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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Basically Good or Basically Bad?

"People are basically good."

Most of the times I've heard that statement, it was presented as a commonly-held idea that must be refuted while sharing the gospel. The Christian would ask, "If you died today, would you go to heaven?" and the non-Christian would say, "I'm a good person, so... I guess I would" or "people are basically good" or something like that.

And then the correct Christian response is to say no no, people are not basically good, not by God's standard. Here, look what it says in Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And here in Psalm 53:3, "Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one."

Basically, the message is, "No matter who you are or what you've done, you're a failure and a bad person and you deserve nothing good- you deserve hell. But Jesus can get you out of that so better sign up with him."

And yes, the message typically comes with some more positive statements about God's love and having one's life transformed- but so much emphasis is on SIN and how we must be on guard against this fallacy of "being a good person." No one is good. The bible says so.

But...

It's not true. It's just not. It's not true that SIN is the defining characteristic of any random stranger you meet, it's not true that SIN is all we need to know about human nature.

Because reality. Because I know a lot of genuinely kind and good people who really love helping others and want to make the world a better place, even if it's not easy. Some of these people are Christians, some are not.

How do you explain that, if people are basically bad?

Image source.
Let's go back to the bible and start at the very beginning. Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." And then in verse 31, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

The image of God. And it was very good.

But then in chapter 3, there's sin and the fall and the curse. So humans are basically good, created in the image of God. But humans are also basically bad, with a sinful nature.

Basically good. People have a natural capacity for love and empathy and compassion. A conscience and a general understanding of right and wrong (though we may disagree on some details). Many many people work so hard to help others. And also, people are pretty freaking awesome! Intelligent, creative, fun. Humanity is so good!

Basically bad. People have a natural tendency towards selfishness. Taking advantage of others. Judging and rejecting others. Pride, hatred, anger. The world has so much violence and injustice. Humanity is so bad.

So are people basically good or basically bad? Well, both. And I'm very suspicious of any philosophy that emphasizes one over the other. It's both. We have so much capacity to do good, and we have so much capacity to do evil.

And one more thing I'll say about some Christians' over-emphasis on sin: They are making the point that we cannot earn God's love through our actions. Yes, I agree with that. We do not earn God's love through what we do. We already have God's love through who we are.

Are people sinners? Yes. But far more important is God's love. God does NOT believe we are worthless because of sin, deserving of nothing good. No, God loves us and valued humanity enough to send Jesus, God in human form, to live with us and die and then rise again, can I get an amen?

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Love. God so loved the world.

We bear God's image, and we are loved and valuable.

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 53. To read other people's posts, click here: Reading from a Place of Privilege.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Blogaround

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1. An Angry God Vs. A God Who Gets Angry (posted April 22) "We need a God who sees oppression and poverty and injustice and hunger and disease and homeless and heartache and loneliness and all the other unloving things we do to each other and gets angry because this is not the way he created the world to be."

2. Purity Culture and Staying in Abusive Relationships (posted April 21) "I knew at the time that if it didn’t work out, I would no longer be perfectly pure and completely unsullied. It was a gamble I was taking."

3. Can I Pray For Healing For You? (posted April 22) "We are going to differ greatly in our theological standpoints on this, and I don’t think we will ever agree. So I am going to wheel away from you now. But thankyou for your concern."

4. Lego Castle. Well, this is the coolest thing ever.

5. NO! Rub my belly first! SO CUTE!

6. John Paulk, Former Exodus & Love Won Out Leader Apologizes (posted April 24) "Until we can learn to be respectful and give equal dignity to people unlike us, we will endeavor to change them into images of ourselves rather than honor the God-image in each person."

7. So What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? (posted April 22) "So when I was a kid, I was taught that asking kids what they want to be when they grow up was a secular, feminist question. And I was taught that I should just answer 'be a mommy.'"

8. Do You Even Hear Muslims When We Condemn Violence? (posted April 22) "More than 70 percent of America's 64 previous mass shooters were white American men. But not one pundit, nor any politician, nor any Muslim has ever asked why White Americans or Christian Americans are not aggressively condemning these acts of terror."

9. The Breaking of a Child: A Story of Near Disaster (posted April 25) "The Pearls teach that even giving in once—just once—will set back everything that had been gained and even threaten to ruin the child forever. And yet, here was their eighteen-month-old daughter, still toddling and barely starting to lisp words, wasting away before their eyes."

10. The Internet Has Peaked: Cat, On Roomba, Dressed As Shark, Chases Duck. Well, this is amazing.

11. What does the blood of Jesus actually do? (posted April 25) 25 New Testament references here, none of which are about appeasing God's anger.

12. Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing? (posted April 26) "Concern over women's bodies in public is what barred them from representing themselves in civic or political situations 200 years ago, right around when they started feeling the itch for the vote."

13. Reporter/Bride covers China quake wearing wedding gown (posted April 22)

14. A ring by spring or else you #FAIL godly womanhood! (posted April 15) "I didn’t have that one thing that showed I’d been blessed by God, the engagement ring reflecting God’s apparent desire for me to find The One."

15. Bible Files Restraining Order Against Fundamentalism (posted April 12) "He wrote a lot about how no one else understood me like he did."

16. God Doesn’t Know What You Think God Knows [Questions That Haunt] (posted April 28) "If God knew that the incarnation was ultimately going to be necessary, then all of the activity prior to that (expulsion from Eden, Tower of Babel, Flood, Exodus) was just a game."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

So did anybody ever figure out why the world is weird?

Happy blogaversary to me! Tell Me Why The World Is Weird is now 1 year old, and the #1 Christianity/feminism/China blog on the internet! (Actually, if you know of any other Christianity/feminism/China blogs- that is, blogs whose main topics are all 3 of those things- please tell me...)

My first post said this would be a blog where I ask questions and discuss why culture and the world are weird (and I mean "weird" in the best possible way here). I was hoping to have discussion in the comments section and I could learn things and discuss things. I had only recently decided I'm a feminist, and that I would be more honest and open-minded about questioning the bible and Christianity-related things, because I'm confident that Christianity is true and Jesus is Lord and the resurrection and all that. So yeah, I had lots of things to ask questions about.

So, that's kind of totally not where the blog ended up going. Instead, I discovered a ton of other bloggers writing about interesting stuff, and I learn things from them rather than trying to get people to make insightful discussion in my comments section. And it turns out I have a lot of opinions about things, so I ended up writing about those.

So anyway. Here is what I have to say about the blog over the past year, and where I hope it will go:

Matthew

I'm going through the gospel of Matthew at the rate of one post per week. Sometimes I feel like I'm totally not qualified to write about the bible, especially the parts I don't understand, but I also believe that you don't have to be the most educated scholar ever in order to get meaningful stuff from the bible. And I'm honest about the stuff that I seriously don't get. (And there's a possibility I could be wrong about everything. Consider that a disclaimer.)

They're not my most well-written posts ever, because I don't want to pull out one point from the passage and write a strong argument around it- I want to study the entire thing, regardless of whether it all fits into one main point. So sometimes I feel like I'm just meandering around the book of Matthew instead of saying anything meaningful. Such is life.

Anyway, the bible is great and I want more of it in my life, so I'm glad I'm writing about Matthew.

Feminism 101

So I started this series called Feminism 101, because sometimes I read feminist blogs and they're like "Some privileged cis guy was tone-policing my argument about how slut-shaming narratives reinforce rape culture and patriarchy and don't help to create safe spaces" and ... what?

Feminism is about loving and helping people, especially people who are different than you and may have needs and experiences that you totally didn't know about at all. And that's a pretty simple premise, but feminism comes with all this other language and I want to define those terms so people who may be totally unfamiliar with feminism (like me a few years ago) can understand it.

Unfortunately, so far this blog series only has 2 posts, which define the terms feminism and victim-blaming. But I will totally write more.

But what if I change my mind?

Like I said, a lot of my views have been changing- so what if I write something, and then a few months later I change my opinion on it? OH THE HORROR!

No, it's okay! It's okay to be wrong. We're all just trying to figure stuff out, and if I never blogged anything I might change my mind on... then I'd never blog anything, would I?

More guest posts!

Obligatory. Any time someone writes a post about what they want to change about their blog, they have to include "more guest posts." (There's like a law about it or something.) Current guest post opportunities can be found here.

Cute

I confess that I have not adequately delivered on the promised "hopefully some cute pictures of animals." Please accept my sincere apologies and check out Slacktivist's post with cute animals and this webcam of a beluga whale.

China

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I'm trying to move to China. Once I get there, expect more posts about Chinese language and culture. BECAUSE IT'S TOTALLY AWESOME! I just can't get over how fascinating the workings of my brain are when I'm not used to speaking English.

Variety

One of my goals is to participate in more link-ups and stuff, so I'm challenged to write on a topic that someone else chooses, a topic I wouldn't normally write about. And for the topics I do choose, I hope to have some more variety, because I'm unique and special and all that.

I had this big epiphany recently: I'm not Rachel Held Evans, and that's okay! (Her blog is totally awesome, by the way.) I'm going to write about what I want to write about, and I don't want to just stick to the usual topics that Christian feminist bloggers write on.

AND I totally want to write about Disney movies! I love Disney! And sciency nerdy stuff! And dinosaurs!

Image source.

So that's what I have to say about Tell Me Why The World Is Weird. Feel free to leave comments about what you liked or suggestions you have. And thanks for reading!

Friday, April 26, 2013

"I can go home now."


On the highway. In the middle of the night.

In Beijing.

"I was right."

The exit signs on the highway, covered in Chinese characters. Oh, I was right, I was right.

Driving home from the airport. My friend's parents had picked us up. They were asking me questions in Chinese. Which places in China had I visited? Had I seen the Great Wall?

Finally everything felt right. For weeks and weeks, my mind had felt like it was tearing itself apart, because of a belief in a culture so completely different that no hint of its existence could be found in my American life.

A place where the exit signs on the highway had Chinese characters.

And there in that car, I kept saying to myself, "I was right, I was right." It does exist. And I knew I had to be there.

Driving home from the airport, reading the Chinese highway signs. This is what I came to China for.

And then, I thought, "I can go home now."

Because that was all I needed, to see the street signs with Chinese characters. It felt so good, so natural, that I'd forgotten my "home" wasn't like that. My own country, where I had been just 14 hours before this... maybe it was the jet lag that made me forget how much I had struggled to remember China in my own country...

Struggled? How? Here I was, in reality, with Chinese characters telling me the names of the streets. Of course this is normal, and this is all I need, I can go home now.

All those worries about whether my memories of China were accurate. All the doubt and wondering if I was crazy to want to go there again. All the excitement, the feeling like it was too good to be true, when my friend invited me to visit her home in Beijing. All the money for the plane tickets, the phone calls to get a visa, the passport photos at CVS. All that effort- and it all was forgotten in my jet-lagged state in that car. Of course I'm here. How could it have been hard to get here? This is where I'm supposed to be.

And the exit signs with the Chinese characters...

"I can go home now." Forgetting that at home I couldn't rest, for fear of forgetting China. Forgetting that at home, there were no highway signs with Chinese characters.

"I was right." I was right to go to China. I was right to believe in it even when I couldn't see it.

"I was right, I was so right."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Types of Soil

In Matthew 13:1-23, Jesus tells the parable of the sower, along with a discussion on why he uses parables, and the interpretation of the parable. Go ahead and read it before reading what I have to say.

Image source.

First, let's imagine the setting and how it would have looked to Jesus' original audience. Jesus is teaching a large crowd, and tells them this story, of how a guy planted seeds, and some grew but some didn't. The end.

The rest of the passage is what Jesus said to his disciples. The crowd only heard the parable, not the explanation. Isn't that kind of, like, weird? Jesus is like, "Some seeds grew and some didn't and that is all I have to say about that."

Maybe it's not that weird. Jesus' culture was different than ours. Other teachers of that time probably used parables too. Plus they didn't have the internet, so they weren't constantly bombarded with information, and maybe the average person would be interested in mulling over the meaning of the seeds and the path and the soil. It's not that weird.

But it was at least a little weird, because the disciples asked Jesus, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"

And Jesus says it's because the people aren't willing to understand. They hear, but they don't really listen. I suppose he's saying that he doesn't just want to explicitly say the point he's trying to make, if the people aren't even willing to think it over by themselves.

That's... odd. I mean, I get it, in theory... but then why is it, at church, when we talk about a parable, we always immediately talk about what it means? "Giving away the answers" rather than letting us all think about the parables on our own. Jesus didn't "give away the answers"- oh, except to his disciples. Hmm.

I like the idea of thinking and using our brains to understand God, rather than just following what we're "clearly" told. But when Jesus uses parables, doesn't he run the risk of people interpreting them wrong? Like the parable of the persistent widow, when the unjust judge finally grants the widow what she needs because he's tired of her bothering him about it- but we're not supposed to read that parable and conclude that the reason to keep praying is that God will eventually get annoyed and just give you what you want. Or the parable of the shrewd manager- that one's just weird. I don't know what that was about.

Perhaps Jesus was more comfortable with uncertainty and wrong answers than the average church or bible study I've attended.

The meaning of the parable

Then Jesus explains to his disciples what the parable means. The seed is "the message about the kingdom" and the 4 types of soil are 4 different responses a person might have:
  1. Path: Someone who does not understand the message, and the evil one snatches it away.
  2. Rocky soil: Someone who joyfully accepts the word, but falls away quickly because of trouble or persecution.
  3. Thorns: Someone who hears the word, but does not bear fruit because they are choked by worries and things of the world.
  4. Good soil: Someone who hears the word, understands it, and produces a crop.
Some questions I have: So each person is a certain type of soil- do they choose what type they are? Is it their fault they're "bad soil"? (That question's probably outside the scope of this parable...) How does someone change from one type to another? Can this metaphor also apply to one's willingness to accept other ideas besides Jesus' message about the kingdom of God?

But what's the point?

Okay, yeah, different people respond differently to Jesus' message. So? Why did Jesus feel this was important enough to tell a whole parable about it? Why did Matthew feel it was important enough to write down? Why does this parable matter?

A few ideas:

So we could ask, "What kind of soil am I?" Think about your own openness to God (and maybe to new ideas in general, if we think it's okay to extend the "seed" metaphor to other things). Think about whether you allow God's word to grow in your life and change you, or do other things choke it out? Do you have a root or is it just superficial?

Or maybe Jesus told this parable so his disciples would know it's not their job to MAKE people believe. If someone doesn't want to listen, then, whatever. You don't argue someone into the kingdom of God. The "soil" isn't right. (Though I wouldn't say that it means everyone who doesn't believe in Jesus is just stubborn and unwilling to really listen- that's DEFINITELY not true.)

Discussion questions:

What do you think about Jesus' use of parables? Why did he give an explanation to the disciples but not the crowd? What about the possibility of people incorrectly interpreting them?

And why did Jesus tell this particular parable? What does it mean to you personally to be a certain "type of soil"?

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

Previous post: Demons 'n Things (Matthew 12:22-50)

Next post: Jesus and Gardening (Matthew 13:24-43)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Psalm About Bad People

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?
    Why do you boast all day long,
    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?
You who practice deceit,
    your tongue plots destruction;
    it is like a sharpened razor.
You love evil rather than good,
    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.
You love every harmful word,
    you deceitful tongue!
Thus begins Psalm 52, a psalm about bad people. (Specifically, David wrote this psalm about Doeg the Edomite, who reported to Saul how the priests had helped David, so then Saul came and ordered Doeg to kill the priests and their whole town. It was bad. See 1 Samuel 22.)

So in this psalm, David first paints a picture of the evilness of evil people, then predicts God's punishment on them, and contrasts this with David's status as trusting in God and protected by God.

It's realistic. There are bad people who do bad things, and David doesn't ignore that or try to pretend it's okay. And though the situation was bad, he trusts in God's justice. Eventually God will make it right. Eventually evil will be punished.

Bad people do bad things, but we must trust in God, who will eventually make it right. That's the message of Psalm 52.

But.

But... it's not that simple.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could divide the world into "good people" and "bad people"? In the "bad people" category we have Hitler, corrupt government officials, murderers, rapists, scammers who prey on the poor, internet trolls, people who disagree with me... Wouldn't that make the world so simple, to judge people and decide who belongs in the "bad people" category, and refuse to associate with them or listen to them- seeing them as motivated only by evil, unable to be reasoned with, deserving of nothing but punishment?

And I'm ashamed to admit I do this too. On the internet, where there are so many people and we know so little about each of them, it's so easy to decide "oh this is a bad person, this person's not on our side" when I read a blog post or a tweet that I disagree with. It's so easy to dismiss an entire complex human being, to judge them as not worth interacting with, just because I don't like one particular thing that they said.

But Jesus said "love your enemies." And I'm trying. I wish I was better at it, but I'm trying.

But let's get back to Psalm 52 and our friend Doeg the Edomite. I certainly believe David is justified in writing these things about him- about how he loves evil and God will punish him- certainly in a situation like that, when Doeg had murdered innocent people, these are definitely appropriate things to say. But that can't be the entire story- that can't be all there is to say about "bad people."

We must speak out against evil, against harmful ideas. We must work to help others and protect those who are vulnerable. We must, as a society, stop criminals and do our best to create an environment where people are safe and free.

BUT can we do it while still valuing the "bad people" as people- complex human beings created in the image of God? Can we separate out what a person says and does and strongly condemn those, but still love and value the person? Can we act out of love, to protect those who might be harmed by the "bad people", instead of out of anger and revenge?

Well gosh that's tricky.

But Jesus said "love your enemies" and "do not judge." And if we are Christians then we must follow his example, motivated by love more than anything else.

Even for the "bad people."

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 52. To read other people's posts, click here: Seeing a Psalm in Context.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Blogaround

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1. Tips for Practicing Lectio Divina as a Student at a Christian College (posted April 11)

2. The most oppressive Bible verse that never was (posted April 15) "It appeared that we might be up to no good, and this was sinful enough."

3. 7 Things To Remember When Talking About Modesty & How People Dress. (posted April 15) "If you wear something to express beauty and someone else 'hears' that you’re an immoral or too-sexually available woman, that’s not your fault or responsibility."

4. The Saudi Marathon Man (posted April 17) "He was running—so was everyone. The police reportedly thought he smelled like explosives; his wounds might have suggested why. He said something about thinking there would be a second bomb—as there was, and often is, to target responders. If that was the reason he gave for running, it was a sensible one. He asked if anyone was dead—a question people were screaming. And he was from Saudi Arabia, which is around where the logic stops."

5. How did Jesus come to love guns and hate sex? (posted April 18) "This two-fold doctrine of sin could be termed the total depravity of everyone else."

6. A Country Brimming with Life and Complexity and Promise (posted April 17) "But we never have western friends come in to do a job with their skill set, the idea is never for them to come and help the poor, backward African."

7. Terrorism and Whiteness: Understanding the Power of Privilege (posted April 17) "White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation."

8. Study: Majority Of Americans Not Informed Enough To Stereotype Chechens (posted April 19) From The Onion (news parody site).

9. Baby elephant plays in the ocean Cutest thing ever.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"Never Will I Leave You; Never Will I Forsake You."

God is with me. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

I don't want to pray because I'm having trouble understanding what the point is.

And God is with me. "He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."

My view of God is so off. I fear that he can't understand me, can't understand why I'm a feminist, can't understand why I want to go to China. I'm stuck on this image of a white American god, as naive and prejudiced as the average person at my church. Why would I pray to that god? Why would I submit my life to that god?

And God is with me. "Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast."

I know I should listen to God, but I don't know how anymore. What do I do, just pray and then sit and listen and do nothing and wait to see if God gives me some thought in response to my questions? I... I just can't. Can't sit still and listen.

And God is with me. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

When I was in college, I used to get up early every morning so I could read the bible and pray for about 45 minutes to an hour. I liked that. I felt God and I knew God was with me. And I prayed in my spare time. And I prayed whenever I had a problem. And now? I wish I could, but...

And God is with me. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Some days I read the bible. Some days I can't concentrate enough to do it.

And God is with me. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I don't know what to pray. Sometimes I just listen to a song, and that's my prayer, because I have no words.

And God is with me. "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."

And God is with me.

And God is with me.

And God is with me.

As it turns out, I had previously not believed "God is always with me," but "God is with me when I'm keeping up with praying/bible every day."

Lies. 

Romans 8 says nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. Not even my lack of faithfulness.

And don't misunderstand- I'm not saying it's totally fine for me to just not pray and keep on not praying. No. I want to pray like I should, but I'm not there yet. But I no longer believe that God leaves me on my own until I get my act together. I no longer believe it's all my responsibility to fix my life.

God is with me. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

When God said "never," he meant never.

When God said "always," he meant always.

God is with me. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Demons 'n Things

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In this week's edition of "Perfect Number writes about the gospel of Matthew" we are reading Matthew 12:22-50, which contains a bunch of various things Jesus said. Several of which are about demons.

I'm just going to go through and write whatever odd thoughts I have about each little section. Here we go!

"They they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, 'Could this be the Son of David?' But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, 'It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.'"

So, Beelzebul is another name for satan (to whom I give the middle finger of grammar, obviously). And Jesus basically tells these people that their idea about him using satan's power to drive out demons MAKES NO SENSE. Why would satan be working against the demons? Seriously guys.

And here's the obligatory "wait, do we actually believe in demons or not?" Soooooo... I believe in God, and I believe in angels, so it's not like demons are so bizarre and superstitious and unreasonable. I've heard some second-hand anecdotes about people who have encountered demons, but no particularly convincing evidence one way or the other. They probably exist, but they're very rare- don't start blaming people's illnesses on them or anything.

So anyway. 

"Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house."

Okay this is... odd. Jesus is giving us tips on how to rob someone's house. What.

"What did you learn in Sunday School today?"

"I learned that if you ever break into someone's house, don't forget to bring rope to tie them up so you can steal their stuff."

"...???"

Jesus was just talking about satan, so I think the "strong man" in this metaphor is satan. And Jesus is robbing satan of his control over the world. So gotta tie up satan first, obviously.

Okay I'm still a little lost with this metaphor.

How about this: So, some people are under the control of "strong men"- which could be addiction, stress, loneliness, etc etc, any sort of bad thing that might be harmful to one's life- and we need to help them with those problems rather than just whatever we believe their spiritual needs to be.

Because how can you do anything without first tying up the "strong man"?

"Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."

So Jesus is dividing up the world into "us vs them." You can't try to just be neutral, because that's not possible- you're either with Jesus or opposed to Jesus.

This doesn't seem right. In the accounts of Jesus' life, I don't see him being super-confrontational toward everyone. He was a friend. He spoke in parables so people would gradually learn who he was and decide if they wanted to follow him or not. It just seems really wrong that he would think that people who are interested and listening to him but haven't made up their minds are somehow "against" him.

Jesus doesn't seem like the kind of person who divides up the world into "us vs them."

(Related: So, lately I'm kind of questioning the existence of hell. But if one believes that everyone who doesn't believe in Jesus goes to hell, then this "whoever is not with me is against me" bit fits with that. And since I don't think that belief seems right, for a lot of reasons, I'm left with not much to say about this verse. Hmm.)

Perhaps Jesus is more harsh than I thought? Or maybe, since he was just talking about satan and demons, this has something to do with that?

"And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven."

Uh what? How can there be a sin that can't be forgiven? What about God's mercy? Was Jesus' death not enough?

What is "blasphemy against the Spirit" anyway?

I just totally don't buy the "unforgivable sin" thing.

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad..."

This. I love this. You can tell if something is good or bad based on the results it produces.

"But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

This is also a little bizarre. Personally, I have this image of someone standing before God, after death, and God says, "Okay, so, that time in May 2002 when you were looking at a finger painting of a dog and said- and I quote- 'it looks dead', and you didn't realize the 5-year-old kid who painted it was standing right behind you... well?" and then you just feel terrible and know that was just a stupid careless thing you said and you have no excuse, nothing you can say to God to explain why you said that... and then God moves on to the next example in his long list of dumb things you said without thinking...

Image source.
It goes right along with the view of sin which sees sins as little isolated events to be listed, and the fact that that list has at least 1 item means you don't deserve to go to heaven. But yeah, I don't view sin that way.

So... what in the world is Jesus talking about here?

Perhaps we shouldn't take the "every empty word" thing literally? Maybe? Seriously though, I have no idea how to understand this. Any ideas?

"The Sign of Jonah"

Okay so in the next part of Matthew 12, some Pharisees asked Jesus for a "sign" and Jesus said no, they will just have to make do with "the sign of Jonah."

(Umm what about all the healings and stuff Jesus had been doing? Didn't those count as "signs"?)

This is Jonah as in Jonah and the whale. From the Old Testament, a few hundred years before Jesus. The story of Jonah can be found here.

Jesus explains 2 similarities between himself and the prophet Jonah:
  1. Jonah was inside the whale (okay the NIV says "huge fish" but whatever) for "three days and three nights" and Jesus would be "in the heart of the earth" for "three days and three nights." You know, like when he died and then resurrected. But... uh... I hate to say it, but he wasn't. He was dead for Friday night, Saturday, Saturday night, and part of Sunday morning. It was like a day and a half. (If you've never thought about that, it's okay- I was a Christian for like 15 years before I realized this whole "he rose after 3 days" didn't mean anything near 72 hours.) BUT ANYWAY don't worry about the numbers. It's similar to Jonah, that's what matters.
  2. The people of Nineveh repented when Jonah preached. Unlike the people that Jesus preached to. (Jesus uses this opportunity to give them a hard time about that.)
"When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

... What?

It's like Jesus is giving a biology lesson on the habits of demons. "They are generally solitary creatures, and they return every year to their place of birth so they can reproduce." What?

Image source.

Here's how I understand this passage: When a person has some bad habit or addiction or something, and they get rid of it, they have to replace it with something else- redirect that energy they had previously used for that bad habit. Otherwise, some other addiction or bad habit will come and take its place and be worse.

Like this one time, many years ago, I decided I wouldn't like boys or date anyone or think about boys or have feelings, because of how bad things had gone with this one boy. I didn't want anything to do with any of that. I would just not do anything and not have feelings and keep everything all shut up inside.

And then a few months later I was dating this other guy because like, I didn't have a choice, I just had all these emotions and I had to do SOMETHING with them. I didn't want to date him but what could I do?

And then he broke up with me and everything was horrible and then God changed my life and I learned to redirect all that energy and emotion toward God, so I wasn't driving myself crazy over boys.

So when you get rid of something bad in your life, make an effort to replace it with something good. Because all that time and energy you used to put into it has to go somewhere.

But one thing to note about Jesus' use of this little anecdote about demons- he relates it to "this wicked generation" rather than something that happens to individual people. So I think he's talking about the same sort of thing- get rid of one bad thing, but replace it with another- but on a wider, societal level.

"Jesus' Mother and Brothers"

So somebody tells Jesus his mother and brothers are outside, wanting to talk to him. Jesus says nope, "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

That's kind of cool, being Jesus' brother/sister/mother (I guess "father" was already taken). And I'm going to just assume he went out and talked to his actual mother and brothers and didn't just blow them off with this comment.

I like this part because it shows Jesus' acceptance towards those who follow him- he even calls them his brother/sister/mother. It's not like we're his servants- we're like actual family. TOTALLY AWESOME!

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So that's all I have to say about Matthew 12:22-50. This passage had some weird things and some cool things. A lot of unanswered questions, so if you have any insights, please tell me in the comments!

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

Previous post: For the Bruised Reeds (Matthew 12:15-21)

Next post: Types of Soil (Matthew 13:1-23)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Against You Only?

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Psalm 51 is one of those well-known and beloved psalms within Christian culture. It is David's prayer of confession after that big scandal with Bathsheba. It contains the line "Create in me a clean heart, O God." You know, that psalm.

But something seemed a little strange when I read the psalm this week. Verse 4 says, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." Ummm, really? David's sin was against only God?

Let's review what David did (this account can be found in 2 Samuel 11-12):
  • While walking on his roof, he noticed Bathsheba and someone told him she was the wife of Uriah, one of David's soldiers. 
  • He summoned Bathsheba and she had to have sex with him because he's the king.
  • When David found out Bathsheba was pregnant, he called Uriah home from battle and tried to get them to sleep together so no one would know the baby was his. But Uriah refused to go home, out of loyalty to the rest of the army.
  • David sent Uriah back to the front lines with a letter instructing the army commander to assign Uriah to the most dangerous area of fighting and then leave him there alone.
  • Uriah was killed in battle.
  • David married Bathsheba and acted like nothing wrong had happened. She had a baby.
  • Nathan the prophet turned up and told David he was a horrible person (not exactly in those words). David confessed that he had sinned.
  • As punishment, God made the baby sick. And then the baby died.
  • Yeah so basically the whole thing was a mess.

In this story, who is hurt by David's sin? Bathsheba. Uriah. Bathsheba's baby. Possibly more people? Uriah's family? Other soldiers in David's army?

It seems a bit odd for David to pray, "Against you, you only, have I sinned." What about the part where he ruined Bathsheba's family?

And actually, this entire psalm is sort of in that same vein- begging God for forgiveness and cleansing from sin, but not mentioning anything about how his sin has affected other people, and how maybe he should do something to try and make up for what he's done.

It's almost as if David wants to be forgiven from his huge sins because David can't bear the fact that he is the kind of person who would do those things, and he believes God doesn't accept the kind of people who do those things. It's all about David and David's relationship with God.

But I think there's more to the story than that.

Certainly praying for forgiveness from God is a part of what David needs to do. But if that was the entire thing, then there would be issues.

And that's one of the issues I have with evangelical Christianity- the idea that sin is an individual thing, and sin is bad because it separates the sinner from God... and that's it. It's like we need to follow all these rules about what is and is not a sin because God said to, not because we're thinking of the real-world damage that sin does.

And this view makes the gospel incredibly narrow too. It says "the gospel" is nothing more than "I am a sinner but because of Jesus' death and resurrection, God will still accept me." And I believe that's true but that's just a tiny tiny part of the gospel. The gospel is for the whole world! Jesus came to bring God's kingdom to this earth, to bring justice, hope, peace, love. And sin is bad because it screws that up.

The gospel is so much bigger than my individual sin and my personal spiritual connection to God.

Okay let's get back to David. In Psalm 51, was David assuming this limited, over-spiritualized view that was only about individual sin? Did he think the fact that he murdered a guy and stole his wife only mattered because it made David a sinner and David couldn't stand being a sinner?

No, I don't think so. And here's why:
After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. The elders of his household stood besides him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them.

On the seventh day the child died. David's attendants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, "While the child was still living, he wouldn't listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate."

David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he realized the child was dead. "Is the child dead?" he asked.

"Yes," they replied, "he is dead."

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

His attendants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"

He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."

- 2 Samuel 12:15-23

Here's David, laying on the ground and pleading with God for days, pleading that God would save his baby's life. And not because David would be so sad if the baby died (he wasn't) but because the baby had become sick as punishment for David's sin, and David knew it and didn't want his son to suffer for his sin. (I have some concerns about God killing the innocent baby to punish David, but we won't talk about that right now.)

David wasn't completely self-absorbed and feeling terrible for himself and his status as a sinner. He knew that his sin had caused terrible things to happen to other people, innocent people. We read about how much he prayed for the baby to be healed, and I imagine that David also did whatever he could to help Bathsheba and anyone else affected by the whole mess.

But it's not enough. You can't undo murder.

Nothing can make it right. Nothing can fully make up for David's sin. And that's how we find him in Psalm 51- just him and God after he finds himself completely powerless to fix things in any meaningful way.

"Against you, you only, have I sinned." It's hyperbole- David definitely knew that his sin had affected (killed!) other people. But just as he couldn't fix what he did to other people, he couldn't fix his own standing before God. So in this psalm he pleads for God's forgiveness, for cleansing, for God to "blot out my transgressions" and "create in me a pure heart."

Every sin is a sin against God- but let's not forget how our sin hurts other people. Prayers of confession like Psalm 51 are super-important, but there are many other concerns we must have after we sin- concerns about reconciliation with those we have wronged, concerns about how to make it up to them, if possible.

I believe David knew that. Let's make sure we don't forget.

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 51. To read other people's posts, click here: Create In Me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Blogaround

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1. War Photographer: Tara Livesay (posted April 4) "For whatever reason there is a movement among evangelical churches and faith-based organizations that markets mission trips in such a way that it casts the missionary as a hero and those on the other side are in dire need of their help."

2. Planned Parenthood, Infanticide, and the Return to Paganism (posted April 4) "To be clear here: This is a born-alive, out-of-the-womb baby at this point."

3. Grief and Resolutions (posted April 8) [trigger warning: abuse] "But then all of the stadium lights come on and there are no more shadows in the arena and you can see the children being torn apart by lions."

4. Freezing, Coatless Woman Has Decided It Is Spring (posted April 8) Yeah, so that's basically my life.

5. Your husband is NOT God for you {a response to Prodigal Magazine & the open letter to Christian feminists} (posted April 8) "I know this because I have seen the bruises. I have heard the wives whispering quietly in church bathrooms about how It’s Not Really Abuse and even if it was, they are serving a higher purpose than themselves by 'staying and serving.'"

6. What Would Jesus... Blog? (posted April 9) "And then she explained that she had enjoyed this blog over the years, but sharing my internet home with a gay Jew was just too much. ...'Would Jesus invite an unrepentant sinner to post on His blog? no.'"

7. Story time for the church. (posted April 10) "You believe strongly that God has restricted sex and marriage to one man and one woman, and that’s what you want for yourself—except that you have no opposite-sex attraction whatsoever, and you hate yourself for that. You feel trapped."

8. when i believe in jesus, then the bible (posted April 9) "...yet more sermons preached on Sundays are geared toward series-based thematic approaches that use Scripture as a trump card or proof-text to validate a point as opposed to regarding Scripture as the generative field from which all Truth grows unto harvest." I love this post.

9. High Heels Cupcakes Well, this is awesome. And adorable.

10. And this:


11. Why I Don’t Witness to People on Airplanes (A Post in 3 Acts) (posted April 11) "As an introvert, the thought of chasing down a jogger in a public park so I could ask him if he ever committed adultery made me physically ill."

12. "You Are." New favorite song. "If I had no voice / if I had no tongue / I would dance for you like the rising sun. / And when that day comes / and I see your face / I will shout your endless glorious praise."



13. Complaining as an Act of Faith (posted April 11) "Because what if this is wrong? What if shit happens and it isn’t what God wants? What if slavery, bitter water, and starvation actually aren’t God’s design?"

14. Thoughts from a Privileged Person Writing About Privilege (posted April 12) "I fear that there has developed a kind of impossible standard -- the 'perfect activist' -- whose language is inclusive of everyone and offends no one."

15. The Five Stages of Injustice (posted April 12)

Have a good week everyone!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why "Secular" Doesn't Have to be a Bad Word

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Today I'm happy to share a guest post from Ryan Kuramitsu. Ryan blogs at A Real Rattlesnake Meets His Maker on the intersections of faith, spirituality, sexuality, and social justice.  He's passionate about liberation, learning, and learning about the kingdom of God.

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Growing up, like many of you, I was raised in a faith tradition that split my world and the American political landscape along the Great Conservative Fault Line.

Things were either Sacred or Secular, Red or Blue, and of God or given over to godlessness.

I came to understand two things: that society was inseparably segmented between the religious and the pagan and that anything secular was naturally the enemy of Christianity.

But lately I've been wondering why Christians consider 'secular' such a bad word.

Oxford dictionary defines secular as "denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis."

Well, sure enough – this seems antithetical to Christianity.

But (with the help of the Internet) we actually can trace the etymological origins of this word back from English (secular) to Old French (seculer) to its Latin roots: saeculāris

Saeculāris can be translated as that which pertains to this generation, this age.  The word speaks of things in our world, and carries with it a set of earthy, physical connotations.

Secularists today are typically those who have rejected institutionalized religion in favor of being wholly concerned with the state of this world; they don't see the split between the sacred and the secular, faith and reason, heaven and earth – they are all recognized as somehow connected.

But this obsessive (some would decry 'idolatrous') concern with the suffering of this world harkens not images of godless men and women but presents us inspiring glimpses of some of the greatest Christian leaders this world has ever seen: Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, Junia the Apostle, Yeshosha of Nazareth, Dr. Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce.

Abolitionists, social reformers, champions of justice, advocates for the poor. Bold prophets heralding economic, spiritual, and racial equality.

You'd be hard-pressed to name any of these individuals who wouldn't feel more comfortable healing on the sabbath (or leading a hunger strike, marching on Washington, or giving last rites) than sitting silently through another one of our church services.

Not one of these men and women could be found hiding in a church or a synagogue waiting for the Lord to come rapture them away from this horrible planet.

In this sense, some of the most Christlike people I know are folks I wouldn't hesitate to call fully secular.

I think this is what Pope Francis means when he insists that atheists are not enemies but "precious allies" to the Church, especially in her quest "to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation."

It reminds me of that one time Jesus was teaching and some religious leaders put the question to him, When is the kingdom of God going to come?

Luke records his response: "Jesus replied, 'The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.' "

A heavenly kingdom, cropping up right here.

Right now.

In the dirt of this world.

That's what I've come to understand as properly secular.

Not a withered word wielded as an weapon against those who do not share our beliefs, but as a central expression of the Christian faith.

And so even though I often find myself tired of a religion I have to keep making excuses for, when I look at the lives of the Christians throughout history who really got it – who understood the dualistic spiritual and secular nature of their calling – I don't feel embarrassed about my faith anymore.

I fall in love with it all over again.

A secular approach to life, then, is not to be laughed at precisely because it is so profoundly Christian.  The secularist represents the polar opposite of desperate Christian escapism, a way of living that's inextricably intertwined with each of the affairs of this God-breathed world.

And if there's one thing I'm learning lately, it's that Christianity is not about intellectually affirming a certain set of abstract beliefs, but about seeking after Jesus of Nazareth.  I'm beginning to understand that being a follower of Jesus Christ means living a life soaked in the power and the presence of the Divine, a life in which the glory of the resurrected One is made powerful and present in our broken world.

Here, today.

In the next world, yes, but also in this one.

In this light, we see that we no longer have to choose between loving Jesus and caring for the environment, between religion and reason, between going to heaven and helping others.

They're false dichotomies.

Rather, it is in forsaking our mad dash for heaven, by embracing the radical spirit of Christlike "saeculāris," that we're able to partner with our Creator to herald the kingdom of God to this earth.

A kingdom pregnant with possibility...that's being birthed right here in our midst.

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To read more from Ryan, check out his blog: A Real Rattlesnake Meets His Maker.

Friday, April 12, 2013

For the Bruised Reeds

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"Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope."
Matthew 12:18-21

This week we're reading Matthew 12:15-21, where Jesus heals a ton of people, then tells them not to tell anyone, then the author claims that this fulfilled the above prophecy, from Isaiah 42:1-4.

Cool!

First of all, I'm still incredibly impressed at how Jesus just heals people all the time. He cares about all these sick people who come to him in droves- cares enough to take the time to heal them (and in many of the accounts of healings, he even talks to them about their faith and some encouraging things like that). Best savior ever.

And then we have this prophecy from Isaiah, about God's servant who would do good and bring justice, but do it quietly, like Jesus when he healed people and told them not to tell anyone.

But... how? How can "the nations put their hope" in someone who doesn't make himself a big deal? "The nations" won't even have heard of him. How's he going to have enough influence to "bring justice to victory"?

Also, what does it mean about "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out"? I have 2 possible explanations of these metaphors:
  1. He won't really bother anyone or disturb anything. Ya know the minimal effort it takes to put out a "smoldering wick"? Yeah, he won't even do that.
  2. The "bruised reed" and "smoldering wick" are metaphors for people who are weak/wounded/suffering. Instead of hurting them further, he will help them. And that whole justice thing.
And since option #1 doesn't really sound like Jesus (remember the time he got himself killed? yeah) I think option #2 is probably right. (Any other ideas here? I'm sort of just speculating.)

And perhaps Matthew includes this passage and prophecy to clarify what kind of savior Jesus would be. The Jewish people at the time were, in general, looking for a political leader to give them freedom from the Roman empire. But Jesus wasn't really into that.

Jesus had a much bigger view. He wasn't about removing a certain group from power and replacing it with a different group. Instead, he came to establish a kingdom where everyone is loved and protected- especially those who are the most vulnerable. And there's justice. And healing.

As Isaiah said, "He will proclaim justice to the nations." This is so much bigger than political power in first-century Israel. (And so much bigger than 21st-century America.) Jesus didn't really do the things they expected him to do. And he doesn't always do the things I expect either. He's tricky like that.

So for the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks out there, Jesus brings good news. Healing, justice, rest, hope.

He came to help us in our weaknesses, not punish us for them.

Discussion questions: How does "proclaiming justice" relate to "no one will hear his voice in the streets"? What do you think of the "bruised reed" and "smoldering wick" metaphors? How is Jesus different than you expected? Why do you think Matthew chose to reference the description of "God's servant" from Isaiah 42?

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

Previous post: From Now On, I'm Breaking the Rules (Matthew 12:1-14)

Next post: Demons 'n Things (Matthew 12:22-50)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

3 Reasons Christians NEED To Support Gay Marriage

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Well I'm finally going to explicitly say it: I believe it is incredibly important that Christians support gay rights, BECAUSE OF Christianity.

That seems like an unusual thing to say, right? Well here are my 3 reasons American Christians NEED to support gay rights and legalization of gay marriage:

3. Some Christians believe God supports and blesses same-sex marriages.

Among Christians, there is disagreement on the question of whether or not gay marriage is sin. Both sides of the debate have committed Christians who love/value/believe the bible and want to follow God.

And seriously, I am so frustrated at the way some Christians act like there's NOT a debate. As if it's impossible that there might exist Christians who love God and the bible and really are trying their best to obey God, and who through prayer and studying the bible, etc, have come to the conclusion that God blesses same-sex marriages.

Please. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Please acknowledge that they exist. Please acknowledge that they truly want to follow Jesus. (And I'll play the "Christian unity" card here too: For the sake of Christian unity, stop acting like Christians who disagree with you on some issues aren't real Christians. I could even play the "what will the world think when they see us fighting among ourselves" card: What will the world think when they see how the church treats its own LGBT members- stuck in the closet, hiding their identity, hearing a message of a God who accepts everyone but seeing that the church doesn't act like it's true?)

So anyway. Obviously, if you're a Christian who believes that God blesses same-sex marriages, then you already believe gay marriage should be legally recognized. This post is mainly for the Christians who believe gay marriage is a sin.

I'm not trying to convince you that gay marriage is not a sin. Like I said, this is a debate within Christianity, and on both sides are Christians who are trying their best to follow God and understand the bible, etc. If you're on the side that says gay marriage is sin, that's fine. BUT I still think you should support it being legalized. The question of something being legal is separate from the question of it being sinful.

(And personally, I am not on either side. I'm straight, why do I even need to have a side? This is a debate about what someone should do in a very personal situation I will never find myself in. So I just want to support all gay Christians, on both sides.)

So perhaps I should have titled this post "3 Reasons Christians NEED To Support Legalizing Gay Marriage."

2. If you believe gay relationships are sinful, well, it's not like banning gay marriage is stopping anyone from "sinning" anyway.

Yeah so, I got some bad news. Gay people who want to date and live together and be committed to each other and raise kids are going to do just that, regardless of whether or not the government gives them the same benefits as straight couples.

Gay people are doing all of those things. The question is whether society is going to give them a hard time about it and try to inconvenience them every step of the way.

And if you believe all those things are sin, well, using the government to make it harder doesn't stop those "sins" from happening. If anything, it makes more people want to fight harder to get the government to recognize their relationships/families. You're not reducing the amount of gay "sin" going on. You're just making people's lives harder.

And speaking of the government recognizing people's relationships/families, why should the government care whether the couple is same-sex or opposite-sex? Seriously, from the government's point of view, why should that matter? You have an arrangement of people which gets certain legal protections and rights and benefits. Why should the government care if the couple is same-sex or opposite-sex?

(And now somebody's going to say "Well then why can't gay people just be happy with civil unions? All the same legal benefits as marriage, but not using the word 'marriage'." Right. They can have the same benefits as long as EVERYONE IS CLEAR ON THE FACT THAT THEIR RELATIONSHIP IS INTRINSICALLY INFERIOR TO THAT OF AN OPPOSITE-SEX COUPLE. Right. Yeah. Can't imagine why that's not really seen as an acceptable solution.)

1. Love.

So, my first two reasons are eh, kind of mediocre, but this one here, this is the number one reason Christians NEED to support gay marriage: Love.

Love and love and love and love and love. This is what Christianity is about. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Love and love and love and love. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

Love. Christians: Our entire faith is based in love. God loves people. We need to love God and love people. And any other reason there may be for supporting gay rights is NOTHING next to this. Love. Love. Love and love and love.

Okay, stay with me here. I know what you're thinking. "Loving people doesn't mean we just let them do whatever they want. Love isn't some squishy thing that's whatever feels good. Sometimes you love people by stopping them from doing something harmful."

Yes. Definitely. I agree with all of those statements. The question is how exactly they apply to gay marriage. How should Christians show love to LGBT people?

First: Listen. To love someone, you should get to know them and empathize with them and try to understand their story. Every person is created in the image of God, and therefore has creativity and intelligence and dreams. You can probably learn something from every person you take the time to befriend.

So listening is the first step, and then figure out the rest from there.

And, I can tell you what's NOT love:

Love is NOT refusing to listen.

Love is NOT perpetuating stereotypes and fear.

Love is NOT treating someone's personal life as nothing more than an interesting debate topic.

Love is NOT comparing the most important relationship in someone's life to a drug addication.

Love is NOT comparing the most important relationship in someone's life to a crime like murder or rape.

Love is NOT presenting an analogy where you are the parent making rules for the child who doesn't know what's best for them.

Love is NOT claiming that a complete stranger's family should not exist.

Love is NOT telling someone you know their life and their needs better than they do.

People like to talk about "speaking the truth in love" which, I have gathered, means politely telling someone they're a horrible sinner. Apparently, that's all "truth" means in the context of homosexuality.

No. There is more truth that needs to be spoken. Truth about how hard it is to come out. Truth about praying and praying for God to change one's orientation. Truth about hiding, fearing rejection from the church. Truth about gay couples with healthy relationships.

Listen. Listen. And love.

I listened, and I found that gay people in general believe that legalizing gay marriage is essential (but they also care about a lot of other things besides that!). I listened to the stories and the reasons why. And I believe them.

And as Christians who want to show God's love to the world, we need to do it by listening to people and believing them when they talk about their needs. We need to love by not acting like we have all the answers and we know other people's lives better than they know themselves.

We need to love by advocating for gay rights, and specifically, for gay marriage.

(And... wait for it... 3... 2... 1...)

"But what about the children??!!! Won't someone think of the CHILDREN????!!!!"

Yes, the children who are bullied for being gay. The LGBT students who commit suicide at a rate 2 or 3 times that of other students. Won't someone think of the children?

Oh, you didn't mean those children? Right, of course not.

Did you mean the children who are adopted by same-sex couples? The children who needed a family, and then were adopted and got 2 loving parents? Indeed. The bible says to take care of orphans. So let's make sure we do that by not putting extra barriers in the way of those adoptions.

Oh, you didn't mean those children either?

Actually, the "think of the children" argument is something about how every child "deserves" a pair of opposite-sex parents. And therefore gay marriage should be illegal. I really don't understand this argument. Let's suppose that it is true that the ideal perfect setting for a child is to have 2 opposite-sex parents. Okay, so what? Welcome to reality. Nobody's life is "ideal." Things don't just perfectly work out the way you want them, so you have to make the best of what you have, rather than banning everything that doesn't match your "ideal."

No parent is an "ideal" parent. And I don't for a minute think that having gay parents is somehow so unhealthy and harmful that it's in an entirely separate category and should be avoided at all costs. (See above: "Love is NOT claiming that a complete stranger's family should not exist." For more information, go listen to people in that situation.)

One last thing: Love. If you still believe that the loving thing to do is to block gay couples from getting legal rights/benefits, then think about this: Imagine a gay person currently advocating for gay marriage. Imagine that said gay person then changes his/her position and comes to believe that gay marriage is sin. Do you think he/she is going to say, "Wow, thank you so much for fighting against my rights. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was really the most loving thing you could do for me. The way you told me I was wrong about my personal life and my needs and said I was a threat to marriage/families/America was what led me to Christ."

Yeah, that's not going to happen. Love is not shown through politics and restrictions. Love is best shown through friendships and personal connections. Love is not shown by claiming that you know complete strangers' needs better than they know themselves. Love is shown through humility and valuing others' intrinsic worth as human beings.

Go and listen to someone who's different than you. Go show love and be like Jesus.

Love. They will know we are Christians by our love. I pray that it would be true.

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