Saturday, April 25, 2015

Yeah, that's not what "respect" means

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There was one particular line from this article- When Kylie Jenner Challenged Sadie, Her Response Was BRUTALLY Honest- that stood out to me. Overall the article is kind of ... bizarre... using terms like "promiscuous clothing"... what on earth is "promiscuous clothing"... and telling us all about how Sadie Robertson is a good and godly role model for Christian girls- but doing this by totally mocking and shaming Kylie Jenner... in a very loving Christian way, I guess? Oh, actually nope.

Anyway, take a look at this one line:
Tyga [Kylie Jenner's boyfriend] obviously has no respect for Kylie or any woman judging by his acceptance of her provocative outfits.
Wait, stop right there, because that is not what "respect" means.

How on earth could it ever be the case that you show your respect for someone by refusing to accept the choices they've made for themselves?

How on earth could accepting someone be proof that you don't respect them?

You guys, I teach ESL, and if one of my students wrote this sentence, I would tell them it doesn't make sense because that's not what "respect" means. Perhaps what you mean is "he is not concerned with protecting Kylie" or "it doesn't matter to him how other people view Kylie" or even "he doesn't value Kylie".

This badly-written sentence reveals a deeper problem within modesty culture. Proponents claim it's about respecting women- but how on earth is it "respect" to tell someone "your clothing choices are wrong, you need to dress according to the rules I tell you"?

You could sell it as protecting women from men's lustful thoughts. (But are those really caused by women's clothing?) You could sell it as "other people will respect you more if you dress this way." (But shouldn't we also talk about how this is an indication of a deep problem within our culture?) You could sell it as "if you value and respect your body, you won't let people see you looking sexy." (But... wow, who died and made you the judge of what "value and respect your body" means?)

But the one way you CANNOT sell modesty culture is "I respect women, therefore I tell them what to do, and judge and condemn them for their clothing choices." The word "respect" cannot be twisted to mean that.

Libby Anne also wrote about this recently, even linking to a video where a bunch of teenage boys tell us, in much detail, how they judge women based on their clothing- the "modest" women are good and the "immodest" women are bad- and they don't respect women who are "immodest". And those boys probably thought themselves to be very good and godly for saying that.

You can't police women's clothing and claim that you respect women. I get that sometimes the modesty teachings can come from a place of love- a misguided desire to protect girls by not allowing them to love their bodies and make their own choices. Okay, sure- you want to protect girls? Then say that. Don't use the word "respect."

Modesty culture has tortured all the meaning out of the word "respect."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My mind is blown by how cool the Synoptic Problem is

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I read these two blog posts: How Editorial Fatigue Shows That Matthew and Luke Copied Mark and Did Luke Know and Use Matthew? The Parable of the Talents/Pounds as a Test Case (by Paul Davidson) and wow, YOU GUYS. This stuff is so cool. Makes SO MUCH sense. And is, of course, forbidden in church culture.

It's about the Synoptic Problem. What's the Synoptic Problem, you ask? Well, if you read the four gospels, you'll find that three of them- Matthew, Mark, and Luke- are incredibly similar. So similar that it's pretty undeniable that they were copying from each other, or possibly copying from another common source. The Synoptic Problem is the question of how this all happened- who copied who, and was there another source involved.

In my experience, people in church talk as if the bible was given to us directly by God, or maybe dictated by God (that's what "inspired" means, right?), or at least God oversaw the whole thing to make sure they wrote down the right stuff and didn't make any mistakes. The bible is seen as perfect, and is usually treated as if it has no source, as if it just appeared in front of us to tell us absolute statements of truth that are all totally right and good and applicable to our lives.

That's how evangelicals tend to talk about the bible and use the bible. But I think most of them know the bible didn't just fall out of heaven- they know it was written by people. If pressed, the average evangelical Christian would probably agree that Matthew, Mark, and Luke must have been copying from each other. You could probably even get them to admit that the writers wrote stuff down years after the events actually happened.

(Hmm, this difference between the way the bible is treated- as a set of completely perfect and wonderful statements directly from God, intended specifically for us- and the unavoidable facts of where the bible actually came from (which we totally don't talk about in church) could be a whole nother blog post. Hmm.)

All of this is to say, back when I was a Real True Christian, yes, I would have said it must be the case that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were copying each other. But of course, everything they wrote is still true- all the details in all the stories really happened- of course they wouldn't have changed the facts when they were copying. I mean, that would just be absurd. And of course there are no mistakes. (And try not to think too much about the parts where, really, the details are totally irreconcilable.)

Anyway let's get back to Davidson's two blog posts that I linked at the beginning of this post. He writes about the concept of "editorial fatigue" and how it can help give us insight into who was copying who. "Editorial fatigue" means that, for instance, as Matthew copied Mark, Matthew changed some details in Mark's account, but didn't catch all the places where those details came up, so the resulting story is a bit inconsistent. Finding examples of editorial fatigue can help show which was the original and which was the copy.

And I mean, just, whoa, stop the presses there. How many blasphemous concepts did you spot in the above paragraph?

(Though if you call it "blasphemy", that means you believe "my concept of the bible as a completely perfect and 100% true text given by God" is God. So.)

It's not "blasphemy" at all- it's just things you are totally not allowed to say in church. Here they are:
  1. Wait, Matthew CHANGED some parts of the story Mark wrote? As in, changed the FACTS and added details that were not actually true?
  2. Wait, you're saying Matthew made mistakes when he was writing the bible? He was too fatigued to pay attention to every little detail? But what about the Holy Spirit making sure everything got written down perfectly?
  3. Wait, now you're claiming that there is something wrong with some of the accounts that Matthew gives- that some stories don't exactly hold together well? Ohhhhhhhh my.
But wow, for me to read about this stuff... this is amazing. Because I know and love the bible, and it's great to see someone talking about it so HONESTLY and in ways that actually MAKE SENSE. I mean, go read those blog posts, there are a TON of really cool examples.

(Are his conclusions right? I don't know. I bet biblical scholars have a lot of competing theories about this. I don't know who's right, but this is a thousand times better than "yes to be a Christian you have to believe the bible is totally inerrant and for those of you with more logical minds we have prepared a series of apologetics books with all the correct answers you can memorize to help yourself believe the bible is inerrant.")

This is the kind of stuff we were always pointing out when I attended bible study groups in college. We read the passage, and then any and all questions were allowed. (But, you know, only certain answers were...) People would totally pick up on the little strange bits and inconsistencies and ask "why?" and we usually couldn't come up with a good answer. We just trusted that everything in the bible was true and accurate and perfect and good, even when we didn't understand how that could be.

I'm the kind of person who loves logic and details, but I've trained myself not to notice those things when I read the bible. (Or rather, when I notice them, no answer is allowed except "I know this passage is perfect and good, because duh it's in the bible, but I just don't understand how." And if, every time I find a problem, I have to make myself believe such an illogical answer to said problem, well, you can see why I learned to just not notice them.)

So, just, wow. I don't know what else to say. My mind is blown. Looking at the little details from the biblical accounts, trying to imagine how they came to be, pointing out differences between the different writers- this is so cool!

It's stuff like this (and also Peter Enns's book) that makes me want to start reading the bible again.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Blogaround

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1. 5 Insane Realities At My Fundamentalist Christian College (posted April 13) "They teach you to be scared of society. They teach you that every man is a potential rapist, but I really did believe that. If a guy at work touched my shoulder, I would feel like I needed to jump back."

2. book review: “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans (posted April 13) "You’re sad because you wish your faith were still that simple, that fresh and naive– and sad because you know that those moments of happiness came in the middle of suffering, and the pain made those brief moments of joy seem like ambrosia." Oh my goodness, yes. Yes. Yes.

3. learning to respect my body (posted April 17) "When you combine the “Christian” concept of “dying to self” and being “self-sacrificing” with the other “Christian” concept that we are all disgusting worms worthy of nothing better than eternal conscious torment it’s going to be seriously difficult to tell yourself “I deserve to respect my body’s needs” and have it sound at all convincing."

4. How Christians Turned Against Gay Conversion Therapy (posted April 15) "By the start of the American cultural revolution in the 1960s, many mental-health professionals, clergy, and politicians supported the idea that homosexuality was a mental-health disorder that could be cured through some combination of prayer and “therapy,” which included electroshock therapy, masturbatory reconditioning, and giving patients nausea-inducing drugs while forcing them to view homosexual erotica."

5. When Is It Okay to Say the R-Word? (posted April 14) "People with developmental disabilities have feelings, they can be hurt, and you need to just maybe get to know them."

6. Paedophiles still view churches as ‘soft touch’ (posted April 13) "The issue about forgiveness is a relevant point."

7. This video of Darth Vader and some Stormtroopers dancing to "Can't Touch This." You're welcome.

8. The wedding photos that captivated China (posted April 18) Cool!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Good For You" Meant Nothing, Because I Wasn't Pure For Me

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I want to expand on what I said in my previous post, Just Don't Call It "Waiting". In that post, I said that I respect whatever decisions people make about their own bodies/ sexuality/ love life, and I believe that you should have the freedom to look at all the options, weigh the benefits, risks, and consequences, and choose what fits your own situation. In particular, if you decide to be single and celibate, that's great! Good for you!

So, you may be wondering, back when I followed the purity teachings, if I heard that yes, you support people's decision to not have sex, would I have been happy to hear it? And no, the answer is no.

Because I needed more than "okay, good for you." I needed someone to tell me "yes, this is the right answer, and you are better than other people for doing this."

Because "that's your choice, good for you" only sounds like support if the reason you've chosen it in the first place is your own good. But that's not what purity culture is about. It's "God requires you to do this" and "you need to do this for your future husband."

I worked so hard to stay "pure"- to push away my feelings of attraction, to interrogate my motives for wanting to sit next to a cute guy, to pray and pray and pray about if my crush was the one that God had chosen for me.

I wasn't doing those things for myself. I did them for God. I did them for "my future husband." And when other people are the reason for what you're doing, you need other people's approval to know if it's worth it.

(Same deal with modesty. Working so hard to "protect the boys" and literally no way to know if it mattered or not. That's no way to live.)

Of course I also believed that living according to the purity rules would benefit me, protect me from heartbreak, etc. I knew all the logical reasons to support it, I could argue all day about why this was totally the right way and the only way- and yet, on some level it wasn't my choice. I learned, here's what God wants you to do, and here are the reasons to support it. Number one, boys are monsters. Number two, sex is dangerous. Number three, it will ruin your life. Etc. You can question, but you can't say "no I don't believe this." This is what God said. End of.

To sum up, "that's your choice, good for you" isn't good enough. Because, in some sense, it wasn't my choice, and I wasn't doing it because it would be "good for me."

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Here's an anecdote to demonstrate my point: A long time ago, I was on an internet forum, and I came across a post that asked, "I've never masturbated before- is that normal?" (Posted by a woman, if that matters.) And somebody had replied to say "It's fine, there's nothing wrong with you- some people just have a lower sex drive."

And I was like, "Hey! Don't insult my sex drive- I've never masturbated before and it's because God said, and I'm the only one doing the right thing." (And no, I didn't post that as a comment or anything, don't worry.) This commenter's attitude of "that's fine, if that's what works for you" made me angry because IT WAS NOT WORKING FOR ME.

(I mean, of course at the same time I told myself that everyone who's not obeying purity culture is secretly in agony. But man, I was jealous.)

(And totally found comfort in the "why do the wicked prosper" genre of psalms.)

And about that "don't insult my sex drive" bit: So... okay, some people are asexual, that's fine, it's not an insult. But what I want to know is, did anyone else have this experience, where you believed you had a super-high sex drive, despite having had no sexual experience whatsoever and only the vaguest idea of what sex even was?

I can hypothesize that there are two reasons for this: First,because purity culture teaches us that we can't let ourselves spend one minute alone with an attractive member of the opposite sex (did you know everyone is straight) or else we may spontaneously start having sex. In other words, if we just followed our desires, we'd all be having sex all the time. We'd probably forget to eat and sleep. (This is what people do on their honeymoons, yes?)

Second, I always had a desire to cross the lines, even though those lines were drawn super-strict, and I assumed this meant I had a desire for EVERYTHING. I wanted to sit next to a cute guy and talk to him, but this was not allowed because it would make me like him more- that's not "guarding my heart." There it is, a desire for the forbidden fruit. (ie having a conversation and listening to this guy's voice) Clearly a slippery slope into all kinds of evil. And because I always wanted more than what the rules said was allowed, I assumed that I really really wanted to have sex.

(And also, I figured "sexual compatibility" in marriage can be achieved by 2 virgins having a conversation before the wedding- "so how often do you want to have sex?" "how about all the time" "okay sounds good" I mean what else are you gonna say? All your life you've had a desire for something, something, something far more than what the rules would allow, and you assumed it was a desire for sex.)

What can I say? I'm so glad I'm not doing that anymore.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Just Don't Call It "Waiting"

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I have mixed feelings about this article at Christianity Today: When True Love Keeps Waiting. First of all, the writer, Amanda McCracken, has some much-needed criticism for the way the church treats singles. It's like the church has no idea what to do with single people in their 30s, 40s, and older. McCracken writes, "When I offered to share my story with the women’s ministry at church, leaders suggested I speak to high school or college students instead." Come on, church.

Also, she writes about people telling her to stop it and just have sex already. Okay, whoa, not okay. You have no business telling other people how to live their life- you don't know their situation and the reasons they've made the choices they've made.

Which is why I'm not going to judge her choices either. It's her own life, and I trust that she knows herself best.

But. I have some concerns about her reasoning and the language she uses, particularly the word "waiting."

Based on my own background in purity culture, here's what the word "waiting" means to me: We have no choice. God has picked out one specific partner for you, or maybe God didn't, because God has ordained that you should be single forever. We have no choice in any of this. Well, let me rephrase that: Yes, you could go ahead and date, even without getting the go-ahead from God Almighty. But that would be THE WRONG CHOICE and as a result, it will end badly. Maybe it will ruin your whole life, or maybe it will just be greatly inferior to whatever it was that God wanted you to do instead.

When you're "waiting" there is only one right answer. It doesn't matter what you want- God knows what you're SUPPOSED to be doing. God knows who you're supposed to be with, and if that person's not available at the present time, you must do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING romantic or sexual at all.

You have to "wait."

Your love life (or lack thereof) has already been planned for you. And if you haven't gotten to the part where God decrees that said love life will start, then you are to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING with your romantic/sexual desires. (Well maybe you can pray for your future husband, but that's it.)

That's what "wait" means, to me and to purity culture in general. I don't know if that's what McCracken means by it, but I am highly suspicious of the use of this word.

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Instead, of "waiting," I believe God wants us to live in freedom. Your body is yours, your sexuality is yours, your choices are yours.

Think about what kind of partner you want. (Or don't want. If you don't want to date, that's cool too!) Think about your standards. Think about the risks and benefits of dating/ having sex/ etc. Think about the likelihood of finding someone who meets your standards, and whether it's more important to you to have a relationship now or to only accept a potential partner who meets a higher standard.

There has to be a balance between all of these aspects, and each person's priorities/needs/desires/etc will be different. It's something you have to decide for yourself. Personally, I think people need experience and maturity to be able to make good decisions about it- it's generally not a good idea to have sex or get married when you're too young. (But, like I said, your life is yours, I'm not judging.)

You're in control of your own love life. Don't wait for anyone else to tell you what you're supposed to do. If you're single, it's not because you're "waiting", it's because you haven't found anyone you feel is worth pursuing at the present time. It's your choice.

(And of course, it goes without saying- you have to respect people. If someone clearly doesn't want to date you, don't keep pursuing them. Yeah, that happens, and it feels awful. I'm not saying finding love is easy; I'm saying you don't have to fear the unknown. I think I heard somewhere that perfect love drives out fear.)

Umm... no... because that's not what "cheating" means... Image source.

To me, this all sounds incredibly freeing. But back when I was in purity culture, it would have sounded terrifying. What, God's not going to give me a perfect marriage as a reward for my obedience? I have to make my own choices? I have to navigate the romance minefield myself? There are no guarantees? What if I screw up? What if I choose a guy who's okay but I could have done better? What if I could have been having sex this whole time and I've missed my chance?

Hey, it's okay. Calm down. The world is not as scary as they told you. Romance is not a minefield. Yeah, of course there is heartbreak. Sometimes it doesn't work out. There are sad parts. That's normal. (That's why I said you have to weigh the risks and benefits and make an informed decision.) But oh my goodness you guys, nothing is as bad as living terrified of making a mistake that ruins my life, repressing all my desires and still feeling guilty about them, praying for weeks about whether a particular guy is "the one", scared of how my own emotions could make me "impure" and permanently damaged. (Alternatively, breaking up is not nearly as bad as spending years and years in an unhealthy relationship.)

Don't be afraid. You're good, your body is good, your desires are good. There is no "right answer"- you are free.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blogaround

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1. 32 Pictures That Will Give You Intense Elementary School Flashbacks (posted April 7) Yes.

2. How Europeans evolved white skin (posted April 2) "But a new study shows that pale skin, as well as other traits such as tallness and the ability to digest milk as adults, arrived in most of the continent relatively recently."

3. Confession: I Sometimes Miss Being Fundamentalist (posted April 6) "I feel bad for her, too, because she is so gripped by a naïveté that I know created embarrassing situations for her."

4. Holy Saturday (posted April 4) "Seriously, just look around. Does it look like the meek are inheriting the earth?"

5. How fundies miss out on the fun (the Synoptic Problem is not that kind of ‘problem’) (posted April 7) "And that’s what it is for fundies — an embarrassing “problem” that needs to be fixed in order to salvage their theory of what the Bible should be."

6. 'Email In Real Life' Is Proof Positive That Emailing Is Pretty Weird (posted April 7) "Hi, I'm the administrator. I could not deliver this document. It was too big."

7. When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape (posted April 8) "I got married in part because I knew it would make things better with my parents, because they would no longer consider me a daughter in rebellion."

8. Everything The Police Said About Walter Scott’s Death Before A Video Showed What Really Happened (posted April 7) Oh God.

9. Bake for them two (posted April 1) "If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two. - Matthew 5:41"

10. Nation Hopeful There Will Be Equally Random Chance Of Justice For Future Victims Of Police Abuse (posted April 8) "I have a 17-year-old son who I worry about every day when he heads out into our neighborhood. But now I can take heart knowing that if, God forbid, he were ever in a situation like this, there would be a tiny fraction of a chance that every single element would fall into place and my family would receive the fair and just legal outcome we deserve."

11. Being White Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry (posted March 17) "One violent black man represents a movement, but a group of white men singing racism represent only themselves and later get to claim that they’re the real victims here."

12. “I love you, but...” doesn’t cut it (posted November 2014) "Why is it that saying “I love you no matter what” can get a person branded a moral relativist?"

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

God Loves You, But...

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God loves you.

Let me rephrase that:

God loves you, but...

That's what I was taught, and that's what I believed. God loves you, but...

God's love and God's obsessive legalism are at odds with each other. God loves us, but God is required to send us to hell. But, you know, since God loves us, God created a way out. Through Jesus.

If we believe in Jesus, we can be with God forever. Otherwise, God can't accept us.

God loves you, but God doesn't accept you.

God loves you, but God is going to send you to hell.

God loves you, but in your current state, you are too dirty to even be near God.

God loves you, but.

In this ideology, "love" means "The way you are is not okay. But I care about you so much that I want to help you change and become the kind of person I can accept."

God loves everyone, but God accepts no one. It is only through Jesus that our sins can be covered, that we can hide enough of our intrinsically dirty and unacceptable selves, and sneak in to being accepted by God.

Evangelical Christianity has always taught me very clearly: it's not about what you do. Salvation is not works-based (in fact, we are so on guard against the idea that salvation might be works-based that we distrust Christians who place any importance on doing good deeds).

It's not what you do, because we can never be good enough to earn God's love. All God sees is our disgusting sin.

It's not who you are, because there is no such thing as a "good person." (The bible is clear on that. Also the bible is clear that people are made in the image of God, but that never seems to be mentioned when discussing whether people are basically good or basically bad.)

No, the one thing God can accept is an attitude of repentance. The only way God can accept you is if you say, "yes, I am unacceptable, and I will do ANYTHING to change." (Though of course, the DOING part isn't important, it's the attitude. But of course, if your attitude is truly right, then you WILL go do the right stuff. Nope, nothing works-based here.)

The way God loves us is "hate the sin, love the sinner." God thinks "everything about you is wrong- but come to me and I will help you change."

Did I go too far? "Everything about you is wrong"- really, everything? Yes- if you believe in the "all non-Christians automatically go to hell" view of hell, then you believe it is right to throw away the whole person because of finite sins. If God thinks I deserve to go to hell, it means God sees nothing beautiful, nothing salvageable about who I am now.

God loves you, but.

God loves you, but God can't accept you. God loves you, but God believes everyone is supposed to go to hell.

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It was never a problem for me though- I never worried about God rejecting me or sending me to hell. Because I was saved. I had accepted Jesus into my heart or whatever. I was repentant.

And now I'm not repentant anymore, and that's the worst offense in the eyes of this God.

No, I will not change. No, I will not go back to believing your bullshit- about how "this is the correct Christian view on this topic, this is what God wants you to do, etc." I will not surrender myself to be made into a "good Christian" again.

If I had killed someone and then repented, I would be okay- I would go to heaven. God would accept me. But this, the way I am now, doing my best to care about people and search for truth, and ending up with a very different worldview than "the Christian worldview"... and, dear me, she doesn't even think she's done anything wrong- this is the greatest sin. This is what people go to hell for. This- being unrepentant- is the one thing that decides if God accepts you or not.

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My therapist said if I can truly accept myself and believe that God accepts me, then I won't be so worried and angry about whether or not other Christians accept me. And that's when I realized, I've never believed that God loves and accepts people.

God loves us, but God cannot accept us as we are. God's love means that God would like to lead us toward change. God's love means that even though God correctly views us as awful and worthless, God would like to help us change that.

Now I'm not willing to change anymore, so, you can see where that leaves me.

(And you wonder why I'm in therapy.)

God loves you unconditionally, but unless you meet these conditions, God can't actually do anything for you.

God loves you, but God hates what you're doing with your life. Hates your sinful lifestyle. Hate the sin, love the sinner.

God loves you, but because you believe the "wrong" religion, God can't accept you. Oh, you never had an opportunity to believe the "right" religion? Oh, you searched for the truth and studied hard and are honestly doing your best to follow God, but it's the wrong God? TOO BAD. Hell.

God loves you, but.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Blogaround

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1. Why Christians Should Not Host Their Own Passover Seders (posted 2014) "Because Jewish people do not believe this interpretation of their holy texts and given the atrocities committed by members of our own faith because of this difference in belief, it’s like adding salt to the wounds of history for a Christian family to take one of the most sacred Jewish celebrations and twist it to reflect our own beliefs."

2. 10 Situations Where Christian Bakers Should Refuse To Bake Wedding Cakes (posted March 30) "If one is a Christian and one is not (or say, if one is a real Christian but the other is a fake Christian like an Episcopal), you need to boldly say “no cake for you!” — and should probably throw in a solid “repent ye!” as well."

3. Nine-Year-Old Sluts and Masturbating Dinner Guests (posted March 30) "It is not normal for a dinner guest to go into your bathroom and masturbate. Period. Dinner guests come to spend time with the hosts and the other guests, not to masturbate in their bathrooms. Seriously, who does that?!"

4. Why Christians Should Kiss the Courtship Debate Goodbye (posted March 31) "I was afraid of messing up. I was afraid of divorce. I was afraid of taking my life into my own hands." Well a-freakin-men to this.

5. Should Mom-and-Pops That Forgo Gay Weddings Be Destroyed? (posted April 3) "But I also believe that the position I'll gladly serve any gay customers but I feel my faith compels me to refrain from catering a gay wedding is less hateful or intolerant than let's go burn that family's business to the ground."

6. Gethsemane: The Most Troubling Story in the Bible? (posted April 2) "The divine nature served, supposedly, as a kind of emotional backstop to keep Jesus from becoming too wimpy and weepy."

7. God’s Not Dead 2: American Revolution (EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK!) (posted April 5) "JOSH picks up his history textbook in one hand and his Bible in the other. He looks back and forth between the two as an AUDIO ADRENALINE song plays. Finally, Josh throws the history textbook through his dorm room window. It explodes on the lawn outside."

8. Loveless ethics and the enormous, mendacious, disembodied anus (posted March 31) "Yes, the giant, invisible anus demands that its followers be nice, courteous, helpful and charitable, and its dictates will therefore probably produce in them some simulacrum of those things, but this kind of system can never produce the genuine article. It can only provide a counterfeit."

9. Jewish A Capella Group Releases Passover Parody of ‘Uptown Funk’ (posted March 25) This is fantastic.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I Did Easter in English This Year



Last year I wrote about Easter at a Chinese church. This year I did Easter in English.

As my search for Christians who believe I’m a Christian has become more and more desperate, I found myself at an international church today. Everything was in English, and only foreign passport holders are allowed in.

Previously I’ve avoided English church services, because I did not fly 7000 miles all the way to China so I could sit around with other Americans and speak English. But like I said, more and more desperate.

And wait a minute, what do you mean this church is only for people from foreign countries? Yes, this is a thing in China. If you only let foreign people into your church, then the government will let your church operate with more freedom. There are also Chinese churches, but it seems that the government keeps a closer eye on those. Something like that.

But but but... how can you be a church if you explicitly exclude people? No Chinese citizens allowed? How can a church do that? I guess it’s not ideal but it’s one way that some churches have chosen to handle the church-state relationship in China. So, okay. I guess there’s a role for churches like that.

They had it printed in the bulletin- in accordance with government regulations, only foreign passport holders are allowed to attend. Also Taiwan and Hong Kong residents are allowed. And before the service started, an announcement was made about it too.

But no one was checking for passports or anything. And I have no idea how much this rule is enforced or how seriously people take it. I heard someone say that if you’re Chinese and your foreign friend brings you, it’s okay. So who knows.

So, the church service. First of all, wow, ridiculously diverse. This was THE MOST diverse church service I’ve ever been too- in terms of ethnicities and nationalities, that is. People from EVERYWHERE. But we all speak English and we all moved to China.

The first part was the worship music. It was contemporary style, exactly like you would find in a lot of American churches. The place was completely packed, and you could feel the energy. Everyone was excited. People sang loud, they cheered, they clapped, they waved their hands, they yelled “hallelujah” at random points during the songs.

As for me, wow, I hadn’t been to church in a long time. Hadn’t heard worship songs in a long time. Some of the songs I was really happy about- like when they said Christ is risen, Christ conquered death, all that stuff. I sing that, and I feel like I really am a Christian. But there were parts I couldn’t get on board with- like anything about Jesus paying for our sin, or that we need to come to Jesus to be saved and everyone else is screwed- because now I have a different interpretation for those things. And some parts about how Jesus gives us so much freedom and makes our lives better- yeah, not for me. I was the best Christian ever, and that’s why I’m in therapy now. (But for other Christians who say that God changed their life and made everything better, yeah I believe them. It happened to me too. That’s real. I still believe it’s real, because I’ve experienced it. But it doesn’t make any sense to me anymore.)

And the songs that said God loves us... I really really hope I can believe it.

Then there were some announcements, and they asked anyone visiting for the first time to stand up so we can welcome you. I didn’t stand up because nobody tells me what to do.

Because, church, I’m not going to fill out a welcome card and give you my name and personal information until I know whether you accept me or not. I will not divulge any information, except in carefully controlled experiments which can give me insight as to whether I can belong here, or whether I’m going to leave and never come back, and be emotionally healthy because I'm NOT at this church. Like I dodged a bullet.

Just like what purity culture said. We need to hide and hoard ourselves away from our boyfriends, because you can’t trust guys. Well that’s not what I do with my boyfriend- no, he loves me unconditionally. But it’s you, church, it’s you that’s hurt me, it’s you that I’m wary of giving my heart to.

And no I will not tell you my prayer requests either.

Then there was a prayer. The pastor prayed about a bunch of stuff. For the families of those who were killed in Kenya. Then for the people of Israel, that God would open their eyes and show them Jesus is the true messiah. I... the... what? I was totally on board with this prayer until this point.

Okay, yeah, that’s actually a totally normal thing for Christians to pray. God, help those people see that we’re right and they’re wrong. SUPER COMMON. I used to pray that all the time. But I don't agree with it anymore.

Next, the sermon. Pretty good, you know, about the resurrection and stuff. I am a huge fan of resurrection. Pretty standard sermon stuff, and I guess I was okay with most of it. Until the end, when the pastor (an American guy) asked us to make a commitment to Jesus, to stop living life with ourselves in control and surrender to God.

Okay now wait a minute. That's actually not possible. It's ACTUALLY NOT POSSIBLE to surrender everything to God.

Why? Because first you need to decide which version of God you believe in. And you need to decide what you interpret "surrender to God" to mean. Those decisions are your own and by definition cannot be surrendered to God. Or, you could just go along with what your pastor says you need to do in order to give your life to God. But you haven't "surrendered it all" to God- no, you're only surrendered to your pastor's interpretation of God.

So all this talk of "stop living your life on your own terms, and come to God" doesn't make any sense. I live my life on my own terms, and the God I believe in matches that. Maybe I just made up my own God for my own convenience. Maybe everyone does that. Maybe "good Christians" think there's something virtuous about believing in a God who doesn't really make sense, or who tells you to do something that seems like a really bad idea in practical terms. That's "faith", right? And "faith" is a good thing, right?

So those are my thoughts on today's church service. I really wanted to talk to someone at the church- I want to meet people, and I want to find out if someone there can love and accept me. I talked with some people and introduced myself and stuff, so that's a start.

I've been feeling lost and alone and looking for God's love, and I honestly don't expect to find it at church. So. 

Okay. Yeah. That's all. Happy Easter! 耶稣复活了! And death, where the hell is your sting?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

I Taught About Easter in China, Round 2

John 11:25. Image source.
I teach English to adults in China, and last year I wrote a post about the lesson I created to teach them about Easter. I was super-worried about it at that time- oh goodness, am I allowed to mention Christianity in class in China? Isn't China full of scary persecution? Am I going to get kicked out of the country?

Uh, no.

So, whatever. I taught them about the religious parts of Easter and Christmas, and nothing bad happened. It's fine.

Like seriously, no one cared. I mean, of course the students cared because they want to learn interesting things about American culture, but that's all.

I've done a bunch of classes on Easter during the past week or two. Basically I started out asking them "what do you know about Easter?" and I always get a few who are just totally lost until they look it up on their phone and find out it means 复活节 [fù huó jié], and there are always some students who say they know about Easter eggs but that's it, and occasionally, when I'm lucky, one of the students knows that it's about "when the Jesus was new life."

Then I gave them a handout I made with a bunch of Easter traditions- both religious and nonreligious- covering everything from the Easter Bunny to Lent to Easter egg hunts to Good Friday services. And let them read it and look up all the complicated religious vocabulary on their phone dictionary apps (I actually just copy/pasted from the internet, and then simplified the language a lot, still a lot of hard words for them though), and then we discuss the different traditions. And supplement it with Bing image search when they ask me what deviled eggs are.

I think it's a fun class. I really like talking about Easter. Easter is just the coolest thing ever, you guys. AND CAN I JUST SAY, it's nice how the vast majority of my students are not Christians, so they're not going to tell me I'm not a real Christian.

A few fun bits:

So we were talking about Good Friday, and I said it's a sad day because Jesus died. So the students asked me, then why do you call it "Good" Friday? Ah. Indeed. That is a good question. I guess I've never really thought about it. I told them, maybe because for Christians, Jesus' death is really meaningful and important.

Another time, we were talking about the specifics of the story of the resurrection, and the question came up about who saw Jesus first. One of the students- who I think had visited churches in the US before- said it was some women, and then Peter. I said actually in the bible, there are four stories about Jesus, and they have some differences in that part. Then one guy was like "Which one is right?" and yep, if more people were asking that question, I would be a lot happier with the state of Christianity. But no, I didn't say that out loud.

Then they asked me what's the difference between Good Friday and Black Friday. Fun times.

Happy Easter everyone! 复活节快乐!
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