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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Honest Advent: Introduction

Advent wreath with candles. Image source.
So I want to do something for Advent. I miss the whole "daily devotional" thing I used to do when I was in a relationship with God. You know, the whole "sitting alone and reading the bible and feeling vague encouraging feelings." Feeling positive about big abstract concepts like hope or expectation or "God is with us" or "getting ready."

I miss those feelings. But I can't pretend they're real anymore. Like what does that even mean, "getting ready" and all that overspiritualized stuff, that relationship with God where I took English words on a page and treated them like they came straight from God to me and definitely had something important to say about my life today- when in reality, they were written thousands of years ago, in a different culture, in a different language, and the idea that I can spend 10 minutes and easily understand them and come away with some positive life lesson to carry me through the day is just completely laughable. So individualized, like I was creating my own little world where God talked to me and I couldn't necessarily tell other people about it because it sounded too weird. Those vague uplifting feelings and imaginings... there's no place for them in the Christianity I follow now, which is about justice and love as it plays out in the real world, in society, in the way people treat each other.

And I don't have a relationship with God anymore, mostly because it makes no sense to imagine that God communicates with me directly and intervenes in my life to help me, but allows structural inequality to exist in the world. It's appalling to imagine that a world in which God is constantly intervening to help people is a world where white men have more privilege and power than other groups (I'm talking about the US specifically here).

But I miss that, and I want to do something for Advent.

So here's the deal: I'm calling it Honest Advent. A few times per week, I'll read a bible passage and blog about it. I won't try to force myself to manufacture feelings of "oh this is so deep and inspirational"; no, I will be honest.

I got a list of Advent readings from this site. The one for today (Sunday, November 27) is Romans 13:11-14.
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
All right, first of all, it seems this passage was picked as an Advent reading because it's sort of about getting ready for some big "salvation" thing that's coming, and we're supposed to tie that in to how we're waiting and preparing for Jesus' birth. But that's not really what Romans 13 is talking about. The beginning of Romans 13 is about submitting to the government, and then there's this part which is one of my FAVORITE bible passages EVER:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
I LOVE this. This is basically my hermeneutic for reading the whole bible. I do NOT see bible interpretation as a complicated intellectual process of studying context and original language with the goal of compiling a list of which biblical commands "apply to us today" which we MUST cling to regardless of how arbitrary they seem, regardless of whether they help or harm people in the actual real world. (But that's how evangelicals view the bible.)

No- in my hermeneutic, the point is love. I no longer believe that God commands us to do things which may or may not seem nonsensical and arbitrary but we aren't qualified to say if they're right or wrong and we just have to obey God regardless. No. I believe that, as Jesus said, "by their fruit you will know them." I believe we are capable of saying "the bible commanded that, but it's horrible, so no, we're not going to obey it." We don't need to study ancient cultures to try to figure out what the original meaning was, to try to find some kind of biblical justification for why awful, anti-human commands from God don't "apply to us today." No. Love does no harm to its neighbor.

ANYWAY so that's what's going on in Romans 13, it's not about Christmas at all, so the choice to call this an "Advent reading" is getting a bit of side-eye from me.

Moving on. The passage says "our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." I wonder what that means. Like, if you think this is an "Advent reading" (which I don't) then it sounds like it means Jesus will be born soon. If you subscribe to the "the bible just fell from heaven and is totally all about my current situation" philosophy (which I don't, but that's how evangelicals treat the bible, even though if asked directly, they would say of course that's not what the bible is) then it sounds like it means "the second coming" will happen soon- but I never bought into that "second coming" stuff.

I'm guessing "salvation" here means something completely different from what 21st-century evangelical Christians take it to mean. Maybe it means their real-world problems will get better, in the real world. Maybe Paul thought "the second coming" was soon, but he was wrong. Who knows. More research is needed.

Anyway it seems like the point of this passage is to encourage the readers to keep doing what they're doing, because good things are coming. And maybe the "good things are coming" is just baseless hope, like when people say "it'll be okay" when they actually have no evidence that "it'll be okay." Question: Is this "baseless hope" a bad thing? I think it's not necessarily a bad thing. What do you think?

And then there's a list of sinful things you shouldn't do: "not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." Blah blah blah, I'm not really a fan of how so many of these are related to sex, because too many evangelicals treat the bible like it's a book of rules for other people's sex lives. As if sex is the worst sin. Note: sex itself is NOT a sin. And for more on this, read my post about "sexual immorality" and this post about why I don't think premarital sex is a sin.

And that last bit, "do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh"- whoa, that raises HUGE red flags for me. Totally do not agree with that. Sounds like the Christianity that claims it's wrong for our bodies to be bodies, to have needs, to have desires, like we're supposed to just suppress that and pretend our bodies don't matter. And I'm not even just talking about sex- I used to believe it was wrong for me to desire any "selfish" thing really strongly. If I wanted it so much that not having it actually affected me emotionally, well then, that means I'm not "content in God" enough. Yeah. Really NOT OKAY with that verse. Not cool.

All right, that's all I got. No vague positive feelings, no sense that "God spoke to me." Just my opinions on these verses from Romans 13. (lolololol just realized I'm opening myself up to accusations that everything I have to say about the bible is automatically invalid because I'm not reading it "with the Holy Spirit." Chapter and verse. lol okay whatever. I know I'm a Christian, I don't need other people to approve of the way I read the bible.)

Happy Advent everyone!

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