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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Measure words are totally not that bad

We now come to reason #471 that Mandarin is impossible to learn: measure words.

What are measure words?

You can think of measure words as putting units on the nouns you're talking about. English uses them sometimes too- for example, you have a bowl of soup, a pair of pants, a slab of concrete, a cup of coffee, a piece of paper, a bouquet of flowers.

But the difference is that in Chinese, every noun has a measure word that's supposed to go with it.

Here are the common ones I can think of offhand:

个 (gè) - The most common measure word (absolutely no question about this). I would guess that 70% of the time you use a measure word, you use 个.
本 (běn) - for books
只 (zhǐ) - for many kinds of animals- dogs, cats, lions, monkeys, etc etc.
张 (zhāng) - for large, flat things- a piece of paper, a photo, a table, a bed
条 (tiáo) - for long things- pants, fish, roads

All of these things are measured in 条. Images from: here, here, and here.

But actually, you don't need measure words as much as you might think.

Chinese grammar is incredibly different than English grammar. The best way I can describe it is this: In Chinese you need way less words than you'd think.

Chinese doesn't have a direct translation for "the" and "a". A lot of times you don't need to put a "the" or "a" in front of a noun- you just say the noun. It's simple.

I learned the word 书 (shū), which means book, pretty early in my Chinese 101 class. We did not learn the measure word for books, 本 (běn), until maybe a year later. Why? Because you can totally talk about books in a way that's grammatically correct without ever needing the measure word.

Seriously. Chinese is easy. Or incredibly confusing. Take your pick.

Okay, when DO I use measure words then?

You definitely need them if you're counting. You can ask someone how many 本 (běn) of books they have, and they would answer 1 本 (běn), 2 本 (běn), etc. (Which just means 1 book, 2 books, etc.)

Or if you point at something and say "this one" and "that one", the word "one" gets translated as the measure word for that object. Again, with the books example and the most literal translation possible, someone could say "Bring me my Chinese book" (no 本 (běn) required in this sentence) and the other person could ask "Is it this 本 (běn)?" (Meaning, "Is it this one?")

(I'm sorry if this is incredibly convoluted and confusing. Please ask for clarification! I feel like I have a really unique perspective on this, since my first language is English, and I hope it means I can explain Chinese grammar to English-speaking people effectively. But sometimes I don't remember what it's like to not know any Chinese.)

Sometimes it's very very important to get the measure word right.

Now you might be thinking, "Okay, if 1 本 (běn) of books just means 1 book... basically every measure word just means you have 1 of those things, whatever the thing may be, so what does it matter? They all mean the same thing."

Yes, this is true. Most of them don't have a super-special meaning which requires you to pick out the correct measure word. That's why you can always use 个 (gè), if you don't know the "right" measure word, and it'll be fine. It's not grammatically right, but everyone knows what you're saying. See, the measure words are not such a huge obstacle.

However, sometimes the measure word does have a certain meaning, or a certain subtle "feel" to it.

For example, you'd normally use 个 (gè) when talking about people. There are 3 个 (gè) of people in my lab. (Meaning, there are 3 people in my lab.)

But if you are being a little bit more formal/polite, you use 位 (wèi). When you arrive at a restaurant, the waiter might ask you how many 位 (wèi) of people are in your group. (Meaning, how many people are in your group?)

And if you're asking someone about their family, you often ask how many 口 (kǒu) of people are in their family. 口 (kǒu) literally means mouth. (Yes, it is a box. It looks like a mouth. Chinese characters really do make a lot of sense.) In other words, how many mouths to feed?

And sometimes, using different measure words gives a slightly different meaning. For example, 课 (kè) means class. There are 2 different measure words associated with 课 (kè), and they have different meanings. One 节课 (jié kè) is one class session. One 门课 (mén kè) is the course itself, which lasts for the whole semester. So you might ask someone how many 节课 (jié kè) they have on a particular day, and how many 门课 (mén kè) they have in a particular semester. Your question will be interpreted slightly differently depending on which measure word you use.

And sometimes the measure word has a very specific, concrete meaning- it literally is the units on the noun. For example, a 分钟 (fēn zhōng) is a minute, and a 秒钟 (miǎo zhōng) is a second. 分 (fēn) and 秒 (miǎo) are both measure words (钟 (zhōng) means... uh... clock? Something related to time? It's hard to translate...), and they both translate perfectly into the English words "minute" and "second".

(Though I need to throw in the caveat that 分 (fēn) has some other meanings too... Translation is hard, guys.)

Conclusion

Measure words are nothing to be scared of. You actually don't need them as much as one might imagine, because Chinese grammar is simpler than English. Also, when in doubt, just use 个 (gè) and everyone understands what you mean, no problem.

But when you start to learn the nuances of the different measure words, the slight (or big) differences in meaning, it's fascinating. Measure words are not a barrier towards speaking and understanding Chinese- they are just one of many eye-opening ways that Chinese is different than English. As a beginner, you can use 个 (gè) and there's no barrier in understanding, but as you learn more and more, it will feel more natural to use the correct measure words.

I love how different languages have wildly different structures, different ways of thinking, different feelings. It's awesome and mind-blowing that Chinese grammar can be so completely different from English. The differences do not make foreign languages impossible- they make them irresistible.

Click here for more posts about learning Mandarin.

Friday, September 28, 2012

What Sin Is. And Is Not.

You say you're a good person, well have you ever told a lie before? Have you lied even one time? Have you ever stolen something? Jesus said lust is like adultery- have you ever looked at another person with lust? Jesus said anger is like murder- have you ever been unreasonably angry with someone?

Maybe once or twice? Ahh, see, you are a sinner, deserving of God's judgment.

Hold up. That is not what sin is.

So often when Christians try to explain why people need God, they use this line of reasoning. Have you ever done something mean, even one time in your life? See, you are a sinner.

That's not what sin is.

Why did Jesus come and die for us? Is it because we're all good people who have occasionally made mistakes? Yeah, if it wasn't for that one time when you were 4 years old and you hit your sister and then lied to your parents about it, you'd be good to go- Jesus wouldn't be able to say anything to you.

Remember that road trip from 1995? That's why you're not going to heaven. Image source.

No.

So what is sin? Sin is not an isolated event, an out-of-character mistake. Sin is a moment where my deeply-rooted selfishness, pride, and distrust towards God suddenly breaks through to the surface.

Sin is my realization that the real reason I doubted was I didn't want to obey God. Sin is my lack of respect toward people who disagree with me. Sin is my gut reaction that says I need to get revenge against someone who was mildly rude toward me. Sin is my desire for control over boys- if I have power over them, they can't break my heart. Sin is when I judge people, over and over and over, I judge people and I don't even realize how wrong I am.

Sin is every little pattern in my thoughts and actions that should make me stop and question, "What kind of person am I, when this kind of stuff is coming out of my heart?"

Because I have found, at a very basic fundamental level, I don't want to trust God. And even though I really do want to help people, be a good friend, etc, I also don't want to. It's too much work.

Paul said it best, in Romans 7:21-24. "So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord! ..."

Because the reason I need Jesus to save me is not because due to a set of unusual circumstances, I lied, 10 years ago, and now God has that on my permanent record. I need Jesus to save me from my selfishness every day of my life. I need Jesus to save me because I am the kind of person who can easily become obsessed with money. I need Jesus to save me because some days I just don't feel like caring about other people.

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

John the Baptist was Kind of Obsessed with Fire

John the Baptist was a hippie who talked about fire a lot. Or something like that. Read the story here: Matthew 3.

Here are my thoughts and observations about this passage:

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

This is John's main message. What does it mean? "Repent" means to quit doing bad things, and to completely leave behind that lifestyle.

Is John saying "Hey, you're a bad person. Repent, because God is coming"? I don't like this way of wording it because it's an accusation that seems to come out of nowhere, and people are going to be angry and feel judged.

If I were putting a positive spin on this, I would say, "Do you feel dissatisfied/alone/anxious/stuck/depressed/guilty? God doesn't want you to live that way- God has something way better. Repent of your sin and get ready."

In the context of the culture John was in, how would people have understood his message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near"? As condemnation, as an exciting opportunity for change, or maybe something else entirely?

Whatever it was, his message was effective. Verses 5-6 say that "Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan" went to see him and confessed their sins and were baptized. The "all" thing doesn't literally mean every single person who lived there- but still, a ton of people. Evidently, his followers believed that he was right- they needed to repent and get ready for what God was about to do.

"Prepare the way for the Lord"

Matthew says that John the Baptist is the one described by the prophesy in Isaiah 40:3 "A voice of one calling: 'In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.'"

The purpose of John's preaching was to prepare people to follow Jesus. He did this by emphasizing their need to turn from their sin. Perhaps this shows that in order to follow Jesus, we must first be humble enough to recognize our need for God.

Well, did it work? Did John help people find Jesus and believe in him? Yes- years after John's death, his influence was still helping people find Jesus:

Acts 18:24-26
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

Acts 19:1-7
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"
"John's baptism," they replied.
Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

Both of these passages take place when the church began to grow, after Jesus' death and resurrection. Apollos and these 12 men at Corinth believed in John's message and were baptized by him (or possibly his followers), but they didn't know much about Jesus or the Holy Spirit. However, they knew that John was pointing the way to someone who was supposed to come after him, so when they heard the full story about Jesus, they believed.

Why does Matthew mention that John ate locusts?

This just seems weird. It makes for a good illustration in little-kid bibles, but seriously, why does Matthew include this line about "John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey"?

So basically he's a weird hippie/ cult leader...? Was this a publicity stunt? Was he weird so that people would talk about him and maybe come hear what he had to say?

I did a google image search for "eat locusts" and then noped right out of there. Instead, meet Lego John the Baptist. Image source.
John was not a fan of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

He calls them "vipers" and uses some imagery of trees being chopped down and burned. Why?

The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious leaders, and it seems that John was calling them out because they believed "we have Abraham as our father" so they didn't need to repent. What does he mean by "we have Abraham as our father"? It could refer to their Jewish ancestry, or their obedience to Jewish laws.

John calls them out because they think they know God better than everyone else, and they're so awesome and don't need to repent. He's pretty harsh; this stuff about the trees getting "cut down and thrown into the fire" is scary.

John tells us what Jesus will be like.

In verses 11-12, John predicts that "after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Wow, John talks a lot about fire- a symbol of judgment. Jesus- the one who comes after John- would separate the wheat from the chaff, good people from bad people (however you define "good" or "bad" people...).

The kingdom of heaven is near! Repent, and get a fire extinguisher. Image source.

I don't like to talk about God's judgment. It's real, but it's scary. And it seems that John is saying Jesus is all about judgment. John even judges himself- he says he is not worthy to pick up Jesus' shoes.

Did Jesus come to judge people? In some sense, yes, but when you read the gospels you see Jesus teaching and healing and accepting and loving people- how does this fit in with judgment? I guess we'll find the answer to this as we read further along in the gospel of Matthew.

Jesus' baptism

Then Jesus shows up and wants to get baptized. John tells him this clearly makes no sense, but then Jesus says, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." John had no idea what that meant, so he just went along with it.

Seriously though, what DOES that mean? "Fulfill all righteousness"???

After Jesus gets baptized, the Holy Spirit comes "like a dove" and lands on him, and a voice says "This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." That's pretty epic and awesome, but what does it mean?

We have the 3 parts of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- coming together, with the Father showing his approval as Jesus starts his ministry.

Does this mean that before his baptism, Jesus did not have the Holy Spirit? So Jesus did not have as much power? Maybe? I don't know the significance of the Spirit coming "like a dove" landing on Jesus.

Why does Jesus need to get baptized?

Because isn't baptism supposed to be about repenting from sin? And Christians believe Jesus did not sin. So... why does he get baptized?

A few reasons I thought of:
  1. To set an example for Christians. (Fun fact: I got baptized a year ago.)
  2. To show his approval for John's work.
  3. As a sign of submission/obedience to God the Father.
Any more reasons?

Summary/ take-home message:

I love how John the Baptist was able to point people to Jesus, and his influence was still there years after his death. I hope that I can also show people who Jesus is- and maybe they won't believe until years later, but that's still awesome.

But I'm uncomfortable with how much John talked about fire and judgment. I don't want to judge people.

Perhaps it is possible to ask people to repent without judging them- without saying I'm better than anyone. John's message to EVERYONE was about their need to repent, and he was harsh only toward the religious people who thought they didn't have to. John even thought of himself as unworthy to carry Jesus' shoes. He warned about God's judgment, but he didn't judge people. If that makes sense.

Christians should take John's warning seriously- do we think we're automatically good, like the Pharisees and Sadducees did? Do we forget our own sin and need for God? Do we think we're better than other people?

And somehow, John's message of repentance and the kingdom of God was exactly what people needed to hear. John prepared the way for Jesus, and I hope I can do that too.

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

Previous post: God became man... and babies died for it (Matthew 2:13-23)

Next post: I Would Only Follow a God Who Was Tempted (Matthew 4:1-11) 

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blogaround

1. Identity Mapping? (posted September 11) About the "wives, submit to your husbands" passages: "In that particular context, marriages were not typically entered into by men and women of similar ages and with similar life experience, but by adolescent girls (aged 14-15 or so) and fully adult men (aged 28-30 or so). ... For me to treat my wife as though she were less wise, discerning, mature, knowledgeable or apt to lead than I am would be insulting and a failure to recognize and love her for who she really is."

2. The 47 Percent, In One Graphic (posted September 18) 47% of Americans pay no income taxes, and this article explains that with some nice charts.

3. Because everyone deserves clean water (posted September 18) 7-year-old Tariku Savage, who was born in Ethiopia, then moved to the US when he was adopted, is asking people to donate money to build a well in Rwanda. This is especially interesting because he actually experienced life with contaminated water for 4 years- his perspective is incredibly unique. So go over there and donate to him.

4. ShePonders: Jezebel (posted September 18) "And now I wonder- do I have Jezebel's appetite in me? As a woman raised amid affluence, do I want more than my fair share? Do I consume copious amounts of stuff while others languish in hunger?"

5. True Love Does More Than Just Wait (posted September 18) This. Go read this! This is THE BEST article I have ever seen about purity. It's about all the problems with the philosophy "don't have sex, just hold out until you get married and then the sex will be TOTALLY AWESOME and solve ALL YOUR PROBLEMS!!!1!!!1" Instead of being "pure" so we can get "reward sex" someday, how about we don't have sex because we're obedient to God, and self-denial builds character?

6. Dear Mitt Romney, Here's My 47% Story (posted September 18) "As for my 'entitlement' to the health care that I received during that pregnancy, I felt no such entitlement. I simply needed it. I felt shame then, and it angers me that you are still shaming me now, nine years later. Without that medical coverage, Mr. Romney, I would have died."

7. Why No One Cares About the White Jesus of Mitt Romney's Mormonism (posted September 9) "Historically, America's Jesus has been white without words, because whiteness needs no description. It is blackness, of the kind so prominently displayed by Jeremiah Wright's sermons replayed in 2008, that anger and trouble people, and thus need explanation."

8. Being Poor (posted in 2005) "Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up." And a lot of other images. Go read this- it's profound.

9. A Convenient and Relaxing Kind of Christianity (posted September 20) "Cruise control" obedience means we "don't have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind." And that's not good enough.

10. Faith and Hope, 20% off! (posted July 2011) "And I'd have to smile, and take them over to the Harry Potter Is Evil!!!! section (right next to the Harry Potter Is A Christ Analogy And Totally Biblical!!!! section), and chat happily about how evil Harry Potter was..."

11. Disruptive faith (or, why we choose karma over grace) (posted September 11) "If the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob turns out to be real, my hope of maintaining order and control is forever lost."

12. "Creepshots" and revenge pornography latest frontiers in war against women (posted September 22) "Emma Watson has said that on her 18th birthday she realised that 'overnight I'd become fair game... One photographer lay down on the floor to get a shot up my skirt. The night it was legal for them to do it, they did it. I woke up the next day and felt completely violated.'"

13. Pregnant Rape Victims: Quit Assuming We Want an Abortion (posted September 21) "On the other side are those who perpetuate the myth that women and girls who become pregnant from sexual assault overwhelmingly want, need and benefit from having abortions. This also hurts women and fans the flames of prejudice toward those who do not want to have an abortion, even leading some to question whether a woman or girl who wishes not to abort has 'really' been raped."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

God became man... and babies died for it

As a little kid hearing the Christmas story, I remember being frightened at the idea of King Herod trying to kill Baby Jesus- how could someone kill a baby? And I was relieved to hear that Jesus' family escaped. I never realized that some of the other babies didn't.

Read the whole story here: Matthew 2:13-23.

My thoughts and observations:

Joseph as the leader of the family

It's very interesting that God directs Jesus' family to move by speaking to Joseph in a dream. Why didn't he speak to both Joseph and Mary? Why did he give such important, urgent instructions in such an internal, personal form, completely impossible for others to observe? How was Mary supposed to know if this message was really from God, or Joseph is just crazy?

"Joseph, what did you eat before bed?" Image source.
It meant that Joseph was the leader, the protector of Mary and her baby, and that God fully accepted him as the leader. I think this is very important- Joseph wasn't Jesus' real father, so he may have felt like he wasn't really part of God's plan- he just happened to be there. But no, God gave Joseph an incredible role- God depended on Joseph to keep Jesus safe.

(Or maybe I'm reading too much into this, and the real reason was everyone was horribly sexist back then- OF COURSE God would speak to the man, OF COURSE the wife had to do everything her husband said, even if he got the idea from some unverifiable dream. But I'd really like to think it's God's way of showing Joseph he's fully accepted and essential to God's plan.)

Herod is the most terrible person

King Herod gives orders to kill any male child 2 years old or under. Because he heard that the "king of the Jews" had been born, and he felt it was a threat to his power. Seriously?

I found some sources that say Herod also had his own wife and a few of his sons killed, and other people too, whenever he felt like it. Apparently kings used to just kill everybody. This guy is seriously messed-up.

Did he actually believe that "the king of the Jews" had been born, like the wise men said? Or was he just really paranoid? Did he kill those babies just in case it actually was true?

How could God let this happen?

Oh no, King Herod wants to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem! Fortunately, God knew about it- God intervened... and saved 1 of them.

Seriously?

I tend to think that God allows bad things to happen because he has a policy of not intervening, in general. God set things up so that people's actions have consequences, and he's not going to come micromanage everything. But in this case, he is willing to intervene- why didn't he intervene a little better?

I've always been skeptical of people concluding that surely it was God who stepped in and rescued someone, when so many others died- it just doesn't make sense to me- why didn't God just prevent the entire disaster? But that's exactly what happened here. And I don't like it. God, you allowed them to kill babies?

God saves his own kid, and leaves everyone else behind. What happened to putting others before yourself?

Some people might blame this on the wise men.

I can imagine there are some who say this is the wise men's fault. Because they're the ones who told King Herod about the whole "king of the Jews" thing. They should have been following the star all the way to Bethlehem; they should have never stopped at Jerusalem. It shows they didn't trust God. It shows they thought God's kingdom was an earthly kingdom, and his king must be in the capital city, Jerusalem.

See, the wise men didn't trust God, and their horrible horrible sin is the reason those babies died.

Jerks. Image source.
No! NO! Why do we always need to find someone to blame? This happened because King Herod was insecure and had way too much power- that's all.

"It's the wise men's fault" comes from the idea that the world is just and if we just did the right thing, bad things wouldn't happen. But that's not true. Sometimes bad things happen, and it's completely out of our control.

And was it really so unreasonable for the wise men to stop at Jerusalem and ask around? Was it really so horrible and evil and sinful that they assumed the new king would be in the capital city? You really think it shows a deep distrust of God? It was just a mistake. That's all. Just a factual error that was then corrected. It's not a sin, and it definitely does not make them responsible for those babies' deaths.

Some "prophecies" were "fulfilled".

Or were they?

Matthew mentions 3 prophecies in this passage. Let's look at them:

"Out of Egypt I called my son."- from Hosea 11:1. Okay, if you go read Hosea 11:1, it's obvious the "son" is the nation of Israel. Hosea is talking about how God brought Israel out of Egypt, and God cared for them but they rejected him, so he warns them about punishment.

"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."- from Jeremiah 31:15. Jeremiah 31 is about the celebration that will happen when God brings his people back from exile and shows kindness to them. The part about "Rachel weeping" refers to the mourning over those who had been killed or captured when the exile happened- and God says he will comfort them and end their weeping and start this whole new era of awesomeness.

Who is Rachel? She was one of Jacob's wives, and she had some troubles in life, so she is a symbol for the suffering of the Jewish people. (See Genesis 29-30, 35.)

"He will be called a Nazarene."- This is totally not a quote from the Old Testament. The commentary I looked at suggested that prophets had predicted the messiah would have humble beginnings, and Nazareth was a hick town in the middle of nowhere, so it fulfills the prophecy.

Perhaps they did this in Nazareth too? Image source.

So, none of these are actual legit prophecies being fulfilled (according to perfectnumber628's definition of "prophecy"). The first two are about things that happened in the past, plus they come from passages that are totally talking about something else (warning of punishment on the nation, and a promise of a new covenant). Reading Hosea or Jeremiah, you wouldn't even think they were prophecies at all. And the third one isn't even an actual quote.

We should think of these not as "prophecies being fulfilled", but as themes that consistently run through the whole bible. God brought the Israelite people out of Egypt, and God brought Jesus out of Egypt. God sees and understands the pain of the mothers of Bethlehem, just like he saw the mourning during the exile. And the messiah would be someone who didn't seem too remarkable, so it makes sense that he's from Nazareth.

The problem is that you can't use this to prove anything. Anyone can come up with similarities between Jesus' life and some stories from the Old Testament- so what? It doesn't mean he's the messiah.

So what's the point of prophecies?

These 3 prophecies that Matthew mentions cannot be used in an argument about whether Jesus is the Son of God. Their purpose is not to convince you to believe- their purpose is to show you that, given the assumption that Jesus is the Son of God, there are some pretty sweet connections you can make between his life and God's work in the Old Testament.

And here's another connection: As babies, both Jesus and Moses narrowly escaped being killed, when orders were given to kill male children.

Are all biblical prophecies like this? Are there ANY that can actually be used as evidence to argue that Jesus is the messiah?

Summary/ take-home message:

In this passage, we see God working and a few good things happening- Joseph takes on the role of protector for Mary and Jesus, Jesus is kept safe, themes from God's work in history reappear. But when God works and good things happen, there is opposition- from King Herod, maybe even from satan. Jesus came into the world, and it cost some other children their lives.

Perhaps it means that the world is so broken and intrinsically opposed to God that when God does something miraculous and wonderful- sending Jesus to earth- the world itself reacts against it.

In other words, this is why we can't have nice things.

Or maybe I'm trying too hard to find meaning in this tragedy. Maybe bad things happen, and there is no huge, cosmic explanation- it's just because Herod was a scumbag, that's all.

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

Previous post: The Wise Men Found Jesus In Another Religion (Matthew 2:1-12)

Next post: John the Baptist was Kind of Obsessed with Fire (Matthew 3)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How NOT to Write About Abstinence

If I had read Waiting till the wedding night- getting married the right way (posted September 14) a few years ago, I would have agreed with it, thought "yeah, I'm definitely not having sex until I get married", and moved on with life without noticing anything wrong with the article.

Without noticing all the judging. Without considering how it might come across to people who disagree.

The writer blatantly says he is judging people who disagree. "We did it right. Feeling judged? I couldn't care less."

And the reason I might have read that and thought nothing of it is because I'd never heard the other side. I didn't grasp that REAL PEOPLE believe that it's normal to have sex without being married, and they have reasons for that, and a lot of those people are my friends. In mainstream American culture, abstinence is generally seen as silly.

And yes, Christianity told me about that- so many warnings about "the world does it this way"- but "the world" always felt like some big vague thing way out there somewhere, maybe on TV- not real people I might actually interact with, who have real lives and real reasons for believing what they believe.

I'm not sure what's going on here, but it is clearly a trap. Image source.

So when I read that article, I thought maybe the author doesn't know how it comes across. (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.) Maybe a lot of Christians (including me) are sheltered and don't realize how the things we say or believe get interpreted by our friends/ random strangers on the internet.

And how does it come across? Well, look at some of these responses: Redditors on r/TwoXChromosomes are angry and call him out on his judging. Jezebel mocks the article. Bloggers point out the flaws and hypocrisy of Christian purity culture and share about their own relationships, which are apparently "the wrong way".

And my response? I agree with a lot of what this guy believes. But I also see how it was received by the citizens of the internet, how they were hurt and offended and angry, and I agree with them too.

I plan to not have sex until I get married. (Haha, I refuse to use the term "waiting". I'm not "waiting" for anything- my life is awesome right now, thank you very much.) And I have a lot of reasons for that, based in Christianity and logic and my emotions, and I think it's a good decision. I think it's a good decision for me and other people too, and I'm happy to explain why, and I'm happy to listen to people's concerns about sexual compatibility and such. If we disagree, I'm not going to say "I'M TOTALLY JUDGING YOU" and tell them how much I pity them for ruining their life by making such a bad decision.

There's no need to judge. Virginity does not make you superior to anyone else. Instead, how about we present the reasons for and against having sex before marriage, listen to different points of view, and respect that people may have good reasons to disagree?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Without Jesus, would I even be a feminist?

Image source.

If I had not been certain that Jesus saw me and rescued me, an individual woman, would I have felt I had the right to read the whole bible, and learn from the whole bible, not just the "woman" passages?

If I had not combined my logic with my total devotion to God, would I ever have challenged the idea of modesty so strongly, and concluded that it's not right for women to be burdened with that?

If I were not so inspired and devoted to God that I pursued him as far as China, would I ever have discovered that he lives in every culture in the world, and my own culture and experiences are not superior to anyone else's?

If I did not read about how Jesus hung out with those that were judged by society and called "sinners", would I ever have made the choice to meet gay people in real life, and to search out and read blogs about their stories and their opinions? Would I have honestly looked at what the bible says, to the point of concluding it's not such an easy issue? Would I ever have seen the humanity of the people involved, and concluded that yes, gay marriage should be legal, and gay rights are worth fighting for?

If I had not known that every nation, every people group, every language, would worship God together in heaven, would I ever have moved past suspicion and found delight in different forms of worship?

If I had not been willing to listen and be humble, as the bible teaches, would I ever have genuinely listened enough to be convinced of the reality of racism in American culture?

If I did not know about God's compassion toward all people, would I ever have looked for news stories about transgender people, and asked questions in an attempt to understand them?

If Jesus had not set me free and shown me I can trust him completely, would I ever have felt secure enough to question him about the sexism I found in the bible?

If Jesus had not said I should "love my neighbor as myself" would I ever have seriously thought about what needs to be done to end injustice for black people affected by poverty, rather than just saying "they need to work harder"?

If I were not committed to honoring God as the center of my life, rather than myself, would I have continued to feel superior to those who are different from me?

Image source.
There is a way to use Christianity to reinforce one's own ideas and maintain the status quo of oppression. Whenever someone is doing something that makes me mildly uncomfortable, I can quote 1 bible verse that vaguely relates, and say obviously what they're doing is WRONG.

It's so simplistic, so easy, and it's based on the idea that I know all the answers and I'm always right.

But Jesus kept challenging me, with his whole philosophy of loving people and not judging them.

Jesus has brought me past a naive understanding of Christianity, which says everything I heard in the conservative, white, American church is absolute truth, which is blind to the nuances of different situations, which made me think I have all the answers and I don't have to listen to anyone else.

As I followed the real Jesus, who challenged the powerful religious leaders, who stood up for "sinners", who said "blessed are the poor" and "do not judge" and the most important thing is to love God and love people... I found that I can't not be a feminist.

Yes, it's more complicated, and it means I don't have such easy answers for every issue. But Jesus did not come to give us a list of answers- he came to show God's huge, absurd love, which is for every demographic of people on the planet- regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, family history, income level, etc etc.

And like Jesus, I will be a feminist, and I will listen to others, and I will love and respect people, and I will not be blind to injustice and discrimination.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
- Jesus' words as he begins his 3 years of ministry. Luke 4:18-19

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This post is part of the Faith & Feminism blog carnival, hosted by from two to one. The deadline for submissions is September 25. If you'd like to submit one of your own blog posts, go for it!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blogaround

1. Church Stories: "Forgive them, Father" (posted September 10) This is such a powerful story. Go read it. Seriously.

2. On Homosexuality: It's OK to Fight (posted August 31) "I am a testimony that homosexuality can be a choice." Wow... did not expect this. I thought, no, it's not supposed to work this way. But remember what I said about listening to other people's experiences, and believing them, instead of thinking I'm an expert on their life? Yeah, go read this.

3. Detroit Lions, Ford Field part of history as first female NFL referee Shannon Eastin draws positive reviews after first game (posted September 10) Shannon Eastin became the first woman to referee an NFL regular season game. Awesome! I wonder what her story is- did people tell her she was crazy to go through ref training, because obviously girls couldn't do that?

4. Ask a transgender Christian (Response) (posted September 11) Wow, this week's blogaround is full of really personal, eye-opening stories. Go read this.

flightradar24.com
5. Flightradar24 For the science nerds out there. A real-time map of planes in the sky all over the world. (Though there are some regions with no data.)

6. I am not a Puzzle Box (posted September 10) "Sex is not an item." Also her observation about "ideas that women don't actually want sex and just have to regulate men's access to it" is dead-on.

7. The List Of What You Must Do To Remain Saved (posted September 14)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How long should you pray before asking a girl out?

Dating is a big deal, they said. Because the purpose of dating is to find someone to marry, they said. It's a huge life decision, so God should definitely be part of it, they said.

So this brings us to the question: How much does one need to pray before asking a girl out? Or, since I am a straight woman and I would prefer the guy to be the one doing the "asking" (though I definitely don't believe that's a rule handed down by God), how much do I need to pray before I start purposely spending more time around this guy, observing him more closely, asking him specific questions to find out if we might be compatible, dropping little hints that I like him?

The Christian dating books talk about being fairly sure this is the person you want to marry, very early in the relationship, or even before the idea of dating has been discussed between the man and woman.

So, how's this work? You pray and pray and pray, and don't say a word to your potential soul mate until you get the go-ahead from God?

I once heard someone say they knew someone who knew a pastor who said (super-reliable source, I know) a guy should fast and pray for 6 months before asking a girl out.

And I'm here to tell you why this philosophy makes no sense.

You need to pray about marriage because it's a very big deal. It's a huge choice that affects your life perhaps more than any other choice. And don't you think, if you need to carefully think and pray because of how much it will change your life, perhaps your potential significant other should also be thinking and praying about it, because of how drastically it would affect his/her life?

If you and God are spending 6 months hammering out the pros and cons of your future life with another person, don't you think that other person should have some input?

"How dare you! All of you. Standing around deciding my future. I am not a prize to be won!" Image source.
I believe that Christians should pray about it when they're interested in a romantic relationship. It's important, so ask God for input. But if, when you first mention to this person your interest in dating, you and God have already decided that you and your "potential soul mate" will spend the rest of your lives together, where is the other person's choice?

Yes, pray about it. But if you are entering the relationship with any kind of certainty, you're doing it wrong. You're planning someone else's life for them.  

If you think you're going to pray about it until you are CERTAIN you will marry this person, and THEN you make the first move, I'm sorry but that's wrong. Yes, let's take dating seriously, let's not mess with someone's heart, but there needs to some middle ground between leading someone on and planning out their entire life without their input.

And someone might argue "but if you're praying about it, God will only tell you to go for it if the other person would be willing too." Still, where is the other person's choice? We can get into debates about free will, is it still a choice if God already knew what they would say... I don't know the answer.

But what I do know is this: If you and God are talking, without any input from the outside world to give you a reality check, isn't it going to be easy to get all wrapped up in your own little world, your own little fantasy about how your life is supposed to play out? What happens if you decide this is totally the person you want to marry, and then they reject you because they just honestly were never interested?

Then, of course, you get on the internet and complain about being "friendzoned." Image source.

Which of these is a better strategy to determine compatibility:
  1. All by yourself, analyze everything and pray.
  2. Think, pray, be a friend to your "potential soul mate", show some interest, start discussing dating with them, and then when (if!) you are dating, spend time together, discuss marriage, etc.
No amount of prayer is going to guarantee me that Incredibly-Hot-Guy-That-Doesn't-Know-I-Like-Him is going to be my husband. I have to take a risk. If it was certain, then where is his say in the direction his life is going?

(Oh, did I say "Incredibly Hot Guy"? I, of course, meant to say "godly." Yeah...)

All right everyone, tell me what you think. This is my attempt to figure out this dating stuff.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How does freerice.com work?

Freerice.com is a vocabulary/educational game which claims that "For each answer you get right, we donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger."

It's worth playing; go ahead and give it a try. It starts out with really easy vocabulary:


and as you get them right, the difficulty increases:

For those of you who care, the correct answer was "binding."
and there are some other subjects too, besides vocabulary (though the other subjects don't seem to have as many levels of difficulty):


After playing for 10 minutes, I earned 1560 grains of rice.



So, is this legit? Are they really donating 10 grains of rice for each right answer?

Well, the short answer is no. No one is sitting there counting out 10 grains of rice as I click through the vocabulary questions. So the "You have now donated 1560 grains of rice" thing is not literally true.

Instead, Freerice donates the equivalent amount of money to the UN World Food Programme, which then uses it to buy rice and give it those who need it.

So even though it's not literally true, it is legitSnopes confirms this.

What is the UN World Food Programme?

Check out their website. The World Food Programme is a huge organization that works in 73 countries to provide food for those who are without it- either because of some emergency situation (war, natural disasters) or in cases where there is ongoing need (providing school meals, providing food for those suffering from HIV/AIDS, etc).

Seriously, I recommend clicking around on their website. There's a lot of information there. This is important stuff to know- hunger affects 925 million of our brothers and sisters.

Where does the money come from? If Freerice has the money anyway, why do I have to play this game in order for them to donate?

The money comes from the companies who buy ad space on the website. They pay for pageviews and clicks- so no, Freerice does not have a pile of money just waiting. Freerice earns it from the advertisers as you click through the questions on the site.

Okay, so what difference am I making? How much rice is 1560 grains, anyway?

From some googling, I have determined that there are about 7000 grains of (uncooked) rice in a cup, and that it expands to maybe double or triple volume when cooked.

So my 1560 grains of rice translates into about 1/2 cup cooked.

According to this site, rice costs about $600 per metric ton (this is a much lower rate than what you pay for a 5-lb bag at the grocery store). Again, after some googling, I am finding that there are 15-50 grains of rice in 1 gram. We'll use 30 grains for the math here.

My 1560 grams of rice costs 3 cents.

I mean, when you get tons of people playing this free rice game, it adds up... but I'm really not making that much of a difference.

Does this mean I have a moral responsibility to spend all my free time playing free rice?

No one should go hungry. I can't imagine what that's like. Giving other people food is more important than whatever else I'm doing with my spare time, right? Eh, no, I don't think so.

As I just calculated, playing Freerice for 10 minutes donates 3 cents. So, that's $0.18/hour. What's minimum wage? Not that. If you want to help people, go get a real job and then donate from your salary. If your only goal is to get out there and change the world, then Freerice is a waste of time.

You should play Freerice if you like it. Personally I was entertained by it when I played- but not enough to come back and play every day. If it's a game you think is fun, hey, go for it. But if you think it's boring, then DUDE, don't play, and don't feel guilty about that. Donating a few cents is not worth sacrificing your spare time and doing something you hate.

I think this game is probably good for kids because it's educational. I could totally see this being used by middle school or high school teachers. The kids learn stuff (from a bunch of different subjects) and you have the added bonus of feeding the hungry. Freerice is a pretty good idea for this context.

So I'll leave my readers with this question: Anyone beat my 1560 grains of rice, playing JUST the English vocabulary game for 10 minutes?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Wise Men Found Jesus In Another Religion

Convinced by their study of astrology, they packed up and traveled for months, on a quest to find a baby king. It's crazy, but the wise men found Jesus, while the people who knew the bible and had all the answers did not. Read it here: Matthew 2:1-12

Image source.

Who were the wise men?

Wise men, or Magi, or the 3 kings (although the bible definitely does not say there were 3)... who are they? What do we know about them?

They were "from the east." This is how Matthew describes them. So, where is "the east"? A lot of things are east of Jerusalem.

Basically, all of these things. Image source.
I've heard one theory that the wise men were from China. While that would be awesome, I think it's probably not true- too far away. However, we do have some other information that can narrow this down...

They had some knowledge of Jewish religion and culture. Definitely. We know this because they were specifically looking for "the king of the Jews." Perhaps they were descendants of people originally from Israel, who had been scattered due to war and exile. Perhaps their culture had been somehow influenced by Jewish culture.

They took their astrology pretty seriously. They saw a star, they determined that it must mean the "king of the Jews" had been born, and they NEEDED to go see him, and worship him. Why? I seriously do not understand the thought process behind this.

How long did it take to travel there? How long did they spend planning their trip, getting supplies together, deciding what gifts to give the baby king? Because of a star? Dude... the most I am going to do for a star is wake up at 4 am and look out the window for a few minutes when there's some once-in-a-hundred-years phenomenon going on in space.

Because Matthew later writes that King Herod killed the babies "who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi", I estimate it took 1-2 years for the wise men to plan their trip and travel all the way to Bethlehem.

They were rich and educated. We call them "wise men" or even "kings." They brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had enough money to finance a huge trip. They had enough spare time to spend studying the stars. These people were definitely upper-class.

What was this "star" anyway?

I've heard speculation about how it was Jupiter or something. Speculation is great and interesting- but it's just speculation. There's no way we'll ever be able to say with confidence that the "star" was this or that specific star/planet/comet/whatever.

What is going on with the priests? And other happenings in Jerusalem.

Did the star lead them to Jerusalem, or did it lead them to that general area and then they thought "well clearly the king must be in the capital city"? I don't know.

Also, from reading the text, it is not clear whether the wise men went straight to King Herod, or if they started asking around in Jerusalem, and Herod heard about it and got a little freaked out, so he called them in to talk to them.

But here's what Matthew does say: The Jewish priests and teachers were called in, and they were asked where the Christ was supposedly going to be born. They quoted a bible verse and said it's definitely Bethlehem. The wise men said "kthxbye" and went on their way.

Don't you think the priests should have like, cared, if the Christ had been born?

Seriously. This would be like if someone came and said "I heard the Mars rover is going to be landing in the parking lot at Wal-Mart today- can you give me directions to Wal-Mart?" and I said "sure, just go straight and then turn right after you see a Burger King and Rite Aid" when what I should be saying is "WHOA SERIOUSLY? The Mars rover??? BRB, going to Wal-Mart."

I am a master of photoshop. Image sources here and here.
So the Jewish priests knew all the answers. They knew the bible better than anyone else- and actually, they were 100% right. Bethlehem WAS the right answer. But they didn't care enough to actually put effort into following their "right answers." They didn't find Jesus.

The wise men worshiped Jesus.

They were "overjoyed." They found Mary and Baby Jesus, and bowed down. That must have been super-weird from Mary's point of view. A bunch of rich foreigners show up, and strangely enough, they're the only ones who recognize how important your baby is.

This is pretty awesome, because the gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) were very expensive, and hopefully this really helped Mary and Joseph with their financial ability to raise a kid. Kind of weird, how God knew their needs and provided for them... by bringing in a bunch of upper-class astrologers from hundreds of miles away.

Whatever happened to them after that?

Jesus didn't start doing anything until 30 years later. Where were the wise men at that point? Were they still alive? Did they ever really understand who Jesus was? Did they become Christians?

What about the other characters? The priests, the officials working for Herod... did they ever find out who Jesus was? Did they ever realize that, way back when those weird astrology guys came around, the person they were looking for grew up to be Jesus of Nazareth?

I don't know what happened. In Matthew 2, the wise men are doing the right thing, seeking Jesus, but they only know the beginning of the story. I hope somehow they found out the ending.

Take-home message: The wise men found Jesus in another religion.

Whoa, whoa. Am I allowed to say that? No way- Christians believe that only Christianity is the true religion.

I'm just calling it like I see it. The wise men found Jesus in another religion. They found him because of their dedication to astrology.

Like I said above, they must have been influenced by Jewish religion and culture. Maybe their beliefs had some elements of "the right religion" and some other stuff mixed in. But the bible says very clearly that they found Jesus because of astrology.

Do any Christians think astrology is legit? I have never heard of any. Astrology is just silly superstition, right? But it told them where to find Jesus, and it was right.

How? Can God speak through astrology? Sure, why not? As Psalm 19:1-4 says,

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
     the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
     night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
     where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
     their words to the ends of the world. ..."

God can speak through whatever he wants. And apparently he speaks through other religions besides Christianity.

I am not saying "all religions are right" or "all religions are the same" or "all religions follow the same God". God spoke to the wise men through the lens of their religion, but he used it to point them to Jesus. Yes, I believe Jesus is the one and only way to God. But you may find Jesus in some unexpected places.

The wise men were wrong about some things. They didn't know the biblical prophesy about Bethlehem. They had some pagan influences in their beliefs. But when God spoke to them and said where to find the Christ, they packed up and went. And they found Jesus.

The priests knew all the right answers. They knew the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. But they weren't interested in actually going to look for him. They knew all the facts in the bible, but they did not find Jesus.

Evidently, God doesn't care if you are right or wrong. God wants people who are willing to listen, willing to obey, willing to follow. THOSE are the people God speaks to. THOSE are the people who find Jesus.

Be like the wise men.

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

Previous post: When a dream convinces you to marry your cheating girlfriend (Matthew 1:18-25)

Next post: God became man... and babies died for it (Matthew 2:13-23)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Blogaround


1. Soul Mates (posted August 28) I love you, xkcd! This post asks "What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?" and comes at it with logic and data on world population- to show how totally ridiculous that notion is. Yes!

However, I still have to deal with Christian version of this myth- "God will set you up with that one perfect person!" which is much tougher to address... See also my post on how the Christian version of this myth is a much stronger beast.

2. How child sponsorship through World Vision works (posted September 4) This is a very very informative post, by a blogger who visited Sri Lanka with a team from World Vision. The child sponsorship program sounds great- it helps the community as a whole, not just one child at a time.

3. The Incomplete Politics of Poverty (posted August 31) According to the bible, there are 3 causes of poverty. This makes a lot of sense.

4. This video: Jesus Wants the Rose.

The church's teaching on "purity" flies in the face of the gospel, and this video communicates that better than anything else I've seen.

5. The amazing speeches of women in the conventions makes the silence of women in the Church that much more deafening. (posted September 5) Yes. This.

6. Defriended Over a Wedding, a Straight Man Gains Perspective (posted September 3)

7. Dear Pro-Lifers: STOP ERASING WOMEN (posted September 6) "Because that's the problem, isn't it? If zygotes didn't live inside women's bodies, this wouldn't be an issue."

8. Seeing Faces, Not Statistics (posted September 6) "And what would it have hurt for me to hear it? Why, in all of those abstinence-only speeches, where they scared you on the failure of condoms and condemned Planned Parenthood, why did they not explain that some people need them?"

9. The myth of how the hijab protects women against sexual assault (posted September 6)

10. Please Don't Tell Me I'm Beautiful (posted September 7) "I can tell you from over 35 years of first-hand experience, from when my face first got smashed with a baseball bat and my teeth were ruined, that it's a mind-f*ck to be told 'you're beautiful' when nearly every single consequential, real-world factor tells you otherwise." I totally agree with this article, and I wrote something similar a while ago: We CANNOT say "everyone is beautiful".

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Election and the Economy (Without the Jargon)

First of all, Perfectnumber is in way over her head here. Politics are confusing- who can possibly understand them? But then she realized that the average American has to at least somewhat understand them, if they want to vote.

Pictured: The average American's take on politics. Image source.
I am going to do my best to articulate what each side believes, and the assumptions about the nature of the world that lead to those beliefs, and what questions one would have to answer in order to determine which side has beliefs closest to one's own.

(If I miss any important facts, or get something wrong, tell me.)

Here we go! Today's election-related topic is: the economy.

Image source.
Obama's position:

Obama's plan focuses on tax cuts for the average American. He passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with tax cuts specifically targeted towards working families and small businesses. He believes the economy will benefit most when more money is going directly into the hands of American people, not a wealthy minority or enormous corporations.

Source: barackobama.com, and a lot of being puzzled and suspicious of any statistic related to politics.

Romney's position:

Romney believes that in order to improve the economy, businesses must be given the means to create more jobs. There are way too many government regulations on business- this is a huge burden- it is smothering the economy. Therefore, Romney plans to get rid of a lot of the regulations and bureaucracy, and cut taxes on businesses.

Source: mittromney.com, and a lot of sifting through biases and jargon until I finally figured out where he's coming from.

So all those ads I see, telling me to vote for Obama because Romney would have middle class families paying $2000 more or whatever- that's because Romney's plan does not directly target "middle class families" for tax cuts- it targets businesses. It all makes sense now.

Questions to consider:

So, Romney wants to remove a lot of regulations on business. What are "regulations"?

According to this page, there are 5 areas in which government regulates business:
  1. Advertising (truth-in-advertising laws)
  2. Employment and labor (for example, minimum wage)
  3. Environmental (limits on pollution, etc)
  4. Privacy (don't spread around customers' credit card numbers)
  5. Safety and health (providing a safe, clean work environment for employees)
All of that seems very important to me. However, it may be the case that regulations have gone way too far, and there are so many small and relatively unimportant requirements that it holds back progress. This is Romney's position. Is it true? I don't know.

Which regulations does Romney want to get rid of? What practical effect would it have on employees, customers, and the environment? 

What are the current tax rates for different income levels?

Everyone is talking in terms of an increase or decrease and "tax cuts for the rich". What are the absolute numbers we're dealing with here?

According to wikipedia, a married couple filing jointly (I picked this case because everyone's been all about families in this election) pays an income tax of 10% on the first $17400, then 15% on the next bunch of income up to $70700, then 25% on the next bunch of income up to $142700, then 28% up to $217450, then 33% up to $388350, then 35% on any more.

OKAY that was a bunch of numbers in paragraph form. Not so useful. Take a look at this graph of household income in 2010, and then we'll try to make sense of the tax rates.

I recommend clicking here to see it bigger: Image source.
(I know this is "household income" and a household sometimes just has 1 adult rather than 2 filing jointly. I'm just trying to get some estimates. Calm down.)

15% of households earn $17400 or less, which puts them in the 10% tax bracket.

54% of households earn $17400 to $70700, which puts them in the 15% tax bracket.

15% of households earn $70700 to $142700, which puts them in the 25% tax bracket.

12% of households earn $142700 to $217450, which puts them in the 28% tax bracket.

4% of households earn more than that, which puts them in the 33% or 35% tax bracket.

(Used data from this table, which is from 2003 but is probably the pretty much the same as that graph. And I did the math quick and dirty.)

So as a voter, ask yourself if these tax rates seem fair. Should higher incomes be taxed at higher levels? If so, how much higher?

Who are these "middle-class" "working families"?

I once saw a study that said almost everybody considers themselves to be middle-class, even though a lot of them totally aren't. Both Obama and Romney are talking about all the wonderful things they plan to do to benefit "the middle class."

To me it seems like a sneaky political attempt to show they totally identify with you. Like when you take one of those personality tests, and at the end it tells you a bunch of incredibly vague statements, but they're worded so you don't realize they're vague- you think that personality test TOTALLY GETS you.

"Though at times you enjoy being the life of the party, you feel you also have a quiet, introspective side that your friends do not know." Image source.
So it's unclear to me who the supposed benefits to "the middle class" are really for.

Huge corporations are being portrayed as faceless, callous, uncaring, evil- let's take a look at this criticism.

I made this chart using this data from 2008, to show how many Americans are employed by small businesses and large businesses:

Blue: employees. Red: payroll.

So don't demonize the huge companies- they're employing 25%-50% of the workforce (depending on your definition of "large" vs "small" business). They're generating a huge chunk of the money floating around in the economy. We NEED them.

(Disclaimer: I know everything about math and nothing about politics or the economy. If I'm using the wrong numbers or interpreting them wrong, tell me.)

One more note- as a feminist, I have to mention how it's a bit suspicious that Romney wants to strengthen those who already have power (big businesses), with the idea that of course then they'll use their power to help out everyone else (by creating jobs). Because we all know that's how power and oppression work.

What is our goal for the economy?

What exactly are Obama and Romney aiming for here? What is the ideal picture of the American economy? A few ideas I have:
  1. Everyone who is skilled and willing to work should be able to find a job that suits them.
  2. Income levels, after tax, should be high enough to support people, so they never have to worry about basic needs like food, housing, health care, etc.
(Agree/disagree? What other things should be true of the economy? Decreasing the gap between rich and poor? Not allowing anyone with bad work ethic to get a "free ride"?)

This raises more questions about what "high enough" income means- does it mean supporting kids too? Minimum wage isn't enough to support a whole family- is that a bad thing? In setting wages, is the goal to give workers the amount they need to live on, or to give them an amount corresponding to the difficulty and skill required for that particular job?

How do jobs get "created"?

It seems like both Obama and Romney are relying on the assumption that if a company has more money, it will expand and "create jobs" (though Romney's plan is definitely way more dependent on this assumption). I suppose this is true... Does it have the same effect for both small and large businesses?

Also, there is fear of jobs "moving overseas"- particularly in the case of a large company expanding. (Why so much fear? It looks a lot like racism to me. Why are Americans more deserving of jobs? Okay, whatever, right now I'm just talking about what will benefit Americans economically.)

What causes the whole "move overseas" thing? Is it more likely that American jobs will be lost in this way under Obama or Romney? I don't know. This question is left as an exercise to the reader.

The main difference (as far as I can tell):

In Obama's worldview, many Americans are being oppressed by larger forces at work in the economy. There is inequality built into the system, and he wants to change that by directly giving American taxpayers more money, and therefore more control. If people just had more opportunities, they would work hard and be more successful- he intends to provide them with those opportunities.

In Romney's worldview, economic standing is earned through talent and hard work. People who have more money are the ones who are the most responsible and hard-working. Therefore, to improve the economy, successful companies should be given more tax breaks. They have shown they are the most deserving, the most likely to put that money to good use.

And now the voters can decide which they agree with. I've made my decision.

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