Thursday, August 28, 2014

How I Got Out Of Purity

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Read part 1: How I Got Into Purity.


So there was this boy.

Yeah, really cute boy. Fun and smart and nice and all that. So, because I believed in purity culture, I followed the procedure I always did when I had a crush: Pray a lot. And get really worried. Because man, God might say yes! God might say no!

"Yes" meant I would be with this guy forever, happily married. "No" meant nothing nada none zero zip zilch and this crush has to end. That's how purity culture works, you guys. "God's plan" is definitely one of those 2 options.

Can you see why I would be totally terrified about my ability to hear God right?

If I date the dude, but he turns out to not be my perfect soulmate hand-crafted by God, then I'm a massive failure in the following ways:
  1. I will be less pure. Whatever physical or emotional (or *gasp* sexual) connection I have with the guy will tear huge pieces off my heart in the event of a breakup. Then when I do meet that special guy that God chose for me, he'll be so unhappy with me for what I did. I won't be worthy of love from a quality guy.
  2. The whole relationship will just be a horrible rebellion against God. Because of course, if I had listened to God at the beginning, I wouldn't have gotten into the relationship in the first place. Clearly God was trying to tell me "no" but I was just too selfish and didn't trust God. (Blaming the victim.)
  3. Wasted time. How long does it take to date, break up, and get over it? Like, a couple years, at least. I thought I was gonna get married right out of college. Clock's ticking, people. 
And I prayed and prayed, and chatted with this guy. I liked him a lot, but I was so afraid that by indulging the crush, even a little, I was "giving away part of my heart" and possibly doing permanent damage to myself.

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And then it hit me.

It was all about fear. All this stuff about purity and not knowing if it was the right choice or not- I was being completely controlled by FEAR.

What if God says no but I'm just fooling myself into thinking it's okay, and then I date this guy and I become a bad selfish person who doesn't listen to God?

What if I start to like him more, and then we date but we break up and I regret it forever?

What if I start dating him and then I'm carried away by emotions and I'm unable to make good decisions and I end up marrying him even though God was trying to warn me he's not right for me?

What if I end up kissing him or *gasp* having sex and then I won't be pure and I'll regret it forever?

Basically a lot of "What if [insert possibly likely or unlikely scenario] and I regret it forever?" What if I start dating him, and then through some unexpected and impossible-to-predict turn of events, it ends up being a bad idea?

It was all fear. It wasn't about obeying God. In fact, I firmly believed that God gave me freedom and wanted me to live in freedom. And all that purity stuff was just totally incompatible with that.

Every single reason I had for not pursuing a relationship with this guy was based in fear.

But on the other hand, this dude was so great. Hot and smart and nerdy and fluent in Chinese. If there was a possibility that I could have an awesome relationship with him, man I didn't want to miss that chance.

It would be a risk, yeah, because no one knows the future, but from what I did know of him, I decided he would be worth it.

So I asked him out. Totally without God's permission. And we became boyfriend and girlfriend. Yay! And it was actually really great for a while, but eventually it became really horrible and it ended.

I don't really know what to say about that. Overall, was that relationship a good experience, or something I regret? Maybe partly both? Maybe at the time it was good, and then later it was bad, but now it doesn't matter anymore because it's in the past.

But I really do think asking him out and starting a relationship was a good decision, based on the information available at the time. Here was this really great guy, and I had an opportunity to be with him and see if we could be a couple. And I can't live my life too afraid to take opportunities like that.

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I remember my first steps away from purity culture, back when I had just started dating him. I was breaking all the rules, you see, because I was texting him at night to say "I miss you, good night" and such things. Clearly a bad bad thing to do, because it increased my affection for him and emotional attachment to him without giving me any new information on whether or not we could get married.

I didn't guard my heart at all. And I'm so glad I'm done with "guarding my heart" because really, it was all about fear.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How I Got Into Purity

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Back in high school, when I first started liking boys, I wasn't really part of purity culture. Sure, at church I heard the youth leaders occasionally warn us about "giving away part of your heart" and how sex will make you dirty, and I read Focus on the Family magazines with articles about saving your first kiss and how "friends with benefits" is ALWAYS DEFINITELY BAD.

But on the other hand, I saw people kissing or holding hands in movies, and that seemed normal. My parents weren't massively into purity culture either- I mean, sure they said people shouldn't have sex before marriage, OBVIOUSLY, but things like dating and kissing are totally normal and fun.

I was very confused about what "the rules" were, but it didn't really matter then. I didn't have a boyfriend. I just liked boys, which is fine. No need to worry about the other stuff yet.

But then, I got hurt. Just some stuff about being in love and breaking up- and God saved me when I felt so hopeless. That's when I decided to really fully dedicate my life to God.

And I remembered those warnings I had heard years before, the voices from purity culture I hadn't paid attention to. This heartbreak had happened to me because I hadn't guarded my heart. It happened because every little crush was actively giving away pieces of me. It happened because I was more interested in boys than following God. (And maybe some of that is partly true, maybe not. I'm not sure anymore- what exactly is the normal-person view on dating and heartbreak?)

Anyway, I decided from then on, I would do things God's way. And, conveniently, there were lots of books to tell me what dating and marriage "God's way" was. Back then I thought if something was written by a Christian and advertising itself as "God's way" then it MUST be right. Ai ya.

So that's how I got into purity. I read and read, and put the pieces together to create a new outlook on dating.  

I learned that dating was bad and dangerous- unless God brings you together, in which case it's the most wonderful and miraculous thing ever.

I learned that we can't trust our emotions, we can't trust ourselves to make good decisions, and we can't trust our bodies not to spontaneously have sex with someone if we put ourselves in a situation with a lot of temptation.

I learned that God had a plan, a wonderful wonderful plan- and that if I pursued a guy without explicit permission from God, then I was wrecking the plan. Maybe in God's plan, I meet my husband when I'm 45- so, until then, God's plan is for me to NEVER DATE ANYONE OR LIKE ANY GUYS. Who knows?

I learned that I shouldn't love my boyfriend. Love is bad.

I learned to fear. Fear that noticing a cute guy would cause me to be impure and not good enough for "my future husband." Fear that if I started dating someone, we would later break up and I'd realize oh man, I knew all along God was saying no, but I selfishly didn't want to listen.

I learned that if I did start dating someone, I'd have to be jumpy and nervous all the time because we'd have to break up the instant we discovered an incompatibility- bail out as fast as possible so I wouldn't become even more impure, since the relationship is doomed anyway. How could we be honest with each other, then? How could we really get to know each other, if telling him my secrets might cause us to suddenly, without warning, break up?

I had many questions, but I trusted that God was there, and he would make it all work out. If it was God's plan, then I would have a perfect marriage. (God's plan was either a perfect marriage OR being single and devoted to God forever.)

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I got into purity culture because I really wanted to live "God's way."

I wanted God to protect me from the incredible danger that is romance.

And I was willing to do anything to follow God.


Tomorrow, read part 2: How I Got Out of Purity.

Monday, August 25, 2014


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First bunch of links is all about #Ferguson:

1. Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police (posted August 12) "... the right to walk down the street without being a target for murder by the police isn’t a right one should have to prove themselves worthy of."

2. Michael Brown. Ferguson. (posted August 18) Good summary of the facts up to last Monday. Lots of links.

3. Mike Brown: Facts and dog whistles (posted August 18) "In other words, by releasing the video of Mike Brown stealing cigars, the police chief said, 'White people. It's OK. You don't have to care.'"

4. Tear gas is a chemical weapon banned in war. But Ferguson police shoot it at protesters. (posted August 14) 

And a couple other miscellaneous links:

1. I was 17, on death row -- and innocent (posted July 13) "The system does not identify and sentence 'the worst of the worst' to death -- just the most powerless."

2. Be Not Deceived: There’s No Such Thing As A “Christian Banker” (posted June 20) "There is no 'third way' on this issue, and if you try to find one, it’s only because you’re ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus and would rather deny him before men than take a stand against banking."

3. Please enjoy the genie/Robin Williams singing "Friend Like Me":

4. The 614th Commandment (posted August 10) "When we suggest that God has replaced Israel with the Church, what we’re really saying is that God has broken his unconditional, no-strings-attached promise to Israel: ‘I will be your God and you will be my People.’"

5. The Hole in Noll: The whiteness of ‘[White] America’s God’ (posted August 21) "The important thing there — what should be, for all Christians, everywhere, the most astonishingly important thing — is that America’s black Christians were right."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Which is a Bigger Deal: Marriage or Sex?

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The #1 rule of purity culture is you can't have sex outside of marriage. Everyone has to be a virgin on their wedding day.

And why is that? Well, you know, because sex is such a big deal. It changes who you are, permanently. If you have sex with someone, it creates a deep personal connection that lasts FOREVER. If that relationship ends, oh man, that will tear up your heart beyond recognition.

If you get married but you've already had sex with a previous partner, it will haunt you FOREVER. I told you, sex is permanent.

And the logical implication is that if you've already had sex with someone or done other "impure" things, you really should get married to that person. Otherwise, if you break up and you have to find someone else, well you've got a big hole in your heart that can never be fixed. It scars you in a way that nothing can heal. I mean, who would want you anyway? I told you, sex is permanent.

(In reality, most purity-culture adherents would deny the idea that "you NEED to get married because you had sex", but it is logically consistent with everything else in purity culture.)

Also: You can't have sex until you're married. So, naturally, people would date fast and get married fast. Better to marry than to burn, ya know.

Again, believers of purity culture would deny that it's a good idea to get married just so you can have sex, but when sex is such a big freakin' life-changing deal, and marriage is the stamp of approval you need for it, and everyone is full of hormones, well, yeah. As Hannah Ettinger said, it's "your whole future on this decision, made in the worst possible state of mind, horny celibacy."

(I'm definitely not saying that every couple that doesn't have sex til marriage is getting married for the wrong reasons. But you have to admit it's an obvious danger that comes with purity culture.)

In purity land, sex is a bigger deal than marriage.

"I thought you guys were doing it, I didn't know you were in love!" My favorite episode of "Friends" ever.

Let's look at the flip side now: the way marriage and sex are seen in mainstream culture- which is of course criticized by supporters of purity culture. "People these days don't value sex!" and "People these days don't value marriage!"

It seems that nowadays, most young people believe it's normal to have sex with one's boyfriend or girlfriend. Also, more and more people aren't sure they even want to get married.

Is it because they don't value marriage? No, I don't think so. I think it's because they really respect marriage.

If you say "til death do us part," you better mean it. That's a really serious thing. And too many marriages end in divorce- so maybe we'd better wait til we're really really sure. Maybe, since marriage is such a big deal, since it's so permanent, it's not for everyone.

Marriage is a bigger deal than sex.

Nowadays, most young people are okay with having sex before marriage, and that means that sex isn't some huge force pushing them down the aisle. It means they can take their time and make a good decision.

In purity land, if you want to have sex- and most people want to have sex- you're gonna have to get married. That's the only option. It's too easy to see marriage as the answer for your sex drive rather than a good and valuable thing in and of itself. Does this view respect and value marriage? How can it? It pushes everyone into the same box.

Everyone except for Mulan, that is. Image source.

In purity land, you have to wait for sex- wait until you know that you're going to be together forever.

But most young people are waiting for marriage- wait until you know that you're going to be together forever.

Monday, August 18, 2014


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1. Jesus Is Not Our Zoloft: Reflections on Mental Health and the Church (posted March 31) "Jesus will not supernaturally make your mental health better or easier to manage. What makes your mental health better or easier to manage is everything Jesus cannot do: psychotherapy, medication, and supportive care .... Sure, a support group at your church may help you manage your bipolar disorder. But that’s your support group providing supportive care, not Jesus. Thank Jesus if you want for being the reason your church exists in the first place, but don’t pretend Jesus gives you the supportive care himself."

2. #IfTheyGunnedMeDown Shows How Black People Are Portrayed in Mainstream Media (posted August 11) "#iftheygunnedmedown which picture would they use?"

3. World's first surviving panda triplets are 'very healthy' (posted August 13) So cute! Thank you, baby pandas, for filling the world with cuteness. See also this article from the Chinese side of the internet.

4. America Is Not For Black People (posted August 12) "By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn't deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed."

5. On Race, the Benefit of the Doubt, and Complicity (posted August 15) "Surely I had heard him wrong. I’ve been doing this all my life—giving people the benefit of the doubt, imagining that racism is largely a thing of the past, not nearly as bad as they say."

6. SWAT Wedding Photos Shot in Chongqing Go Viral (posted July 27) Awesome!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

And sometimes there are two squirrels in a cage on the sidewalk


Wait, what is that?

If you guessed "two squirrels in a cage on the sidewalk" then congratulations!

But... wait what? Wait, what? Squirrels? But... why? But... two squirrels? In a little cage?

And did I mention they were just out on the sidewalk with no one around?

And why is there also a toothbrush in a bowl?

See that's the thing with China. I'm constantly encountering things so bizarre that any attempt to explain them just leaves me with more questions. (Are they pets? Are they for dinner?)

Oh well.

Just two squirrels. In a cage. On the sidewalk.

Friday, August 15, 2014

So It Didn't Really Happen. So What's The Point?

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Let's say you go to church and hear a sermon about God bringing the people out of Egypt and parting the Red Sea. What kind of application to your life would the pastor pull out of that? Probably something about God being all-powerful, and how we can trust God, and God saves his people.

Like for example, maybe you go to the ocean and one of your kids is swimming and they swam out too far and they need help- well God might just come in and part the ocean, ya know? God saves his people, yeah?

No. Nobody thinks that's how the passage applies to our lives now. It's too literal. Too physical. Too big and miraculous. Instead, we see the biblical story as having a meaning which affects us in a spiritual or psychological way- but definitely a real way, if you ask any "good Christian."

So, let's recap: According to good evangelical Christians, the stories in the bible are real. They are true. They happened. (I don't like using the word "literal" because in my mind, it means the same thing as "true." Maybe because I'm a math person or I see things in black-and-white or something.) But the lessons we learn from them and the practical application to our lives in the present are not like the stories. Instead, we pull out some spiritual truths and they affect us on a psychological level, or we imagine we see God working "behind the scenes" to cause things in a much more indirect way than what happened in the bible.

Why the discrepancy?

Well in the past I always would have answered the question by saying large-scale miracles are super-rare. Like, that's why the biblical authors wrote them down. And look, the bible was written over thousands of years, right? And it only has, what, a couple hundred miracles, maybe? Even in the bible, some periods of time had many miracles and some had nothin'. So we probably have the same thing going on today.

But we can still learn about God's character from the biblical miracles, and those truths would always be applicable.

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Let's move in a slightly different direction now. Lately I've read some blog posts about history and the bible and how actually that stuff didn't happen.

Like this one, about Matthew's genealogy. It says Matthew put Rehab in there because, well, he wanted to put Rehab in there. Because WOULDN'T THAT BE COOL? or something. And that Matthew just made stuff up for the last bunch of 14 or so names. He chose names of well-known priests to symbolize Jesus being a priest. What the heck?

If this is true, then it sounds to me like it's not really a genealogy at all. Instead, it's the sort of family line that Matthew thinks Jesus would fit with, based on Matthew's view of who Jesus is.

So it's only useful to us if we have any faith in Matthew's ideas about who Jesus is. Uh, okay.

And this one, about David and Goliath. The writer points out some inconsistencies in the story from 1 Samuel 16-18, and explains it as two stories being combined together by the author of 1 Samuel. And I think that's ridiculously interesting and really makes a lot of sense, based on what I've heard about stories being passed along orally in ancient times or whatever, but like... I've never thought about the bible that way.

No, the bible was always a logic problem. We know everything in the bible is true. So let's say we find statement A in the bible, but also statements B and C, which seem incompatible with A. This is where we gotta get creative! Come up with some kind of scenario where all 3 are true.

For example, Matthew 27:5 says Judas hanged himself. Acts 1:18 says he fell and his intestines burst out. (Oh that's nice.) Well, clearly, he hanged himself and then after being dead for a while he fell down and his body burst open. See, I've solved the puzzle! And that's what apologetics is.

I never even considered the idea that perhaps some things the bible says are wrong. They just did not happen (and that's the source of the discrepancy). And, ya know, the explanation about Judas, I think that's pretty believable. But some bible "contradictions" require really convoluted explanations.

And back to that blog post about David and Goliath (and also Elhanan, who also killed Goliath, but in apologetics land it's clearly a different guy who just happens to be named Goliath or perhaps it's the brother of Goliath if you want to believe an English translation instead of the Hebrew). It's pointed out that David was apparently already playing music for Saul, and then he kills Goliath and Saul has to ask someone who David even is- what's with that? I always thought, well Saul forgot, or maybe it had been a while and David looked different. No contradiction there. MOVE ALONG PEOPLE.

Kind of interesting how I just completely ignored it- contradictions aren't allowed to exist- and the author of that other blog post found it very meaningful and used details like that to piece together 2 original stories. It's almost as if accepting the bible for what it actually is and appreciating the history and culture that it came from is way better than just treating it as a series of true statements that fell from heaven.

(See also this "aha moments" blog series- how studying the bible led pastors/scholars to reject the idea that all that stuff actually literally happened.)

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So, some stuff didn't really happen. Well, that's terrifying.

No no, hold up. It didn't actually happen, but the stories are still meaningful. We just have to understand why the authors wrote them and what they meant to the original audience.

And maybe the stories do communicate truths about God. Not big literal miraculous ones, but spiritual ones. Just like the sermons you hear at church, when we take outrageous stories we claim to believe literally happened and draw conclusions no stronger than "you can trust God."

Are the spiritual truths still true if God didn't part the Red Sea? Man, how can they be true? If God didn't part the Red Sea, then any ideas we got from that story are baseless.

If it's not based on something that actually happened, if someone just made it up and wrote it down and everyone thought it was a great meaningful story, well SO WHAT?

(Again, I need to learn more about the original writers' intentions.)

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And then there are some parts of the bible that I just don't buy at all. Like when God said to kill everyone in those cities.

In cases like that, it definitely makes more sense to say the bible isn't absolute truth about God- instead, it's how the Israelites related to God throughout history. And they got some stuff wrong. They, at one point, believed in the kind of God who would tell you to go kill all your enemies/people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Okay, so, they were wrong. We're all wrong about some things.

But wait. If the bible is a record of what some people believed about God and how they interacted with God throughout history, well, isn't that true of all religious books? What makes the bible any more special or "right" or "true" than a holy book from another religion?

What's the point?

Ai ya. Image source.

You know, I really miss believing the bible. I miss just relaxing and opening it up in anticipation of learning some interesting truth. I miss relying on it as the source of all the answers.

This week I went to church feeling lost, and I thought, maybe the sermon can help me. But then I remembered that I no longer believe things just because a pastor says them or just because they come from the bible. I could listen to the sermon and maybe it would be good, but I'd have to do the work of deciding what I agreed with and what I didn't.

And how am I supposed to know? It's too tiring not being able to trust anyone else's opinion.

(And as a side note, I think it's really really good for me that I'm going to church in Chinese because you know how an idea can seem new when you hear it in a way that's phrased differently than you're used to? Yep.)

And when I read the bible, now it just feels like something a bunch of ancient people wrote. Like, who cares? It used to feel so special and close to me.

So what is the bible, and what's the point?


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 106- which recalls a bunch of biblical events which may or may not have happened. To read other people's posts, click here: Understanding The Story.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Magic Exam

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Writing prompt: You live in a world where everyone is tested for magical ability on their 13th birthday. If they cannot perform magic by then, they are killed to improve the human race. It is your 13th birthday.


5 out of 5 stars. “I bought the magic color-change water for my son and it worked perfectly! Very easy to use.”

1 out of 5 stars. “Too simple. No way this could have got me past the magic exam.”

Great. I clicked over to the next tab. Some kind of remote-controlled flying object, whose “remote” could be hidden in your sleeves or pocket. My dad had sent me this link, and promised that he would buy it for me if that was what I wanted. But man, $1200? Surely there must be something else.

I scrolled past hologram projectors, boxes with hidden compartments, chemistry experiments. Apparently faking one’s way through the magic exam is a big business. Would I be able to do it or not?

I could buy one of the cheaper things, but then I’d have to rely more on sleight-of-hand. I felt way too nervous for that.

Clicking, clicking, clicking.

It’s not fair. Why was this so easy for other people? My best friend had been bending spoons since she was 3 years old. I have a cousin who was so confident for his exam that he actually attempted a transfiguration- and succeeded. He turned a freaking shoe into a living, breathing cat. And made it look easy.

That cat probably has more magic than I do.

Okay, okay, calm down, keep looking through the black market sites. Just pick something.

Monday, August 11, 2014


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1. Star Trek legend who became NASA's 'secret weapon' (posted August 4) "She traveled the length and breadth of the United States calling for promising astronauts to come forward -- among them was Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Charles Bolden, the current NASA administrator."

2. Seeking the God Beyond God (posted August 2) "But I have to ask: what kind of a god is this, that an ordinary human man can so easily outdo him in love and compassion?"

3. I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wish I Hadn't (posted August 1) "When we got home, I couldn't look anyone in the eye. Everyone knew my virginity was gone. My parents, my church, my friends, my co-workers. They all knew I was soiled and tarnished."

4. Wife Doesn't Want Maternity Pictures, Hubby Takes Her Place (posted July 29) These pictures, you guys. ^_^ My favorite was the black and white one.

5. On Forgiveness and Abuse (posted August 5) "What makes this sort of response to bullying and abuse so profoundly damaging is the grain of truth it contains."

6. The Most Interesting Reformer in the World? (posted August 6) "Nailed it."

7. Does God Hate Shrimp? When Biblical Citation Goes Awry (posted August 5) "The argument by shrimp, therefore, inadvertently functions as mockery of both Jews and Jewish law, whose origins lie in the verses humorously cited as refutations of Leviticus 18:22."

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Jesus was a freakin' person and that means so much

复活在我,生命也在我。 I am the resurrection and the life. Image source.

Jesus is the best, you guys.

Sometimes I wonder if I should even be a Christian, because of all the times I disagree with something in the bible or something someone said at church. But man, start talking about Jesus and I'm totally on board. The writer of Psalm 105 remembers what God did in the past- I want to remember too.

God came to this earth to BE a PERSON, you guys. God didn't just sit in heaven going "dang, that place is messed up, I'm so glad I'm not there." God loves the world, you guys. Like, really really loves the world. So much that God did something about it. Actually came to be part of our world, actually live with us as a real human person, experiencing pain and happiness and love and affection and sadness and desperation.

Part of your world. God was just like Ariel. Or something. Image source.

That convinces me that God loves us.

I always want to know why the hell bad things happen. Why doesn't God do something? Doesn't God care? Dude, God is in this with us. God's not above it all, insulated from the pain. Man. Jesus lived it all.

He was a freakin' person, you guys.

We want to know why God doesn't save us, well Jesus wanted to know that too. We don't know why bad things happen, but we just have to live with it. Jesus had to live with it too.

And I believe God feels all the pain of the world even now. When something hurts us, it hurts God too. It matters. God is with us.

God also bears the consequences of God's lack of intervention.

God is with us.

We know because God actually came to our world, on our world's terms.

Jesus showed us what love is, and what resurrection is.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 105. To read other people's posts, click here: Calling on the Name of the Lord. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Learning English While Teaching English

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Turns out, to teach English in China you don't really need actual English-training-qualifications. I had to take an online TEFL course but, yeah, right. When I started, I was basically teaching English and correcting the students' mistakes based on "that doesn't sound right."

I had a lot to learn about language...


Sometimes, the "ed" ending on a past-tense verb is pronounced like a T. Talked, worked, crashed. Sometimes it's pronounced with a D sound. Changed, opened, learned. Sometimes it's pronounced like "id". Started, waited, prodded.

Me: "Can you think of any more verbs were the 'ed' is pronounced like T?" (note: I am expecting answers like "any verb that ends in K.")

Student: "When the sound is... I don't  know how to say in English... [says a few Chinese words, whose meaning I am able to guess]"

Me: "Oh! You mean voiced and unvoiced sounds?" And I had no idea if she was right or not, but it seemed like it was probably true.

Dude I just speak English. I don't know all these complicated pronunciation rules. I never even heard of voiced and unvoiced sounds until I started studying Chinese.


Have you ever tried to explain the difference between "I never go to KFC" and "I've never gone to KFC"?


I was trying to explain the differences between "made of," "made from," and "made by," because some students were saying "this is made by wood" which is either a mistake, or Grandmother Willow has some awesome carpentry skills I was previously unaware of.

You use "made of" and "made from" to say the material it's made of, and "made by" to say the person who made it. Simple.

But then the students asked me, "What's the difference between 'made of' and 'made from'?"

Uhh... like, I feel like there's a difference, but I don't know what it is...

So you know, there I am trying to think of an example AND an explanation in simple enough English so they can understand. "They're a little different, but... I don't know... for the words in this lesson you can use either one..."

A student comes up with "Cake is made from eggs." Right. But you can't say "Cake is made of eggs" because then it sounds like eggs are the only ingredient. If you say "Cake is made of eggs, sugar, and flour," that's better.

But still it's very hard to explain.

Then a few of the students come up with this crazy idea like "made of" describes a physical change and "made from" describes a chemical change, and I'm like, no that's not it, I've never heard anything like that before.

But then one of my students says, "The table is made of wood. Plastic is made from oil."

And I'm like, "OH! You're right!"

But I still don't know the difference between "made of" and "made from."


Also, dude, I'm learning more British English in China than I ever have before. Because the lesson plans we teach include a mix of British English and American English. (Any time there's some weird/wrong-sounding sentence in one of the lessons, I just tell the students it's British English and shrug.)

My favorite part was one lesson which had a game where a student describes something to their partner, and their partner guesses it. I'm preparing my lesson, ya know, reading over the words they have to guess, and one of them is "spanner." What the heck is a "spanner"?

So I went over to and turns out it's British for "wrench."

And in class I tried to apologize for that weird word, "spanner," but the students (who are, of course, Chinese) actually knew what it was. What.


You know the pronunciation-guide thing, like you see in dictionaries with an upside-down e and all that? Well the students know it and find it very useful to learn English pronunciation, and most of the foreign teachers don't know how to read it at all.

I keep telling myself I should put in the time to learn it. Dude, I already learned Chinese. This IPA pronunciation stuff is way easier.


And one more thing: If you're using your phone to text someone under your desk during class, teachers totally DO notice.

Monday, August 4, 2014


Image source.

1. A Reasonable Violence: Why Third Way is the Worst Way (posted July 26) Some good points here, but I'm not sure I can agree with it because of the unchallenged assumption that it's totally not okay for people to hold beliefs that oppose gay marriage. Of course I argue against those who oppose gay marriage, but I get why they believe that and how they really believe they are being loving. I'd like to see more grace for them, though they are epically wrong. But on the other hand, people will argue "screw them- LGBT people are the ones actually being oppressed, we have no patience for taking bigots by the hand and helping them see the truth." So... I'm not sure.

2. A scientist sets an example for the church (posted July 28) "Then I made one fateful decision — I decided to look up who had spoken at the lecture series previously. And, well, it was not what I wanted to see."

3. You guys! I have found THE perfect list to use for all our "how far is too far" questions! Simply indicate whether each item is acceptable for people who are dating, engaged, or married. (Of course, your youth group leaders will tell you that this is totally the WRONG way to go about it- you shouldn't ask "how far is too far", you should focus on honoring Jesus instead.)

Also, I used to think the slippery slope went like this: hand-holding, side-hugging, hugging, kissing, kissing with tongue, sex. You know, you kiss a guy and then next thing you know, you're having sex with him. But geez, check out all the other sexual and non-sexual things on this list. And the fact that the average person would be interested in a bunch of them and also not interested in a bunch of them. Sex isn't something that "just happens" because we all have massive out-of-control animal instincts that overpower us if we happen to make physical contact with a member of the opposite sex.

4. Stories of Demons on the Missions Field (posted July 24) "The kids were always seeing demons in the bathroom, the house, the classroom, the yard, and even the missionary kids who came over, confirmed that there was a demon living in the upstairs bathroom."

5. What’s the Deal with Matthew’s Genealogy? (posted July 19) "After Zerubbabel, Matthew starts improvising with a genealogy of his own invention, apparently drawn from a variety of sources. As we shall see, many of these names are Levite names associated with important priests in the Jewish scriptures, and their use by Matthew establishes Jesus as not only a king of David’s line, but a priest of Aaron’s."

6. On justice vs. ‘righteousness’ (posted July 29) " comes as a surprise to discover that though some of those occurrences are translated with grammatical variants on our word 'just,' the great bulk of dik-stem words are translated with grammatical variants on our word 'right.'" Oh my. That's a completely different thing.

7. How Being an Atheist Made Me a Better Christian (posted July 30) "With no savior, atheists must work to address suffering with their own hands. With no heaven or hell, atheists have to savor and enjoy every moment as a gift. I haven't lost that perspective."

8. Ebola Patient Dr. Kent Brantly on Flight From Liberia to Atlanta (posted August 2)

9. The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker (posted July 30) "'You are going to slip and break your leg just for a day,' he says. 'And we'll give you a note that won't say abortion clinic on it.'"

Saturday, August 2, 2014

From Demons to Money Fish

Image source.

I read Matthew 17:14-27 this week, and as always, I have a lot of questions:

Let's start with verses 14-21 (though the translation I'm reading has no 21). I talked about this last week but I'd like to look at it again. Jesus meets a father whose son "has a demon," and he's already asked the disciples to heal him but no luck. Of course, Jesus heals him.

So is this a demon or not? In verse 15, the father explains the problem as "he has seizures and is suffering greatly." No mention of a demon. But then verse 18 says Jesus made the demon come out. So which is it?

It seems that Matthew believed that the seizures were caused by a demon. What do we think of that? Are demons real? Or were the biblical authors wrong about that- because they just wrote according to how they understood the world, and of course they had some misconceptions. In other words, the bible is wrong here. (I'm starting to suspect the bible is wrong about a lot of things, like "God told us to kill all the people in this city.")

Demons could be real though. I don't know.

Why does Jesus say, "You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" He seems frustrated about something. Is it because the disciples couldn't heal this kid? Is that really something he can chastise them for failing to do?

I guess in Matthew 10 he had "[given] them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." So... now they should be able to do it- no excuses?

And then this bit about having faith like a mustard seed and you can move mountains. Umm, what?

No really, what?

Okay so it's hyperbole. But I don't get how one can use hyperbole to communicate something whose size/extent the audience didn't understand in the first place. It's like asking, "How big is your new tv?" and someone answers, "It's so big, we watched football and the ball was as big as an elephant!" Like, what? If that's true, that's completely unreasonable. If that's hyperbole, you've done nothing to answer the question.

Jesus says faith can move mountains. But that's not true, that's a hyperbole. So this really tells us nothing about what we can cause by having faith. Probably driving out demons, at the very least. You know, if you believe in demons and all that.

(And I'll point out that I just used the word "cause"- causing something to happen by having faith. Is that right?)

And what does he mean by "faith" here anyway? Just like, really really believing really hard- the typical American/Disney understanding of "faith"? I've heard people criticize this definition and say that instead, "faith" means trusting in God, or being committed to God. But what would that mean in this context? What is "faith the size of a mustard seed"?

Image source.

Let's move to the next section, where Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.

Why did he tell the disciples this? I'm guessing so that when it happened, they would be like "ohhhhhhhh I get it!"

How did Jesus feel when he told them? Was he feeling kind of nervous and hoping someone would comfort him? Did Jesus have friends he could share his struggles with? Would anyone understand? Maybe he felt lonely most of the time.

Image source.

And then the bizarre story about finding money in the fish.

First of all, here's how the story's always sounded to me: Somebody asks Peter "so does Jesus pay the temple tax?" Peter actually doesn't know, but he just says yes. Then the next time Jesus sees him, Jesus makes a point of correcting him about it. See Jesus is, well, Jesus, so he doesn't have to pay, but he'll pay anyway so as not to make trouble. And you can find the money in a fish.

Let's start with this question: What is the "temple tax" anyway? And why does it seem like you could just pay it, you know, whenever? No one's asking Jesus to pay, they just want to know if he does or not. Then he decides to take initiative and get Peter some money to pay it.

And, umm, what the heck is with the fish? Peter's gonna go catch a random fish and find a coin in its mouth. So, that counts as a miracle, right? I thought Jesus was only supposed to do miracles for important reasons.

Here's a blog post with an interesting perspective: Fish are attracted to shiny things, right? So maybe this fish just grabbed the coin on its own initiative and Jesus, being God, knew where to find that fish.

Is there some kind of deep significance here? This story always seemed silly to me.

A few other blog posts I found said this story is about the question of whether or not Jesus should pay the Jewish tax. Big dilemma, right? Should he or shouldn't he?

And he solves the problem this way: He pays it, so he doesn't make trouble, but he gets the money from the fish, so really it didn't cost him anything.

But all through the gospels, Jesus makes a lot of trouble. It never occurred to me that he would go along with something, even if he really shouldn't have paid it because he's God-Man, just so he wouldn't make trouble.

Cats make trouble. Jesus is not a cat. Image source.

Okay, that's all. Lots of questions this week. Thanks for reading!


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

Previous post: This bible story feels so surreal (and it's not because of the demon) (Matthew 17:14-21)

Next post: Jesus had some millstone-related things to say about that. (Matthew 18:1-14) 

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