Sunday, March 31, 2013

Empty Tomb Cake

Happy Easter! Hooray for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which was quite literally the coolest thing ever.

My sister and I may or may not have made an empty tomb cake.


Start with a bundt and 5 mini cupcakes.


Cut a section off the bundt- this becomes the stone that was rolled away, and the back wall of the tomb.



The soldiers don't know what hit them.


The angel cupcake tells us the good news.

"Cupcake Jesus has risen!"

Mary and Mary are totally astonished.


Look! His graveclothes are still here, but where is Jesus? He is not here, he has risen!


Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reading the Bible in a Year: The Good and the Bad


I recently finished a read-the-bible-in-a-year plan*. I'm really glad I did it! Here's a summary of the good and the bad:

The Good:

I had to read maybe 3 or 4 chapters every day, which feels much different than 1 chapter per day, which is what I'm used to. Reading several chapters together helped me see how the story flowed together, without as much interference from the arbitrary chapter breaks. As I mentioned in this post, I've been reading the bible one chapter at a time for so long that the chapter breaks are stuck in my mind and really affect the way I think of the narratives told there. And they totally shouldn't, because it's not like they have some huge profound meaning. You have to put a chapter break somewhere.

Reading several chapters at once is especially nice for the shorter books, like Ruth (4 chapters) which I read all in one day.

Also I really like the bible, and most days I don't want to just read one chapter and stop.

And I think because I had to get through more material each day, I didn't get stuck on the odd things as much. Like, the bible is full of completely weird and baffling stuff, and if I hit one of those crazy weird passages, it's very easy to just stare at it, baffled. But I couldn't do that as much this past year, because I had to read through 3 or 4 chapters each day. And after reading 3 or 4 chapters, it's easier to find the "big picture" sort of things, which are generally less bizarre.

(So yes, I like this reading plan because it helps me low-pass-filter the bible.)

And I got through the whole bible in approximately a year! Isn't that great?

The Bad:

Towards the end of this year-long plan, the sheer amount of material to get through each day was becoming kind of exhausting. Sometimes I felt like I was reading through it so fast without stopping to think and try to make sense of the difficult/interesting parts. If I find something odd that I want to analyze on the first page, well, by the time I get done "analyzing" I'll be too tired to read the next 5 pages I'm supposed to read. So no stopping. Just read fast and get through it, and by the time I've gotten through it I don't feel like going back over it and studying further.

So in summary, yeah if you're a Christian, I totally recommend reading the bible in a year, at least once in your life. Find yourself a bible-reading plan that divides it so you're reading the same amount each day, otherwise you end up reading a psalm that's half a page long, and then the next day reading 6 chapters of Isaiah. (I did one of those plans many years ago. Never again.)

It's not for everyone though- maybe instead, you want to read slower and take time to understand and think about things, which is what I'm doing now.

Question for my readers: Have you ever done a read-the-bible-in-a-year plan? How did it go?

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* Okay, if you're a nerd like me and you want to know the details of my read-the-bible-in-a-year plan: I divided it up into 5 roughly equal sections (Genesis-Deuteronomy, Joshua-Esther, Job-Song of Songs, Isaiah-Malachi, Matthew-Revelation) and each day read from one section, the next day read from the next section, etc. I calculated that each day I would need to read 5 to 6 pages to get through the whole bible in a year (obviously this calculation is specific to my bible and how many pages it has), so every day I just counted off the pages and picked a good stopping point. (So no guarantee that this plan takes EXACTLY 365 days, but, close enough.)

And also, the first and third sections were only 2/3 the length of the others, so those got skipped every third cycle.

I like this plan because it was easy to remember and allowed for some variety.

Friday, March 29, 2013

From Now On, I'm Breaking the Rules

Jesus gets in trouble for breaking the rules and rejecting the bible and such in Matthew 12:1-14. (And check out the rage comic for this passage too.)

First, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field, and the disciples are snacking on the grain growing there. (By the way, Deuteronomy 23:25 says this is okay.) But the Pharisees gave Jesus a hard time about it because it was the Sabbath, and you know, you're not supposed to work on the Sabbath.

And I remember years ago, reading this passage, and wondering whether there was a specific law in the Old Testament that said "yeah picking little grains with your hands counts as work" or if that was just the Pharisees' own interpretation of "do not work."

Because, I reasoned, OBVIOUSLY it would be okay for Jesus to break the Pharisees' silly rules. They're not allowed to add rules to the bible, that's just wrong. But of course it wouldn't be okay to pick the grains if somewhere in the Old Testament it explicitly said not to pick the grains. Right?

A distinction between God's seemingly-arbitrary rules and man's seemingly-arbitrary rules. But now I'm not so sure. Maybe thinking of it in those terms misses Jesus' entire point.

Let's keep on reading...

So, the Pharisees give Jesus a hard time about this, and Jesus says, "Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread— which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Jesus is talking about the account in 1 Samuel 21, when David was running from Saul, who was trying to kill him. David goes to Ahimelek the priest and asks for bread and weapons. David lies and says the king sent him, and talks Ahimelek into giving him the "consecrated bread" (which they decide is okay because "the men have kept themselves from women" which is probably the most sexist and objectifying euphemism for not having sex I've ever heard).

Oh, and then Saul found out about it and killed all the priests (except one!) and the whole town.

So umm, that's kind of awkward that Jesus is using this story as justification for his disciples breaking the Sabbath. David lied, and the whole thing kind of ended badly.

But what I wanted to know, that time long ago when I read this story, was whether it was actually explicitly stated in the biblical law that ONLY priests could eat the bread, or did it just say the bread was generally for the priests (without forbidding them to give it away)? Was David actually breaking a law by taking the bread?

It seems like he wasn't, not exactly. Leviticus 24:5-9 gives the instructions for baking this bread and having it sit in the tabernacle, and then it belongs to the priests and they eat it. So it's for the priests, but the bible never exactly says no one else is allowed to have any.

But in this perspective, it's still all about following rules. Following the correct rules, the rules the bible actually says, not the rules that other people added to it. And I think, in this passage, Jesus is taking a stand against that kind of rigid adherence to rules when it comes at the expense of ACTUAL PEOPLE with ACTUAL NEEDS.

Because if you try to follow all the individual rules you believe the bible says apply to you, well, what if your interpretation of the bible is wrong? Wasn't that what the Pharisees were doing- the bible says "don't work on the Sabbath" and they interpreted it to mean you can't even pick a few bits of grain here or there. Is Jesus giving an alternate interpretation, an alternate set of rules to obey, or is he saying that entire ideology is WRONG and DANGEROUS? 

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice," says Jesus, citing Hosea 6:6.

Next, Jesus meets a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath. The Pharisees used him as a test, asking Jesus: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

They saw this man, suffering and in need, and saw only a theological question.

In Mark's account, Jesus "looked around at them in anger... deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts."

And I'm angry too.

Image source.

I'm so angry at the way Christians USE gay people as a test to see who is and who is not a "real" Christian. "Is homosexuality a sin?" They don't ask that question because they want to know the answer. They ask so they can determine which side you're on. Are you a real Christian who actually takes the bible seriously, or are you one of those false teachers who waters down the gospel and hates America and wants to destroy society and thinks that gay people are ACTUAL PEOPLE who are MADE IN THE FREAKING IMAGE OF GOD and MAYBE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO LOVE EACH OTHER BY NOT INSISTING WE KNOW THEIR NEEDS BETTER THAN THEY DO?

The bible is clear you can't work on the Sabbath. So, Jesus, are we going to follow God's standard, or are we going to do what feels right to us?

"Then he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus."

And THAT is a God I can follow.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Woe. (Matthew 11:20-30)

Next post: For the Bruised Reeds (Matthew 12:15-21)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Is this my God?


"I'm going to stick with God's word on this one."
- comment I received on Facebook, in response to my support of marriage equality
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Is this my God?

Over and over again, I hear Christians claim that God and the bible oppose gay rights. And that anyone who doesn't agree with them is clearly not really following the bible. "So the real question," they say, "is whether we're going to follow God's standard or make up our own." Translation: "God agrees with me, and the rest of you are automatically wrong (and probably not even real Christians). End of discussion."

God is on their side, they say. But is that my God?

Does my God live in a bubble, unaware of the bullying that gay kids face in school? Does God know about his own children who hide part of who they are, for fear of rejection by his other children?

Does my God know that the church is the scariest place to come out? Does he know about parents who kick their kids out of the house upon learning said kids are gay?

Does my God talk about "the homosexual lifestyle" without ever realizing how offensive and insensitive that term is?

Is my God ignorant? Does he see it as "us vs them", a debate about "the Christian response to homosexuality"- a question of what WE should do about THOSE PEOPLE over there? Is he so blind that he doesn't realize every church has gay members?

Does my God think "the bible is clear", despite the fact that it never talks about loving, committed same-sex relationships? Does he know that people have come to different conclusions on this question?

Is this my God? Does my God disregard anyone who claims that the bible and their Christian faith have led them to support gay rights? Does he dismiss them as "false teachers", "led astray" by "the world", without even understanding their reasons for those beliefs?

Is my God unaware of the existence of gay Christians? Is he deaf to their prayers? Is he clueless about their struggles and their conclusions on the question of what in the world they're supposed to do? Does he not see that some of them, through prayer, studying the bible, and doing their best to obey God, conclude that no, they need to be single and celibate, and some of them, through prayer, studying the bible, and doing their best to obey God, conclude that yes, God blesses same-sex marriages?

Does my God abandon everyone who comes to the "wrong" answer? Does he disregard their experiences and all of their devotion to him, concluding that no "real Christian" could take the stance they have taken? Does he assume that anyone who disagrees has evil motives for doing so?

Is this my God?

Is my God blind? Is he ignorant? Is he unaware of reality? Is he so caught up in the rules and "God's ideal" that he has no capacity for compassion? Does he refuse to hear anyone's personal experiences when they don't fit into a tidy view of how the world is supposed to be?

Is this my God?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Life Would Be So Much Better If I Were An Oppressed Minority!

I saw this on Facebook recently:


(Here's the text: "So let me get this straight: If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 years hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. 2 Americans got 8 years for crossing into Iran. If you cross the U.S. border illegally, you get a job, a driver's license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, child benefits, education and tax free business income for 7 years? No WONDER we are a country in debt!! SHARE if you agree! seano.org")

Okay so... people post stupid stuff on Facebook all the time. This one is pretty bad. My first thought was "So... we should shoot immigrants? Our country is doing something wrong by not shooting immigrants?"

We're looking up to North Korea as a role model now? Really?

Yeah so... this little graphic is mind-bogglingly wrong on multiple levels, but there's one in particular I want to point out: The idea that illegal immigrants get whatever they want in the US and their lives are so easy.

Really?

I mean, really?

First, let's use common sense: Suppose you are an immigrant traveling to another country illegally, trying to find a better life or whatever. Wow, that sounds pretty difficult, doesn't it? You have to deal with language/cultural differences, possibly racism and other discrimination, and be kind of paranoid that someone might find you and get you in trouble at any moment. That seems like it would be HARD, right? That seems like NOT an awesome life where the government gives you everything you could ever need, right?

And now some data to back it up:

How much income do illegal immigrants make? This article says "In 2005, foreign born men sampled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics had an average income of $523 per week, 69% of the average of native-born workers. Since most illegal workers earn less than other immigrants, and since they avoid surveys, we can be virtually certain that illegal immigrants earned less than $24,000 per year, on average, probably much less."

Also, in 2012, 400,000 illegal immigrants were deported. Sometimes, families were separated. I can't imagine going through that.

You can debate about whether illegal immigrants should be able to get well-paying jobs, education, health care, etc- but you absolutely cannot argue that they totally get all of it and it's easy. You can debate the political question of whether deportation is the solution, but you absolutely cannot deny the toll it takes on people.

And this plays into a larger idea that's floating around (among Republicans, it seems...) that life is so much EASIER for those in marginalized groups, because they get government assistance and they're living the good life and the rest of us hard-working people have to pay for it. It's not fair!

Remember Mitt Romney's statements about "the 47%" who "pay no income tax" and obviously don't have "personal responsibility"? Yeah, hard-working (rich) people should resent those lazy people who have it easy. Umm... right. (And after his remarks, many people on the internet wrote about being in that "47%" and how hard it is.)

And Romney also said that if he was Latino, he'd have a better chance of winning the election. I obviously don't know Romney's reasons for saying that (and it was kind of an offhand joke comment), but I can speculate on why someone might think that. Because it's a BIG DEAL when a woman or ethnic minority is in some position of power, it gets a lot of media attention, and there's often a push for more diversity. So those who are privileged (white men) and have no idea that others did not have the same opportunities and advantages feel like it's unfair. But the reality is that 0% of US presidents have been Latino. If anyone thinks that Latinos have a better chance than white people at being elected president... what?

Latinos make up 16.7% of the US population, but only 3% of US senators (3 out of 100), 7% of the House of Representatives (30 out of 435), and 6% of US governors (3 out of 50). This is out of proportion, and it shows that somewhere along the way, Hispanic and Latino Americans are being discouraged/stopped from getting into political positions of power. It is NOT easier for a Latino to become president than a white person.

Same idea with all those warnings I've heard from conservative Christian groups about how anti-bullying programs in schools are being used to "indoctrinate" kids into "the homosexual agenda." This is so backwards. In the real world, LGBT teens are three times more likely to commit suicide, and 90% of them report being bullied because of their sexual orientation. Some student athletes who come out get kicked off their school sports team. This is a PROBLEM. This is WRONG. But somehow, when anti-bullying efforts are put in place, conservative Christian leaders spin it as some conspiracy to teach kids to be gay and destroy society or whatever. Again, go look at the stats on LGBT suicides. Who is destroying society here? (Didn't the bible say something about caring for "the least of these"?)

And I'm sure I could dig up more examples, where those with privilege (those not in a marginalized/oppressed demographic) think that those "other people" have so much power and such an easy life and they're ruining it for the rest of us. Dude, wake up to reality. Go listen to people who are different from you. Maybe you'll learn something. Maybe they face challenges you never imagined. Maybe we're all human and we should have empathy for each other.

All of this comes from a basic misunderstanding of who is oppressing whom. The creator of that graphic I saw on Facebook seems to think that illegal immigrants are oppressing good tax-paying Americans. This is so ridiculously backwards.

And I hope/pray that human compassion is the driving force behind our political opinions. Not an "us vs them" mentality. Not resentment of those who are different. Not fear, not stereotypes.

And certainly not silly images shared on Facebook.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Blogaround

Image source.

1. The way we think about charity is dead wrong "First, it makes us think that overhead is a negative, that it is somehow not part of the cause."

2. Getting Honest about the Dark Side of the Bible (posted March 7) "If you found material like this in any other ancient or modern text, would you hesitate for a moment from labeling it as macabre, revolting, or some such phrase?"

3. The Rabbit and The Apple (posted March 12) "My friend, a Chinese woman from Deng’s hometown, told me that Deng had said we should have asked her if we could use the picture."

4. Westboro Equality House: Aaron Jackson Paints Rainbow Home Across From Anti-Gay Church (posted March 19) Well, this is awesome.

This house. Across the street from Westboro Baptist.

5. I'm Learning to Like My Anger (posted March 21) "I actually liked God a little more when I realized we get mad over the same type of abusive behavior patterns."

6. 5-year-old girl discovers dinosaur, has it named after her, can safely not accomplish anything else for the rest of her life (posted March 21)

7. The Day I Taught How Not To Rape (posted March 19) "I realized then that some of my kids were genuinely confused. 'How can she be raped?' they asked, 'She wasn’t awake to say no.'"

8. Sex. (posted March 22) "Apparently, even God was super concerned with my vagina, and where it had been, and what it had touched. Apparently, my genitals were like a portal that led straight to my soul."

9. Jabba the Cupcake Oh my.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Bible Is Less Naive Than Me

If God is good, why is there suffering? If God, why evil? People have been asking that question pretty much forever. And I started asking it a few months ago.

I guess I used to think I was immune, like the bad things in the world only happen to other people, not me. I suppose part of my change in thinking is because feminism taught me about how things like injustice and racism and rape and abuse are a lot more widespread than I thought- they're real and they affect people I know, but they're often hidden. Also I got really sick last year and had to have surgery and was basically unable to do anything for several months... I didn't know that could happen to me, that something out of my control could just stop me from doing what I want and living my life.

So... sometimes I read the news, hear about violence, and I think I should just never go outside again. God didn't protect those other people, why would he protect me? The only thing protecting me is probability. The number of people who randomly get killed in crimes or accidents every day is ridiculously small compared to the number of people who go out in public every day. Probability has kept me safe my whole life. Not God.

Seriously, what's the point of God, what's the point of praying? If God actually does stuff, then people would get better when they prayed, and people wouldn't die if someone was praying for them. See, it all doesn't make sense, the existence of God and the existence of suffering... Christianity makes claims about God and the world, and we can only believe them if we don't think too hard about reality.

And then I happened to be reading the bible, the book of Hebrews, and realized I was looking at this wrong.

Here's what I read (Hebrews 10:32-35):
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
Those early Christians who first read this were suffering persecution for their faith- they were being specifically targeted. Way different from my situation, where I'm afraid of random bad things that could happen to anyone.

And maybe they were wondering where God was, if suffering is real. And the writer of Hebrews talks about finding meaning in that suffering, and God rewarding them for their perseverance. In fact, Hebrews 11 lists characters from the Old Testament, one after another, and tells about how they remained faithful to God, even though they suffered for it, even though obedience didn't seem to make sense at the time, even though they received no reward during their lifetimes.

And wow, this was a big realization for me- I'm not the first Christian to wonder about why bad things happen and where God is. Even the writers of the bible talked about it (in many other passages besides Hebrews 10-11).

Well, gosh. Turns out Christianity is way different than I thought.

See I thought Christianity promised that bad things would always be overcome by good things. We may have problems and suffering, but God will always show up to fix it. And in this naive Christianity, there's no room to wonder what about when he doesn't? What about when people die and it seems like there is no reason?

And I thought no one would understand those questions. I thought the bible told a naive story about the world, where good always wins and those who do the right thing don't suffer too much. Where God makes every story a happy ending.

In Sunday School we learned about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, saved by God from the fiery furnace when they refused to obey the wicked king. But we didn't learn about the prophets of God who were hunted down and killed by Queen Jezebel. We learned about the city of Nineveh turning from their evil ways when Jonah preached to them, but we didn't learn about the prophet Zechariah, who was killed when he confronted King Joash about his wickedness. We learned about the angel who rescued Peter from the prison, but quickly skipped past the execution of James, which actually set the stage for Peter's arrest in the first place. We learned about God forgiving David for his adultery (rape?) with Bathsheba and murder of Bathsheba's husband, but tried not to think too much about Bathsheba's baby, who died as a part of David's punishment (and, you know, the husband who was murdered).

I thought the bible presented a naive religion that couldn't handle anybody asking questions about God letting evil things happen. I thought it promised puppies and rainbows and had nothing to say about sickness and tragedy. But nothing could be further from the truth.

No, the bible presents the same reality I know today: God protects and heals some people, and doesn't protect and heal others. And I don't know if it gives an answer for why that is, but the important thing is it acknowledges that reality. And even talks about the question of suffering, a lot, though I seem to have missed that in church while growing up.

And perhaps the reason the bible records the accounts of huge miracles is because that WASN'T normal. Because it WAS so unusual, for God to show up and help those who were powerless and suffering.

It's the same world I live in. Sometimes the strong oppress the weak. Sometimes people rise up and fight for justice. Sometimes people die for seemingly no reason. Sometimes God intervenes.

Power and miracles, but also suffering and hopelessness. And I don't know how to make sense of it, believing God can do anything but it's not likely that he will... I want to say "I trust God," but... trust him to do what? I believe that he's always with me and he understands everything I'm going through... and I guess that's it, for now.

But I'm glad the heroes of the bible also struggled with this question. I'm glad the bible is less naive than me.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week


This week is Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week, hosted by Hannah Ettinger, Joy Bennett, Shaney Irene, Rachel Held Evans, and Elora Nicole. Tons of bloggers have been telling their stories of abuse they experienced in the church. It's super-important to hear their voices so that there can be healing and the church can become a safe environment where abuse does not happen.

I don't have a story to tell here, since I haven't experienced spiritual abuse, so I'll just give an overview and direct you to go read everyone else's posts.

First: What is "spiritual abuse"? 

The common theme in most of the stories shared this week is pastors and other church leaders being incredibly controlling. Pastors who told everyone what to do, and there was no questioning permitted- to disagree with the pastor is to disagree with God. Taken to the extreme, this means you are not allowed to think for yourself- clearly you don't know what you're talking about.

Rae writes, "It was the perfect catch-all. Someone doesn’t agree? Well, obviously they haven’t (as was also said to me) 'let Jesus have every area of their life' and they just needed to repent. When you've been raised to doubt yourself, that tactic is a powerful bit of mind-buggery."

Forgedimagination writes of a pastor's wife confronting her, "No, no– you don’t understand. If you keep on playing the piano, but you don’t use your talent to glorify God, he will take it away from you. If you think that God will let your rebellion go unpunished . . . God will not be mocked, and you can’t serve God and mammon. You know that. You need to repent and come back to God– you need to be willing to play for Him, even if it causes you pain."

In a second post, Forgedimagination writes, "We left– and when we did, the leader excommunicated us. He forbade me from speaking to his daughter ever again, and he blamed my mother for 'turning my father away from God.'"

Another theme is women being told (explicitly or implicitly) that they are worth less than men. That they are only good for cleaning and taking care of kids, not teaching. That their bodies are intrinsically bad.

Lana recalls what she was taught, "Why the heck did God make me a girl? I asked myself."

And one result of spiritual abuse is a TON of fear. (See you know something's wrong when your system produces fear. I believe Jesus wants to set people free from fear.)

Grace writes about her anxiety, "And some of it is because of the messages I grew up hearing in church – about how horribly depraved I was, about how even the best and most noble thing I could ever do would be nothing but filthy rags before God."

Amy Mitchell writes, "I must have looked surprised, because she added that it was about his baptism, which is scheduled for the Sunday after Easter. I nodded and told her that was no problem. But inside, I was panicking."

And often, those who have experienced spiritual abuse in the church have a hard time imagining a God who's not angry and controlling. Sometimes they find it nearly impossible believe in a God who loves and accepts people and gives grace. On the other hand, many of the stories shared this week also involve finding healing in God.

Kierstyn King writes, "I stopped praying because my prayers didn’t do anything good, they only made things worse. I stopped praying because god obviously never listened to me."

Jessica Bowman writes, "My understanding of God has been razed to the ground and is slowly being built back up on the foundation of Jesus, one brick of love and grace at a time."

And Sarah Moon says that abuse has its roots in the very things we believe about God, when we teach that abusive acts of God are "loving": [trigger warning] "That’s why [my ex-boyfriend] grabbed my arm so tightly that it left hand-print-shaped bruises after I tried to walk away from him after a fight. He 'loved' me too much to let me walk away."

Rebekah Hope describes the process of being able to heal, "So here's to recovery through uncovering. He's always been faithful to me."

Ruthie Dean writes, "God isn’t like the men who have hurt you, used you, left you, blamed you, or abused you. He doesn’t want you to be silent. He isn’t afraid of your feminity, your beautiful body, or your sexuality. He won’t shame you; He’ll give you a white robe of righteousness."

Also related is the issue of sexual abuse in the church. Kristen Rosser writes about her experience with spiritual abuse, and how she saw the same behaviors and attitudes within church culture being used to cover up the rape of a 17-year-old girl by a pastor. "This girl consented, didn't she? And anyway, no sin is worse than any other sin in God's eyes. We need to show mercy to this pastor. ... This is an internal matter for the church involved. Stay out of it. You are casting stones at a man of God. You should just be quiet." That same attitude where leaders are above questioning and no one is allowed to point out anything bad fosters a culture where children can be abused and no one seems to care about/ believe the victims.

Mary DeMuth writes about being abused as a child [trigger warning], "So I decided not one person on this evergreen-treed earth would protect me. Only I could."

And Grace Biskie also tells her story and the long process of healing [trigger warning], "One day I will see Him face to face, when all things will be made new for this tattered heart of mine. Until then, I press on in my messy-as-hell journey toward healing."

An anonymous blogger says, "I would pour over these letters with my friends trying to see if he was romantically interested in me, because then I could 'break up' with him or if he was mentoring me which would be inappropriate in our church because we were different sexes and I could get help from church leadership."

And another anonymous person writes, "I don't want to be the girl who was molested repeatedly by a pastors son, believed the lie it was her fault, and then refused to speak of it because of guilt and shame over sins she DID NOT COMMIT."

Boz Tchividjian, executive director of G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), writes a post addressing what churches should do. "Too many within the Christian community respond to the prevalence of child abuse with a dangerous and very hurtful silence. A silence that is too often preferred over acknowledging the existence of such evil within our midst. A silence that is too often preferred over openly discussing how to protect our little ones from perpetrators. A silence that is too often preferred over the hard work required to develop and implement effective child protection policies. A silence that is too often preferred over the cries of hurting children."

So anyway. Spiritual abuse is WRONG. It's a distortion of Christianity- emphasizing certain teachings, ignoring other ones, using it as a tool to keep the powerful in power and the weak weak. For example, the teaching that "everyone is a sinner" is held up as the most important thing about you- as if that means you're worthless and you can't even trust your own sinful mind and heart. NO! NO! People are also made in the image of God, with great capacity for good. And if anyone's only teaching one side of the "are people good or bad?" question and ignoring the other half, something is terribly wrong.

So I pray for healing for those who have been abused. I want everyone to know that they are valuable and worthy of love. I pray that Christians would work to address this problem and make the church a place of love and acceptance and honesty and justice. (You know, like Jesus.)

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More links:

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Link-up Day 1: What's your story?

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Link-up Day 2: Consequences of Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Link-up Day 3: Why should those who haven't been hurt care about this issue?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Woe.

Matthew 11:20-30 starts with Jesus' "woe" to towns who didn't "repent", then has Jesus' prayer of thanks that truth was hidden from the "wise and learned" and revealed to children, and ends with an invitation to the "weary and burdened" to come to Jesus and find rest.

So yeah. We're going to see if it's all related or not.

Image source.

First, "Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent." He even makes comparisons with other "bad" towns, saying that even those people would have repented if they had seen the same miracles: Tyre and Sidon, Gentile towns of that time, and Sodom, which God destroyed back in the book of Genesis.

Discussion questions:

How are miracles connected to repentance? Jesus is saying that seeing these miracles SHOULD HAVE led to these towns repenting. Why? Because a miracle shows Jesus' power? Because it shows his compassion toward the sick? Because the ability to do miracles gives some credibility to his teaching/commands?

Was there some society-wide problem going on? Jesus talks about the concepts of repentance and judgment as they apply to an entire town. Was there some specific problem happening at a widespread, societal level?

If Jesus knew these other towns would have repented, why didn't he do miracles there? Does he just not care about Tyre and Sidon? Maybe he's just making a comparison/exaggeration and he's not ACTUALLY saying that Tyre and Sidon would have repented if they saw the miracles. Still, isn't that kind of cruel/racist to be like, "wow you're worse than THOSE people", even (especially?) if you just mean it as a comparison?

But then the next thing Jesus says: "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children."

So... he gives these towns a hard time for not repenting, then turns around and is all happy about God "hiding" the truth.

Did Matthew/Jesus intend for these things to be connected? If so, that's kind of messed-up.

But anyway: Jesus says the Father has "hidden these things". What things?

Well the next few verses talk about the Son knowing the Father and revealing the Father to people. So I would say "these things" means truth about God and a relationship with God.

But I should be a little concerned about Jesus' "hidden these things from the wise and learned" bit. I am the wise and learned. Only 6.7% of the world population is college-educated, and I am part of that 6.7%. So what are you saying, Jesus?

He's saying that you don't have to be some elite rich educated person in order to know about God and to know God. Children can understand it. But see, this kind of confuses me. I've read a lot of apologetics stuff, a lot of arguments for Christianity and arguments for atheism, and I thought that I had to understand it all and figure it out, and the smartest person would be able to navigate all the arguments and evidence and come to the correct conclusion on whether or not God(s) exists, and what he/she/they are like if he/she/they do.

But in reality, everyone believes in their religion (or lack thereof) for a TON of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the intellectual arguments. And that's fine.

The only thing is, how can God send people to hell for having the "wrong" beliefs, if you can't even necessarily get to the right beliefs through a lot of studying and arguments? (So yeah, that's one reason I'm questioning the idea of hell. Stay tuned and I might write a post about it.)

So I've kind of gotten off-topic; let's get back to what Jesus said in Matthew 11. "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Well that doesn't seem very nice, only revealing God the Father to some people...

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Oh. Okay. An invitation to ALL. That's better.

And seriously, this is pretty great, these last few verses of Matthew 11. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

That's awesome. That's like my favorite verse. Right now I'm seriously wondering what it's doing in this passage about the "woes" and God hiding "things" from "the wise and learned." (Ideas, anyone?)

BUT ANYWAY like I was saying, this is one of my favorite verses. Jesus offers rest to the weary. And I believe he still offers that now.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: What was up with John the Baptist? (Matthew 11:1-19)

Next post: From Now On, I'm Breaking the Rules (Matthew 12:1-14)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I'm a Bird

I’m sorry.

You were sold the story, hook, line and sinker. Do this, don’t do that, build it, tear it down, cover it up, write it over—do it all and then this...

This will happen for you. Or this bad thing, that won’t happen for you. Obey, honor, submit, then shut your mouth, don’t ask questions, don’t dare defy. Do all that and it will go well for you.

And then it didn’t. It didn’t go well and it went really bad. Really, really bad. On the other side you stood there with nothing. No morals, no laurels, no crowns of glory, all your delight in shambles and your hope in rags. They said it would go well for you and then it didn’t.
The above excerpt is from Lore Ferguson's post, An Apology to the Wounded Birds. And oh, wow. Finally somebody understands.

I'm a bird.

Image source.

"Don't," they said.

"Trust. Wait," they said.

"You have power, you have rights," they said. "But you must serve Jesus by giving up those rights. By never using that power. Just wait. Trust God. And you'll suffer alone, quietly, but God sees your sacrifice and will reward you."

"Don't be too direct, too forceful. Just wait, and God will work it out, if it's his will. Just trust."

And so I did. So I looked at my clothes and I gave up my right to be beautiful. They said my female body had enormous power over boys. Enormous power, and I needed to never ever use that power. Many times as I chose my outfit, I made the difficult decision to NOT be beautiful that day. To interpret my desire to be beautiful as nothing but selfishness. No, I needed to think of the guys first. And I made the sacrifice, and I chose the baggy t-shirt, and nobody knew except Jesus.

But how could I know? How could I know if it mattered? How could I know if I was "helping" any guys by rejecting my cute (and non-revealing) shirt and choosing one that was completely un-feminine?

Just silence. No feedback. The only things that kept me going were my belief that God did see and value my sacrifice, and those reassurances that "guys really DO appreciate modesty."

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

And I believed that God controlled my love life, that God had a plan, a particular guy in mind to be the perfect one for me. Any other guy I liked besides "the one" was a temptation I must reject.

I had to follow God by shutting down my heart, by praying and praying about every crush, by deciding the answer was "no" if there was any imperfection in said crush. Because of course God could do anything, so he could set me up with a guy who DIDN'T have that imperfection. If I wanted to be with this imperfect guy right in front of me, that was only because I didn't trust God, because I was selfish. I just needed to wait. And trust. And do nothing.

Do nothing. That's how girls ended up in perfect marriages. Just wait, and trust, and do nothing, and shut down your heart. And God would do all the work.

Don't ask a guy out. Don't say anything. Just wait. Trust God and wait.

I remember several years ago, I happened to read a blog post where a Christian blogger challenged the idea that that's how it works. The idea that God would give you that perfect marriage if you waited and waited and waited and did nothing.

And I was TERRIFIED. What if God didn't have a plan? What if I was on my own? What if there was no guarantee of a perfect marriage and a life free of heartbreak? What if God didn't care, didn't care how hard it was for me to force myself to give up those feelings? What if my sacrifice never even mattered?

And now I've come a long way. I don't believe any of it any more, all that modesty and purity stuff. And I'm angry.

Because I'm one of those wounded birds in Ferguson's blog post. And I want to fly and follow Jesus. But not by holding back. Not by "waiting" and "trusting" and not doing anything. Not by believing that my desires and dreams are just selfishness and temptation.

I want to be free. I want to fly and follow Jesus.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blogaround

Oh, dogs. Image source.

1. I Wasn't Raped, But I Was Still Violated (posted March 10) "Because if I had signaled the attendant, it would have been, ‘God, I’m just trying to make conversation. A guy can’t talk to a woman at all now? What are you, some kind of anti-social bitch who over-reacts at everything?’"

2. Our Ugly Jesus (posted March 11) "But, I like the idea of this ugly Jesus who chose to take human form and, in doing so, remain lowly–not elevating Himself in any way, including in His physical appearance."

3. Dip Oreos in colored white chocolate for an amazing display (posted March 8) Well, this is awesome.

4. The Christian Guide to Atheists: Never Really a Christian (posted March 11) "When we start to talk about whether or not someone was a 'real believer,' we negate their story and that can be a hurtful thing."

5. The God Who Does Nothing (posted March 5) "God didn’t do much when I was ill."

6. when this is a post about justice for victims & survivors of sexual abuse -- from danielle (posted March 12) "Whereas an unjust system seeks to silence the voices of rape victims, a just system seeks to amplify them."

7. Protection by Discrimination: Not a Solution for Bullying (posted March 12) "I believe that in many cases, the idea that a policy 'is for X group's protection from harassment' is a politically correct excuse given by those who are simply uncomfortable by others' differences."

8. Why the Rebelution’s Modesty Survey Was A Bad Idea (posted March 13) "We gave legitimacy to the idea that they had a right to speak about women’s clothing choices simply because they were male." (And see also my post about how "the modesty survey" affected me: The Story of Me and Modesty.)

9. Christian QUILTblogs list tops 100 blogs (posted March 13) "I dare you to go read their blogs and then come back and try to tell me that these are not your brothers and sisters in Christ."

10. when this is just a rant (posted March 13) "We sometimes think God's biggest concerns are reducible to whether someone can check the box YES on their will I go to Heaven?​ membership card."

11. It’s not your ‘stance,’ but who you’re standing with (posted March 14) "We seem to make that mistake a lot, which is why Christians keep confusedly acting as though their primary allegiance is to the institution of the church — defending the institution at all costs, even if that means silencing or shaming the victims of abuse, or covering up for the predators who abused them."

12. The Bible: It's Just Not That Into You (posted March 15) "...thus leading the reader away from the original corporate intent of the passage to a reaffirmation of the individualistic, me-centered, and consumerist tendencies of American religious culture." Amen to that.

13. Fasting... a Capitalistic Venture? (posted March 13) "A friend’s church even gave away a Kindle as a prize for raising money."

14. Making Compassion Last (posted March 15) "[Americans] don’t know Senegal, they don’t come to Senegal, so there’s no reason to be concerned. It’s not somewhere close like Haiti that people maybe have been to before."

15. Do You Have A Playstation? (posted March 15) "Young boys in the Congo were forcefully swept into a real-life war so that little boys in the West could play electronic war games."

16. On Hoarding Manna (posted March 16) "I never know how much is too much, whether giving up air conditioning matters while my family still pays $200 a month for cell phone access, and if having a hundred bucks in the bank is responsible stewardship or if it’s hoarding riches so I avoid the question altogether and buy a Blu-Ray player because, well c’mon, we need one, right?"

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cover The Box (Why Languages Are Different)

Suppose this box represents all the possible things you might ever want to communicate:

Pictured: All there is to talk about. Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Every language uses specific words, phrases, and grammatical structures to cover the entire box of possible meanings. It covers the whole box, so that all meanings within the box can be expressed in that language. But here's the thing: The covering is different.

Suppose this next diagram represents English. Each little region represents an English word/expression/grammar structure:

Each "circle" represents an English word/expression/grammar structure.

And then this one is Chinese:

Each "circle" represents a Chinese word/expression/grammar structure.

All the same meanings can be expressed (well, more or less... I have yet to find anyone who can tell me in English what 空心菜 is...) but there's not a direct correspondence between the little subsections on the English diagram and the Chinese one.

In other words, for every Chinese word, the English "translation" may or may not mean quite the same thing.

For some words, it is quite literally the exact same thing. Inchworm is 尺蠖 (chǐhuò), and guess what- a 尺蠖 (chǐhuò) and an inchworm are really EXACTLY the same thing.

Fun fact: 尺 (chǐ) is a unit of measure sort of analogous to the English foot. Image source.

But what about 睡觉 (shuìjiào), which, supposedly, means "sleep"?

Sometimes it is used the same way as the English word "sleep." Like if someone asks "What did you do this weekend?" and you say "sleep", the correct Chinese word would be 睡觉 (shuìjiào). Sometimes, it means "sleep."

But quite often, the correct translation for 睡觉 (shuìjiào) is "go to sleep."

Let's look at the English word "sleep." If you ask someone, "When did you sleep?" perhaps they will answer "From 11 pm to 7 am." "Sleep" is something that takes place for an extended period of time.

But if you ask "你什么时候睡觉?" (nǐ shénme shíhou shuìjiào)- basically "when did you 睡觉 (shuìjiào)?" the 睡觉 (shuìjiào) here should be translated "go to sleep" or "go to bed." The answer to this question would be, perhaps, "At 11 pm." "Sleep" is something that happens over a period of time- from the time you go to bed to the time you wake up. "睡觉 (shuìjiào)" happens at one specific time- the time you go to bed.

And the fact that "sleep" and "睡觉 (shuìjiào)" are not the same seems to be something not immediately obvious to the average Chinese and English speaker. I've heard Chinese and Chinese-Americans use terms like "sleep early" because they were doing a word-for-word translation from Chinese, and incorrectly translated "睡觉 (shuìjiào)" as "sleep". I was confused- what in the world does "sleep early" mean? The only thing I could imagine is shifting the entire 8-hour sleeping period forward- go to bed an hour early, get up an hour early. Sleep early. (??? Seems like a strange concept to express...)

But what they really meant was "go to bed early."

And then you get the term "sleep late", which, because of the difference between "sleep" and "睡觉 (shuìjiào)" ends up expressing the exact opposite of what they were trying to express. In correct English, "sleep late" means "get up late." Get a lot more sleep than usual.

But the average English-speaking Chinese person who says "sleep late" is really trying to say "go to bed late." Get less sleep than usual.

I have heard people say completely backwards things like "I slept late so I'm really tired today."

So anyway, now you know. "Sleep" is not "睡觉 (shuìjiào)". They're similar, but it's often the case that when you translate from one language to another, you're not going to find a word that means the exact same thing, used in the exact same situations.

But you know what? That's awesome. Don't read this and think "wow, learning languages is way too hard." No, this is why learning languages is AWESOME! I totally never would have imagined that other people could view the distinction between "sleep" and "go to sleep" differently than I do, as a native English speaker.

So cool! And that's just the beginning. Chinese and English are so completely different, and it's great.

Click here for more posts about learning Mandarin.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What was up with John the Baptist?

Remember John the Baptist? He preached that Jesus would come, and was kind of obsessed with fire. And here in Matthew 11:1-19, we meet him again, and I ask the question: "What was up with John the Baptist?" (Also, we have a rage comic this week! Go check it out.)

I still think this picture is hilarious.

First we have verses 1-6, where John's messengers come to ask, on John's behalf, whether Jesus is or is not the Messiah.

That seems a bit strange. Wasn't that the very thing John had been preaching, before Jesus' ministry started? Wasn't John the one who saw a dove come down from heaven and a voice saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased"? What happened to that?

Right, so if someone strongly believes something at one point, they're not allowed to ever question it? Come on.

A long time before this, John definitely believed Jesus was the Messiah. But stuff happened since then. For one thing, John got put in jail (and we'll get to the details on that in chapter 14). Also, Jesus got going with his whole preaching-and-healing-and-calling-disciples operation, and maybe it wasn't what John expected the Messiah to do.

So here's John, questioning. For totally valid reasons, as far as I can tell.

And what's Jesus' answer? Is it "I can't believe you're doing this, how could you question, after all this time you've been a Christian"?

Umm, no. Jesus points to what he's been doing: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." In other words, he asks John to consider the things Jesus is doing, and judge for himself.

And I think this passage says something about questioning and doubt. Far too often in the church, those with questions or doubts are silenced and shamed- how dare they even THINK such things! Especially if they've been Christians for a long time. (Because it's understandable for new Christians to have questions and doubts, but not those who have gone to church their entire lives...?) But Jesus doesn't react that way. He invites John to look and decide for himself. (Obviously Jesus lists those examples as an argument in favor of him being the Christ- but still, he gives reasons instead of just "I can't believe you're questioning this.")

And after John's minions leave, it's Jesus' turn to ask, "What was up with John the Baptist?"

He asks the crowd, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?" and goes on to describe John as "a prophet... and more than a prophet", as the messenger who would prepare the way for Jesus, as "the Elijah who was to come."

Okay, some background for that "Elijah" bit: Hundreds of years before this, there was this prophet named Elijah, who did a lot of things and was generally cool. Later there was a prophecy that Elijah would come back before the Messiah showed up. So Jesus is saying that John the Baptist is, in some sense, Elijah.

And then Jesus makes this bizarre statement: "Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Umm... so... the lowest member of the kingdom of heaven wasn't "born of women"?  And what do "greater" and "least" mean?

So, this is just a weird thing to say. Anyway, it seems to me like Jesus is making a division between an old and new system. The old one was based on nature ("born of women") and the law and prophets, and the new one is the kingdom of heaven, which I define as God's people and God's work both on earth and in heaven. John the Baptist was the last prophet, and Jesus is starting up a new kingdom that works differently.

But I have no idea what to make of verse 12: "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence [in some translations: the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing], and violent people have been raiding it." Ideas, anyone?

The last part of this passage (verses 16-19) is also a little weird:
"To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
"'We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.'
"For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by her deeds."
Jesus is saying that these people will never be pleased with anything. They don't want to believe, and they just complain no matter what. (At least, that's what I think he's saying, but the whole section is just weird.)

So... why is Jesus talking about that? Seems like he's being all negative and over-generalizing. But, as always, if I understood everything Jesus did and said, and it went right along with what I already believe, that would be a bit suspicious.

So, to recap: John the Baptist asked for some clarification on whether Jesus is the Christ, and IT WAS FINE, no one gave him a hard time about not automatically knowing what he's supposed to believe. Then Jesus gave a little talk on John's role and why it's so important- John came to prepare the way for Jesus, who starts up a new kingdom completely different from the old one.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Good News? (Matthew 11:1-6)

Next post: Woe. (Matthew 11:20-30)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day to all the math nerds out there! I made a unit circle cake:


How does your family celebrate Pi Day?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The End of My Gnostic Faith

Image source.

I recently read this post: Sunday Billy Sunday, about the gnostic Christianity preached by Billy Sunday. Here's an excerpt:
The purpose of gnostic Christianity is to die and go to heaven. There is no heaven on earth. There is no hell on earth. Earth - and the body and everything physical - is a mere ladder, a resting place, a waiting room, an station where we expectantly twiddle out thumbs anticipating the Glory Train. The rest of the world can burn, and will. Just try to save as many people by bludgeoning them with scary words about their eternal damnation while you can.

That's gnostic Christianity in a nutshell. And it prioritizes individual over social, the powers-that-be over the oppressed, the here-and-now over sustainability. It expects heaven. It doesn't participate in bringing heaven to earth. For heaven is for the Christians only, according to gnostic Christianity. And if we brought it here, what's the purpose of an afterlife?
Go read the whole thing.

First, let's take a second and define "gnosticism." According to Wikipedia, gnosticism is the belief that the physical and spiritual world are totally separate, and the physical world is evil and should be avoided. (By the way, this definition of "gnosticism" is different than the concept of gnostic vs agnostic belief. Don't get confused. I'm totally not talking about that.) And the writer of the above-quoted blog post, Jasdye, connects gnosticism to the teaching common in evangelical Christianity that heaven and hell are all that matters.

You know, I've heard of gnosticism before. I heard it was a heresy that the apostle John argued against in the book of 1 John, in the bible. I heard that the gnostics of that time were claiming that since the physical world was evil, God did not really become human and die. Which is, you know, kind of an important part of Christianity. And that since the physical world was separate from the spiritual world, the physical world didn't matter- so you can sin if you want, it doesn't matter. And that gnosticism also emphasized having special secret knowledge, but John wrote that the knowledge about Jesus is freely available, not meant to be kept secret. Gnosticism was incompatible with Christianity, according to the apostle John.

But wow, the idea of the body and spirit being separate, and the spiritual world being all that matters- dude... that is exactly what I was taught about Christianity. (Even the idea of the body being evil, umm, purity culture much?) Maybe it wasn't taught in those exact terms, but if heaven and hell are real, and everyone is going to get an eternal infinite reward or eternal infinite punishment based on their beliefs, then why the hell would anything else matter besides spreading that message? This is infinity we're talking about. Physical suffering experienced in one's lifetime on earth is negligible compared to an eternity of torture in hell. So don't waste your time trying to help people- feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving to the poor... NONE OF THAT MATTERS! We've got to save them from HELL!

I remember wondering about how Christians should respond to humanitarian crises in the world- do we send them food or bibles? And I thought, well, people have physical needs and spiritual needs, but the spiritual needs are more important. Still, sending bibles is useless if you don't also send food- no one's going to listen to your message if you don't help them with what they think they need. So caring for the physical needs of our fellow humans is a means to an end- the goal is to get them to trust us enough to listen to our message about their spiritual needs.

And yeah, I don't believe that anymore.

In a post last week, I explained how I now understand the gospel, the central message of Christianity. I used to think it was "Even though you are a sinner, Jesus' death and resurrection make it possible to be freed from sin and reconciled to God." The end. That's it. That is all that Christianity's about. (I mean, sure we're supposed to love others, but that's just tacked on to the end, sort of an unrelated extra credit assignment.)  

But now I believe the gospel is so much more. It's about Jesus and his upside-down kingdom, where "the first will be last and the last will be first" and there is healing and justice for the weak, the victims, those who are marginalized and oppressed by society. And being a Christian is all about working with Jesus to bring that kingdom to the world. Sure, it starts with God's forgiveness toward me, and healing in my own heart- the narrow view I had before- but it goes so much farther than that.

And I thought I was being rebellious and controversial, saying the gospel was something other than that narrow, spiritualized forgiveness-of-my-own-individual-sin-against-God concept. But wow, maybe that's gnosticism, a heresy. Maybe making 2 categories- physical needs and spiritual needs- is wrong, and the question of which is more important is the wrong question to be asking.

And actually, this calls heaven and hell into question. If everyone in heaven gets the same infinite eternal awesomeness, and everyone in hell gets the same infinite eternal torture, and it's based on what you believe about Jesus, I don't see how you can NOT come to the conclusion that this world does not matter. That helping those in need does not matter, and all that matters is getting people to change their beliefs and get into heaven. So, yeah. That can't be right. That can't be what heaven and hell are. Let's question that.

Because I don't believe that a God who thinks life on earth only matters to the extent that it puts you in the "heaven" or "hell" category would come to earth as a human and waste his time healing and teaching "blessed are the poor in spirit" and suffering as a servant. Jesus' own behavior indicates that heaven is not what I thought it was or hell is not what I thought it was or maybe Jesus was just bad at time-management.

No, it can't be true that the physical world doesn't matter. And I'm glad I'm not the first Christian to think so.