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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"For which of these do you stone me?"

The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep up in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly."

Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify about me ... I and the Father are one."

Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"

"We are not stoning you for any good work," they replied, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are "gods"'? If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came- and Scripture cannot be set aside- what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

- John 10:24-39


Jesus' line "I have said you are gods" is a reference to Psalm 82. And, when the bible quotes a line from the Old Testament, don't just read that one line, you have to read the whole context where it comes from.

So, to briefly summarize Psalm 82, God is above the other "gods"- which I interpret to mean kings and governments and powerful systems that exist in the world- and God tells them to quit defending the wicked and start helping and rescuing the poor and weak. And sure, they're like gods, but they're going to die too someday, and God will judge them.

Huh. A psalm about justice- defined as helping the poor and bringing down the oppressors. It's almost like the whole bible is about this.

Anyway, for some reason Jesus feels this psalm is applicable to his situation in John 10. Jesus was making a lot of confusing statements about "I am in the Father" and "the Father is in me", whatever, and some people wanted to stone him. Because how can he talk like that? Calling himself equal with God! THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!

And Jesus is like, "Hey doesn't it say somewhere 'I have said you are gods'? So apparently it's cool to just throw around terms like that. Plus I actually am the Son of God."

Is that it? Or perhaps there are other parallels to Psalm 82?

I wonder if, when Jesus went on to talk about "doing the works of the Father", he meant the justice that was discussed in Psalm 82. He tells them to believe in him if they see him "defend the weak and the fatherless", "uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed", "rescue the weak and the needy", and "deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

And I wonder if, by referencing that psalm, Jesus was making a comparison between the religious leaders who gave him a hard time and the "gods" who will soon fall and be judged for how they ignored the suffering of the poor.

(Doesn't seem like a good move if you're trying to convince people NOT to stone you.)

Also, this raises some questions about whether following God is about what you do or what you believe. So what if someone comes along and helps a lot of people? You gotta check if they've got their theology straight. Because it's better to be right than good, yes?

I was always taught to be careful of being "led astray" by something that seems good but doesn't line up with "what the bible says." That's why Christians aren't supposed to date non-Christians, ya know- because everything will seem good, and then farther down the road you'll get married and then have problems because actually non-Christians are secretly bad.

(Full disclosure: My boyfriend is not a Christian. Please leave your panicked, over-the-top warnings in the comments section.)

Or giving to charities that aren't religious. Sure they're doing good and helping people, but it's all worthless because they're not sharing the gospel, right?

But here's Jesus, saying to believe in him because of what he does. Even though his beliefs seem blasphemous.

Really?

Apparently so. This line sums it up well:
Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"
Not for what he did, but for his beliefs. And maybe Jesus thinks that's absolutely ridiculous.

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 82. To read other people's posts, click here: Calling leaders to account.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Blogaround

1. Are you being persecuted? (posted November 21) A handy chart.

2. "Biblical Grounds" (posted November 19) "When I first told people what had happened, what my ex had decided, someone close to me asked me 'What’s your theology of divorce?' and I was just devastated."

3. Legalists Make Forgiving Legalistic (But We Still Need to Forgive) (posted November 16) "This is the place where legalism cannot enter. Surface forgiveness will never set us free."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Small Talk

When I was little, I never talked to anyone.

Yeah sure, if someone asked me a question, I would answer. And I talked to my family. But other than that, nope.

At school, I did everything the teachers said. And they were always telling the students to quit talking and pay attention. They never told us we were supposed to talk sometimes.

And you know how little kids are taught, "don't talk to strangers"? Well my mom made sure to never tell me "don't talk to strangers" because, you know, I already didn't talk to anyone. She knew I would "take it too literally" and then never make friends. (Which, seriously, please explain to me how I was supposed to understand "don't talk to strangers" as anything other than "don't talk to strangers"? That's not "taking it too literally," you guys.)

So anyway, the point of this little story is, I totally never got the point of "small talk." You know, when you just talk to people about little unimportant things, but not because you need information, just because... well I never understood why.

(Probably because I have Asperger's.)

But in college it was different. Every new freshman, including me, was trying to make friends. People were friendly. And I understood the purpose of small talk: to welcome a new person into the group, so they don't feel alone and awkward. Ask them questions about themself (yeah I'm an English teacher) to show you care about them.

And then once you've become friends, small talk is fun. I'm interested in my friends' lives.

So I had a lot of friends in college. That was cool.

But, you know, still a little clueless about the small talk.

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But now my whole life is small talk.

Because my whole life is language learning.

My job is teaching English to Chinese people. And at the same time, I am trying to improve my Chinese. How do you learn a language? Lots and lots of practice.

Lots and lots of small talk. Talk to everybody about anything and everything.

My school has a rule: English only. (A rule that is constantly broken, but at least the idea is there.) The students hang out between classes and chat with each other and with the teachers, sometimes in English, sometimes in Chinese. The classes are all taught in English (you know, with an occasional word translated). The "English environment" is super-important.

And perhaps my biggest goal, in every lesson, is this: Get the students to talk.

Put them in pairs, with a question to discuss. What do you like to watch on tv? What do you think the world will be like in the future? Which animal makes the best pet? How would you go about asking your boss for a raise?

It's all small talk. The information contained in their answers doesn't really matter. (It doesn't even have to be true!) What matters is that they're practicing English.

(Don't worry- I do also teach them things about grammar, pronunciation, etc. But they could learn that from a textbook. What really matters is the opportunity to practice. To make small talk.)

Same thing for me learning Chinese. I know I have improved a lot in the few months I've been here. But how? I don't really feel like I've done much studying... It's the small talk. (Plus the fact that I need to speak Chinese in order to like, buy food and stuff.)

My job is small talk. My life is small talk.

To speak a language well, you must do a lot of small talk.

And perhaps, back in school during my childhood, perhaps the purpose of that small talk was also to practice something. Practice getting along with people. Practice being a friend. Something like that.

Discussion question: What is the purpose of small talk?

Friday, November 22, 2013

You can't find those answers in the bible

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"Maybe some people think this is ridiculous because of the whole 'swallowed by a whale' thing. But I believe the bible." And that is the sum of all the thoughts I've had, in my entire life, exploring the idea that the biblical story of Jonah might be anything other than a factual historical account.

Until a few days ago, when I read this post by the Slactivist: No, the book of Jonah cannot be read as history. Do go and read the whole thing.

First of all, well, yes it can be read as history, because that's the only way I've ever read it. I've read apologetics books that referenced cases of people surviving a few days inside a fish- many many times I have heard Christians defend the story of Jonah as something that totally IS possible. (And I also read one which said those kinds of explanations were totally misguided because you guys, it's a miracle, quit trying to explain it naturally and thus make God less powerful. Umm, what?)

But the Slactivist says Jonah is satire, that it's BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS that Jonah is satire.

And the reasons he gives... how in the world did I never see these before?
  • "everything about Jonah is overly dramatic and over-the-top." He is sent to Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian empire. You can't pick a worse city than that. And then the entire city repents. What? The entire city? Suddenly? And then, because God didn't destroy Ninevah, Jonah is angry enough to die. Yes, overly dramatic.
  • And "the omniscient third-person narrator." Hmm. Now that you mention it, that is suspicious.
I want to say, "How in the world has this never occurred to me?" But I know the answer. It's because I always believed (never even thought to question) that being a Christian means believing the stories in the bible really happened.

This isn't about believing the bible or not believing the bible. I just want to know what the author of Jonah meant. Did he/she intend it as satire? Did the original audience understand it to be an actual thing that happened, or not?

You can't find those answers in the bible.

That's an unavoidable conclusion. You can't find those answers in the bible. The bible doesn't explicitly tell us how to read the bible. (Indeed, if the book of Jonah started with, "This story-teller gives us an amazing bit of satire here..." that would kind of ruin the whole satire thing, huh?)

So. Yeah. Jonah as satire. This is entirely new to me. Maybe I have to read the whole bible over again.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chinese Food (Photo Dump)

And here's this month's edition of what I'm eating.

Dumplings before being cooked. During off-peak hours, you always see the people who work at those little restaurants making these things.

Fried rice. I can't eat this anymore, too greasy.

筷子盒 (kuàizi hé, chopsticks box) 已消毒,请放心使用 ("They've been sterilized, don't worry, you can use them.")

Little dumpling-like things. Probably with pork inside?

玉米汤 (yùmǐ tāng) Corn soup. I have no idea why this restaurant gives out spoons in baskets.

烧烤 (shāokǎo) Chinese barbeque. You pick out which sticks of food you want and then the guy fries them and puts on a ton of oil and spices. The ones cooking in this picture are eggplant, bread, and tofu.

Just like Dairy Queen in America! <3 Oreo blizzard and strawberry-banana blizzard.

宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung pao chicken.

Eggplant.

My attempt at making 青椒炒蛋 (qīngjiāo chǎo dàn), fried eggs and green peppers.

I taught my students to make worms in dirt! Oreos, gummy worms, and imported chocolate pudding. It tasted just like it does in America, and therefore the majority opinion was that it was completely unreasonably too sweet. Dude, Chinese people don't eat like, real dessert. They have stuff which is referred to as "cake" or "pie" or "pudding" or whatever, but come on. Where's the sugar? It tastes like foam.
Drives me crazy. Also, this is probably why Chinese people are so skinny. Also, when I ate my worms in dirt, I was kind of overwhelmed/felt a little sick from the sweetness too. I've gotten used to eating less sweet stuff in China.

Subway (赛百味 sài bǎi wèi) They don't put on half as much meat as American Subway does. But I still like it. China doesn't really do sandwiches, so it's nice to go to Subway now and then.

You guys! The cookies taste like American Subway cookies! None of this "flaky little biscuits with no sugar masquerading as cookies" (which is what other "cookies" in China generally are).

锅贴 (guō tiē) Potstickers.

This restaurant brought out bugles and cherry tomatoes to snack on while we waited for a table.

I eat peanut butter because I'm American.

Rice, egg, chicken leg, tofu, veggies.

Soy milk. I don't know why it's gray. I used a few of those sugar packets and it was good.

I don't always eat so healthy... (KFC in Chinese is 肯德基 kěndéjī, it means Kentucky.)

I cook my own dumplings! Well, I buy them frozen and then just boil them. It's really simple.

I put soy sauce on them.

Breakfast from KFC. 粥 (zhōu, porridge) and a 油条 (yóutiáo, deep-fried breadstick). This is totally what the Colonel had in mind.

Some sort of cake with coconut icing.

Noodles.

A "Chinese hamburger." That's either pork or lamb in there.

Purple sweet potatoes, I think.

You know this restaurant is fancy because they stacked the cucumbers.

What's this? Your guess is as good as mine.

Some kind of vegetable? With jam? Again, your guess is as good as mine.
The watermelon was sliced all fancy too.
Ah, eggplant.

Mango smoothie.

Taught the students how to make sandwiches. Then we had a contest for the most creative sandwich.

Birthday cake! With fruit and stuff on top.

Curry with eggplant and chicken.

Delicious tofu.

Leeks and tofu.

Curry with chicken and vegetables.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Introducing the Tip Jar

So, you may notice on the right of the screen, there is now a "tip jar." (It actually looks like a plate of delicious eggplant, but whatever.) If you like my blog and you want to throw in a few kuai (or, uh, American dollars are cool too- it uses Paypal), go for it! I will be totally grateful!

(I also want to be clear that, even though a while ago I talked about being a missionary, I now have a teaching job in China so don't misunderstand and think "Perfect Number, being in China and all, needs to constantly ask other Christians for money in order to live." No no no.)

And of course, to all my wonderful readers, thanks for reading! ^_^

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Blogaround

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1. How Feminism Hurts Men (posted November 12) "Because of feminism, it’s hard to find a movie with a heroic male lead anymore. Most blockbusters feature a brave woman who saves the world and gets a token man as a trophy for her accomplishments."

2. This delightful video: Too Late to Apologize: A Declaration.


3. I am so sad I can't find the Chinese version of this song: Strangers Like Me.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Did I Share the Gospel?

"The most important thing is God loves us."

Actually, I said it in Chinese. (“最重要就是上帝爱我们。”) I was talking with a friend, and happened to mention that I (try to) go to church every week and I'm a Christian, and this was my attempt to sum up what Christianity is about.

I mean, haha, it's just one sentence, of course it can't sum up what Christianity is about. But being here in China, where the majority of people don't know much of anything about Christianity, I've been thinking a lot about what to say, how to describe what I believe.

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And you know what? I love what I believe.

I mean, isn't it amazing that God loves us?! God loves us! YOU GUYS! GOD LOVES US!

And he came to our world to experience life as a human. Jesus understands everything. He understands pain and hunger and sadness and anger and joy and laughter and friendship and love and everything.

I mean, how cool is that??!!! God became a human! He didn't just leave us on our own. He left his power behind and became weak and vulnerable.

And dude dude dude, Jesus died and then resurrected! That's amazing! He is stronger than anything- stronger than death! He can do anything! And his resurrection points to the time in the future when he will renew this world.

Yes, all the screwed-up stuff in this world, Jesus will fix. No more crying or pain or sickness. God knows, God understands our problems, and he loves us!

That's freaking awesome!!!

And Jesus calls us to join him in making this world better- treating others with love, fighting for justice. Dude sign me up!

I want to tell everybody because it's so cool!!! I don't want to force anyone to believe, or force anyone to change- I mean, I just want to tell them God loves them because dude that is good news. Maybe they don't believe that- which is fine, no worries, God still loves you and I want to be like God and love people too. So I won't try to force anyone to believe anything.

Dude, I love this, and I am going to tell people this, in Chinese, if they ask what I believe as a Christian. Jesus is so awesome! He understands what we feel. He truly loves us- enough to actually come and live with us. DUUUUUUUUDE!

And he'll change this world! You know how there's all kinds of screwed-up stuff which should never happen to anyone? Well God will change that. God will bring justice. Wonderful wonderful justice.

And if that's not good news, I don't know what is.

So tell me, did I share the gospel?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So... uh... why is abortion bad?

This fantastic post, ‘Hell House,’ abortion, and the mute zombie children of Heaven, follows the logic of some in the pro-life crowd to its creepy conclusion. If every fertilized egg is a full person, and aborted "unborn babies" go to heaven, then so do all the fertilized eggs that are lost without anyone even knowing they exist- in fact, the majority of the population of heaven would be these "people" who never lived, never had a body, never interacted with any other person. Creepy.

So on that note, I'd like to examine the logic of the pro-life side- specifically the evangelical Christian pro-life beliefs that I always assumed Christians HAD to hold. (Ya know, I've always been pro-life because, uh, Christians are pro-life. Not any more though. That's a subject for another post.)

So, the story goes that abortion is wrong because the fertilized egg/ fetus is a real person with a soul.

Yeah but, what does that even mean to have a soul, if it's before they even begin to develop a brain and the ability to feel pain and stuff? Why does it matter if the fetus is aborted at that point? It doesn't hurt anybody.

Ah, because you see, the unborn baby has an eternal soul and its death matters to God. Even if no one else cares, God cares.

Umm, even if "God cares", how does that translate into "and therefore we must allow this unborn baby to develop and be born and have a life"? I thought heaven was better anyway and our lives on earth don't really matter? Seems odd that God would be the one insisting that someone with absolutely no connections or obligations on earth stay there instead of just coming to heaven where everything is awesome.

(Another blogger, Libby Anne, has written about this contradiction before.)

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I understand the idea that "life has value." What I don't understand is how that apparently means that the "unborn child" MUST be allowed to have an earthy existence. When we say "life has value," do we mean our earthly lives? I thought those were "but a breath" and all that matters is eternity in heaven or hell?

It just seems odd that pro-life evangelical Christians are fighting so hard to give the "unborn babies" something that they claim only matters in that it decides whether or not you go to heaven- a deal that said "unborn babies" have already won anyway.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I don't think this is real (a reflection on Genesis 1)

Let me start by saying I've always loved dinosaurs.

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When I was young, I learned the bible story about how God created the earth. The story covers 6 days and says what God made on each of those days. Great!

And I wondered, what about the dinosaurs? Because, you know, dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, and dinosaurs did NOT live at the same time as people, and yet the bible says there were only 6 days available before people were on earth. So how's that work?

And when I was little, I just accepted "I don't know" as an answer and went on with my life.

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Eventually I started reading some stuff about creationism. It said there were 3 ways to interpret Genesis 1:
  1. Young-earth creationism: God really did make the world in 6 days. Literally. So the earth is only like 6000 years old, and dinosaurs and people lived together. And the fossil record comes from Noah's flood.
  2. Old-earth creationism: The "days" are actually eras of time. Maybe millions of years long. (Problem is, the fossil record doesn't really match up with the order given in Genesis 1. Also, the sun was supposedly created on the 4th day, soooo... what's with that?)
  3. Or some people (claiming to be Christians) just don't believe Genesis 1.
So for a while I believed in young-earth creationism, probably because of all the rhetoric about "this is what THE BIBLE says, and anyone who doesn't believe it is on a slippery slope to rejecting Jesus and everything that Christianity says."

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But this week, armed with some ideas about ancient mythology and the fact that many many Christians don't believe in a literal 6-day creation and they're fine, I reread Genesis 1.

Here's the basic summary:
  • So at first, everything was dark and watery.
  • Day 1: God said "Let there be light" and the light appeared.
  • Day 2: God ordered the sky to appear.
  • Day 3: God ordered the water to gather together into seas, separate from the land. Then he ordered the land to produce plants.
  • Day 4: God made the sun, moon, and stars.
  • Day 5: God made the fish and birds and told them to "be fruitful and multiply."
  • Day 6: God made land animals, then made people in God's own image. Sweet! And he instructed the people to have authority over the rest of creation. And eat plants.
  • Also throughout this whole chapter, God keeps saying that the stuff he created is GOOD.
So I'm reading this and I'm like, "I don't think this is real."

God said "let there be light." Okay let's try to picture that. Who did he say it to? What language did he use?

And what the heck is a "day" if the sun hadn't been invented yet? (The sun was made on the 4th day.)

So the fish and birds were made on day 5, and land animals on day 6. What about ostriches? What about dolphins? What about seals? Sea turtles? Penguins? Bats? There are a lot of animals which don't clearly fit in either day- or even if they do technically count for that category, they aren't really similar to most of the other animals in that category. And what about bugs and bacteria and such?

Hey who wrote this down anyway? God was the only one there for the first 5 days. How did the writer know what happened? I always believed "God told them," but, really? A voice from the sky dictated this story? (To Moses????)

Somebody just made this up, huh?

Who? How? And if somebody just made it up, then why does it matter? Why do Christians nowadays care about this- now that we know that the dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago?

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Here's another question, a really important question: Did the original audience for this story believe it was literally true? I remember in middle school history class learning about some creation myths from different cultures, and we kinda laughed at how silly they were and that people back then actually believed them. But wait, maybe people back then DIDN'T believe them- not in the way we think, anyway.

I mean, there are so many things in this story that could be incredibly symbolic and full of meaning:
  • The first thing God creates is light. Elsewhere in the bible, light is a symbol of truth and stuff like that. Hmm...
  • Everything was water at first. Why? And God creates the sky and land by pushing water out of the way, rather than creating something new. Is there some significance to that?
  • Why were fish and birds created separately from the other animals?
  • Why was the sun made on day 4 anyway?
  • Why does it say God just gave the command and then stuff popped into existence? Is there some difference between that and where it uses terms like "God made"?
  • Why did God only say they could eat plants?
We could learn a lot about how the ancient writers of the bible viewed God.

But uh, what's the use of that? How does it relate to what God is ACTUALLY like?

Genesis 1 isn't at all about how the world came to be. It's about what ancient Jews thought about God.

And if I researched it some more, I could learn a lot of interesting things, but like, what's the point? Why does it matter what they thought about God? Were they right or wrong? What does "right" even mean here, since God didn't really create the world in 6 days like the story says?

I don't know. Here, have another dinosaur:

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Discussion question: What's your favorite dinosaur?

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So to my friends from the Psalms Journey community: Last week I said "I guess I need to read the Old Testament all over again" so yeah, I ended up writing about Genesis this week instead of the Psalms. But I know you all will still support me. <3

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 81. To read other people's posts, click here: What worship leaders can learn from Asaph.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Blogaround

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1. A Biblical Guide to Debunking the Heterosexual Agenda (posted November 5) "Did you know that Cain, the first murderer, was a STRAIGHT?"

2. Christian Cliches: "Lean Not on Your Own Understanding" (posted November 2) "To put it in today's vernacular, what is being said is, 'Don't think you have all the answers.'"

3. Chinese labor camp inmate tells of true horror of Halloween 'SOS' (posted November 7) "'I saw the packaging and figured the products were bound for some English-speaking countries,' he said. '...I had this idea of telling the outside world what was happening there.'"

4. Jesus spoke English. (posted November 9) "How frustrating was Jesus’ time on earth? Can you imagine being the only one in Nazareth that spoke English?"

5. I don’t know what I think about the Bible (posted November 6) "So what does it mean for the church that the Bible is ancient literature, that it follows forms and patterns that we have no understanding of, that it belongs to a culture that we have absolutely no connection to whatsoever?"

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