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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Praising God in General

God made a world the contains baby deer and kittens. God is the best! Image source.

The writer of Psalm 104 has a lot of praise for God, and for once it's praise I can actually agree with. Because it's very general.

God "set the earth on its foundations."

God "makes springs pour water into the ravines."

"He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate."

"All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time."

Baby flamingo, you guys. Image source.

You guys, the world is beautiful and awesome, and God made it that way. He gave us this fantastic earth, with rivers and mountains and animals and cities full of people and all the awesome, rich diversity that is humanity.

Most of the time, life is great.

And I can agree with this psalm because everything is so general. God made the world. Stuff in the world is pretty awesome.

Just don't go crediting God with specific happenings. God helped you find a job? God healed you when you had a cold? God made the bus come on time so you wouldn't be late for work? I don't know about that. If God has a hand in micromanaging every little event, then he'd better explain why so many awful things happen in the world every day. He can help you find your keys, but he can't be bothered to keep children safe from violence and war?

In the past, I think I prayed too much. I prayed about EVERYTHING. Because the more you pray, the better, right? Every little thing, every tiny problem I had, I prayed about. I remember once, after coming back home from the grocery store, I realized I forgot to buy ice cream. It didn't make sense- if God is with me, if he is so close and he can speak to me all the time, why wouldn't he remind me about the ice cream?

And I remember the first time I came to China, it was a mission trip, and there were a few things that didn't go as planned, resulting in about a week of what felt like wasted time. Didn't God care that I had gotten friends and family to pay thousands of dollars to send me all the way across the world, in his name? How could this happen? I know the laws of nature don't care who gets inconvenienced, but man, doesn't God care? Shouldn't he make it less likely for that stuff to happen to me, because I/donors had spent so much money on that trip- and in his name?

I don't believe he intervenes like that anymore. Yes, sometimes, but generally no. So I don't feel like I can pray and ask him to do stuff, or thank him for things that happened. (Even though the bible has a ton of examples of people doing just that.)

But back to Psalm 104. He made the world, and it's great- in general.

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 104. To read other people's posts, click here: Fleeing the Headlines and Finding My Faith.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Phobiettes And That Time I Panicked


I have a phobia, you guys. (A different one from the one I wrote about here.) I'm afraid of some objects we'll refer to as "phobiettes." And recently I had an encounter with some at a party my school did.

Here's my story.

Image source.

Last week I checked with the teacher who was organizing the party, to see if there would be phobiettes there. She said probably yes, and I asked for some details. The way she described it, well it wasn’t as bad as it could be. The arrangement would be such that no phobiettes would be near the area I was assigned to. I very hesitantly said okay. (Well, this party was part of my job- I didn't really have a choice.)

And I was super-nervous about it. Not looking forward to this party at all.

So I got to the party an hour or so early to help with setup. Most of the other teachers were already there, and so were the phobiettes. I kept my distance, and tried to help set up a little, but I felt really really nervous, and eventually I went outside to sit down and try to relax.

I felt so horrible and scared. Thinking about how this fear limits me- I hate that. And trying to figure out what I was gonna do- man, I’m a teacher, I have responsibilities at this party, I’m going to have a group of students and I’ll have to chat with them and encourage them to speak English and participate in the party games.

Eventually, when students started arriving, I decided to go in and check the situation.

As soon as I stepped in the door, I saw them. Oh dear goodness. Phobiettes, and NOT confined to where my coworker said they would be. And ...

I don’t know what happened. Was I trying to take a step forward or back? Or was I frozen? Just then, two other teachers happened to be coming over to the door where I was, and they’re like “Are you okay???”

And I just, you know, look down and try not to cry, and force out the words “I’m afraid of phobiettes.” After all these years, I’ve gotten used to just saying it, without shame, without getting upset with people for being unaware of the horrible scariness that lurks right behind then.

So we went back outside and sat down, and they’re talking about how I should just rest and go home and it’s okay I don’t need to be at the party, and let’s go find our manager and tell her what’s going on, and I’m just crying and trying to breathe, trying to say “but you need me to be here.”

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

It wasn’t until I’d calmed down a bit that I realized my arms and legs were shaky and numb.

So my manager showed up and brought me a water bottle and said I should go home. And actually maybe we should call my boyfriend right now to come get me. So I called him but I didn’t even know how to talk anymore (English or Chinese), so my manager just told him what was going on and to come get me.

I waited there with one other teacher, who talked with me about random small talk things to help me feel better. Students kept walking by, to go in to the party, and some of them were concerned about me, and my colleague would just tell them (usually in Chinese) “she’s okay, she’s afraid of phobiettes” and, whatever, I don’t care anymore who knows.

My boyfriend showed up, and everybody else went to the party and we just sat there together, because my legs still felt all weak and shaky and I needed to rest a little bit before I could go home.

And breathe, breathe, breathe.

We went back to my apartment, and you know, just rested and had dinner, and I was okay. But so confused about what had happened.

I’ve never had such a huge physical response like that. Maybe it was a panic attack- though I’m not exactly sure what counts as a panic attack.

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I feel like I did everything I could have done. Like somehow, this situation is special because I’m not at fault at all. A week before the party, I asked about the phobiettes. And my manager and colleagues already knew I was afraid of phobiettes. And ... then the moment I walked in and saw them, my body had this massive physical response which was clearly out of my control.

Because it’s physical, no one can say I should just “get over it.” No one can say I’m just making a big deal over something, or using it as an excuse not to do my job.

But let me tell you- that whole panic attack thing, it was nothing compared to if I had gone to the party and had to sit there the whole time feeling SO NERVOUS, trying to be in charge of my group of students but constantly distracted and jumpy.

That was nothing. Really, that was nothing.

Just because I was crying and physically COULD NOT GO IN... somehow that carries more weight than the torture of having to sit there for a few hours pretending I was okay.

Somehow it’s more real because it was physical.

Am I talking about other people’s judgment on my phobia and whether I can use it as an excuse? Or am I talking about how I judge myself?

Why do I have this attitude like “this is just a stupid thing, I should just get over it” when I know better than anyone else how hard it is?

I don’t want to be different. I don’t want to go around telling people I’m so special, I have this medical issue and everyone needs to accommodate me.

No, I always believed when I became a real adult, well, then there’s no excuse. Real adults don’t have problems like that. I need to get rid of this in order to be a regular person. I need to act like I’m fine.

Because seriously, how professional is that, to tell my manager I can’t help staff the summer party because of phobiettes?

That’s silly and immature, right?

Is it better to have a small panic attack upon arriving at the party? Is that more professional?

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But what could I have done? What if I had decided, a week before the party, that I couldn’t go if there were phobiettes? What if I set a guideline that says I will not be in any role with any kind of leadership responsibilities at an event with phobiettes?

But see here’s the thing. Then before the party, when all the other teachers were excited and talking about it, I would have felt left out. I hate how this phobia does that to me- there are things which other people think are so fun, but I leave my friends and wait outside because there are phobiettes. And I know everyone is in there having fun without me.

That has happened to me so many times.

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I had no idea I would panic like that. Really, that’s never happened to me before. Maybe it was because of the pressure I felt because I did have responsibilities and I would be a leader- no option to just get out and get some space for a minute if I felt too overwhelmed.

I definitely didn’t think I would panic like that. I thought I would sit there at the party for a few hours and totally totally hate it, except maybe a couple minutes here and there where I would be distracted by the fun going on around me. I thought I’d be constantly looking over my shoulder, and the students would totally notice I wasn’t exactly paying attention and they’d ask if I was okay. I thought I’d be watching the time and keeping an eye on the door, so I could bolt out the moment the party ended.

But I never would have thought I could use that as an excuse to not be at the party. Everyone has to do stuff they don’t like for their jobs sometimes, right?

(Even though I much prefer the whole panic-attack-and-crying-in-front-of-all-the-people-walking-by thing.)

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Should I think of it as a medical condition or something silly I should just “get over”?

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Sometimes feminist blogs talk about things like panic attacks and PTSD, and knowing how to take care of oneself if one is affected by them. And how it’s okay. Apparently these are real things that real adults suffer from, and it’s okay to know one’s limits and set boundaries.

Really? I don’t know. It’s one thing to avoid phobiettes in my own spare time, but to act like that’s a legitimate thing my job should have to accommodate because I can’t handle it... that feels like complaining, making a big deal over nothing. 

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I don't know. Just dumping all my thoughts here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I've actually changed to a different religion (but it's still Christianity)

Image source.

I just realized that I have actually changed religions.

So, before, I was a Christian. And now, I am a Christian. It's called the same thing, but it's a different religion. And that's why it's so incredibly hard for me to accept some of the beliefs, like "God is love [for a WAY different definition of 'love' than I had before]"- because it's such a drastic change. It's actually a different religion.

Let me walk you through it:

1. Back then, when I was a "good Christian," I believed I had all the answers, or at least, there would be some Christian book or podcast or something that would tell me "THE answer" to any religious question. I remember watching the youtube video of John Piper saying "it's right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases," and trying to make sense of it, assuming that since Piper is a pastor that a lot of people respect, this must be THE right answer, the Christian view.

Of course we could ask questions, but at the end of the day, we'd come back around to "the right answer." Maybe the asking-questions part was just to help us understand what we already knew was the right answer.

But now I believe there are no limits on what I can question, and I don't have to accept any answer. I can read the bible and say "hey I don't like this part" or "wow, what God did here was really wrong" and I can talk about it with people and we can try to make sense of it, but if there's no sense to be made, I'm not going to fake it.

I used to feel like as a Christian, I had to pick one of the answers and pretend to be satisfied with it. But now, I can say "you know, this is wrong, really wrong, and no one will ever be able to convince me otherwise- but I still love God."

What the hell? Image source.

2. The definition of "love."

Oh, man, the definition of "love." Maybe that's the biggest difference between my old and new religions.

So, if you love someone, you want them to be happy and you want what's best for them. But as a "good Christian," I knew that OBVIOUSLY what's best for every person in the world, what will make them happiest in the long run, is for them to become a Christian.

Everyone has "a God-shaped hole in their heart," ya know? Everyone who's not in line with my idea of what it means to obey God is living a life of destruction. Yeah, they may think they're happy, but they're deceiving themselves.

"Love" meant "I know you better than you know yourself." "Love" meant refusing to believe someone's account of their own personal life if it conflicts with my abstract beliefs.

"Love" meant hoping my friends would hit rock-bottom so they would realize they needed God.

"Love" meant finding clever ways to make my disapproval obvious while still telling myself I was being kind.

But let me tell you what my new faith says about love:

Love means accepting people- truly truly accepting people. Love means listening to them and recognizing that I have a lot to learn. Love means rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn. Love means standing up for those who are hurting, and opposing the powerful systems that cause that pain.

Love actually means love. No need to whip up some convoluted explanation for how our actions, which come across as really mean, are technically loving.

And it's possible for love to mean love because I don't believe in hell anymore.  

3. A word about victim-blaming.

So let's talk about the problem of evil. If there is an all-loving, all-powerful God, then why do bad things happen?

I used to not worry about it too much. Nothing bad was happening to me- or, when it did, I explained it as my fault for not obeying God.

Bad things only happened to other people. Maybe people in other countries. I mean of course bad things would happen to people who live in not-the-US countries. What do you expect? Or maybe bad things happened to people who didn't pray. Or maybe, even when they prayed for healing, God didn't do it- but that would only happen in a small minority of cases. Most could be explained by blaming the victim.

And that was all well and good because it meant bad stuff wouldn't happen to me. If we can blame the victim, we can believe that it's possible for us to avoid those tragedies.

That all fell apart when I started reading feminist stuff online, and I learned what victim-blaming was. Also I read a ton of blog posts about people's personal experiences and bad things that had happened to them- and I actually believed them instead of trying to look for a reason to blame them. (Remember what I said about the definition of love?)

And I got sick and had to have my gall bladder removed. I didn't know that could happen to me. Before, I had a plan, about graduating and getting a job in China, but the gall bladder thing delayed that by about a year. How? Why would God let that happen? Why would God let completely unpredictable things pop up in our lives and totally screw up our plans? What does "trusting God" mean if he would allow my own goddamn organs to turn against me?

So now, in this new religion I've adopted, the problem of evil is a big problem.

Image source.

4. I believe in resurrection.

Yeah. That's it. If you want to know what I believe now, I believe in resurrection. And I believe in love.

God created this world good and someday he'll restore it. There will be no more crying or pain or stupid tragedy.

And I believe that as a Christian, I should work toward that goal too. Do what I can to make the world better.

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Well, there ya go. That's what I believe now. It's a new religion for me, and I have a lot of questions.

Sometimes I miss being a "good Christian," because I felt so close to God then, and it all made sense. I miss God.

But more importantly, I'm glad I don't have to argue for ridiculous things anymore. I don't have to argue that "deep down, you really do believe there is a God." I don't have to claim that yeah, eternal suffering in hell for all non-Christians is TOTALLY consistent with God being loving. I don't have to be anti-gay anymore.

So I used to be Christian, and now I'm Christian. But oh, it's a different religion.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Blogaround

1. Sam Hose's Christian America (posted July 16) "When it actually was like it used to be, there were no stores open to sell the kerosene to burn Sam Hose because businesses were closed on Sundays. But a shop keeper was found to give kerosene to the crowd at no cost." Oh God.

2. The Bible was written by and for humans from Earth (posted July 22) "Consider the lilies of the field — whatever their story is, it’s different from ours. Jesus was sure that God loves them, but beyond that we couldn’t even begin to speculate about what the relationship between lilies and God might be."

3. Unlearning Purity Culture: Can Abstinence Be Right? (posted July 24) "You have not won any battle by making it to your wedding day as a virgin – you have merely managed to keep a somewhat arbitrary promise." This post is completely mind-blowing to me because I have never heard anyone who clearly understands and can speak the language of purity culture say something like that.

4. Evangelicalism and the Wilderness and Where I’ve Been (posted July 28) "I am afraid of getting caught up in the tide of good feelings and blissed out emotions and spiritual growth only to find out, when I’m already so far in, that I am standing on hostile ground, a place that didn’t know I was here, people who are now adamant that I leave."

Friday, July 25, 2014

This bible story feels so surreal (and it's not because of the demon)

Image source.

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:14-21 [but actually there is no 21]

He makes it look so easy.

And in this passage, it's so simple. Just ask Jesus to heal someone, and he does. That's all. Of course he will, he's Jesus. No question.

But it just doesn't feel real. That's not real life. There's nowhere you can go to ask Jesus to heal someone and get a real answer like that. You can just pray or whatever, but hey, Jesus isn't standing right here in person, so he can get away with not doing the healing, and leave you there with no explanation at all.

The disciples asked him, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" And man, that's exactly what I want to know. Why, in the bible, when Jesus is right there in person, does everything go right? Why does he tell his disciples "I am with you always" and "it is for your good that I am going away" because then the Holy Spirit would come... and ever since then, Christians have been asking, "Where is God? Where is God?"

Why, why can't we have God right here in human form, and we can make him heal us and make him answer our questions?

Maybe because this world couldn't handle him last time. We killed him.

Maybe because we would just want to control God and use him to prove that we're right.

But is it really better this way, like Jesus said?

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

Previous post: Jesus Got All Shiny (Matthew 17:1-13)

Next post: From Demons to Money Fish (Matthew 17:14-27)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Being Wrong When You Pray

Image source.

At first, Psalm 103 seemed to have no connection to reality.

"Forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases," seriously? Everyone knows God doesn't do that. And aren't we all tired of cliches that say he does?

Then there's a bit about "The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed." Yeah! Now that part I can get behind. Because I believe in resurrection.

But then the rest is punctuated with terms like "for those who fear him." So, God's blessings are just for the followers of the "correct" religion. Yeah, I don't buy that either.

So I read this psalm like, eh, I can't relate to much any of this.

But wait, don't the psalms teach us that you can tell God exactly how you feel, you don't have to censor anything? Well that's what the psalmist did. This is what he honestly felt, this is what he believed. That doesn't mean it has God's stamp of approval. Because the psalmist is wrong about some things.

And that bit about "healing all your diseases"- well maybe the psalmist had just gotten better from some disease and he was feeling really happy about it. So it's just an exaggeration. It's not really true, but that's how he honestly felt.

So let's talk about being wrong when you pray.

That's why I don't pray much nowadays. Because, I have some beliefs about God, some of which are very strong, but I'm definitely not confident enough to start monologuing at God with the assumption that he agrees with me.

I remember back when I was a teenager and I read bullshit about how teh gays were totally trying to destroy America, and so I prayed that God would stop gay marriage. I don't want to pray for stuff like that again. Stuff that's "us vs them" and I pray as if OBVIOUSLY God agrees with me.

Far far far too much of my life has been spent believing anyone who said "this is God's way." They acted as if "God agrees with me." They took his name in vain.

I so don't want to do that. I don't want to be wrong when I pray- it will only reinforce those wrong beliefs by making me feel like they have God's approval.

There's so much danger in assuming "God agrees with me." But I wonder if there's also danger in not praying because I never want to get that wrong.

I'll only assume a few things when I talk to God: that he's always with us, that he loves us, that he feels our pain, and that he created this world good and he will restore it all someday.

Everything else, I don't know. I don't know if a person can "have a relationship with God." I don't know if it makes sense to pray for this or that to happen. I don't know if God has an opinion about decisions I make in my life. I don't know if there are more answers out there or if this is all the faith I'm ever gonna have.

All I can do when I pray is tell God this is how I feel or this is what I want. But I don't know what role, if any, God has in my getting what I want. I don't know what the point of praying is anyway.

Ai ya. ("Ai ya [哎呀]" is an incredibly versatile Chinese interjection, for those of you wondering.) I don't wanna act like I know God when I really don't. I don't want to talk to God and have her sitting there like "what the heck are you talking about? Man I don't even know what to do with this prayer."

Is it okay to be wrong when I pray? On one hand, I know God will accept me. God loves me. God wants me to talk to her, just honestly say what I feel.

But if- when- I'm wrong, I don't want to be able to just pray it like everyone's cool with it.

And I don't want to be the kind of person who's so certain God agrees with me.

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 103. To read other people's posts, click here: How can we bless God?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Spock Discovers Purity Culture

Fascinating. Image source.

During our visit to the planet Boaz-2, I encountered a race of humans with fascinating mating customs. I talked with Elise, one of the females of their group, who told me that she believes emotions, especially those of the romantic or sexual kind, can be dangerous and generally should not be trusted. Of course, I considered this idea to be quite logical, as I have always been mystified by the effect that romantic love can have on humans.

According to Elise, the males of her race are naturally quite illogical and incapable of respect toward females, particularly females they find sexually attractive. However, the females desire to be in monogamous commitments with males. Elise explained that the only way such an arrangement can be safely attained is for the females to refuse all forms of sexual contact with males until they have made a marriage commitment.

Furthermore, she told me that females' emotions can often be deceptive; if she were to allow herself to have a strong emotional connection with a male, she may be unable to make logical decisions about him. Therefore, she must not allow any kind of romantic behavior to occur between her and a male unless she already believes him to be a good choice for a marriage partner.

Also, she believes her romantic feelings to potentially be so strong and volatile that she may become permanently damaged if she is emotionally hurt by a male she finds attractive. This is referred to as a loss of "purity." As stated earlier, the males of her species are highly illogical; though they are unable to control themselves, they expect their female partners to be completely "pure."

Assuming these things to be true, her ideas for dealing with the difficult situation seemed logical to me. She would avoid all romantic and physical interactions with males, unless she had carefully analyzed one (using her own logic and the advice of her friends and family) and judged him to be a worthy candidate for marriage.

It was fascinating to me to meet a human who shared some of my views about controlling one's emotions. I quite agree with her assertion that romance can often cause pain to humans. However, Elise did not mention that such interactions can often be enjoyable too- a point that the captain and other humans constantly bring up when I question their illogical behavior.

Incidentally, I was able to get some further insight into Elise's thought process because of an emergency situation that occurred. Evidently, the crackers she had been eating while we conversed contained an ingredient which caused her to have an allergic reaction. She became unable to speak, and seemed to be losing consciousness. I summoned Dr. McCoy, who had been talking with some of the other young people of this planet. A few of Elise's companions rushed over to us, and one of them explained that she had seen this happen before, and that we needed to find Elise's medicine immediately.

The circumstances were urgent, and Elise was having trouble speaking and could not tell us where the medicine was, so I decided to meld with her. It is a risky procedure, but in this case it seemed to be the best course of action.

Once I had made a connection with her mind, I found that she was scared because of the allergic reaction, which is a typical feeling for a human in such a situation. Apart from that, I found her mind to be just as logical as I had judged it to be, based on our conversation. I was soon able to communicate with her, and she was able to tell me where the medicine was kept.

One of her companions went to retrieve the medicine, and just then another arrived- a young male. Though Elise showed no outward signs, I sensed a certain emotional quality in her, upon seeing the male. One might say she was delighted. What fascinated me was how her mind focused on his hair and the way it fell at the sides of his head. Many members of her species have hair which behaves in this manner; it is highly illogical for her to pay such particular attention to it.

The doctor suggested that Elise be moved to a more comfortable place where she could lay down. As I was still maintaining the mind meld, I was unavailable to help lift her, so the doctor and the young male of her species worked together to move her to a horizontal position on a nearby couch.

I was quite unprepared for the way her mind responded. Before this moment, she had been nervous but gradually calming down. However, as the young male's arm pressed against Elise's shoulder, her mind jolted awake, first into a state of incredible excitement which actually caused pain to me, as my mind was connected to hers and I was not concentrating as much as I should have been- a mistake I take full responsibility for. I suspect she did not intend to communicate to me the reason for her sudden reaction: she very rarely had any physical contact with males at all.

However, her happiness was soon dampened by a flutter of worried thoughts and questions. "Is this okay? Is this okay?" I was aware of her reasoning with herself that it was necessary in this situation and that it wasn't her choice for the male to touch her. On some level, I admire her attempt to cling to logic, even as she experienced such strong excitement and worry. In the end, she concluded that, as the physical touch was non-consensual, she would be able to indulge herself in enjoying it without being at fault (though I was aware that she also considered the option of shielding her emotions from it, as I do).

All of this happened in only a few seconds, after which she was laying on the couch with no physical contact with anyone, except where the tips of my fingers touched her head, as I maintained the mind meld.

One of Elise's companions returned with the medicine, and I continued the meld as she took it and began to recover. It is healthiest to terminate the meld only after she comes to a fully conscious state of mind.

However, as she lay there, aware of the male's continued presence by her side, another illogical emotion grew within her: fear. Not fear of him, but fear of her own romantic feelings toward him. I understood that this was an issue she had spent time every day meditating on, because she did not want to make a mistake and lose her purity. However, her behavior is quite illogical. Earlier she had explained that the purpose of her "purity" philosophy was to be free from the control that many humans' romantic or sexual emotions have over their lives. But in my view, she had done nothing more than trade it for being controlled by fear.

Needless to say, I was relieved when Elise regained her energy and I could safely terminate the meld. Human emotions are quite strong, and it was exhausting for me to handle them.

I still admire the logic in her ideas about purity and mating rituals, however, it is an impractical philosophy for humans to follow, as it fails to account for the reality of their emotions, which cannot be so easily controlled.

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Author's note: As Spock is incredibly attractive, mind-melding with him would definitely cause me to stumble.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blogaround

Image source.

1. There’s No Reason to Thank God After He Nearly Killed You (posted July 7) "That’s a lot of unwarranted praise for someone who sent a great white shark to damn near kill you."

2. Altared: Altered Bible Coloring Pages (posted July 14) My favorite is "God makes toast for Moses."

3. Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective. "Note: By popular demand, this problem is now known as 'Y2gay'."

4. "Word Crimes" by Weird Al Yankovic:



5. “aha” moments: biblical scholars tell their stories (7): Christopher M. Hays (posted July 11) "One of my buddies asked, 'So, don’t you believe in inerrancy anymore?' I was taken aback. I was pretty sure I still believed in inerrancy. But he explained, no, no I didn’t; after all, I had just said that Peter (no scare-quotes at this point in my life) made a mistake."

6. Unlearning Purity Culture: Intentionality (posted July 16) "Using protection meant going out and buying protection and that meant that they were actively planning to have sex. And that took away their excuse that these kind of things 'just happened.'" Oh my goodness, amen to all of this.

7. The Table... (posted July 15) "He had never seen black people and white people drink from the same water fountain, much less the same cup."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bread, Rice, and Bible Translation

Image source.

So I'm reading Psalm 102, and verse 4 says, "My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread."

But my bible has both English (ESV with British spellings) and Chinese (Chinese Union Version, simplified characters) side by side. The Chinese version ends verse 4 with "我忘记吃饭", which, hold up, means I forgot to eat rice.

Or, not exactly. See in Chinese, "吃饭 [chī fàn]" means eat a meal. But the "饭 [fàn]" part comes from the word for rice, because, you know, if you're eating a meal but there's no rice... what are you doing?

You're confusing this baby, that's what you're doing. Image source.

(That's not entirely true. Noodles are a common substitute for rice. And I can think of a few other common Chinese meals that normally wouldn't include rice.)

But my point is, in modern Chinese, "吃饭 [chī fàn]" means eat a meal, which may or may not include rice, though the origin of this term assumes that you're eating rice.

So why does the ESV say "I forget to eat my bread"?

Well let's have a look at some other English translations. Here, I found a whole list. Some say "bread," some say "food," and there's even one that says "I have lost my appetite."

So I'm thinking, the original text in Hebrew probably said "bread" (yep, confirmed), but some translations changed it to "food" because they want to get across the idea that this is a staple food that is not being eaten, and in modern Western culture maybe bread is not as staple-y as it was for the psalmist.

And in Chinese culture, nope bread is not a staple at all. Rice is your staple. Bread is kind of like a dessert.

But my stomach needs bread every day or I don't feel full, so I'm always making sandwiches for myself (it is HARD to find decent sliced bread here!) or going to bakeries to get little bread-type pastry things (though if you're coming from an American/western perspective, whatever you just imagined when you read "bread-type pastry things" is definitely NOT what they have in the Chinese bakeries).

And I get Chinese colleagues asking me all the time, "How can you eat so much bread???!!!" and "You need to eat other things too!" No, seriously guys, Americans eat bread every day. Chinese people eat rice every day. It's the same idea.

But anyway. If the Chinese translation of the bible said bread here, that would totally miss the point of the verse. (It would be like if the English one said "I forget to eat my rice." Us Americans would read that and go "so? I mean we eat rice sometimes but no big deal, you don't like need to eat it.") In that case, "吃饭 [chī fàn]" is a good translation.

But hey, let's check out some other Chinese translations!

Chinese New Version: "我連飯也忘了吃。" "I even forgot to eat." This one again uses that word "饭 [fàn]" which means meals in general but people will assume you're talking about rice with a side of something.

Chinese Contemporary Bible: "我茶饭不思。" Hey this is a fun one! Apparently "茶饭不思" is a 成语 [chéng yǔ], a four-character Chinese idiom! "茶 [chá]" means tea, "饭 [fàn]" means, well, we talked about that, and "不思 [bù sī]" means not thinking about something. So together, it's an idiom that means you totally lost your appetite. Kind of a fun modern translation there, I guess.

In summary, translation is hard. But also really interesting. Maybe the more literal the translation is, the more culture you need to know to actually get the meaning.

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This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 102. To read other people's posts, click here: Do people of faith struggle with pain?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

God's actually not our Defender

Image source.

Samantha Field's writing is always great, and this part of one of her recent posts really hit me:
However, we’re also asked to think of God as our “Defender.”

I have a problem with that, mostly because God doesn’t defend us.

He promised to do a lot of things– love us, never leave us, forgive us, save us, prepare us, mold us– but he never once promised to “protect us from danger or harm.” My life– all of our lives– is living proof that he doesn’t do this. I was abused. I was raped. Even when the abuse I experienced was done in his name, he did nothing to stop it. Believing that God would “protect me from harm” almost shattered any belief I had because it is so obviously a lie.

Today, I believe that I can trust God, but it’s what I’m trusting him for that matters. I trust him the same way I trust my partner: I trust in his character, in who he is. I don’t trust my partner because I believe that he’ll be able to protect me from all harm– and neither do I trust God to do that. I used to– and when he didn’t come through on this “promise” I believed he’d made to me, I was devastated.

Wait, stop the presses.

I thought Christians were supposed to believe, you know, God protects us. But then bad things happen to good people, and some of us rebels start asking "Where the hell is God?"

I've written about that many times before. Stuff happens that's totally NOT OKAY, and why didn't God do anything, and what the hell does "trusting God" even mean if we can't trust him to not let violence and death happen...?

But here's Field's post, saying God is actually not our Defender, and she seems totally calm and okay with it, and even has a reasonable idea for what "trusting God" can mean, given that God doesn't defend us.

I just totally never heard anything like that before.

And it actually makes sense and is based in reality. Because, as I've said before (and felt like some kind of heretic for saying it), look around you. Look at the world. God doesn't protect people. Well maybe sometimes, but SOOOO not enough.

Image source.

But what about what the bible says? Psalms is full of verses about how God is TOTALLY our refuge, and how if we follow him, he will always take care of us.

But the bible is also full of stories of bad things happening to good people, and God not protecting them.

You know, just like the real world.

So maybe now we have an answer for "where was God? where was God?" The answer is that protecting people is just not what he does.

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Also you want to go read the rest of Field's post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Well that's a mission trip.

Image source.

Today I was talking with one of my students, Charlotte. I mentioned something about going to church, and she said, "Oh, you believe Yesu?" (That would be Jesus' Chinese name.) And she said she'd met a new American friend that day who was also a Christian, and had asked her if she wants to have a relationship with Jesus. Charlotte told me, "I don't know if I can understand what she means."

And also, this "new American friend" is part of a group of college students who are visiting Charlotte's university.

For one month.

To study Chinese.

Yep, that's a mission trip.

(Like, could it be more obvious?)

Image source.

And I feel a lot of things. First, wow could it be that God is working in Charlotte's life? She just so happened to have a conversation with someone else about Jesus, and then I just so happened to mention to her that I'm a Christian... but wait, I'm not sure what I believe about that whole "God is working in their life!" thing.

Like where did that thought even come from? That's like, straight out of the days long ago when I was "on fire for God."

Also: oh man I want to meet these people! They are me from a few years ago! I really miss being with other Christians- even though I also fear they'll judge me when/if they find out I don't believe all the correct things.

I first came to China on a mission trip and well, you can see I kind of got sucked in. And maybe I want to meet them and tell them how awesome China is! (And when random friends ask me to donate money so they can go on mission trips, I totally do. Because I've been that person asking for money before. And going to China totally changed my life.)

But wait! Charlotte, look out! The real reason they're here is to make people Christians. Should I warn her? Am I supposed to keep the secret as some kind of group loyalty thing? (And also the threat of missionaries being kicked out of China- but I bet the Chinese government also knows it's a mission trip. They weren't born yesterday.)

Uhh... there's nothing to warn about though- I totally expect the mission trip kids to be loving and nice to all their new Chinese friends. They won't do anything disrespectful to her- at least nothing that she would be aware of.

And on that note, hey hold up! Don't treat Charlotte like some kind of mission-trip-project. She's a whole person and she's really great. She's one of my most kind and enthusiastic students. She helps me study Chinese. She's studying art at her university, and she gave me a painting she made. Isn't that the nicest thing ever?

There's nothing wrong with her, nothing that needs to be "fixed" by getting her to find Jesus.

Is somebody excitedly telling their friends, "I shared the gospel with Charlotte!" I don't know how I feel about that. Treating people like some kind of sneaky secret mission.

Like I get it, I did that. You know, I was excited about Jesus and excited about the idea of my friends becoming Christians, so yeah I told other Christians when I "had an opportunity to share the gospel." But now I kind of feel like... isn't it a little weird to talk about people (and speculate about their souls and deep needs) and say things you TOTALLY don't want them to hear you saying?

(Yeah I'm not sure how I feel about evangelism... hmm...)

But anyway, yep, that's a mission trip. Charlotte was so happy to meet them and make friends with them (even though they'll only be here a short time). I know that's a good thing- I just don't know where God fits into it. Or if he even wants to.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Blogaround

1. Series of posts from The Slactivist: Unlearning the lies we learned from the theologians of slavery. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

2. Why Wright is Wrong About Same-Sex Marriage. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

3. What is Virginity? (posted July 9)



4. This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps (posted July 8) "One time, an old, kind-looking man with a bit of a hunch was standing behind me with just a six-pack of soda, waiting to check out. The entire contents of my cart were splayed out on the conveyor belt. When he noticed the flash of large white paper stubs in my hand, he touched me on the shoulder. I was scared that he was going to give me money; instead he gave me a small, rectangular card. He asked me to accept Jesus into my heart so that my troubles would disappear."

5. I Was A Female “Nice Guy” (posted July 9) "If a relationship started with me doing the asking, it was doomed to fail because that was not God’s plan." A-freakin-men to this.

6. How It Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender (posted July 7)

7. God’s triune sovereignty as provider, victim, and rebel (posted July 7) "Jesus stands in solidarity with all the people I have hurt directly through my participation in the world’s injustice and indirectly through my idolatry which is the source of all injustice."

8. Christians worship a child who fled violence in his home country (posted July 11) "But protesters have screamed epithets at them and blocked buses carrying them to processing centers, despite the fact that it is not illegal for people to cross the U.S. border and ask for protection under U.S. law."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"To use naturally occurring events"

From Can Christianity work with a Mr. Rogers God? (Wrestling with “moralistic therapeutic deism”), on Morgan Guyton's blog:

Largely because I’m the son of a scientist, I don’t share Piper and Robertson’s Biblical inerrantist perspective. I suspect that the drought during the reign of King Ahab happened as part of a naturally occurring ecosystem, just as the conquest of Israel by Babylon occurred as a reasonably predictable sociological event in the story of ancient empires. To me, the fact that prophets attributed these acts to God doesn’t mean that the mysterious creator of the universe who is the source of being of every atom is an infinitely large invisible man who gets angry a lot and dives into history at some particular moments to punish people, but not at others. It is rather that the Holy Spirit inspired God’s prophets to use naturally occurring events in his cosmic order as teaching tools to call out God’s people on their idolatry and injustice. I would say that these inspired words of scripture are God’s accommodation of our need for divine teaching in forms that we can grasp. Where I am going to part ways with the inerrantists is when I say that God’s punitive acts according to the testimony of Old Testament prophets are provisionally conditioned to the historical needs of his Israelite people at each phase of their development and should not be analyzed as a primary window into God’s eternal character, for which Jesus is the fully developed, perfectly sufficient revelation. 

Because, wow, I have never ever heard that idea before and wow, now THAT MAKES SENSE.

(the rest of his post is worth reading too)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Evidently this was the site of a horrific mannequin massacre


Just walking through a mall near where I live (in China). Actually it's pretty common to see naked or dismembered mannequins at little shops here, and it's really common for people to just leave huge messes when their store closes.

Oh China.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How Not To Love

Image source.

[content note: we're going to discuss a bunch of anti-trans prejudice here]

Okay, you guys, we need to talk about "the Christian response" to transgender people.

Because I read this article, When the Transgender Issue Comes Home, and this needs to stop.

The writer, Josh Bishop, explains that his "sister" has just come out as a transgender man, and Bishop is giving some advice on how Christians should address this "issue."

Basically, the issue of whether trans people can even exist. Bishop speaks of the need for a "response," how the "response" is unavoidable because you have to use either "he" or "she" to talk about him.

And Bishop says he decided he "would call my sister by her new name, Jace. Yet we haven’t transitioned to masculine pronouns, because we can’t refer to her as a man without embracing the claims about sex and gender that make possible her transgender identity."

You guys. If someone asks you to quit calling them "she" and start using "he" and you refuse, you just keep going on with "she" this and "she" that, even though he TOLD YOU TO STOP, we have a word to describe that. It's mean. That's just mean.

That's not standing up for God's truth or anything of the sort. That's just mean.

And speaking of God's truth, this whole article is based on the assumption that oh, we all know that "the transgender issue" is obviously wrong and sinful. There are a few bible verses thrown in here and there, but none of them say, "God made them male and female, which means whichever genitals you have determine what gender you should present as and it's a sin to step outside of that box."

Because, you know, we all know this is wrong. And we should respond to transgender people with our rock-solid ideas and lack of experience and say "no no no, you are wrong. I understand you better than you know yourself."

And don't let actually getting to know trans people change your view! Oh no, wouldn't want to be led astray by emotions like love and compassion! SERIOUSLY???? "Don’t respond only according to personal experience or feelings. Many people 'evolve' in their beliefs about gender and sexuality when someone they know and love comes out of the closet. Yet we must be careful to allow God’s revealed truth to shape how we understand our experiences, rather than the other way around."

In other words, we already know we're right and you're wrong, and we will not listen.

I guess it was pretty clear which direction this article was going to go when, near the beginning, Bishop asked, "How do we resolve the tensions between loving my sister on the one hand, and, on the other, training up our children in the way they should go?" 

Umm... so... why the hell are you trying to teach your children something that's in conflict with "love"?

But oh... oh it gets worse.

He's cutting his trans brother out of his children's lives. In a loving, Christian way, of course.

Oh, you guys. Writing this post, I tried to be nice at first, and then I switched to sarcastic, and now I'm just sad.

Because nothing says "I love you" like "your very existence is harmful to our children and we will not let them meet you ever."

But here's the thing, and maybe this is even sadder. "Good Christians" who do this ACTUALLY GENUINELY BELIEVE THEY ARE BEING LOVING. They really do love those "sinners." They really care about them a lot and feel a lot of love towards them. Bishop says that to respond to this "issue," you must "begin with love" and I really do believe he loves his trans brother.

But the attitude of "I already know the right answer and God agrees with me and I know your life and what you should do better than you know yourself" just completely ruins it.

That's not love, you guys.

That's not love. 

Run, run as fast as possible from any religion that defines love that way.

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See also Libby Anne's response: So This Is Love.

And this video, which gives some actual useful information about being trans:


Monday, July 7, 2014

Blogaround

Image source.
1. What makes a word “real”? (posted June 19) "I’m struck as a teacher that we tell students to critically question every text they read, every website they visit, except dictionaries, which we tend to treat as un-authored, as if they came from nowhere to give us answers about what words really mean."

2. Index to Creationist Claims. I've never seen all this stuff addressed so systematically and thoroughly. This is a really eye-opening site for me.

3. Young Earth Creationism Isn’t Science (posted June 28) "When doing science, you have to be willing for your hypothesis to be wrong."

4. Sex-ed for the religious right: Conception does not occur at ejaculation (posted July 1) "But this, um, misconception fuels a lot of the opposition to emergency contraception in the US."

5. Hobby Lobby Wasn't About Religious Freedom. It Was About Abortion. (posted Jun 30) "Basically, he's making the case that abortion is unique as a religious issue. If you object to anything else on a religious basis, you're probably out of luck."

6. How to Breastfeed Appropriately (posted July 1) "Real life stories: 'I saw a woman breastfeeding in a park and was overcome with desire. I left my wife the same day.' - John, 34, Nebraska"

7. God Loves Human Beings (posted June 18) "While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction. God has no patience with our dividing the world and humanity according to our standards and imposing ourselves as judges over them."

8. This video (h/t to Shaney Irene)



9. 'Seinfeld' at 25: Five reasons nothing is everything (posted July 5)

10. And Bad Theology Beaver.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Leaving purity and knowing the "right answer"

Image source.

I have a lot to say about purity culture. It's all about shame and fear, it says a lot of things about God which it has no business saying, it promises a happily-ever-after which is totally not realistic, and basically makes everyone feel like they ruined their whole life by having a crush.

But.

Should people have sex before marriage or not, Perfect Number? Well, best to not. Because, like, God wanted it to be for marriage. And what if it makes you too attached to the person, and then you break up? And you could get pregnant. And and and...

But the truth is, I'm just saying those things because subconsciously, I can't let go of "the right answer," which is of course NO.

Basically, I'm terrified.

I know the right answer has to be NEVER have sex when you're not married. Because it's just far far too scary to think about the alternative. So I grasp around for arguments, but they're just a smokescreen. I can't bear to consider the idea that it could be okay to have sex.

In my heart I still fear that it's true: What if I have sex and regret it for the rest of my life? What if it makes me dirty and broken? What if it means married sex won't be special?

What if purity culture was right?

I know "the right answer"- or rather, the only answer I'll allow myself to think about this topic. There's so much I hate about purity culture, so much we should get rid of, but I can't imagine rejecting this one "right answer."

Is it all connected? Is it true that as long as I believe this is "the right answer," I won't be able to develop an outlook on dating free from fear and shame?

In theory, I don't believe in purity culture. But in practice, I'm too scared to let it go.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Could he really accept me as I am? I mean, REALLY ACCEPT.

Image source.


"Come as you are", right?

We read in the bible about how Jesus accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes. Isn't that great. He accepts everyone.

But.

But. When I was a "good Christian" I totally believed that Jesus wants everyone to come as they are, and he accepts them, BUT. But then, you know, after meeting Jesus and starting to follow him, they would change, you know, change so they agreed with the "good Christian" view of things.

Throw open the doors, everyone is welcome! But once they're in, they'll realize the error of their ways, they'll realize how they were so wrong, and they will change to fit in with the party line.

That's "God's work in their lives."

He accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes. Of course. Which means when they first came to Jesus, it was perfectly fine for them to be tax collectors and prostitutes. But surely they would not stay that way. No, that wouldn't be okay.

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And they say Jesus loves me and accepts me as I am. But I don't want that.

Perfect Number, he accepts you as you are, and he will guide you and give you time and help you to change into a "good Christian."

He'll take you back to the way you were before, forgiving all this straying, all this questioning and the blasphemous things I've said on my blog.

Yes, he accepts you as you are, even though you don't believe in purity, and you don't oppose gay rights, and you *gasp* have even been deceived into thinking abortion might sometimes be okay.

It's okay, Perfect Number. Come back to Jesus.

And I fear that's the deal. And that's why I don't want to come back to Jesus.

I won't give him everything. I don't surrender. Obedience to God is not the highest thing in my life.

You guys, I want love to be the highest thing.

And life. And freedom.

And no matter what Jesus says, I won't go along with anything that is, as far as I can tell, incompatible with love and life and freedom.

It was easier back when I belonged to God and God only. There was always one clear answer. But now I exist in opposition to that god, rebellious toward him.

And they say yes, he loves me so much, and he accepts me no matter what.

Would he accept me if I never change? Would it be okay if I go on believing all this crap about feminism, if I spend my whole life arguing that yes, a person can be Christian and support issue XYZ, if I never have a single regret about the "impure" things I do with my boyfriend...

They say he accepts us as we are. But if that means he accepts that yes, beginners are going to be kind of clueless and they need a lot of work, then no deal.

Then I'll keep Jesus at arm's length. And I'll keep wishing I could be with him, but I'm sorry, love comes first.

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