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Monday, December 29, 2014

Blogaround

Image source.

1. Jesus really wasn’t born in a stable (posted December 22) "In the first place, it would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives."

2. Product Review: The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege from L.L. Bean (posted December 18) "The Invisible Backpack of White Privilege is great for carrying questionable things like weed, Ponzi schemes, and sex crimes. I have lived in dense urban areas my whole life, and the cops never once search my Invisible Backpack. Then again, that’s probably just because, like people always tell me, I have a really trustworthy vibe as a person."

3. A Love Bigger Than Our Shame (posted December 19) "And this is the lasting effect of purity culture – not a generation of holy Christians saving themselves for marriage but a generation of people – women, in particular – who are ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of things that happen to them, ashamed of being perceived as sexual beings."

4. NFL Announces New Zero-Tolerance Policy On Videotaped Domestic Violence (posted September 9) "I also want to stress that this utterly reprehensible behavior is something we will in no way tolerate as long as the footage is completely uninterrupted and the entirety of the assault takes place within frame."

5. Lifting up the lowly and bringing down the powerful from their thrones (posted December 25) "And that, Theophilus, is what Christmas is all about."

6. China tightens church control ahead of Christmas (posted December 24) China is really inconsistent about this- persecution like this happens, but generally churches exist (yes, with large obvious crosses on the roofs) and seem to be operating just fine, and Chinese people are aware that Christianity is a religion that exists in China (but most haven't heard about any persecution).

7. The Longsuffering Godly Abused Wife (posted December 23) "If you are in a relationship gone bad and your partner isn’t willing to work with you to fix things, leaving is probably your best option. But then, for evangelicals, leaving is not presented as an option."

8. This tumblr post from Dianna Anderson. (posted December 17) "Because purity culture teaches us to have superhuman and super unrealistic expectations of our future spouse, and it inevitably sets us up for disappointment because there is no way a human being can hold up to all those expectations. Your spouse is not going to be the person you pictured in your head at 12 years old when you made that purity pledge. And that’s okay, because if they were, there’s something weird going on."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Jesus! We ate your cake.


Merry Christmas everyone! Take a look at the beautiful cake I made. It's a birthday cake for Jesus, clearly.

It's the world:

God
Loves
The
World

A few more angles:



Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Christmas Shoes" Is Not About You, And Life Is Not an Action Movie

Image source.

Well it’s that time of year again. When we have to listen to the song “Christmas shoes” seemingly over and over again. (Even in China, I heard it because I was listening to a playlist of Christmas songs from the internet. So I guess it’s my own fault.)

If you don’t know the song, you can listen here. Basically, the singer is talking about how he was waiting in line on Christmas Eve, and a boy was there trying to buy shoes for his mom who is apparently about to die- “I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight.” But the boy doesn’t have the money, so the guy in the song pays for the shoes. And Christmas was saved.

Actually it’s not a bad song, but a lot of people hate it just because some radio stations keep playing it for every third song around Christmas. And it’s so sappy and over-the-top.

Recently I saw a discussion online about what some people believe to be the worst line in the entire song: “I know that God had sent that little boy to remind me what Christmas was all about.” The commenters I read were saying, what, did God give this kid’s mom cancer just because God wanted our hero to be happy on Christmas?

To be honest, I was a little surprised to read that criticism, because this belief that “God cares about every little thing I do in my day-to-day life and constantly micromanages everything” is very much par for the course in American evangelical Christianity. Most evangelicals I know would say the most important part about Christianity is having a relationship with God. We should constantly pray and ask God for help with every little thing- hey if it matters to you, it matters to God- and look for God working in every interesting event that occurs in our lives. If something good happens, then yay praise God for the blessing that God gave us! If something bad happens, then it must have happened for a reason; maybe God is trying to teach us something.

(In my experience, it seems that black American Christian culture emphasizes this even more than white Christians do. There is a lot of focus on each individual having a dynamic personal relationship with God, and a strong belief that God really does hear our prayers and bless us. But my experience there is limited, so if you know more than I do, go ahead and leave a comment on the blog. Thanks!)

Back to the Christmas shoes. According to the singer, God brought that boy into his life to teach him about giving and Christmas. This comes across as a little selfish, right? Hey, dude, this story is not about you. Maybe God sent you to help the little boy, not the other way around.

Of course, the counter argument would be that God is micromanaging everyone’s lives. So God is using this event to teach our friend here a lesson about the meaning of Christmas, while also using it to help the boy, and also to comfort the dying woman (because really, isn’t she the one God should be most concerned about in this story?). You see, God is very skilled, and can efficiently do all these things simultaneously, using this interaction to bring good into several people’s lives.

Yeah, but, no. The song is so sappy and over-the-top. The little boy is pretty much a stereotype meant to look as pathetic and innocent as possible. He’s wearing old clothes. He’s trying to pay for the shoes in coins. His wonderful perfect mother is dying. He needs someone to help him. Really, this story only works if the little boy is as helpless as possible; the more helpless, the better the good deed that our hero did.

Furthermore, I see this same line of thinking, about God using events in our lives to help us or teach us something, show up in stories where God steps in to help one person but not others. The "no it's not selfish because of course I don't believe God is just doing this for me" argument doesn't work at all. For example, there are stories of how God apparently saved people’s lives by making them miss their flights on September 11. Okay, so, what about the people that didn’t miss their flight? So God loves them less? Or, why didn’t God make the terrorists miss their flights? See that would have been good thinking, God.

[content note: the next story is about rape, so if you want to skip it, go down to the picture of the scene from Star Trek with the dead red shirt guys]

Or, here’s another example: A while back, there was this story making the rounds on facebook, where a young woman, let’s call her Stacy, was walking home alone at night, and she saw a suspicious man and she was really afraid. The next day, she found out that someone had been raped near where she was walking. And then somehow, Stacy ends up meeting the rapist later, when he’s in jail, and it’s the same suspicious man she saw. (I have no idea how in the world she would meet him, but hey, I didn’t write this urban legend.) And he tells her the reason he didn’t rape her was because there were 2 big strong-looking men walking with her. Oh wow! God had sent angels to protect her!

But wait, what about the other girl? Did God care about her? (And also, that’s not really how rape works.)

Image source.

It seems to me that in a lot of these stories, in order to show that there was real danger that God saved you from, you need to have other characters in the story fall victim to that danger. And if you’re making an action movie, that makes sense. A lot of stuff gets destroyed and some people die, but the heroes win in the end. And the audience doesn’t really worry about the background characters who died; they were just red shirts.

But this is real life. This is not an action movie. In real life, there aren’t background characters who don’t really matter. In real life, there are no red shirts.

Image source.

Let’s come back to the idea of “having a personal relationship with God.” To be honest, I think that focusing so much on one’s relationship with God can cause people to be more selfish, to think “everything that happens is about me,” as the singer of “Christmas shoes” did. According to this way of thinking, the most important thing is to get closer to God, to be more like Jesus- and those goals are very much about ourselves. Of course we also believe we should help others, but really, it’s a means to an end. I help others because that’s how I show God that I love God.

Instead, I believe we should help others because God wants God’s kingdom to come on earth. The goal of being a Christian is to create a world with love and peace and all that stuff (it’s called the kingdom of God). It’s not about me; it’s about God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom is about people. Loving others is not something we do because God commanded it and we believe we will be better people (or have a better relationship with God) if we do what God commanded; no, loving others in the actual goal itself. Loving others is the kingdom of God. That’s the gospel, and that’s good news. 

Does God work in our lives to teach us things? I don't know, maybe. But don't be so focused on God's work in your life that you miss the image of God in other people.

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Discussion questions:

Does God actually intervene in people’s lives in the real world? If so, how can we reconcile this with the fact that there are a lot of bad things that God does not intervene to stop? If not, how can we reconcile this with all the examples in the bible where God intervened?

Should Christians “have a personal relationship with God”? What does that mean?

What is the purpose of helping others?

And also, please enjoy this song, instead of listening to “Christmas shoes”:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Blogaround

Image source.

1. This delightful video: All About That Space.



2. Australians Just Showed the World Exactly How to Respond to Terrorism With #IllRideWithYou (posted December 15) "If you wear religious attire, & need to get from #Adelaide's west suburbs to the city on Tues but don't want to travel alone #illridewithyou"

3. Cleveland police say they’re opposed to justice, find it offensive. These boys are in the wrong line of work. Fire them all. (posted December 15) "'Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford' is not an insult directed at the Cleveland police. It is a summary of their job description."

4. Browns Player Offers Thoughtful Rebuke After Police Union Slams T-Shirt Protest (posted December 15) "And the No. 1 reason for me wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin scares the living hell out of me."

5. well, at least the Old Testament has one thing going for it (posted December 16) "But a key dimension of Israel’s tradition is the observation that the 'rules of the game' that God insists on can’t be counted on."

6. Five things we should demand from the Cleveland Police Department regarding Tamir Rice (posted December 15) "We demand to get basic answers for these clear and obvious lies that do not match up at all with the video from the community center."

7. The Slaughter of the Innocents of Sandy Hook (posted December 12) "God did not enter the world of our nostalgic silent-night, snow-blanketed peace-on-earth sugar cookie suspended-reality of Christmas. God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered a world as violent and disturbing as our own. Here in this Christmas story, the story of Herod, there simply is no mistletoe and reindeer."

8. 美国想打谁就打谁 (America hits whoever it wants): versatile Chinese question words (posted 2013) To say "whoever" in Chinese, you use the word for "who" and set up the sentence in a way that really reminds me of algebra. Cool stuff.

9. ‘God Loves Women Who Have Abortions': The Religious Abortion Advocates That History Forgot (posted December 16) "Knox said that many of his colleagues decided to get involved with RCRC after witnessing 'a complete lack of compassion' in today’s conversations about abortion among people of faith." Well, yeah.

10. 3D-printed legs make disabled dog learn joy of running (VIDEO) (posted December 21) Adorable.

11. In case you were wondering, this is how you gift wrap a cat. (posted December 19) So useful!

12.  North Korea: Not Funny (posted December 18) "It serves to buffer and obscure the sheer evil of a regime that enslaves children and sentences entire families to death for crimes of thought, while building ski resorts, dolphinariums, and other luxury escapes for elites with funds that could feed its malnourished people for several years."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It wasn't like that for Mary. Maybe it's never like that.

Image source.

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
Luke 1:34

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She felt it every time she went out in public. In a small town, people knew who she was, and they knew she wasn't married yet. Sometimes they stared. Sometimes they avoided talking to her.

"No one else can understand," Mary thought, and she knew it was true. Who would believe her? The baby is God's. Yeah. Sure.

She'd tried to find a way to tell Joseph, but literally couldn't think of anything even slightly believable. He came around though- apparently an angel explained it to him in a dream. So, that was good.

But her parents? Nope. Geez, Mom had given her a whole lecture. She wouldn't listen. Although, maybe "she wouldn't listen" isn't really a fair accusation, because how could anyone listen to and accept what Mary claimed?

Everyone knows that virgins don't get pregnant.

But no, Mary thought, it's not like that.

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At Thanksgiving dinner, Clara's aunt made a comment about how women who get abortions are "selfish" and are just doing it for "convenience."

Convenience? Really?

It wasn't like that, thought Clara.

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Chelsea sat in church, uneasy and unsure if she'd fit in. The pastor was talking about Jesus and salvation, and Chelsea felt some hope, like maybe God could accept her. But then the pastor went off into the story of how his sister was saved "and she the first thing she did was call me and say, 'I need you to come marry me and my boyfriend, because we're living in sin' and I said 'yes you are' and I married them just a few weeks later."

"Living in sin"? Really? (Why Christians use this as a euphemism for "living with one's boyfriend/girlfriend" rather than, say, "getting rich off of corruption and stealing your employees' retirement plans" I'll never know.) Chelsea sank back in disappointment. "Well... I guess I can't be honest here in this church," she thought.

They think it's so obvious that living together is sin.

But it's not like that, she thought.

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

There were death threats. There were nasty letters. As one of the few doctors in the state willing to perform late-term abortions, Kathy was familiar with all of it.

Apparently, a huge number of people were certain that she was the worst kind of murderer.

But they don't understand, Kathy thought. It's not like that.

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

Helen's parents were discussing the news that gay marriage was now legal in their state. "We shouldn't encourage that kind of lifestyle," they said. "You know, a lot of people just think they're gay because of sexual abuse in their childhood."

I can never tell them, thought Helen, feeling like she was trapped in a closet. It's not like that.

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Sarah showed up at Walgreens early in the morning to buy Plan B. The pharmacist handed it to her, but not without an eyeroll and a comment about "being responsible."

Because everyone knows that people who buy Plan B are irresponsible sluts, right?

But it's not like that, thought Sarah. It's not like that at all.

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

[content note: sexual abuse]

Alyssa was crying again, and her husband Dan was trying to comfort her again. The guilt and shame were too much for her. All she could think about was how she was damaged goods, she was worthless. She had heard it over and over in youth group meetings as a teenager, how virginity is the most important gift you can give your husband, and therefore she was unable to love, because of the man who had taken advantage of her when she was just 7 years old.

Dan held her, so angry at what those people had said to her. She's an amazing person in so many ways, he thought. How could anyone have told her she was ruined?

It's not like that, he thought.

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

For some reason, a bunch of male politicians were discussing women's birth control. One of them said that women who want their health insurance to cover it are sluts who can't control themselves.

Oh, it is SO not like that, thought Deborah.

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

Mindy had to walk past a line of protesters holding signs and screaming that she was a murderer, when she went to the abortion clinic.

But they don't understand. They can't understand, she thought. It's not like that.

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

[content note: rape]

"Well, what were you wearing? Why did you go there?" As if it was her own fault.

Theresa stared at the floor. They don't understand. It's not like that.

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Renee loves God, and she sometimes has sex with her boyfriend. She wrote about it on her blog, and a bunch of commenters came along to tell her she's a terrible person who has no morals, etc etc.

Did they even read what I wrote? she thought. It's not like that.

Image source.
Mary had agreed to all this, telling the angel, "I am the Lord's servant." But how on earth could God do this to her? God was making her into the kind of woman she had always judged.

"Doesn't God know," she wondered, "that people would judge me, and they'd be right! It's right to judge a girl who gets pregnant. We put people into categories, pure or impure, and we do it because God commanded it.

"How can this be?" she had asked the angel. How could God make her into a symbol of something dirty? She had done nothing wrong. She was just trying her best to follow God.

People would never listen. They already know that it's automatically sinful to be unmarried and pregnant. But it wasn't like that.

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And if you think a virgin birth is totally believable but would never in a million years even consider the idea that unmarried sex might not be sinful, you might want to rethink your beliefs.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

At Christmas, I Finally Feel Like a Christian

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Readers of this blog will know that I worry a lot about the fact that I'm apparently not a "real Christian" anymore. I don't believe all the correct things (you know, opposing gay marriage and abortion, believing that all non-Christians go to hell, etc etc). I say I'm a Christian, but, come on.

So here we are, in the month of December, surrounded by Christmas decorations. (Here in China, there are artificial Christmas trees, tinsel, and pictures of Santa in every mall, but no acknowledgement that Christmas has a religious component. I miss that.)

You guys, I love Christmas. I love Jesus coming to the earth. It's just so good, the message of "peace on earth."

All this crap going on in the world, the violence and injustice... o come o come Emmanuel. We need God. We need hope. We need someone to right the wrongs.

I love everything about Jesus' birth. And in my classes (I teach English to Chinese adults) I talk about American culture, and Christmas, and the religious part and what it all means to me, and I'm so so so happy to teach about it. I still want to be a missionary, you guys.

Jesus. The word became flesh. God became human. And it means he will bring peace on earth. He has brought down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the humble. You guys. You guys.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found. That's the meaning of Christmas. The world is messed up, but all of that is going to change. It all started to change on that day 2000 years ago when (did I mention?) God became a human.

God is with us!

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

Image source.
All year long, people tell me I'm not a real Christian. They don't say it so explicitly or directly, but the message is clear: You must hold to this specific set of beliefs and rules, otherwise, come on, you're not fooling anyone.

But here is Christmas, and here is Jesus, coming to this broken world. Here is joy and hope and a vision for peace on earth.

That's the message of Christianity, and that's the best news I've ever heard. That's a message I can get on board with. I want to tell everyone the good news.

At Christmas, I finally feel like a Christian.

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PS please enjoy this song:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"What were the names of the 3 Magi?"

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So at my job, at this week's training meeting, we did a fun little Christmas quiz. (We are ESL teachers- we don't just do normal meeting things at our meetings; no, instead we use all the same tricks we use in the classroom to keep the students interested and accommodate different learning styles. Hey, let's start the meeting by playing a vocabulary game! Now discuss this question in groups of 3. Okay now let's get up and walk around the room and you can draw a happy or sad face on these pieces of paper that have been stuck to the wall, to indicate whether you agree or disagree with the statements on them. Etc.)

Anyway, so we played a quiz game with questions about Christmas. And one question was, "What were the names of the 3 Magi who visited Jesus?"

Now, you may know that back in the day I was a bible quizzer, and I was one of the best ones. I knew all the answers. Anything about the bible, any bit of surprising trivia, I've heard them all before. And therefore, I know that of course, the answer is, this is a trick question because the bible does not say any names for the Magi, and it definitely doesn't say how many there were, even though everyone thinks there were 3.

(Also, what kind of animal did Mary ride when they were going to Bethlehem? Aha! It's a trick question! The bible doesn't say!)

(And did you know the book of Esther never says the word "God"? I know all the bible trivia, you guys. I was the smartest one in my Sunday school class. I know all the answers.)

But anyway, at this point, several of my colleagues (from the US and the Philippines) were like, "oh man, I should know this," "I can't believe I don't know this," "ah I really should know this," etc. Of course I said something along the lines of "in the bible it doesn't say any names..." but I was ignored as others racked their brains trying to come up with names- definitely giving the impression that yes, these IS an answer to this question. Which confused me.

This continues for a bit, with a few of my colleagues frustrated at themselves for not being able to remember a single name, and me just dumbfounded at the idea that there are actual names to know. (Plus another colleague who had no hope of getting the right answer but just started shouting biblical-sounding names. "Jeremiah! Ebenezer!")

Finally the answer was revealed: Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.

At this point, I assumed that this was a Catholic thing, because Catholics have a lot of "traditions" which are stories not found in the bible, usually about saints or whatever. Those of my colleagues who really really thought they "should know this" must have been raised Catholic. Catholics seem to place more importance on history and tradition and the structure of the church, whereas Protestants/evangelicals claim to just use the bible and that's it. (This claim of "just the bible" is totally not true though. We evangelicals think we're just doing what the bible clearly says, but there's a load of assumptions there.)

(And here I'd like to point out that actually in different cultures, the Magi's supposed names are different. The answer given here is from Western Christianity.)

Image source.

I'm just totally shocked at the fact that I was always the smartest kid in Sunday school because I knew all the trivia like the fact that the bible never gives any names for the Magi, and now I'm finding out- FOR THE FIRST TIME- that some Christians actually have names for them.

I always thought I was the best Christian because I knew all the bible stuff like that.

It seems like evangelicals always think we're better than Catholics because we just use the bible but those Catholics use other stuff that's probably just made up. (And at this point I'd like to apologize for thinking that.)

But really, why? Why would those other traditions and stories automatically be worthless and not credible, while every word in the bible is rock-solid truth? Is the bible a series of true statements that fell from heaven, while everything else is just nonsense?

If some churches are teaching these extra-biblical traditions, then maybe there's something to them. We shouldn't just say "that's not in the bible, so it's just stupid" (which is an attitude I've encountered a lot in the land of American evangelical Christianity, and, yikes, I'm sorry I thought that way).

Where do you think the bible came from? People wrote it. In actual history. Someone sat down and wrote each part (or compiled it from oral sources or whatever). Do you think some kind of magical trance came over the writer as he (she?) wrote what was destined to become part of the Holy Scriptures? Was the bible created in a way that's so different from any other book that it might as well be from a different dimension?

As you may imagine, I really have no idea how actual Catholics view the stories like that, and the bible, and whether or not they're equally important. I have no idea what Catholics think the role of the bible should be. (So if you know, please tell me.)

I never was interested in finding out, because I knew it was the wrong answer, whatever it was. "Can't believe they call themselves Christians and teach all these ridiculous things that aren't even in the bible." As if nothing in the bible is ridiculous.

Image source.

I was the best one in my Sunday school class. I believed everything in the bible BECAUSE it was in the bible, and didn't question where it came from. Unlike those other (supposed) Christians who believed silly things. I thought I was so much better than them.

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All right, if you have any experience with learning the names of the Magi/ other Christian traditions that aren't from the bible/ being Catholic, please tell me about it in the comments, because this is all new to me. Thanks, lovely readers. :)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Blogaround

"Jeremy Lin is #NotYourModelMinority." Image source and article.
1. Cute Little Black Boys Do Grow Up To Be Black Men, PART II — And Now, They Are Ten (posted November 25) "I’ve been in the store and watched from a short distance as they’ve been followed. (Yes, already.)"

2. Let's Decide What The Best Christmas Hymn Is Once And For All (posted December 9) Here's a nice lineup of Christmas songs.

3. The Cross and the Lynching Tree (posted 2013) "if the God of Jesus’ cross is found among the least, the crucified people of the world, then God is also found among those lynched in American history."

4. Ignorant Christians need to STFU about ‘the poor you will always have with you’ until they can be bothered to understand what Jesus actually said (posted December 10) "Almost every time you see someone citing this passage, they’re invoking it the same way Gov. Perry is there — a shrugging acceptance that poverty is just the way it is and that there’s nothing we can do about it."

5. From the Lectionary, Advent 2: Leveling Uneven Ground (posted December 5) "Maybe this year we prepare for Jesus not simply by hanging up wreaths but by pulling down the broken, unjust systems that tend to obscure God’s presence among us by obscuring God’s image in our brothers and sisters."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

So I'm Praying Again

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It's Advent, which seems to me like a good time to pray and try to see if I can connect with God again.

I've prayed very little lately, because prayer requires one to assume things about God; to believe you and God have, on some level, a common viewpoint from which to start talking.

Pray "God, thank you for blah blah blah," and you're assuming 2 things: 1) God probably/possibly had a role in causing "blah blah blah" to happen, and 2) God thinks that "blah blah blah" is a good thing.

Pray "God, help XYZ to do ABC," and you're assuming: 1) XYZ doing ABC is the sort of thing the God could maybe cause to happen, and 2) God agrees that ABC would be a good thing.

Unless you're praying with such vague generalities that they could be interpreted to mean anything (which would be pointless), it's impossible to pray without making assumptions about what God is like, and, most importantly, the assumption that "God agrees with me."

"God agrees with me" is one of the most dangerous beliefs there is, and that's a major component of my old religion that I'm trying to get away from. Too many people have used "this is God's way" to promote their own opinions on dating, parenting, heaven and hell, whatever. And I have done too many things that were actually bad ideas because "this is what God said."

So if I pray "God thank you for this and that" or "God do this and that" it's just reinforcing the assumption that "God agrees with me."

But without any assumptions at all, I literally have no way to say anything to God.

What to do?

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So I started praying specifically to "the God of love." Because I have a lot of ideas and strong opinions about who God is, but I'm not so confident that I'd go right up to God and start talking as if those opinions are truth, as if clearly God and I are on the same page about things. I have a particular understanding of God, which I decided to refer to as "the God of love" because, well, 1 John 4:8, and the definition of love is the most important part of what I believe now, and maybe the biggest difference from what I believed before.

I'm praying to a specific version of "God," which may or may not exist. (Of course, I know I'm wrong to some extent- no one can fully understand God.)

I'm praying to who I think God is, and the real God(s) can take it or leave it.

I'm stating that upfront when I pray. Maybe that's the best way.

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A few other bits:

Is being confident about one's beliefs a good or bad thing? Too confident and it's "God agrees with me" and you won't listen to any alternate views. Too little confidence and you're not able to act on your beliefs, so having beliefs is pointless. Where's the balance?

Is that what faith is? So is faith good or bad? Well obviously it's good if the object of one's faith is something true and good. But everyone has different opinions on what's true, and it's impossible (maybe not even helpful?) to try to settle that question. Are there other guidelines to know if faith is good or bad? I could say something like "if it causes you to do things that help the world then it's good" but people will have different opinions on what does and does not "help the world." It seems like there's no unbiased position.

Also: everyone is wrong about God, because we're human and we don't know everything. So is it possible to hold a view about God that can correct itself, rather than just reinforcing itself? (Again, there will be a ton of different ideas on what "correct" means here, so ... maybe the question doesn't make sense anyway, maybe you have to assume the "right answer" first before knowing how to build a set of beliefs/methods that can "correct itself" toward that "right answer.") Actually, I think listening to a lot of diverse opinions helps.

We're not perfect. We're all wrong about some things, but at some point you have to just go with it and do your best, and you're gonna make mistakes but it's better than nothing. So ... but how?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Blogaround

This rabbit cheating at hurdles is the most adorable thing. Source.

1. Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Assault on Black People (posted December 1) "This system of White-on-Black violence has defined the last 400 years of American history."

2. St. Louis Cops Condemn NFL Team’s ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Gesture (posted December 1)

3. Yale Black Law Students: Michael Brown Case 'Made A Mockery Of Our So-Called Post-Racial Society' (posted December 1) "We are sad because the grand jury’s refusal to indict was an example of the manner in which the criminal justice system continually refuses to provide relief to Black people in America."

4. How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Christmas Season (posted November 25) This is so important.

5. The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On (posted December 2) "There are many reasons for the drop in divorce, including later marriages, birth control and the rise of so-called love marriages."

6. Are you being persecuted? (posted December 3) "The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out."

7. The Eric Garner decision confirms a holiday of horrors. 'Tis the season for more protest, not less (posted December 3) "The 'Seasons Greetings' message was an indecent, pornographic juxtaposition of the coming holiday season – that everything’s going to be OK – against the bleak reality of our current American nightmare – that nothing really is, especially if you’re a person of color."

8. #Crimingwhilewhite is a mind-blowing view into white privilege and the law (posted December 3) "I once jumped a turnstile while trying to catch a subway. Received a warning. Wasn't choked out & killed. Nice. #CrimingWhileWhite"

9. Guest Post from Jason Wiedel: Standing Up for Christmas (posted December 3) "The Naughty or Nice List gives high ratings to those companies that verbally acknowledge Christmas, but it has nothing to say about the way these companies treat their employees, their communities, or their product sources."

10. The White Church, Purity Culture, and Ferguson (posted December 4) "In conservative white woman mode, the Obama daughters were no longer teen girls playfully annoyed with their father – they were adult women purposefully dressing to provoke and therefore 'should know better.'"

11. ‘Racism without racists’: White supremacy so deeply American that we don’t even see it (posted November 27) "They’re not lying — they’re just wrong."

12. Actual War on Black People Distracting from Fictional War on Christmas (posted December 5) Yep.

13. a guide to tell if women are allowed to be pastors (posted December 6) Simple and handy flowchart.

14. How Jesus saves through Michael Brown and Eric Garner (posted December 5) "I don’t think that you get to consider yourself 'saved' by your belief that Jesus died for your sins if you are not also cut to the heart by the ways that you participate in Jesus’ crucifixion in the world today."

15. “He’ll never by the cow when he can get the milk for free” (posted December 3) "But when you boil this down, the entire point of the idiom is that women should use sex to lure men into marriages they would not otherwise enter."

16. What the ICU Taught Me About Marriage (posted December 4) "It has taken years, five at this count, to learn about each other’s experiences of The Illness, as we call it. It was weeks before Rick first learned about the dangerous clot buster and the excruciating 24 hours we endured, waiting and watching to see if he would hemorrhage uncontrollably."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I just wanted someone to care that I was pure

Image source.
Being "pure" is hard.

I remember praying and praying about a guy I liked, and deciding the healthy thing to do would be not stick around to chat after the bible study meeting, because though it would be fun to talk to him, it could make me too emotionally attached.

I remember in college, seeing a couple give each other a quick kiss in the hallway before they went to their separate classes. And I wished so much that I would have someone to kiss, but comforted myself with the idea that the next time I kissed a guy, it would be in a relationship approved by God, and therefore amazing and perfect.

I remember one Friday night, I passed by a group of college students on the street, and I heard one of them blurt out, "We're going to a sex party!" And later I went back to my room feeling so lonely, feeling like I was missing out on so much. (Not that I wanted to go to "a sex party" whatever that is, but at least I wanted something romantic of some kind.) And I prayed for God to go speak to my future husband, wherever he is, and tell him I love him. And that I hope some day he can understand how I felt and appreciate how I abstained from everything, for him.

I remember the teachings about modesty, how as a woman, my body is so amazing and sexual and powerful that it can control boys, but that power must be totally hidden, totally shut down, until the right time.

I remember the times I hung out with my friends in the fraternity (not a stereotypical wild-party type of fraternity, a bunch-of-nerdy-guys-playing-video-games type of fraternity) and sometimes late at night while we played board games, I would get these random thoughts in my head "oh he's hot" or "I want to kiss him" and I made the hard decision to not dwell on those thoughts, to resist temptation. I would find an excuse to remove myself from the situation, from the temptation. And no one but God knew what I was feeling and the battle I was fighting inside.

The loneliness, the longing, the hard choices I made because I wanted to be "pure." I just wanted someone to see how hard it was for me. But the more pure you are, the less anyone is aware that you could even be sexual. Only God knew all the things I said no to, all the things I never even pursued, all the thoughts I didn't allow myself to think.

I'm thinking about all this because of a blog post I saw recently, I Didn’t Wait for My Future Spouse, and You Shouldn’t Either, by Daniel Wilde. Spoiler: he's not waiting for his future spouse, he's waiting for God. As in, his main reason for not having sex is not because his hypothetical future wife wouldn't want him to, or so he'll have a better sex life in the future, but because of love/obedience for God. The writer talked about wishing for reassurance from his girlfriend that it MATTERED that he had kept himself pure (but eventually concludes it's God's opinion we should be most concerned about), and man, I know that feeling.

It's so hard to be pure. Does anyone see? Does anyone care that I'm doing this?

I just had to keep telling myself it was so important to God, and that God cared SO MUCH about whether or not I spent time happily imagining the possibility of kissing the hot guy in my physics class (whom I had never actually talked to, so it wasn't going to happen in real life anyway). And that God cared SO MUCH about how I chose to wear something less cute and feminine in order to be "modest" but it didn't seem to matter to anyone else either way.

Image source.

Anyway, if you've read my blog before, you know I don't believe in "being pure" anymore, and I have a lot of criticism for the teachings and implications that come from purity culture. I'm not going to get into that in this post; I just want to say, man I know how that feels.

(Though I will say this: Perhaps my biggest disagreement with Wilde's argument is about how loving God relates to loving people. I don't see them as separate things. I don't think we love God first and people second, as if sometimes we may need to refuse to love people because we must love God instead. [Jesus had some things to say about that.] Similarly, I don't see "obeying God" as something separate from the real-world consequences of one's actions. The reason should never be "do this because God said to" because the things that God wants us to do will by definition be compatible with bringing God's kingdom to this earth. The things God wants us to do will benefit ourselves or others or the world in general, or else why would God want us to do them? So anyway, Wilde and I have different views about purity because of the ways we view God and believe God interacts with the world.)

It's so hard being pure. It's lonely. God sees and God cares about us, but to be honest, I wonder what God thought, all those times that I made the hard decisions in order to be "pure" for God. I wonder how God felt about that. Maybe a little sad.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I'm still in China, and I'm so glad I didn't pray about it


Well guys, I've officially lived in China for 1 year.

I can't even describe how good I feel about that. Moving here was so so SO the right decision. There is absolutely nowhere else I want to live.

When I got a job and moved to China, my contract was for 1 year. Now I've moved to a different city and switched jobs- still working as an English teacher though.

Staying in China was not a decision. I never thought for a second "well after my contract's up should I move back to the US or not?" Haha. Yeah right.

And moving to a different city- that was my decision. Really. Seriously. I did that because I wanted to.

I never prayed about it, and I never thought "hey maybe I should pray about this."

And man that feels good.


In the summer of 2010 I came to China on a mission trip, and it blew my mind. I was overwhelmed by how different China is from everything I'd ever known or imagined. And I started to wonder if maybe I could live here.

To be honest, I felt like my only options were to forget China existed, or to put all my energy into learning Chinese and trying to understand the culture. Because man, living in the US... if I told you there was a magical land where people get up in the morning and eat porridge and 油条 (yóu tiáo) which I will translate as "fried breadsticks" though I have never seen them in America and you would look at them and think "oooh are we having donuts?" but haha yeah right. Donuts. Keep dreaming.

(You can get donuts in China, but they're not as good as the real ones, and NOBODY is going to offer you one for breakfast.)

Could there really be a place where every random person on the street can read those ridiculously complex-looking Chinese characters? And people push and squeeze onto the public buses during rush hour? And white people are so rare that many people feel the need to stare and yell "HELLORRR" whenever they see one? And people eat with chopsticks? And when you go to a western restaurant for steak, it's served with a fried egg on the side? And people think "snacks" means dried squid and shrink-wrapped tofu and chicken feet? And birthday cakes are topped with fruit- including cherry tomatoes? And where people order eel at a fancy restaurant and when you try to figure out what it is, they swear up and down that it's not seafood and then you eat it and yeah that tastes like fish- but they stand by their whole "it's not seafood" claim because that eel came from a river, not the sea? And the restaurants will give you one menu for everyone at the table to share?

Can you imagine?

I got on that plane in Beijing in 2010, terrified that I would forget. With wild ideas about learning to speak Chinese and coming back to live in China.

And I prayed, "God, send me to China."

Part of me was sure I was crazy. People don't move to China. Come on, be realistic.

Could God understand? I had always assumed I'd grow up and graduate from college and get a house in the suburbs in the northern US, just like my parents. God had always assumed that too, right?

God didn't think I was supposed to go to China. Right?

And I signed up for Chinese 101 at college, and asked all the Chinese international students to help me practice speaking Chinese. Maybe I could sneakily learn the language and make myself totally equipped for living in China, and then God would have to send me there, right? Very sneaky.

It was so hard to live like that, wanting it so much, but afraid I wasn't being "realistic." I thought I needed God's permission. Because I thought people don't move to China- and by "people" I mean white Americans. And every time someone said something vaguely doubting my dream to live in China, I interpreted it as "you can NEVER live in China."

Stuff got a lot easier in early 2012 when I was visiting China again and made an official decision: Yes, after I finished my masters degree, I would move to China. No matter what, my future self would just trust that in that moment, I knew, I knew, I knew.

And finally it happened. I live in China. And it is so good.


So here I am. It's been 1 year, and there was no decision. It doesn't even feel right to say "of course I'm staying in China" because that makes it sound like the possibility of not staying is even worth acknowledging.

I didn't pray. And I didn't pray about switching jobs and moving to a different city either. And man, that just feels so so much better than all that begging I did back in America, when I thought I was supposed to live in the suburbs and have a dog and be surrounded by white people.

This idea that I can just do things because I want to do them, instead of torturing myself trying to figure out what God wants, is so new and crazy to me. But it feels good.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Blogaround

Image source.
Links about #Ferguson:

1. Officer Darren Wilson's story is unbelievable. Literally. (posted November 25) "It reads less like something a human would do and more like a moment meant to connect Brown to the robbery."

2. Worth More Than 1000 Words, Worth Less Than Zero (posted November 25) "This is the system that this morning I am being told I have to 'trust' and 'put my faith in'. The one that was never meant to protect anyone who looks like me."

3. Justifying Homicide: Why Darren Wilson was never going to be indicted for killing Michael Brown. (posted November 25) "The judicial system as we’ve constructed it just isn’t equipped—or even willing—to hold officers accountable for shootings and other offenses."

4. Video provides evidence of our racial divide (posted October 4) "No, he is reacting to a primal fear of what Jones is, to outsized expectations of what Jones might do, to terrors buried so deep in his breast, he probably doesn’t even know they’re there."

5. The lie of ‘the Black Problem’ is not just immoral, it’s illogical (posted November 25) "The argument that the presence of an unarmed black man prompted a lethal response out of existential fear would not be possible as a defense against the accusation of racial prejudice in a sane world, because it would be rightly understood as a confirmation of such prejudice — as a confession of it."

6. Until Lynching Became Personal (posted November 25) "They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not ashamed, they did not know how to blush (Jere6:14-15, NRSV)."

7. Darren Wilson Pretty Sure Mike Brown Had Mutant Supervillain Powers (posted November 25)

8. On Ferguson, riots and human limits (posted November 26) "And that's how sick, that's how predictable and sick this white supremacy Groundhog's Day is that we live in. You can literally word-for-word have the exact same conversation year after year and just switch out the name of the black child we lost."

9. Why Ferguson touched a raw, national nerve (posted November 29) "'That's always been one of the painful realities on the black community, is the perception of black men,' Whitaker said. 'We're regularly portrayed as being these gigantic, threatening, dangerous, oversexed individuals.'"

Plus some others:

1. 13 Amazing Food and Life Hacks You Need to Know Right Now (posted November 17) "How to determine if an egg is fresh: do you remember buying the eggs? If you don’t, they probably aren’t fresh."

2. Advent/Darkness (posted November 28) "We’ve been tricked by chocolate-filled Advent calendars and blissful Christmas pageants that gloss over the very real evil that makes the Messiah’s coming so very necessary, so very loving, and so very heroic."

Friday, November 28, 2014

How Chinese News is Covering #Ferguson

“举起手,别开枪” Hands up, don't shoot.

So I'm riding the bus yesterday, and on the bus there is a tv that shows news stories and the same ads over and over again. There's a news story showing about 弗格森[fú gé sēn]. Wait. Fu-ge-sen. Oh my goodness. This is so big, they're talking about it in China.

So let's have a look at the stories floating around on Chinese news websites, shall we? (I accessed all these in the evening of November 27, which is morning November 27 for y'all in the US. Every major Chinese news site I checked had a link about Ferguson on the front page. Not the top story or anything, but definitely there.)

美国骚乱已扩至超过170个城市 44名示威者被捕 [In the US, riots have spread to over 170 cities and 44 demonstrators have been arrested.]

美弗格森枪案警察受专访 称像小孩一样无助 [In an interview, Ferguson police officer said he felt helpless like a child.]

美国白人警察枪杀非洲裔少年被判不予起诉 [White American policeman who shot and killed an African-American teenager will not be prosecuted] This one has a good video, sums up what's been happening from August to now.

Chinese reporter in Ferguson.
美国弗格森案示威席卷170个城市 400多人被捕 [In the US, demonstrations for Ferguson have spread to 170 cities, and over 400 people have been arrested.]

美国弗格森骚乱波及170城 近200名示威者被捕 [In the US, Ferguson riots have spread to 170 cities, and almost 200 demonstrators have been arrested.]

美国弗格森枪击案:州长拒绝重开陪审团审理 [Ferguson, US, shooting: Governor refuses to reopen the jury.] [I know that translation doesn't make sense- I don't know enough about legal terms in Chinese (or English) to tell you what it's actually trying to say.]

弗格森骚乱让美国尴尬陷入国际舆论 [Ferguson riots bring embarrassment to US in international public opinion.]

弗格森枪击案警员:我问心无愧 [Ferguson policeman: My conscience is clean.]

And these two, from the morning of November 28:

6张图表展示美国黑人生活 [6 charts showing black American life.] The graphs are all in English- things like crime rates, poverty rates, unemployment, etc.

华盛顿邮报:弗格森失控带来的思考 [Washington Post: Thoughts on Ferguson] This one has some screenshots and partial translations of 2 Washington Post articles about what Ferguson means and how race fits in.

“已经举手了,不要开枪” Hands us, don't shoot. The videos on these sites show a lot of footage of protests- big crowds chanting and carrying signs. Several videos also show the Darren Wilson interview.

So basically, the riots and protests are getting the most coverage. (Also they seem to have no clue how many people have been arrested.) The bit about having riots in 170 cities is totally not true though. Protests, yes, but rioting has only happened in a few cities.

Some of Chinese new stories kind of give me the impression that the entire US is in flames right now, but I really don't think that's true.

If you read further into the news stories, they all clearly tell you that Wei-er-xun (Wilson) is white and Bu-lang (Brown) is black, but there's not much said about the history of racism in the US.

All right, we need to talk about guns and China.

So. In China it's illegal to have a gun. Police don't even carry guns, unless they're some special type of police. Like sometimes I see armed police officers involved in transporting a bunch of cash or something like that.

Like this. Really long guns and full body armor. Just walking through the subway station or whatever. Image source.
Terrorists in China stab people. Seriously. They don't have guns. You don't hear about people getting shot. You hear about someone blowing up a bus or something.

And I've had a few conversations with people about how they think the US is not safe because of gun violence. (This was totally unrelated to what's going on with Ferguson.) I've talked to Chinese people that told me everyone in America has a gun.

So I wonder what it's like to see the photos with large groups of heavily-armed police officers pointing guns at protesters. I wonder how that looks, to a Chinese audience.

Overall, it kind of looks like the US is a huge crazy mess right now.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

My Chinese Thanksgiving Dinner


China doesn't have Thanksgiving, but I cooked a special Thanksgiving dinner with my boyfriend anyway. Behold!

For the turkey: Actually, China doesn't have turkey. Well, I heard a rumor that there's some kind of foreign grocery store that will sell you a fully-cooked Thanksgiving turkey with a side of gravy for 800 kuai (about $130) but, yeah I'm not doing that.

So I got a chicken.


This is China, so when I opened up the packaging, I discovered the chicken still had a head and feet. (The feet were actually tucked inside the body of the chicken.)

So, content note on the next 4 images. If you don't want to see a dead chicken head, then skip them.

Yeah Chinese culture is a lot less shy about the fact that meat comes from dead animals.

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Here's a dead chicken:





My boyfriend decided to boil the chicken head and feet and give them to his cats. (But people in China totally eat chicken feet. Probably the head too.)


We followed this recipe, put a ton of butter, salt, pepper, and onion/garlic/ginger powder on it, and put in the oven.



Someday I will tell you more about ovens in China. For now, I'll just say they are SO not part of Chinese cooking, so you won't find one already installed in your apartment. You have to buy one. And it's really just a giant toaster oven. Here is mine, with a cat for scale:


Next were the sweet potatoes. I followed this recipe, and they turned out fantastic. However, the only marshmallows they had at the imported grocery store were these:


With pastel colors and slight hints of fruity flavors. Excellent. Didn't affect the taste of the sweet potato dish though.

Anyway, here are the finished sweet potatoes:


And the mashed potatoes (using this recipe):


I bought dinner rolls from the bakery section of the grocery store. They were just normal [to an American] dinner rolls, which is incredibly lucky; usually when you buy something in China that just looks like regular bread, it has an odd sweet flavor, or a secret hotdog inside, or red bean paste... it's always something.



And a pumpkin roll for dessert (this recipe):



So, to sum up*:

*your mileage may vary based on luck and what part of China you're in

Things that are used in Chinese cooking and therefore very easy to buy:

whole chicken
salt
pepper
potatoes
sweet potatoes (China has both orange and purple sweet potatoes. Purple, huh? Who knew?)
celery
milk
flour
eggs
pots/pans
oil
sugar

Things that aren't part of Chinese culture but still reasonably easy to find at a big store like Walmart or Carrefour (a chain that's similar to Walmart and comes from France):

oven
butter (couldn't find margarine though)
cream cheese
dinner rolls
cinnamon
nutmeg
baking powder
baking soda
fork

Things that I really had to look for:

measuring cups
measuring spoons
vanilla extract (paid over $10 for a little bottle, ai ya)
brown sugar
powdered sugar
marshmallows
canned pumpkin (bought it from Taobao, which is the Chinese equivalent to ebay or amazon)
electric mixer

Things that I could not find:

turkey
meat thermometer
cloves
wax paper (is this not a thing in China? I used aluminum foil instead, for baking the pumpkin roll, which was fine)

Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving! ^_^

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