Friday, June 29, 2012

Are little kids in Sunday School missing the gospel?

I found a really interesting blog post over here: I Wonder If Sunday School Is Destroying Our Kids (posted June 26, 2012).

Summary: In Sunday School, we teach kids things like "Abraham was faithful, and God made him the father of a nation.  So be faithful like Abraham."  We hold up the "bible heroes" as examples of good people who were rewarded by God.  This is totally THE OPPOSITE of the gospel- the gospel is about how God loves us in our state of "hideousness."  The real message in the stories of the bible is how the people had faults and weaknesses and did bad things, but God loved and pursued them anyway. 

I've noticed that little-kid bibles misrepresent the bible.  They only include the stories that are easy to understand and have imagery with cute animals or crazy miracles and the like.  And everything is censored to be G-rated.  (Or maybe PG-13, depending on how graphic the illustration of David cutting off Goliath's head was.)  I remember being surprised when I first heard the story of Cain killing his brother Abel, because it wasn't in my little-kid bible.  I remember when I first heard about prophets like Isaiah going to tell the people to repent, and they DIDN'T REPENT.  Crazy town! 

David and Goliath?  Wait, why is he blond?  Image source.

I remember when I was old enough to read the bible on my own every day (the REAL bible, not a little-kid bible), maybe in middle school or high school, and I read the story where Jacob lies to his father in order to steal the blessing that should belong to his older brother.  I was like, wait, this was bad.  Jacob LIED and STOLE.  I wondered, when I read this story in my little-kid bible or heard it in Sunday School, what did the adults say about it?  What was supposed to be the "take-home lesson"?  How come I had never before realized that Jacob did a BAD thing here?

But, Jacob was a "good guy" and his brother Esau was a "bad guy", right?

The world is way more complicated than that.

Sunday School lessons take complex bible characters, with all their individual strengths and weaknesses and bizarre circumstances, and simplify them down to a single line about how to be a good person.  Esther is about courage.  Hannah is about patience.  Noah is about obedience.  Ruth is about loyalty.  David and Jonathan is about friendship.  Joseph (the Old-Testament Joseph) is about forgiveness.  Adam is about stewardship.  Jonah is about mercy.  Abraham is about trust.  I could go on and on.

In reality, the bible is WEIRD, and there's so much stuff in there that's like "... wat?"  Not everything has some obvious "take-home lesson"- in fact, I'd say most of it doesn't.

This is why people have to read the bible for themselves, instead of just hearing certain parts of it taught in church.

But back to the thing about how to teach little kids.  I hesitate to announce to kids "God loves you even when you're bad!" because kids are little trouble-makers and don't need any more excuses to be bad.  I'm speaking from experience here.  I remember when my parents told me the golden rule says "treat others the way you want to be treated" and I used that to make a case that it was right for me to hit my sister.  (She hit me, and the golden rule says "treat others the way you want to be treated" so she clearly wants me to hit her back.  QED.)

It's kind of complicated, because God loves his followers no matter what, but that doesn't mean we can just do whatever we want.  Christianity says the reason we should do good things is not to earn God's approval- it's to show our gratitude to him, it's because we've been inspired to be like Jesus, it's because God loves people so we should love them too.

And I feel like that's too nuanced- little kids won't get it.  (Dude, even adult Christians discuss and debate this kind of stuff.)  So what's the solution?

The "heroes of the bible" are good role models, sometimes, and we should totally learn from those stories and try to be like them.  But they also did some really bad things, and we can learn from that too, but what we should learn is not always so obvious.

So, what to do?  How can we teach kids about good moral principles, while also teaching them the gospel, teaching them that God knows you won't be good all the time, and he still accepts you?

I guess it's kind of the same as how kids should know what rules their parents have for them, but they should also know that their parents love them no matter what.  My parents told me even if I was bad, they would still give me Christmas presents.

So, yeah.  Anyone have any ideas on how to do this?  How do we give kids a good introduction to the bible/Christianity, without being misleading- without telling them rules and nothing else?  How do we emphasize God's mercy being greater than the law, without telling them to "go on sinning so that grace may increase"?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Five Bible Images You Probably Misunderstand" article

Really interesting post over on Huffington Post: Five Bible Images You Probably Misunderstand (posted June 22, 2012).  The author, Dr. Joel Hoffman, writes a blog called God Didn't Say That, about mistranslations of the bible. 

Here are the "five bible images you probably misunderstand", along with my thoughts about them all:

#1 and #2: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul..." (originally Deuteronomy 6:5, then quoted/taught by Jesus in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)  Actually in each of these references, it is expanded to include "strength" or "mind" in addition to "heart and soul". 

The Huffington Post article says that in Hebrew, "heart" referred to mind and emotions, and "soul" referred to the physical body.  Which is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from English- in English, "heart" means only emotions, and "soul" is some vague other-worldly concept that may or may not actually exist, depending on who you ask.

Personally, I know I have spent a TON of time thinking about this verse, because it's the most important commandment in the entire bible.  In doing so, I've placed a lot of emphasis on the individual words, and broken it down into "What does it mean to love God with all my heart?  What does it mean to love God with all my soul?  What does it mean to love God with all my strength?  What does it mean to love God with all my mind?"  Which, I mean, that's great and all, you totally should love God with all your whatever, but it looks like the way I divided it up was not the way it was intended by the original author.

Well, darn.  But it's because of how American culture views mind and emotions as very separate things, whereas in ancient Israelite culture, where the bible was written, they were not seen as separate.  So, I know we definitely need to take that into account when interpreting the bible, but still, different cultures tend to emphasize/value different things, and that's fine.

Because really, the culture where the bible was written does not exist anymore.  That was thousands of years ago.  It just doesn't make sense to me to say "you have to forget all the things your own culture emphasizes and assumes, and pretend you only know the ancient Israelite culture, in order to interpret the bible."  That's way too extreme, and totally not possible, since that culture doesn't even exist any more.  So there has to be a balance in there somewhere.

#3:  Psalm 23 says "The Lord is my shepherd" and goes on and on with that metaphor.  You may think of shepherds as skinny guys who sat around and petted cute little animals, but that would be wildly inaccurate.  What the writer of Psalm 23 was actually saying is "The Lord is my shepherd- he would totally punch a bear in the face to protect me."

In all of these examples, there's not really a good way to fix it.  You can't say "oh these translators are trying to mislead us- why don't they just fix it now that we've done more research about the original meaning" because there just IS NO WORD in English (or, there is no concept in modern American culture) that means the same thing.  Translation is hard.  I totally recommend learning a second language (I recommend Mandarin Chinese, but, you know, I'm biased), just so you understand how translation is hard and words don't always mean what you'd expect them to mean.  And get a whole new perspective about how things can be communicated in ways you'd never even imagined.

#4:  In Song of Songs 4:9, the man calls his lover "my sister, my bride."  (By the way, the whole book, Song of Songs, is about romance and sex and how the two of them are all over each other.)  So, uh, what's up with the "sister" part?  Were they... eww...  No, apparently in Hebrew it "referred to equality of power"- the man and woman are equals in the relationship.

It totally makes sense that in different languages, the names for different family members mean slightly (or very) different things.  I remember when I went to China and stayed at my Chinese friend's house, someone told me that I was supposed to use the words for "aunt" and "uncle" when addressing her parents.  I thought that was incredibly awkward and never did it.  Later I found out that Chinese people totally do that- every adult who's your parent's friend or your friend's parent gets called by the word for aunt or uncle, even if you've only met them once.

(And a disclaimer, just to make sure I have not misinformed you:  Yeah, when I said "gets called by the word for aunt or uncle" that was kind of misleading- they get called 阿姨 and 叔叔, but there are actually a lot of other ways to say "aunt" and "uncle", depending on whether it's on your mom or dad's side, etc, a lot of other complicated things.  I really don't understand how it all works.   Sorry, translation is hard.  I guess that's the point of this post.)

#5:  When it says that Adam lived to be 930 years old (Genesis 5:5), or that other people lived to whatever ridiculous age, that's a metaphor, and ancient people would have understood it as a metaphor.  To them, 930 is a nice round number, because they were apparently not using base 10 like we do.  930 = (30 x 30) + 30.  That's totally symbolic, or something.

Sounds to me like this would be the same as me saying "we're a thousand miles apart" and somebody translating it to "we're 1609.3 km apart" which has none of the poetic/hyperbole feel of the original.

Personally, I always believed it was literally 930 years or whatever, even though that's pretty weird, because I thought the alternative was to say "clearly the bible is wrong here because, dude, that's just ridiculous."  I need a better reason than that.  I believe the bible.

And saying "the author meant it as a hyperbole"- that makes a lot of sense.  I could totally believe that (because "meaning" is what the author intended, not the way it looks when I read it, several thousand years later).  If that's true, then it means people back then placed a lot more importance on what certain numbers represented.  That's pretty interesting- actually if anyone knows of a link that talks more about this stuff, I'd be really interested to read it.  (Plus I'm a math nerd, so, there's that.  Numbers are awesome.)

So, I think the point of all this is you can't place too much importance on individual words when reading the bible, because it's a translation.  The general meaning is there, but unless you know stuff about ancient Hebrew/Greek, you have no idea whether an individual word means what you think it means.

And I think in general, that's okay.  The really important things in the bible are mentioned and elaborated on enough times that the meaning is obvious, even though it's a translation.  Some other less-important, obscure things can be misunderstood/mistranslated. (All of the examples here are little things that it's not a big deal if you misunderstand.)

But the thing is, a lot of times I do find one particular verse or one particular word that means a lot to me.  And other Christians do too- I've read all about how it says "in" instead of "on" or whatever, and the amazing things that shows us about God's faithfulness.

Or about how in the original Greek, this was the same word they used for how a dog scratches around when it's trying to go outside (okay I made that up but you know, examples like that- "this is the same word they used for" whatever).  I'd be kind of skeptical about coming up with some deep meaning from that, unless the person you're discussing it with actually knows Greek.  Just because it's the same word doesn't mean the original readers were all totally thinking about that dog trying to get out of the house.

So, what do you think?  What should we do about little misunderstandings/mistranslations like that?  Is it a big deal?  Does it worry you that some stuff ends up worded in a way that's misleading- and that's totally unavoidable, because it's a different freaking language?  Should Christians study Hebrew and Greek?  Any other insights about the examples mentioned here?

Monday, June 25, 2012

"I'm a mutt"- yeah, I find that offensive

Have you heard this before?  People are discussing where their ancestors came from, "oh, I'm Irish", "oh, my mom's from Korea", and then someone says "I'm a mutt."  Meaning they're a white American whose ancestors came from probably a lot of places in Europe and we don't really entirely know where.

And, as a white American whose ancestors came from who-knows-where in Europe, I don't like this.

Wait, let's pause for a second so I can show you a picture of the dog I had when I was little.  His name's Zeke and he's a mutt- part German shepherd, part Labrador retriever, uhh and probably some small-breed dog because he didn't grow up to be as big as a lab or shepherd.  How do we know?  Wild guessing.  My parents got him at the pound, or whatever the correct term is for that place where the reject dogs go.


Isn't he adorable?  He was such a nice dog.  <3

So anyway.  When people declare themselves to be "a mutt", it sounds like they're proud to not know their family history.  Because it's a joke, haha normally "mutt" would be an insult, but haha.  Why would you be proud about that- to be an ignorant American who doesn't care about the rest of the world?  (Am I reading too much into this?)

I heard that my ancestors came from Germany and England.  I have no hard evidence though, unless you count the German-English dictionary at my grandparents' house.  I want to know who they were and why they came to the US.  Why would you get on a boat and travel for several months, to a place you've never seen before, knowing that you'll probably never ever be able to come back?

I was afraid I was weird for wanting to go to China.  You know, on a plane.  It takes 13 hours to get there.  And I'll come back to the US every few months.

Why did they come from Europe?  We learned about this in history in high school, but it's more than that- it's completely real and it's the reason I'm here and I'm an American.

So yeah.  You'll never hear me say I'm a mutt.  Instead, I'm going to question why people live where they live, where languages came from, why different cultures are different, etc.

To my readers: If you have a fun fact about where your ancestors are from, I would totally love to hear it.  ^_^  Leave it in the comments!

Friday, June 22, 2012

"I don't own my child's body" article

CNN article, posted June 20: I don't own my child's body


The author writes about how her 4-year-old daughter is allowed to say no to a relative who wants a hug or kiss.  "I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won't make you do it."  Because if we force children to give physical affection, it teaches them that their bodies do not belong to them.  It teaches them to use their bodies to please other people.  This could lead to sexual abuse, maybe in the form of child predators, maybe in the form of a boyfriend saying "If you love me, you'll have sex with me."

And no, it's not because she's a bad parent and she's teaching her daughter to be rude.  Her daughter will always offer a handshake or high-five.  Being polite isn't the same thing as allowing everyone access to your body.


I love this and I totally agree- kids shouldn't be forced to hug or kiss anyone, even if it's Grandma.  When the author talks about how it could lead to sexual abuse if you don't allow your kids to say no to little innocent things like hugs from relatives- well, I don't know if that connection is valid or not, but it doesn't matter.  Everyone is in charge of their own body, and something doesn't have to be sexual in order to be a not-okay violation of someone's space.

This is something I personally wonder about how to manage, because for a long time I've had a policy of not hugging guys.  And I have a lot of reasons for this, and they're good reasons, and I know it's the right policy for me.  But what do I do when some guy who's my friend tries to give me a hug, just to say hi or whatever?

I feel like, I don't want to make a big deal out of it, because it's not like they did anything wrong.  Some people are fine with being hugged, and some people aren't, and they just didn't realize I was in the second category.  I'm always afraid if I say something, I'll be making too much of a big deal out of it, or I'll have to explain why, etc.

I wonder about the ways people might respond to a child refusing to give them a hug.  People are going to say "why are you making such a big deal out of it?"  My response would be to ask them why they're making such a big deal out of it.  Why is it more weird to think that acquaintances do NOT have a right to touch me than to think that they do?

Maybe forcing kids to give the relatives a kiss makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse later, maybe not.  It doesn't matter.  If the kid doesn't want to kiss their aunt, for any reason at all, they shouldn't have to.  Who says the only valid reason to not allow someone to touch you is something related to sex?

So, what do you think?  Agree with me, or do you think it's rude for a child to not kiss their uncles?  How to deal with people who think it's unreasonable to refuse to hug them?  Is there a difference between a child and an adult in regard to the rights they have over their own body?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"You don't know you're beautiful"

I think this song is adorable.

"What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction

But, now that I'm a feminist, I noticed a few things that could be interpreted as sending the wrong messages.  So let's take a look at the lyrics and see.

"You're insecure / Don't know what for"- Is it saying that women who have issues with how they perceive their own bodies should just get over it?  The whole "media tells women they're not good enough because they don't look like this" is all in your head?

I feel like, no.  He's just saying it doesn't make sense to him that she would be insecure.  No deep statements about culture and standards etc etc.  It's a compliment.

"Don't need make-up / To cover up / Being the way that you are is enough"- Is it saying that women shouldn't wear make-up, that they do it because they're insecure and they want attention from guys?

No, my answer to this one is no.  He just thinks she looks fine without make-up.  That's all.  He's not saying "you're wrong to be using make-up.  Oh, and I have the right to dictate what you should look like."

"You don't know you're beautiful / ... That's what makes you beautiful."- Is he saying he likes women that are insecure, and that confidence is unattractive?

No... you know how when you like someone, all of their little mannerisms are suddenly awesome to you?  Sounds like he really likes her, so whatever she does is cute.  If she acted more confident, he'd probably think that was cute too.

Basically the song is about how this boy feels like this girl is really awesome and beautiful.  It's just saying how he feels.  If it was trying to say "here, let me solve the body-image problem that's everywhere in our culture: You're beautiful.  Okay, so shut up about that insecurity stuff now" then we'd have problems.

If it was supposed to be directed at all girls instead of just one girl, then we might have problems.

There are a lot of boys out there that think girls are beautiful, and they should totally be allowed to say that.  ^_^  I don't expect them to understand the nuances of body-image problems that exist in our culture- so they better not think they can solve it.  (For example: Women care about their appearance for other reasons besides being attractive to men.)

But yeah, I don't think there are any problematic messages in this song.  I actually love this song and think it's adorable.  (Which is saying a lot, coming from me, because I have issues with how romance is portrayed in almost all popular songs.)  And the reason I like it is I want a cute boy to tell me I'm beautiful.  I could have said something that sounded more profound and philosophical, but nope, that's the reason I like it.  Psychoanalyze me if you like.

That's all I have to say.  If you were hoping for more of a rant, don't worry, in the future I'll totally be posting stuff about the bad messages about romance in songs, Disney movies, media, etc.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The color of money. No I mean literally, the color of money.

You know how sometimes people use the term "green" to refer to money?  Surely this is only an American thing, because other countries have bills that are different colors, right?  Actually, I bet people from other countries are surprised to find out all denominations of American money are green.  Seriously, ALL of them are green?  (And the same size?)  That's weird. 

Or is it?  Well let's find out.  Here are (what I estimate to be) the top 10 currencies (based on the countries with the largest populations, and the fact that the euro is used in a bunch of countries) and, more importantly, the color(s).

Chinese yuan (aka RMB)
1 USD = 6.37 CNY
Image source.

Indian rupee
1 USD = 55.8 INR
Image source.

1 USD = 0.80 EUR
Image source.

United States
1 USD = 1 USD, duh.
Since 2004, the newer designs have been less green.  But if you asked any American to draw you a picture of money, they'd totally color it green.  I stand by my previous statement about the unique greenness of American money.
Image source.

Indonesian rupiah
1 USD = 9416 IDR
Image source.

Brazilian real
1 USD = 2.06 BLR
Before 2010.  Image source.

Released in 2010.  Image source.

Pakistani rupee
1 USD = 94.5 PKR
Image source.

Nigerian naira
1 USD = 163 NGN
Image source.

Russian ruble
1 USD = 32.9 RUB
(I'm getting a lot of search results which are images of coins- perhaps Russia likes their coins more than other countries do?)
Image source.

Bangladeshi taka
1 USD = 82 BDT
Image source.

Conclusion:  Money is totally not green.

And here's my disclaimer:  I am very familiar with the US and Chinese money, but know absolutely nothing about all the other ones on my list, so it's totally likely that I misrepresented them.  What if I've included a picture of a bill that's technically in circulation, but no one really uses it, like the US $2 bill?  Or what if there's some subtle thing I missed because I expect other countries to work the same as the US?  Like, I never ever would have expected that paper bills could be used rather than coins for values under a "dollar", until they were handed to me in a bank in Beijing 2 years ago.  (Yes.  A paper bill for 50 "cents" (5 mao) or 10 "cents" (1 mao).  Wild.)

If you have any fun facts about some of the currencies listed here, please do tell.  ^_^

Wikipedia pages:
List of circulating currencies
List of countries by population
United States dollar
Brazilian Real
Exchange rates
Currency Converter

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ruth totally did not "wait" for Boaz

Did y'all see this picture going around Facebook lately?

image source

Here is the text, in case the image is not readable:  "To all the girls who are in a hurry to have a boyfriend or get married, a piece of Biblical advice: 'Ruth patiently waited for her mate Boaz.'  While you are waiting on YOUR Boaz, don't settle for any of his relatives: Broke-az, Po-az, Lyin-az, Cheatin-az, Dumb-az, Drunk-az, Cheap-az, Lockedup-az, Goodfornothin-az, Lazy-az, and especially his third cousin, Beatinyo-az.  Wait on your Boaz and make sure he respects Yoaz."

My first thought, upon reading this, was "so uhhh, you realize Boaz was her SECOND husband, right?"

In other words, no, this argument is invalid.  Because the story the church teaches teenage girls (and guys too I guess?) is don't have sex, don't "go too far" emotionally/physically/whatever- which is so vaguely defined that I think it is usually based in fear rather than actual information- and then someday, God will come through with this one guy, and you'll get married young (or, you know, eventually, but don't worry, God will come through) and be happy forever with the guy.  Because that's God's plan for your life.  You (a virgin) get married, and then you guys live 60 years together.

So what does that mean for someone like Ruth?  Her first husband died.  Now what?  What does the story about purity, which we hold up in front of teenage girls as the plan God has for every one of them, have to say about Ruth?  There was no part of that myth that said hey sometimes people's husband or wife dies.  Sometimes people get divorced.  (And this myth also seems to tell gay people they don't exist.)

Do the church have this myth with the unrealistic happy ending because we just really really want teenagers to not have sex, and we'll say anything?  Because, dude, no.  There are actual GOOD reasons for Christians not to have sex before marriage, and none of them are "because God has DEFINITELY planned for you to meet a perfect guy and be with him for the rest of your life."

God never promised that.  God NEVER promised that.

And one more little thing I need to point out: that quote "Ruth patiently waited for her mate Boaz."  That is so not in the bible.  And I would not describe anything about the story as "waiting."  What actually happened was Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi were both widows and very poor, and Ruth started working in Boaz's field because poor people were allowed to take the extras from people's fields. He was nice to her, and it turns out that there's a law that if a man died, his relative should marry the widow and take care of her.  So, Boaz happened to be a relative of her first husband.  So Ruth and Naomi not-completely-directly-but-pretty-directly told Boaz he should marry Ruth.

I mean, if by "wait" you mean "she worked hard to take care of herself and her mother-in-law, and when they found an opportunity to get some actual economic stability by getting married, she totally went for it" then I guess it's legit.

I mean, I don't know how much of it was "romance" as we know today and how much of it was a very practical financial need.

Oh, and I'm a bit skeptical about whether Broke-az and Cheatin-az were real people.


So, what do you think?  What good ideas about dating we can LEGITIMATELY get from the story of Ruth?  (My personal favorite: it's totally not true that the guy has to make the first move.)  What does "waiting" mean?  What's up with this myth of "marry 1 guy and live happily ever after" they teach in church?  Is there at least some bit of good advice we can get out of it?  What is "purity" supposed to be anyway?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The church, gay marriage, whether or not people are bigoted, etc etc

Found this really interesting blog post: If you're selling scorn for conservative Christians, the market is hot

Summary: There's this trend lately where "progressive Christians" are stereotyping "conservative Christians" (this is referring specifically to gay marriage, by the way).  Basically, the message is "we're not like those bigoted, narrow-minded Christians- no, we stand with you."  (The author gives 2 examples: A billboard apologizing for "narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions", and a blog post "How to win a culture war and lose a generation".)  If some Christians want to send a message of support/acceptance to the LGBT community, they can just say "we support/accept you" without throwing half the body of Christ under the bus.  People who take a political stand against gay marriage have actual reasons for it- it's not because they're terrible bigoted people.  When Christians perpetuate that stereotype by caricaturing other Christians, that just makes things worse.

This article really made me think, and I don't know to what extent I agree with the author.  But here are my discussion questions:

So, there's this stereotype that Christians are anti-LGBT.  Or that Christians hate gay people.  Etc.  I want feedback especially from nonChristians and gay people here- how much does that actually affect how you view Christians/ how you act/ what you say around Christians?

And does it matter to you when Christians apologize for that and acknowledge that people often view the church that way?  Does it come across as a nice thing to do?  (Is there a way to say it without "perpetuating the stereotype" that other Christians are judgmental?)

And could you give advice about how Christians ideally should act- what should I do in order to truly be loving toward gay people?  (Or maybe this is a weird question- just be generally nice to everyone and don't be concerned with whether they're gay.)

Also, that stereotype has a basis in truth.  The church has generally not had a good response towards gay people.  So, Christians should acknowledge this, right?  Is it possible to say "yeah, the church has done wrong to the LGBT community" without saying "those actions which hurt you were narrow-minded and judgmental"?

Is it okay for some subset of Christians to apologize on behalf of other Christians?  Maybe we should only apologize for our own sins.  Eh, but at the same time, nonChristians may feel hurt by the church, and we need to acknowledge that it's legitimate to feel that way, and that we are sorry that it happened.  But is it weird to apologize on behalf of people who deny they did anything wrong?

Also, I think it's possible to believe that gay relationships are wrong, but still be loving and accepting of gay people.  (Agree or disagree with me on this?)  How does one do that?  How do you live such that people know you love them and you're a real friend, but they also know you think their choices are bad for them?

Okay I am interested to hear what my readers have to say.  Or if you have other discussion questions.  And I'm especially hoping to get feedback from gay people.  Okay thanks!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Our brothers and sisters dealing with a water/sanitation crisis

Two related issues I want to talk about today: access to safe drinking water and access to adequate sanitation. (By "sanitation" I mean "a toilet system where the poop is taken away, far away, and never comes back to contaminate your life.")

In the world today, 884 million people (13% of the world) do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion (37%) do not have adequate sanitation.  This is not okay.

The two issues are related, because without sanitary toilets, the poop gets into the water supply.  If that's your main water supply, then you're not getting clean water.

In the parts of the world without safe/convenient drinking water, it takes an average of 3 hours per day to collect and carry the water that a family would need (usually this task is done by women and girls- so the girls don't have time to attend school.)  Sometimes the water source may be a significant distance from the home.  And you know water is really heavy.

After the water is brought back to the home, what do they do with it?  I couldn't find a source for this one; I don't know the answer.  (Help me out here if you can.)  Do they just drink it?  Boil it?  (If so, you have to get fuel, which means more hard work...)  Some kind of filter?

At any rate, when people do not have access to clean water, they are drinking water that may be dangerous.  Diarrhea is responsible for 1.8 million deaths per year, with 1.5 million of them being children.  (In other words, 4000 children die every day from diarrhea.)  This is not okay.  No one's kid should die from diarrhea.

The water-related illnesses also have an effect on the economy: When people are sick, they are unable to work.  Also, they have to spend money on medical treatment.  This is a huge burden for a family already living on a low income.  Lack of clean water can cause very far-reaching problems.

As previously stated, nearly half the world's population (2.6 billion people) does not have access to sanitary toilets.  I'm glad I watched this video ("World's Toilet Crisis") about it, because it's really hard for me to even imagine how anyone could live without a toilet.  Basically how it works is people poop outside, poop in the river, etc, and it's kind of gross.  (And you get lots of flies, which can spread disease.)  Also there's a big problem with lack of privacy, especially for women, who may need to sneak out to "use the bathroom" very early in the morning or at night, which I suspect is really inconvenient- and it's not safe.

The issue of schools lacking bathrooms discourages girls from attending, especially while menstruating.  This is totally not okay.

In India specifically, 600 million people (55% of India's population) do not have toilets.  (More people in India own cell phones than toilets.)  And 1000 children die every day from water-borne illness.

Here's a fun fact; if you're American, you might not know this, because I totally didn't, until I went to China.  So you know what toilets look like, right?

Western toilet.  Image source.
This is totally not universal.  The above image shows a "western toilet."  In Asia, a lot of toilets look like this:

Squat toilet.  Image source.
So, that's fine, the squat toilet works too.  In the areas of China where I've been, both the western toilets and the squatties were common.

(Why am I including the "fun fact" about the squatty potty?  Because I'm trying to help my readers really understand, and if you're reading this and imagining installing porcelain thrones around south Asia, you don't have a clue.)

So, in summary.  13% of the world doesn't have clean water to drink, and 37% doesn't have a decent toilet.  It's not okay that kids are dying from diarrhea, and don't have time for education because it's so much work to get water, and people are getting sick over and over, etc etc.

And I hope I've presented this in a way that doesn't have you thinking "oh those poor people, how could anyone live without running water, they must be so sad and one-dimensional, just sitting there all the time so sad about not having decent water."  No.  They're real people, like you.  They have hopes and dreams and fears and inside jokes.  They love their families.  Etc etc.  The difference is they go poop outside in the woods where it's gross, and sometimes they get sick or die from stupid things.  And it's not okay that that happens.

World Health Organization
End Water Poverty
"World's Toilet Crisis" video
Blue Planet Network
The Rights to Water and Sanitation
Population Clock

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Big news for my little blog

I'm really excited today, because a little excerpt from Monday's post, "As a woman, I will read Esther on my own terms, thank you very much", was featured over on Rachel Held Evans's blog, in her list of the top 30-40ish blog posts submitted for her "Week of Mutuality."

There's a ton of good stuff on that list.  I recommend you go check it out.  ^_^

Friday, June 8, 2012

The correct way to apologize. Wow.

Jason Alexander offers the greatest apology in history for "gay cricket" joke (posted June 3, 2012)  And it TOTALLY IS the "greatest apology in history."

Summary: Jason Alexander was on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" recently and made some jokes about how cricket is a "gay sport."  Then he heard that some of his followers on Twitter were offended by it.  He really didn't understand why anyone would be offended, but he asked some of his gay friends, and he thought about it a lot.  Eventually he realized that yes, it was offensive, so he wrote an apology that explained everything and that he didn't realize at the time that it would be offensive, but he was wrong and he's sorry.

For my fellow Disney fans out there, Jason Alexander was Hugo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."  And George from "Seinfeld."  Image source.

Wow.  I am ridiculously impressed.  Because usually when this kind of thing happens, the apology goes like this: "I am sorry that you're too dumb to realize it wasn't actually offensive."

This is particularly a pattern I've noticed when some public figure says something racist.  It becomes this huge controversial thing, with one extreme calling him/her a terrible racist, possibly with death threats thrown in there, and the other extreme refusing to believe there is any chance that what was said actually was racist.  ("Oh come on guys, if you take his statement in context you'll see that he referred to the candidate as 'a monkey' because he thinks he's stupid and disagrees with his politics.  If you think he said that because the guy's black, you're just wrong.  Clearly there is no way a reasonable person could ever interpret this as something racist.")

And then the controversy goes on for a while, and eventually the person who said it writes a lame apology and resigns from their job.  And no one learns anything.  Except maybe "Don't ever ever talk about race, because you'll start a witch hunt."

Here's how it should work when someone publicly says something racist/ sexist/ any other kind of prejudice- they should apologize by saying "I said it because I didn't understand.  Now I do understand.  I was wrong.  I'm sorry."  (Instead of "Okay fine, I'm sorry, but you guys are still overreacting.")  And that's exactly what Jason Alexander did.  And I'm shocked because that never happens.  So, good job.  ^_^

We have to make a distinction between "being a racist" and "saying something racist."  (Err, I'm writing mostly about racism in this blog post because that's where I see the most examples of this, but it totally applies to any other kind of offensive statement.)  Because I've never met an American who proudly said, "Yes, I am a racist."  No one wants to be known as a racist.  And when someone points out, "hey, maybe you shouldn't say that about black people because it's offensive", people get all defensive and will deny every bit of it because they hear "ZOMG you are a terrible racist person!!!!1" instead of actually listening and saying "wow, I didn't know that, you're right, I shouldn't have said it."

When people say this offensive stuff, it's not because they're a terrible person.  It's because they're very ignorant.  They need someone to teach them why it was wrong, thus making them a better person, and we all learn a little bit about our brothers and sisters who are different from us.  They don't need someone to accuse them of being a terrible person, while they sit there bewildered, unable to accept any of what they hear because "I didn't mean it like that at all."

At the same time that I'm advocating forgiveness and giving people the benefit of the doubt, I also want to say yes, if someone says something really racist or otherwise offensive to a large group of people, it's valid for you to be offended.  I'm not saying "ah come on, they didn't mean it, stop being offended."  If it's something that unfairly stereotypes an entire group of people, and you're angry about it, that's fine.  It's still wrong for them to say that, even if they didn't know.  Yes, you should point it out and correct them.  But give them a chance to learn from their mistake.

All right, that's all I have to say.  Tell me what you think.  Tell me if I went too far and it sounds like I'm saying "oh so minorities have the responsibility to educate everyone, and now the rest of us have an excuse for being ignorant."  Etc etc.  It's a complicated issue.  But let's start out with listening to other people and trying to understand where they're coming from.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I hate when sexism is actually practical

"The girls were going to paint their nails and talk about their feelings, and the boys were going to play football."

My sister said this recently when we were discussing gender and the church.  Apparently her thoughts on the subject were "and they wonder why I don't go to youth group."

I mean, clearly it's wrong because why do you assume all girls want to be boring and paint their nails?

Oh, actually.  I'll take this opportunity to mention I do like painting my nails.  I think they look really cool.  But if anyone is going to accuse me of liking it "because" I'm a girl, well ... I kinda don't want to paint my nails any more.

This is actually a far trickier question than I originally thought.  What if a lot of girls are more feminine (and less easily offended...) than me?  What if you were given the duty of planning an activity for the girls in the youth group, and you asked them what they wanted to do, and the majority said they wanted to do something stereotypically feminine, because THAT'S WHAT THEY ACTUALLY WANT TO DO.

I don't want to be so angry about sexism and assumptions that I forget that there are generalizations you can make about the differences between boys and girls, and those are true statements.  I'm actually imagining a graph with 2 bell curves on it:

Real women have curves.

See, for some attributes you measure, the graph will look like that- a statistically significant difference between the averages for men and women.  But look at the overlap in the tails of the distributions.

(And we could speculate about the reasons for the difference- is it because men and women are genetically different?  Is it because of what society says men and women are supposed to be like?  It doesn't matter the reason- the fact is that a lot of girls genuinely do like "girl things" and a lot of boys genuinely do like "boy things.")

But I really do wonder how much of it is that they actually like those things and how much is that everyone assumes they like those things.  Haha, I would love some real statistics on some of this stuff.  So I don't have to draw a bell curve in Paint like I did up there.

I present to you a hypothetical scenario:  Suppose you had 4 kids- 2 boys and 2 girls.  And you tell them they can do some extracurricular activities.  So each kid thinks about it and decides which one they want to do.  And both of the girls, completely independently and of their own free will, decided to take dance class.  And both of the boys, completely independently and of their own free will, decided to play soccer.

And then suppose somebody described the situation as "The girls take dance and the boys play sports."  Is that an accurate description?  I say no.  Because that makes it sound like "The girls take dance because they're girls.  You know how cute and one-dimensional girls are."

But Perfect Number, how can you have a problem with "The girls take dance and the boys play sports"?  It is a completely correct statement about those 4 hypothetical children.  How can you say it's not okay to say that?

I summarize it this way:  I have a problem with statements about how boys and girls are different, and with treating boys and girls differently, when I feel limited by it.  When people take the true statement that "boys and girls tend to be different in this particular characteristic" and from that conclude that we should make ALL the girls do this certain thing, and ALL the boys do that certain thing, and this is how boys and girls are SUPPOSED TO BE.

When other people notice that I'm doing something that doesn't match a feminine stereotype (like writing an equation to explain my feelings about dating- really though, how do people understand their feelings without a decent amount of algebra?), I feel good about that, because it means I'm independent and I make my own choices.  When people notice I'm doing something that IS "feminine", I don't like it, because although I chose to do that thing because I personally do actually like it, I feel like other people see it as "ah well obviously she likes cute kittens- all girls do- girls are all the same."

Women should go ahead and be as feminine as they want or as non-feminine as they want.

Let's not take generalizations about what boys/girls like and use them to tell boys/girls what they're supposed to like.  But in a practical way, how does this work?  What if you ARE planning an activity for the girls in the youth group?

I don't know.  That's tricky.  Does it actually make practical sense to treat everyone exactly the same?

All right, what does everyone else think?  Do other women feel the same way, or is this because I'm a nerd girl and for a long time I've felt the tension between my nerd cred and my femininity?  (Because if no one else feels the same way, maybe I'm just too sensitive?)

Do any men want to share if there's some sort of similar thing with stereotypes about men?  I'd expect it would play out differently- seems like it's way more socially acceptable for girls to be "not feminine" than for boys to be "not manly."  Tell me all about it.


By the way, this week I am participating in Rachel Held Evans's "Week of Mutuality"- blogging about equality of women in the church. 

Also, here is one of her posts which relates to what I've written here

Monday, June 4, 2012

As a woman, I will read Esther on my own terms, thank you very much

Hey guess what.  There's a women's bible study starting at church.  We'll be reading Esther.  Or maybe Ruth.  Or maybe Proverbs 31.

And in this case, my rolling my eyes and being offended tends to overcome my enthusiasm for studying the bible.

I mean, there's nothing wrong with having bible studies just for women or just for men.  (And I really do have a great time there.)  There's nothing wrong with studying the book of Esther.  It's in the bible- if you study it, you're gonna find some good stuff.  There's nothing wrong with a group of women studying Esther.

But what's wrong is that HOW COMPLETELY DISPROPORTIONATE that is.  Why does it seem like EVERY SINGLE TIME, the women's bible study is studying one of those "women" passages?

I mean, just because Ruth is a woman, her story is somehow more important to women than the average bible story is?

I mean, is it?  This is a valid question.  Is there a reason it would be particularly important to women?  Women want female role models or something?  Can we avoid the extreme of "the church only talks about the men in the bible" without going to the other extreme, "Christian women should only study the passages specifically about women"?

"Oh, you're a girl.  Here, you should read, out of the hundreds of pages in the bible, these particular couple pages, about a few slightly obscure women.  Have at it."  Dude, I'm not dumb.  I'm gonna read the entire thing.

Or maybe it's because obviously, if a group of Christians is going to study Ruth, it has to be a women's group.  I mean, it doesn't make sense that men would read that.  OH WAIT.  IT'S THE BIBLE.

(When I mentioned this over in a comment on Rachel Held Evans's blog, another commenter had the idea of challenging Christian men to study and learn from the "women" passages in the bible.  I love it.  Because every Christian studies Jesus and Paul and David, but only women study Esther and Ruth.  What's with that?  If they're really such good role models, aren't they good for both men and women?  Or is it "we needed to come up with SOMEONE for the women... eh, Esther's kinda lame but it's the best we got"?  Because no matter how you interpret this, it's offensive.)

Oh and here's a wild idea: Can the Proverbs 31 woman also be a role model for men?  Not "this is the kind of wife you should look for" but "you should be like her"?  Wow I'm gonna have to go think about that.  That has totally never occurred to me before.

You know what I want to see?  A women's conference whose advertising flier has a picture of a dragon.  Because dude, I want to fight dragons.  If your women's bible study or Christian conference even marginally associates itself with dragons, SIGN ME UP!

(The dragon is a metaphor for... ummm... well it doesn't matter.  Dragons are awesome.  Don't question it.)

Like dude, don't get me wrong, the conferences that advertise with flowers and pastels are great and God speaks to people there and everything, but really, why do the fliers need to look all "feminine"?  To make sure men don't sign up?

I'm not particularly interested in "being a godly woman."  I want to be awesome and follow Jesus, and it just so happens that if I do that, I am technically a "godly woman" but that's so not my goal.

So I want to know: How do the majority of Christian women feel about this?  Is everyone else happy with the flowers and lack of dragons?  Is it because I'm a nerd girl that I feel this way?

Do we really need to study Ruth that much?  Like, is there a valid reason why the story of Ruth would be particularly important/meaningful for women? 

Is there some sort of equivalent thing the church does to men?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Where I realize I don't know what you need

Excellent post over on Stuff Christians Like: Loving the unlovable (posted May 23, 2012).

Summary: Do you ever try to love someone and help someone and pray for them when they're having a really hard life, and it doesn't seem to have much of an effect, and after a while they drift out of your life...  But dude, you never know.  Years and years and years later, their life could be totally better- you never know what effect, if any, you had in helping them.  And the author, Jon, mentions someone he knew when his life was a mess 14 years ago, whom he saw again recently, so surprised about how different Jon has become.

So cool!  Because I have totally worried about that, about the people I've cared about, tried to love when they were having a hard time in life, the people I was worried about and I prayed for them and maybe I saw some change but not as much as I was hoping.

And I was worried, what if I didn't see God changing their life in the next few months?  Maybe sometime in the future, things will change, but I don't want it to be far in the future, I want it to be now.  If I don't see an effect now, what if everything I did was useless?

But dude, I'm young; I'm in college.  Who knows where my friends are going to be in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?  Dude, to me it sounds crazy to imagine that the year 2020 or 2030 is even going to exist. Haha.  No but seriously, a lot more things are going to happen, regardless of whether I'm still part of their life.  So no worries.  ^_^

Also, because God changed my life when I was super-hopeless and there was nothing else to do but say "okay fine God, just fix my life, no matter the cost", it's easy for me to think that's how everyone's life story should go.  There have been times I've thought what my friends need is for things to get worse so they realize they need God.

And then I was like "so uh, I want my friends to be unhappy... wow that's a red flag.  No, I don't know what they need.  God does.  And if something other than 'realizing their need for God' ends up making their life better, that's good.  I'm gonna be happy for that.  Because I don't know what God wants for them right now.  I don't know what they need."

So all I can do is try my best to love people and not think I know what their life is supposed to be.  I believe everyone needs God- but there's nothing I can do to magically make people see that.  I'm supposed to care about people because they're people, not because I just want to push them to some goal of what I think their life should be.

No, my task is to just love them and do what I can, and God will take care of the rest.