died of AIDS. I went to Key West to perform his funeral because at the time, no one wanted to have anything to do with AIDS patients. They were all told they deserved to die because of who they were—mostly gay men at the time. So, I went to Key West and honored my cousin and his friends. Not really an official Pride moment, but it was a form of resistance for me because I was defying the major religious groups I was associated with and I shocked many of my friends by standing with these men facing the AIDS epidemic.

My second moment I remember was wearing a rainbow Pride pin around campus when a group of students protested having a female Episcopal priest who was openly married to a woman preach at our chapel service. A vocal group of students demanded that she be blocked from speaking and demanded that LGBTQ students face some consequence if they were open about their identity. Several students decided to openly wear Pride pins to show that they were not ashamed of who they were. Several of us decided to walk with them as an ally for the day. It felt like the right thing to do.

Fast forward 25 years later and find me at my first Pride parade—nothing in between—no show of support or really even thinking about anything significant as far as rights of the LGBTQ community. I had other things on my mind and just didn’t step up in any way.

So why my first Pride in 2018? Because I went to support my own son. He was courageous enough to come out and I had a choice to make. I could stand with my son and love my son and fully support my son, or we could forever lose the bond that we had. Before Pride, I messaged a Mom who is a minister and had made a post about offering resources to anyone who needed information about supporting the LGBTQ community. She serves an affirming church and was willing to connect me with an online group of Moms.

The group I first joined was Serendipitydodah for Moms. Here’s the official description of the group: This is a private Facebook group exclusively for moms of LGBTQ kids. The group was started in June 2014 and as of December 2018 there are more than 5,000 members. Each day moms of LGBTQ kids gather to share a journey that is unique and often very difficult. The group is a place where members share a lot of information, ask questions, support one another, learn a lot and brag on their kids. The official motto is “Better Together” and the members call themselves “Mama Bears.” An incredibly strong and loving woman named Liz Dyer moderates the group. I can give her name because she openly invites others to join and speaks publicly about the group. No other names or personal information will be shared.

What’s the first thing I felt when I joined the group—acceptance—no judgment. I could ask questions; I could research; I could openly learn from the Moms in the group. These Moms talked openly about their children of all ages—how much they loved them—how much we as parents had to learn—and how much we worry because so many people hate our children just because of who they are—who they were created to be.

The next thing I felt was community. This is a page where we can share our joys that we don’t feel free to share elsewhere because of potential negative comments from non-affirming friends or family members. Wedding pictures—baby announcements—new friends—new support groups—transitions for our transgender kids—prom photos—engagements—prayer requests. These are all things other parents get to be more open about. But if we share online, our bosses may fire us, our friends may scold us, and our family members may distance themselves from us over our joys…so we share with each other and cry and celebrate and love.

The next thing I felt was a Holy presence. Many of the moms are religious and struggle with being told that we are wrong for loving our children. Our faith communities ask us to be silent, or to find conversion therapies, or pray that our kids won’t really be gay or trans or queer. But we study Scripture together and pray together and find the presence of God in our midst—the very God who created our kids and loves them and is teaching us how to parent them.

I soon connected with another amazing nonprofit group called Free Mom Hugs. Since 2014, Sara Cunningham, who is the executive director, and many other parents of the LGBTQ community have joined in the fight for human rights of equality for all. Free Mom Hugs is a registered nonprofit organization made up of parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally and are working toward full affirmation and equality for all. We are dedicated to educating families, church and civic leaders, encouraging them to not only affirm the value of the LGBTQ+ community but celebrate them.

This is who I walked with at my first Pride in my hometown. I gave out free hugs to all who needed one and found so much love and community there at the event. It broke my heart to see young people needing hugs because they were rejected by their own families. This year I marched in my state capital’s Pride parade with both of my children. My daughter joined in as an ally. I stood with a large group of other Moms and hugged as many people as I could. I was also privileged to stand in as an honorary Mom at a wedding this year because one member of the wedding party wasn’t accepted by his family.

So, all of this make it sounds like this podcast is about me—no, it’s about the LGBTQ community and how far we still have to go to grant equality in this nation. It’s about serving wedding cakes and Moms being allowed to show the wedding photos. It’s about not being fired because you are gay. It’s about being allowed to serve even if you are transgender. It’s about no person being attacked or killed because of who they are. It’s about remembering that the first Pride was a riot because of police brutality. It’s about the long line of people that have been hurt because of religious people declaring them unworthy.

My silence though the years allowed all of this discrimination to continue. These two groups of Moms have given me the courage to speak out and to love and to find hope for all people. There is no pride for me in all that I failed to say—didn’t do. For the people I never fought for and spoke up with. I’m so glad the LGBTQ community has never given up the fight even when so many of us stayed silent.

I’m silent no more. I’m a proud Mama Bear giving free mom hugs. See you at the next Pride Parade…Happy Pride Month…Happy World Pride.

You are loved…be courageous…be strong…be you….

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Applause for Public Libraries

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Applause for Libraries

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about the wonderful programs offered by our public libraries.

Let’s be honest—a lot of us take libraries for granted. I know I used to. I thought of libraries as the places that held me captive for hours in high school when I had to write term papers. I remember the dreaded card catalogs that I had to dig through to find my much-needed book locations and the microfiche readers that held the microscopic copies of the journals my teachers required me to use as resources. The libraries were eerily silent and often darker than I would prefer. Even though I was an avid reader, I didn’t necessarily enjoy libraries.

Now, though, I could spend hours in a library. I love the educational programs, the magazine reading rooms and the movies mine has for rent for one dollar. I even worked at a library for a short time—one of my favorite odd jobs. There’s a lot going on every day at a library that many people don’t stop to think about.

First—computer access. Libraries often provide a critical technology link for people who may not have a computer in their homes or for people who need to stop in on a break and print resumes or check email.

Libraries also provide educational programs for children and adults, and these programs are often free. Story times for kids and classes for adults can enrich any community. At my local library, adults can attend programs that teach them to knit, offer advice for writers, or let participants meet a master gardener and ask questions about the next planting season. Lecturers come who give advice about taxes or Social Security or making wills to families who don’t know how or where to get started.

The local artists and musicians in our community also join in on the fun at the library. Our symphony has brought musicians to our library to play for families and talk about their instruments. Theater groups have performed skits in the open spaces. Writers give readings, and even magicians perform a few magic tricks for the audiences who take a break from their busy schedules to have a little fun at the library.

In today’s podcast, I want to highlight two libraries that are doing an exceptional job of reaching out to others and using their resources to meet the needs of their communities.

First, let’s look at Chicago’s public library system and specifically their Laundromat Story Time. I found this good-news story in a U.S. News articlewritten by Joseph Williams in December 2018. The article begins by reminding us all of the importance of reading to young children. Many educators have concluded that future academic success can begin with simple bedtime stories and books shared by family members.

But not every home has books that are readily available to children. And even if they have books, not every parent has a lot of extra time to read. There’s a lot of daily chores involved in running a household and raising children. But the Chicago library system created a program to bring books to some children while the parents are handling one very time-consuming chore: getting the laundry done.

Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods have about 14 laundromats that fill up daily with parents needing to keep younger kids occupied while getting the family clothes clean. Chicago librarians saw a golden opportunity to read to these children. The librarians bring in colorful mats for the kids to sit on and bring with them plenty of books and even musical instruments to add to the fun. The kids are read to. They then get to join in the singing and games. Sometimes librarians bring in puppets to add to the experience.

Parents are learning, too. They are getting a glimpse of ways to engage their children and give their brains the boost they need for future learning. Not all parents know how to help their kids develop strong literacy skills. Families and entire communities are benefitting from the library’s willingness to reach the people where they are and to assess the needs of all community members.

Great job, Chicago libraries! Hopefully other cities will reach out to them and get information from the model they have created to make this program successful.

The next city I’m going to talk about is Miami. The Miami-Dade Public Library System has developed an upcycling program to meet the needs of two groups of people in their communities. I discovered this inspiring story from an article written by Ellen Bookfor Public Libraries Online.

Their program is called “Helping Hands: Upcycling with Dual Purposes” and is an arts and crafts program that meets the needs of two communities. The library wanted to reach out to both older adults and to the homeless in their area. This program reaches both groups at the same time. Older adults gather at the library to enjoy social time together. This gathering time helps many of them break the monotony of their days and helps them break the cycle of loneliness that touches many of their lives.

While they are at the library, these senior adults are tackling the problem of what to do with our overabundance of plastic bags while also helping the homeless population. The bags are turned into a type of string and woven into mats that can be given to the anyone living without a home. The disposable bags have been kept out of landfills and instead have given people comfort. It takes approximately 198 bags to make one adult-sized mat.

The Miami-Dade Public Library System and the Chicago Public Libraries are examples of organizations that think creatively in order to bring about positive changes for their communities. They are still serving the students who need to come in and do research for papers and readers can still come in just to check out books for the weekend. But these librarians are also looking to serve different populations and meet different needs—touch the lives of people who may not even walk into their libraries.

This is what I’m talking about when I use the words “Look to See Me.” These two library systems looked to see the people in their communities. Chicago librarians saw the needs of young children in low-income families. They knew these kids deserved to be read to as much as the kids who could walk through their doors. And they saw the needs of these busy parents who were doing the best they could with the resources they had—parents who were taking care of their families and doing the necessary work of tasks such as laundry.

Miami-Dade librarians looked and saw the needs of their older patrons who wanted time to feel useful and give their gifts back to the community. They also needed time to sit with their peers and just chat about life and their memories and share hope for the coming days. These librarians also saw the need to keep tens of thousands of plastic bags out of the landfills and saw the need of the homeless community members who could use a sleeping mat to provide a little comfort in the midst of their struggles.

Your challenge this week: visit your closest public library. Look at their programs brochures and see what all they have to offer. Find ways you can support the community programs they have designed to reach out to others in your town. Check out a good book or a movie while you are there. It’s a free way to try out new authors or reconnect with one of your favorites.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

The Teens I Know

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about a group of people that I know quite well because I’m a Mom. I’m going to talk about teenagers. Go ahead and laugh…what a crazy subject, right?

But teens truly play an important role in our society. We see them speaking out on many social and political issues. We see them taking a stand in their communities, stepping up and volunteering in local, national and international organizations, and developing new products that have the potential to truly save lives.

So, teens are definitely worth looking to see. I’m not going to talk about teens in general, though. I’m going to talk about some teens that have become very special to me because they are friends with my son.

They are amazing teens in my eyes, but they are also very average as teenagers go. They are very “normal” in so many ways—they need a lot of snacks, like caffeine in a variety of forms (coffee, sodas, etc.,)—are constantly either moving, talking, or napping—they know a lot about fashion, but their choices in clothes for the day often reflect comfy rather than trendy. Some of them aced the ACT, and some of them struggled with it. Some of them can work any math problem you hand them, and some of them avoid math as much as possible. There are both readers and writers, artists and comedians in the group. The shy ones surprise me at times when they are laughing and talking as much as the others. The more social ones surprise me at times with their reflectiveness. You know what I’m talking about if you are around teens much.

I’m not around these teens a lot, but I have gotten to know them through some time spent around a local community group and through my son. They’ve been over to the house for a crazy camp out. They’ve bowed for applause together in local plays. They’ve let me know who is vegan and who can’t have dairy and who eats gluten free. I know who needs a ride from time to time and who is always late. I know a few of the Moms and a couple of Dads.

So, ok, teenagers…is this group of people really worth a podcast episode. To me they are. Why? Because so many in this group are misunderstood in today’s society. I’m speaking for the ones that aren’t currently being heard. I’m an ally for this group of kids… this group of transgender teens.

Yes, you heard me correctly…transgender teens. Being a life-long learner, I have been reading everything I can about the transgender community and individuals who walk among us who have declared that they are no longer living as the gender assigned to them at birth.

When I first started to learn about what it truly means to be transgender, I found a lot of misinformation. So, how do I know it’s misinformation? Well, I’m currently teaching a critical writing class to teens. In the class, I teach the students how to identify accurate sources when doing research on a topic. I tell them to look and see the credentials of the person sharing the information. Do they work in the field you are researching? Do they represent an organization that works in the field you are researching? Do they offer actual data instead of opinions? Do they give you the sources of their data—sources you can then verify yourself? Are the sources professional sources in the field?

Why does all of this matter? Well, let me give you an example before I go back and talk more about the teens. Any emotional person connected to an event is certainly qualified to give you their opinion … an eyewitness to a tragedy, a grieving parent, a victim. We need to hear their stories. I don’t ever want to silence anyone. I read many blogs and follow many sites that offer personal accounts on a variety of topics. However, most of the posts that I read are just that…personal, emotional accounts. They teach me a lot about human experiences and perspectives, and I certainly grow a lot because I read them.

However, if that’s all I read about a topic, then I am possibly missing a lot of information. For example, I listened to a college student talk about the trauma of being raped on her college campus. I was able to glimpse the emotional pain she still carried with her. I read posts by a Mom whose teen has faced cancer and had her life forever altered by the damage caused by the very chemo that saved her life. I had no idea how long the effects from chemo could last.

But if I stop by reading these two posts, I certainly am not qualified to make a statement about rape on campuses or about surviving childhood cancer. If I want to really understand these issues, I need to dig further and go to professionals in the field and find verifiable statistics about rape on campuses and about lifelong effects of some life-saving cancer treatments. I have to read data from professionals in the law enforcement field, in the victims’ advocacy field. I have to find medical professionals writing about childhood cancers.

I go to the sources to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. It’s not that I don’t believe the personal accounts…actually, it’s just the opposite. I believe the people I listened to and want to educate myself on the issue so I can better understand how to support these individuals and how to respond to them with compassion and how to help bring about changes that may benefit others. What would bring about change? What groups should I support to bring about change? what research can I donate to? What family support groups can I volunteer with or donate to?

So why am I telling you all of this before I talk about transgender teens? Because we base a lot of our beliefs about transgender people on emotional testimony alone and on misinformation that stems from those statements. Many people aren’t looking at the information from medical professionals, psychologists, or professional organizations that work with transgender people. We are taking information from a religious source alone or from an individual who says they personally thought they were transgender but really weren’t, trying to lead us all to believe, therefore, that no one is really transgender.

So, first, I met some wonderful transgender teens through a community group in my hometown. I’m guessing I knew transgender people in my past, but none that were open about their lives. I heard rumors about people, but I never asked questions or tried to engage anyone. I stayed in my own little safe world and minded my own business, which is what I was taught was the best way to live as a Southern woman.

Even when I had a family die of AIDS in 1993, no one close to me talked very openly about the LGBTQ community. Then I made a few friends while getting my master’s degree who were part of the LGBTQ community…people who were fun to be around, good students to study with, loyal friends. I babysat for some single mothers who also happened to be lesbians who had adopted children. These women were such amazingly good moms and were mentors to me in some ways as I struggled with an abusive marriage and so much confusion around what my career path would be.

But, really, after I graduated, I retreated back into my own world of church life and family struggles and eventually children of my own.

But then I opened my eyes and opened my heart and realized that I was going to miss out on knowing some wonderful people if I turned my back on someone just because they are different than me.

What I loved most about these kids I met was how much grace they showed me as I was learning about what it means to them to be transgender. If you are caring and respectful to this group I met, they will return that respect.

So here’s a few things I learned. I’m not going to quote all of the sources here. I’ll try to link to some when I post this on my WordPress blog. I’ll mention my sources here, of course, because I don’t believe conversations can occur without people quoting from reliable sources that can be cross checked by others in the conversation.

  • I’ve learned that science tells us that people are born transgender. This isn’t some new trend to come out and change your identity. There’s a lot of researchthat states that hormone levels of the mother can affect the gender identity of the child. Science also tells us that our “outside” sex organs develop early—by the end of the first trimester. Brain sexuality isn’t developed until the end of the second or the beginning of the third trimester. There are differences in our brain structure that direct our gender identity—our internal sense of whether we are a boy or a girl. Gender isn’t defined just by our visible sex organs. Gender involves our sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside parts, hormones, and brain sexuality. This is just a quick bit of information offered here, but you can find Harvard research studies and many othersthat back this up.
  • I’ve learned that Judaism—even in ancient times—recognizes at least five genders. There are even six genders in the Jewish Mishnah and Talmud. God created day and night (and many times between–dawn, dusk, high noon, darkest midnight, and lands that see days and nights stretch on for months at a time); God created land and water (and many forms between–marshy areas, quicksand, swamps, deserts, ocean floors); God created male and female (and many gender expressions between).
  • I’ve learned that many transgender children are now being vocalabout who they are at a very early age.
  • I’m not going into Scripture here or sexuality in depth because sexual identity is different from gender identity, but you can read a book titled Unclobberedthat goes into depth about our misuse of the Bible on the topic of homosexuality. Oh, I also learned that the word homosexual wasn’t in the Bible until a translation in 1946. In Corinthians, the word we translate as homosexual technically translates as “soft man” and in other places in the Bible this is translated as “a soft man who has not earned his place, but has inherited his wealth without working hard and still doesn’t work hard.” There are only six verses that we today translate as anything to do with being gay, and two are in Leviticus. None of us live by Leviticus. It’s a sin to eat any shellfish, it’s a sin to be in the room with a woman menstruating, Leviticus calls for all debts to be forgiven every Jubilee year. We can’t wear woven cloth made from two types of fabric—so all of our clothes purchased in stores that aren’t pure cotton are sinful according to Leviticus.

 

Why tell you this? Because we are doing serious harm in our nation when we misunderstand gender identity. I have walked past signs telling transgender teens they are going to hell. I have read too many news stories about bullying and high suicide rates among the transgender community. People are murdered just because they are transgender. And people fear them just because they don’t have information to understand.

These teens I’ve gotten to know are amazing. They are smart and strong and funny and talented and loyal to each other and compassionate and leaders and also just teens. They are beautifully and wonderfully made. Let’s look to see the transgender people in our communities. Have a meal with a teen. Go see a play by a queer theater group. Read books such as Becoming Nicole; Being Jazz; Transgender History; or Redefining Realness.

Let’s don’t cause harm to others just because we don’t understand someone with a different identity than our own. Let’s don’t fear what we don’t understand. Instead, reach out and look to see the reality of others. I’m glad I have.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: Black History Month

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Black History Month

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about Black History Month.

OK, I know what some of you are thinking…another white person talking about Black History Month. And those of you who are thinking that…you’re right. It’s easy to pick a subject to talk about and use the trendy hashtag to get readers. I could tell you my thoughts on Black History Month or times when I have seen someone bullied or targeted for harassment because of the color of their skin. But I’m not going to do that.

Actually, I’m not really going to talk about Black History Month. This is going to be a very brief episode. Why? Because Black History Month is not about me or my voice or my opinions or my experiences or things I have witnessed. If you are honest with yourself, you know the effects of racism and the hold it still has in this country. Me talking about it as a white person in this podcast isn’t going to change that.

So why even record this? Because I want to remind us all that this month is about black voices and black stories and black heroes and everyday black parents raising kids in our communities.

I really wanted to acknowledge this month and honor it in some way, but instead of me retelling anything, I want to challenge us all to look to see the stories of black people in our communities and in our national history. Really look. Try to set aside any prejudices you may come with and really listen.

The first black voice I really listened to was Martin Luther King, Jr. Remember I am a product of the South and my early education did not involve offering any opportunities to study black history or read black authors. But when I first read King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” I kept a copy that I still have to this day. It really touched me and forced me to think about so many things that I had never thought of before.

I want to read part of this letter here:

“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”

Later in the letter, King writes:

“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

“Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

King goes on to say:

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”

His letter is very lengthy, but very powerful. My first challenge to you for this episode is to actually find a copy of the letter online and read it all the way through. Then reread it a few days later. Let the power of the words and thoughts soak in. This letter is still very relevant today.

My second challenge: find black voices to listen to on this subject. That’s why I’m not sharing anything personal in this episode. I want you to find black podcasters and listen to them. Go to a lecture featuring a black historian…read a book written by a black author…find a black preacher and listen to her sermons…follow online several black politicians and read their posts about what they are working for in their communities…read books about black history month to your children. Share social media posts supporting a black-owned business in your area. Give that business an online review.

This month is not about our white interpretation of Black History Month. It’s about us looking to see the black neighbors in our community…hearing the black voices in our nation…and going back and seeing history with a brutal honesty…finding truth in the black voices that we have too often tried to erase.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Podcast Episode: Learning from Old Friends

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Learning from Old Friends

 

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about something that may sound really familiar to you. How many of you grew up watching Sesame Street or watched it with your grandchildren?

I can still remember parts of the theme song:

Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet…

That song is going to be stuck in your head now…I would sing it, but trust me, you don’t want to hear my singing voice. But as a kid, I sang along with all of their characters…Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Bert, Ernie, and well, I’m not sure Oscar the Grouch did much singing.

Recently, I discovered something that many of you may have already known…Sesame Street is about much more than the television show. I’ve been following the work of Sesame Street in Communities. Their website—sesamestreetincommunities.org—builds upon their already strong commitment to addressing kids’ developmental, physical, and emotional needs.

In 1969, Sesame Street was created from the idea that early education played an important role in a successful future. The creators wanted all children—especially those living below the poverty line—to have access to early educational opportunities. Joan Ganz Cooney first created TV programming as a documentary producer for public television. As her career progressed, she began to think about television as a teaching medium. With this in mind, she founded the Children’s Television Workshop in 1968. Their first show was Sesame Street, followed in 1971 by The Electric Company. Just a little extra information: In 1989, Cooney received an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement and has been the recipient of countless other honors for her work.

Sesame Street was conceived in 1966 during dialogues between Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Corporation vice president Lloyd Morrisett. They wanted to create a children’s television show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them,” such as helping young children prepare for school. After two years of research, the Children’s Television Workshop received a combined grant of $8 million from the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the U.S. federal government to create and produce a new children’s television show.

Here’s a little bit more extra information that I learned about the show. Seems it started with a little controversy over a few things.

  1. Some critics didn’t like the name. They thought it was too hard for young children to say.
  2. Mississippi at first refused to air the show, citing its integrated cast, but then reversed the decision.
  3. Latinos and women complained about stereotyping.

And speaking of something else I didn’t know about the show…Jim Henson’s Muppets (and how can we talk about this show without mentioning them) were added to the “street scenes” of the show against the advice of educational advisers. The advisers thought that seeing the Muppets in the scenes throughout the neighborhood would be upsetting to kids. The characters originally could only be seen in their own segments of the show. I can’t imagine Sesame Street without Big Bird walking around with the kids. Of, and speaking of Big Bird…I didn’t know that the character won more than 100 Emmy awards.

We may think that Sesame Street has basically stayed the same since its debut on TV, but the show has evolved through the years, being more sensitive to the needs of its audience. For example, when childhood obesity became an increasingly difficult challenge to tackle in our nation, Cookie Monster declared on national television that cookies were only a “sometimes food.”

And the show producers were not afraid to talk about difficult issues that others may steer away from with kids. Childbirth, and child abuse, were among sensitive topics discussed, and that openness continued into episodes that related to the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Katrina. When Will Lee, who played the beloved store owner “Mr. Hooper,” died in 1982, his passing was talked about in an Emmy-winning episode. The show has also recently introduced the topic of homelessness to its viewers. Viewers also got to meet Julia, the first Sesame Street Muppet with autism

I think I have really taken Sesame Street for granted. But even if we all agree about how wonderful the show is, why am I talking about today as if something new is happening? Well, a few months ago, I saw a social media post about the Yellow Feather Fund. You can go to their website…yellowfeatherfund.org…and read more about this. The Sesame Street Yellow Feather Fund brings education to children in need—helping them grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

Here are a few examples from their website detailing the work of this fund:

*Twelve million children under the age of eight have had to leave their homes due to the Syrian conflict, and many have no access to the quality education that can set them on the path to a brighter future. Sesame Street is working with the International Rescue Committee to bring critical early education directly to young refugee children in the Syrian response region—and providing success strategies for their parents as well. Their loveable Muppets add so much joy to the lives of the children. Your donation to the Yellow Feather Fund helps them bring the laughter, learning, and hope to these children who desperately need it.

*Military families experience unique challenges like deployments, homecomings, relocations, and sometimes grief. For more than 12 years, Sesame Street has helped children and their families build resilience in times of separation and change. Working with military and child development advisors, they create books, videos, digital toolkits, and other free resources featuring the lovable little Elmo and friends. When you give to the Yellow Feather Fund, you help them build a virtual support network for the 700,000 young children with a parent in the service and help them develop success strategies for facing military milestones.

*One in 68 American children is diagnosed with autism, and nearly every family is affected in some way. Sesame Street helps children and families with the everyday challenges autism can present—through engaging, fun, (and free!) videos, books, and digital content in both English and Spanish. And they reach out to the public at large, promoting acceptance and understanding around autism spectrum disorder. Your gift to the Yellow Feather Fund enables them to research, create, and distribute materials used by educators, families, and service providers nationwide—and helps them spread the message that every child is unique, and every child is amazing.

You want to know something amazing…you can access a lot of their resources free of charge. And if you donate to the fund, you allow other families to have access to the resources.

I went to the Sesame Street in Communities website and found so many resources that I was not previously aware of. Through ongoing collaboration, training experiences, and local partnerships, this website continually adds content that meets the changing needs of our communities. As you scroll through the site, you can find hundreds of bilingual multi-media tools to help kids and families deepen their knowledge during the early years of birth through six (and this is a critical window for brain development). Their resources engage kids and adults in everyday moments and daily routines—from teaching early math and literacy concepts, to encouraging families to eat nutritious foods, to serious topics such as divorce and food insecurity.

They have resources for a wide range of issues that affect our communities: community violence, coping with incarceration of a family member, dealing with divorce, homelessness, preparing for emergencies, grieving, facing traumatic experiences, needing and giving comfort, and the need to learn to be resilient.

The website offers a section filled with information on staying mentally and physically healthy. Families have resource pages for learning to care and share, eating well, caring for children, explaining autism, playing together, building routines, bonding, managing asthma, handling tantrums, and many more topics.

The website also has educational resources for language development, financial education, science, reading and writing, and math skills.

These things I am mentioning aren’t just fun little games for kids to play. Each page is filled with professional and community resources for family members to explore. There are interactive pages, videos, and articles written by professionals to help us all be able to be life-long learners on issues that affect our families and our communities.

Now of course, there’s still the website for kids—sesamestreet.org—filled with fun and games for all ages. We can’t forget about that.

So, what’s our challenge for the week. Consider donating to the Yellow Feather Fund to keep this material available for all members of our communities. But here’s a big challenge that will take a little time—explore the Sesame Street in Communities website and familiarize yourself with all of the resources there. You may run across something that will help you. But, also, if you know what’s there, you can pass this along to community members who may need this information. Know a young parent who isn’t familiar with milestones for the growth and development of a child? Know a parent of a toddler struggling with tantrums? Anyone in your community looking for information on eating healthier? dealing with asthma? explaining autism to a sibling?

This information is publicly available free of charge and is frequently updated as we learn more about various topics. Find out what’s there and share it with others.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.