Friday, November 21, 2014

This is what happens when you become an English teacher instead of an engineer

Image source.

Sitting in the teachers' office one day...

my colleague: "Hey guys, one of the students sent me a text message- do you know what this means? She asked what the difference is between 'VI' and 'VT' and how do we know when to use them."

me: "'VI' and 'VT' ... oh! Initial velocity, and velocity at a point in time t. Is this a physics problem?"

colleague: "no."

another colleague: "Maybe the 'V' is verbs?"

me: "Oh yeah, isn't there something like... transitive verbs? And... 'VI'..."

colleague: "Oh, transitive and intransitive. Got it."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Are we better off if God controls people?

Then the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet. He spoke to me and said: “Go, shut yourself inside your house. And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people. But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Whoever will listen let them listen, and whoever will refuse let them refuse; for they are a rebellious people.

Ezekiel 3:24-27 

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So it sounds like God’s going to control Ezekiel. I have a lot of thoughts about that. Brace yourselves.

Obligatory. Image source.
A long time ago, when I loved God so much and constantly thought about God and prayed all the time and did everything I could to follow and obey God, sometimes I wanted God to control me.

Why? Well, because I thought there was some specific “plan”, some one thing I was supposed to be doing, and if I was just connected to God enough, I would be able to know very clearly what it was. But, you know, it’s hard to hear God and know if I’m understanding God correctly. Sometimes I prayed and God didn’t seem to be saying anything- which clearly meant I needed to pray more. If I don’t know the one specific thing that God has planned for me to do, the problem is somewhere on my end. Really really committed Christians hear God all the time.

So, I don’t know what I’m “supposed” to do. But if God could possess me, control me, then God could just do it and we wouldn’t have to deal with any communication issues or my own weaknesses and mistakes.

That’s what I wanted.

(And by the way, the two areas where I felt I was incompetent on my own and really really needed God to control me were evangelism and dating. If I just knew the one perfect thing to say at the right time to the right person, it would convince them to become a Christian. And if only I could just control myself and force myself to have zero romantic feelings or experiences until God gave the signal and I could start dating the one perfect guy destined for me... otherwise my heart would be permanently damaged.)

I don’t believe that any more. I don’t think there’s one specific plan that each person is supposed to be doing. I don’t believe God wants God’s followers to be cogs in a machine- a machine which would run much more smoothly if the cogs would quit thinking for themselves. I don’t believe that the kingdom of God is compatible with individual people losing their freedom.

I believe we all have choices and skills and creativity, and there are a lot of directions we could go with it, and a lot of them are very good. And the freedom to make those choices is a core component of the world as God intended it to be.

Image source.

There have been times when I did feel like God was controlling me. It was always in situations where I was telling people about Christianity, which, you know, was THE MOST IMPORTANT thing for me back then, because I thought that the one thing people need more than anything else is to believe the correct information about God.

My Christian friends and I prayed and prayed for “opportunities to share the gospel.” Those conversations were the most important things we did. And sometimes, I really did feel like God was controlling me. I said stuff, and then afterward I would think, “What exactly did I say? What was I thinking at the time? Where did that come from?” and it felt like it wasn’t me that said it, but God.

You know how sometimes you’re really nervous about something, and then you can’t think clearly, and you just say stuff and you don’t know what you’re saying? It was like that.

I no longer think it was “God speaking through me.” Because it doesn’t make any sense. Did God really agree with me that those conversations/monologues were so ridiculously important? Did God “give me words to say” that I don’t even agree with anymore?

Related to this is the idea that putting less thought into something means that it’s coming from God instead of me and is therefore better. I remember back in college, I used to have several non-Christian friends that I would meet up with to read the bible together. One week, I was meeting with this one friend, and I didn’t have time to plan the bible study first- I just picked a passage and we read it. And the bible study went really well! My friend said it was actually really meaningful for her. Great! And I concluded that since I hadn’t put in the work to prepare, the only explanation was that the Spirit of God was doing that work.

A lot of Christians have this idea that giving a good sermon or leading a bible study has two parts: first, doing the work to plan it, and second, God helping you, perhaps by giving you ideas or helping the listeners understand. There has to be a balance. You gotta put in the work, but you also gotta pray a lot and be open to God telling you to change your ideas. But on some rare occasions, God decides to step in and do something huge- then it’s all God and the stuff you planned (or didn’t plan) doesn’t end up happening at all.

Then you have some Christians that distort this and decide that if they don’t plan at all and just say whatever pops into their head, they’re being “led by the Spirit.”

Right.

And let's talk about another idea floating around in Christianity- that if you do something which doesn’t make much sense and you didn’t really think through, but you believe “God wants me to do it” then it’s a good thing.

I remember one example when a blogger wrote a post that made a lot of people angry. Her response to the criticism she received was something along the lines of “This is what God told me to write” and “I’m being persecuted.”

And it’s not okay, because some things in her blog post were actually really hurtful and harmful. But I really can sympathize with the idea that “This is what God told me to do.” It’s hard to know how to argue with that, because it’s a theme that shows up SO MUCH in the bible. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Doesn’t make sense, but Abraham obeyed and was totally about to do it before God stepped in to say “okay you passed the test.” And Christians read that and say wow isn’t Abraham such a great strong example of faith and obedience to God?

God told Gideon to send the majority of his army home. It didn’t make sense, but Gideon obeyed. Wow isn’t that great?

God told the Israelites to just get enough manna for one day, each day, except before the Sabbath they can get two days’ worth. Didn’t make sense, but people who disobeyed got in trouble.

God told Joshua to march the Israelites around Jericho instead of attacking it. Didn’t make sense, but they did it. Awesome, huh?

Joseph had a dream that said to get up now and take Mary and Baby Jesus to Egypt. So he did.

And did you read the story about the prophet who took the wrong way home so God sent a lion to kill him?

All throughout the bible, we have examples of weird commands from God, and characters who obeyed, whom we Christians hold up as role models. Look at their faith! Look at their obedience! (And at the same time, we believe God was right to kill people in the bible who disobeyed some little command. The idea that God did something wrong is unthinkable, so we blame the victim.)

And given this belief, how can Christians criticize someone who wrote some harmful words on the internet because “God told me to”?

Even if she agrees. Even if she said, yeah I get what you’re saying, I understand why what I wrote was hurtful. Even so, God’s ways are not our ways, yes? This is what God told her to write. And that’s all there is to it.

It’s hard to even know what to say that’s not going to be interpreted as “persecution.” And really, I get that. I’ve said and done things that I wasn’t sure about but I believed God wanted me to. That’s what faith is, right?

Ohhhhhh dear. I have some opinions about this. Because sometimes "God" actually means "my interpretation of God." Image source.
This post has been all over the place, so I’ll just end with discussion questions:

When the bible seems to be talking about God controlling someone (as in Ezekiel 3) or “giving them what to say” (as in Matthew 10), what does that actually mean? And are we okay with that? (Being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be okay with that!)

What are we supposed to do with those stories in the bible about people who obeyed God when God said to do something that didn’t make sense?

Does God actually step in and lead bible studies way off topic?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

They have to lie. It's love.

Image source.

[content note: discussion of anti-abortion tactics]

I highly recommend watching this short documentary about crisis pregnancy centers and how they lie: The Fake Abortion Clinics of America.

The theme running through the whole thing is deception. The video shows pro-life advocates encouraging the idea of marketing crisis pregnancy centers as if they are abortion clinics, just to get pregnant women to come. We see a woman make a call to a crisis pregnancy center to ask how much an abortion would cost, and she is told "we don't discuss pricing over the phone" and that she would need to make an appointment and come to the center. Apparently many women come in for their appointments having no idea that it's actually NOT an abortion clinic.

Some crisis pregnancy centers are located right next to abortion clinics, so patients who have appointments at the abortion clinic end up going into the crisis pregnancy center instead, thinking it's part of the abortion clinic. And nobody tells them their mistake.

The video shows that appointments at the crisis pregnancy center are full of scare tactics and discredited statistics about the health risks of abortion. Basically the whole thing is lies, intended to make it harder to women to access abortion, and scare them out of it.

(For pregnant people who want support and don't want to have an abortion, crisis pregnancy centers are a good thing. My concern is about the lying part though.)

The thing is, from a pro-life perspective, they have to lie.

I'm defining "pro-life" as the belief that an embryo or fetus is a full human being with all the rights that any person should have, and therefore abortion is murder and must be stopped. Within the pro-life movement, there is some variation in opinions about whether it's okay to make exceptions (like having an abortion because of health issues or because the pregnancy is the result of rape) but the important thing is that pro-life people believe the vast majority of abortions are murder. The vast majority of abortions are evil. They are absolutely the wrong choice.

The important thing, according to the pro-life view, is to save the baby. It's a matter of life and death. It's a battle. And one of the enemy forces in this battle is the pregnant woman herself.

That's why they have to lie.

Lying to someone means that you don't trust that they're a reasonable person that you can have a reasonable and honest discussion with. And that's exactly what the pro-life side believes. These women who want abortions are WRONG. Pro-life centers are not about giving people all their options and helping them decide the best choice for their situation; no, they already know the best choice. They already know abortion is always the wrong answer.

And if you're trying to save a life, lying to an enemy can absolutely be an ethical choice. If you're hiding Jews in the attic and the Nazis come to your door, are you going to lie? Yes. (And apparently it's impossible to discuss pro-life arguments without making analogies to the Holocaust. Or slavery. Ai ya.)

My point is, from the pro-life perspective, it has to be this way. It's a battle against people who can't be trusted to be reasonable (and by "be reasonable" I mean "see the blatantly obvious truth that abortion is murder and is clearly the wrong choice"). Crisis pregnancy centers can't actually care about the pregnant person when the life of the "baby" is at stake- or rather, their understanding of "care" means forcing someone into what we already know is the only right choice. The only right choice for all pregnant people. It's for their own good, really, even if they disagree.

So they have to lie.

Image source.
All right, let's talk about evangelical Christianity now. Because sometimes they have to lie too.

People's souls are in danger! People are going to hell! It's a battle for people's souls but we can't necessarily tell them that directly. You have to wait for just the right situation. You have to create some kind of big event and throw a "gospel presentation" onto the end. You have to befriend non-Christians and truly take an interest in their lives so hopefully they will eventually believe you when you tell them about God.

(And I know that evangelical Christians do this out of a genuine desire to help and love people. I know I did. They believe hell is real and, though they don't disagree with God's right to send people there in the first place, they desperately don't want it to happen. They really want to love people, but unfortunately this combination of beliefs makes it impossible.)

Basically, we know what people need better than they know themselves. We know the right answer already. Let's do our best to get them to change their minds, and present it as "having a discussion."

This is not love. "You're wrong, and I need to stop you because you can't be trusted to make decisions" is not love. (And before you leave me a comment about interventions and "tough love" for alcoholics or something- is that really how you view the majority of the world's population [if we're talking about evangelism]/ 1 in 3 American women [if we're talking about abortion]? Is your life verse "God, I thank you that I am not like other people"?)

It's not love.

And in the bible I read, Jesus said to love.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blogaround

Presidents Obama and Xi. More images here and here.

1. Quiz: Match the Obscure Character to the Disney Movie Pt. 1 (posted November 8) 15 out of 15. I am the master of obscure Disney trivia.

2. What is China's Singles' Day? (posted November 11) Yep. I've been seeing ads everywhere for Singles' Day sales.

3. Flashback Friday: You’ve Never Seen “Circle of Life” Performed Like This (posted September 26) The cast of the "Lion King" musical sings on a plane and it's fantastic.

4. ‘God hates shrimp’: Picking and choosing among abominations (posted November 10) "Whatever bits we like are deemed unchangeable moral laws while the bits we don’t like are deemed 'ceremonial' irrelevancies. Rules about my money and my property become optional. Rules about your genitals and your sexuality do not."

5. I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong. (posted November 6) "8. If you must wear a T-shirt to an outdoor play event or on a public street, it should have the name of a respected and recognizable school emblazoned on its front."

6. Amnesty International: Ferguson police committed human rights abuses during Michael Brown protests (posted October 24) "According to international standards, the report said, use of force should be proportionate to the threat encountered, meaning it is only justified to kill when the objective is to save life."

7. Where I’m actually coming from as a progressive evangelical (posted October 21) "Basically, I’ve grown wary of any theology which produces a white suburban megachurch as its grand vision of the kingdom of God. Paranoia and hysteria about the wickedness of 'the world' becomes an excellent self-justification for middle-upper class white people to circle the wagons and create a gated community where they can 'focus on the family.'"

8. This post from Dianna Anderson's "Ask Away Wednesday." (posted November 12) "The condition is psychosomatic, largely created by fear of trauma - in other words, purity culture was so insidious in these women’s lives that it made it nearly impossible for them to have sex without intensive therapy."

9. And this just cracks me up because it looks like Whoopi Goldberg is taking a mission-trip photo in a community of impoverished ballerinas:

Image source.

10. How to find the time and motivation to read more Chinese (posted November 14) I need to do more of this.

11. When cis-het men play God: evangelical transphobia and the idolatry of gender (posted October 16) "Non-transgender people who try to explain transgender identity are playing God, plain and simple."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Achan's Sin (part 3)



Read part 1 and part 2.

When your grandfather was just a child, 10 years old, he fled Jerusalem with his family.

On that day, he woke up to the sound of his parents' loud and frantic voices. Talking about danger and running and "what should we do" and "what do we tell the kids."

"Oh honey," his mother said when she saw he was awake. "We have to leave."

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Joshua brought the people of Israel before him. He drew lots, and the tribe of Judah was chosen.

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"First, we'll go up to Shiloh," your great-grandmother said. "I have cousins there. ... Kids, I'm sorry... get a bag together. We are leaving this morning."

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Joshua drew lots for the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was chosen.

He drew lots for the families of the Zerahites, and Zabdi was chosen.

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Your grandfather did as he was told, though he couldn't understand why. Apparently there was a terrible army out there, coming to kill everyone in Canaan. How? Why? And this army had a God... a God of violence, of greed, a God who would use power to take whatever he could get.

Doesn't anybody care? Doesn't anybody see? Is there a god that would protect the poor, the widows and orphans, the outcasts who fled from their homes?

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Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.

"God sees everything," Joshua said, in front of the crowd. "Now tell us, Achan, what have you done?"

His mind raced, but he did not open his mouth. He was silent, like a lamb being led to slaughter.

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"Our neighbors are coming with us," said your great-grandfather. "Can you go with them to get the horses?"

------------

Everything had been sent already, thought Achan. There was no evidence. Oh. Everything except that robe, and some gold and silver that was still in his tent.

He had to do it, he had to take the fall so no one else would get caught. He would carry the sins of all his followers. He alone would bear the wrath of God.

"I have sinned against the Lord," Achan said, his voice shaking. "At the battle of Jericho, I saw a beautiful robe, and some gold and silver, and in my heart I coveted them, and I took them. They are hidden in my tent now."

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Your grandfather and his family packed all that they could carry. He held back tears as he said goodbye to the only home he had ever known.

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There were taunts from the crowd as they pushed Achan, Sarah, their children, and all their belongings outside the camp. Yes, their children too. There is no justice, only God's wrath.

It was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer.

The Israelites picked up stones and threw them with great force, motivated by their devotion to God. They considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

Achan fell to the ground and whispered, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Children, it is because of Achan that your ancestors got out of Jerusalem safely.

The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.

And by his wounds, we are healed.

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Bible fanfiction based on Joshua 6-7

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Achan's Sin (part 2)

Image source.


Read part 1 here.

"I'm so nervous. I can't do this today."

"Honey, you have to go. You can do some good."

"I can't though," Achan sighed and stared at his sword and armor. "In Ai, we actually are going to kill everyone. There's no loophole this time. No excuse. I can't... Children, women- even the men there are just fighting to protect their families. Nobody in Ai deserves to die."

His wife Sarah reminded him, "Remember what you said to the other soldiers last night? You guys have a plan. You have to go and get as much plunder as possible. We need it, remember?" She was always so practical, but he wondered if she could really understand how it felt to be on the battlefield.

She continued, "And a bunch of people have left Ai already. You've done a good job." It was true. Achan and 12 other soldiers had organized groups of people to go warn the other cities and provide them with some supplies to help evacuate people. Achan hadn't gone with them, but from what he heard, it was a tough sell. How do you get people to leave their homes- forever- and just because there's a God who wants them gone? A God so powerful and so unreasonable. He can't be stopped. It's not fair; no, this is not a God of justice.

It's not fair, but the Canaanites either had to flee from their cities, or stay and be massacred. And Achan, Sarah, and their followers were doing everything possible to help them flee.

"I'll be here with some of the other wives and servants," she continued. "We'll get everything packed up today. As soon as you get back with the plunder, we can send groups to warn Gibeon and Jerusalem."

Her confidence inspired him. He finished putting on his armor and went out the door to take his stand against God.

------------------

The Israelite army arrived at the gates of Ai, and the battle began. Achan held back and told himself not to cry. He saw the swords flying and the way the soldiers yelled, but all he could think about was the fathers protecting their children. Those soldiers of Ai didn't look so fierce and dangerous. They were just acting out of love for their families. Wouldn't any of the Israelite men do the exact same thing? How is it that God is on our side and not theirs?

Okay, get in, try not to be noticed, grab anything valuable, Achan thought to himself. Should I move closer to the center of the fighting, so I can actually get in to the city? Ah, no rush. Not yet.

But instead of the Israelite army pushing into the city, they were being pushed back. What was happening? The noise from Ai's army grew even louder, and suddenly Achan saw people running. Oh my goodness, Ai actually knows how to fight! Achan was shocked, and as he retreated along with the rest of Israel's army, he wondered what in the world happened. They were supposed to always win. They had God on their side.

Could God be stopped after all?

Wow, maybe there was a chance to stop this whole genocide mission. He'd have to see what the other soldiers thought about it. Achan's mind raced. Maybe Ai's god was slow to anger and abounding in love, and powerful.

-----------------

"Achan! You're back so early! You did go to the battle, right? Why aren't you carrying any plunder?" Sarah said as he arrived at their tent.

"We lost."

"You... oh! Really? How? God is on Joshua's side. ... Really?"

"We have to rethink the whole plan. Before, I was assuming that God was unstoppable. I saw what happened with the walls at Jericho. But...maybe we shouldn't be telling people to evacuate after all."

Later that night, he gathered the other soldiers together to figure out what to do.

"Looks like God's not really all-powerful," Achan addressed the group. "I want to thank you all for the work you've been doing against God. Maybe there is some way to end the invasion."

One of the soldiers spoke up, "There's a rumor going around that Joshua thinks God abandoned our army because of some sin. They're going to start investigating. We have to hide what we're doing. I say we get the supplies we have sent out tonight."

"But if we do send groups to the next two cities, what will we tell them?" another man asked. "Before, we were giving this very serious warning: You need to evacuate. But now, well, what should they do?"

In the end, they came to the decision to send people with the same urgent warning to evacuate. Later, when the situation became more clear, maybe they would change the message.

There was hope now, thought Achan. Maybe God could be stopped.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Achan's Sin (part 1)

Image source.


He burst through the door with Joshua's words ringing in his ears: "Kill everything that breathes." Here he was, on a mission from God, in hostile territory. The excitement ran through his entire body as he scanned the room for signs of life.

Aha! What was this blanket in the corner? Yeah, good hiding. Ha. He tore the blanket away and drew his sword. But...

But...

Time seemed to stop, as a little boy looked up at this fierce soldier. Hadn't Joshua said these people were all horrible God-hating violent freaks? Then how was it that this child's big, tearful eyes looked just like his own son's?

Achan stepped back and lowered his sword. Had it all been a lie? What the hell was he even doing here?

"Please, sir..." said a soft voice from behind him. He turned to see a skinny woman in a long dress. She was holding a baby, while another small child hid behind her legs.

Ohhhhh this is wrong. This is so wrong.

But what could he do? He remembered the words, "Kill everything that breathes." Unless...

"Do you know Rahab?" Achan asked the woman. Her expression was a mix of desperation and confusion. She started to say something, but just then the door opened and another soldier came in.

"Wait!" cried Achan as he blocked the man with his shoulder. "These are friends of Rahab's. I have to take them to the south wall with the rest of them."

He turned back to the woman and said, "Come with me. There is one safe place in the city."

Out they went, through the chaos and fighting in the streets. Again and again, Achan explained to the other soldiers, "they're Rahab's family."

His friend Reuben came alongside Achan. "Actually, I found several of Rahab's ... er, long-lost relatives too..."

"Man, what are we doing here?" said Achan. "I didn't know we would be killing children. Well... I guess I did know, but..."

He knocked on Rahab's door and it opened immediately. "Come in come in come in," said shouted, as she grabbed one of the children. As soon as the family had gotten inside what appeared to be a packed room, the door slammed shut again.

"Okay here's what we do," Achan began. "Find out who else hates this mission. Get the women and children and hide them all in Rahab's apartment. And grab anything of value you see- these families are gonna need all the help they can get."

"Wow," answered Reuben. "Wow. You're right, you're so right. I just had no idea I'd turn into a rebel today."

---------------------

That night, 12 soldiers gathered in Achan's tent. Nervously, Achan stood up to speak.

"We've been sold a lie," he told them. "We all thought we were fighting for a God who was slow to anger and abounding in love. ...And then today... I... I almost killed a child."

Some of the soldiers stared at the floor.

"Anyway, Joshua's got this plan to sweep through the whole land and destroy all the cities. Kill everyone. Next time, there won't be a 'Rahab's house.' What are our options? We can try to stop Joshua from making the attacks. We can warn the inhabitants of the other cities. Any other ideas?"

An older man spoke up, "To be honest, I don't see any good coming from talking to Joshua about this. He's so wrapped up in this religious stuff, about 'God's plan' and how we have a right to this land. He's past the point of being reasoned with.

"And... God is powerful. You saw what happened today. God made the walls fall down. It isn't just Joshua who's hell-bent on genocide. I don't know if we even have a chance."

Achan felt the weight of what he was trying to do. I'm fighting against God, he thought. A God who had, just hours before, murdered countless children.

How could this be happening? How could he fight against God? Well... God had lost all credibility today.

Another man gave his opinion: "I talked with Rahab today, after the battle. She says some of the survivors have family in the nearby towns. Let's send them there- they'll be better off and they can warn the other towns too."

They continued to discuss, and settled on a plan. Soldiers would lead groups of the survivors to the nearby cities and reunite them with family. They'd use the plunder they had snuck out of Jericho to help them start new lives- new lives as refugees, actually, since those cities weren't safe either. It wasn't enough money, but it was a start. They would also meet with the leaders of those nearby cities and try to convince them to evacuate. Yeah, it wasn't fair, it wasn't right, that these people would have to flee their homes. But Joshua's God was unreasonable and unstoppable.

------------------

Achan lay in bed and remembered what the spies reported when they first met Rahab. "She says all the residents of the city are melting in fear because of our God!" Yeah. Now he understood. Rahab had bailed on Jericho to save her own skin and her own family. Because Israel's God was stronger. Not because Israel's God was better.

And could he really blame her? At least she had used her special-exception status to save a bunch of children that day.

I wonder what Jericho's god was like, thought Achan. Maybe he was slow to anger and abounding in love.

To be continued...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Blogaround

Image source.

1. RIP Brittany Maynard (posted November 3) And can I just say, I cannot believe the way some people on the internet have been criticizing her. She was dying. Leave her alone.

2. 7 Signs that Jesus Reveals Himself Most Clearly to the Oppressed (posted November 3) "1. Jesus turned water into wine (in front of the servants)"

3. Asexuality in Christianity: Both Ideal and Reviled (posted October 31) "Stopping lust is translated as stopping all sexual desire – so not having sexual desire is the highest of all states a purity movement person can reach. This makes asexuality the unspoken ideal." Amen.

4. What Kirk Cameron Doesn’t Know about Jessa Duggar and Ben Seewald (posted November 6) "And somehow, if a couple is not having premarital sex that de facto means that their relationship is healthy and good. Do they work well together? Do they communicate well? Do they care about each other's needs? None of this matters. What matters is whether they are having sex."

5. Dr. David Gushee: “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities” (posted November 8) "So this is the point of my comparison—I am comparing two different unchristlike bodies of Christian teaching tradition, one of which has been discredited and abandoned, the other of which needs to be and is in the process of being discredited and abandoned. We must celebrate the progress being made in repudiating the teaching of contempt against that 1/20th of the human family who are LGBT. And we must finish the job as soon as we can."

6. And this patient dog:

Image source.

Friday, November 7, 2014

My Christianity is ... Unrecognizable

Image source.


So had this weird experience today.

I was hanging out with my boyfriend and some of his relatives, people I don’t really know at all. And we were talking about a lot of things (all of this is in Chinese, by the way) and we talked about religion. So, I’m a Christian, and one other girl there was a Christian, and my boyfriend (not a Christian) started talking about how there are a lot of different denominations and different beliefs within Christianity. So far so good.

Then the other girl was talking about what Christianity is. How the biggest difference between Christianity and other religions is that Christians believe we can’t earn God’s love. We’re all sinners, and God loves us, and we need him to help us, and only then can we really learn to love others. And it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship, and I’m really glad this was all in Chinese because if I had to listen to all those Christianese clichés in English, I just might have died of boredom.

(They’re not clichés for her though. I get that. Also she grew up in the US, if you’re wondering why it sounds uncannily similar to American evangelical Christianity.)

And then I said yeah, actually different Christians would emphasize different parts, like is the important thing about going to heaven, or about loving others, etc. Like, what exactly is the goal of being a Christian. So she asked me what I think the goal is. I said, you know, the world has a lot of problems, a lot of bad things that happen, and in the future God will make the world better, the way it should be. So now we should try to help God make the world better. Help people, love people, etc.

Yeah. That’s all I said. Somehow I didn’t mention that God loves everyone. Oops. What was up with that?

But I thought, you know, it’s okay if I didn’t explain it very well. For the “unsaved” who were listening, my goal isn’t to change their minds, like when I used to “share the gospel.” If I didn’t say it well, if people don’t believe me, whatever. God still loves them. God will still come and bring resurrection to the whole world, and that’s good news. It’s still good news for them even if they don’t believe.

No worries.

But... I started to wonder what my boyfriend’s cousin (who had just given the “good Christian” perspective that I used to believe) would think. My version of “the gospel” probably sounded so weak. Just making the world better?

That’s not Christianity.

Or rather, anyone who adheres to the “good Christian” view I used to hold would very confidently say, “That’s not Christianity.”

But it is, man, it is. I believe God will make the world better because God already raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a sign that someday, the whole world will experience resurrection, and there will be no more crying or pain, and there will be justice, and I mean JUSTICE like real JUSTICE, not the “everyone goes to hell” perversion of justice that you were taught in Sunday school.

You guys. God loves you. And death does not win in the end. And that’s good news. If you don’t believe it, that’s fine with me. God still loves you. And the loving thing for me to do is respect other people’s beliefs. So no worries.

But I can’t help but think that my version of Christianity is unrecognizable. Most Christians would say that’s not what Christianity is, right? And... meeting my boyfriend’s cousin and finding out she’s a Christian too, on the one hand it’s great because I don’t have many Christian friends in China, but on the other hand, is she going to judge me and decide I’m “not a real Christian”?

What if we’re both Christians but we have nothing in common?

I really have changed to a different religion. Though it’s Christianity, to many people it’s unrecognizable as such. And I wonder, if I tell people I’m a Christian, do I have to add some explanation “but actually not the kind of Christian that you would think when you hear someone say they’re a Christian,” like I should warn people that I’m fake so that they won’t accidentally assume we have so much in common.

Like the random old woman at church, whom I had known for about one minute when she started telling me (in Chinese) about how her daughter-in-law’s not a Christian, and she’s all worried about her, etc. All right, I guess it’s not okay to let this person know my boyfriend’s not a Christian.

I don’t know if I can find a church that will accept me. I don’t know if I can find other Christians who can accept me. I’ve found them online, in the land of blogs, but will I ever meet any in the real world?

Here’s an even bigger question: Will I ever meet them in China?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"Is My Dream From God?" is the Wrong Question

Image source.

A recent article from Relevant tells us 3 Ways to Know Your Ambition is From God. The writer, Jonathan Malm, has some useful advice about dreams in general, but I'd like to question the idea of having dreams "from God" in the first place. What exactly does that mean?

The article never exactly defines what a "God-given dream" is or how/why exactly God "gives" dreams, but let's take a look and see if we can piece it together:
No, I don't think God placed those dreams in my heart. But I do believe there was a thin line connecting each of those silly professions that spoke to the real dream God had for me. He had put certain drives and dispositions inside me that would ultimately lead to the plans He had for me. 
So it's assumed that God "has plans" for God's followers, and Malm says that God then gives us dreams that lead us in the direction of those plans.

I was thinking along these lines a few years ago, after I visited China for the first time and started to have wild ideas about moving there. (Or rather, here. I'm in China now and it's great.) Before, I thought that when God "calls" someone to move to a different country, it would just be this random thing that pops up out of nowhere and that you don't want to obey, and it would be a huge sacrifice. But instead, I really really wanted to go to China, and I was praying and begging God to let me out of "the plans God had for me" and send me to China instead.

However, after a while, I came to a point where I believed what Malm seems to be saying in this article- that God gives us desires and dreams to point us in the direction of God's plans, rather than forcing/calling us to do something we don't want to. I started to believe that since God made the world- including China- then God was really the reason I loved China so much. And if God's plan was for me to move to China, what better way than to make me really really want to move to China? You know, instead of just a "call" that came out of nowhere, which I would see as a huge, divinely-commanded inconvenience.

Moving along:
If your dream isn't from God, it isn't worth pursuing. It would be a waste of time and energy. It would ultimately lead to frustration and discouragement.
I'm not exactly sure how to understand this part. By itself, it seems to be saying that, given 2 seemingly equally good dreams, one from God and one not from God, the one from God will be successful and the one not from God will fail. This cannot be predicted based on the content of the dreams themselves, but by trying to decode which is from God.

Which is TOTALLY a common idea in evangelical Christianity. Maybe you think God told you to do something, for example, move from the US to China. Now, that's something that could work out well, or maybe not. The key to making a good decision is figuring out if this dream is from God or not.

I'm kind of suspicious of this way of thinking, because it doesn't allow for uncertainty and risk. It just says if you follow God's plan (which can be known, at least vaguely, if you pray hard enough) then you will never have a major life decision turn into a failure.

However, later in the article, Malm gives the "3 ways to know your ambition is from God" which are "it will ultimately bring glory to God," "it will benefit others," and "it will seem bigger than what you can handle on your own," so maybe when he says that dreams not from God will fail, he's talking about plans that harm others or otherwise don't meet his 3 criteria. In other words, mainly dreams that are more or less self-evidently bad ideas.

From the next part, about dreams that bring glory to God:
God made everything for His glory. So a God-given dream will bring Him glory in the end....For instance, a dream that skirts legal lines and flirts with something unethical isn’t from God. God will never ask you to do something contrary to His Word. But a dream that demonstrates hope, love, peace—God gets glory in that.
This seems to me like "how to tell if something is a bad idea" rather than "how to tell if a benevolent supernatural force directly intervened in your life to plant an idea in your brain" which is the definition I'm assuming for "God-given dream."

Then step #2, check if your dream benefits others:
Instead, God will ask you to do something that meets people’s needs. That might mean writing a book that offers hope. It might mean creating a truly decaffeinated cup of coffee. It might mean becoming a foster parent. Look for ways others can benefit from your dream, and you’re one step closer to reaching the dreams and plans God has for you.
Yes, I like this advice. I believe that Christians should work to bring the kingdom of God to the earth- and by "the kingdom of God" I mean a world where there is justice and freedom and love and nobody is treated wrong. I believe that's what heaven is.

But I think this is what God wants us to do in general, and God doesn't necessarily give you a specific dream/command for the exact role that you personally are divinely-mandated to play. I would rewrite that last sentence as "Look for ways others can benefit from your dream, and you're one step closer to working with Jesus to bring the kingdom of God to the earth."

Not because God "has a plan" for how it should happen, but because anything that's consistent with "love your neighbor as yourself" is worth doing.

I'm not sure what to make of Malm's third point, "it will seem bigger than what you can handle on your own." I totally get that this is a "stepping out in faith" thing, and evangelical Christians love that. Doing something that sounds kinda crazy so that God can get on board and show what big things God can do.

Yep, totally consistent with that perspective, but doesn't really fit with my view. I think we have a lot of freedom, and that's a good thing. I don't believe "God has a plan"- I think there are a lot of possible directions one can go with one's life, and a lot of them are very good. Human freedom and creativity are very important in the kingdom of God.

But this doesn't really fit with the "when you obey God and step out in faith, God will reward you" line of thinking. There's nothing to obey. I don't agree with the terminology of God "asking" you to do something.

Image source.

In other words, "is my dream from God?" is the wrong question to ask. It produces too much worry- we have to get the right answer or we're totally ruining the plan. You have no idea how much I worried about whether or not I "was allowed" to move to China or whether God was "okay with it."

It doesn't have to be such a personalized thing with a correct answer. God wants us to act justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God. If you dream is in line with that, then go for it.