Saturday, September 22, 2018

"On earth as it is in heaven"

A picture of the earth with heavenly rays of light shining on it. Image text: "On earth as it is in heaven." Image source.

This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9-13

In my post this Wednesday, About that White-Supremacist "Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel", I mentioned this:
His understanding of "the gospel" is quite effed-up, because he thinks it's completely unrelated to ending oppression and injustice on earth. Apparently he doesn't believe in "your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."
And I want to elaborate on that now, because I can easily imagine myself as an evangelical reading that and thinking "huh? what does that 'injustice on earth' stuff have to do with 'your kingdom come'?" Or myself as an ex-evangelical, reading it like "WAIT your kingdom-- whoaaaa wait like, does it-- as in-- wow now THAT is a way to interpret that verse, holy crap WHOAAAAAA wow my mind is BLOWN."

So let's talk about Matthew 6:10. "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Back when I was a very good evangelical, on fire for God, in a super-personal relationship with God, I was sure I knew what this verse meant. See, OBVIOUSLY, in heaven everyone worships God. Everyone obeys God and loves God and does all the correct things that Christians are supposed to do out of devotion to God. When Jesus says "your will be done", well OBVIOUSLY God's will is that everyone worships Them. That's the goal of everything God does- getting glory for Themself. John Piper said so. And God's kingdom is a place where everyone recognizes God as the King. See, this is our problem- sin- everybody wants to be master of their own life, when really they should be submitting to God. That's why our world has so many problems. Ugh, we're such dirty sinners, and every little sin hurts God, and God just hates having to deal with that all time. But God's kingdom won't be like that- in God's kingdom, everyone knows their place and obeys God like they're supposed to.

So, of course, when we pray that we want this to happen on earth as in heaven, we're saying we want everybody to believe the correct Christian things and dedicate their lives to Jesus. That's what God wants most of all, and that's the defining characteristic of heaven. Right?

Yeah, little evangelical Perfect Number thought it was so obvious, it was hardly even worth thinking about. Of course that's what Jesus meant in Matthew 6:10.

Ha. Right. I don't believe any of that anymore.

I now believe that in the kingdom of God, everyone has their basic needs met, and everyone gets to live a happy life. Everyone is loved. There is no injustice, no oppression. Black lives matter. That's how it will be in heaven, and that's how we want it to be on earth.

(And NO, I very much DO NOT believe that "faith" is the criteria for getting into heaven. Maybe I'm a universalist.)

So this prayer- "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"- is a direct reference to social justice. It says we look forward to when the kingdom of God will come on earth- when someday there will be freedom and justice and equality for everyone- and we need to take action now to work toward those things.

I believe that's what Christianity is about. That's what Christians should do. And if you're not a Christian, that's fine with me- religious beliefs aren't the important thing here; the important thing is bringing justice to this world. (My husband is not a Christian and there's nothing wrong with him.)

There are so many bible passages like this, where their meaning was SO OBVIOUS back when I was an evangelical, but now I read them differently. Now I believe in a different God. The God I used to believe in felt so sad over people's continual sinning and refusal to worship him. He felt entitled to their devotion and worship. Like we are wronging him by not obsessing over him every moment of the day. In heaven it would be different; in heaven he would get the worship he deserved. But the God I believe in now ... truly is a loving God. They love people, and They believe people deserve to live good lives free from pain and injustice. That's the kingdom of God. Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

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Related:
Why Does the Kingdom of Heaven Belong to Children?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Blogaround

A cat affectionately nuzzles a bored-looking dog. Image source.
1. Work, Home, and the World of Proverbs 31 (posted September 11) "There is actually a segment of the Christian homeschooling world that uses the Proverbs 31 woman to promote the idea that women should have “cottage industries” within their homes—say, making and selling quilts, or making and selling soaps, or some other such venture."

2. We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage (posted August 27) [content note: abuse and murder of children]

3. Unlearning the myth of American innocence (posted 2017) "American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other country’s nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasn’t that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do?"

4. Why Stripping U.S. Citizens of Their Passports Is a Precursor to Genocide (posted September 8) THIS IS BAD.

5. The kingdom of heaven is like the song "Perfect" by Pink.


(I know I've posted a bunch of times on my blog. Just trying to preach the gospel at all times.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

About that White-Supremacist "Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel"

White Jesus. Image source.
Recently a group of evangelicals, led by John MacArthur, published "The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel." It's a list of "affirmations" and "denials" which basically says we don't believe in systemic racism, we don't believe in studying the ways different races are treated differently by society, racial justice isn't something we should pay particular attention to, feminism is bad, and as Christians we're not supposed to buy into any of that stuff.

MacArthur also published a blog post about this on his own site (on September 8). He warns us that "Today, critical race theory, feminism, intersectional theory, LGBT advocacy, progressive immigration policies, animal rights, and other left-wing political causes are all actively vying for evangelical acceptance under the rubric of 'social justice.'" Isn't it terrible, he says, that Christians are being influenced by these worldly justice movements. It's getting in the way of "the gospel."

This "statement on social justice" is white supremacy.

What's striking to me is that I have always had a sense that the ideas in this "statement" are "what Christians believe", even though nobody in church ever explicitly said it. I grew up in an all-white church... now you might be saying "hey wait, not 'all-white', I know for a fact there was this one black guy at our church, and also there was a family that adopted some black children" and that proves my point. If you can easily list all the people of color who attend your church, then it counts as an "all-white" church.

Race was never talked about in my church. Or, rather, we believed racism was a sin, but we thought of racism solely as an individual sin, an internal attitude of hating people specifically because of their race. Under this definition, it made sense to believe that people of color could be "racist against white people" in exactly the same way that white people might be racist- as if it was the exact same thing. Just hatred in one individual person's heart. I had never heard of systemic racism- not until I started reading feminist blogs.

Here are a few of my tweets from several years ago, which basically sum up what evangelical Christianity taught me about racism:

And that's exactly the teaching on "racism" we see in the Statement on Social Justice. It clearly says that yes, everyone is made in the image of God and everyone is equal regardless of race. But at the same time:
We deny that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ. We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.
Yep, they don't think we should care about racial identity, privilege, and oppression. As Christians, we don't believe in that stuff, apparently. Just don't feel any racist feelings in your heart, and that's good enough.

I had never heard of systemic racism before, but somehow when I encountered the concept for the first time, I had a *feeling* of "no, Christians don't believe this." Probably because it felt "liberal" and we know that anything liberal is by definition evil (that's what Christians believe, right?).

It's just FASCINATING to me that neither the Statement on Social Justice nor MacArthur's blog post give any real reasons why Christians don't buy those concepts. Just that those things are "the world's" idea of justice. And I remember my own thought process, when I first heard about #BlackLivesMatter, and I was reading what they said ... feeling like "I know I'm not supposed to believe this" but I just could not find any other explanation for the facts I was reading. I had to conclude yes, it is true that anti-black systemic injustice exists in the United States, and police kill black people and get away with it, and it's a huge problem.

Somehow, I always had the sense "this isn't what Christians believe" but I had no idea of the reasons why. And MacArthur doesn't give any reasons either. Apparently, he expects his readers to believe that anything "the world" is into is inherently suspect, and we should avoid those things and just follow "the gospel." (His understanding of "the gospel" is quite effed-up, because he thinks it's completely unrelated to ending oppression and injustice on earth. Apparently he doesn't believe in "your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.")

So. I said the Statement on Social Justice is white-supremacist, so let me just lay out a few of the reasons why. Because systemic racism IS real, and white people in the United States benefit from it, and if we pretend it doesn't exist and just try not to have racist *feelings* in our hearts, we are complicit. Because it's extremely racist to not believe all the people of color who talk about their experiences with discrimination. Because it presents a "gospel" which sees nothing wrong with allowing oppression to continue. Because it holds up theology done by white men as "correct" and "biblical" and dismisses theology done by people of color as "worldly."

In a sense, the Statement on Social Justice is shocking by how blatant it is in denying the existence of systemic racism and claiming this is what Christians should believe. But at the same time, I grew up in a white evangelical church and somehow these ideas feel familiar to me. Even though nobody ever said them to me out loud, somehow I knew that Christians were supposed to be suspicious of anything that seemed "liberal."

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Oh, and one more thing: Everybody, especially white American Christians, should read James Cone.

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Follow-up post: "On earth as it is in heaven"

Related:
My Racist Personal Relationship with God
They Prayed About It (a post about the #NashvilleStatement)
Zootopia, an Adorable Disney Cartoon about Systemic Racism

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Little Story About a Mission Trip and Money

A biblical fisherman getting a coin from a fish. Image text: "Fish better have my money. Matthew 17:24-27." Image source.
Back when I was a college student, I went on a summer mission trip to China. And then, well, as you know, I got "sucked in" and after graduation I moved here and I've been living here for 5 years.

In order to go on a mission trip, you need to ask a bunch of people for money. So here's the story of how that all went down.

I really wanted to go on a mission trip that summer, so in the spring I was looking around to see what opportunities there were. There was this one trip I was considering (which I didn't end up doing, spoiler), and I emailed the trip leader, Ivan, to ask him some questions. One of the things I told him was that it seemed like a lot of money (around $4000) and I was concerned about how to raise that much money.

And Ivan emailed back and said it may seem like a lot of money, but don't be worried, because "nobody that God wanted to go on the trip has ever had trouble raising the money."

I think back on that now, and I'm almost astonished, like, can you believe he said that??? What an outlandish claim to make! ... But, what's more surprising is, I actually believed him.

Why on earth did I believe him? Like, what was I thinking? I'm a math person. I'm a statistics person. How did I not immediately think, "wow, anyone who says something like that is full of shit, because how on earth would you be able to gather all the data you would need to support that big of a claim?" Like, let's stop and think about this for a second. How could anyone ever possibly know whether or not "nobody that God wanted to go on the trip has ever had trouble raising the money"? Let's try to imagine how it might possibly come about that someone would have access to information that might suggest that this is true.

Keep in mind that Christians feel pressure to put a good spin on it, and in general people don't like to talk about their financial problems. So if they did "have trouble" they wouldn't necessarily be transparent about it with their team leader. You'd have to put a lot of thought into how you design your survey questions to get past people's natural, subconscious tendency to be less than honest about their financial situation. And HOW ON EARTH would you quantify whether or not "God wanted" them to take the trip?

Do you think Ivan thought about any of that?

Even if it was true, how would you know?

It's the kind of assertion you would only believe if you already ascribe to an idealistic worldview where a God makes perfect plans and we just have to listen to Them and trust and obey and we are the heroes of our own stories. And that's the worldview I held back then; that's what I was taught in church. So actually, a statement like "nobody that God wanted to go on the trip has ever had trouble raising the money" is communicating about your perspective on the kind of world we live in, rather than stating the conclusion of a statistical study. We already believe we live in the sort of world where "nobody that God wanted to go on the trip has ever had trouble raising the money", so it's not really necessary to look for data to find out whether that's actually the case.

(Captain Cassidy has made a similar point in a blog post about speaking in tongues- people at her church claimed that a Jewish person had visited their church and said that a little girl "speaking in tongues" was speaking "perfect Aramaic" and Cassidy was confused about why nobody had bothered to get the name of the visitor and other details. Because, it's not really about evidence and facts; it's about expressing your beliefs about the nature of the reality we live in.)

It reminds me of another time- and this is really embarrassing- in college, when our campus Christian group was having a weekend conference and we were encouraging our members to sign up. One of the students on the leadership team, Helen, was talking about how people always think they can't go because they have too much homework, but we should just trust God and put God first and go to the conference anyway, and God will work it out. In fact, she said, it's quite common that you go to a Christian conference and then you find out the due date for your project was pushed back, or your homework ends up being easier than you expected- so it all works out. Sometimes we call this phenomenon "the 'God's kids' curve." (A reference to the concept of "grading on a curve.")

And so I found myself sending an email to one of the freshmen to see if she was planning to come to the conference, and she said she couldn't because she had too much homework, and, ohhhh geez this is embarrassing, I told her "there's this thing called the 'God's kids' curve" and that she should come anyway and God will work out the other stuff. (Apparently she was less than convinced, because she did not end up coming.)

Like, can you believe I repeated that urban legend? I believed it just because Helen said it, and not because it was backed up by any statistical evidence. How did that happen? I'm a math nerd, I know what confirmation bias is. Why would I just straight-up believe such a wild claim?

Anyway, back to my story about the mission trip. I didn't end up going on Ivan's trip; I signed up for a different one, led by a guy we will call Robert. (The cost for this one was also about $4000.)

So to prepare for the trip, I needed to send out fundraising letters so people would give me money. In the letter, I explained why I wanted to go to China- it was because I believed that God lives in every culture in the world, and by staying in the US and only knowing my own culture, I'm only able to experience a very limited part of God- I did NOT believe "we need to go over there and SAVE THEM." And at the end of the letter I asked for support. I said, the most important thing is to pray for us. The second most important thing is the money.

Because, of course we have to believe that, right? It's not really about the money, it's about being aligned with God's will, and if you achieve that, then of course God will make sure you get the money, no problem.

Now, of course I also believed if the recipients of my fundraising letter prayed and were truly seeking to obey God, then many of them would send me money. But see, it's not really *about* the money, the key is the praying. And, the other side of the coin is that if we have enough money but we're not praying and willing to listen to God, our trip is going to be a failure.

That's what we believed. That's what I was taught in church. Heard a lot of testimonies about "it looked impossible, but we had faith this is what God wanted us to do, and against all odds it was a success" and "everything was going so well for me and I got proud and started to feel like I didn't need God and I could do this on my own, and then it all failed spectacularly."

So the day of the trip came. First we all gathered at a church in the US, so we could fly to China together the next day. So there we were, the group of us students, meeting for the first time, and one of the students, Margaret, was asking the rest of us how our fundraising went. Did we raise all the money we were supposed to, or did we have to pay for the trip ourselves?

I told her I had to pay about $500 of my own money. And she said "ah, that's not that bad." Turns out, some of the other students ended up paying a lot more of their own money. Some of them were very late in sending out their fundraising letters- they didn't stick to the schedule Robert gave us.

Wait right there, stop the presses.

Paying $500 of my own money- failing to fundraise for the whole cost- is "not that bad"? And the way she said it ... like she was familiar with the reality of how these things go, unlike little idealistic me. Actually, several of the students on the trip- including Margaret- all went to the same college, so they knew each other before, and must have been talking to each other during the fundraising process and aware of how it was going for each of them.

See, I had never thought about this before: What if you send out fundraising letters to go on a mission trip, and the amount that you raise is less than the amount you need? Where does the rest of the money come from? I had never ever thought about that, until it happened to me, and I had kind of felt bad for "failing", until I decided to think of it as, "well I am making a donation to this mission trip, so, wow look at that, now the total amount of the donations is the right amount." And pretend my donation wasn't forced. Pretend I didn't "fail."

I guess I thought the exact dollar amount of the cost for the trip didn't affect me at all, because I would just fundraise all the money, and that's how it works. Ha. Nope. In the real world, the amount I pay is the total cost minus the fundraised amount. See? So yes, it makes a big difference if the trip costs, say, $3800 vs $4000. That's $200 coming out of my pocket.

Because, see, that's what happens. When it comes down to it, if the money you raise is less than the amount you need, YOU are the one on the hook for that money. And then where is all that fancy talk about "God's plan"?

It wasn't a big deal for me, because I did have $500 just laying around, so, whatever, I can pay for it. But now I wonder ... surely sometimes, kids aren't able to fundraise enough for their mission trip, and then they can't go- surely that happens sometimes, right? But nobody ever talks about that in church.

(Especially not Ivan, haha. Or, well, he might believe that if you weren't able to fundraise enough, that's because it wasn't really God's will for you to go. So then you're even more of a failure, for going against God's will. And for sending out fundraising letters and trying to get other Christians to help you go against God's will. Oooh, how embarrassing.)

That really affected me, though, when Margaret said "that's not that bad." What a huge contrast with Ivan's "nobody that God wanted to go on the trip has ever had trouble raising the money." Margaret told me "that's not that bad," and shattered my lofty idealistic view of "God providing." Reality doesn't work that way.

So. Off we went, to China.

Then, partway through the trip, we were having a team meeting, and Robert told us we were ... uh, spending too much money. As the leader, Robert was responsible for handling the money- choosing cheap hotels for us to stay in, buying tickets for tourist attractions and other activities we did with our Chinese friends [*cough* evangelism targets *cough*], etc. And he and the other leaders had realized that, if we kept going like that, we would end up way over budget by the end of the trip.

So, Robert told us, they were faced with a decision. Do we stop doing things and just get by on as little money as possible for the rest of the trip, or do we keep going as originally planned? And they decided to keep going as planned. Don't make changes in order to save money.

You know why? Because, he said, we are trusting God. We have seen "signs" that God is supporting us on this trip. Why, one person even got saved already! We are going to trust God and keep doing the things we planned to do, even though we don't technically have the money for that.

God wants us here, doing this, Robert said.

So, full steam ahead!

And that's what we did. We carried on with all our travel and tourism plans for the rest of the trip. Guess what: 3 of our Chinese friends ended up getting saved! Wow isn't that amazing? (Ahem, but if you read my blog you know I no longer really buy the concept of "getting saved"...)

Then we came back to the US. And a few weeks later, there was an email from Robert. He said, you all remember how on the trip I said we were over budget? Well, can you all do some more fundraising to try to make up the difference?

So I wrote a fundraising email and sent it out. I wrote about how great and successful the trip was, but unfortunately we still need more money, so if you're able could you send some?

One of my friends told me he donated some money after reading my email. But I didn't hear back from anyone else about it. I don't know if anyone else donated or not- they would have donated online, directly to the missions organization, so it's possible they did but I didn't know about it. But... eh, probably not. Who would want to donate to a mission trip that already happened, like, IN THE PAST? You don't really get the feeling that you're making a difference, with that kind of donation. It already happened. What's the point?

So I wonder what happened after that. I never heard anything else about the money situation. I wonder if Robert got in trouble. I wonder if there were restrictions put on him in future mission trips, so he wouldn't be able to overspend like that again.

I wonder if he went back and told the missions organization that God was clearly there with us on the trip, and 3 Chinese people got saved, and the organization was like wow that's wonderful, you did the right thing, who cares about the money?

I wonder if the missions organization expects that sometimes the trips go over budget, and they have a plan in place for that, and it's okay.

I wonder ... where does the illusion of "this is God's will, so we know God is going to work everything out" break down and you have to face the hard reality of "where is this money going to come from?"

I bet missionaries know a lot of awkward secrets about that point where all our romantic ideas about "God's plan" clash against the reality of money and numbers that just don't add up. A lot of things you can't say in church. The only stories you're allowed to tell in church are "we thought we weren't going to have enough money, but suddenly God provided" and "because I was being sinful, God punished me by letting my funding dry up" and "I felt so bad when I couldn't raise the money, but through it all, God was with me in a whole new way- so I realized that God had let it happen to teach me this."

So that's my little mission-trip-money story. I used to be the sort of Christian who believed Ivan's bullshit about "nobody that God wanted to go on the trip has ever had trouble raising the money," but not anymore. Now I am the sort of Christian who wonders about privilege and economic class ... Like, it must be the case that these short-term missions opportunities are only available to kids from an upper/middle class background ... right? It must be very very dependent on the average income of all the adults in their life. I grew up in a white suburban church where it was very normal for church members to receive fundraising letters from kids in the youth group going on mission trips, and people were happy to give a few dollars because they wanted to support the kids. But what about Christian teenagers in churches where a lot of the congregation is struggling financially, maybe even living in poverty? Do they go on international mission trips at the same rate? Or is it "God's will" that they don't get a chance to go? Ugh, that God is not worthy of worship. (This is why I no longer believe in a God who actively intervenes in the world- because a lot of "God's blessings" turned out to be white privilege or economic privilege.)

But I never heard anyone ever say anything like that, growing up in a white evangelical church. It was all about how God is "calling" you to go on the trip and that's the one and only deciding factor. 

Nobody ever mentioned income demographics.

Nobody ever said the reason I got to go to China is because I knew a lot of rich Christians. Even though that's the truth.

And my real-life experience of fundraising for the trip didn't match the abstract, idealized stories I had always heard in church. I said in my fundraising letter that the most important thing was prayer, and money was second... but I wonder what happened to Robert when he came back to the US having spent way too much money. I wonder if, when it really comes down to it, anybody actually believes that stuff.

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Note: So, this post is about a short-term mission trip I went on, and I know there is a lot to criticize about short-term mission trips in general (in terms of harm done to the people we are trying to "save"), but I didn't get into that because it wasn't the focus of this post. Just wanted to make a note here to say I am aware of the criticism and I agree with a lot of it.

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Related:
Runaway Radical: The Stories You Can't Tell In Church
The things I've never let myself say about evangelism
The things I've never let myself say about worship

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Blogaround

A little fluffy puppy. Image source.
1. Hundreds dead, no one charged: the uphill battle against Los Angeles police killings (posted August 24) [content note: police brutality, murder] "'It really greenlights this type of behavior,' said Melina Abdullah, a BLM organizer in LA. 'Police don’t have to care about anybody’s life, especially if they’re black or brown or poor.'"

2. For A Lady I Know. A poem.

3. I didn’t read Harry Potter when I was growing up. And I wasn’t alone. (posted September 1) Oooh, Alissa Wilkinson has ALL the receipts here.

4. 23: Sensory Series (2) “Picky Eater” (posted September 12) "Recently I’ve been examining why I struggle with certain foods and have come to the same conclusion as I have with much of my post-diagnosis self-exploration: I’m actually incredibly strong and my experiences are real and valid." YES.

5. Pat Robertson Thanks God For Aiming Hurricane At Other States: People Living There Should Pray Like I Did (posted September 12) Hahahaha well usually when Christians pray "God, please let bad things happen to other people instead of to me" they are way less obvious about it. This is one of the biggest reasons I don't pray anymore, actually. Because I realized the majority of my prayer requests could basically be rephrased as "God, please let bad things happen to other people instead of to me."

6. Baltimore Cops Carried Toy Guns to Plant on People They Shot, Trial Reveals (posted February 1) Whattttttt

7. The Gospel According to the Rumble Ponies (posted September 5) "Kaepernick, like Tebow, was an outspoken evangelical Christian who was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. And while the NFL forbade Tebow from writing Bible verses in his eye black, it couldn’t do anything to prevent Kaepernick from wearing Bible verses on the field because he had those verses tattooed on both arms."

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

When I Grow Up

Little kid's assignment where they've written "When I grow up I want to be a mailbox" and attempted to draw something. Image source.
I've been out of school and working a full-time job for about 5 years now, and so I feel like I've been an adult for 5 years. It's quite interesting and unexpected how there's been so much change in my life during that time. Things are definitely better right now than they were a few years ago.

My job is way better. When I first came to China back in 2013, I worked as an English teacher because I couldn't find an engineering job. I had to work evenings and weekends because the students were adults who came to class when they got off work. Teaching isn't really a good job for me because it requires way more people skills than I have. But eventually I did leave teaching and get a job as an engineer- and it was really hard at the beginning, doing an entry-level R&D job as an immigrant at a Chinese company. But the more time passes, the more work experience I have to show for it, and it gets easier. I've changed jobs a few times, and every time is easier because I can tell them I now have X years of work experience in engineering.

Seriously, I never expected this. Nothing in my whole life prepared me for finding out just how different it is looking for a job when I have work experience in that field vs when I don't. Or worse, when I've been out of school for a while and teaching instead of doing engineering. That's sort of a suspicious gap to have in my career- but as time passes, the time I spent as an English teacher moves farther and farther into the past, and employers don't care about it any more.

And I work normal hours now! It's so great to have free time in the evenings and weekends so I can spend time with friends and with Hendrix. My schedule now is just so much BETTER than when I was teaching. My job is so much better. I'm doing what I actually want to do. And it makes my life better.

Then there's my apartment. Hendrix and I have lived in a few different places, and the quality of our housing situation has a big effect on how good life is. How long is the commute? How far from our home to a subway station? Does our building have an elevator? Is the hot water heater good or crappy? How big is the apartment? It's just so good to live without the constant tiny stress of having to carefully shuffle around narrow paths through shelves and boxes piled high because that apartment was too small.

I'm really happy with our current housing situation. And that makes life better.

My health is way better now too. Specifically, mental health. A few years ago, I had depression because of ... uh ... purity culture and Christian teaching on hell and all that. And now, from time to time I marvel at how completely good and wonderful it is to not have depression. I would like to give credit to these 2 things, as the reasons I no longer have depression:
  1. I had premarital sex.
  2. I stopped trying to go to church.
(I plan to never stop talking about this, because it's the opposite of everything I was taught in church, and people need to know.)

So, so, so good to not have depression.

And another thing that's changed is understanding myself as autistic. Now I know that sometimes I have different needs than other people, and those needs are real and I deserve to have them met, so I should politely communicate about what I need, because other people aren't going to realize it on their own. This is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than what I had always done before- when I was a little kid, I was taught that if I think I need something different from other people, that's wrong and I'm being selfish and I just need to learn to be okay without getting my needs met.

It's so good and healthy how I've been learning how to know my own emotions and needs. Really makes a lot of things so much easier.

Also I have a bunch of friends now! As previously mentioned, I'm not trying to go to church any more, so I ended up going to some groups based around common interests and hobbies and such, and met all these great people from different countries. We have a pretty cool international community here in Shanghai. And it's really good having friendships based on just having fun together and being good people, and nobody is trying to suss out anyone's religious beliefs and judge and reject them for it.

And I don't know if I mentioned it or not (lol) but I got married last year, and that's pretty awesome too. Having Hendrix in my life is great, and living with him makes me so happy because I get to be with him all the time.

Anyway, I'm writing about this- about how "being an adult" isn't just one thing, how my life circumstances have changed in a lot of ways over the past few years- for 2 reasons:

1. Because when I was a kid, I thought adults had it all figured out and they didn't change.

People always ask little kids "what do you want to be when you grow up?" It makes it sound like you can only be 1 thing. It makes it sounds like "when you grow up" is something you can just take one snapshot of, to represent the whole thing- rather than something that goes through many different phases as the years pass. Nobody ever told me you can do one job for a while, and then if you want you can change to a completely different job, and then maybe 10 years later change again. I didn't know you could live in one place for a while, then move to a different place. Uh, I don't know, maybe adults did tell me that at some point- like, I was aware of the concept of moving- but I didn't really *get* it.

As a kid, my life changed a lot- first I was in elementary school, then middle school, then high school, etc. I lost baby teeth and grew new ones. I got taller. I learned stuff in school everyday. Always getting better and better. There were milestones. There was noticeable progress. There were goals. But I thought after you graduate from college, then you immediately get married and get a job and a house, and then after that, your life just stays the same from that point on.

I assumed that when I was "grown up" I would more or less know everything. Once I got to a certain age, I would never be confused or scared again. I didn't know adults had all the same emotions I did. They always seemed so confident and unflappable.

So this whole "adulting" thing is so much different than I expected.

2. Because evangelical Christianity taught me that it's not possible for a change in life circumstances to actually make people happier.

In the Christianity I used to believe, there was always a lot of talk about how God is all we need, and we shouldn't have something in our life that's so important it becomes an "idol" and we love it more than God. It was wrong to think "I'm unhappy because I don't have xyz, if I only had xyz my life would be so much better." In my case, back in college I wanted a boyfriend- but I told myself no, a boyfriend won't make me happy, only God can make me *truly* happy. (Like, I believed it wasn't wrong to have desires like that, but I shouldn't focus on them too much.)

We were supposed to be content, regardless of our circumstances, because we have a relationship with Jesus. That's all that matters, right? And this kind of mindset discourages people from setting goals for their future, because Christians know that changing our life circumstances doesn't make us happy. And besides, if you really really want something and you work hard to get it, well, isn't it likely that thing would become an "idol"?

I can't believe I have to say this, because isn't it obvious? YES, OF COURSE there are times when a change in your life circumstances has a huge effect on your happiness on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes I think to myself, "Remember when we were living in that apartment where the window didn't really shut all the way so it was super-cold all winter? Wow, I am SO GLAD we're not there any more." There are so many examples. So many situations I've been in, in the past, where I'm SO GLAD things have changed and I'm not living that way anymore. And none of it is at all related to "God is all I need" and "being content in any and all circumstances" and "idols."

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And Hendrix and I have more goals for our future. We have some ideas about other things we want to change to make our life better, and we're working toward those things. And inevitably there will be new problems that come up in the future and change our life circumstances and affect our "contentment."

Things change, because that's how life is. And I had no idea about that before.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Blogaround

Cute duck with tiny flowers on its head. Image source.
1. Bank of America freezing accounts of customers suspected of not being US citizens (posted August 30) "Saeed Moshfegh woke up earlier this month to discover the strangest thing: though he had plenty of money in his Bank of America account, he couldn’t access it. An Iranian getting his Ph.D in physics at the University of Miami, Moshfegh used the account for everyday transactions." Whoa whoa whoa not cool.

2. We still have time to repent for American racism (posted 2017) "Our country has never done tshuvah for its many racist wrongs — particularly those committed against black and indigenous people. There has been no real introspection by those who hold institutional power, no formal apologies made to those enslaved or their descendants. There has been, on an official level, no display of curiosity about whether restitution is needed and what that might possibly look like."

3. redemption for rapists: a how-to guide for predators, abusers, and churches (posted August 30) [content note: sexual assault] "A teenage girl trusted you because you were her spiritual guide, her youth pastor? You must never serve in that role, ever again."

4. U.S. is denying passports to Americans along the border, throwing their citizenship into question (posted August 29) "The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown." WHOAAAAAAA not cool.

5. On Sensual Attraction: Yes, sometimes people do "just want to cuddle." (posted August 19) "We live in a society in which sex and ideas of what constitutes romantic gestures have been marked as the most meaningful or “deepest” manners to express attraction and be passionately intimate with one another. Other forms of expressing human attraction and intimacy beyond sex, such as sensuality, are frequently already socially marked as precursors to sex or otherwise dependent on an expected “deeper” presence of sexual attraction or desire to obtain sex."

And 2 articles about LGB rights in Asia. Good news and bad news...

1. India's top court decriminalizes gay sex in landmark ruling (posted September 6)

2. 'People are afraid': Gay caning stokes fear in Malaysia's LGBT community (posted September 3)

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

If My Kid Is Worried About Hell

Noah's ark Sunday school craft made from a paper plate. A cutesy little kids' craft about genocide. This should strike as so horrifying it's surreal. Image source.
I've been thinking recently about how Hendrix and I want to have kids in the future, and how I think it's fine if our hypothetical kids occasionally go to Sunday school or VBS or if my parents read them bible stories or whatever. I have good memories of those things from when I was a little kid. Maybe that's a strange thing for me to say, because y'all read my blog and you know I have a lot to say about how stuff I learned in church was really harmful. But the crafts and games were fun, I seem to remember, and maybe I want my future kids to experience that. Maybe for cultural reasons.

The key is, I'll make sure my kids know that whenever someone tells them something about religion, they don't have to believe it. (They should be polite about it, but they don't have to believe it.) They can consider the claims and only believe things if they feel there is a good enough reason. When we are presented with some version of god, we can judge that god and decide if they are worthy of worship.

And I think, as long as they know that, they'll be fine. In my case, as I child I had to be evangelical because all the trusted adults in my life were, and I didn't know adults could be wrong. In a practical sense, I didn't have a choice about "asking Jesus into my heart"- of course it was inevitable, because all the role models around me believed that's what everyone needs to do, and I didn't know there were other valid ideologies out there. I didn't know adults could be wrong about something so big and still be good people. I didn't know that the things they said about people that believe differently were all a bunch of bullshit- about how it's impossible to be truly happy without "a personal relationship with God", about how "everyone has a God-shaped hole in their heart", how most people who "claim" to be Christians are actually fake Christians, how no one can really be moral without the Holy Spirit living in them, how "Christianity is unique because all the other religions are about how to earn God's approval, but Christianity says we can't earn it, God already loves us and has already done the work, we just need to accept it."

"Do not bear false witness against your neighbor" is one of the 10 Commandments, but the religion I used to believe was 100% built upon dehumanizing lies.

But I'll tell my kids there are a lot of religions out there, and it's okay for people to disagree about them. The important thing is how we treat other people, not our opinions on abstract, unprovable religious questions. I don't think it's a problem if someone teaches some unhealthy evangelical doctrine to them, because they'll be hearing it in the context of "here is one possible thing that I could believe but I don't have to" instead of "this is the Truth and if I don't like it that means I'm the one who's sinful and I have to stomp down those emotions and force myself to accept it."

And they'll see that their dad doesn't believe in God and he's fine. A tangible proof that all those things evangelicals say about "the unsaved" aren't true.

All right so that all sounds good in theory, but what if my kid is at some church event that uses emotional manipulation and it really gets to them? What if they're at a campfire and the music is low and everybody has to write down their sin on a piece of paper and come lay it at the foot of the cross, and they feel God's love and they come to the front and pray and cry and give their life to Jesus. What if it feels so real, this God that believes their dad is going to hell. What if they go to evangelism training and read the passage from Ezekiel about being a watchman, and they're encouraged to feel guilty because they don't love their friends and their dad enough to badger them about accepting Jesus?

I know those emotions can be really intense. And if they believe they feel God- and I believe I have felt God- it will make them think everything else is true too, all the bad theology that surrounded the moment when they felt God. As if God endorses everything that happened there.

So, what am I gonna do if my kid is worried that people they care about are going to hell?

Here's the thing: Nobody knows for sure if hell is real or not. For people who don't believe in it, surely we can understand why they don't- it's because there's not evidence. You can't blame them, right?

So if it's true that our friends are going to hell and we have a responsibility to warn them, well, that puts us in a very difficult situation, right? Because we can warn them, and they won't believe us, and we can't really blame them too much because yeah there's not evidence for the existence of hell anyway. So the result is, we end up in a situation where we're scared that our friends are going to hell, we feel a little embarrassed for trying to convince them about something we know there's not good enough evidence for, we feel like we should manipulate and push them for their own good, and then we feel guilty for trying to manipulate them, and on top of that maybe we're a bit worried hell isn't real anyway.

Like, what a mess. All that fear, worry, uncertainty, and not respecting people's boundaries. Would a loving god put us in a situation like that?

See, I believe in a god who cares about our emotional and mental health. And I believe that when someone is trying to motivate you by using fear and guilt, that is a GIANT RED FLAG.

A loving god is NOT going to set up a system of "perfect justice" that results in all these negative emotions for their followers. You love your friends, and therefore you constantly feel all worried and anguished about their eternal fate, because of choices your god made. Yeah, no. A god who turns love into fear is not worthy of worship. Perfect love casts out fear.

So if my kid is worried that people they love are in danger of hell, I will tell them this: Yes, if that teaching is true, it makes sense that you would be worried about that. A person who truly loves people and truly believes those people are going to hell would be so scared and sad all the time. But is that really how god would want us to live? If god loves us, doesn't that mean They want us to be healthy- and that includes mental health? Let's take a step back and think about this, and realize it's motivated by fear instead of any rational reason to believe that hell is a real danger.

Mental health matters, and that's something I never knew when I was a good evangelical. Of course I didn't- I was taught that I should be "desperate" for god and "dependent" on god, and that meant I could never feel safe. It meant taking big risks I wasn't comfortable with, giving away money without caring about my own financial situation, constantly reminding myself that I can't do anything on my own- because if I ever forget, even for a moment, that I literally need God in order to live, well, that's selfish and sinful pride. Back then, every day was a "spiritual battle", everything was a crisis and an adventure, I felt like I was out of control but I trusted god and believed that's how it should be. I fought my "sin", I "took captive every thought", overanalyzed and accused myself whenever I sinfully had emotions over giving up something that was important to me. I lived like I didn't need sleep, like I didn't need people to care about me- I just needed god. I didn't know emotional needs were real. I worried that other people at church would think there was something wrong with me because I was so devoted, but decided maybe they were fake Christians and it doesn't matter what they think. I prayed on my knees and cried and believed, oh I believed so hard. My relationship with god ... my personal relationship with god ... it was my entire life, back then.

You guys, I loved him. And he never let me rest. He let me beg and plead, with no answer, and then had me convince myself that I was the one in the wrong, for not being content with his silence.

And I didn't know mental health mattered, so I didn't notice my own fear, stress, worry. I didn't know it was good and healthy to care about myself, my desires, my own happiness. I didn't know how damaging it is to give up so much and force myself to be okay with never having my emotional needs met. None of that registered as a red flag.

But my kid is going to know that their emotions matter. And my kid is going to know that it's good to have desires, and the key is to handle them in a healthy way.

And if anybody tells my kid they deserve to go to hell, well, there will be hell to pay.

So that's my plan. Start by teaching them to love themself. Their emotions matter and they should pay attention to those emotions in order to take care of themself in a healthy way. Of course empathy is a big part of this- your emotions matter, and, similarly, other people's emotions matter, so that's why you need to treat other people right. And if somebody tries to manipulate you by using fear, that's a giant red flag. Take a step back and evaluate if they actually have anything worthwhile to say or if it's all preying on people's emotions.

Start with that foundation, and hopefully they won't be "led astray" at church.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Blogaround

An image with a pixelated charmander, and the text, "My love burns for you, like Charmander's tail." Image source.
1. The WORST ADVICE you can give an Autistic person #TakeTheMaskOff (posted July 27) "It's all about finding a socially acceptable version of what 'being myself' looks like." YESSS this guy gets it.

2. ‘Addicts, crooks, thieves’: the campaign to kill Baltimore's light rail (posted August 22) "The Hahns had moved to the working/middle-class suburb seeking a quiet, safe environment away from the crime and strife of Baltimore, 10 miles away. But, like many in the neighbourhood, they say the city’s woes have seeped into the area via public transport. Specifically, they believe criminals are coming into the suburbs by light rail."

3. Same-Sex Attraction, Celibacy, and Jackie Hill Perry (posted August 22) "There is nothing holy about giving up something that God has called good."

4. Veterans Speak Out Against The Militarization Of Sports (posted July 20) "'And, I mean, if you look at kind of the tone of what Memorial Day has become about, it’s pretty gross,' Nick says. 'Even on the teams’ official Twitter accounts — a flame emoji for, like, 'Look how hot these camo hats are.' And it's, like, 'Really, guys? That's the plan?' I mean, you can imagine how some of these Gold Star families reacted to that. They were not remotely amused.'"

5. George Whitefield was worse than Hybels, Swaggart, Haggard, Patterson, Pressler, Bakker, Hinn, Tilton and all the rest put together (posted August 8) "When you create and disseminate an otherworldly, obtuse form of religion that is incapable of opposing the starkest forms of injustice and oppression, then you’re bound to wind up with the kind of religion that elevates “leaders” like these. A bad tree cannot be expected to bear better fruit."

6. It Is Long Past Time for Evangelical Leaders to Condemn Doug Wilson’s Views on Slavery and the South (posted August 27) "I do not understand how Wilson has a platform anywhere but his own personal blog."

7. The ‘feel-good’ horror of late-stage capitalism (posted August 2) "In the feel-good feel-bad story, irrefutable proof of an institutional failure is sold as a celebration of individual triumph."

8. Doctor Strange's Plan Explained | 14,000,605 Infinity War Theory (posted August 28) [content note: spoilers for "Avengers: Infinity War"] Interesting, but you know I'm very wary of Dr. Strange fan theories- they sound too much like theodicy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Feminism 101: The Bechdel Test

The 6 Avengers at the Battle of New York. One (Black Widow) is a woman and five are men. This movie doesn't pass the Bechdel Test. Image source.
Feminism 101 is a series where I define words related to feminism~

Today's entry: The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a test we can use when we talk about women in movies. It originally appeared in the comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For", by Alison Bechdel. To pass the test, a movie must meet these 3 requirements:
  1. There are 2 named female characters
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man.
Seems like this is a pretty low bar to meet, right? But a surprisingly high proportion of popular movies don't pass. The site bechdeltest.com has a database of 7760 movies, 57.8% of which pass. 7 of 9 2018 Best Picture Oscar nominees pass, and 5 of 9 2017 nominees pass. 4 of 8 Star Wars episodes pass (the original 3 all fail). 9 of 11 Disney princess movies pass (according to this 2013 post).

Not passing the test means that every single line of dialogue (between named characters) is related to men. Wow. And yet that's the case, for maybe half of our movies. And actually, a lot of the ones that pass did so just barely. When applying the Bechdel Test to a movie, it's common to get into little hair-splitting details like "does this character count as a 'named character'", "if their conversation was mostly about a man but there was a little part that wasn't, does that count", "their 'conversation' consisted of only 1 word, are we counting that or not", and so on. (Like look at all this hair-splitting over "Avengers: Infinity War.")

I want to be clear that the Bechdel Test isn't about whether a movie is feminist or not, whether it portrays women in a good way or a sexist way, or anything like that. It's not about that at all. Passing does NOT mean the movie is a good movie or a feminist movie, and failing does not mean the movie is bad. There are lots of movies that have great female characters but fail the Bechdel Test. And it's possible that a movie can pass on a technicality even though it doesn't treat its female characters well. (Listen, if you ignore the "named character" requirement, the song "Baby Got Back" passes the Bechdel Test.) Like, seriously, passing means that there exists at least 1 line of dialogue that's not about men at all. Let's not go around giving congratulations for this. How on earth could a standard so incredibly low be used to reassure us that the movie is not sexist?

The Bechdel Test should not be used as a way to make judgments about individual movies. Instead, it tells us about our culture's entertainment system as a whole. How is it possible that such a huge proportion of movies can fail such a simple test? Why is a movie with 1 "strong female character" such a big deal, people love it and talk about how great it is, how she's a role model for girls- while no one seems to think it's odd that all the other main characters in her movie are men? Why are movies where the whole cast is male seen as normal and popular for all genders, while movies with all women characters are "chick flicks" rather than serious movies, and men aren't supposed to like them?

It's not about whether "Star Wars: A New Hope" is good or bad; it's about the number of female characters overall, in all movies. There are far too few, and often they are just there to support a story about a man. The Bechdel Test is a simple way to quantify this phenomenon on a society-wide scale, but it doesn't tell us anything about if one specific movie is "feminist" or not. 

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You asked and I answered~ In my 2018 Reader Survey, one of the top 5 topics you voted for was "feminism." Hence this post. :)

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