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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hedges for Monsters

In a recent post, Married, with Friends, blogger Libby Anne discusses a book called Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It (by Jerry Jenkins), and what the so-called "hedges" show about evangelical Christianity's view of marriage, adultery, and men/women's roles.

Image source.

The "hedges" a man should use to protect his marriage (as presented in Jenkins's book) are the following rules:
  1. Not to dine or travel with a woman alone unless an unavoidable complication makes this impractical, and then to tell his wife first 
  2. To only ever hug another woman in front of others
  3. To never compliment another woman on her looks, only her clothes
  4. To avoid any kind of flirting except with his wife and to engage in as much flirtation as possible with his wife.
  5. To remind his wife often of his wedding vows orally and in writing
  6. To get home early and spend time with the children every day before bed
  7. To share his story often
In Libby Anne's post, she first talks about the obsessive focus on the rule "do not commit adultery"- as if the reason that cheating is wrong is that the bible has a rule that says it's sin- rather than because you love your spouse and would never do something terrible like that. She also says what really matters is that her husband actually wants to be with her, rather than just staying married because there's a rule that says "divorce is wrong." And she goes on to talk about how rigid gender roles lead to the idea that men and women can't be friends, and other women are seen as a threat to a man's marriage. Read the whole thing, it's good.

I want to elaborate on the observations she made about "protecting one's marriage" by avoiding other women, rather than by strengthening the relationship with one's wife. I think this reveals the way many Christians view temptation.

Take another look at that list of 7 "hedges." The focus is on avoiding contact with other women, rather than showing love to one's wife. It's almost like there's an assumption "I'll probably cheat on my wife if given the chance," so one must make sure to never get that chance.

Why?

Because temptation is strong, and people are weak. (At least that's the subtle message I get from a lot of Christian teaching.) We're all basically evil, with a sinful nature. No matter how strong a person's love toward their husband or wife, they must never think that they could resist temptation. First you happen to have lunch with a co-worker, and the next thing you know, you're sleeping with them. It's a slippery slope, man. No one wakes up one day and decides "I'm going to have an affair"- no, it's a ton of little steps, so you must prevent yourself from ever having an opportunity to take even one "little step."

Temptation is strong, and people are weak. Ha, how silly of you to think you'll be able to detect the warning signs. How silly of you to think that "love" will keep you from cheating. These things can just HAPPEN, so fast. Your "love" is no match for temptation- temptation is so strong, so powerful, no human can stand against it. The only solution is to religiously police all of your interactions with members of the opposite sex. Make it quite literally impossible to have an affair.

Temptation is strong, and people are weak. And we must live in fear of the monster inside us, in fear of what we might do, if given just a little freedom, fear of somehow, through some unknown but apparently incredibly probable turn of events, getting out of control, doing horrible things we would regret the next day.

Inescapable.

So just add more rules. Rules and rules and rules. Don't even let that monster get a glimpse of daylight- it's too strong for any human to resist, and who knows what it's capable of?

Scary monster... Image source.
But I don't believe that anymore.

I don't care how strong temptation is. God is stronger.

Don't Christians believe that the Holy Spirit lives in us? The power that created every quark in the universe, the power that raised Jesus back to life- this is the power God gives to his followers.

You are not meant to be a slave to temptation and sin. You are not meant to live in fear. Jesus gives freedom!

Be free!

To be paranoid of the possibility of temptation, to cover your life with rules and more rules, to push people away because you see them as threats rather than friends, to FEAR that you might be so evil and helpless that you miss all the warning signs and cheat on your wife by accident- this is NOT Christianity, and this is NOT the freedom that Jesus died to give us.

Yes, temptation exists. Yes, it's possible to be in a situation where it's hard to do the right thing. But you must not fear that. Trust in God's power and pour yourself into loving your spouse and loving God.

And if you do that, you will see the red flags if they come. Maybe one day you realize "oh my, I'm more interested in attention from this other person than from my husband/wife." And THAT'S when you change things and put up boundaries and address the problem. No, I don't believe you'll already be so deep in temptation that you'll be blind to what's happening or helpless to resist it. The power of the Holy Spirit is greater than that.

I don't believe for a moment that there exists someone who, after having an affair, looks back with regret on what he or she has done and concludes that the only point at which they could have chosen to stop it was that one time they happened to eat lunch together and chat. I don't believe for a moment that some innocent, friendly interaction can set off an unstoppable chain of events, dooming you to committing that affair which ruins your marriage.

Certainly temptation is real, and certainly boundaries and rules can be good, but they shouldn't be based in paranoia, in viewing every member of the opposite sex as a threat. They should be based in your own knowledge of yourself, your emotions, your weaknesses.

Trust yourself and trust God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ broke the power of that monster, and you are free.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blogaround

1. Mark Driscoll Versus Everyone: Stifling Monstrosity (posted January 21) "Is there a third option between silence and being a douche?"

2. We Raise All Our Beef Humanely On Open Pasture And Then We Hang Them Upside Down And Slash Their Throats (posted January 22) From The Onion. I'll warn you that the descriptions get really graphic.

3. Judas as Severus Snape (posted January 16) Now there's a cool analogy.

4. Porn and the contemplative life (posted January 19) "An unoccupied mind is essential for serious contemplation." Some of the commenters pointed out this totally applies to every other kind of distraction too, not just porn.

5. God is Not a Torturer (posted January 22) "...the very reason I object is because of the character of the God I have come to know through the scriptures and through the Word." Questioning hell.

6. PSY curve Mathematica meets Gangnam Style.

7. The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart (posted January 24) "They said all of this without so much of a glimmer of a tear, and it scared me to death. It nearly scared me out of the Church."

8. Agree or Disagree: Gender Roles have caused unreasonable expectations on relationships. (posted January 25) "I would just assume those 'non-manly' characteristics were clever lies that he was using to get in my pants."

9. I stopped guarding my heart ten years ago. (posted November 2012) "We ripped giant paper hearts into pieces and agreed that they could never really be put back together and felt sorry for everyone who had squandered their limited love on mere boyfriends."

10. I Hate Loving Mark Driscoll (posted January 24) "If I do pray for him, I want to pray that he will change, which is in many ways the very thing I’m suggesting he has inappropriately done."

11. Faking It: Why You Should Stop Treating Your Husband Like a Toddler, and ACTUALLY Respect Him. (posted January 23) "And I’m sick to death of Christians–CHRISTIANS!–giving advice that appeals to the worst in human character, instead of calling out the best."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"You of Little Faith..."

Image source.

This week, we're looking at Matthew 8:18-34, in which Jesus tries to dissuade potential disciples, belittles his followers as they panic and fear for their lives, and kills pigs.

Or something like that.

The cost of following Jesus (Matthew 8:18-22)

So in the first section of this week's passage, Jesus responds to two people who are interested in following him. It seems like he wants to discourage them from doing so. That's... odd.

To the first man, Jesus says, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." ("Son of Man" means Jesus, by the way.)

In other words, "Are you sure you want to follow me? You might end up homeless."

I find this a little odd, since just a few chapters ago Jesus was using "the birds of the air" to reassure us that we shouldn't worry about any of our basic needs- God provides food for the birds, so surely he'll provide for you.

The next potential follower tells Jesus, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father," to which Jesus replies, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." I've heard different interpretations of this. Some people say that "let me go and bury my father" didn't mean his father had died- it meant he wanted to live with his father for a while, until his father died (even though that could be years away) and then follow Jesus. Some people say it means his father had just died, and Jesus thinks that taking care of the funeral and everything is ACTUALLY LESS IMPORTANT than following him right away.

Which, ya know, sounds really heartless. Seriously, if this guy's father had just died... This is Exhibit A in "What not to say to a grieving person"...

So I prefer the first explanation, though I don't have the biblical language/culture knowledge to say "this one is the right interpretation."

But the point here is that people should know what they're getting into when they decide to follow Jesus. Which is what, exactly? Leaving their families and jobs. Facing suffering and persecution.

So it brings up this question: What part, if any, should warnings about "the cost of following Jesus" play in evangelism?

Because, the way I see it, following Jesus is hard and requires sacrifice, but it's worth it because you get JESUS. Definitely worth it.

Isn't it a bit strange that in this passage, Jesus only warned about the cost of discipleship, but didn't say anything about the benefits? (Though that may be because Jesus was wildly popular and everyone knew he was doing miracles and everything- everyone already knew the benefits and wanted in on it.)

Jesus calms the storm (Matthew 8:23-27)

Next, we have Jesus and his disciples on a boat in a storm. They freak out and wake him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" Then Jesus says, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" and makes the storm shut up.

"You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Umm. I mean, I know this is always taken to be a rhetorical question, meaning "oh how silly of you to be afraid and not trust me" but uh... it has a very obvious answer. "Why are you so afraid?" Maybe because they're in a freakin' LIFE-THREATENING STORM and they could DROWN?

I mean, gosh, Jesus, how did you miss that?

And why, whenever I'm in a bible study about this passage, is the interpretation "oh they should have trusted Jesus and not been afraid"? Trust him for WHAT? To not let them die? Sometimes God lets people die, for stupid reasons. (Ever read the news?)

Apparently the disciples are just supposed to KNOW that Jesus still has things to do so he can't die. They're supposed to know they're all main characters, not red shirts, and they will survive this storm because they've got to appear on every subsequent episode of "The Gospel of Matthew", until Judas gets killed off in part 1 of the season finale.

Really?

A significant number of the disciples were fishermen. I think they would know when a storm is or is not dangerous and life-threatening. And the fact that Jesus had to wake up and calm the storm proves that there actually was danger. I really don't buy the "you of little faith, why are you so afraid?" bit.

And you know what else- they DID have faith. They woke Jesus up and said, "Lord, save us!" They had the faith to think maybe Jesus could do something.

So that remains an open question. Readers, what do you think? Why did Jesus say "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" when the disciples had very valid reasons to be afraid?

And now I want to take this in a slightly different direction: Are there circumstances in my life to which Jesus could say, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" The disciples were afraid for very obvious and (in my opinion) completely valid reasons, but I'm often afraid of much less.

How about when I'm on an airplane? Haha, now that would be a totally legitimate place to say "you of little faith, why are you so afraid?" because there's totally nothing to be afraid of when flying, and yet I feel like the plane's probably about to fall out of the sky.

Seriously, every day, from every airport in the United States, hundreds of planes take off, and ALL OF THEM ARE FINE. And the pilot of whatever plane I'm on has flown hundreds of times before. IT'S FINE. Seriously. Safer than driving, according to the statistics. To have faith in the safety of flying makes sense because that faith is based in a lot of facts.

Image source.

What about bigger things in my life? What about every time I think "I can't ____ because what if ____?" and fear stops me from doing what I want to do? When those things I supposedly "can't" do are things I really believe God is calling me to?

I gotta believe that if God ever says, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" then he'll also acknowledge the existence of the storm and help me through it.

The healing of two demon-possessed men (Matthew 8:28-34)

Next, Jesus encountered two "demon-possessed men" who live in the tombs. They started shouting at him- apparently they recognized him as the Son of God and were afraid or ready to fight. Then the demons requested to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs. Jesus gives them permission, and then the demons cause the pigs to all run into a lake and drown. At that point, the people who lived in the town came out and begged Jesus to leave.

So the very obvious question when reading this story is "WTF?"

Demons? Demon-possession? Is that even a real thing?

First of all, if you believe angels exist, then why not demons? So yes, it sounds incredibly weird, but not any weirder than other things that Christians believe.

Also, if demons exist, that doesn't necessarily mean they're the demons sometimes portrayed in pop culture. If we choose to allow the possibility of demons, we should be careful not to start with any baseless assumptions about them- assumptions from movies, books, etc, whether in popular culture or Christian culture.

So I'm going to go ahead and take this story at face value. Demons? Okay then, demons. (But I reserve the right to later change my mind over whether I believe in demons.)

For some reason, this is how I picture a demon. Image source.

All right, so back to this account of Jesus' interaction with the two demon-possessed men. First of all, the demons recognized Jesus, and were afraid he had come to torture them. Interesting.

Next, the demons begged him, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." Why? Why did they want to go into the pigs?

Jesus okays it, and the demons go into the pigs, and the whole herd of pigs drowns. I assume the demons caused the pigs to run into the water, though there's also the possibility that Jesus did it- like "Haha, I let you go into the pigs, but then I killed the pigs! Joke's on you!" but really, that sort of disregard for life and property doesn't seem like Jesus. So I think the demons killed the pigs.

Which shows how dangerous and evil the demons were. They come over and possess these pigs, and immediately destroy them. Imagine how terrible it must have been for those 2 guys who had all those demons in them, causing destruction, trying to kill everything. Perhaps the drowning of the pigs shows the amount of evil and torture and destruction that Jesus set these guys free from.

Next, the people in charge of the pigs ran and told the town about it, and the people of the town came and begged Jesus to leave. You can't blame them- that whole drowning-pigs thing is frickin' terrifying and creepy.

But doesn't it show that they preferred to live with the violence and danger caused by these two men who lived in the tombs, rather than the (also scary and unpredictable?) power that had set those men free?

Who knows where following Jesus will take you? What if, when he addresses your problems, it's scary and weird? (I guess this goes back to the "counting the cost" bit at the beginning of this passage- this town decided they didn't want anything to do with Jesus. Losing their pigs was too great a cost. And can you really blame them?)

Also, it's worth mentioning that pigs were considered unclean. Jews (you know, like Jesus and the disciples and most of the people in the bible) didn't eat pork. So I'm guessing the town was not a Jewish town.

One more thing to say about this section: Jesus seems to be the only one who has compassion for these two demon-possessed men. The town doesn't come out and say to them, "Oh, you're not insane anymore, Jesus healed you? That's wonderful!" No, instead they want nothing to do with this.

So here's a challenging question: How do you respond when someone works to help those who are seen as annoying or dangerous or beyond help? And how does society treat people who are criminals or disabled or mentally ill? Jesus had compassion on ALL of them, and I bet it was annoying sometimes. Like, these two guys, they were crazy, "so violent that no one could pass that way," according to Matthew.

Of all the people Jesus could stop and be nice to... Really?

But that's Jesus. If he didn't challenge me, if I always read the bible and said "ah yes, that seems reasonable" and moved on with life, then am I really reading the bible or not? As Anne Lamott said, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

So if you are a Christian, I hope that you're challenged by what you read in the bible. I hope you come to terms with what it costs to truly follow Jesus. I hope he challenges your fears and your prejudices.

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

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

Previous post: I Only Trust Jesus In Person (Matthew 8:1-17)

Next post: Jesus the Unpredictable (Matthew 9:1-17)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Story of Me and Modesty

Some girls grow up in an extremely conservative subculture, where the lengths of their skirts are measured with rulers and they are punished if it's an inch "too short." But that's not my story.

Some women from feminist backgrounds argue against the emphasis on "modesty rules" because it teaches than women are responsible for men's behavior, and that if a woman gets raped, well it must be because of what she was wearing, and the guy just couldn't help it. Obviously feminists have a few things to say about that. But that's not my story.

Nope. For me, modesty was something I was taught about but never with concrete or strictly-enforced rules. Instead, I really did want to "help my brothers" and was attempting to do so by myself, out of the goodness of my heart, not because anyone was forcing me to. And the result? Well I found the whole thing makes no sense because, at its core, the teaching about "modesty" says that there is something evil and dangerous about femininity.

Here's my story...

So my background is conservative/evangelical Christianity, and I've heard teaching about modesty and why it's apparently so important. The argument goes like this: When a guy sees a girl wearing something "immodest" he'll be distracted and tempted to lust. (Because gay men don't exist, ya know.) So women should help out our brothers by not wearing revealing clothes.

So, okay whatever. It didn't really affect my life, besides a bit of uncertainty over whether God was okay with me buying a cute "immodest" swimsuit. But overall, I didn't really worry about it because how I was supposed to know what is and is not going to "cause" lust? I'm not a straight guy. And this "problem" that guys apparently have, where they're mentally tortured by seeing an "immodestly-dressed" woman, is something I can't relate to at all. So it didn't really seem like something to worry about.

But I always wondered. Because, ya know, I really did want to help my brothers out. So it would be nice to have a better understanding of what is and is not "immodest."

And then I found The Modesty Survey.

What is The Modesty Survey, you may ask? Well it's a survey of a bunch of (mostly) homeschooled American Christian teenage boys, in which they answer 148 questions about what is and is not modest for girls to wear/do.

And I thought, "Perfect! Finally I'll get to find out which things are and are not modest, and the question will be settled and I won't have to wonder about modesty anymore."

And it was all in the form of statistics! I'm a math person so this is wonderful.

So I read the whole thing. It started off pretty positive...

"Girls can dress attractively without being immodest."
Overwhelming agreement for the statement "Girls can dress attractively without being immodest." Awesome, just what I wanted to hear.

(Although now that I read it again, I am incredibly disturbed that 9 idiots said "disagree" or "strongly disagree.")

Moving along, I found some other results that were pretty much expected:

Lots of agreement for the statement "A girl's underwear should never show." No problem there.
Lots of agreement for "Miniskirts are immodest."
Lots of agreement for "Showing any cleavage is immodest."
Okay, so far so good. These are things I can easily avoid. No problem.

But then we get into some other questions that never in a million years would have occurred to me:

Half of these guys think that "Shirts with messages across the front draw too much attention to the bust."

Okay well... uh... that's kind of unreasonable...

Half the guys think "Seeing a girl take off a pullover (i.e. a shirt that must be pulled over her head) is a stumbling block, even if she is wearing a modest shirt underneath."
Apparently taking off a sweater- though I'm wearing something underneath- makes a decent (heh) percentage of guys think I'm about to get naked. Okay...

(Oh by the way, for those not familiar with the term "stumbling block": Some Christians talk like this. It means a temptation.)

A majority of the guys think that "Seeing a girl stretching (e.g. arching the back, reaching the arms back, and sticking out the chest) is a stumbling block."
So now I can't even stretch?

So I read and analyzed these results, paying particular attention to the statements that the majority of those guys agreed with, trying to figure out how I could modify my lifestyle to accommodate all this.

Okay, can we just stop and look at what we're doing here and how COMPLETELY MESSED-UP it is?

So we're asking a bunch of horny teenage boys to fill out a survey to describe in vivid detail their sexual fantasies and what turns them on, so that the girls can take detailed notes and structure their lives to avoid those things.

Right, because male sexuality is absolute truth. Whatever a horny teenage boy thinks when he looks at a random woman is clearly the authoritative perspective on the matter.

Is there no room to say, "Sorry, but you're wrong. When you saw me bend over and pick something up, you thought I was doing it to show off my butt, but you're wrong. You're wrong." No, instead "modesty culture" teaches that if men have misconceptions about whether I'm dressing to "flaunt my body" then I'd better change how I dress so they don't assume that. The horny guy's perception of the situation is the only one that matters.

But at the time I wasn't thinking along those lines. (Hadn't realized I was a feminist yet, ya know.) I was trying to make sense of all this new information. And then...

About 15% think that "Jeans are generally immodest, even if they aren't too tight."
Jeans?! Seriously, jeans?! I mean, I'm happy that it's only a minority of guys supporting this unreasonable standard, but...

(trigger warning for discussion of rape in the next 2 paragraphs)

For every single question, there were a few that thought that the item in question was "immodest." And from reading some of the comments that explained their answers, I found out what that meant. As it turns out, no matter what I wear, some minority of guys out there is raping me in their heads.

No longer was I worried about "causing a brother to stumble." I was horrified at the idea that no matter what I wore, it was going to "cause" some guy to think about raping me. That is completely evil and offensive and 55 levels of NOT OKAY. No longer was I interested in modesty because I wanted to "help" the guys- no, I wanted to save my own dignity and not be thought of as a sex object.

And I remember looking at the survey results over and over again, trying to make sense out of any of it. All the optimism I had upon seeing the overwhelming agreement on "Girls can dress attractively without being immodest" was gone. What to do, what to do?

After being horrified and appalled for a few days, I couldn't take it any more. I decided to just forget about it. Evidently there was nothing I could do- I'm better off not thinking about it.

But it had changed my understanding of modesty. Before, I thought it was binary- some outfit was either "modest" or "immodest." (And the "immodest" ones were really revealing outfits that I wasn't going to wear anyway.) But now I saw that there was a whole range of responses. Maybe if I didn't show any cleavage, most guys wouldn't "stumble." But if I wore something totally baggy and not feminine at all, maybe that would help out a few more of the guys.

Suppose I made a list of the clothes that over 50% of the guys in the survey thought were "immodest", and I avoided wearing those. Well, what about some OTHER piece of clothing that only 30% of guys said was immodest- should I avoid wearing that too? Do I care about that 30% of the guys? Gotta care about them- you know, Christian women are supposed to help out our brothers. Okay, what about something that 10% said was immodest? Where do you draw the line? If you try to go all the way and only wear things that were okayed by 100% of the guys, well... then you can't wear anything. And apparently THAT'S immodest too.

The only solution is to not be a girl.

And this way of thinking is what I described in Modesty as she is taught. The idea that "this cute outfit is 'modest', but wouldn't it be even MORE modest (and therefore better and more godly) to wear some horrible ugly sweatshirt, so I don't look feminine at all?"

For a long time I was completely confused about modesty. I saw beautiful women at church and wondered how they justified wearing something so beautiful. Sure, it wasn't revealing, but wouldn't it be even BETTER to wear something that looks horrible?

There were mornings I wanted to wear a cute little shirt (not tight or revealing- except that it reveals the fact that I am a girl) but chose a loose t-shirt instead. Because, I had been taught, "Is looking great in that sexy outfit really more important to you than your Christian brothers' staying out of sin?" Let me repeat: My cute and feminine clothes were NOT "sexy." But since I want to help out the boys as much as I can- Jesus says we're supposed to sacrifice our own desires and help others- sometimes I guilted myself into wearing a dumb-looking shirt.

(Not all the time, though. In my humble opinion, I look really freakin' awesome and beautiful, and I like wearing cute stuff. So I frequently did. But I could not give a logical argument for how it could possibly be okay for me to do so. And that really bothered me.)

There were times in church, I was enjoying the worship music and careful not to move my legs too much, because it might make guys think about my butt. There were times I was in a public place looking for a water fountain, and I walked farther than necessary so I could find one with fewer people around- fewer people to look at my butt when I bent over. And one time, a group of friends (including a few boys) wanted to video-chat on Skype, but I had pajamas on, so of course I said no.

And THANK GOD I'm skinny and I don't have a big butt or big boobs. Being skinny makes this a thousand times easier. But still impossible.

And I judged people. I judged other girls. Because now I had this new secret knowledge that said leggings with patterns on them were immodest.

I remember the first time I heard someone challenge the idea of modesty. She was coming from a feminist perspective, and said that requiring women to be "modest" is super-messed-up because it says women are responsible for men's behavior. I wanted to tell her "NO! You don't understand! Guys are being TORTURED mentally when they see a woman wearing something revealing. They are so weak and helpless! They need our help! Don't you care?" But how could I make that argument? I'm not a guy- how could I know whether any of that was even true?

But I accepted the "men are helpless" premise and believed that making modesty a requirement for women wasn't sexist, but was the only practical way to address the situation. Clearly, men are animals, powerless against their own lust, and women are the only ones with any ability to do something about this.

But like I said, the logical conclusion is that femininity is bad and dangerous. But no, that can't be right. And none of the women I talked to at church had any answer for me. In fact, people told me, "But perfectnumber, the way you dress is fine! You've got no problem looking beautiful and modest." I know... but I could not justify why it's okay for me to look beautiful like this, when I could wear something more baggy and less feminine- wouldn't that be BETTER?

The turning point for me was when I challenged the idea that "Is looking great in that sexy outfit really more important to you than your Christian brothers' staying out of sin?"- in other words, no matter how great the personal cost to me, I should cover up in order to help the boys. NO! Sometimes the cost is too great. 

If women are believing that it is bad for them to look beautiful, that cost is too great.

If women whose bodies are naturally more "curvy" are made to feel ashamed for it, that cost is too great.

If we are teaching that it is a woman's fault when a man objectifies her, that cost is too great.

So yes, it absolutely IS more important to "wear that sexy outfit" than to cover up all signs of femininity.

You can read more about what I think in Modesty: My Solution, which I wrote a few months ago. But I'd like to point out that I don't come at this issue from the usual feminist angle, which says the whole thing's ridiculous and out of the question because women are not responsible for men's thoughts and behavior. No, instead I really did want to help "my brothers in Christ" but found that it made no sense and was impossible.

So I'm done. I'm going to wear what I want to wear. And you know what? No one's going to know the difference. I'm not arguing against "modesty culture" because I want to wear a bikini to a funeral. I'm arguing against it because it makes no sense and should not be advocated by people who claim that women are created in the image of God.

As I said in Modesty: My Solution, "I personally don't care about modesty at all any more."

(Except, of course, to argue about how it makes no sense.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jesus' miracles weren't all they're cracked up to be (and why that's a good thing)

In Friday's post, I Only Trust Jesus In Person, I started a line of questions about Jesus' miracles that requires its own post. The account of Jesus curing a man's leprosy, then sending him to go see a priest, challenged what I had previously thought about the way Jesus healed.

See I thought that when Jesus healed someone, it magically made everything better. Everything.

I thought, in the time of Jesus, it was very common to have all of one's health problems miraculously solved in an instant, so one could immediately live a normal life.

"Awesome! Now that I'm no longer paralyzed, I also automatically know how to get a job and fit into society as a healthy individual!" Image source.

And, to be honest, I never understood why nowadays we Christians address our health problems primarily through going to doctors. Yes, we pray too, but the mechanism through which we are healed is NOT sudden miracles but medicine and science and a doctor's expertise.

The line of thinking that says "Don't go to the doctor- just pray! Don't go to counseling- just pray! Don't take antidepressants- just pray!" is wrong and harmful. Every so often I hear of some very very extreme religious nuts who actually DON'T believe in getting medicine and seeing a doctor, and I've never met anyone in real life who held that belief or read any arguments supporting it. But somewhat more common within Christianity is the idea that depression and other mind/emotion-related health problems show a lack of faith in God and you really just need to pray more and tough it out, rather than taking drugs or getting counseling.

I think any reasonable person would agree that trusting prayer and miracles alone, without seeking ACTUAL medical help or counseling, is extremist, naive, and just wrong.

But why?

If Jesus used to heal people INSTANTLY and miraculously ALL THE TIME, and God is the same now, then, and forever, then why is it "extremist" and "naive"?

Like, I KNOW it's extremist, naive, and wrong to reject modern medicine and hope for a miracle instead. I've always known that. But I never could come up with an argument for WHY.

The answer that's given is "God works through doctors and medicine to heal people. God gave us minds that could come up with the science and all these amazing medical discoveries." But that never satisfied me. In the bible, God seemed to ALWAYS heal instantly, swoop down and solve everyone's problems... Why wouldn't he do that nowadays?

To be honest, it felt like "we don't REALLY believe in God" or "we don't REALLY believe God can still do miracles" or "we don't REALLY believe in the power of prayer." But I was afraid to vocalize it.

But last week, reading the story of Jesus healing the man with leprosy and then GIVING HIM FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS made me think the miracles in the bible are not the magical-instant-cure-and-your-life-is-perfect I had imagined.

Not pictured: Magical instant cure and your life is perfect. Image source.

So I read all the gospels' accounts of Jesus' healings, paying attention to how long the healed person had been in their sick/disabled state, and whether Jesus gave them any further instructions or did anything to help them transition into their new life.

What did Jesus heal? Blindness, leprosy, demon-possession, deafness... all of these are long-term conditions that defined a person's life. I only found a few healings of short-term problems: Peter's mother-in-law's fever and the man whose ear had been cut off moments before. (Also there's the official's son who is described as "close to death"- no indication whether his sickness was long-term or not. Also, Jesus brought 3 dead people back to life- they had only been dead for a couple days or hours, and I don't know how long they had been sick before that, how much of an adjustment it would be to live a normal, healthy life.)

So, you know, a few exceptions for those people whose short-term sicknesses got healed, and then 21 accounts of healings from long-term diseases and disabilities that defined a person's life.

Because let's say you get healed from blindness, back in the first century. That's awesome! This is DEFINITELY a GOOD THING. But imagine how much your life would change. Suddenly you're able to do so many things you've never done before. Maybe you can go get a job! Maybe you would find new friends! And the psychological effects would be enormous. It's not obvious how to take the first steps forward into your new life.

Perhaps the most revealing account of how drastically people's lives were changed after Jesus healed them is found in John 9.  In this passage, Jesus heals a man who had been blind from birth. The man then runs into all sorts of issues.

First, acquaintances can't agree on whether or not it's even him. Yeah, they remember there used to be a beggar who looked like that, but the guy they remember was blind. So there's some arguing over that.

Then the Pharisees (religious leaders) start to question him. At this point, the ex-blind man barely knows anything about Jesus; all he can do is give the account of what had happened. The Pharisees got angry and even questioned his parents, who were too afraid to stick up for him. Finally, they threw him out of the synagogue- not for some controversial theological claim he had made, but just for stating the most glaringly obvious facts about what had happened to him.

At the end of the passage, Jesus shows up again to give the ex-blind guy some clarification about who he is, and give everyone else a metaphor about spiritual blindness.

Okay, so that is just one account of how much things would change in the life of someone Jesus healed. And that's just the beginning- who knows what other changes happened in this guy's life? And surely everyone else that Jesus healed of a lifelong disability had to go through a similar process of adjusting and working through questions about their identity and purpose, and how to move forward in their new life.

Yes, the healings were a GOOD THING in these people's lives. Definitely. But they would require a lot of adjustment.

And I can't help but wonder if Jesus sending the ex-leper to see a priest in Matthew 8:4 is the first-century equivalent of going to a doctor or therapist.

So I was wrong. I was wrong to think that in the time of Jesus, he would just turn up and heal whatever little sickness you had, and it would just be a minor inconvenience in your otherwise normal life. NO. The vast majority of those he healed were people whose illnesses and disabilities had kept them at the lowest level of society for YEARS.

I was wrong to think "God used to just swoop in and solve all their problems," and wonder why I don't see it happening nowadays. Certainly Jesus' healing of a person's physical problems was a complete healing, a miracle- but it also caused a lot of other issues to arise. Psychological effects of adjusting to such a huge, sudden change in one's life. Questions about a person's role in society, and how relationships with friends and family would be affected.

Yes, a person is definitely better off after being miraculously healed by Jesus. But it was just the start of the healing process- a process which could certainly be made easier with the help of a doctor, therapist, and supportive friends.

No, Jesus was never meant to replace the doctors in his followers' lives. The bible never says, "And whenever one of his disciples had a runny nose, Jesus laid hands on him and healed him." Jesus' miracles were, for the most part, addressing physical conditions for which no hope of medical treatment existed.

A God who always swoops in and solves everyone's problems? That's not what the bible shows us.

Instead, we get a God who heals the sick, raises the dead, and frees people from disabilities that kept them in poverty. A God who helps us heal ourselves, through medical knowledge and science. A God who doesn't abandon us through the long process of healing. And that's the God I want.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Blogaround

Image source.

1. Why We Need Andrew Marin (posted January 13) "Andrew is important to me because if he goes away there is no one else. Seriously, there’s no one." A gay blogger defends Andrew Marin, who has been criticized for not taking a side on the "issue" of homosexuality and the church.

2. Beijing's 'Airpocalypse' Spurs Pollution Controls, Public Pressure (posted January 14) "The air has been classified as hazardous to human health for a fifth consecutive day, at its worst hitting pollution levels 25 times that considered safe in the U.S. The entire city is blanketed in a thick grey smog that smells of coal and stings the eyes, leading to official warnings to stay inside."

3. Los Angeles Overreacts to Cold Temperatures (posted January 11)


I lolled.

4. How President Obama reminds me of Ron Sider (and why that’s both good and bad) (posted January 14) "And the white, evangelical Republicans he reaches out to always seem upset that their acceptance of any such invitation does not result in the president immediately ceasing to be black, mainline Protestant and a Democrat."

5. The Bible and Homosexuality: Part One (posted January 15) This is great. Steve Chalke, an evangelical Christian leader in the UK, published this article for Christianity magazine about why the church NEEDS to support marriage equality. Wow. (See also Slacktivist's post about why this is a BIG DEAL.)

6. Does God Choose for Us? (posted January 16) "Walking with God suddenly becomes a multiple-choice test, and one wrong answer will wound irreparable damage."

7. So, I Waited For Him To Tell Me He Liked Me First. (posted January 10) Because we all know the girl isn't allowed to make the first move, right?

8. What If We Responded to Sexual Assault by Limiting Men’s Freedom Like We Limit Women’s? (posted January 10) "We want women to be safe, and there is apparently no way for some men to reasonably restrain their own behavior once they catch a glimpse of cleavage, so all men will have to cover their eyes while working out, going to bars or clubs, or relaxing at the beach."

9. Is Marriage Really an Illustration of Christ and the Church? (posted January 16)

10. What does it mean to be 'privileged'? (posted January 11) "Because I would have been a black dude—in a hoodie, no less!—carrying a nice-looking TV down a quiet city street at 10pm."

11. Do Truck Drivers Matter to God? (posted January 15) "They assume God places little, if any, lasting value on work that deals with the temporal things of everyday life. The implied ranking of our vocations is obvious."

12. Why I Can't Go to Church on Sundays (posted January 17) "You know that feeling of panic that you get on airplanes when they shut the door and you suddenly realize you are packed very tightly with 300 other people into a giant metal tube about to be launched into space? It’s like that, except I get it when I think about ordered pews in a big open sanctuary."

13. Global Rich List This is really interesting- how rich are you, compared to everyone in the world?

14. Why Was Jesus Baptized? (Or Why Baptizing Infants Isn’t Heresy) (posted January 16)

15. Space Invaders: Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period. (posted January 12)

16. How I became the mother of the little girl from Good Luck Charlie (alternate title: Why children should not be on instagram) (posted January 16)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Call For Language-Related Guest Posts

I have something in common with 5.52% of humanity.

Top 100 Languages by Number of Native Speakers. Data from Wikipedia.
(click here to see this image larger)

My first language is English.

And basically that means I don't have a freakin' clue what the world is like. No one does, really. Seriously, how much work would you have to put in, studying languages and cultures, before you could be confident that we could drop you any random populated place in the world and you'd be fine?

I write a lot on this blog about the fact that I speak Mandarin and I'm going to move to China pretty soon. I want to spread these 2 messages: 1) The world is so huge and diverse- none of us have a freakin' clue about it, and 2) The vast majority of people ABSOLUTELY CAN learn a second language. (I'll only make an exception for learning disabilities.)

So I'm asking my readers for guest posts. I'm sharing with you how I feel about Chinese; now I want you to share with me about every other language on the face of the planet. Here are some possible topics you can write about:
  • Why you learned/are learning a second language (And I'm not looking for "well I kinda studied French in high school but I was never that good at it..." No, it has to be something that's actually important to you. And I'm not looking for some abstract "oh I would just love to learn Italian, it sounds so beautiful." Get back to me once you've actually put some work into studying it.)
  • How you learned a second language 
  • What was easy/ what was hard about learning a second language
  • How learning a language has changed your perspective on the world
  • Your experiences traveling and speaking your target language (If you feel like "oh but my Japanese isn't that good, I can't write a guest post about it"- no, do not feel that way. If you've actually gone out into the world and met people and tried your best to speak a foreign language with them, well you're doing more than most people I know. And having those kinds of experiences tends to bring up unusual and surprising questions and thoughts. I want to hear about it.)
  • Your experiences meeting people from another culture, and speaking your target language
  • Interesting grammar/ pronunciation/ sentence structure/ useful words (like how I wrote about the four tones, measure words, etc) 
  • Busting some myths about your language
  • If English is not your first language, tell me all about learning English.
  • I write about Mandarin a lot. That doesn't mean you're not allowed to write about Mandarin! (Seriously, even if your experience is somehow exactly the same as mine, well, nice to know I'm not alone. Please write about it.)
  • If you spoke some language other than English at home growing up, I want to hear about that.
Note: If your writing includes any words/sentences from your language (which it probably will) you must also give the English translation.

To submit your guest post, email it to me at perfectnumber628 [at] gmail [dot] com. Put something to the effect of "language guest post" in the subject line. (Go ahead and include a link to your blog and twitter, if you have one.) Send me the well-edited final version of your post- in the body of the email, not an attachment. If I like what I see, I'll publish it on my blog. Submissions are due anytime between now and when I edit this post to say that I'm no longer taking submissions.

Okay, awesome. Send me your guest posts!

Friday, January 18, 2013

I Only Trust Jesus In Person

Also, it's not true that "Jesus is all you need."

Image source.

This week, we're reading Matthew 8:1-17, where Jesus heals a bunch of people- a man with leprosy, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother-in-law, and other miscellaneous people. Which is great. But, as always, I have some questions and objections...

Jesus heals the man with leprosy (Matthew 8:1-4)

So Jesus wraps up his Sermon on the Mount, and a man with leprosy comes, begging Jesus to heal him. You can see the faith and respect he has for Jesus, since he kneels down and says "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus totally heals him, then sends him off to show the priest.

This is a really big deal because Jesus touched him.

In Leviticus 13:45-46, God commanded "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp."

So, this law was given hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, and I don't know if they actually followed it literally. BUT the point is, first of all, wow that's really dehumanizing. And I get that the quarantine is for practical reasons, for the safety of the community, and I don't really have a better solution... but wow, that's dehumanizing.

So Jesus was DEFINITELY NOT supposed to touch this guy. But he did. And it's a BIG DEAL. Maybe this guy had no friends, and hadn't had another human being touch him for years. And Jesus addresses that need- the need to connect with a friend- as well as his physical need for healing from the leprosy.

Jesus touched him. And that's really something only Jesus could do. Anyone else would risk being infected- see, that rule about not touching people with those diseases was there for a reason.

Why was he supposed to not tell anyone? And why was he supposed to go see the priest?

Sometimes Jesus tells a newly-healed person not to tell anyone. Presumably this was because Jesus already had too many paparazzi following him around, to the extent that it was sometimes impractical to even enter a city (see Mark 1:43-45). It seems that Jesus didn't want that type of publicity (though he certainly wanted some type of publicity, yes? If you have more thoughts on this, do leave a comment.)

Jesus sends this ex-leper to the priest. ("The" priest? Like there's only one? Okay...) Why? Well, back in Leviticus 13, where the laws are given about skin diseases, it puts priests in the role of examining those who are infected, and evaluating whether they are clean or unclean. Seems incredibly weird- shouldn't doctors be doing that? But I guess being "clean" or "unclean" had a religious component to it, so it kind of made sense?

Regardless of whether anyone can convince me that it made sense, that was the procedure, and Jesus instructs this guy to go through the proper channels to get officially recognized as cured of his leprosy.

Does this mean that Jesus is NOT "all we need"? That, one-on-one with Jesus, he can do what no one else can in terms of healing, but you still need more? That Jesus can't do everything for you?

This guy had a miraculous healing, and Jesus pointed him in the right direction to go through the steps of getting officially recognized as clean and welcomed back into society. But those were things that he needed to do himself. Jesus can't do everything for him. (Can't? Won't? People aren't going to be happy about me saying that Jesus "can't" do something...)

Yeah I guess Jesus isn't all we need. (Readers, what do you think?)

Why don't I have a hat like this? Image source.

The faith of the centurion (Matthew 8:5-13)

Next, a Roman centurion (commander of 100 soldiers) shows up, asking Jesus to come heal his servant, who is paralyzed. When Jesus agrees to go with him, the centurion objects, saying, "I do not deserve to have you come under my roof." He tells Jesus to just give the order, and his servant will be healed- just like he gives orders to the people under his command.

And then Jesus was really freakin' impressed and went with it.

Why didn't he want Jesus to go there in person?

Well I always liked to imagine that his wife would have been totally embarrassed to have important people over when the house wasn't clean.

But really, why? Was there something at his house he didn't want Jesus to see? Was he concerned about wasting Jesus' time, and wanted the healing to happen as efficiently as possible? Did he legitimately feel unworthy, like he said? It could be something to do with the honor/shame aspect of Middle Eastern culture.

Jesus is really impressed with this guy's faith.

Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." This is a big deal because the centurion wasn't Jewish. Jesus was Jewish, and his ministry focused on Jewish people. So isn't it weird that this centurion guy shows up with wild (but accurate) ideas of what Jesus is capable of doing?

Jesus uses it to prove the point that the kingdom of God has people you never would have expected. Amen to that.

No way would I have agreed to this. This "faith" is foolishness.

If Jesus offered to COME TO YOUR HOUSE and heal someone, why in the world would you turn that down? Why in the world would you say, "no, just do it from here, and then I'll go back by myself and hopefully when I get there he's all better because if not... I have pretty much no chance of ever tracking you down again."

Because yes, I believe Jesus can "just say the word" and heal anyone. I believe he can still do that nowadays. Anytime he wants. But he DOESN'T. People pray to be healed from diseases- I've prayed to be healed- and it doesn't happen immediately like it does in the bible. It seems like God's not paying attention.

And the only difference I can see is this: When someone came and asked Jesus IN PERSON to heal someone, he always did it. Immediately. Because what's he gonna do, he's standing right there in front of them, he has to say SOMETHING.

But I pray, and God is conveniently invisible, and gives no indication of whether he's heard my prayer.

What would have happened if the centurion went home and the servant wasn't healed? By that time, Jesus would have moved on. Would the centurion ever be able to find him again and ask him what the deal was- and DEMAND an answer?

I guess the important bit here is Jesus' statement in verse 13: "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." That's a promise given specifically to this centurion, and people who are praying for healing nowadays have been given no such guarantee.

(So, I only trust Jesus in person, evidently. But I have a suspicion that if we take a closer look at the healings of Jesus, we'll get some reassurance on this question. Edit: Here's my follow-up post: Jesus' miracles weren't all they're cracked up to be (and why that's a good thing).)

Image source.

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law, and others (Matthew 8:14-17)

In the next section, Jesus happens upon Peter's mother-in-law, and takes it upon himself to heal her of her fever. (The text seems to indicate that she didn't ask him for healing.)

After she is healed, she gets up to wait on him. Which brings up a good application question: What is your response to Jesus' work in your life?

(Oh also, fun fact: Peter was married.)

Next, Matthew records that a ton of demon-possessed and sick people were brought to Jesus, and he healed all of them. And Matthew links it back to Isaiah 53:4, "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." (Well, Isaiah 53:4 actually says "sorrows" instead of "diseases", but close enough.)

So let's talk about Isaiah 53. This is perhaps THE MOST popular Old Testament passage that Christians like to point to as a prophecy about Jesus. It talks about "the suffering servant" who is unjustly beaten and killed for our sins.

Here are a few highlights:

"But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our inequities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the inequity of us all."

So, this is taken to be a prophecy about Jesus, for obvious reasons.

But I'm really surprised to find it here, in this passage about healing people's sicknesses. Normally I think of Isaiah 53 as being all about Jesus' death, and how he took our sins. In an abstract way, not in a practical, down-to-earth, you-no-longer-have-a-fever way.

Okay, so what was Jesus' purpose in coming? Was it to save us from our sins, in an abstract and theologically complicated way, so that several decades from now, when you die, you can go to heaven? Or was it to heal the sick NOW, to bring justice NOW, to free the slaves NOW?

It's BOTH, and Christians need to NEVER FORGET that it's both. (In fact, I'd also like to challenge the idea that "the ONLY thing that matters is whether a person goes to heaven or hell- things on this earth are 100% not important- they are worthy of our attention only to the extent that they compel people towards going to heaven after death." But that's another blog post I'll write someday.)

So yes, Jesus "took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." Like, people's ACTUAL diseases were ACTUALLY healed.

Also, I have heard that in the time of Jesus, often when a verse was quoted from the Old Testament, the audience understood it to be a reference to the entire passage the quote was from. So perhaps by citing one verse from Isaiah 53, Matthew is implying that all of Isaiah 53 applies to Jesus- that Jesus IS the suffering servant who takes away our sins.

In other words, Jesus' healing of people's physical diseases points toward his healing of people's sins.

Summary:

Well there's a lot going on in this passage. The centurion and the man with leprosy are examples of faith (though I have some issues with the centurion's faith...), and they reinforce a theme that was touched on in Matthew 3:9-10 and Matthew 7:21-23- that people you never expected will be in God's kingdom, and people you never expected will NOT be in God's kingdom.

Also, the passage addresses the idea of one's response to Jesus. In the case of the man with leprosy, Jesus miraculously healed him, but it was also necessary for the man to go, on his own, and see a priest. Next, the centurion's response to Jesus was to take Jesus at his word, to trust that when Jesus said the servant was healed, then the servant is DEFINITELY healed- regardless of whether the centurion is able to verify it. And finally, Peter's mother-in-law responds to Jesus' healing by serving him.

Questions for my readers: Is Jesus "all we need"? What do you think of the centurion's faith? What is your response to Jesus?

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

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

Previous post: Jesus' Tips For Hurricane Preparedness (Matthew 7:24-29)

Next post: "You of Little Faith..." (Matthew 8:18-34)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Giving and Autopay: What's the Point?

In Melissa Jenna's post, Disciplined Giving in The Era of AutoPay, she discusses the purposes behind giving money to churches and charities. I really liked her post and it raised a lot of thought-provoking questions, which I will elaborate on here.

Image source.

To summarize her post: She says, "I don't think God is concerned with the bottom-line, when it comes to giving." In other words, it does not matter to God what amount you give or the practical effect your monetary contribution has- instead, giving is a spiritual discipline which should teach us to "maintain a loose grasp" and remember that everything we have doesn't truly belong to us.

And because she holds this perspective on the purpose of giving, she also claims that using autopay (when money is deducted from one's bank account automatically every month) to give isn't right. Because you can just set up autopay and then forget about it. Instead, giving should be something that requires discipline, something that actually affects us and matters to us, not something we can just set up and forget about.

(Her previous post, You Won’t Even Notice: My Problem With “Easy” Charitable Giving, is also worth reading. It talks about the importance of "giving sacrificially.")

First of all, I can't get on board with this "using autopay for your tithe is wrong" thing. Anytime someone labels a piece of technology as inherently sinful, you should be very suspicious. Technology exists to make our lives easier, and we can use it to do good or to do evil. Technology itself is morally neutral.

I believe what Melissa means is that, for her, setting up an autopay system to donate money automatically would negatively affect her attitude toward giving. It would cause her to forget about giving. And if it affects her in that way, I agree that that's a problem she should address. But I don't agree that everyone who uses autopay will end up with that same problem.

Actually, let me spiritualize this in the other direction. I personally do not like money automatically going into or out of my bank accounts. I like to be very much in control of my money and know EXACTLY how much I have at all times. I would be very resistant to the idea of using autopay to give to church or some other organization, because I like to keep control of my money as long as possible.

So for my spiritual outlook on money and giving, it would probably be better for me to use an autopay system. In order to teach me to give up control, to make a commitment to give every month, instead of holding onto my money as long as possible, entertaining the idea that "maybe I won't give this time". Because none of my money truly belongs to me, right? It belongs to God. (I will refrain from challenging that idea for the purposes of this post.)

Next, let's examine this idea that "God doesn't care about the amount/ practical effects of your giving; he only cares about the attitude of your heart." I agree that the attitude of one's heart is important. But to say that's the ONLY important thing... I'm not sure about that.

I suppose this idea comes from looking at The Big Picture. God is in control of everything, the whole course of history, and he doesn't really need my help. No matter what I do with my money, God's love and justice will go forth.

Psalm 50: 9-12 backs up this "big picture" view (this is God speaking, by the way):
"I have no need of a bull from your stall
    or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
    and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
    and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
    for the world is mine, and all that is in it."
[emphasis mine]

Over and over in the Old Testament, prophets criticized people who dutifully gave their sacrifices, but whose heart wasn't in it. Sacrificing animals wasn't the point- God doesn't really need that.

And, I have heard Christians say many times, God doesn't need our help to fix the world's problems, but he gives us an opportunity to help, which is great.

And also, we have The Little Picture. On an individual level, what does giving mean? Melissa mentions Mark 12:41-44, where Jesus notices a poor widow donating a few coins to the temple treasury, and points out that she was actually giving more than everyone else, because she gave all she had. Basically, it means God looks at a giver's heart and is more appreciative of a poor person who gives sacrificially than a rich person who puts in whatever extra money they have- regardless of the actual dollar amount being given.

2 Corinthians 9:7 also points to the importance of The Little Picture. It says, "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." God cares about the condition of a person's heart and the motives for giving, as Melissa said.

Okay so we have The Big Picture: God doesn't actually need our help. We have The Little Picture: God cares a lot about the attitude of a person's heart. So... is that it? Since God doesn't actually need our help, the only purpose of giving away money is so the giver can learn to be a better person?

No, we mustn't ignore The Medium-Sized Picture. Which is that your donations actually make a real difference in the world, and that matters.

For the question of autopay, churches and charitable organizations generally prefer their donors to use it. That way, they know that they're definitely going to get the money, and they can plan out their budget with a clear idea of what resources they will have.

To decide not to use autopay because your own spiritual outlook on giving is more important than the needs of those receiving your gift... something seems horribly backwards about that.

James 2:15-16 says, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"

Exactly. What good is it? It's worthless to have good intentions if what you're ACTUALLY DOING isn't helpful at all.

(Is it "worthless", though? From the "little picture" point of view, maybe intentions are all that matter? And we've seen that The Little Picture does matter to God...)

When I wrote about how Operation Christmas Child is inefficient, I didn't say "yeah, it's inefficient to have individual people gather up all these shoeboxes of cheap toys and then pay for the shipping BUT it's still a good thing because the givers having fun and feeling a personal connection with the children who receive the boxes is MORE IMPORTANT than doing what's best for the children."

No, I said it's still a good thing because the fact that it's fun will make MORE people participate. Also, Operation Christmas Child seems to be widely publicized in American churches in the months approaching Christmas, and it's a way to introduce the average American Christian to Samaritan's Purse and the needs of the world in general.

The gimmicky make-your-own-shoebox approach is, in my estimation, overall a good thing because it encourages people to get involved in helping people around the world, in other ways besides Operation Christmas Child. As a result, there will be MORE money sent to those who need it, MORE real-life impact on problems like poverty and hunger. And that's what matters.

Soooo in summary, I've kind of been all over the place in this post. From the different ways to spiritualize autopay, to The Big, Little, and Medium-Sized Pictures, to Operation Christmas Child. Many thanks to Melissa Jenna for her thought-provoking blog post. (It provoked lots of thoughts.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blogaround

Image source.

1. The saddest graph you'll see today (posted January 7) :(

And, since that graphic condenses a ton of statistics into an overly simple form, there's some criticism: This Rape Infographic Is Going Viral. Too Bad It's Wrong. (posted January 8)

The basic idea is true though, and that's horrible.

2. 16 Tons and bricks without straw: Christianity Today wants to bring back the company town (posted January 8) "Christianity Today is required by law to provide every member of its staff access to booze and porn."

3. Drug or Pokemon? (sporcle quiz) I got 21/40. And I was a pokemon nerd back in the day.

4. Why I don't believe in grace (posted January 9) "The truth is, grace is offensive."

5. Where Christians Get Environmentalism Wrong (posted January 9) "Because Jesus holds this world together, oil spills are an insult to His design."

6. Roe at 40: New Infographics Illustrate Key Facts About Abortion in the United States (posted January 8)

7. just shut up. (posted December 27) "I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, nobody sat down with me after I watched Beauty and the Beast and said, 'Okay, this is a movie, and it’s okay to enjoy this movie! It’s okay to think this movie is great! But just so you know, if someone in real life did to you the things the Beast does to Belle, that wouldn’t be okay. That wouldn’t be right.'"

8. The Gay Community and That One Time Jesus Called Me the ‘N-word’ (posted January 7)

9. “you’re a pretty good speaker for a woman” and other wacky memories (posted January 7)

10. new year, new self-control (posted December 2011) "So, would it have been better to live during a time when well-fed women were hailed as beauties? I doubt it. Because the issue is not 'fat versus thin' – it is 'perfect versus imperfect'. There has never been a time when women have not defined themselves by (enslaved themselves to?) some ideal of physical beauty."

11. Telling God’s Story, Not the Old Testament’s (posted January 4) How do we teach kids the (completely bizarre) bible stories in the Old Testament?

12. 'Smart power': Army making cultural training a priority (posted January 12) This is super-important.

13. Killing My Voice Mail (posted January 3) "Hi, this is John Scalzi. I will never ever ever ever listen to the voice mail you’re about to leave, because voice mail is a pain in the ass."

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