JOY42

Guest Post: Discovering Photography as a Business

LifeHannah DrakeComment

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing guest posts from some of my favourite bloggers and photographers, people I’m lucky enough to call friends, and today is the last day—for now.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Pete from Peter Horrox Photography. Pete isn’t a blogger, but he’s a pretty talented photographer. He set up the photo booth at our wedding and has been such an amazing help to me as I discover more about photography. As he’ll tell you, he’s an aspiring wedding photographer, but he has already built up quite the portfolio and has mastered what some might call “passive income streams” in the photography business. Pete is one of Luke’s closest friends and now one of mine, which is a fantastic perk of marriage!


Hello, Joysters! Is that what you call yourselves? I should know really as I am actually one of you. I have to admit this is the only blog I ever read because I have a far too short attention span for the written word (yes, at 32 I am technically a millennial by some definitions).

Anyway, let me introduce myself. My name is Pete and I live around the corner from Hannah and Luke. I’d like to think we are all good friends but you should probably confirm that with Hannah. I currently work at the University of Birmingham but I consider myself to be an aspiring professional photographer looking to make the big bucks out of the lucrative wedding photography market. (If you are planning to get married I the next year and you have an eye for a bargain I suggest you book now before I’m too busy photographing the rich and the famous of the West Midlands.)

I have actually had quite a hard time writing this post and have frequently deleted huge chunks of it and even started from scratch a couple of times. The reason for this is because I feel like a fraud. This is something a lot of people face when starting out on creative endeavours. We cannot help but compare ourselves to the people who have been hard at it for years. We imagine what they must think of our meagre efforts (if they think of them at all) and this can have the effect of paralysis as our confidence drains away.

But the fact is I am not a fraud and those who I have talked to with more experience than me have been nothing but encouraging and enthusiastic for me. This is really all in my head. That is not to say that I am up there with the greats, I still have much to learn and I am still trying to zero in on my unique style as a photographer. But when I get all my shots into Lightroom and filter out all the photos where I hadn’t quite nailed the focus or accidentally took a picture of my shoes for some reason, I am genuinely quite proud of myself. “Hey, you are NOT just some guy who bought a nice camera and started incessantly snapping at everything and everyone!” I say to myself. “You actually have quite a good eye for this stuff”.

So in this post I aim to try and tell you how I started on this journey, where I hope to go and what I learned about myself on the way.

It all started for me on my 30th birthday. I had always wanted a decent camera and had always been frustrated by the limitations of mobile phone cameras (yes, I am British BTW). So on the day of my birth I went into the Reading branch of John Lewis with my mum and sisters and we all jointly purchased a Canon 100d DSLR 18mp camera with an 18-55mm kit lens.

I was immediately in love with it. I had it on full auto for most of the first day but I loved how effortless it was to just press the shiny black tactile button and capture a moment in time. I must have taken a thousand pictures in the first couple of days of pretty much everything in my mum’s house. Candles, kitchen utensils, my increasingly aggravated sisters. Literally anything.

When I got back home to Birmingham I started looking into other lenses I could get and watching countless YouTube review videos for them. Very quickly I started to feel like I knew what I was talking about, at least with the technical side of photography. F-stops, focal lengths and lens aberrations etc.  I decided I wanted a wide angle lens, the canon 10-18mm EFS. It wasn’t ‘too expensive and I was looking forward to getting creative with wide angles. In hindsight I kind of regret getting this one first as I really don’t use it that much anymore and I think I would have been much better served getting a fast aperture prime lens for those lovely shallow depth of field blurry background shots. Get outta here portrait mode, you suck! I did eventually get the Canon 50mm f1.8 prime lens and I still love it to this day.

At this point, photography was still very much a hobby and I wondered if it would just be one of my many passing fads. I assumed my camera would be sat on a shelf gathering dust before too long. But then something happened that made me think quite differently about it.

I was in attendance of a political rally for the British politician Jeremy Corbyn if you don’t know who he is, he’s kind of like our Bernie Sanders, but he looks like Obi-Wan Kenobi. While I was there I took the opportunity to take some photos using my new telephoto lens so I could appear to get super close to the man. I then dutifully edited some of the photos and posted them to my Instagram. Several people assumed I had just taken them from the press and posted them and did not realise they were actually my photos, which made me feel pretty good (but also a bit annoyed). Upon learning they were my shots, my friend Jason told me that I should submit them to Getty images and maybe get a bit of money for them.

Wait… I can make money from this? You mean to say that I can do something I actually enjoy and people will pay me?

I immediately signed up for Getty images by submitting some samples of my work and about 3 weeks later I was approved as a contributor. Unfortunately, this was too late for my Corbyn pics to be considered newsworthy and therefore exempt from the rules about release forms but no matter. Now I was a stock photographer. I started uploading and tagging like mad to get my portfolio as large and diverse as possible and before too long I sold my first ever photo… for 25¢ doesn’t matter, it was a start!

Now there isn’t a lot of ‘art’ in stock photography. In fact my more creative and pretty photos tend not to sell that well. People are looking for simplicity, a way of quickly telling a story or more to the point hinting at one, inviting you to look deeper. The photo below has sold over 60 times and earned me about $50. When I snapped that picture I though very little of it. I was just trying to photograph as much as possible to get my portfolio bigger. The most interesting thing about shooting stock is finding out what will sell and what won’t and trying to figure out why.

Stock photography is a great place to start if you want to hone your skills. It taught me so much about taking photos I really don’t know where I would be without it. Sure there is not much money in it and there isn’t that much room for creativity but from a purely practical standpoint it really got me up to speed.

You see each photo you submit is examined and inspected by a real person viewing it at 100% magnification. If your focus is slightly soft or there are some logos or recognisable people in the background who don’t have releases, the photo will be rejected.

I got a lot of rejections in the early days and it took me a little while to learn why they were refused. This inspection process really helped me up my game and develop a keen eye for detail as well as more of a mastery of my camera. It became like an extension of my hand. I also became quite good at removing things from photos using Photoshop.

After making a bit of cash from this it was time to upgrade my camera to something more serious. Enter the Canon 80D. This made my old camera feel like a toy. The control and precision it gave me over the 100D was incredible. I was starting to feel like the real deal.

People often say that it doesn’t matter what kit you use you can still learn to take great photos. I do agree with this somewhat. One of my top selling photos on Getty is in fact the only one I submitted that was taken on a smart phone. If you are booking flights to Reykjavik with Kayak you may have seen it in the background of the website.

However, there is a reason why professionals invest so much in camera gear. Having high quality glass and a great camera body really makes things easier and gives you so much more flexibility to get the shots you want. Also the bigger the camera the more professional you feel in yourself, I find.

I don’t say this to discourage you if you can’t afford to spend hundreds of pounds. You should buy whatever you can afford and you will surly do great things with it. I just think that people try and play down the importance of equipment too much. It does matter, it just isn’t everything.

Now to tell you where I am now. I have had a number of paid gigs and have finally now shot a wedding (with the invaluable assistance of the one and only Hannah Drake). Now I am working on some self-promotion and marketing strategies in order to get some more dates on the books and drive more traffic to my website. Within a year I hope to be part time in my day job at the University and a year after that become a full time professional photographer.

I still often feel like a fraud but I am getting better at believing in myself. The Goal Digger Podcast from Jenna Kutcher is really good at addressing this issue, so if you feel like me, go check it out.

I have gone on far too long now I think so I shall leave it there, but if you have any questions for me please feel free to comment or slide into my DMs as the kids say (I think).

You should follow Pete on Instagram, too.

Apple Picking at Clive's Fruit Farm

LifeHannah DrakeComment

Back in September, Luke and I drove down to Worcester to go apple picking at Clive’s Fruit Farm. I mentioned in my 2018 Autumn Bucket List that I wanted to go apple picking this year because, while I’ve visited apple orchards in the past (Ya Ya Farm & Orchard is one of my favourites in Colorado and has the BEST apple cider donuts), I’ve never made it in time to actually pick apples since ideal apple-picking time is September.

We lucked out with the day we chose. It was cloudy, but not raining. There was a nip in the air, but it wasn’t chilly. It was also incredibly quiet as we wandered around the orchard. It was absolutely perfect.

They provided a bucket for us to collect the fruit in, which came in handy but wasn’t exactly Instagrammable. ;) We paused for a moment to look at the pigs, but the stench became a bit unbearable so we headed out for the orchard.

Different kinds of apple trees lined the hillside with a smaller pear orchard right below. In some of the aisles, it felt so small, but in other rows, you could see the whole orchard and the surrounding farms and it was so big and open. It was amazing. We quickly filled up our bucket with a few different varieties of apples.

Personally, I found the pear trees the most beautiful. Between the fruit and the leaves, they were absolutely gorgeous. Luke said he wasn’t the biggest fan of pears, but I dreamed of making poached pears, so we only got half a dozen.

We ended up with p o u n d s of fruit and it only cost £7! Since we were headed to Italy just a week later, we had to use all the apples—and pears—quickly. That called for a large batch of apple cider before we left, some of which we turned into apple cider donuts. I also made a couple apple crisps for us and for some friends.

Apple Picking at Clive's Fruit Farm

Apple Cider Donuts are one of the best fall treats, in my opinion, but it’s highly unlikely you’d find any on this side of the pond, so we had to make our own. I’d love to get a donut pan so I can make baked donuts instead, but in the meantime, here’s the recipe we used, from Damn Delicious:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups apple cider

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 4 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 2 cups vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat apple cider in a large saucepan over medium high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 15-20 minutes; place into the refrigerator until completely cool, about 30 minutes.

  2. In a small bowl, combine sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon; set aside.

  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.

  4. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk together butter, eggs and apple cider.

  5. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist; cover and place into the refrigerator until chilled, about 1 hour. Divide dough in half.

  6. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll dough into 1/2-inch thick rounds; cut out rounds with a 2 1/2-inch cutter.

  7. Heat vegetable oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375 degrees F.

  8. Working in batches, add donuts to the Dutch oven and cook until evenly golden and crispy, 1 minute per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate for 30 seconds; then roll warm donuts in cinnamon sugar mixture to coat.

  9. Serve warm.

How My Faith Shapes My Politics

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

I started this post earlier this year. I typed out a bunch of jumbled thoughts and nervously sent it to Luke to read it through before I posted. (I rarely do this, but he’s always helpful.) He rightfully pointed out that I didn’t really have a point. Where was I going with all of this? I was way off topic and went on too many tangents. He suggested I rework it and tighten it up a bit, and it’s been sitting in my drafts ever since. I kept pushing it back a month or so at a time before I finally realised that maybe I should just save it for peak election season.

So here we are. The election is four weeks from tomorrow! Unless you live in Alaska or Rhode Island, which closed yesterday, voter registration is still open across the country. But register today, because registration closes in all but 14 of the remaining 48 states in the next week, with 5 more states closing on the 16th, and Arkansas closing today. (You can find information about voting in your state here.)

I started this post after a lengthy conversation with two Brits last year around Christmas. One had political beliefs that more closely align with mine. The other had quite a few different viewpoints on politics. We all go to the same church and we all believe in Christ as our Saviour. The conversation was thoughtful and was in fact a conversation, not an argument. In fact, I was the one closest to toeing that line. I'll be the first to admit that I have a hot head and sometimes have a difficult time remaining calm and even-keeled about things I feel very passionately about. It got me thinking about Christianity and politics--especially in the current political climate of the US--and how we as Christians reconcile our political beliefs. I’ve thought about this conversation often over the last ten months and it’s made me determined to be more articulate and less hot-headed when it comes to talking with someone from the other side of the aisle.

Four years ago, I went on a few casual dates with a guy I met at church. I had recently been dumped--for a number of reasons, including our differing political beliefs--by the first actively Christian guy I had ever dated. On a second date with this other guy, if I remember correctly, we went to a Christmas concert at the University of Colorado that my aunt and uncle had given me tickets to. As we were walking out, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: It was really interesting to hear so many religious songs at such a liberal school like CU.
Me: Well, it is Christmas.
Him: I just thought they would do more secular Christmas songs, not so many religious songs.
Me: Well, liberals can be Christians too.
Him: [Some other comment continuing his same line of thought.]
Me: Yes, but liberals can be Christians too.
Him: [More of the same.]
Me: Okay, I'm a Christian and a liberal.
Him: What do you mean by liberal?
Me: I believe in universal healthcare and that gay marriage and abortion should be legal.

We had plans to go to dinner after the concert and we continued to have the same conversation for the rest of the evening, over dinner and then over drinks. Later, we sat in my car, parked next to his car, we continued the conversation. In the end, he suggested we should just be friends as it was important to him, understandably, to have similar beliefs with his wife, so why pursue a woman he already knows doesn't fit that qualification. We're now both married to other people obviously, but we've remained good friends over the years.

At this period in my life, I was just returning to the Church. I was making it a priority for the first time since probably high school and surrounding myself with more Christians than I ever had before. I had never considered how tightly interwoven conservatism and Christianity were in America until this point in my life and, while it was shocking and upsetting to be “dumped” because my political views didn’t match theirs, it was incredibly eye opening towards what was going on in the country and even in my own community.

I became more involved in the community in that church over the next few years as the country inched closer to the 2016 Presidential Election and I was truly shocked to see that most of the pro-Trump Facebook posts in my feed were coming from people I knew through this church. (Which, by the way, did not include the guy I mentioned above.) After the election, I was at church that Thursday talking to a friend who was interning at the time who mentioned that she was only one of a handful of staff members upset about the results and most seemed relatively indifferent, while some seemed happy. I was really surprised and honestly a bit disappointed.

I can't speak for all of American history, but it's strange to me that Christianity has become so intrinsically linked with the Republican Party. So much so that it's apparently slightly jarring to discover a regular church-goer who's also a registered Democrat. Or at least more centre. Over the last two years, it has surprised me even more that Christians continue to hitch their wagon to the Republican Party, so much so that 80% of white evangelists voted for Trump in 2016 and 16% voting for Clinton (down from 20% voting for Obama in 2012). 

I’m proud to say that I’m a believer in Jesus as well as a registered Democrat. I’m not interested in bashing the other side, but today I want to explain how my religious beliefs inform my voting record and the candidates and policies I support.

PROTECTING WOMEN’S HEALTH

Republicans have exploited this one issue and turned so many voters into one-issue voters. Abortion is now--pun not intended--a trump card for so many Christian voters. It doesn't matter if they want to save the environment. It doesn't matter if economic policies, like this new tax bill passed at the end of 2017, hurt them. Sometimes it seems like nothing else matters because...dead babies. Let me make something quite clear: I do not believe abortion is a good thing. I don't know that anyone inherently believes abortion is a good thing. It's not. It's an awful thing. But sometimes abortion saves lives or saves a baby from an awful state of life. 

The Bible never explicitly addresses abortion, but yes, it does speak to God's creation of life from a mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13-16) I believe God has a hand in creating each human life from the beginning. But, as my friend put it in the conversation that sparked this post last December, digging up a planted seed isn't cutting down a tree.

I believe that a woman has the right to make decisions for her own body. If someone asked me for advice about abortion, I could talk until I'm blue in the face about how I don't think she should do it, but at the end of the day, she's going to make her own decision, a decision that she alone can answer for. I feel that it's my responsibility as a Christian, as an American, as a human, to do what I can to make sure that procedure is as safe as possible if that's what she chooses to do. That means keeping the procedure legal so it's medically safe and so that there is support readily available, because no one walks out of an abortion clinic unscathed emotionally. It is not possible.

I support politicians who will make birth control more accessible. I have no problem telling you that the Affordable Care Act saved me a lot of money since its passage in 2009 with my birth control pills (which I went on for medical reasons) going from about $8-$10 a month to $0 and later an IUD costing me $0 at Planned Parenthood in 2016, which could have been $1,500. The abortion rate was in 2017, about 8 years after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, the lowest on record since 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade. The harsh reality, which truly breaks my heart, is that women were having abortions before Roe v. Wade, have continued to do so, and will continue to do so, even if it's made illegal again. In my opinion, it makes sense to support candidates who will fight to make women's health and maternity rights better to keep abortion rates low. If kids are taught how to use birth control and still taught abstinence is the only 100% guarantee to not get pregnant, if birth control is free and accessible to anyone who wants it, if women can take paid time off after giving birth (without delaying their retirement age or dipping into their retirement funds), and there are childcare subsidies, we're supporting women from before they even choose to have sex through after they've given birth and statistics show that contributes to lower birth rates both in our country and abroad. To me, that seems pro life.

As a Christian, yes, it would be ideal if everyone waited until marriage to have sex and those who chose not to marry chose a life of celibacy, but the reality is, that's not happening right now, just like it wasn't happening in Biblical times. It's then our responsibility to protect people from disease and unwanted pregnancy, to support young or single mothers, and stop claiming to have our hands tied, especially in instances of rape, incest, and the mother's health. All sins are equal in God's eyes, we are all sinners in our own ways, and forgiveness is available to everyone if we seek it out from God. We don’t have to answer for someone else’s sins and it’s not our responsibility to judge someone because their sin looks different than ours.

RESPECT FOR ALL HUMANITY

There is a lot one can say about Trump’s personal transgressions standing in stark contrast to Biblical teachings. It’s no secret the things he has been accused of (sexual harassment to rape by 19 women, paying off a porn star and a Playboy Bunny to silence them about affairs) and the things he has freely admitted in public (supporting someone credibly accused of paedophilia, mocking victims of sexual assault, bragging about grabbing women by the pussy). He frequently makes degrading comments toward women to commenting how women who work for him dress to saying a reporter is “shocked” he called on her for a question. But as Union Theological Seminary tweeted earlier this year, “The Bible isn't primarily concerned with personal morality. Too often it's commandments are reduced to “how one can live a moral life," when, really, Scripture is far more concerned with how a society cares for the most vulnerable. It's not "What do I do," but "What do we do."“ And many policies from him and his administration do not embrace the Christian ideology of “what do we do”.

So much has happened in recent years that have brought hateful and racist beliefs into mainstream politics. A lot has been said that shows me there isn’t a general respect for all humanity and a belief that we’re all created equal in the current administration, from “rapists and murderers” to “shithole countries” to demonising an entire race in the name of ISIS or MS-13. But the biggest disregard for human life is the crisis happening at our southern border, locking people in cages, separating children from their parents, bussing them to unknown locations in the middle of the night. I’ve seen heartbreaking videos amidst this crisis from a four year old boy who doesn’t speak English made to represent himself in a court proceeding to a mother reunited with her toddler who no longer recognises her and fought to get away. There is no excuse for what’s going on. No one is being held accountable. Deadlines are not being met. And we’ve seemingly let this crisis fall out of the headlines to make way for a new outrageous story every day. This is not who we should be as Americans and it is absolutely not who we are called to be as Christians. Ignoring, downplaying, or arguing for the treatment of human beings seeking refuge in America is in direct opposition to God’s calling for us and how we treat refugees and immigrants throughout the Bible, specifically in Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Job 31:32, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 25:25-36, Luke 10:29-37, and Galatians 5:14.

It’s been a year since the #MeToo Movement began and we’ve seen countless headlines alleging various sexual misconduct from powerful men in the public eye, including politics. Most recently, a Supreme Court nominee was credibly accused of attempted sexual assault, among other allegations, but still confirmed nonetheless. It seems that these latest allegations against the back drop of #MeToo and #TimesUp have culminated in some fearing for their sons, brothers, husbands, and male friends and relatives that they may be falsely accused of rape, sexual assault, or sexual misconduct. While there are false accusations levelled against some (it’s estimated between 2 and 10 percent of total accusations [BBC]), they are often sensationalised and fit a recognisable pattern. That still leaves an overwhelming majority of claims being true and the fact that one in six women in America has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. The Bible calls us to care for the most vulnerable among us and I believe sexual assault survivors are in fact some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Politicians who claim accusations are a political play or an orchestrated hit job discount the pain that a victim has experienced from the moment of the assault. Implying women come forward for fame or money in an attempt to silence someone’s voice is refusing to see them standing in their power that they’ve struggled to hold on to from the moment of the assault. Mocking the bravery and vulnerability it takes to come forward to cheers and laughter is not caring for the most vulnerable and shows more about your own character than that of the victim.

Treating healthcare as a human right and guaranteeing healthcare for all falls under the umbrella of caring and respecting everyone. I cannot even being to wrap my head around the idea of denying someone healthcare, limiting the scope of healthcare, and allowing citizens to go bankrupt and enter financial ruin for the health care they need. The Bible speaks often about caring for the sick and Jesus himself performed many miracles to heal the sick. I believe that the development of modern science is a gift from God and a way to take care of ourselves until Christ returns. If Jesus wouldn’t pass by someone on the street who was sick because of their economic status, race, or gender, what right do we have to deny anyone the basic healthcare that they need?

RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE EARTH

I believe that Climate Change is real, that humans are accelerating natural Climate Change, and I believe that it's our responsibility to take necessary actions to slow the damage that we're doing to the earth. In only the 26th verse of the entire Bible, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) "Dominion" can be twisted to mean that it's our world and we can do what we please, but in reality, the original text is better translated to the English word "responsibility". So if God calls mankind to take responsibility for the earth and everything on it upon our creation, why aren't churches talking more about Climate Change?

I don't agree with leaving the Paris Climate Accord and I find it embarrassing that we are now the only country not taking part, including Nicaragua and Syria who both joined since it was announced that the US would pull out. It wasn't a trick to ruin American mining jobs and even the coal industry has said that investing in the industry will bring about machines, not bring back jobs. We had the freedom to set our own goals and make changes that we wanted to see take place, no one was telling us what to do. And on top of that, the current administration has increased import tax on solar energy, which will continue to restrict a growing industry in the States. So instead of setting an example for the rest of the world, they're all moving on without us. Recently, the White House admitted that the global temperature will rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 but continues to offer no solutions or counter efforts and instead purges the EPA, silences experts, and hides information from all of us.

I don't agree with slashing national parks and protected land because I don't believe that somehow corporate greed won't move in on those lands and use them for their resources and property value. I can't even begin to wrap my head around the idea that reports are being hidden, federal employees are being silenced, and words are being banned to try to hide the truth about Climate Change and justify the these actions. I want my children and their children to have a world to see. I want them to fall in love with the landscape of our country and our world they way I have. I want them to see the beautiful mountains that I grew up looking at every day. I want to do my part to protect that, as God has called me to do.

REVEALING HEART THROUGH TREASURE

I prioritise Jesus' teachings over any one else's from the Bible, including Paul, and Jesus spoke more about money than anything else. While I haven't managed my personal funds perfectly all the time, I do believe it's my responsibility to use my time, talents, and treasure (money) to further his kingdom, as I was called to do in the Great Commission. I do not believe that a person's wealth is a reflection of their faith, but that "Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21) Take the story Jesus told in Mark 12:41-44:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

History has shown us that trickle down economics doesn't work and that's because humans are greedy. I don't believe that someone who makes $1,000,000 a year works 4,000% harder than someone who earns $25,000 a year and is therefore more deserving of a tax break. And I think it is unacceptable and despicable to trick someone into buying into a tax reform bill that will increase their take-home income up to 3% over 7 years and suddenly decrease it by 3.2% the following year and continue to do so. To me, that's not meaningful tax reform and that's what will actually happen to someone earning my most recent US salary. When 400 people now have more wealth than 204 million Americans combined (Forbes), I do not believe that the solution is to continue to pad their pockets, especially if the motivation is to keep the cash flow coming in via political donations, which quickly proven to be a victory for Republicans after the passing of their bill. Everyone is greedy to some extent, that's a part of us being imperfect and sinful. But these kind of economic policies are not supported by anything in the Bible, especially Jesus's teachings. In fact, I believe Jesus’s teachings more closely align with socialism.

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinions (but not their own facts!) and I 2016 exit polls show that I'm among the minority of American Christians. It's hard to argue with someone about religion and politics when both sides are citing the Bible to back up their beliefs since people interpret God's word differently. This is how I've chosen to interpret it based on my understanding of Jesus's teachings. Jesus taught us that the second greatest commandment is to love one another and I try to do so through my politics as well. I think it's been proven that people won't come to Christ by restricting their freedoms in the name of Christ and ultimately we all have our own sins to answer for. I try to live my life in a way that shows people who have been so hurt by religion and Christianity that what hurt them didn't come from Christ, though I fall admittedly short. I'm not without sin, so I cannot cast stones at others. And I've read enough about what it looks like to rule a country with religion and it never ends well, so I strongly support a separation of Church and State, the way our Founding Fathers intended our country to be run.

I’ll leave you with another quote that Union Theological Seminary tweeted earlier this year because I couldn’t have said it better myself:

The biblical message is clear: End economic exploitation of poor people, liberate captives, heal the sick, welcome strangers. It's why Amos decries leaders who "sell the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals." It's why Isaiah declares:

"The Lord enters into judgement
against the elders and leaders of his people:
'It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.'" (Isaiah 3:14)

It's why we find clear commands to treat citizens and non-citizens equally, why we're asked to cleanse all debt in Jubilee every seventh year, why God's gravest condemnation is generally reserved for tyrants who oppress the people they're meant to serve. It's why, in Jesus' first sermon, he says he's sent "to proclaim good news to the poor...freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." And, it's why Jesus was executed for opposing an empire that subjugated his people. … Christians should also be outraged by policy that violates Christ. It's a sin to deprive people of healthcare. It's a travesty to steal from poor people to line rich pockets. It's abominable to lock migrants in cages, to rip their babies from their arms. When Christians can't see this, it's because they haven't been taught the gospel.

God promises more radical salvation than a mansion in the sky. God talks of swords turned to ploughshares, spears to pruning hooks; God promises that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first; God dreams of a world in which all have enough—and all have a place. That's the other part of the Christian witness absent: We don't have to wait until we die to start building God's kingdom. We can pass policy that guarantees healthcare for everyone. We can ensure no one goes hungry. We can open our borders to all who need asylum. Because, if the gospel means anything, it calls us to work together to bring God's future just a little bit closer.