Saturday, March 31, 2018

Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "King George and the Ducky" (1999)


To see all my VeggieTales reviews: Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales (Master Post)

Thursday, March 29, 2018


Big manatee and baby manatee. Image source.
1. I Tried to Befriend Nikolas Cruz. He Still Killed My Friends. (posted March 27) [content note: guns, murder]

2. I've been listening to Pink's "F***ing Perfect" as a spiritual practice.

3. In Age of School Shootings, Lockdown Is the New Fire Drill (posted 2014) [content note: guns, murder]

4. Boys Often Don’t Recognize When They’ve Been Sexually Assaulted (posted March 8) [content note: descriptions of sexual assault]

5. Inclusive language for worship and preaching (posted March 28) "Avoid associating Christianity or discipleship with things such as: Being soldiers / Being in an 'army' / War"

6. Power grab by China's Xi Jinping: President for life? (posted March 5) So Xi Jinping is trying to be president of China forever. I haven't really been following this so I don't know the details, but some of my friends here are very concerned. And they said it's a really sensitive topic, we shouldn't talk about it in public, and it's not safe to post anything about it on Chinese social media- your posts will get *mysteriously* deleted.

7. Shorter John Piper: Women Can Be Possessions, or They Can Be Prey (posted March 27) [content note: sexual assault, domestic violence] "Individuals like Piper have created an imaginary past where men chivalrously “took care of” women, and women in turn smiled sweetly, with nothing more to worry about than caring for their children and decorating their homes. That time did not exist."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My Thoughts on VeggieTales Thus Far

Larry, Jimmy Gourd, Jerry Gourd, and Junior. Image source.
Recently, I've been watching VeggieTales movies, livetweeting them, and gathering the tweets into blog posts (with help from Storify). I've been really enjoying this- there's so much childhood nostalgia for me, and the songs and jokes are just THE BEST.

But we all know why I'm really doing it. It's because I'm an ex-evangelical and I have Some Opinions about the morality lessons Christians teach to children. Opinions which I will sum up here.

Basically, I wish that instead of being taught absolute rules about "you should be X" or "you shouldn't do X", they gave us the tools to evaluate each situation and make a good decision for that specific situation. Instead of "don't be scared," I wish they talked about how to recognize whether you're in actual danger or you're just overreacting, how to decide on appropriate actions to take to keep yourself safe, and how to calm down when you're feeling anxiety that's disproportionate to the actual badness of the situation. Instead of "you should forgive", how about giving guidelines on deciding when to forgive someone and when to just cut them out of your life, and how to establish boundaries with someone that you can't trust anymore. Instead of "don't lie", how about a discussion of the motivations one might have for hiding the truth, and when those motivations may or may not be morally justifiable. Instead of "obedience", they should talk about in what situations you should obey an authority figure (yes, that includes god) and when you shouldn't. Instead of "be thankful", how about advice on managing your desires and dealing with them in a healthy way- and that includes the fact that there's nothing wrong with wanting new things and buying things for yourself. Instead of "don't be selfish", how about teaching some principles to help us decide when to put others first and when to put ourselves first. Instead of "don't spread rumors", they should give guidelines on what kind of information is appropriate to share about another person, and what things you shouldn't repeat.

Advice about how to evaluate a situation, about what factors might affect what's "right" and "wrong". And an acknowledgement that it's possible for people to come to slightly different conclusions about what to do in a particular situation. All of that would be way better than these absolute rules- be thankful, be obedient, don't be selfish, don't be scared, etc.

Maybe you think "these are movies for little kids, they have to keep things simple." Sure, okay- but here's the thing: they were NOT teaching "in most normal situations, you should do X." They were teaching it as an absolute. And even if they did give those caveats, like "usually you should X", there's still the question of how to know if you're in one of those rare exceptions where you actually shouldn't do X. Which, you would think, they would want to give some guidance on, so that naughty kids couldn't always claim they're in one of those special situations where the rules don't apply to them.

And it would be different if, as I grew up in Christian culture, I received more teaching on how to evaluate a situation and know if it's one of those situations where X is a good idea. But that's not what happened. It was more of the same- be thankful, be obedient, don't be selfish, don't be scared- but dressed up with more advanced language, for the adults.

VeggieTales is fun to watch, but the morality lessons are simplified to the point of actually being bad advice. Instead of absolute rules, we should be teaching people how to make good decisions about what to do in a particular situation.


To see all my VeggieTales reviews: Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales (Master Post)

Monday, March 26, 2018

For the Sunday School Kids Who Never Heard About "the Curse of Ham" Or "Black Simon"

Simon of Cyrene (a black man) helps Jesus carry the cross. Image source.
[content note: lynching, crucifixion]

So here we are in chapter 2 of James Cone's book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, which EVERY AMERICAN (especially white people) should read. This chapter is mainly about the white American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It's about how, even though Niebuhr's ideas about justice and Christian ethics were very good and powerful (and even served as an inspiration for Cone's own writing), Niebuhr never really *got* it when it came to the issue of racism.

Anyway in this post I'm writing my thoughts inspired by this chapter, but I can't really do it justice, you should all go buy this book.

Let's start with this description of lynching, from page 31:
As Jesus was an innocent victim of mob hysteria and Roman imperial violence, many African Americans were innocent victims of white mobs, thirsting for blood in the name of God and in defense of segregation, white supremacy, and the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race. Both the cross and the lynching tree were symbols of terror, instruments of torture and execution, reserved primarily for slaves, criminals, and insurrectionists-- the lowest of the low in society. Both Jesus and blacks were publicly humiliated, subjected to the utmost indignity and cruelty. They were stripped, in order to be deprived of dignity, then paraded, mocked and whipped, pierced, derided and spat upon, tortured for hours in the presence of jeering crowds for popular entertainment. In both cases, the purpose was to strike terror in the subject community. It was to let people know that the same thing would happen to them if they did not stay in their place.
Yeah. Lynching and crucifixion were more or less the same, but somehow nobody in the white church ever mentioned that to me. Sure, we heard about Peter getting crucified upside-down; we heard stories about various martyrs being killed in various ways- but those were all stories where they were killed because they were very very good Christians, killed for reasons that had nothing to do with race. Killed for their choice to not disown Jesus. Never any stories about someone being killed because the killer hated them for something the victim never had a choice about. No, in the stories they told in church, the victim always got to be a hero- they were offered a way out, if they disowned Jesus, but they chose not to take it.

The white church doesn't talk about the similarities between lynching and crucifixion, and that's a sin.

And another thing: I've heard Christians go on and on about how crucifixion was, supposedly, the worst execution method ever invented. And that's why Jesus lived during the time of the Roman empire- because he needed to suffer the worst possible death anyone ever suffered. I seriously used to believe that. Even though the biblical account of Jesus' death calls this "Jesus suffered worse than anyone else" claim into question- the soldiers broke the legs of the other two crucifixion victims, but not Jesus, because he was already dead. Hmm kind of seems like maybe Jesus suffered less than those other two guys, huh? (Or rather, it's difficult to compare, because we don't know if the other two were flogged and beaten like Jesus was. Either way, nobody should be claiming that Jesus suffered The Worst Death Ever. There's just not evidence to support that. ... Ugh, but I'm cringing remembering me as an apologetics nerd back then, literally trying to defend the claim that Jesus suffered the worst possible death- why? Why did I think that was such an important doctrine? It's not in the bible; somebody just MADE IT UP.)

My point is, I'm angry about white Christians claiming that "crucifixion was the worst method of execution ever invented" while not saying a word about lynching.

All right back to Cone and Niebuhr. Cone highlights how Niebuhr's writing on race was "at once honest and ambivalent, radical and moderate." Niebuhr said racism was "the gravest social evil in our nation," but also said black people should be "patient" while justice came "gradually." Cone says, "Niebuhr's call for gradualism, patience, and prudence during the decade when Willie McGee (1951), Emmett Till (1955), M. C. "Mack" Parker (1959), and other blacks were lynched sounds like that of a southern moderate more concerned about not challenging the cultural traditions of the white South than achieving justice for black people." (page 39)

Cone mentions a situation where, while Niebuhr was teaching at Union Seminary, there was drama at the church he used to pastor because two African Americans tried to join the congregation. Members of the church- both those who supported integration and those who opposed it- wrote to Niebuhr asking for support. He said he was opposed to racism, but didn't feel that his church was "ready" to actually have black members, so he didn't push for them to integrate. He also said he regretted not engaging the issue of race while he was a pastor.

Yeah, so, did you know that all that stuff we learned in school about segregation happened in churches too? I remember learning about white people throwing things at black students when the schools were integrated, but I never realized, hey a lot of those white people also were good churchgoers and would have reacted in the same violent way if black people came to their church.

This discussion about "patience" and integrating churches reminds me of the current controversy over churches being "affirming" toward same-sex couples. I remember reading a blog post (which I can't find now, unfortunately) by a gay blogger about how a church shouldn't just suddenly decide to be affirming without considering how to actually protect queer people- because when members are angry about it, they may react violently toward actual queer people who attend the church. You really need to consider the safety aspect when you integrate- and perhaps that is one of the reasons that some Christians argue for "patience" and for it to happen gradually. But. It is very much NOT OKAY for a church to decide, "we made the decision for you, we decided that our congregation is not ready and it wouldn't be safe for you if we decided to integrate/ be affirming, and that's that." No, you should actually listen to those who are marginalized and find out what they need in order to be safe at your church, and then do it.

And I suspect the primary reason churches want to change "slowly" is that they believe their members aren't bad people, even though they hold biases against a particular group. A lot of them are faithful churchgoers who have tithed and volunteered at the church for years, who do genuinely care about others. But they just believe black people (then) or queer people (now) shouldn't come to their church. But not because they hate them, you see- it's because this is what God said. How are you going to change that without upsetting a lot of those good, nice church people? They're such nice people, they don't deserve to be put through the emotional pain of being told their beliefs about what "God said" are wrong and are not welcome in your church.

Yeah, I can see why a pastor would think that way, but that doesn't make it okay. The actual people who are hurt by segregation should matter more than the feelings of those who hold biases against them. I wonder, though, in a practical sense, how can you deal with that, if you're the pastor? Probably by asking for advice from black people (then) or queer people (now).

And another thing: I've read blog posts (from anti-queer Christians) about how it's so wrong that people compare queer rights to the Civil Rights Movement, because, you see, opposing queer rights is what the bible says, but back then during the Civil Rights Movement, like, people were just racist and that's just wrong and not biblical at all, so ya see, completely different situation.

I'm sure I made arguments like that too, back then, back when I was a good anti-LGBT Christian. I had no idea that Christians- good Christians- used to make biblical arguments in support of segregation and slavery. Seriously. They did. Like, some of that stuff still exists now- I accidentally happened upon it when I was looking for articles about interracial marriage and the biblical concept of "one flesh" (because, uh, I married a Chinese man and I have SOME OPINIONS ABOUT IT) but did you all know that THERE ARE LITERALLY STILL PEOPLE who think interracial marriage is bad and wrong? And they point to Acts 17:26, which says "From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands." White Christians have, historically, taken that to mean that God intended for the different races to live separately. Yes. Seriously. I had no idea, not til I started reading blogs about Christianity and white supremacy, and how the way they talk about "the biblical definition of marriage" is scarily similar to the way they used the bible to defend slavery hundreds of years ago.

And here's another anecdote I have: about "the curse of Ham." Did you all know that, historically, white Christians have taken the biblical account of Noah cursing his son Ham and grandson Canaan to mean that Ham was the ancestor of black people, and that black people are just lower than white people, they're cursed and that's what the bible says so that's that. I remember in college, I attended a church which was really racially diverse, and there was a sermon about how that story about Noah totally does NOT mean that black people are cursed or any crap like that- and that was the first time I had heard about that "curse of Ham" nonsense. (Yes, of course I was familiar with Genesis 9, but I never knew that anyone thought it had anything to do with race.) Like, we were halfway through the sermon before I could even figure out what on earth the pastor was talking about. But apparently there were people in our congregation who had been taught that in the past- "you're inferior because the bible says Ham was cursed" and for them it was really good to hear a sermon about how no, that's not what that passage was about.

So here's a question: One might say that it's good that, as a child, I never learned about how the bible was used historically to justify slavery, segregation, and racism. Like obviously those teachings were horrible, so let's not teach them to kids, right? But that meant I didn't know about the history of white American Christianity. I didn't know how my own religion and culture had been shaped by white supremacy. So what should we teach kids in Sunday school about history? Should we do lessons about "white Christians used to believe blah blah blah but that was wrong"? Like how would that fit into Sunday school curriculum?

We can't just say "they learn history in school, we don't need to talk about it in church" because yes, in history class at public school I learned that people did this or that and used Christianity to justify it, but it was SO EASY for me to dismiss that as "well those people obviously weren't real Christians." The history teachers and textbooks didn't speak evangelical, so I didn't take anything they said about Christianity seriously- in church they warned us that there are a lot of fake Christians, and that "the world" is going to persecute us and try to make Christianity look bad. It would have been a completely different thing if a Sunday school teacher had said "these people were like us, they read their bibles, they had a personal relationship with God... and they were SO WRONG about slavery- how can we learn from this and make sure we're not like that?"

Wowwwww we've gotten way off-topic somehow, I was trying to write about James Cone and now here we are. Basically you should all buy his books, is what I'm trying to say.

Later in the chapter, Cone talks about "Black Simon": "Black ministers, searching for ways to identify racially with the story of salvation in the scriptures, have since slavery times liked to preach about 'Black Simon' (as they called him) who carried Jesus' cross." Yes, so, you know how the bible says Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus' cross? Well a lot of people think he was black. I don't know if it's true or not, but I definitely support this way of reading the bible.

Cone references black reverends and artists who depicted Black Simon. For example, Countee Cullen wrote,
Yea, he who helped Christ up Golgotha's track,
That Simon who did not deny, was black.
Cone writes,
I remember ministers preaching about Black Simon when I was a teenager in Arkansas. Although blacks like to think that Simon volunteered to carry Jesus' cross, he did not; it was, as Niebuhr said, an involuntary cross. The Gospel of Mark says that "they compelled" Simon "to carry his cross" (15:21), just as some African Americans were compelled to suffer lynching when another could not be found.

Wait wait wait wait, sometimes the lynching victim was not actually the one who had done whatever "crime" the white people were all upset about- sometimes they just lynched a different black person if they couldn't find that specific accused person? Seriously?

I mean, like, I knew that the justifications given for lynching were extremely flimsy and often totally false accusations, but wowowowowow.

How could this happen?

All right, one last thing. This whole chapter is about how Niebuhr should have *got it* but really didn't. How it's hard for white people, even when we mean well and aren't trying to be racist, to actually do the right thing and advocate for racial justice. In the words of Jesus, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

And so, my first reaction is, I don't want to be like that. I don't want anyone to write a chapter about how, like, I'm really not helping at all on the issue of racism. But I know that's the wrong reaction to have. It means I'm mainly concerned with making sure I don't get blamed for perpetuating white supremacy- rather than caring about the actual people who actually suffer from white supremacy. More concerned with being called a racist than about the existence of racism itself. Like, what's the bare minimum I can do in order to count as "not racist"?

Yeah, that's the wrong motivation entirely. Instead, I believe that being an ally means supporting marginalized people in the way that they say they need support, and not being concerned with being recognized as a "good ally." Yes, it's certainly okay to have feelings about being told that you messed up or you said something racist, but your feelings are less important than the actual injustice that's happening, and it's not marginalized people's responsibility to make you feel better about those feelings.


Posts about The Cross and the Lynching Tree (by James H. Cone):

Reading US History Inerrantly
Ending Slavery Didn't Address the Real Problem
For the Sunday School Kids Who Never Heard About "the Curse of Ham" Or "Black Simon"
Dr. King and What Taking Up the Cross Actually Looks Like
"The South is Crucifying Christ Again"
"Strange Fruit"
"The Cross and the Lynching Tree": Conclusion

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Asexuality and My Body

A drawing of a killer whale, in the colors of the asexual flag. Image text: "Asexuwhale." Image source.
This is my post for the March Carnival of Aces. The theme this month is "Physical Health and/or Our Bodies." This month I've actually written several posts about sex, sex ed, masturbation, etc, from my perspective as an asexual who grew up in Christian purity culture.

Purity culture is built around the belief that unmarried sex is an unthinkable, horrific, life-ruining sin. Furthermore, it's bad to have any sexual desire at all, because it might lead to sex. You can imagine how weird and confusing it is for aces in this culture- asexuality is presented as the ideal to strive for (if you're not married, that is) yet they never acknowledge that asexuality actually is a real thing that exists.

So I got out of purity culture, discovered I'm asexual, and now I have Some Things To Say about it. Here are my posts from this month, on the topic of asexuality and my body:

They said it was about "valuing our bodies." That was a lie.
[about sex ed, or lack thereof]
"When you have so little experience that you're not even clear on what a vulva is, EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE ONE, something is terribly wrong."

The church taught me to be afraid of my own body and my own thoughts. Here are the receipts.
[about fear, "lust", and "sexual sin"]
"I'm asexual- I spent so much time afraid of my own desires, and now it turns out I don't even HAVE those desires, and having sex with my husband is confusing as hell. I'm asexual and I'm angry."

A Post About Masturbation
[about masturbation]
"Just because we're in love and I fully intend to spend the rest of my life with him, why on earth would that mean that he needs to be present every time I stimulate my genitals?"

What Sex Is Like (According to Purity Culture)
[about how sex was described in church]
"You may be asexual if you don't get why everyone says it's THE BEST FEELING EVER to do things with their partner's genitals, but you assume it will be self-explanatory once you try it. Yeah, turns out it's not self-explanatory. It's even more baffling when you actually do it."