• Character,  Wear Your Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    What is Character?

    Personal values are tricky business. If you ask me, Tara, what principles do you hold as values? I might say, Honesty, integrity, realness; I like people who are real. But if you ask me, What drives your behavior? I might say, Comfort, ease of use, non-complicated.

    Both answers are correct in the sense that honesty, integrity, and realness, and, comfort, ease-of-use, and non-complicated all have equal worth. They are all values. However, the first list is what I would call intentioned values, or wanna-be values; these are the values I’m striving to live by but fail more times than I would like. The second list is what actually drives my behavior. In a pinch, these default values frequently override my intentioned values.

    Therefore, when I am asked about the principles I hold as values, the real answer is comfort because comfort is what drives many of my decisions.

    I don’t like giving this answer because I don’t want it to be true. It doesn’t look good. I would much rather say I live by the values of integrity and honesty. This would bring high praise. Comfort has the odor of laziness. It smells. I don’t want to smell.

    Our character is comprised of the values that drive our behavior.

    We can have bad or good character; both are based on what drives us. Truthfully, human beings are a mix of both. No one is all bad or all good. Some people are top-heavy in one direction or the other in varying degrees. Some people are an equal mix of both; they’re good people but they just can’t get out of their own way and don’t understand why.

    Character is the tension between who we want to be and who we are.

    Do I have the time to be honest? Do I have the patience to answer this question, AGAIN? Do I have the energy to deal with the consequences if I say no? Do I have enough empathy to listen without judging? Do I have the humility to have a difficult conversation without slinging mud? Do I have the selflessness to serve without complaining? Do I have the strength to confront this problem? Do I have the discipline to stick to a regular exercise routine? The choices are endless.

    Character is built over time. Each of these decisions reveal our true values in the moment and it is in the collection of these moments that our overall character is defined.

    We can upgrade our character by choosing in the moment the intentioned, or wanna-be, value instead of the default values of comfort or avoidance or people-pleasing.

    The key is to be completely honest about the actual values that are actually driving us. If we assign honesty to our character, but then hold back information, the value of avoidance might be what is actually driving our decisions rather than the value of honesty. Once we determine that avoidance pulls stronger than honesty, we now have the opportunity to choose better the next time the moment presents itself. This is building character.

    Character isn’t a trait.

    Character is how we handle the tension in the opportunity to go one direction or the other. We can’t claim to have character until we stand in the tension to choose it. Wise character is built in those moments that prevail in the tension.

    Tara Schiro is the owner and designer of the Etsy store, Wear Your Character LLC, and is the author of two books: Write Your Life With Grace, Fruit of the Spirit Guided Journal, and No Arms, No Legs, No Problem, You can wish to die or choose to live. Both books are available on Amazon.

  • Character,  Wear Your Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Fear Not: Eternal Promise or Earthly Shaming Tool?

    The admonition to Fear Not is used 365 times in the Bible. “One for each day,” we like to say. My favorite is, “Be of good courage, fear not, for the Lord thy God will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you”(Deuteronomy 31:6). Unfortunately, fear is a tool that is used by humans to manipulate and control. Fear is a key element in advertising, marketing, storytelling, political campaigns, and news programs. We are a society driven by, and addicted to, fear. And now, many of our evangelical pastors and leaders are using Fear Not as a shaming tool in the face of all things political, including COVID. They are taking this verse out of context and it is causing the standard of Christian character to slip into dangerous territory.

    Recent comments from evangelical pastors and leaders sound like this, ‘What lengths are you willing to go to to bring someone to Jesus? We need face-to-face encounters…Jesus healed without a 14-day quarantine…Statistically, we know only 1-2% of people will die…The statistics prove God’s supernatural ability to heal, especially if you are a believer! Don’t fear! Use common sense, social distance and wear the mask IF YOU WANT TO, it’s your choice! God says we are not to have a spirit of fear so live your life! Come to church (inside)! Don’t be afraid! God is our protector!…Instead of listening to the talking heads on TV getting paid to scare you and lie to you, read Mark 2 about how God heals people!… Some of you are more concerned with the C-D-C than with the B-I-B-L-E!’

    When the Bible says Fear Not, it is an admonition against human imposed fear. Transversely, it is an invitation to trust God. This article, does a good job explaining the difference between a healthy fear of God and an unhealthy fear of man. In this respect, the evangelical leaders are correct, ‘fear God, not man.’ However, at the same time they are ignoring the fine print that underwrites Fear Not. It is a macro, not a micro, admonition. “The biblical command Do Not Fear does not negate the need for prudence and caution in this world. We are not to be cavalier but prayerful in the face of danger.” We are not to tempt God by purposely engaging in reckless or “cavalier” behavior to then pray desperately, “Please save me,” when the consequences of our decisions catch up to us (Deuteronomy 6:16).

    Continuing from this article, “When the Bible tells us, ‘Do not fear,’ it means we are not to allow anxiety or fretfulness to rule our lives or take root in our hearts. We are not to be people of panic. We are to be people of faith.”

    What does it look like to be prudent and cautious in the ever-present danger of this world without “anxiety, fretfulness, or panic” ruling our day?

    Seatbelts are a good example of a healthy respect for danger. We obey the traffic laws not just to protect ourselves but each other. We have a healthy fear of crashes so we promote campaigns against drunk driving, against texting while driving, and we encourage bonuses on our insurance as a reward for safe driving records. We dial 911 from the freeway to report a sleepy and swerving driver because they “might” cause an accident. We willingly do all this and more because 38,800 deaths from traffic accidents (2019 tally) is too many.

    On an airplane when the airstream is calm the pilot will say, “You are free to move about the cabin; however, when you are sitting in your seat, keep your seatbelt fastened because there’s that teeny tiny percent of a chance that we might hit invisible turbulence strong enough to send your head to the ceiling.” This is not irrational fear. It is prudent and cautious.

    In fact, we have a healthy respect for all the leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, which are listed here. According to these stats, we could put COVID into the number three position.

    Would we say to someone driving a car, “Why are you wearing a seat belt? Why are you being so fearful? Won’t God protect you?” Or, would we question the airplane pilot, “Why are you living in fear? There’s no need for a seatbelt during calm conditions!” Or, to a person who had a drink and is preparing to drive home, “It’s fine! The amount of people who die in car crashes is low so taking that risk is perfectly fine.” Or, to a person who prepares the tornado shelter under his house, “The Bible says not to live in a spirit of fear! Why are you preparing for something that might not happen?” Or, to a person applying sunscreen, “Why are you doing that? Are you afraid you’re going to get cancer? Where is your faith?” Or, to a person who is sluggish, never feeling good, “‘Gut health’ is overrated! When it’s our turn to die, it’s our turn to die! Eat whatever you want!” No, of course we wouldn’t say these things. All of these sentiments are ridiculous and foolish. Except when the topic is COVID and then everything turns upside down.

    What is the proper lens with which to see balance in this conversation?

    The balance between ‘prudence and caution’ vs. ‘anxiety and panic’ is an equal measure of healthy respect for the danger on the one side (taking proper precautions) and a healthy respect for God on the other: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor”(1 Peter 2:17).

    It saddens me that at the one-year anniversary of COVID, there are evangelical pastors and leaders not only doubling-down on the continued misuse of the Fear Not admonition, but they are using it as a shaming tool to judge those who have a healthy respect for a disease that has destroyed over half a million families to date. (For reference, cancer also destroys half a million families per year and look at the lengths we go to for treatment and prevention.)

    What is even more alarming is what was NOT said in these Fear Not sermons. No mention or empathy whatsoever for the families who are suffering from the death of their loved one. No mention or empathy for the people who have lost their jobs. No mention or empathy for the mental illness that has skyrocketed during this pandemic. No mention or empathy for the healthcare workers. The message from these pastors was a shame filled sentiment: “Only 1-2% of people with the virus are going to die. So, don’t fear! Some of you are more worried about your physical life than your spiritual life!”

    The entire bible, by the way, is about how to navigate the physical world in light of eternity. And yet the messages insinuate that being properly precautious, paying due respect to a disease that has taken half a million lives and wrecked our economy, is akin to a sinful type of fear.

    These statements from the pulpit are not only the opposite of how we handle other types of dangers but they are complete heresy. There’s no evidence of Jesus preaching the “only odds.” Like, there’s “only” a 1% chance you will die from leprosy so don’t worry about it. Just live your life without fear! Jesus also never taught us to play the victim. He never taught us to put ourselves ahead of other people. He never taught us to have a lack of empathy for other people’s sorrows. No! Jesus taught us that of all the commandments, the greatest is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these”(Mark 12:29). Also, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”(Mark 12:17).

    Jesus taught us how to live life in the physical world (respect it) in light of the spiritual world (your final destination if you follow Jesus). He didn’t put one against the other. In fact, our spiritual rewards in heaven will be determined by how we handle life in the physical world. That’s why God, throughout the Bible, is so adamant about our character development. Our character is the one thing we take with us to eternity.

    Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount can be summed up this way: It’s how to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.” Shaming people for being prudent and cautious is not loving or graceful or wise or discerning. It’s controlling. 

    Fear Not is a higher calling. It’s not a street level ‘go ahead and do your own thing, be cavalier without fear.’ Rather, Fear Not is a macro level, divine security in the middle of all the chaos and tragedy in the physical world; if we stay in God’s will, we are eternally secure. Not that bad things will stop happening, but God can use the bad of the world for His good, God can redeem anything, God will bring us home to him for eternal healing and redemption if we choose Jesus.

    Fear Not draws us away from panic on the street and towards eternal discernment; it teaches us to focus on Jesus in the storm and not on the giant waves crashing around us. It does not tell us to throw away the oars or to get into a leaky boat! We are to remain prudent and cautious with the physical, as we prepare for the eternal.

    Christians are to be people of character, peacemakers, teaching people how to cooperate. We are to be wise and discerning, producing good fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). Instead of shaming us for trying to do right in our community, instead of scaring us with fear statements about “the other side,” maybe it would be better if our evangelical leaders taught us to be people of integrity, people that rise above and take care of others instead of teaching us to play the victim on the one hand and careless and callous on the other.  

    Tara Schiro is the owner and designer of the Etsy store, Wear Your Character LLC, and is the author of two books: Write Your Life With Grace, Fruit of the Spirit Guided Journal, and No Arms, No Legs, No Problem, You can wish to die or choose to live. Both books are available on Amazon.

  • Character,  Wear Your Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Love Story: Serving An Aging Pet

    She barks several hours per day. It’s the new thing in a long list of things that come with aging. She forgets where we are. Bark. It hurts to sit down; she circles in her bed. Bark. She wants to follow us but can’t. Bark. She’s confused by her bowels. Bark. Poop. She waits for us to carry her upstairs. Bark. She wanders around in the middle of the night and gets lost. Bark. She’s thirsty. Bark. Uncomfortable. Bark. Lonely. Bark. Bored. Bark. Not sure what day or what time it is. Bark.

    I wish I could say I am fine with hours of barking. That it’s time for me to give back all the incredible love and loyalty and pure joy she’s given to us for 16 years (we acquired her as a 1 yr old). That it is a thrill and an honor to care for her in her last season of life. A gift I am happy to give back. But I must be honest.

    I hear myself complaining about the barking. I find myself training my ear and my brain to split sounds; to disregard the barking and to regard the thing I’m trying to concentrate on. I feel the selfishness in my heart when I have to get up twenty times an hour to keep her quiet. People are sleeping. People are on Zoom meetings. People are attempting to have a conversation. People need a break from the barking. I am not thrilled or honored to pick up her poop after I just let her outside 15 times. I am frustrated.

    “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not seek it’s own.” (1 Cor 13:4-5)

    Do I love Ginger? Of course I do. Am I patient, kind, or un-selfish with her in her dementia? Not so much. Then what is my love for her? Enjoyment when she is enjoyable?

    Love is not simply an atmosphere, a feeling, an activity, or an expression. Love is a choice to serve with a joyful heart. It is the recognition for what I have been given and choosing to pass it on. Choosing to give because I have been given to. Not because she has earned it or deserves it. But because I have been given the grace to “bark and poop,” as it were, throughout my life as I mature.

    I can’t give what I don’t have. Transversely, I can give abundantly through the abundance I have been given. And I have been given a lot.

    There is a catch. Love doesn’t reach its fullest measure until it costs me something: time, patience, money, schedules, humility, agenda, etc. Real love is expensive.

    “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that true love requires me to spend from my heart account. And that my words are a reflection of my heart. I’m grateful for the opportunity to choose a different path. One that is cohesive, where my heart and my words are in alignment with the fruit of your spirit. I’m grateful for this gentle correction to quit complaining and start appreciating; for the awareness of the discrepancy of what I teach in the macro and how I behave on the street. Keep the lessons coming…Bark.

    Thank you for Ginger, for all the love she has freely given us. Thank you that she has “nine lives” and has lived through 17 of them. I am grateful that I GET to serve her in her last season of life. #notetoself It is a joy and an honor and a privilege to serve.”

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    “Which Values Will You Vote For?” Christianity in Crisis

    One statement we can all agree on: The presidential election in 2020 is the most important election in modern history. The hurricane surrounding this election is nearing a category four: catastrophic damage to our society. I’m disappointed in all of us, the deep divide we seem adamant to foster. As a lifelong Republican, Conservative, Christian, I am especially disappointed in my own community. What I find particularly upsetting is our fear of honest discourse about President Trump. We are arguing, shaming, labeling, and judging in ways that liken us to the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. We are contentious and reluctant to talk about Trump from a macro perspective; it seems we are willing to ignore his alarming street-fight behavior for our own interests (abortion, capitalism, rights). And by interests, I mean values. That’s the word my community likes to use in piety to explain their unabashed support of a man who is doing far more harm than good.

    I don’t understand this so I started asking questions. Mainly,

    How can we as a party, as Christians, support a man that has such horrible character and is doing so much damage to our democracy on a daily basis?

    I’m not the only one asking this question. Various leaders in the white evangelical circle are tweeting, writing articles, podcasting and broadcasting over the radio about this very question. To my frustration, the answers to the question fall into four polarizing categories:

    1. Complete silence. The church does not want to go there. As if an election isn’t looming.
    2. Brazen support and defense of Trump (as a victim of the left) to the point of idolatry: He was ordained by God to do God’s work; he was appointed by God to fight pedophilia.
    3. A passive aggressive approval for Trump in favor of “values” (“I will plug my nose from the stench of him while I vote for him, because, you know, the babies”).
    4. The question is acknowledged but answered in a way that spiritualizes responsibility: “Jesus is the answer, we all need Jesus. Jesus will fix this mess when people repent.”

    More confusing than the refusal to specifically answer the question is the vitriol against those of us asking the questions. And again, this vitriol comes from the “leaders” within our own community as well as the lay members. If one is questioning support for Trump, then one’s position is deemed a “left-wing socialist, communist, progressive Christian whose liberal theology is not only misguided, dangerous, and disturbing, but following after Satan.” If one IS supporting Trump, they of course are (self-proclaimed), “spirit-filled and listening to God.” No wonder people on the outside want nothing to do with Christianity. If this is what it is, then I don’t either.

    We are a community that is destroying itself from the inside, out; we are bloodied and bruised from attacking and dismissing one another amid the void of guidance and civil debate. I feel profound sadness over this. What values are WE displaying in this mess as we argue this way? And what values are we voting for? Like it or not, we need to engage this issue of voting our values. Therefore, the rest of this post will examine three values: The Sanctity of Life, Socialism vs. Capitalism, and Decency in Regards to Leadership and Character.

    The Sanctity of Life

    The conversation of voting your values usually begins with the sanctity of life, aka, abortion. Merriam Webster defines sanctity this way:

    “Holiness of life and character.”

    This definition does not delineate which stage of life is holy, just that life itself is holy.

    Gotquestions.org explains it this way:

    “The sanctity of life means that humanity is more sacred than the rest of creation. Human life is not holy in the same sense that God is holy. Only God is holy in and of himself. Human life is only holy in the sense of being ‘set apart’ from all other life created by God. Many apply the sanctity of life to issues like abortion and euthanasia, and, while it definitely applies to those issues, it applies to much more. The sanctity of life should motivate us to combat all forms of evil and injustice that are perpetuated against human life. Violence, abuse, oppression, human trafficking, and many other evils are also violations of the sanctity of life.”

    So, while I am pro-life and agree that abortion is an important issue—the baby/fetus is a completely different set of DNA than the woman’s body that is growing inside of, and being supported by, her body, but is inherently #notherbody—this separate set of DNA has somehow become the poster child for the word sanctity.

    I cannot find biblical evidence for this. I do not see a verse that outlines a hierarchy of human life or a scripture that might suggest that the life listed at the top of the pyramid is the most important, with a directive to fight for that one first, and then work your way down to “the least of these.” In fact, I found verses that exhort the exact opposite.

    Romans 2:11               God does not show favoritism

    James 2:8-9                 …but if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers

    Leviticus 19:33-34      When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born…

    Acts 10:34-35              God shows no partiality

    Proverbs 22:2             Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is maker of all

    James 2:1-4              …have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

    John 13:34                  …love one another as I have loved you…[equally]

    Fighting for the life of the unborn, while ignoring and accepting the de-valuing of life in all other facets of humanity is not only convenient, but sinful. We grab onto the abortion issue because its uncomplicated (“it’s wrong; end of story”). Fighting for justice for people (the babies) in the poor communities once they are born, or helping people (the babies) that suffer abuse or oppression once they are born, or helping people (the babies) who become homeless, or incarcerated, or trafficked, or those that flee countries of abuse and need protection…we are not so interested in THOSE babies who are now adults with messy lives. We apply sanctity, “holiness,” to the humans who have not yet taken a breath, but not to the humans of another ethnicity, of another economic level, of another religion, or of another country. We view them as “them” and not as holy, not as sanctity of life that needs to be protected and respected.

    Christians should fight for all life equally in all stages of life and not put one above the other.

    Socialism vs. Capitalism

    The bible does not specifically support either socialism or capitalism in the sense that the bible is a blueprint in how to establish and run a government. There are plenty of verses to support both positions, but they slant from the perspective of character and learning to live rightly under any system rather than a mandate on government policy.

    Isaiah 1:17, Deuteronomy 24:19-22, Acts 4:32-35, Matthew 22:25-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-28, 2 Corinthians 9:7, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Deuteronomy 24:15, Proverbs 22:22, Deuteronomy 5:19, 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Matthew 25:14-30

    For example, from “How Should a Christian View Socialism:”

    “The command in Deuteronomy 5:19, ’You shall not steal,’ is meaningless without private property…in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,’ suggests that the Bible teaches that individuals are responsible to support themselves…Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25:14-30 clearly teaches our responsibility to serve God with our (private) resources.”

    On the other hand, from “What is Christian Socialism:”

    “In the passage from Acts 4:32-35, ‘All the believers were in one heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but shared everything they had…there were no needy persons among them…’ The most glaring problem with applying this verse to creating a socialistic society is that this was not a mandate. It was voluntary. In the Old Testament, when Israel was a theocracy, it was still a capitalistic society…[the New Testament, i.e. Jesus,] did not call for a switch to socialism in the government when he arrived; rather there were programs in place to prevent generational poverty and the rich were forbidden to take unfair advantage of the poor.”

    Sojourners reports over 2000 verses in the bible on the topic of poverty, social justice, and equality. There are 59 verses on “one another…love one another, pray for one another, etc.” We are to behave like Jesus, putting our time and effort into each other, especially the marginalized, no matter who or what system is in power. God is much more interested in our character than our comfort and in our faith than in a certain system of government.

    There are two articles that explain this further, complete with verses, that you can read here: “How Should a Christian View Socialism?” and “What is Christian Socialism?” These are balanced articles weighing the differences between capitalism and socialism and purport a biblical view of generosity, taking care of your neighbor, being a good steward of your time, talent, and treasure, and developing your character.

    As far as voting for the system we prefer in the society in which we live, we have the right to pick one, keeping in mind the government’s role is to protect the rights of its people. ALL of them. Every class, every race, every religion, every age. Instead of being concerned with our personal rights, we are to be concerned with justice for ALL. Both capitalism and socialism have pros and cons and each should be addressed.

    As far as the bible is concerned, it doesn’t take an either-or or a neither-nor position. In other words, government systems around the world are not the point of the bible. The bible is concerned with the person of God, the creation, the fall, the redemption, and who God says we are and how we are to live like Jesus in that story, wherever one lives in the world.

    The question should never be, “Is this leftist or right-wing, liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist?” The question should be “Does this action love my neighbor, look out for their interests more than my own, manifest the fruit of the Spirit?” —Dr. Michael Svigel

    The Decency Factor

    This is the part that befuddles me the most. White evangelical support for him is bordering on idolatry. Of all the sermons that are preached about loving one another, this edict seems to be thrown out the window when it comes to Trump. He doesn’t pass the decency test. He’s a bully and a manipulator. He has the worst character we’ve ever seen in an American president. He behaves as close to a tyrant as we’ve ever seen in an American president. The Washington Post has fact checked over 20,000 lies made by the president during his time in office and the tally continues to rise as he becomes more erratic towards election day.

    All of the “good” things a supporter will try and argue for—”Israel, conservative judges, trade deals”—pale in comparison to the damage he is doing to our democracy with his words and behaviors on a daily basis.

    If the conversation didn’t turn contentious while debating sanctity of life or capitalism vs. socialism, it will definitely take a turn for the worse when Trump’s character is mentioned. This is where the claws come out. Trump’s character is a topic that his supporters do not want to discuss as long as he is doing their bidding. His character, and our response to it, is turning this election-season hurricane into catastrophic results to the church (and the country) if we allow this to continue.

    We the Republican party, and most especially we as Christians, are passively accepting vitriol from our candidate that hurts our fellow citizens with racist and demeaning remarks, vitriol that hurts our economy with his continued down-playing of the pandemic, vitriol that hurts our relationships with other countries because he has so many of his own interests going on. We are towing the Republican line for a bully and going over the cliff in the process for the sake of our “values.” If we as a Christian community continue to ignore his words, tweets, and lies, what does that say about OUR Christian character? It certainly makes us complicit in hurting other people. It makes us complicit in racism, sexism, chaos, white nationalism and lies. Where is the sanctity of life in this scenario?

    We cannot separate how a person behaves from the way they govern, as has been suggested. They are one in the same package. It would be like trying to drive a car without an engine. Behavior IS the rubric we use to discern good or bad leadership. Ignoring this only perpetuates the chaos; it makes us complicit in it.

    Which value will you hold most valuable in the voting booth? Will you cling to the babies because its easier? Or will you value the sanctity of ALL life by realizing that our candidate’s words and behavior are dangerous to our democracy and its people on multiple levels. We can’t afford another four years of a man who supports only the people who support him and attacks everyone else. America is supposed to stand for justice for all.  As Christians, we should too.

    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for “Wear Your Character.” All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com and on Etsy at Wear Your Character

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    “2020 Vision” O Say Can You See?

    The impact we have on one another sets the course for both of us. 
    We rise or fall to the rhythm of our love, or to the cadence of our hate. 
    Both are contagious. 
    Both have the power to set the world on fire. 
    One burns for restoration, for unity. The other burns into destruction from fear and shame. 
    The legacy we leave isn’t singular. 
    It doesn’t stop at the words recited in our eulogy 
    or with assets left to kin. 
    Our personal legacy participates in the plural of We the People.
    The climate is changing, no its not. It’s true. We see it. 
    Does God really exist?
    Rioters looting, people dividing, everyone blaming, churches breaking.
    We are the people. We are the problem. We can be the solution. 
    God save us from our sin.
    Peter, do you love me more than these? Yes, Then feed my lambs.
    The words do not come. Maybe it’s appropriate. The dullness.
    Much has been said, left un-said, 
    In anger. In fear. In exasperation. In sadness.
    We talk but don’t listen. We covet knowledge but not wisdom.
    Silence perpetuates injustice. Lies ignite chaos. 
    Favoritism fuels oppression. Apathy leads to ignorance.
    We cannot turn our gaze and expect to see straight.
    We cannot: close our eyes, wait til it’s over, 
    let other people decide, let them figure it out.
    The climate is changing, no its not. It’s true. We see it. 
    Science doesn’t really know.
    Fires burning, waves crashing, wind destroying, earth quaking.
    We are the people. We are the problem. We can be the solution. 
    God save us from our sin.
    Peter, do you love me more than these? Yes. Then, tend my sheep.
    Virus killing people, turning off the lights.
    Make us all mad cuz its real. It’s a hoax. 
    It’s like the flu. 
    He didn’t say that. That’s a lie, out of context.
    Farmers losing crops, China has our meds, immigrants are stuck, 
    let’s have a party.
    Wear the mask, don’t wear the mask. It helps. It doesn’t help.
    Fake news, conspiracy, it’s all overblown. Wave the flag. Buy your guns.
    John Woodward has the tapes.
    The climate is changing, no its not. It’s true. We see it. 
    It’s right against left. 
    Buildings burning, people shooting, words destroying, nations quaking.
    We are the people. We are the problem. We can be the solution. 
    God save us from our sin.
    Peter, do you love me more than these? Yes. Then, feed my sheep.
    Where are the leaders who lead? Raise your hand! Stand up!
    Wash feet like Jesus. Turn the tables like Jesus.
    Reforming police isn’t wacky, loving black isn’t Marxist, 
    helping people isn’t communist.
    Save the babies, save the living, kids in cages at the borders, 
    the refugees’ uterus’s in Georgia.
    Feed the people in the streets, help the addict, love the enemy. 
    Don’t disrespect the flag. Play ball. 
    Take a knee, pump your fist, cross your heart, hope not to die. 
    Carol dancing, people cheering, Eye of the Tiger.
    The climate can change. No, it can’t. Yes, it can.
    It’s good versus evil. I know who wins.
    Hearts burning, love crashing, good destroying, earth rejoicing.
    We are the people. We are the problem. We can be the solution. 
    God save us from our sin.
    Peter, do you love me more than these? Yes. Then, follow me.
  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    “You Did Not Just Say That!” Do the means justify the end?

    I’ve had some interesting conversations the last several days about the political article I posted on Facebook. First, let me apologize for posting that article. When I saw the news, I was triggered with disgust and anger. I did not pause; I did not wait. I very quickly reacted and re-posted the article. That was wrong and I apologize. However, the conversation that ensued was enlightening and for that I am grateful. At times it was heated. I’m okay with that. I can take the heat. I do not mind confrontation if it’s in the spirit of learning. The conversation moved from the comments on the post to private messages, both in support of and rebuke of my comments to the respondents, and then to a phone call from a well-meaning friend who echoed the sentiments of a few commenters that my theology is not only misguided but “disturbing.” I repeat. I am grateful for these conversations because it gives me the opportunity to learn and grow. But do the means justify the end? Is it okay that I slung an arrow with an article in order to get to a well-intentioned conversation?

    The three people that follow my social media postings religiously, waiting with baited breath to read every word of everything I post, know that I’ve been posting about character for the better part of two years, so it stands to reason that my focus on Trump and the Republican party is around character. I am a Republican so I would like to talk about the character of my party and why we are adamant to excuse such controversial behavior from our leader. My three people know that I frame most of what I write with the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). I frequently talk about opposites, that a character trait only has value in an opposite situation. The 2020 shitshow is the ultimate opposite situation.

    My three readers can tell you that I do not tout this list of character traits as a bunch of foo-foo kumbaya. Love doesn’t just give hugs; it also sets boundaries and fights for justice. Kindness doesn’t just pay for the coffee for the nice person behind you; it is a gentle and loving spirit when the climate is disdainful. The political article I posted on my Facebook did not produce kindness. It produced anger, arguing, fiery arrows of propaganda, confusion, and distrust. It did, however, produce valuable insight. Does that make it okay?

    I wrote previously about “Conversations That Divide.” In that post I lamented that I wish we could get to the place of realness in what we are doing. That we would be brave enough to list the pros and cons of ourselves, of others, of our products, of our arguments, of each side of the debate. When we are not brave enough to do that, when all we can talk about is either the pros or the cons, we lose credibility. Side A touts side A’s positives and side B’s negatives. Side B touts side B’s positives and side A’s negatives. Neither are willing to entertain their own negatives or the other’s positives. This is not helpful. In fact, it is damaging. It perpetuates chaos, confusion, anger, fear, and oppression. None of which are listed in the above list of the Fruit of the Spirit which Christians are called to produce in our every interaction.

    There is an underlying code in certain sectors of Christianity that says you’re not really a Christian if you are a Democrat or if you vote for a Democrat. This presents a problem. What if you don’t like or agree with the Republican candidate? There’s no room for disagreement without shame. This is oppressive. God is neither Democrat or Republican. In the words of Dr. Michael J. Svigel, “The question should never be, ‘Is this action leftist or right-wing…liberal or conservative…socialist or capitalist?’ The question should be, ‘Does this action love my neighbor…look out for their interest more than my own…manifest the Fruit of the Spirit?’”

    Manifesting the Fruit of the Spirit is not a weakness or a passive stance. It actually takes strength to act with wisdom and discernment in a tough situation.

    And that brings me back to the conundrum of Trump. Try as I might, I cannot find a Trump supporter who is willing to have an honest conversation about his character. Every question I ask about Trump’s words and behavior is met with defensiveness. “He didn’t say that…his words were taken out of context…that’s a lie…the left is twisting everything…you’re watching too much mainstream media…your theology is misguided and disturbing…take the plank out of your own eye…what about Biden and the Democrats?…I’m voting for the babies…don’t look at the way he acts, only look at how he governs.” Huh? Aren’t they one in the same? How do we separate a person’s behavior from the way he governs?

    Not one response from one supporter, so far, has been brave enough to answer my questions about Trump’s lies and disparaging and manipulative words with any kind of humility: ‘Yes, his words are wrong. That was a terrible thing to say. It hurt a lot of people. I don’t subscribe to that type of thinking but I’m willing to ignore his narcissistic behavior because of what he can do for me.” Why is it important to be honest in this way?

    First, when we deny a leader’s behavior because he’s giving us something we want, it means we are passively accepting everything we are against: inequality, racism, chaos, lies, manipulation. We are agreeing that it doesn’t matter how he behaves toward other people, as long as he is for our group and votes for what our group wants. This type of thinking flies in the face of everything the bible teaches about leadership. To be clear, government should take care of the citizens, not act as our God. But when the leader shames half the people, and we as Christians accept this, then we are ignoring the very core of the teachings of Jesus. This sheds a terrible light on Christians when we align ourselves with a man who causes a lot of damage. Do the means justify the end?

    Second, when we deny each other’s feelings in our conversations, and then go so far as to say they are wrong for having them without first listening or understanding, or when we hide behind, double-down on, dig our heels into our own perceived positives while throwing darts to deflect our negatives, this shuts down all future teamwork. Trust cannot be built. Problems do not get properly addressed or solved. Relationships fizzle. The structure falls apart. This is Leadership 101. Can you imagine behaving this way in a marriage?

    It’s okay to ask questions. Especially about how to apply our religious beliefs to our vote for President. It’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to decide to not follow the crowd. The political article I posted was the wrong way to get the conversation started. I will grant you that. I don’t know if that mean justifies this end. Note to self to not do that again. In my heart of hearts, my true desire is to create a place of safety and trust for us to BE REAL, to ask real questions, chew on hard topics, and to receive honest and humble answers in order to get to a place of decency in rhetoric and debate. This takes transparency, vulnerability, humility, grace, and a little bit of character.

    Can we do this without eating each other alive?

    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for “Wear Your Character.” All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com and on Etsy at Wear Your Character

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    “Happily Ever After” What I’ve Learned From 25 Years Of Marriage

    I’ve never seen a bride cheering down the aisle towards her waiting groom, “Yes! I’m about to be challenged!” And I’ve never seen a groom celebrating, “Yes! I’m about to be thrown into adversity!” as he watches his bride walk toward him. I’ve never heard vows that say, “…I promise to love and cherish unless you spend money on things I don’t agree with…For better or worse unless you stay at the office too late…til death do us part unless you stop meeting my needs…” We rarely enter a relationship with the intent to grow. And yet, that is exactly the point. 

    The most basic lessons in personal character begin behind closed doors. Where no one is watching. This is where we learn, or rebel against, the fine art of humility, honesty, and negotiation. This is where our words and actions mean the most. Our raw behavior around those we’ve committed our heart to honor and protect speaks volumes about the kind of person we really are. In times of stress, do we throw the vows out the window? Or, do we use the stressful times as the opportunity to tape the vows to the fridge to decide if we really want them to mean something?

    Consider these words from Bishop Bronner:

    “You have to have someone who believes in you. Someone who can look at the fallibility on the outside and see the divine treasure on the inside. A wise counterpart that can see beyond and see more than meets the eye. They see into your potential, into your dreams, into your capacity, into the limitations of your life, and from all that, they see a seed of what you can become. They see not only what you are doing, they see what you are working on becoming. They have the ability to fan what is just a spark into a flame until the configuration that’s been brewing inside you comes to life.”

    I’m willing to bet you had the same perspective I did as you read those words: “How nice it would be to have someone believe in me that way!” Indeed. So many of us enter into relationships with the idea of finding such a person. A man or woman who will meet our needs. A person who will take care of us, respect us, believe in us. Someone who will never abandon us. 

    What if you and I were that person? Read the quote again, this time with the perspective that you are the one to believe in your partner in such a selfless way. You are the one who will look past the fallibility on the outside to see the divine treasures on the inside. Stings a little; right? 

    We want so much to FIND “our person” that it never occurs to us to BE that person for someone to find. We want to FIND the perfect mate but we rarely work to BE the perfect mate. 

    It’s one thing to be married for decades and to celebrate staying together. It’s a whole other thing entirely to be fulfilled in the process; to enjoy the ride, to embrace the growth, to work at self-less-ness, to stop pointing the finger at the needs they are not meeting for you and start making a list of the needs you can meet for them. I wish I would have learned this lesson 25 years ago. Happily Ever After is intentional. It starts with me and you, learning how to love first, believe first, grow first. 

    As we celebrate our silver anniversary and look back at the journey, I can say that we started off selfish and needy. But, oh the sweetness of embracing humility. We are most definitely living a Happily Ever After!

    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for Wear Your Character. All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com

  • Character,  Two Steps Ahead Podcast,  Write Your Life With Grace

    “My Faith is Shattered” Faith and Hope When We Don’t Get The Answer We Want

    Her eyes held me. My pain was reflected there. She added a mix of empathy and grace but I wasn’t ready for it. I needed more time. I needed to be angry first. I couldn’t understand this ‘laying down my Isaac’ concept. Or, rather, I didn’t want to understand.

                “What type of alter do you see?” she asked again.

                “I see a white room. White walls. A white slab. Sterol. Everything is sterol.” I replied, anxiety welling up in my eyes.

                “Where is Jesus?” she asked.

                I hesitated, seeing again the white room and white slab in my mind. “He’s not there. I don’t see him.”

                “What if you pictured, instead of nothingness in a bare room, laying your son directly into the arms of Jesus?”

                Bile soured my mouth. I began to sob. “It just feels like I wanna be sick. I can’t look at that picture. It’s too painful!” I said with head bent, tears falling to the ground under my chair.

                “What about Jesus’ arms feels painful to you?”

    My shoulders heaved with a grief I didn’t yet understand. A flood of emotions poured through my tears. My inhales and exhales became frantic for stability. This was a three-day retreat. A safe place to process, to feel, to be cared for. It was a break from the care-taking so we could be the cared-for. This session with the counselor felt more like surgery without anesthesia than care and comfort. It was a long-overdue, necessary cut to relieve the fear poisoning my soul.

    I blinked ferociously at my blurred surroundings. The lake. It glistened in the high sun. One. Two. Three ducks in an easy line. Lots of trees. Green trees. Slight breeze. My room in the building on the other side of the grass. On the third floor. Three ladies on the path across the footbridge to the dining hall. Threes. Everything happens in threes. People die in threes. I feel like I’m dying. I can’t. Concentrate. Three counts in. Three counts out. Breathe. Inhale. One. Two. Three. Exhale. One. Two. Three. I wiped at my face and shook my head for some attempt at composure.

                “What about putting your son in Jesus’ arms feels painful to you?” she repeated.

                A rush of hot tears stung my cheek. “Because I don’t know what He will do with him. I’m sure Rick and Kay Warren prayed the same prayers of hope and healing and promises that I have and…” I hesitated. I needed to give voice to the confusion but my lungs were closing in the sobs. “…their son still died, he still took his life,” I choked out. She winced at the mention of the elephant lingering in every room and every conversation throughout the weekend. We were mom’s with kids with mental illness. All hoping for a different outcome. All wanting God to heal our kids from this terrible disease. I felt sick; relieved that I had said it, because I so desperately needed an answer to the pain, but ashamed for bringing their son Matthew into the conversation. Matthew was their son, not mine and at that instant I felt I had betrayed them by speaking something that wasn’t mine to speak. Still. I needed answers to the apparent contradictions in the Bible.

    “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7)

                “I’m asking for my son to be healed, we all are, and he’s not healed. I’m praying that verse every day and nothing is happening. God is not giving me what I’m asking for,” I said, wiping my puffy eyes.

                “Do you trust God?” she asked through her own empathetic tears.

                “I guess I don’t. No. I thought I did. I go around saying I do. I read my Bible every day. I sing praises. But I guess I don’t really trust Him after all,” I said with a matter-of-factness that surprised me. I grabbed a tissue as a presence moved toward me. Blanketing me in warm validation and security. It was as if the Spirit breathed a sigh of “finally.” Finally, I had come to an honest answer. Finally, I had uncovered the source of my own contradiction.

    “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Mark (9:24)

                She still held me with her eyes. Now with a look of apprehension. I had given her a tough task, to try and explain the unexplainable.

                “Yes, Kay’s son died ‘anyway.’ Our Hope isn’t in the healing. Our faith isn’t in a requested outcome. Our Hope is in Jesus, the One who heals, the One who redeems and rewrites our stories. Our faith is in God, not the outcome. We can pray for healing, and we should. Sometimes the physical healing comes on this side of eternity and sometimes it comes on the other side in heaven. Emotional healing, however, is available now, right here in the living in the middle of the mess.”

                I had never thought of it that way. I had been so busy trying to control every aspect of my son’s illness that the thought of relinquishing control to God, not knowing the outcome, was not something I had wanted to take a chance on. I wanted my son safe and I had put myself in charge. I hadn’t the courage until this moment to fully let go and I was exhausted. I now saw that my efforts were futile. I was not in as much control as I thought I was.

    I spent the rest of the weekend grieving, purging pent-up fear and anger. I allowed myself to take a deep breath in the safety of His arms. Instead of rejecting or abandoning me for admitting my distrust of His care, God pulled me closer. It was an undeniable embrace. I didn’t have all the answers I came searching for, but the walls came down. I was free. Free to ask questions. Free to say in my prayers, “Lord, I don’t trust you. Show me Who you are. Teach me how to trust you when I don’t receive the healing I’m asking for. Show me what it looks like to trust you in all things.” Honesty is a good place to start.

    To listen to this story verbally and watch the entire conversation at the beach, go to the “Podcast Video Library” tab on this website to see the two-part YouTube version in Episodes 41 and 42, “What Are You Putting Your Faith In?” in regards to relationships, physical health, mental illness, parenting, finances, the government, God, etc. We are @TwoStepsAheadPodcast  Highlighting the stuff we’ve stepped in so you don’t have to! Listen on all major podcast platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, iHeart, Stitcher) and watch weekly on public access TV in Santa Clarita, CA, Long Beach, CA and Pasadena, CA.

    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for “Wear Your Character.” All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    “Judge Not Lest You Be Judged” The Vital Difference Between Judgment and Discernment

    Discernment is crucial to everyday life. We discern art and literature by way of critical evaluation. We discern the health of relationships with rubrics like trust, boundaries, behavior patterns, and beliefs. We discern the weather to decide what to wear. We discern the words of newscasters and celebrities to decide if they should remain in their current position of authority. I have lamented in the past my confusion over the unquestioned and unconditional support of Donald Trump by Christians. I was looking for this same type of discernment. I was met with statements like “Judge not, lest you be judged,” or, “Look at the plank in your own eye,” or, “Everyone makes mistakes, we all fall short, who am I to judge?” or, “Trump was appointed by God.” The resistance to critically evaluate the good and the bad is dangerous. I am concerned about the damage it is doing to the gospel, to the Christian witness, and to the church as a whole.

    People are not all good or all bad. We are a mix of the two. The act of discernment in-and-of-itself does not relegate a person to either all good or all bad so we should not be afraid of this tool. Rather, it is in the grasping and comprehending that we obtain the full picture so that wisdom can be applied. If we do not properly discern—that is, to acknowledge the fullness of Donald Trump’s words—we are not able to see the pain and oppression being felt by those he speaks against. And what does our silence say to these communities if we do not stand up and fight for them the way we fight for unborn babies? That God doesn’t think they are important enough to fight for? That God is fine with words of contempt?

    We desperately need discernment to deal wisely with a man who supports one people group while disparaging another. There is not division in the Bible. All human beings are created equal in the image of God. There are over 300 verses in the Bible that discuss poverty, social justice, and equality. For the world. Not just white people in the United States.  So how do we judge this current climate? What does it look like to have proper discernment? Let’s start with some basic definitions.

    “Everyone makes mistakes, we all fall short, so who am I to judge?’

    It is important to understand the difference between a mistake and a pattern of behavior.

    A mistake is an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.; a misunderstanding or misconception (Dictionary.com)

    Based on this definition, a mistake is a one-time deal in a given topic. There is new information involved that we have not yet encountered, or didn’t take serious enough, and the decision we made based on an incorrect calculation caused damage of some sort. In this sense, “everyone makes mistakes” is an accurate statement.

    A pattern of behavior is a recurrent way of acting by an individual or group toward a given object or in a given situation. (Dictionary.com)

    However, the behavior is no longer a mistake once the insufficient knowledge is presented. We can only claim naivete’ the first time around. If the details of the damage have been uncovered and the person chooses to make the same decision the second time, third time, and fourth time, knowing full-well the damage being caused, this is no longer a mistake. It is a choice. It is a character deficit. It is a pattern of behavior.

    Is “I’m sorry” adequate to restore a relationship?

    There is a difference between “I’m sorry” and “I repent.” If I make a decision to manipulate information or call people names, and you call me out on it, I have two options to restore the relationship. I can make it about me or I can make it about us.

    An apology is about me relieving myself of looking guilty.

    If I make it about me, I will apologize. “Oh, I’m sorry please forgive me.” In the heat of the moment, this turns the spotlight off of my bad behavior and makes me look infinitely better. I’m apologizing! Isn’t that nice? Now I don’t look so bad. The secret sauce is that as long as I keep apologizing, I get to keep on doing what I’m doing. This is selfish.

    The second option is to make it about us. I do this by repenting.

    Repentance is the recognition that my pattern of behavior is causing you pain and I choose to walk away from that behavior.

    To repent literally means to turn away from the hurtful behavior. It means that I see the pain I have caused you. I feel horrible that you are in pain because of me. I want to end your pain by stopping the behavior that is hurting you. Not only do I apologize, but I do whatever it takes to stop the behavior all together. Maybe I need to go to counseling, or take a class, or hire a mentor, or join a support group. Out of my love and respect for you, I will change the way I have behaved in order to save and strengthen the relationship.

    “Some evangelicals will acknowledge Trump had a problem with adultery, but now they consider that a thing of the past. They bring up King David, but the difference is King David repented! Donald Trump has not done that.” (Galli)

    A third option, after a well-trodden pattern of behavior, would be to not care about the relationship at all and keep doing what I’m doing without apology. This is narcissistic.

    Judgement vs. Discernment

    “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

    “Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:20)

    The way to distinguish between a mistake and a pattern of behavior, or between an apology and actual repentance, is to judge with discernment; not with condemnation or hypocrisy. In the above two verses, Jesus did not tell us to abandon all types of judgment. Rather, he was delineating the types of judgment.

     According to GotAnswers.org, “In these passages, [Matthew 7:15-20], Jesus gives us permission to tell right from wrong…[Earlier in chapter 7, verse 1] when Jesus said to not judge others, He did not mean that no one can identify sin for what it is, based on God’s definition of sin…The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, ‘Do not judge,’ Jesus was not saying ‘anything goes.’… [On the contrary,] he gave a direct command to judge along with a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type of judgment:”

    ‘Stop judging by mere appearances [superficially and arrogantly], but instead judge correctly.’” John 7:24

    The author then delineated three types of wrong judgment: hypocritical, harsh, and self-righteous.

    Hypocritical judgment: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:4

    “Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” Romans 2:1

    “He among you who is without sin, let him throw the first stone.” John 8:7

    The hypocrisy in this verse is that the men in the crowd were condemning the woman but not the man. Some of the men in the crowd may even have committed adultery with her in the past, and yet she was the only one being called out.

    Harsh unforgiving judgment: “…to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another…But avoid foolish disputes…Reject a divisive man after first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:2, 3, 9, 10

    In these verses, if a person is repentant (not just apologizing), we are to forgive as we have been forgiven when we are repentant. But if a person is unrepentant and divisive, don’t argue with him; he is self-condemned.

    Self-righteous judgment: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

    “Two men went up to the temple to pray…The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice per week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, the tax collector went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:11-12

    These verses are about arrogance, thinking of one’s self as better than those “beneath him” and being grateful for the superior position.

    It is important to remember that these three types of judgment come from a lack of awareness about one’s own behaviors. There is no realization of their own hypocrisy, their own hard heart, or their own pride. These three types of judgment are shameful and condemning in nature.

    Discernment, on the other hand, critiques a person or situation wisely for the purpose of knowing right from wrong or to weigh the pros and cons in order to render a decision.

    Discernment: The ability to judge well; to grasp and comprehend what is obscure; sharpen perceptions (Merriam-Webster)

    “But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.” James 1:5

    “Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to judge your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.” 1 Kings 3:9-11

    “Beware of false prophets [teachers], who come to you in sheep’s clothing [appearing gentle and innocent], but inwardly they are ravenous wolves….A good tree cannot bear bad fruit [lying, contentiousness, arrogance], nor can a bad tree bear good fruit [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control]…Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:15,18, 20

    These verses call for a type of judgment that discerns people’s character and behavior. Not to shame or condemn, but to comprehend the healthy kind of teaching, the healthy kind of governing, the healthy kind of relationships to enter into. Jesus tells us, “…by their fruit you will know them.” This is to remind us that a person’s inner character is visible in their outer words and behaviors. We can see this and use this evidence to understand their true values. Once discerned, we can decide how close of a relationship we feel comfortable with.

    “Trump was appointed by God.”

    “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Romans 13:1

    There is much debate about the meaning of this verse. I looked at several commentaries; most say that this verse is taken out of context in modern day uses, that Paul was exhorting the Jews of his day to not leave the temple. Others say that, “God appoints a nation’s leaders, but not always to bless the people. Sometimes it is to judge the people or ripen the nation for judgment. We remember that Paul wrote to the Romans during the reign of Nero, the meanest, deadliest aggressor toward the Christians of that day. ‘Yet neither our Lord nor Paul denied or reviled the authority.’” (David Guzik, Newell)

    Another commentator puts it this way: “Paul gives the state authorities a modest role in God’s salvific drama, but certainly not a major part. Christ’s rule, for Paul is reflected and embodied in the church, not in the political rulers of his day. This can be frustrating for us, who would like to see Kingdom values directly promoted by political agents, whether they are conservative or progressive. Especially when it comes to politics there is a danger that different Christians just squeeze their own party preferences out of Paul and Scripture in general. Theological traditions teach us to dig deeper, to reflect systematically on central issues such as how state and church are meant to interact, how God’s power is mediated and reflected, what is the purpose of all this and how to live in the tension of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’.” (Bertschmann)

    “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval. With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves to their own destruction.” Hosea 8:4

    This verse seems to highlight the free will we have at our disposal, to make our own decisions. It indicates that God is not making all the decisions.

    If God truly appointed Trump to save the unborn American babies via conservative Judge appointments on the Court, and to stop the “evil, global, sex-trafficking ring,” and to put money in our pockets via a strong economy, then do we also conclude that God knew, in his infinite wisdom, that Trump would spew immoral words against the black and brown communities, the low income people, women, immigrants, and refugees at the same time? Are we saying that God is ok appointing a man that saves one group while oppressing and degrading another?

    “…Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

    “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

    How do we discern the heart of a man?

    Words and actions on the outside reveal what is truly going on in the heart. We can judge with discernment a person’s character. “By their fruits you will know them.”

    “[Trump’s] Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”(Galli)

    “Why do we want all these people from Africa [and Haiti] here? They’re shithole countries … We should have more people from Norway.” (President Trump, via AP Reuters)

    “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood … Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!” (Trump tweet)

    We use discernment everyday to evaluate everything from the police department to music to potential mates to world events to TV networks to candidates in the opposing political party. Why is it so difficult to use discernment on our own candidate? What is the fear of admitting both the pros and the cons? As Christians, we are doing a huge disservice to our witness, to the gospel, and to the church when we remain silent on issues of morality and contempt. We lose credibility when our pro-life stance fights for unborn babies but not the people in poverty, the black and brown communities, the refugees, the immigrants, women, the disabled, etc. God is for all people, not just the unborn. And when we excuse, dismiss, or remain silent towards language that shames, condemns, demeans, labels—the type of language that comes from hypocritical, unforgiving, or self-righteous judgment—from a politician, a news outlet, a person in authority, or a friend while at the same time espousing Biblical values, we ourselves not only become hypocrites, but we perpetuate the culture of contempt and ridicule against our brothers and sisters.

    “This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry buses don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?…Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats…Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings…not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” (James 3:7-18)

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

    The following passage is from Mark Galli, Retired Editor from Christianity Today. I will give him the final word:

    “To give credit to my fellow evangelicals — their reasons, their rational reasons for supporting the president — there is something to be said there. That is to say, you know, evangelicals in general are fiercely pro-life, and the president has attempted to appoint judges that will defend that point of view. He may not be a defender of all religious freedom, but he’s certainly stood by Christians, at least verbally in many instances, when he feels like they’re not getting a fair shake. And there’s other reasons that they support him for practical policy reasons. What I think they’re blind to, if I can use such strong language, is they don’t seem to recognize that the very demeanor of the president and the language he uses to talk about his opponents, and the cavalier way in which he thinks about — and talks about — his moral life.

    “They pass this off, when they do respond … many pass it off, and say, ‘Well, he’s fighting for the causes we care about. And if he has a few rough edges, we can live with that.’ And they don’t seem to recognize that a man who calls his political enemies crazy, and lying, and disgraced, and losers, and crooked, and phony and fake — and does this day in and day out, often many times a day — they don’t seem to recognize that he is exacerbating the culture of contempt, which was already well under way before he became president. I mean, Hillary Clinton called many Americans a basket of deplorables. But it’s no question that President Trump has taken that to a new level. And the fact that they don’t connect that with the biblical verses about holding one’s tongue — and how dangerous the tongue can be, and how powerful words are, and how we have to be guarded in our speaking — they seem to have completely made a disconnect between those things. And to call that type of language ‘rough edges’ is to miss the gravity of what’s going on.

    “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?

    “To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.” (Galli)










    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for Wear Your Character. All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Conversations That Divide

    I’ve come to the conclusion that we are debating all wrong. My ears bleed when I experience a “discussion” that feels like an endless loop of comebacks in defense of the small team without any kind of dialogue about what’s best for the team at large. The exchanges are laced with fear-based reasoning’s. We shout from the polar-ends of the table. We speak only of our good and their bad. We excuse and rationalize our own bad decisions and then demonize the other side for making the exact same decision. Why, why, why do we accept and perpetuate this ridiculous method of verbal confrontation?

    As quick as someone speaks of wearing a mask, about how selfish it is to walk around without one, the listener will say, “Well, what about the protestors? Many of them are not wearing masks and they are not walking six feet apart. Why is it okay for them but not for me? What about my rights?”

    As quick as someone says that they are pro-life and unborn babies are a deal-breaker for voting, the listener will say, “What about systemic racism? Why isn’t that a deal-breaker? Or immigrants in cages? What about the people who are at high-risk for serious COVID complications? Doesn’t their life matter? Why is it that the only “life” that is a deal-breaker is the American unborn?”

    As quick as someone says that kids should be back in school because they need to socialize, their parents need to get back to work, and their teachers can physically observe them for signs of abuse, the listener will say, “What if the teachers do not feel safe in this season of  COVID? What if they feel their personal health is at risk in a physical classroom?”

    As quick as someone says we need to keep the city locked down to slow the spread of the virus, people are dying, the listener will say, “I can’t pay my bills. I’m will end up on the street. I will lose my business.” Or, “Mental illness is on the rise, suicide is on the rise, abuse is on the rise. Only 2% percent of people diagnosed with the virus die. We must open back up.”

    As quick as someone says black lives matter, we need to put an end to systemic racism and systemic oppression, the listener says, “But what about Marxism and defunding the police? Do you want to defund the police?”

    As quick as someone says something about Trump, the listener will say, “But what about Biden?”

    We argue from the extremes. We aren’t comfortable integrating the bad with the good or writing a fair list of positives and negatives. Not in ourselves. Not in others. Nor are we comfortable with discernment—the ability to judge, grasp, and comprehend in order to render a fair decision—if what we discover hits one of our own negatives. We are not comfortable admitting our flaws or the flaws of our chosen team. For good reason; if the information gets out about our short-comings or bad behaviors, there are those that may use the information against us. People might abandon us. Our team might lose. It’s embarrassing to look weak.

    It’s also disheartening to believe in a cause, or a leader, or a friend, only to discover they have questionable behaviors. We want to believe we are involved with the right people. It seems easier and less humiliating to ignore or rationalize bad behavior than it is to judge in a discerning way (post coming soon, Judge Not Lest You Be Judged).   

    The problem with ignoring our own negatives while highlighting our positives, is that we become a lop-sided story. We are not authentic or trustworthy. We are merely walking salesmen who peddle tainted interests and half-truths, spreading fear wherever we go.

    Everyone has an agenda, whether it is greed, survival, power, comfort, success, validation, authority, fear, or fairness. I cannot remember a year in my life when there has been so much ugliness all at once. So much confusion. So much arguing. So much INDIVIDUALISM. Everyone arguing for their personal rights instead for what IS right. What IS right is to fight for our nation at large. Our fellow human beings. Our nation is embroiled in self-imposed chaos and our solution seems to be to double-down on fear tactics, shame and conspiracy theories. Argue louder and harsher from the extremes. Is a second civil war on the horizon?

    The media instigates this type of discourse, the kind that celebrates their team’s pros and deaminizes the other team’s cons. I think we need to start calling them out on this. It’s making us dumb. And hateful. The politicians go along with it and sometimes encourage it. They whip their respective team into a fear frenzy with selfish propaganda and we are the ones caught in the middle wondering what’s true or who we can trust. The storm is so blinding that we don’t realize we are allowing them to manipulate us in such an ugly way. It doesn’t feel like there is a Team USA anymore. It feels like the enemy is within and we have turned on each other with no end in sight.

    I really don’t want to continue to live this way. Do you?

    To watch the correlating podcast on this topic, go to the “Podcast Video Library” tab on this website to see the YouTube version of Episode 38, “Seeking Truth Instead of Just Shouting Our Opinions,” by @TwoStepsAheadPodcast  Highlighting the stuff we’ve stepped in so you don’t have to! Listen on all major podcast platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, iHeart, Stitcher) and watch weekly on public access TV in Santa Clarita, CA, Long Beach, CA and Pasadena, CA.

    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for Wear Your Character. All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com