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Monday, October 16, 2017

God of Bad Snaps

Football players ready for the snap. Image source.
[content note: abusive Christian theology]

All right, I read this extremely bad, abusive article on Desiring God and, you know, God called me to blog about this crap: God Wounds Us Because He Loves Us.

(You can tell from the title it's going to be bad. It's actually worse than you think.)

Here's a bit from the beginning section:
Sometimes the Lord’s love for us feels like the opposite of love, but that’s only because we can’t see everything he sees. Behind the real pain he allows is an even more real love for those for whom he sent his Son (John 3:16).

The world would never call any kind of pain “love.” The world simply does not have categories for God doing whatever necessary to draw us to himself — his strength, his righteousness, his help, his peace. But his love for us explodes the world’s small categories and far surpasses its weak expectations.
First of all, "Sometimes the Lord’s love for us feels like the opposite of love, but that’s only because we can’t see everything he sees" is pretty much the dictionary definition of gaslighting. Telling someone that they're wrong about their own emotions, and they don't truly understand what they really need, so they need to just trust someone else to know what's best for them. Even though that someone else is hurting them. See, it's not really hurting them, they only think it's hurting because they don't really understand. Ugh. Gross.

And this kind of crap can be used to justify any type of immorality under the sun. Oh you think xyz is bad? Well, God says it's good, so clearly you are wrong. This ideology trains people to ignore their own conscience and simply follow an authority figure. Because they just don't know what's good for themselves. 

(Any time people start believing that the true nature of reality is something other than what we're perceiving with our own senses, you get into some very dangerous territory. That's how people justify killing in the name of God. Oh, it may look like they're doing something evil when they kill people, but actually they're doing a good thing because of these beliefs about the spiritual world which can't be proven or disproven. And the killer might truly, genuinely believe this.)

Also, I love how the writer of that Desiring God article says "The world would never call any kind of pain 'love'" as if his readers are going to be like "ah, the world, they're so foolish, they don't understand how pain can be loving", but, seriously? I read that and I was like "yep I will stick with 'the world' then. Pretty sure causing pain is NOT love."

It gets worse when the article starts giving us examples from the book of Amos:
We see this kind of unexpected and painful love in Amos. God has done everything reasonable to awaken his people to their sin and to rescue them from their rebellion against him, but they simply will not relent.

He withheld food to make them hungry: “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6). God was willing to watch them hunger if that’s what it took for them to hunger for him, again.

He stopped the rain to make them thirsty: “I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:7–8). God was willing to let them thirst if that’s what it took for them to thirst for righteousness.

He corrupted the fields to ruin their harvest: “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:9). God was willing to compromise his people’s livelihood if that’s what it took for them to look to him for all they needed.

Most devastating of all, he even killed their loved ones: One last time from Amos: “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me. . . . I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:10–11). God was willing even to see them die if that’s what it took for them to truly live.
Wow, I mean, God is REALLY BAD AT THIS, huh? Like, you want people to like you, so you cause terrible things to happen to them? What? Does God not understand human emotions at all?

This isn't love. This is using threats and violence to control people. If you can get them so desperate that they fear for their lives, they might choose to beg for help from their attacker. Make a deal with the devil, so to speak.

Also, wtf is going on with the "God was willing to watch them hunger if that’s what it took for them to hunger for him, again"? It's phrased as if God is the one suffering, like we should admire what a noble sacrifice God is choosing to make just because he wants so much to be close to his people. WTF? This is like in the movie "Shrek" where Lord Farquaad tells his soldiers, "Some of you may die, but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make." Y'all realize that was a joke, right? You know that line was meant to show that Lord Farquaad is a heartless jerk, right?

The god described here does not actually love these people. He is not interested in giving them blessings and happiness; what matters the most is that they worship him. If they experience blessings and happiness but ignore him, well he's not okay with that.

There are lots of things in the world that only make the news when somebody screws them up. If they do their job properly, nobody ever hears about it. Like a bad snap at the Superbowl- normally, people don't think about who is snapping the ball, but then somebody screws it up and we all learn his name and blame him.

(For those who don't know football: The "snap" is the start of a play, where the football is originally laying on the ground and then the designated player "snaps" it up so the play can start. This happens maybe 100 times each game. Occasionally there's a "bad snap" which means the player who was supposed to snap made a mistake and the football went flying or rolling on the ground in some weird direction.)

The God of evangelical Christianity is like that football player, snapping the ball. Going along, doing his job well, and he's not happy about it because he doesn't have fans. He feels like nobody appreciates what he does. Even though his work is contributing good to the world, allowing the game to happen- that's not what he wants. He wants fans.

If he is making people happy and successful, but they don't realize it's because of him, he's not okay with that. Because his goal isn't actually to make people happy or successful.

So he starts messing up the snaps. He starts dropping the ball, every single time. The whole team is thrown into confusion, trying to figure out what on earth has suddenly gone wrong and why they can't even run one play.

And his team loses. Over and over and over, because you definitely can't score any points on offense if you never have a successful snap. The snapper isn't doing his job, and it causes a huge crisis. Snapping the ball is one small simple thing that usually goes well and his teammates don't have to worry about it. But if he doesn't do it, it ruins everything for his team.

So they come and ask what's wrong and why can't he snap the ball correctly. But he still refuses, because they're not worshiping him yet. Finally it's at the point where all the players and fans are begging and offering him ANYTHING just PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE we'll do ANYTHING, if you would just snap the ball correctly. And then he agrees, and goes back to doing his job the right way. But if they ever stop worshiping him, he'll ruin the game again.

Because he's not really concerned with how other people feel. He doesn't really want to do good for the world. If his team wins but he doesn't have many fans, he counts it as a loss. If his team loses but suddenly tons and tons of people are paying attention to him, begging him to snap the ball, he calls that a win.

This is a god who's not okay with helping people if he doesn't get the credit for it. He hates it when people are living their good happy lives but not worshiping him. He believes they must be punished for that sin. He can't stand anything that's not all about him, no matter how beneficial it is to people.

That's what we see in those examples from Amos. God thought the people didn't love him enough, so he destroyed a bunch of their things, and even killed some of them.

If you ever meet a god like that, don't worship them. Don't love them. Because they never loved you. They never wanted you to have a healthy and happy life. They just want fans.

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I was called by God to write blog posts in response to the abusive theology of John Piper/ Desiring God/ The Gospel Coalition. Here are some of my other posts:
I knew Desiring God ideology is spiritual abuse, but wow.
"The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blogaround

A bunny sitting on a stack of pancakes, with another small pancake on its head. A cat stares at it with a very disturbed expression. Image source.
1. 'Monopoly man' crashes former Equifax CEO's Senate hearing (posted October 4)

2. Hallowed Be Thy Name (posted September 27) "These words are actually a petition, a prayer for God to act in hallowing God's own name."

3. 5 Reasons for Writing about Polyamorous Families (posted October 5) "It is a vile and, to me, incomprehensible thing that so many people view the destruction of families as a lesser sin than the living out of fruitful, covenantal love between more than two people."

4. Here Are The Cities That Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day Instead of Columbus Day (posted October 8)

5. Voices in Your Head: Evangelicals and the Voice of God (posted October 10) [content note: murder of children] "But when I met someone who was hearing voices in her head, as a young evangelical adult, I thought it was normal because that was the template my religion had provided me." Yep, Libby Anne's experiences are pretty much the same as mine.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

On Zebedee's Sons and Counting the Cost

An exhibit at the 2012 Urbana conference. Students write on pieces of paper at stick them to a giant map of the world. Image source.
[content note: ideology about how you are required to give up everything- maybe even your life- for Jesus. mention of a missionary who was murdered.]

Today let's look at Matthew 20:17-28. First, Jesus informs the disciples that he will be mocked, flogged, and crucified, and then rise again. In the second section of this passage, the mother of Zebedee's sons shows up to ask if Jesus can give her two sons places of power on his right and left.

The part I want to focus on is this:
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.
They're just like "we can" as if it's so easy. And so I want to talk about counting the cost.

When Jesus talks about "drink[ing] the cup", he's talking about suffering. Actually, he had JUST TOLD them all that he was going to be betrayed and tortured and killed. But I don't think James and John (the sons of Zebedee) really *get* it. Just like me when I was involved with radical Christian missions ideology, with all its talk of how awesome it is to suffer for God.

Radical Christian missions teaches that Christians should be willing to give up EVERYTHING for Jesus. And the very very best Christians, the most devoted and godly ones, are the ones who go live as missionaries in some poor and dangerous country.

The very very best Christians are martyrs, because they literally gave their lives for Jesus. But even if we're not martyrs, we're called to live every day 100% devoted to God- die to self and take up your cross daily. And, they said, maybe that's actually harder than being a martyr. Because it's not just a one-time thing; it's your whole entire lifestyle.

I went to InterVarsity's Urbana conference in 2009 and 2012. Urbana is ALL ABOUT radical Christian missions. Ten thousand students stood in an arena and sang worship songs about "I will go, I will go, I will go Lord send me" and "take everything I am, I'm clay within your hands." There was folklore passed around about how "Urbana is where so-and-so heard the call from God to be a missionary." We came there knowing that God might call us to give up all our possessions and dreams and plans and move to some unknown country. And we loved God and trusted God so much. We were ready.

Every day of the conference, there were speakers who talked about their experiences and how much they gave up in obedience to God, and how the results were so amazing and totally worth it. And we attended workshops about the more practical things- how to do evangelism in this or that particular setting, how to know where God was calling us to go, etc.

But they never told us to count the cost.

Yes, they did talk about the cost. They talked about "getting out of our comfort zones" and taking risks for God. They talked about how it's hard if you have parents who don't agree with your decision to be a missionary. They told stories of good Christian role models who made huge sacrifices in order to help others. They said that sometimes people have even died in service to God's call.

But all of this was presented as "yes, it's really hard, and you will suffer, but it is SO WORTH it." Because God is with you. Because you're doing something that really matters in the eyes of eternity, not just living your life for your own short-term happiness. Because even though you'll suffer when you're following God's call, it would be even worse if you didn't- God knows what's best for you.

(Related: If somebody "got saved" at one of our campus evangelistic events but then we never saw them at any bible study meetings or anything afterward, we usually concluded that they "didn't understand the cost" of following Jesus. Sometimes we blamed ourselves for only presenting the nice parts of the gospel and not talking about how one needs to lay down their life. Sometimes we blamed the person who was "saved" for not being willing to really follow Jesus.)

Radical Christian missions's talk of "the cost" is NEVER meant to say "you should seriously consider if you're okay with these costs or not- and if you decide you're not, that's perfectly valid." There was no "whoa whoa whoa slow down, let's not do anything that carries a risk of death, because that is an EXTREMELY SERIOUS thing and shouldn't be taken lightly." No. It was always "it's hard, but it's worth it because you're following God." (Imagine my surprise the first time I read a news story about a missions organization that evacuated their employees because of some epidemic or natural disaster. I thought looking at a situation realistically, assessing the danger, and taking practical steps to protect yourself is something missionaries just don't do. If God "called" you to be there, how can you leave just because you're concerned about your own safety?)

I remember one speaker at Urbana who talked about how her husband was murdered while working as a missionary in the Middle East. And she said even though it's very tragic that he lost his life, it would have been even worse if he hadn't obeyed God's call and hadn't become a missionary. He was living according to God's amazing plan for his life, and that's better than any alternative.

And maybe that's true. Maybe the work he was doing truly was so important that it was worth sacrificing his life. Sure, that's certainly possible. But that's a conclusion that should only be reached after a long period of time carefully considering his particular situation and how he/ his widow felt about it, and the results, etc. That's not the kind of statement you should just throw around as if it's axiomatically true, as if OBVIOUSLY for EVERYONE death is better than never becoming a missionary in the first place. And maybe that's not how she meant it- but as a student in that audience, the message I heard was "don't be afraid, don't worry about the cost, you should follow God's call no matter what because even if you die, that's still better than living a sad and boring life where you're just an ordinary American Christian."

We thought in terms of the story of Jonah: God calls him to go preach in Ninevah, he chooses not to, and God sends a whale to swallow him. If God calls you and you say no, your life is going to suck- it will suck even worse than if you had obeyed God and become a missionary, even though that's a really hard life too.

Radical Christian missions never said we should count the cost and make an informed decision and that it's okay to say no if the cost is just too great. (Please note, though, that it's okay to say no if you can spin it into some kind of spiritual reason, like "Missionaries all need a team of ordinary Christians to just stay in the US and support them financially- that's just as important.")

Look at Jesus' teaching in Luke 14 though:
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."
Jesus says to count the cost before becoming his disciple. In his examples about building a tower and about the king going to war, he says it's BETTER to NOT attempt some big risky thing if the cost is too great or the chance of success is too low. Could it really be that Jesus thinks it's okay for his audience to choose NOT to give up their possessions and family and follow him?

Because, in my experience in Christian culture, when people talk about "the cost of following Jesus", what they mean is that choosing to obey Jesus even though it's hard and costly is THE RIGHT ANSWER, and if someone decides not to do it because of the cost then they are a BAD AND SELFISH PERSON who is TOO AFRAID and DOESN'T TRUST GOD. 

There was never a free choice. And it's not possible to seriously consider whether the cost is worth it, if you know that you're not allowed to conclude that it's not.

In my experience in the feminist/activist blogosphere, people quite often do advise that we should count the cost. They don't use the term "count the cost"; instead they say things like "not everyone is able to give money to support this, if you're not able that's okay" and "some people have to work really inconvenient hours and so they don't have time to attend this or that activist meeting" or "it's totally fine if you're disabled and you aren't able to come to a protest, just help out in whatever other ways you can" or "it's not your responsibility to educate racists on twitter if you don't have the emotional energy for it." In other words, start by prioritizing yourself and your own health and happiness, and then from there you can make decisions about how much time/money/energy you have to put in to justice work. (There's a limit to this "letting everyone decide what they're personally willing to risk" though- if you have a lot of wealth and privilege but aren't really doing anything to help marginalized people, well you're part of the problem. Still, I don't think anyone's saying that wealthy people are morally obligated to give up EVERYTHING, or that it would be WRONG for them to live comfortable lives. Compare this with radical Christian missions, where the ideal is to give up everything.)

Jesus asks the sons of Zebedee, "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" And they said, "We can." It seemed so simple. Even though Jesus had just told them he was going to be killed, it seemed so abstract and faraway. Just like when I adhered to the ideology of radical Christian missions. They talked a big game about how we all need to give up everything for Jesus, like it's this glamorous thing that's hard but always worth it. They never talked about counting the cost. Yes, they talked about the cost- but they never said we should count it.

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There will be a post next week called I Didn't Count the Cost Before I Moved to China.

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

Previous post: The Parable of the Living Wage (Matthew 20:1-16)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The things I've never let myself say about worship

A crowd of people standing up during worship music time. Some of them are raising their hands. Image source.

"It's just you and God."

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My Sunday School teacher asked us, "What is worship? Is it just singing songs? Is it only something we do on Sundays?" And the answer was no, worship isn't music. The correct Sunday-School answer was that worship means doing everything in a way that honors God. It's about your whole life. Living a life fully dedicated to God. Singing songs is part of it, but that's not what worship is.

In my twenty-plus years as an evangelical, every time the "what is worship?" lesson came up, that was the answer. It's not music, it's living your whole life devoted to God.

So then, why did church people use the term "worship" as if it meant "singing church songs"? Why did they say, "So first we'll do worship and then prayer next"?

I believed the Sunday School lessons. I never referred to the singing of songs as "worship"- that's not the kind of thing you say if you believe your entire life is supposed to be constant worship. Instead, I used the term "worship music." (Later, I actually used a concordance and looked up every time the bible uses the word "worship", and guess what, it isn't used as a synonym for "religious songs" and it isn't used as a synonym for "living your entire life devoted to God." So.)

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When I was in college, I dedicated my life totally 100% to God. This was after an experience where I was overwhelmed at seeing God's mercy and goodness, and I was so full of emotion and just wanted to sing and dance and express how much I loved God. For the first time in my life, I looked forward to going to church. (Before, I went to church because of course I go to church, that's what Christians do.)

And so I became that person who sings loud and raises her hands and jumps and dances and all that. I loved it. I felt so free and emotional and close to God. The feelings I had in my heart, about my love for God and how great God is and the amazing things God had done for me- and every week at church, there was an opportunity to shout those feelings out as loud as I could.

I started sitting in the front row so I would have more space to dance around during the worship music time. I wore shoes that could be taken off easily so my feet wouldn't hurt when I knelt down. On more than one occasion, I was at a Christian conference and actually brought a skirt and changed in the bathroom before the worship time, because I wanted to look my best when I was dancing for God but the weather was too cold to wear a skirt the whole day.

I loved it; I loved singing and dancing to express my overflowing joy for God. But at the same time, I also felt a little weird. Maybe a little embarrassed.

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A foundational tenet of the Christianity I was taught was that a lot of people claim to be Christians but they're not really Christians. And going to church doesn't mean you're a Christian- "if you go to McDonald's, does that make you a hamburger?" So I was suspicious of the people I met in church. Were they really really REALLY real Christians, or were they just going along with it because it's their culture?

The sermons on worship said we should get into it with our whole hearts and not hold anything back. So why was I the only one dancing and raising my arms in every song and bowing down on the floor? Was it because other people weren't as godly as I was? Maybe they weren't real Christians.

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I'm a math person. I always liked math classes because every answer is either right or wrong. If I know the right answer, I can prove it's the right answer, and I'm confident I'm right. I didn't like English class because when you write papers, you have to explain this means this because of these reasons, but really isn't it all just a bunch of made-up opinions? What is it based on? What if I say "here's my interpretation of this literature" and everyone is like "haha what, no that's ridiculous, that's obviously not what it meant"? Who's to say who's right and who's wrong? All you have are different people's opinions on what's "ridiculous" and what's "reasonable."

Same thing with art. You can have a piece of art, and some people think it's so deep and meaningful, and some people laugh at it. And I always worried what people thought of my actions during worship time. Maybe they were laughing at me in their heads. Maybe they thought I was weird. I was up front, moving around, waving my arms, dancing, singing loud- I was very noticeable.

I remember one time, I was practicing for this dance performance for a Christian worship night thing- doing a dance I had completely made up myself, with no dance training or anything- I was practicing and showing a friend to see what she thought. And I tried to show her what I'd prepared but I just stopped and laughed at myself because I felt so nervous and weird, doing a performance in front of other people. Like what if dancing is just weird and I should feel embarrassed about the entire thing? It's art, there's no objective measure for whether it's beautiful or ridiculous. And that always bothered me.

But when Christian speakers talked about worship, they said we shouldn't think about what other people are thinking. "It's just you and God," they said. I always heard Christians say that about worship music time- "It's just you and God." And you shouldn't care what other people think.

I always used to close my eyes when I was singing. Then I couldn't see other people, and so I would be able to stop thinking about how they are probably judging me.

Sometimes strangers would come up and give me a compliment about how it's so great that I worship so freely and authentically and with my whole heart. But most people never said anything about it at all. And I worried about that. But I kept telling myself, "It's just you and God, it doesn't matter what people think."

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I discovered that I couldn't move around as much if I wasn't sitting in the front row or on the end of a row. If there were people on both sides of me, I didn't have as much space to work with. I could pretty much just put my arms straight up, but not to the sides.

I knew that it would be bad to wave my arms around too much and make the people on my left and right worried that I was going to hit them in the face. So ... that means I can't just close my eyes and worship freely- it means I have to keep my arms within a certain space and be very aware of the people around me and whether or not I'm close to hitting them. But what about "it's just you and God"? What about "you shouldn't care what other people think"?

This paradox was always a mystery to me. I deeply believed "it's just you and God" but I also felt that it wouldn't be right to let myself move around so much that I risk hitting someone accidentally. But how could those two ideas be reconciled? And the thing about hitting somebody- that was never something that was explicitly taught as "this is a sin." It was more along the lines of, uh, common sense.

The best I could figure was that God loves everybody, so if I'm loving God with my whole heart, then I also have to be nice and considerate to people- that's what God would want. So, I concluded, it's not true that "It's just you and God." Actually, "It's just God." And not hitting someone accidentally is MORE IMPORTANT than freely expressing all my love for God through dance.

It's kind of odd that I spent so much time and mental energy trying to find a justification for "it is bad to be so careless with my arm movements that I accidentally hit someone in the face" but it never occurred to me to see a conflict between the teachings on worship and the teachings on modesty. I was taught that good Christian girls should never move their bodies in a way that could be interpreted as "sexy." So I would wave my arms, shake my head, clap, jump, kneel down, turn around, and step stiffly from side to side. But absolutely no wiggling, twisting, bending, or shaking any part of my torso. That might be "immodest." (Remember, one of the foundational doctrines of modesty culture is that, as a woman, I "just can't understand" what men are going through. So I should avoid these types of movements, just in case some man thinks they are "a stumbling block." Even though I think they probably aren't.)

Why did I never ask the question, "If it's 'just you and God', then how can there be modesty-based restrictions on shaking one's butt in worship?" Maybe because the action of dancing in a "sexy" way (ie anything that risked drawing attention to my torso area rather than limbs) was intrinsically sinful- even if I was alone in my own home, I would be nervous about trying it. Whereas there was nothing inherently wrong with jumping around and waving my arms, it's just an accident of circumstances that somebody's hypothetical face happened to be right there. It was reasonable for me to imagine getting so lost in the emotions of worship that I forget there are people standing right next to me and I have to be careful not to hit them. But how can someone get so lost in worship that they move their body in a way that a good Christian girl should never ever move their body?

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The word I hated the most was "distracting."

My parents' church is way more, uh, tame than the kind of worship environment I experienced with other college students. So when I was home for the summer, I looked even more out of place, in that sanctuary of people who just stood still, or maybe occasionally slightly raised one hand. And my mom had a problem with what I did. And she had a problem with how I cheered and yelled at the part in the song about the resurrection. (You know, the cornerstone of our faith, the coolest thing that's ever happened.) She always used the word "distracting" and so now I get kind of triggered when anyone uses the word "distracting" to describe something happening at church. Apparently I was being "distracting" and it was bothering other people, they can't concentrate on worshiping God, so I just need to cut it out.

My parents said I was singing too loud, I was "screeching." I thought they should consider themselves lucky that I wasn't singing a completely different song than everyone else. Because the song the worship band was doing wasn't one of the ones I felt a deep emotional resonance with, and ya know, "it's just you and God, you shouldn't worry what other people think"- I briefly considered just singing my favorite worship song while everybody else was singing the song the worship band was doing. I never did that though, fortunately. But maybe it was because I felt I wasn't brave enough. Maybe if I was truly worshiping God with my whole heart, I would be open to doing something as bizarre and disruptive as singing an entirely different song than the rest of the church.

But I wondered, what if they were right, and I was "distracting" and I shouldn't "worship" like that? What if it's not true that "it's just you and God"? What if God wants me to care about not bothering other people?

I read Romans 14, about "not causing anyone to stumble." It meant that even though we have the freedom to do something, sometimes it's better not to do it because it might tempt some weaker person to sin. (The entire basis of "modesty.") So maybe I shouldn't worship like that if it's going to bother people?

I read 2 Samuel 6, where "Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might", and Michal gave him a hard time about it, but the bible sides with David, who says "I will become even more undignified than this." (Inspiring this worship song, which I was a huge fan of back then.) So screw anyone who has a problem with the way I worship, right?

I wished I had someone I could talk to. But would anybody else understand? Nobody else was dancing around like I was during the worship music. Maybe they don't love God as much as I do. Maybe they are those fake Christians I keep hearing about. What if they are silently judging me for how weird I am when I worship? No, I can't ask their opinion on whether it's okay to worship like this.

The closest I came to having an actual conversation about this was with my friend Kiara, who was talking about moving and expressing oneself during worship time. She held her hands up at about the level of her shoulders and said "God hasn't been this good to me," then raised her arms up, YMCA-style and said, "He's been THIS good to me." I liked that and I wanted to believe her, but at the same time, I couldn't find a logical argument that explained why certain beliefs about God would necessarily map to certain body movements. How I wished I could say that God is so good and therefore I MUST respond by worshiping in this specific way- but I couldn't.

Kiara is black, and I went to her black church one time and I loved it. From what I've seen, people in black churches get really into the singing and dancing and expressing emotions through worship music. I actually joined a student gospel choir in college, where the majority of the choir was black, just because I wanted to shout really loud about how I felt about God, and a gospel choir is the place you can do that. I had a great time. (Note, however, that in the context of being in a gospel choir, I did NOT believe "it's just you and God" because our goal was putting on a good performance. Which is a completely different thing than just being a congregation member during worship time. ... Wait a minute- how did I never notice the huge contradiction between the teaching that "worship isn't about music, it's your whole life" and "when you worship, all that matters is you and God, don't think about other people"?)

I guess I didn't really know about the concept of culture back then. It was easy for me to assume that people who moved more and looked more emotional during worship time loved God more. Easy to think that people in my parents' (very white) church weren't real Christians because they stood still while singing about God. But now I get what culture is because I moved to China. Culture is the reason that a belief about God might map to a particular body movement- and in a different culture, maybe that exact same belief doesn't inspire people to move in that particular way, and that doesn't mean their faith is any less genuine and heartfelt. In China I don't just barge in and do things the way I think they should go and "don't care what anyone else thinks." Maybe I no longer believe there's any situation where you should "not care what anyone else thinks." Maybe worship was never supposed to be "just you and God" at all.

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It always bothered me when the lyrics of a worship song said something along the lines of "I am doing this specific physical action right now" and yet we weren't actually doing it. A few examples:
If you sing that you're doing something, and you're able-bodied and could easily do the thing, but yet you're not doing it... then what about the part of the song where you sing about how much you love God- are you actually doing that or not? If you can't even be bothered to do some simple gesture, then what about the hard task of living your whole life devoted to God?

If I sing that I'm kneeling but I'm actually not kneeling because like, I don't want to do that in front of other people, they will all look at me and think I'm weird... does that mean I'm not really worshiping? Does that mean I'm not really devoted to God, because my actions are influenced by what other people will think?

If we sing "we're dancing now" but we're not dancing, then that means we don't really mean that part. And to be honest, I always felt like Christians didn't really mean all that stuff we said in church. In Sunday School they taught us that God can do anything and cares about all the details of our lives- so why did I feel awkward suggesting to another Christian that we pray when we were setting up for an event and couldn't figure out how to turn the projector on? Why did I feel weird saying things like "I belong to God" out loud anywhere other than church?

Church people said "a lot of Christians don't actually have a Christian worldview"- which means they say they believe certain Christian beliefs but mostly they just live their lives like they believe the normal things that mainstream society believes- they haven't worked through all the logical implications of their Christian beliefs and how those things should apply to all these other aspects of their lives. And after I dedicated my life fully to God, I tried to eliminate that gap between the way I lived and the things I claimed to believe. (See: #ChristianAltFacts)

And now I write hundreds of blog posts about how much that messed up my life.

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I can't tell you how many times I debated in my head when I wanted to raise my hands, or bow down, or whatever, but I was hesitating. The foundational assumption in all those debates was "if the only reason to not do this is because I would feel weird having other people see, then that's not a valid reason." Like I always have to analyze my motives, and if I discover I'm partially motivated by some "sinful" reason then that means I'm being bad. Now THAT'S "distracting."

One of my friends, let's call him Bob, had a different problem during worship. He once told me about how he felt like he shouldn't raise his hands if he wasn't feeling emotionally compelled to raise his hands. Like it would be "fake" if he did it without having the "I love God so much, I simply must raise my hands, I can't help it" feeling. He said that he was learning it's okay to do it even without the "correct" emotions, and that was helpful for him.

Yeah, because the idea of just going along and singing the songs without "really meaning it" was preached against strongly in the churches I attended. They taught that if you're singing but you're a little distracted, thinking about the things you have to do tomorrow or whatever, that's not okay and it means you are being bad and your singing doesn't really "count" as worship.

It's awful for our mental health, all these rules about which emotions we're allowed or not allowed to have. I know many ex-evangelicals have moved to more liturgical, less "emotional" churches and ended up much healthier there. Because the whole service is more or less scripted out, so congregation members can just kind of follow along, read the words they're supposed to read, and that's good enough. You don't have to constantly interrogate your own emotions and feel guilty over not having the "correct" feelings or not "really meaning it." Just make a choice to show up for church, if that's all you're able to do. And that's good enough.

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I went to InterVarsity's Urbana conference, where we worshiped in a stadium with thousands of students. I always tried to get a seat in the rows of chairs set up at ground level, rather than in the bleachers. Specifically, I wanted to be in the front row of a section or at the end of a row, because then I would have a lot of space to move and dance during the worship time.

One time, during the worship music at Urbana, I saw a group of students coming down from the bleachers so they could dance in the more open space at the ground level. But a staff member stopped them at the bottom of the stairs and said they have to go back to their seats.

I don't think I'll ever forget that. Because of all the Christian talks I had heard- many of them from actual InterVarsity staff- about how we should worship freely and not care what anyone else thinks, and all that matters is expressing your love for God. Then how could a Christian staff member stop people from coming downstairs where they could dance and worship?

I know it's about crowd control. Urbana had over ten thousand students, and when you have a group that big, you have to have very very strict rules in order to keep everything running smoothly. It was obvious that a lot of thought had been put into crowd control at Urbana- I was RIDICULOUSLY IMPRESSED by how they would block certain hallways at certain times of the day so that they didn't end up with chaos as waves of people tried to get past each other in different directions. Seriously, like every conference I've been to EXCEPT FOR URBANA has some kind of badly-planned area where people wait in line and there's a bottleneck and it wastes everybody's time. My mind was BLOWN at not seeing any of that inefficiency at Urbana. Seriously. It was amazing.

So probably everybody has to stay in the general area of their seats during worship time because otherwise you might end up with a huge crowd that gets out of control, and then when worship time is done you have to wait for them all to go back to their seats before doing the next thing and it takes FOREVER, or some kind of reason like that.

So all that talk about "it's just you and God, you shouldn't care what other people think" was a lie? More like "it's just you and God unless you're in an arena with over ten thousand people- then better not stray too far from your chosen seat."

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I never really realized how personal the lyrics of worship songs are, and how unnatural it is to express those things in public. I never thought about it, but I felt it, and I wasn't able to put those feelings into words. We sing about love, about our hearts, about our desires- these aren't things people typically discuss in public where strangers can overhear.

Maybe that's why other people didn't seem as "into it" as I was. Not because they didn't really love God, but because they didn't necessarily want to proclaim their deepest feelings about God in front of a bunch of acquaintances. And maybe that's totally okay.

In a post from 2015, Modern Worship Music is Foreplay, Or Why I Hate Going to Church, Dianna Anderson writes,
Rather, [my objection is to] the lack of restraint that these songs exhibit and the almost total lack of theological depth. Jesus is the “lover of our souls,” “drawing us closer and closer.” We talk in sexual terms about our relationship with Christ without stopping to consider what these terms mean. The music is not only sexual in nature but nearly meaningless in its theology. What do we mean when we’re saying that Jesus is the “lover of [our] soul”? How does Jesus act as a lover? Is that a road we really want to go down?

Rarely do these songs come with explication and commentary, despite being a central part of the approach to God that is a religious service. Modern worship music seems to exist solely to invoke an emotional experience, to prepare us emotionally and spiritually for the sermon and the service. It is, functionally, the foreplay of the modern evangelical service.

We call it centering ourselves on God, bringing us into the moment, but what it does functionally is create a veneer of intimate experience in the midst of a congregation that’s barely on a first name basis with each other. It’s all too often an emotional high without the attendant support needed for emotional vulnerability.

In my own experience, after years of this kind of structure to worship, I found myself unable to function well in traditional, emotionally driven worship places. 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. As soon as I stepped away from that environment and examined it truthfully, I realized that the spiritual highs I reached in communal worship were emotionally manufactured through repetitive, vapid, theologically empty music. I never really connected with my community in the way church is supposed to.
And I think this is exactly the reason that the whole congregation stares straight ahead at the screen with the lyrics. They don't want to make eye contact with anyone else while they say the words "I'm desperate for you." This is why I wanted to jump and dance for God but on some level I didn't want anyone to notice. This is why so many talks were given about "it's just you and God, you shouldn't care what other people think"- because it's completely natural to be unwilling to express such deep emotion where other people can see.

How did I never realize that was the reason?

If only I hadn't grown up in an environment which equated emotional vulnerability and oversharing with godliness. If only someone had said "It's good and healthy to have boundaries- to have personal things which you don't go around telling everybody. Not because those things are bad or sinful, but because they're personal and you have the right to have a private life."

They all saw me kneeling on the ground, crying, dancing, singing with deep emotion about how I am giving my whole heart to God. And then they decided I'm not a real Christian because I no longer believe the "correct" evangelical teachings about hell or the bible or sex or whatever. It hurts even more, because church was the place I expressed my deepest feelings where everybody could see, and now I don't feel safe going to any church at all.

I still love God. But I don't want church people to see. I don't trust them.

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I was never able to understand my own emotions when I "felt weird" for worshiping so expressively. The only narrative available was "some Christians don't worship with their whole heart because they're worried about what other people will think, and that's bad, it means they care more about people's judgment than about loving God." I'm dancing for God, so any doubt about it must be from the devil or from my sinful nature, which doesn't want me to obey God wholeheartedly like this. Therefore I must completely ignore those doubts.

I raised my hands and yelled and danced, and I wasn't allowed to have feelings about the fact that a whole bunch of people at church could see me.

In church, Christians sing worship songs in large groups- but we're supposed to pretend that we don't. We're supposed to act like it doesn't matter if other people see us or not, and that if we have any emotions about that, then those emotions are bad, because we shouldn't care what people think. We all stay in our space and don't make eye contact while we publicly verbalize the deepest thoughts of our hearts.

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Related: The things I've never let myself say about evangelism

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Blogaround

Fiona the baby hippo. Image source.
1. Aladdin Makes No Sense (posted September 28) "Also if the cave says 'only one can enter' but then clearly allows two, maybe it just means that the rules don't apply to Abu. But then how come they all of a sudden apply to Abu when he touches the giant ruby?"

2. omg are you following Fiona the baby hippo (from the Cincinnati Zoo)? She is the cutest thing ever! Here watch this video and see how cute she is. She was born premature and it's really amazing how hard people worked to help her survive.

3. Honest Trailers - Star Trek: The Next Generation (posted September 26) lololol

4. Every Member of Congress Who Took Money From the NRA and Tweeted 'Thoughts and Prayers' to Las Vegas (posted October 2) Vote them all out.

5. A Few Remarks on the Problem of Psalm 22:16 (posted 2015) "There is widespread agreement among critical scholars (including all those surveyed here) that Psalm 22 is not a depiction of crucifixion, and that the Septuagint’s translation of “dig” is incorrect."

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Wish I Was This Angry About Slavery in the Bible

Bible opened to the first chapter of Leviticus. Image source.
I've recently discovered Steve Shives's youtube channel and I've been watching a ton of his "An Atheist Reads" videos, where he reads through various Christian apologetics books and discusses them from an atheist perspective. (I very much recommend his series on The Case for Christ to anyone who used to be an apologetics nerd, like me.)

Currently I'm watching his series on the book "Keeping Your Kids on God's Side," by Natasha Crain, and I just have to share this video where he talks about the chapter "Does the Bible Support Slavery?" (It starts at 30:51 in this video.)


Basically, Crain's book says it's true that the bible talks about slavery, and God places restrictions on owning one's fellow Israelites as slaves, so it's more like indentured servitude or arranged marriages, BUT Leviticus says it's fine to enslave foreign people. For life. Which sounds very similar to what modern Americans think of when we hear the word "slavery." Chattel slavery.

And those of us who are familiar with apologetics books can predict where it goes from here- Crain says even though the bible allows slavery, OBVIOUSLY it doesn't REALLY mean God was fine with it, because the bible says people are all made in God's image. And, this line: "God did allow foreign slaves to be held indefinitely, but we know too little about this particular group to understand why a distinction may have been made." Like get out your apologetics bingo cards and check off "God must have had a reason" and "blaming God's victims."

(Seriously, I am SO NOT HERE for this biblical victim-blaming crap. "Oh, surely this person that God killed for some seemingly illogical reason MUST HAVE BEEN terribly sinful and bad, somehow, even though the bible doesn't really say how, because we KNOW that SURELY God could not have done something BAD." We learn in church to do apologetics this way, and then we go out and argue on facebook "Oh surely this unarmed black man must have been dangerous and threatening somehow, because surely a police officer wouldn't have just murdered him for no good reason, here let's search through his past and invent reasons that he was a bad person." It's the same damn thing. How are white Christians going to believe #BlackLivesMatter when they believe it was right for God to kill Uzzah for touching the damn ark? How can we recognize police brutality for the injustice that it is when we're taught from childhood to excuse divine brutality?)

Anyway, that's an overview of Crain's position on slavery in her book, and Shives is just NOT HAVING IT. He correctly calls it out as disgusting immoral bullshit. Some quotes from him:
I don't know how anyone who believes the Old Testament is the true Word of God could possibly continue to honor and worship and follow that God after learning that according to his own Scripture he participated in the slave trade.
...
Why is this even remotely acceptable to people? How is this not a much bigger deal than it is? If the moral question at hand is 'is it morally acceptable to own another human being as property?' and your God's answer to that question is supposedly 'yes, sometimes', how is that not an immediate and permanent deal-breaker?
...
Here's what really turns my stomach about this- and this is one of the most repugnant things I've ever read in an apologetics book- I know lots of Christians sort of quietly accept that the Bible condones slavery ... they mostly just try to ignore it and focus on the part of their faith that makes them happy, the part of their faith that doesn't deeply trouble them, and maybe that's not honest, maybe that's not brave, maybe that does contribute some harm to the world. But at least people who deal with it that way aren't guilty of proactively defending fucking slavery. Natasha Crain acknowledges that according to the Bible her God condones slavery and she says she's a little uncomfortable with it, but then she starts making excuses.
...
The word 'abomination' appears 76 times in the King James Bible. God's law declares lots of things to be abominations. Eating fish. Eating things that creep upon the earth. Making graven images. As it says in Proverbs, 'A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies and he that soweth discord among brethren,' all abominations to God. Adultery. Homosexuality. Cross-dressing. All abominations unto the Lord, and specifically identified as such in Scripture. Not things that we are left to conclude 'don't meet God's ideal.' Not things with which we must grapple in order to try and surmise what God's feelings are about them. Things which are explicitly identified as abominations unto God. Not among them: slavery.

Never condemned. Never called an abomination. Enabled. Regulated. Not merely tolerated but recommended, encouraged. 'Your slaves shall be your possession, take them as an inheritance for your children,' so sayeth the Word of God. And how does Natasha Crain respond? As only an apologist can, as only someone willing to suspend her humanity and morality in the name of obedience can. She makes excuses. She minimizes. She states outright falsehoods, contradicted by passages from the Bible she quotes herself. She says we can be confident in saying God never supported slavery, three pages after reproducing the passage from Leviticus that says 'buy heathens and strangers as slaves, treat them as property, pass them down to your children, they shall be your slaves forever.'

And she writes this to parents in a book framed as telling them how to talk to their children about these things.

If you excuse slavery- even if only in the context of the long-ago and faraway land of the Bible- if you excuse slavery, and you advise parents on how they can excuse it to their children, don't you dare presume to lecture me or anyone else on morality. And don't expect me to accept your slave-trading God as benevolent, much less as the transcendent standard of good which we all must recognize. I respect no so-called 'standard of good' that allows for the enslavement of other people. 'Oh we don't know very much about those non-Hebrews, maybe God had a good reason for condoning chattel slavery for them.' I don't consider that an exception. I don't consider that an acceptable excuse. I don't consider any standard of good that allows that, much less commands it, to be any such thing. And I have no use for anyone who goes to such lengths as Natasha Crain does to defend a God such as that.
That'll preach.

And as I watch this video, I'm shocked and angry, because of this question: Why was I never this upset about slavery in the bible?

I'm angry because the church taught me everything God did in the bible is by definition good and right. And so when we read about divinely-commanded human rights violations in the bible, we never said "holy crap this is terrible"- instead it was "well maybe this looks bad but we have to believe it wasn't actually bad, of course God must have had a good reason."

It's not possible to do all three of these at the same time. Pick two:
  1. Believe in inerrancy
  2. Read the whole bible
  3. Have a heart
I'm angry because when I read the bible, I never said "this is horrible- no I will not worship this god." Apologetics seared my conscience, with a ****ing hot iron.

And then they said all kinds of lies about atheists. "Atheists don't have morals." "Atheists don't value human life." "We have objective morality and they don't." Eff all of that. If "slavery is fine when God says it's fine" isn't "moral relativism" then I don't know what is.

Inerrancy and apologetics are about convincing good Christians that sometimes slavery is okay and sometimes genocide is okay. I was a good kid; I read the apologetics books and felt no sympathy for the children of Jericho when God ordered them to be massacred. That's why good, godly students of the bible do.

It's disgusting.

I'm angry. I'm angry because I've never been angry about slavery in the bible.

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Related: Abraham's Slaves

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Blogaround

New England Patriots players kneel during the national anthem. Image source.
1. How Harry Potter Parallels to the Deaf World (posted March 7) "It is because ever since I read the very first Potter book when I was a little boy, I've always felt like the author J. K. Rowling were inspired by the Deaf community for her Harry Potter and the whole wizardry idea."

2. It's Been 96 Years Since White Mobs Destroyed Tulsa's Black Wall Street (posted May 31) [content note: anti-black violence] Yeah, I remember this was in my history textbook in high school- we learned about it when we studied the civil rights movement, but I didn't really *get* it. I didn't get how much the white people involved HATED black people- as in, hated them so much that they literally didn't want them to live there as full members of society (and that there are still white people today who truly do hold those same explicitly racist, evil beliefs). The term "riot" makes it sound like a crowd kind of got out of control and it's not really anyone's fault, it "just happened" in "the heat of the moment"- but no, it wasn't like that. You don't "get out of control" and then go pilot a plane to drop burning balls of chemicals on the areas of the city where black people lived and worked. That takes concentration. That's something that's done by people who know exactly what they're doing. Must have been that those white people had wanted to destroy black homes and businesses for a long time, and they finally found an opportunity where society would let them get away with it.

And I didn't get how it must have felt for black people to live in fear of violence. (And actually, that's still true today.) How thousands of them fled their homes after the massacre in Tulsa, and had to go rebuild their lives, and there was no justice- nobody in charge did anything to meaningfully address the great injustice they had suffered. Like, society is just okay with it when people do these terrible things to you, and you just have to move on and deal with it without any help, without any justice.

3. White evangelicalism, 1975: Before the change (3.1) (posted September 19) "Back in 1975, “therapeutic” still meant mostly positive things."

Also: White evangelicalism, 1975: Before the change (4). An excerpt from an evangelical book published in 1975, arguing "But what about the right of the child to be born despite the evil way in which it was conceived [rape]? In this case the right of the potential life (the embryo) is overshadowed by the right of the actual life of the mother. The rights to life, health, and self-determination — i.e., the rights to personhood — of the fully human mother take precedence over that of the potentially human embryo."

4. These are the NFL players protesting today amid Trump criticism (posted September 24)

5. The Washington Post and the Kaepernick Controversy: A Tale of Normalizing Toxic Christianity (posted September 25) "Further, the white supremacist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ Christianity embodied by the vast majority of white Evangelicals is incompatible with democracy and downright irredeemable, and we need to say so. Kaepernick’s Christianity does not need anything from Tebow’s."

And a good post from Libby Anne along the same lines: Progressive Piety and Conservative Politics: On Kaepernick, Tebow, and American Christianity.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Parable of the Living Wage

Photo of workers picking strawberries in a field. Image source.
Today let's take a look at Matthew 20:1-16. In this passage Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who hires workers at various times during the day. When he hires the first group, very early in the morning, he tells them they will be paid 1 denarius for the day. Then he goes out 4 more times during the day and hires more people- some of them arriving in the late afternoon and only working a few short hours. In the evening, he pays the last workers first- and they each receive 1 denarius. So when the ones hired first come in to get paid, they expected to get more- but they also received 1 denarius each. And complained about it. But the vineyard owner says they can't complain because at the beginning they agreed to the terms, and he has the right to pay everyone the same if he wants.

So here's the interpretation I always heard in church: The vineyard owner is God, and "working in the vineyard" means being a Christian. The day represents a person's lifetime. Some people become Christians during childhood ("early in the morning") and serve God faithfully through their entire lives. Some people "repent" and "accept Christ" on their deathbed. But all of them get the same reward- they get to go to heaven. And we shouldn't criticize God for the way they chose to reward people.

But let's try a different interpretation, one that's not so spiritualized. The workers are working for a very low income, and they don't even have guaranteed employment from one day to the next. They stand around in the marketplace and wait to see if anyone will hire them or not. And at the end of the day, the vineyard owner pays them all a living wage, even though some of them didn't "work hard enough" to "deserve" it, by capitalism's standards.

The book The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary has this to say about the practice of hiring workers as shown in the parable:
The manner of recruiting workers is a familiar sight even today. The traveler to the Middle East can observe day laborers who wait beside streets or at street corners early in the morning to be hired by landowners or others who have work for them. One finds the same scene played out in various parts of the world (including the United States) wherever there are fruit and vegetable crops that need planting, weeding, or harvesting by migrant and other temporary workers. Those looking for work stand at a place where landowners can come in trucks and hire as many as they need. 

The laborers portrayed in the parable have no permanent employment, no ongoing economic relationship with an employer. In this respect they differ from "slaves" who have permanent work on an estate. Their lives and livelihoods are less secure than those of slaves, since their employment is seasonal.
The commentary also mentions that "A denarius was considered adequate pay for a day's work, neither generous nor miserly."

Another blog post about this parable says:
But there is also a broader application. The owner in the parable pays all the workers enough to support their families.[2]The social situation in Jesus’ day was that many small farmers were being forced off their land because of debt they incurred to pay Roman taxes. This violated the God of Israel’s command that land could not be taken away from the people who work it (Leviticus 25:8-13), but of course this was of no concern to the Romans. Consequently, large pools of unemployed men gathered each morning, hoping to be hired for the day. They are the displaced, unemployed, and underemployed workers of their day. Those still waiting at five o'clock have little chance of earning enough to buy food for their families that day. Yet the vineyard owner pays even them a full day’s wage.
Because, in the kingdom of heaven, everybody deserves to have enough money to eat. Everybody deserves health care, good housing, etc. You don't "earn" that by being financially beneficial to an employer. No, people already deserve those things, just because they are people.

One might say it's not fair that the people who were hired last got paid the same as the others. They didn't work as hard, apparently. In reality, though, it's a lot of work to be unemployed, or poor, or homeless. And on top of that, there's the stress of not knowing where the money is going to come from for your next meal. Aren't the workers who were hired first in a better situation because they didn't have to worry about not finding a job and not getting paid? It's not logical for them to be jealous of the people who spent most of the day worried they would go hungry.

I'm not saying all jobs in all of society should be paid the same. It makes sense for people to have the opportunity to earn more money as they move up into positions that require more skills. Nothing wrong with that. I'm talking about the opposite end of the spectrum- unemployment, minimum wage jobs, poverty. Nobody should have to "work hard" in order to "deserve" food and housing and health care. People deserve those things already.

Good evangelicals (in white American Christian culture) would say my interpretation is wrong and this is just a parable about spiritual things like "getting saved" and going to heaven. These are the same people who claim to be following "the plain teaching of Scripture" and not "distorting" it. Somehow, in "the plain teaching of Scripture", a parable about money and economics and poverty is, apparently, not actually about money and economics and poverty at all. Somehow, a story where Jesus commends a man who pays all his employees a living wage does not actually have anything to do with the question of whether employers should pay a living wage. Nope, apparently it's just meant to teach us not to be too jealous of deathbed converts.

Sure, okay.

From cover to cover, the bible preaches that society needs to care about those who are poor and in need. But evangelicalism trains us not to notice- trained me not to notice. And so when people say "the bible is clear", they're usually talking about rules for other people's sex lives.

That's messed-up. In Matthew 20, Jesus teaches that people deserve enough money to meet their basic needs, and it's not dependent on how hard they work or their value in the eyes of capitalism.

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

Previous post: White Privilege and the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-20)


Next post: On Zebedee's Sons and Counting the Cost (Matthew 20:17-28)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Wedding Posts Round-Up

A Star-Trek-themed wedding cake. It has the Starfleet badge, cake toppers of a man and woman in Starfleet uniforms, and the words "Live long and prosper." Image source.
HEY DID I MENTION HENDRIX AND I GOT MARRIED THIS YEAR?

As an ex-evangelical, ex-purity-culture feminist, I figured I would have a lot of opinions about experiencing the actual reality of a wedding and all the ways it's different than the "ideal" I was taught in purity culture or absorbed from mainstream society. So I said I was going to write a LOT of blog posts about getting married. And I did.

Here's a list of all of them. (You can also find them in the "engaged" tag.)

Feminism and Traditions
We're Not Doing the Garter Thing
Kiss the Groom
Here's What We're Doing With Our Last Names
The "Groom's Cake" Tradition is So Sexist
I Do Care About the Invitations
I Don't Expect My Wedding to be "The Happiest Day of My Life"
On Perfect Weddings

Marriage in Chinese Culture
My Chinese Marriage License
Getting Engaged Isn’t Exactly a Thing in China
Giving Candy to All My Coworkers Because I'm Getting Married

Purity Culture and Breaking the "Good Christian" Rules
I'm Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage
You know that whole "white dress means virginity"? Yeah, not actually a real thing.
He's Not "My Future Husband"
We Don't Need Anyone's Permission to Love
So I Gave My Fiance the "Letters To My Future Husband"
Worth the Wait?
Now that I'm engaged, I'm all like "hell no" on the whole "wifely submission" thing
I Told Them We Already Live Like We're Married
In Purity Land, a First Date is a Bigger Decision Than Marriage
I'm dating a nonchristian and I want to marry him. Here's why I believe that's not a problem.
I Know We'll Have a Good Marriage, BECAUSE We're Not Pure
On Marriage and Knowing Each Other

What Marriage Means To Me
I'm not sure if a wedding is a beginning or an end
I Can't Write Wedding Vows Without Thinking About Divorce

Monday, September 25, 2017

I Told Them We Already Live Like We're Married

A bride and groom. Image source.
At our wedding ceremony, I read out loud this thing that I wrote. It was about how Hendrix and I already love each other and are committed to each other. We already support each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. We already live together and share everything we have. At the wedding, when we make vows, we're not promising something completely new and different; we're stating out loud the promises that already exist in the way we live every day.

It was important to me to read this at my wedding because it's extremely anti-purity-culture. In purity culture, you can't love each other fully until you're married. In terms of tangible rules, that means you can't have sex or live together until you're married. But it's more than that- there's this romantic ideal of "two becoming one" and that sort of thing, as if the wedding day marks a massive change in the very nature of the relationship. Like it changes it into a completely different thing. Before the wedding, you're not a family yet, you're not 100% committed, and then after the wedding you have fully given yourselves to each other, you're "one flesh"*, having awesome honeymoon sex that's awesome because you waited and all that.

Back when I was in purity culture, I believed this myth about romantic relationships having "phases" which were very distinct and the transitions were marked by big, obvious events. Something like this:
  1. Dating: You need to "guard your heart." You should be careful about loving your partner "too much" because there's a possibility that you might break up and then that would be the end of the world. Allowable physical contact: Holding hands, hugging.
  2. Engaged: It's finally okay to be in love, you don't have to "guard your heart" anymore, because there's no longer any risk of breaking up. Finally you can let yourself feel your emotions, happy emotions of love and attraction. Allowable physical contact: Kissing. DEFINITELY NOT ANYTHING INVOLVING ANYONE'S GENITALS.
  3. Married: Wow finally you can fully love- share your heart, your body, your home, your possessions, your dreams. Allowable physical contact: Sex. But not anything "depraved" like porn or non-monogamy.
Different purity-culture adherents would, of course, sort the "allowable physical contact" differently between those 3 categories. (This is the subject of endless "where is the line?" discussions in youth groups everywhere.) But my point is, in purity culture I envisioned a system where there were strict rules for physical contact with one's partner, and those rules would change drastically, instantaneously on the day you get an engagement ring and on the day you have your wedding. The rules about the physical side were the most obvious part of this "three phases" perspective, but the emotional side of the relationship would also change drastically, I believed. The relationship would suddenly become a completely different type of relationship.

That's not reality though. Here in the real world, relationships grow and change gradually. People live as committed partners for several years before the wedding. Couples have discussions about whether or not they want to get married- the proposal doesn't just come out of nowhere. It's not a fairy tale where you just meet Prince Charming one day and then you're suddenly in happily-ever-after, never look back.

But even though that's not what a wedding really is, I couldn't help but feel like that's what we were pretending. I felt like a wedding is sort of a performance where you come in as two separate people and leave as a couple, as if you want your guests to believe the myth that it is a big drastic change in the entire nature of the relationship. I felt like there was this ideal we were pretending to follow, where we don't fully love each other and share our whole lives with each other until the wedding day. Like, yeah we know that's not reality, but we should be ashamed of our reality and at least put on an act.

So that's why I had to read my little reading at the wedding. To explicitly say that no, we're NOT drastically changing our relationship today. We're already committed to each other, and our wedding ceremony is a way to show the world our love and commitment- it's not somehow the cause of that love and commitment. I felt a bit weird, like I was telling everybody "our wedding's not real, because we already love each other for better or worse." But I had to do it, for me.

Probably none of the wedding guests really understood what it meant. They were probably just like "aww that's nice." For me it was a very anti-purity-culture statement, and there's no way I, Perfect Number, could have had a wedding that didn't include some anti-purity-culture statement. But I didn't mention purity culture specifically. I didn't mention sex. I did say we live together, which I know is quite the dog whistle for good church people, even though it's the most boring, normal thing for "secular" people.

It's important to me that, at our wedding ceremony, I stated that Hendrix and I were already fully committed to each other and the wedding isn't the start of that. Part of me felt weird, like I was saying our wedding isn't real, and that's not something I should admit in front of all the guests; I should at least pretend to follow the "ideal." But that's exactly why I needed to do that. I don't believe in purity culture anymore, and I don't believe the "ideal" understanding of a wedding is one where the entire relationship changes in one day.

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* As a white woman married to a Chinese man, I have some opinions about this whole "one flesh" thing. My "flesh" is very different from my husband's. Like literally a different color and not the same at all. And no matter how long we're married, that's never going to change. We're not "one flesh."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Blogaround

Saturn. Image source.
1. Median wealth of black Americans 'will fall to zero by 2053', warns new report (posted September 13)

2. Cassini: The Grand Finale: Toolkit Wow this is so cool- everyone needs to know about this! Cassini is a spacecraft that was launched in 1997 and entered Saturn's orbit in 2004. Since that time, it's been sending back tons of super-cool photos and data about Saturn and its moons. But now it's out of fuel so they've decided to let it go down into Saturn's atmosphere- the end of its mission. It entered Saturn's atmosphere on September 15.

3. Dignity kits distribution begins for Barbuda women and girls impacted by Hurricane Irma and Jose (posted September 12) "At the aid distribution centre, as Ms. Jacobs talked to relief coordinators, displaced women ran up to her, because they had overheard about the dignity kit items and were looking for sanitary napkins and other products that women and girls urgently needed."

4. Christians Give Your Tithe Towards Trans Surgeries (fundraiser during the month of September) Hey let's all donate to this! I just did~

5. Harry Potter Theory: Voldemort's FULL Tri-Wizard Cup Plan! (posted September 14) "...it could suggest that the Tri-Wizard Cup was intended to be a portkey the whole time."

I really enjoy how fan theories are a lot like apologetics. The fourth Harry Potter book has a lot of plot holes (why was Harry required to compete? why was fake Moody such a good teacher? couldn't Voldemort have found an easier way to kill Harry?) and so a ton of fans have come up with a ton of explanations for why those weren't actually plot holes and it all makes sense. It's a fun game~ we can play it with the bible too, but remember it's just a game~

6. The NIV on Tradition and Teachings (posted 2010) WHATTTTTTT?!!! This is a post about how in the NIV, the same Greek word is translated as "teachings" when it's used in a positive way and "traditions" when it's used in a negative way- because of translators' anti-Catholic bias. HOLYYYYY CRAP. I used to memorize the bible and put a lot of importance on every word, and this makes me feel very angry and betrayed.

7. John Piper on Forgiveness (posted September 21) Yep, this crap is EXACTLY what I used to believe. Thank you, Libby Anne, for getting receipts. (The kingdom of heaven is like an atheist blogger exposing John Piper's teaching for the anti-human nonsense it is.)

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