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Monday, March 30, 2015

Blogaround

"u lucky he holdin me back." Image source.
1. The Price of Shame (posted March 21) TED talk by Monica Lewinsky. It's fantastic.

2. Monogamy Isn’t Biblical, It’s Roman (posted March 24) "Indeed, the entire Old Testament is, to my knowledge, bereft of any suggestion that marriage is only to be between one man and one woman. Instead, polygamy is treated as normal and accepted and, for the wealthy and powerful, even expected."

3. A Conversation Between The Two People I Assume Design All Restaurant Bathrooms (posted March 25)

4. Everyone's Trying Really Hard Not to Call the Germanwings Co-Pilot a Terrorist (posted March 27) "White people can't be terrorists."

5. Duck Dynasty’s loveless ethics and ... the Aristocrats! (posted March 26) "What Robertson is telling us — proudly! — is that there is one, and only one reason that he personally refrains from breaking into a family’s home, raping and murdering the children, decapitating the wife, and castrating the husband."

6. Let's get this straight: depression does not make people a danger to society (posted March 29) "By casually linking depression, in general, with the nightmarish image of a devastating plane crash, and by suggesting that it was dangerous for Germanwings to employ someone simply for having depression, it sent a worrying message."

7. Dear Christianity, I Have a Few Questions (posted March 23) "Save your Bible verses and your doctrines about original sin and utter depravity. You had one job. I don’t trust you anymore."

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What do we do when Christians slander us like this?

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Charisma News has an article up about Rachel Held Evans joining the Episcopal church, and it pretty much hits all the buzzwords about how sad it is that someone is leaving evangelicalism (umm... being Episcopal doesn't mean you're not evangelical). Cafeteria Christianity? Check. Basing one's beliefs on how it makes us feel? Check. This is the worst crisis in recent church history? Check. God's clear commandments? Check. Beliefs motivated by fear of being called "intolerant"? Check.

Wow, I'm shocked that they couldn't find a way to work in "picking and choosing."

It's not true. It's just not true at all. The reason Evans, and me, and tons of other Christians have changed their beliefs has nothing to do with wanting to fit in and not obey God. It's just not true at all.

But I'm tired of having to say it's not true.

Should I just give up?

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We could say, hey, this is Charisma News. They're so far to the extreme conservative end. (I really appreciate this blog post: 5 Reasons Why Reading Charisma News Might Be Toxic For Your Faith.) Don't worry about them. Most evangelical Christians won't treat us like that.

But this isn't just an isolated thing. Judging other Christians and declaring who is and who is not a "real Christian" is a super-important part of being evangelical. This article from Charisma just says it in a much more blunt and impolite way.

In my experience in American evangelical Christian culture, it was common to hear people make statements about someone who is not a "real Christian." Maybe they wouldn't say it so directly- they would say "falling away" or "led astray" or some other kind of Christianese. I don't know if everyone at church bought into that or not, but here's the thing: I never saw anyone stand up and say, no that's not true, and how dare you bear false witness against another Christian.

This is what I was taught. This is what I did. We called it "defending the faith" and it was all about judging people. Even though I had never heard of Charisma News back then, even though this article is way more direct in its lies than most evangelicals would be, this is not some kind of meaningless fringe belief. This is the core of American evangelical Christianity.

So... just... what are we supposed to do with this? How can evangelicalism insist on being this way? Evans has been carefully presenting her way of thinking for years, proving step-by-step that she is not a "cafeteria Christian" and all those other slanderous things from the article. And tons of other Christians have done the same.

It's past the point where they can use ignorance as an excuse, isn't it? It's far, far past the point where we can cut evangelicalism some slack because we understand how hard it is to accept such a revolutionary new idea- that loving Jesus is not the same thing as agreeing with every opinion on a checklist.

I mean, I want to say I get it, I've been there. That's what I was taught, and it took a long time to realize it was bullshit. I know it's hard to come out of that. But the leaders of evangelicalism, and the writers of Charisma News (and WORLD magazine), have now had more than enough time.

They don't want us. That's the only explanation. No matter what I say or do, no matter what kind of case I make or what the actual truth is on whether or not I love Jesus and would lay down my life for him, they already know I'm not a real Christian, and that's that.

I still believe in the body of Christ. I want so much to go to church. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you," am I right? So I haven't said that. But the leaders of evangelical Christianity have.

-------

On a more positive note, I love this bit of the interview that Evans gave:
Q: Many evangelicals criticize the liberal theology of the Episcopal Church, even claiming that it is now outside of orthodox Christianity. What say you?

A: Every Sunday morning, I stand in my Episcopal church and join in a chorus of voices publicly affirming the Apostle’s Creed. Together, we declare that there is a good and almighty God who is the creative force behind all things seen and unseen; that this God is One, yet exists as three persons; that God loved the world enough to become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, taught, fed, healed and suffered among us as both fully God and fully human; that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born to Mary; that he was crucified on a Roman cross and buried in the ground; that after three days dead, Jesus came back to life; that he ascended into heaven and reigns with God; that he will return to bring justice and restoration to our broken world; that God continues to work through the Holy Spirit, the church and God’s people; that forgiveness is possible, resurrection is possible and eternal life is possible.

If that’s not Christian orthodoxy, I don’t know what is.

Yes! She's like [slight paraphrase] "I have no idea what this question is talking about, we believe in Jesus and all that jazz, why would anyone say this isn't Christian orthodoxy?"

Nice.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chinese Pizza Hut is a Nice Restaurant


I took my boyfriend out on a super-romantic date at Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut in China is a legit nice restaurant. Check it out.

A few pictures of the outside:

The Chinese name for Pizza Hut is 必胜客 [bì shèng kè].


Here is the inside of the restaurant:


No chopsticks here.

Here's the front cover of the menu. The slogan for the Chinese side of Pizza Hut is "Pizza and More."



This menu shows the deals they're doing each day of the week. You can buy a certain dinner package for 2 people at a discount.


Here's the page in the regular menu about the meal packages. My boyfriend and I bought this one for 149 RMB. It included a choice of one regular pizza or one pan pizza plus another main dish, appetizer, soup, salad, drink, and ice cream.


Some more pictures from the menu. There are a few pages about all different kinds of pizza you can get.


Here's the alcohol menu.



Here's the pasta menu.


Here's the steak menu.



Hooray, our food came! First, they brought drinks. Here's my milk tea.


Potato salad! You guys! I rarely encounter people who even know what potato salad is. YOU GUYS. This potato salad was the best. (By which I mean, very normal American-style potato salad. Plus bacon bits.)


We got potato soup too:


Here are our little chicken skewer things, wrapped in bacon:


Fried rice. (The bowl had a funny angle in its design, so it's hard to get a sense of what it looked like from 2D photos...)



Very small pan pizza. Hawaiian pizza, you guys. (Chinese Pizza Hut tastes the same as American Pizza Hut.)



Ice cream:


Very small spoon.
I didn't eat the whole pizza so I got a box for it. My boyfriend actually didn't eat any of this pizza at all- he doesn't like cheese. Chinese cooking doesn't really ever use cheese.


That's all. :) The whole meal cost 149 RMB, which is about $25. And that's actually what it cost. Not like on American menus, where it says $10 but you know after tax and tip it's going to be like 12 or 13. That's actually one of my favorite things about China- the price it says is the price it actually is.

I had a great time at Chinese Pizza Hut. It's nice having real American food.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

So. Demons.

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Libby Anne has a good post up about believing in demons. She talks about the recent news story where Arkansas state representative Justin Harris "rehomed" his two adopted daughters with a man who then sexually abused them. Apparently, Harris made this decision because he believed the two girls were possessed by demons.

Libby Anne then talks about her own experiences as an evangelical, believing in demons. She says that her parents taught that demons are actively involved in our lives, and her mother even believed her sister's migraine was caused by a demon in her. Throughout her entire childhood, Libby Anne was terrified of demons.

Wow, I'm really glad I missed out on that whole teaching. I can totally see how, as Libby Anne says, it's traumatizing to a child to teach them the world is full of demons. And that it's their responsibility to really really really believe in Jesus, or else the demons might get them. Just, wow, that's awful.

This is an example where evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity teach the same thing, in theory, but the fundamentalists are the ones who actually live like they believe it. (My background is evangelical Christianity, and Libby Anne's background was definitely more conservative than mine, though as far as I know, she refers to it as evangelical rather than fundamentalist.)

In the evangelical Christian culture I come from, we believe in demons, you know, theoretically, but I never heard anyone actually claim a specific event in their own life was caused by a demon. Occasionally someone would tell a secondhand or thirdhand anecdote about encountering a demon, but it was always in a different country not full of white people, or perhaps in the US but in a camp in the middle of nowhere. Apparently some missionaries can sense the "spiritual darkness" when they're in certain cities in Africa or whatever. Lots of wild stories like that. We all believed them- or at least, it seemed to me like everyone believed them. I never heard anyone at church question them. It was common knowledge that in other countries, missionaries sometimes encounter demons.

It was always some bizarre, impossible-to-verify story from a foreign place. I never heard anyone say "I think my illness was caused by a demon." Never that close to home.

(Except one time. At a Christian conference, I met a student from a different college, who told us about how one night, her roommate had been possessed by a demon, and they stayed up all night ordering the demon to leave, in Jesus' name. I listened with rapt attention- wow, finally this was evidence that demons do exist. An actual firsthand account, not some urban legend repeated at church. At that time, I was really really interested because I was looking for evidence that the spiritual world existed. My faith/doubt were always being pulled between two options: conservative "the bible is inerrant" Christianity, or atheism. Yeah. I thought those were the only 2 religions.)

But. People did talk about "spiritual warfare", especially when I was in college and was super-involved with evangelism. Apparently, in anything evangelism-related, the unseen spiritual world plays a huge role. I invited my friend to bible study- God gave me the courage to do it! I felt embarrassed about talking about Jesus- must the the devil trying to make me feel bad so I'll stop! Everything good or bad was interpreted this way.

We used the word "spiritual warfare" a lot, but I don't think anyone ever defined what it was. It seemed to mean God and satan are directly causing these specific events in our lives, but... I mean, that's a little absurd, right? To think satan is actually interacting with us. We were comfortable crediting God with the good stuff, but people rarely claimed that some specific thing was literally caused by satan because that just sounded way too weird.

I remember how uncertain I felt, when my friends kept using the term "spiritual warfare" and I wanted to ask, "Wait, so... do we actually literally believe that the devil- you know, satan, the fallen angel himself- kept people from coming to our evangelistic event?" I don't remember whether or not I ever asked that question, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have received a straight answer. There would probably be some vague language about the spiritual world or whatever, but not "Yes, I literally believe satan does this stuff" or "No, I don't believe that, that just sounds ridiculous."

Fundamentalists don't have this problem. If they say they believe in demons, they really do believe in demons. Evangelicals teach the same stuff but won't admit it, or won't take it to its logical conclusion. This is true for a ton of other topics too.

I remember how I really admired my friend James, when he said the reason nobody decided to get saved at this one outreach event we did could be because of some unconfessed sin among those of us who organized the event. I thought, wow, now that sounds really really out there, but he wasn't embarrassed to say it. It sounds so ridiculous, but it's within the realm of possibility, according to the bible. I admired him for having the courage to actually say it out loud. (Who knows, he may have come from a more fundamentalist background than mine, where people said stuff like that all the time and no one thought it was weird.)

Image source.

So. In summary, the evangelical culture I come from totally believed in demons, but was shy about saying/teaching it explicitly. I always interpreted this as embarrassment over how obviously ridiculous it would sound if you actually said it directly.

Right now, personally, I don't really see any reason to believe one way or the other about the existence of demons. Maybe they do exist. Sure. Whatever. But I would never explain something that happened in my own life as being caused by a demon. So while theoretically I suppose they could exist, in a practical sense I don't believe in them.

For people like Libby Anne, who have been affected in such harmful ways by the belief in demons, oh geez, yeah, quit believing that. Be free. Don't be afraid. (And if that means becoming an atheist, I support that. I believe God wants us to have freedom and not be controlled by fear. For some people, atheism is what gives them freedom. Go for it.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Blogaround

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1. Leprechaun Traps and the Terrible Lessons They Teach (posted March 17) "Today, thousands — if not millions — of elementary school children learned that it was okay to trap and capture another sentient creature as long as it’s in the pursuit of wealth and treasure."

2. Every Female Character in Every Disney/Pixar Animated Movie From the Past Decade Basically Has the Same Face (posted March 18)

3. Can You Change a Woman’s Mind in the Walk Up to an Abortion Clinic? (posted March 19) "There’s no evidence that activists are succeeding in changing women’s minds. What is succeeding is the one thing the Supreme Court intended: People who believe abortion is murder are able to share that message with those who least want to hear it."

4. Ravens Lineman John Urschel Loves Math More Than You Love Anything (posted March 20) "Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel recently had a math paper—titled "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians"—published in the Journal of Computational Mathematics. You think you love math? You don't love math. John Urschel loves math."

5. one big reason why so many young people are giving up on the Bible–and their faith (posted March 18) "Deliberately creating a culture where the sometimes overwhelming difficulties of joining contemporary faith and ancient text are a welcome and expected conversation and where the outcomes of those conversations are not predetermined." Oh goodness, that would be revolutionary.

6. Why Evangelical Christianity Doesn’t Make You a Better Person (posted March 17) "I cut a long-awaited vacation short and drove 450 miles, getting in at nearly 2:00 in the morning so that I could then get up and be there for all of the events surrounding my daughter’s baptism. I sat through an hour-long ritual that made me sick to my stomach and I smiled and said all the appropriate things and pretended that none of what I was enduring was repulsive to me." That's love.

7. How I learned to stop clobber-texting and love George Bailey (posted March 16) "It would be unjust, they said, to apply a rule meant to prohibit the exploitation of the poor in such a way that it resulted in harming the very people the rule was originally meant to protect." A-frickin-men.

8. Modern Worship Music is Foreplay, Or Why I Hate Going to Church (posted March 6) "There’s a time and place for communal worship, but it seems that modern Protestant, charismatic worship gives us all the emotional (and often vaguely sexual) release with none of the support and follow up it requires."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Feminism 101: Rape

Because the subject matter of this post is horrifying, I will give you cute animals to look at. Image source.
Feminism 101 is a series in which I define some of the terms that feminists like to throw around. My goal is to help those who are totally new to feminism understand what it's all about.

trigger warning: rape

Rape is one of the biggest issues talked about in feminism, because it is so common, and it is so rare for society and the justice system to do justice by punishing the rapist and helping the victim.

RAINN reports that 1 in 6 American women and 1 in 33 American men have been victims of rape or attempted rape. 68% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, and victims who do report are often re-victimized, as people continuously question whether they're lying, whether it was really rape, whether it was their own fault.

So why is it that, though everyone would agree that "rape is a horrible crime!" in reality victims get treated badly and we have all these statistics about how scary common rape is? It's because of a misunderstanding of the definition of rape.

It is widely believed that "Person A was raped" means "Person A was forced to have sex." This is the definition I used to hold, and this is what purity culture believes.

However, in feminism, we would say "Person B raped Person A" means "Person A did not want to have sex, but Person B had sex with them anyway."

(Actually, these definitions could be expanded to include other unwanted sexual actions. Also, some feminists would argue that rape is not sex; instead, it is using sex as a weapon, a way to hold power over another person. Maybe we should say "did sex to them" instead of "had sex with them.")

These two definitions are worlds apart. In the first one, the focus is on whether or not the victim was "forced." Forced? What does that mean? Surely it means that Person B was physically holding Person A down and there was literally no way out. Also, wait, why was Person A in that situation anyway? Could they have avoided the whole thing by taking some precautions, like don't go out at night, don't get drunk, etc? Was it really forced?

This line of thinking examines the victim's actions to determine if there was something the victim could have or should have done differently, and then concludes that maybe it wasn't really rape. After all, the victim made choices that led up to it. (It seems as though anything other than "a masked man jumps out of the bushes" can be blamed on the victim's choices.)

(And technically, it's true- if Person A had done something differently, they wouldn't have been at that particular place at that particular time, giving a rapist an opportunity. But that doesn't mean Person A deserved it, that doesn't mean it wasn't a rape, that doesn't mean that whichever actions Person A had taken were self-evidently risky at the time. And usually when people bring up anything along these lines, it's because they want to blame the victim or somehow justify the rape. So don't do it. The victim's previous actions do not matter. All that matters is whether they consented to this specific sexual action. That's it.)

This conclusion is, of course, horrific. But it follows logically from the definition of rape as being forced to have sex.

Let's look at the other definition, which says you have raped someone if you had sex with them when they didn't want to have sex. THIS IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THING. Now the focus is on whether or not Person B checked if Person A wanted to have sex. It doesn't matter what the victim's previous actions were, all that matters is that they did not give consent, and someone made a choice to have sex with them anyway. (Again, it's not really "having sex", it's using sex to take advantage of someone, to hurt someone.)

When viewed this way, the focus is on the rapist's choices. Oh goodness, what a horrible thing, to choose to have sex with someone when you know they don't want it. (Or when you don't know whether they want it or not. Horrible.)

That's the definition of rape. It's that simple. Does this person want to have sex with you right now, or not? Did they consent or not? (And of course, as all the other feminists will tell you: Being drunk is not consent. Silence is not consent. "Not right now" is not consent. Being unconscious is not consent. Having had sex with you in the past is not consent.)

But too many people are working from the other definition, which says a victim is only a victim if they were forced, thus requiring us to analyze every point at which the victim had a choice, to see if they ever took a step which helped to bring about a situation where someone could rape them.

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trigger warning: yeah, all the trigger warnings about rape and rape culture for this story, it's pretty awful

Years ago, back when I was first learning what feminism was, I was reading a blog post on a feminist blog, where the writer was telling us about a totally terrible blog post she read about a rape. (Because this is getting complicated, and I don't actually remember where I read this, I'll give them names. Alicia and Dave.) So Alicia, who writes a feminist blog, stumbled across a post by Dave, and she became so angry because it's a post about how he raped someone.

Here's how it went: A woman was flirting with Dave's friend at a bar, and she ended up telling the friend where she lived and inviting him to come over later. Friend wasn't really interested, so Dave decided to show up at her apartment instead. She told him to go away, but he didn't. He stayed outside her door, until eventually he was able to force his way into the apartment. She told him to go away. He didn't. A lot of time passed, with Dave continuing to not leave when she clearly wanted him to leave. He even forcibly kissed her, and she didn't try to stop him. Finally she was like, okay fine. She agreed to have sex with him. And they did, and then he finally left.

And Alicia is writing this post, about how she cannot believe what an awful person Dave is, raping someone and then writing about it on his blog as if it was some kind of accomplishment.

And here's me, reading Alicia's blog post, completely baffled at what Alicia is saying and why she's so angry. "That's not rape," I thought, "that's giving in to temptation."

Please, let's just stop and appreciate the horribleness of that statement. "That's not rape, that's giving in to temptation." I'm ashamed to have ever held that opinion. AND I SWEAR ON MY LIFE, THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT PURITY CULTURE TEACHES.

Let me be clear: This is not some kind of misunderstanding of the teachings of purity culture. No. This IS what purity culture directly teaches. This is not an example of me taking those ideas to their logical, unexpected conclusion. This is not a conclusion. This is what was explicitly taught. "That's not rape, that's giving in to temptation."

The books about purity culture like to tell a story that goes like this: There was a girl, and her boyfriend was pestering her to have sex. Because of course all boys do. And finally, because he kept going on and on and on about it, eventually she decided to just have sex with him. She made a choice to give in to the temptation. She sinned and lost her purity.

For those of you following along at home, this is rape. This is having sex with someone who does not want to have sex with you. She was not physically forced. She technically did choose to have sex. But not because she actually wanted to- she was coerced. And he knew she didn't want to. He raped her. What an awful and clearly wrong thing he did to her.

But in purity land, this is presented as a very normal situation which women have to face, a test to see if they are truly pure or not. Of course your boyfriend will badger you forever about having sex. All guys do that. They have no morals. And being "pure" means standing strong against this "temptation."

Umm... How, exactly, is this "temptation" anyway? In the narrative given by purity culture, it's certainly not the woman being "tempted" by her own sexual desire. Really, it seems to me like she's in a bad situation and she's trying to choose the least bad option for her own health and sanity. Her boyfriend is abusing her, trying to control her- she is the victim, how can you judge her and say that she has sinned?

Unfortunately, purity culture has an answer to that: You can judge her and say she has sinned because her body does not belong to her. Sex is not something she can weigh against her other options and decide which one is the least bad- no, her sex belongs to God and her future husband, and she has a responsibility to protect it at all costs.

For more about the awfulness of the "you are not your own" concept in purity culture, read Sarah Moon and Dani Kelley.

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And that's pretty much all the awfulness I can handle in this post. This is, to me, one of the darkest parts of purity culture, darker and more horrific than anything that's happened to me, and you guys know I'm angry enough about purity culture already.

Anyway, here's the point: Don't have sex with someone unless they also want to have sex with you. Otherwise it's rape. End of.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WORLD magazine, this is not Christianity

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So I guess WORLD magazine isn't even trying to pass itself off as "hating the sin and loving the sinner." The contempt for LGBTQQIAP people is just dripping from this article.

The basic point of the article is "you guys, isn't it ridiculous how LGBT supporters keep adding to their acronym? Now it's LGBTQQIAP isn't that the silliest thing you've ever heard?"

Umm... have you spent any time thinking about why that is? Have you perhaps wondered why it might be important to someone to have their identity recognized and acknowledged?

Have you thought about what it means to identify as queer, or asexual, or pansexual, or any of the other letters, and what it means to care for the needs of each specific demographic represented in the acronym?

The bible is clear that we should love people, but I don't see any love in mocking the acronyms that sexual minorities use. Mocking the very meaningful terms which people, made in the image of God and whose diversity reflects God's complex nature, use to identify themselves.

Like, seriously? Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." As the song goes, "they will know we are Christians by our love." This is not Christianity.

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A few other lovely bits from this article:
In simpler days when it was merely an “L” and a “G,” their position seemed stronger because all they had to persuade us of was that some people are born with a hard-wired romantic orientation to the same sex. We were given assurances that if we granted “L” and “G” they would be happy and leave us alone, having achieved total self-actualization and a redressing of offenses against their long-aggrieved identities.

Notice the "us vs them" dynamic going on here. Like, oh these ridiculous gay-rights activists came along and wanted us to sign on to their completely absurd philosophy about rights for L and G people, and we thought if we just agreed then that would be the end of that. As if people who advocate for equality are some kind of nuisance, and we thought the deal was that if we give in a little bit, they would shut up about it. We feel cheated.

(Also, notice the attitude of "it doesn't apply to me, so it's worthless" that's pretty much the basis for this whole article. This is Christianity?)
Then “B” came along, and they had to fairly sneak it in when no one was looking, because claiming that you have an orientation that goes both ways sounds a lot like saying you just like to fool around and you don’t care who with.

Okay, what the hell? That is not what bisexual means at all. I'm a heterosexual woman, does that mean I want to have sex with all men? No, everyone knows that's not what it means. Same thing with being bisexual. It does not mean you want to have sex with everyone. It does not mean you are not interested in monogamy. It just means the set of people you are potentially sexually attracted to includes both men and women.

"They want to have sex with tons of people" is a common misconception about bisexuals, and it's hurtful to them. So basically, this article is lying (yeah the bible has some things to say about that) and is unloving toward our bisexual neighbors. Again, how the heck does this count as Christianity?
In science there is a rule known as “death by qualification.” It is the idea that a theory about something loses its cogency when it gets whittled away by too many exceptions and contrary facts and when you constantly have to tack on new explanations to try to account for inconvenient evidence (evolution theory, for instance).

Umm... adding letters to "LGBT" is not about "making exceptions." It's about being inclusive. Each group represented is different and has slightly different needs. And I believe Christianity is about being inclusive. God loves everyone. God loves lesbian people. God loves gay people. God loves bisexual people. God loves transgender people. God loves queer people. God loves people who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity. God loves intersex people. God loves asexual people. God loves pansexual people. There are no exceptions.

(As an aside: making the acronym longer isn't the same thing as being inclusive. If we use "LGBT" but really we're talking about something that mainly affects LGB people, like marriage equality, and we ignore the injustices against trans people, that's not being "inclusive" toward trans people at all. For me, as someone who's not a member of the LGBTQ (plus whatever other letters you want to add) community, it can feel like a minefield, trying to write something in support of LGBT people, but worried I'll use the wrong word and upset someone. Obviously, the difficulty I may have while writing this is nothing compared with the actual injustice and discrimination that LGBT people face, and if I really support them, I will be open to being corrected when I accidentally contribute to that oppression. So if I say something wrong, you can tell me.)

And one last bit from the article:
My LGBT ["let God be true"] means that even if I am the last person on earth who still believed what the Bible says about the proper use of our bodies, I will choose to believe God over every other word, theory, testimony, report, feeling, persuasive argument, and complicated theology.

Yeah let me fix that for you:
...I will choose to believe [my interpretation of what God said] over every other word, theory, testimony, report, feeling, persuasive argument, and complicated theology.

Yeah, there's your problem. You set your own interpretation up as "God" and then put unshakeable faith in that. Isn't that the definition of idolatry?

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Perfect Number, why do you even care about this random blog post? I mean seriously, its whole point is "wow isn't it ridiculous how this acronym has gotten so long?" That's so obviously silly and ignorant it's not even worth responding to.

I care because it's a post from WORLD magazine. This is probably the biggest news magazine in evangelical Christian culture. This is a big deal and Christians take it seriously. I took it seriously too; back when I was in high school, my parents had a subscription and I read every issue. And I believed it, because it billed itself as the "biblical" or "Christian" perspective on various issues.

But now... now I see the WORLD bears false witness against others, treats LGBT people as an impersonal, ominous force trying to destroy society, and passes that off as "Christianity." What the hell?

This isn't Christian at all. The bible is clear: Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. What the hell are you doing, WORLD magazine?

You can be conservative if you want. You can believe the bible is inerrant. That's fine. You can hold whatever beliefs you want to, but there is nothing that can excuse the blatant lying about LGBT people. There is nothing Christian about the hate I see paraded around by groups like ADF and Focus on the Family- organizations I was once completely loyal to. I bought into all your bullshit propaganda, and you'll have to answer to God for the way you have led so many little ones astray.

Between this "Acronym absurdity" post and this one reporting positively about a guy trying to establish a legal right to be an asshole Christian who puts anti-gay messages on cakes, as if that's the same thing as Christian bakeries getting in trouble for refusing to sell to same-sex weddings, I have lost all respect for WORLD magazine.

This is not Christianity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jesus had some millstone-related things to say about that.

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Good news, everyone! Remember how I was blogging through the gospel of Matthew awhile back, and then I just kind of stopped? I’m finally starting again. Let’s take a look at Matthew 18:1-14

First, Jesus tells his disciples that the one who is like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What does this mean? What particular characteristics of children is Jesus getting at? The only clue in this passage is Jesus mention of “humbling yourself” like a child. Maybe that’s it?

But really, are children actually humble? Children would also argue about “who is the greatest.” Maybe Jesus is saying children are humble because they are dependent on their parents; they recognize that they can’t do everything. Maybe?

Christians like to talk about how we should have "faith like a child" but I did some googling and can't find any biblical reference to support this. Matthew 18 only mentions humility, and Luke 18:17 says we must "receive the kingdom of God like a little child"- again probably a reference to humility. I’ve heard many atheists argue with this "childlike faith" concept that Christians praise; believing everything an authority figure tells you isn’t really a good thing. If Jesus thinks children are better because they’ll just believe stuff without asking too many questions, well, I can’t get on board with that.

Umm but actually children do ask a lot of questions. They are generally curious. They want to know “why?” Perhaps their motivation for asking questions is not to challenge and disagree, but to better understand something that they already trust their parents are right about.

Just like how I think if God is legit, then God can handle us questioning and doubting.

Then there’s this bit about “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Well, that’s lovely.

Children will believe what you tell them, so if you teach them a type of Christianity that views certain groups as inferior, and then they go and treat people badly because of their beliefs... well Jesus had some things to say about that. If you teach your children that everyone secretly knows Jesus is Lord but they choose to not be Christians because they would rather sin, and then your children go off and argue and accuse people accordingly, dude, what have you done? It’s not really the kid’s fault; they’re just repeating what you said. They don’t know any better, at that age. But you have no excuse. If you’re an adult, you’ve had enough time and opportunities to find out that that’s bullshit.

Similarly, I believe we can extend this idea to teachings that are harmful to the children themselves. If you teach that having premarital sex will ruin one’s life, that “your virginity is the most important gift you can give to your husband”, that “every crush takes away a piece of your heart you can never get back,” then WHAT THE HELL? You’re a freakin’ adult, surely you’ve had some romantic experiences, or at least you know people who have... you should know this is bullshit. Seriously, especially that line about losing pieces of one’s heart every time you like a boy, geez, just, WTF? IT’S ALL LIES and Jesus had some millstone-related things to say about that.

If you teach that girls’ bodies are so dangerous and powerful, so they need to be “modest” or else they’re sinning. If you teach that being gay is wrong. If you teach that being transgender is not a real thing. Yeah, Jesus was not a fan of people leading children astray like that. 

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The next part of Matthew 18 has Jesus discussing “temptations to sin.” He says, “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Let me add to that: “If your interpretation of the bible causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”

This is for all y’all who oppose LGBT rights because “we have to find a balance between being accepting and loving, and what the bible says.” Yeah, cut it off and throw it away.

And for those who teach men should be the leaders, and women should submit, and women shouldn’t teach: have you noticed the pain that this causes to actual people, created in the image of God? Cut it off and throw it away.

Again, if your belief in hell causes you to sin by treating people like projects, cut it off and throw it away.

All of Scripture can be summed up as: Love God and love people. And that’s not “love God first and love people second”; no, there is no situation where we have to choose loving God over loving people; there is no situation where we love God by being unloving toward people. Remember what God said in Isaiah 58, about how the people were so religious and they were fasting, but it was no good because “you oppress all your workers.” No, true fasting is “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”

(Can I get an amen?)

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, "whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." We love God by loving people. And if your interpretation of the bible causes harm to people, cut it off and throw it away.

Let me put it another way, just so all you Real True Christians out there can be 100% sure that I’ve “been deceived by the world” and I’m a “false teacher”: I don’t care what the bible says. If a belief actively hurts others, then I refuse to accept it. Cut it off and throw it away. 


Okay, let’s back up a minute. I just said “If your belief in hell causes you to sin by treating people like projects, cut it off and throw it away”, but hang on a second, Jesus talks about hell in this very passage here. How can I use a passage that mentions hell to argue that we should quit believing in hell?

Ah, yes, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look at what exactly Jesus is saying here about heaven and hell, and we will see whether it matches the common evangelical Christian understanding that “all non-Christians automatically go to hell.”

When Jesus says, “It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire,” it seems that he is saying sin causes people to go to hell. If you keep your temptation-hand and so you sin, you go to hell. If you cut it off so you don’t sin, you go to “life.” Wait wait wait... don’t evangelical Christians believe that faith determines whether you go to heaven or hell? Just, do you really really truly believe in Jesus or not? Why is it that, in this passage, Jesus doesn’t at all imply that going to hell would be related to the beliefs one holds?

“Ah, no no, you see, Jesus is talking about habits of sin. Your hand causes you to sin, and you know this, it must have happened many times. If you really really truly dedicated your life to Jesus, then you would not allow that habit of sin to continue. A person who is really truly saved- by faith!- would do what Jesus says and cut out the things that tempt them. Plus Jesus is only talking to his disciples here- he doesn't need to mention the whole 'we are only saved by faith, ie, believing the correct information' thing- I mean, that's obvious. He just needs to remind them about the 'if you're a REAL Christian, you would do this' thing, [you know, because separating real and fake Christians is a very important concern for us].”

In other words, we already know the right answer is “all non-Christians automatically go to hell.” The bible is clear, ya know. Well, except not really in this particular passage, but it doesn’t matter, we already know that’s the right answer. SO, ASSUMING that Jesus OF COURSE would never teach anything other than “all non-Christians automatically go to hell”, we can come up with an explanation for how this fits with that doctrine.

(Determining who is following the “plain meaning of Scripture” and who is “reading too much into it” will be left as an exercise for the reader.)

Additionally, don’t Christians believe that in heaven, everything will be perfect and we’ll have new bodies? So why does Jesus mention the possibility of being in heaven as an amputee? Yeah, based on all these bits that don’t exactly make sense, I’m concluding that Jesus isn’t literally telling us how heaven and hell will work. Instead, he’s saying how important it is to get rid of stuff that causes sin (ie hurts people).

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The next part is the parable of the lost sheep, and look at that, Jesus is still speaking on the topic of children. He says, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

Uh, what? Each child has his/her own personal angel? Just hanging out in heaven? ... Staring at God?

I don’t know, guys. This bit is pretty WTF for me. I got nothin’.

ANYWAY LET’S TALK ABOUT THE LOST SHEEP. (If you haven’t read it, go here.)

So what is the “wandering off”? I always assumed it meant sin, but now I’m not sure. There’s nothing in this parable about the consequences of this sheep’s sin; only the fact that the sheep won’t be safe when it’s alone, which maybe could show the fact that when we sin, we are hurting ourselves too?

I don’t know about that... when Christians use the term “wandering away” or “led astray” to refer to sin, the focus is on how this particular individual is sinning by believing the wrong thing. There are some rare cases when this kind of language is used to refer to getting addicted to drugs (which actually is harmful) but generally it means “this person has changed their beliefs, and now they believe things that aren’t the correct things.” (Which is, of course, what happened to me.)

If that’s the case, then this is a parable about someone who questions what the church taught them, but in the end they realize that actually the church was right about everything and they come back to the herd of sheep. God mercifully allows them to realize “we’re right and you’re wrong.”

Yeah I wouldn’t be a fan of that parable.

I define sin as something that hurts others (or hurts yourself). So if this parable is about the sheep sinning by wandering off, who exactly is this sheep hurting? And where is God’s compassion for the sheep’s innocent victim? And why would sin be portrayed as confused wandering rather than an attack on people who bear God’s image?

Maybe instead, the parable is about loneliness. Maybe it’s about the sheep that doesn’t fit in, who’s not accepted by the others. Maybe it’s about those of us who have changed our beliefs and now we can’t find a church that will love us. And the good news is God cares about that. God knows we need acceptance and love. And there is hope that we can be brought back to the group of sheep- not because we decide to conform and deny who we are, but because “us and them” can learn to accept each other. Someday.

And there is more rejoicing over the one lost sheep who finally found a place to belong than over the ninety-nine who were fine.

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Discussion questions:

When Jesus said the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is one who is “like a child”, what qualities was he referring to?

Could the bible/ one’s interpretation of the bible be something that “causes you to sin”, that Jesus tells us should be cut off?

What was up with that “their angels always see the face of my father” bit?

What does the lost sheep’s wandering represent?

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

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

Next post: Matthew 18 (Matthew 18:15-20)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Blogaround

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1. Duang: The word with no meaning that broke the Internet in China (posted March 6) Oh geez, yes. The word "duang" is all over Chinese social media. It's not even a real word. Because Jackie Chan.

2. How I’m Overcoming Shame in My Sex Life (posted March 10) "When I got married I’d never heard anyone talk about experiencing guilt and shame that wasn’t related to past experiences or regrets. I thought something was wrong with me." This article makes a really good case against purity culture, and then at the end adds a line about how sex should still be just for marriage. So.

3. Christian Hypocrites Denounce “Day of Silence” While Remaining Silent About Pro-Life Version of the Event (posted March 12)

4. 32 Moments In History (As Covered By the Modern Media) (posted March 6) "10 Commandments you need to follow everyday. (You won't believe number 7!)"

5. Scalia’s Embarrassing Question (posted March 11) "The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to hold that the federal Constitution allows for so-called freestanding claims of innocence, that is, the right to be let out of prison simply because you didn’t do it, without any other “technical” violation to back up your argument."

6. 3 Things We Should Stop Doing to the Old Testament (posted March 6) "Many kids who’ve gone through years of Sunday school and youth group Bible lessons grow into adults who have a very different and one-dimensional view of humanity, God, and the Old Testament. When (if) they discover these stories for themselves, or when they’re confronted by a skeptic with the dark side of many of them, they’re surprised and can feel misled."

7. Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out About Race (posted March 12) "When I’m doing a workshop, I’ll often ask the people of color in the room, somewhat facetiously, 'How often have you given white people feedback about our inevitable and often unconscious racist patterns and had that go well for you?' And they laugh."

8. I love this song:



Friday, March 13, 2015

The Best Pi Day of All

Guys guys guys! At the time of posting, it is 3/14/15 9:26 (according to Beijing time). That's 7 decimal places of precision for pi, one of the most freakin' awesome numbers out there.

For those of us who are huge math nerds, this is a very exciting day! March 14 is cool enough, but for 2015, Pi Day is extra special. Not just 3/14, it's 3/14/15.

I made a bunch of small pies to celebrate:

I used this recipe.
Happy Pi Day everyone! If you see any math nerds today, make sure to tell them 3.141592... etc etc etc.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Adventures in ESL

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I teach English to adults in China, and I have stories.

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One of the lessons contained the term "cheated on" so I had to explain what it meant. "It means you have sex with someone who's not your husband or wife or boyfriend or girlfriend."

But ... that's not a good enough explanation. The students have to know how to USE this term. So I wrote on the board:

"A cheated on B with C."

"So, A and B are married. [draws arrow between A and B, writes 'married.'] But then A has sex with C so B is angry."

All the students are writing this down, and I'm thinking, "how is this my job?"

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In a lesson about polite language, there were some examples about using "would like" instead of "want." I let the students practice negotiating using the language, and I hear one of them say to their partner, "Would you like to give me a car?"

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me: "So you can look at these ads, and then talk about which ones you like or don't like."

student: [looks at ads] "... I don't like any of them..."

me: "Why is that?"

student: "Well... I think they're boring... to be honest, I think they would be a lot better if they put Matthew McConaughey in."

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There was one lesson I taught about emergency situations. It had some vocabulary like "calm down" and "don't panic".

So I had all the students write down an emergency situation, so then we could role-play them. One student wrote, "I went to the movies with my wife, and saw my ex-girlfriend there."

Yep, that's an emergency situation...

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I taught them how to play charades. One student pretends to be snorting something off the table, and all the others yell out, "DRUGS!"

Facepalm.

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"I think this movie is a chicken flick."

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In one class, we were practicing what to say when you disagree with someone. Phrases like "As much as I'd like to agree with you" etc. So, I had the students tell their partner some opinion about anything, and the partner had to disagree.

I let them practice a bit, and then asked one student to do an example with me. Any opinion, and I have to disagree with it. He says, "I hate America!!!"

... Yeah. He was totally joking around- he's one of the goofy ones. (And in the past he's told me how he wants to travel to Los Angeles because it's the best place ever.)

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So I put everyone in groups and had them prepare skits. During one of the skits, while one particular student was acting, another student leaned over to me and said, "He looks like Jason Mraz."

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So there's an American teacher playing blackjack with a group of students- playing for US $1 bills printed out of the photocopier. I came over to see what they were doing, picked up a few of the fake bills, and said "Oh cool! ... Yeah, that's illegal."

The other teacher shrugged, laughed, and said, "It's China."

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A student told me a joke:

There was a family of mice, and they came out of their hole to look for food. However, they saw a cat, and they ran back into their hole terrified.

The grandfather mouse stood up and said, "Don't worry, my children, I can fix this problem." Then he went outside the hole and said "ARF ARF ARF ARF!!!!!" The cat thought it was a dog, and ran away.

The grandfather mouse came back inside and said, "See, my children, this is why it's important to study foreign languages."

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me: “Now we’re going to play a game... Okay, so there are 8 students, hmm should we have 2 teams or 3 teams?”

students: “TWO TEAMS!!!!!”

me: “You don’t even know what the game is yet.”

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In a class about negotiation language, I put the students in pairs and had them try to sell their pen to their partner.

After a few minutes, I hear them saying to each other, "Eff your pen..."

OHHHH MYYYYYYYYYY.

Turns out it was supposed to be "if".

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Students were discussing the question, "If you were alone on a desert island and you could only bring one thing with you, what would you bring?"

"My phone."

"But there is no signal, and the battery will only last for a few hours."

"I know, but I want to spend my final moments like this [looks down and twiddles thumbs as if using a phone]."

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So one of my colleagues was teaching some of the students Christmas songs. They listened to two songs and read the lyrics, and were about to do a third song.

Teacher: "You guys have really never heard these songs before? ... They are really popular songs. ... Okay, the next song, you MUST have heard it before. If you haven't, I'm going back to America!!!" [finds song on his iPhone and starts playing it. "Santa Claus is coming to town."]

Students: [blank stares all around]

one student: "Take us with you."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The things I've never let myself say about evangelism

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Both Fred Clark (the slactivist) and Dianna Anderson posted about fear and evangelism last week. Both of them are worth reading; Clark gives an overview of the role fear plays in evangelism in the culture of white American evangelical Christianity, and Anderson writes about her own personal experience with that very fear. I'd like to add some of my own thoughts and experiences.

First of all, there's this fantastic bit at the end of Clark's post, about how it's illogical to motivate evangelism based on the idea of being partly guilty for one's friends going to hell:
* The logic here is that I can incur guilt by failing to tell others how to be saved. Specifically, I incur the guilt of their suffering in Hell. I become complicit in the suffering of the damned.

That only makes sense if the eternal suffering of the damned is evil and unjust. One cannot incur guilt by being complicit in something that is good and just and desirable. The argument here, in other words, is that “Zack” and I, as Christians, have a duty to prevent God from doing evil to people like “Josh.”

Again, the emotional weight of this dramatic appeal tends to overshadow that logic, but the seed of that idea remains tucked away inside all such guilt-based appeals for evangelism. They all depend on — and thus, at some level, teach — the idea that any God who sentenced “Josh” et. al. to eternal, conscious torture would be an unjust, evil God. This is why many of the Christians who are saturated in these guilt-based appeals for evangelism eventually come to reject this idea of a cruelly unjust God — either by rejecting belief in God entirely or by learning to separate their idea of God from this sadistic folklore of Hell.

This is also why many of the Christians who are saturated in these guilt-based appeals for evangelism eventually come to embrace this idea of a cruelly unjust God. Thus, Calvinism.

Yes, exactly. This is perhaps the biggest problem with the belief in hell. (Actually, every time I write about hell, I feel like "this is the biggest problem with the belief in hell." There are so many problems and it's impossible to pick the biggest. All of them are awful.) Christians who hold to the traditional "all non-Christians automatically go to hell" view argue that yes, it is good and right and just for a loving god to send people to hell. However, they also desperately want to get people "saved" so people won't go to hell. So I ask: if it's totally fine and good for God to send people to hell, then what's the problem? Why do evangelism?

They argue that you should go to hell, but also want you to become a Christian so you won't go to hell. So... which is it?

I suppose that they would answer by saying this is an example of the conflict between "justice" and "mercy" (or even "justice" and "love"). Justice says we all deserve hell. Mercy says that's horrible. Evangelicals believe there must be a balance.

Which is just ridiculous. It means they're working from completely different definitions of "justice", "mercy", and "love" than those used in the real world.

I... what? Image source.

Another point Clark mentions is the idea of leaving someone "in God's hands" after you've said your evangelistic piece. This is huge. Christians always say "It's not our job to change people, that's the Holy Spirit's job. It's our job to love people and share the gospel." Let's take a look at what this ambivalence toward the results of our actions means in a practical sense.

I think Clark's post is a bit too cynical; while he's certainly correct about evangelism being motivated by getting ourselves off the hook for our friends going to hell, that doesn't mean we don't love those friends. Back when I was in college, I "shared the gospel" all the time. I was being "bold" and "stepping out in faith", starting bible studies, inviting people to church, asking friends, acquaintances, and strangers about their views on religion. I broke the rules of polite social interaction, I "steered the conversation", I brought Jesus up even when the other person was uncomfortable talking about it. (I can relate to a lot of the experiences Anderson talks about in her post.) And it was, more than anything else, motivated by love for God and a desire to see God do a miracle. (Maybe instead of being afraid I would go to hell, as Anderson says, I was afraid that I would miss an opportunity to experience God's power working in the real world. Maybe I was always looking for evidence and proof and I thought evangelism would bring me closer to those things. And I certainly interpreted a lot of evangelism-related happenings as directly caused by God.) But love for my friends definitely was also a huge factor.

The line "it's not our job to change people, it's the Holy Spirit's job" wasn't a way for me to get out of caring about other people. No, I cared so much, and I worked so hard for God... why weren't my friends becoming Christians? "It's not our job, it's the Holy Spirit's job" was comforting to me because I had prayed and done and said everything I possibly could, and it allowed me to stop and relax and believe that it wasn't my fault. It was God's plan. Apparently. (Interestingly, the idea that my friends are humans capable of independent thought, who have come to hold their own personal beliefs based on their experiences and choices, was never considered. Nope. It had to be my fault or God's fault.)

I remember sometimes we would encourage each other by saying God loves our friends even more than we do; God wants our friends to become Christians even more than we do. At the time, this was comforting to me. But now, well it goes back to the illogic of "it's right for God to send people to hell, but we must do everything we can to stop it!" So, umm, God feels that way too? Then, umm, what the hell?

Apparently this idea is based on a quote from Billy Graham? Image source.

The logical conclusion of "it's not our job to change people, it's the Holy Spirit's job" is that the results of our evangelistic efforts don't matter; all that matters is that we said and did what we were supposed to (which is pretty much what Clark said in his post). I assumed that this is what "faith" meant: I did what God said to, even though it didn't really ever seem to work. (By "work" I mean someone decides to become a Christian. A few people did, during my time on leadership with InterVarsity, when I was a college student, but they were so few, and none of my really close friends decided to become Christians. Certainly I celebrated "small victories", like when someone agreed to read the bible with me, or I had a conversation about religious topics with someone... planting seeds, we called it.)

But it was so hard. I was always taking risks for God, always putting myself so far out there, and not allowing myself to care about any embarrassment or awkwardness that may result. Living in denial of the fact that really, I felt like my evangelism wasn't successful at all.

I remember how, after having a "spiritual discussion" with a friend, I kept going over it in my head for days afterward. Oh, I should have said this, I should have said that... I obsessed over every mistake I may have made. I alternated between feeling horrible and feeling excited about being part of God's work. I decided that it was the devil that was trying to make me feel horrible, because I was doing a good thing.

I know how it feels to plan for a bible study and then nobody shows up. I didn't know how to understand it... I had prayed... had I been wrong when I felt like God was telling me to start this bible study? Being too afraid, or maybe not allowed, to use the word "failure." I had taken such a huge risk, put myself so far out there, that my whole identity was tied up in this. I couldn't let myself consider the idea that it was a failure.

I remember when a Christian friend prayed with me that 5 people would show up to the bible study I was leading that night. I was terrified when he prayed that. I wished he hadn't. Because then I felt like it was on me to try to find more people, invite more people, so God wouldn't look like a failure for not answering that prayer. In the end, 2 or 3 people came, and I hated how I felt like I couldn't celebrate those 2 or 3 and call it a success... I had to feel like it wasn't good enough, because he had prayed for 5.

I remember getting angry at my friends and acquaintances for not coming to my bible study, and thus causing me to be a failure, because I had invested so much of my identity in my evangelism. That's when a red flag went up- how can I be angry with them? The reason I'm doing this bible study is to provide a service to them, if they want it. Because I love them. That's all I can do; I can't force people to attend.

I remember how we used to pray so hard, before our big outreach events. One prayer meeting after another after another. And inevitably, someone would pray "if only one person gets saved, it will all be worth it." Which always seemed to me to be a way of saying no matter what happens, we won't let ourselves believe that this event didn't go well.

One night, I got this strange feeling, and I asked my Christian friends to pray for Will, a close non-Christian friend whom I'd been meeting with every week to read the bible. I asked them to pray that perhaps tonight would be the night he would become a Christian. (This wasn't even on a day I was meeting with him- I had this feeling that he might just decide it on his own.) It was a wild prayer request, a huge risk. I knew it sounded ridiculous, but I had this feeling, and in faith I took hold of it and said it out loud. I prayed that he would maybe become a Christian that night, and one of my friends prayed that I would trust in God's timing, which is TOTALLY a prayer shot-block. And no, he did not decide to become a Christian that night.

Another time, I sent out an email to one of the email lists I was on, with information about a bible study group I was starting. A random person called my cell phone and said she was interested in coming. I was so happy- clearly this is God working! I told my Christian friends about this amazing thing, how God was moving in my life and random-person's life. Celebrate! Then she never actually came to the bible study, and I had no idea how to feel about that.

Every small sign of something going well was an act of Almighty God. The bits that didn't go so well... maybe they were my mistakes, and I could learn from them and do better next time. Maybe it was the devil, trying to sabotage God's work. Everything had to be such a massive big deal. I was part of a battle. I was fighting every day, devoting myself to God, reading the bible every morning, forcing myself to have awkward conversations with my "unsaved" friends and acquaintances.

I did everything I possibly could for Jesus, and, since the results were a mixed bag, all I had was the faith that this is what God wants me to do. I so desperately wanted to know if God could see how hard I was working, if God cared about it.

And there were feelings I've never been able to put words to, questions I've never been able to ask. There are things I did, risks I took, that I knew were completely absurd, so far out of my comfort zone... On the one hand, evangelical Christianity praises that kind of behavior. Yes, do wild stuff that makes no sense for God! That's what faith is! But on the other hand, who could I possibly talk to, when I did something ridiculous for God and it pretty much failed in exactly the obvious way that the laws of physics and social interaction would predict? They'll preach it from the front of the auditorium, when someone has a feeling and their friend becomes a Christian that day, and everyone oohs and aahs and believes that story. So what happens to me, when I have that same faith but my friend didn't become a Christian that day? Was I wrong to pray for it? What is faith anyway? And who can I possibly talk to about this?

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I was all about evangelism, and it meant I had to live in denial, I wouldn't allow myself to believe that any of this stuff I did was a mistake, because I had prayed about it and done it for God. And you guys... I wish I could say something like "I'm so glad I'm not living that way anymore" but, honestly, that was the closest I've ever felt to god in my entire life. Every single day was so intense, so full of spiritual warfare, battle lines being drawn, tests of whether or not I was truly loyal to Christ.

god was here, god was with me. I saw god's work everywhere, and I prayed on my knees because I thought it mattered.

I wasn't supposed to draw conclusions based on the results of my evangelism. All I had was the faith that this was what God commanded me to do. But that's a god I don't even believe in anymore.

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