Monday, October 25, 2021

So this is new

The word "new". Image source.

[content note: talking about sex]

Attraction is... different now... and I don't know how to talk about it, or maybe I do have words but I don't know if I should publish them. Because it's personal and intimate now in a way that it wasn't before.

All right, the general overview is: I'm asexual, I'm married, and having PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex with my husband was always a whole huge difficult task, because it turns out I had vaginismus (or something similar). And then I gave birth to our baby, and that cured the vaginismus. Now sex is completely different than before, so completely different, it's astonishing how big the difference is. Sex is a totally different thing now- it's easy, we can just go ahead and do it just because we want to do it (okay realistically though, we have a baby and therefore hardly ever have spare time). It's not like before, where I had to go through a whole long process, which I developed myself through trial and error, to get my vagina to open- and if I didn't do that process, PIV would be incredibly painful or even impossible. And no, the process didn't always work, so sometimes we just couldn't, and that was that. But now, oh wow it's so different, it's so different, I cannot overstate how different it is. Sex is a totally different thing now- better, definitely better.

So that's the physical side of things, but it turns out there's also an emotional/ attraction/ desire side. Which I will, maybe, I guess, talk about in this post. 

But... should I? Because it's personal in ways that it never was before. It was easy to blog about "I'm asexual, I don't have sexual attraction", but now I want to tell you I do have a desire for sex with my husband, in ways I didn't before... is that too personal to post on the internet? Or, actually, the answers to the questions "How is it different? Why is it different? What is it like?" maybe that's what's too personal. Because I could answer those; I think I do have the words to describe it. And asexuals everywhere are asking each other "has anyone figured out what sexual attraction is???" and the allosexuals are like "well I can't really describe it, but, like, it's just, you just know." And now here I am with an asexual background and I can actually describe the sexual feelings I have now, in a way that's accessible for an asexual audience. I think?

And... I want to write the post that 4-years-ago Perfect Number would have needed. But... is it too personal to post on the internet?

Or, is someone going to say "Having sexual desire for your husband is not really news... That's like, the most normal and boring thing. Why would you blog about that?" But for asexuals, it's not "normal and boring"; for asexuals, it's one of life's biggest unsolved mysteries. And now I have something to say on it.

Where to begin?

Okay I'll start with this: If I had any doubt before that asexuality is a real thing, or any doubt that I was asexual, well that's obviously gone now. The feelings I'm having now are really totally different than before; I very much did NOT have these feelings before, so I can say for sure I was asexual. (I also say I still am asexual- maybe I'll talk about that more in another post.) 

Way back years ago, when I was questioning, trying to figure out if I was ace* or not, I always wondered if maybe I do have all the same feelings as a "normal person" but I'm just so confused and therefore categorizing them wrong. I thought, maybe I do feel sexual attraction, but I'm just such a loser that I can't even recognize that's what it is. And maybe this is common for asexuals- you never really get a good answer to the question "what is sexual attraction, anyway?" and eventually you just have to conclude, "well, I don't really understand what it means, so, uh, I guess that means I don't have it... surely if I had it, I wouldn't be spending this much time confused about it" and that's how you come out as ace.

You never get an answer, and eventually you decide that's your answer.

But now, now I have new feelings, new desires for sex. And it's not like "I felt this a little bit before, but now I feel it a lot"; no, it's something I really have never felt before. Specifically, well maybe this is TMI but here goes- specifically, I mean occasionally daydreaming about the feeling of PIV, the actual physical feeling of it in one's genitals, and wanting that feeling, and therefore wanting to have sex. That. I'm calling that "sexual desire", I guess. 

Wait, let me rephrase it, I want to say this clearly. If I was had a time machine and was explaining it to myself-from-a-few-years-ago, here's what I would say:

Okay, yeah, I know when you hear "I like the actual physical feeling of PIV" you're confused as hell. You're making a list in your mind of all the physical feelings you have during PIV, and you're trying to figure out which of them is the one that has people so excited. No, that's not it at all.  

The feelings on your list- which range from pain to neutral to "yeah it's good but nothing to write home about"- no, it's not any of those. You really don't have this one. You really are asexual.  

My "list of physical feelings I have during PIV" is now completely different from before (before I gave birth vaginally). And now the overall experience actually is the sort of thing that one would desire, like inherently desire it for itself. Not like I used to desire it, like "here is a complex explanation of the reasons I want to have sex." No, it's nothing like that any more, because now it's the kind of thing that is actually desirable in and of itself.

So, yeah, that. And other new emotions too besides that. Maybe I'll blog about them, maybe not.

Before, I wanted to have sex with my husband for other reasons- and even years and years ago, before I met him, and I was attracted to other boys and I conceptualized it as "lust"... Other reasons. Reasons about wanting my partner to feel a certain way about me. Or more "transactional" sorts of reasons. Or curiosity.

Anyway. And all of this is very much caused by the physical side of things- the fact that apparently childbirth cured my vaginismus. Because of that, the physical aspect of PIV sex is now "it feels good" rather than "ughhhh I have to spend a long time trying to get my vagina to open"- and so it makes sense that now that I've experienced sex in the "it feels good" way, now that it's happened often enough to change my understanding of what sex is, well yeah it makes sense that now I would start having the desire for it.

And also, wow I have a lot to say about this, and I feel like it's all tangled up- maybe I can't write it all in one post. (I feel like I should also address the fact that I'm just talking about PIV in this post... I know that it's problematic to claim that PIV is the only real sex or whatever, but based on my own experiences I have reasons for specifically focusing on PIV here, but I can't get into all that, it's complicated.) Let me just say one more thing though:

I now feel like there is something intrinsically special or intimate about sex/genitals. I never thought that before; it always felt like society had arbitrarily assigned all this meaning to this one specific activity. Take a look at what I wrote in this 2017 post, Sex is Like an Inside Joke (Thoughts from an Asexual):

And now I see sex as a hobby. You know how, if you're dating someone who's really into board games, and they always want you to play board games with them, so you do, and it seems weird at first but after a while you end up liking board games too. It's like that. My partner is into having sex, so I've gotten into it too, and it's enjoyable, though if it were totally up to me, I would choose to spend my time on a different hobby instead.

And I find it very weird that sex is such a popular hobby. Sure, I guess it feels good, but, really? It's not like, that good.

And this post from 2016, Boundaries in Dating: #stillpurityculture:

And this stuff about "100 percent of your body" is also ridiculous. When they talk about "sex" in this chapter, I'm assuming they're referring to vaginal intercourse (though other sexual acts are also not allowed, obviously). To be clear, "Boundaries in Dating" does not offer an explicit definition like this- I'm assuming it because that's what purity culture/ society in general typically means by "sex." It's so weird that they're using language about "100 percent" when they're talking about something that, in its most basic form, just involves a penis and vagina and no other body parts. If you have vaginal sex but not anal sex, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"? If you have vaginal sex but your partner never rubbed the back of your head with their hand, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"? If you have vaginal sex but never show your partner any ultrasound images of your internal organs, does that mean you haven't "given away" "100 percent of your body"?

If you have sex with one partner, then break up, then have your appendix removed, then have sex with a new partner, does that mean that your ex got "100 percent of your body" in a way that your new partner never can, because they can't be anywhere near your appendix? What if you start dating the surgeon who performed the operation? Wait, does a surgeon have "100 percent of your body" in a way that a sexual partner never can?

My point is, "giving away your body" is a euphemism for performing acts which stimulate certain areas [genitals, skin, tongue, etc], which definitely ARE NOT "100 percent of your body". And as a math person, I believe it's utterly ridiculous to attach actual numbers to a euphemism which doesn't literally describe the act to which it refers.

Back then, when I mostly chose to have sex because of how other people viewed it, or "transactional" kinds of reasons like that, then it didn't matter very much what the specific activity was. Oh, people are interested in playing with each other's genitals? Okay sure whatever I guess. If "sex" instead meant going outside and making bear sounds while patting each other's heads, it would be all the same to me. Okay sure whatever I guess. And I thought it was ridiculous how apparently society had decided that playing with each other's genitals is the activity we will use as a symbol of love and intimacy- like, why that, and not something else? Like yeah there's orgasms but I still don't think that's enough of a big deal to really justify it.

Same thing with euphemisms about "giving your body away" and stuff like that, stuff where you're supposed to hear the term "body" or "self" and interpret it as "genitals" and no other body parts. Just utterly ridiculous. Your ear is just as much a part of your body- why does nobody hear terms like "explore each other's bodies" and picture (fully clothed) poking around in your partner's ears?

But now I'm like, wait, something about this is special and intimate in a way that's not like other things. That's a new feeling for me. And maybe there is some sense in which your genitals feel more representative of "your body" than other parts are? I don't know, I'm still confused about euphemisms like "give your body away"- is it simply a euphemism that people use because they're too squeamish to say "sex" or "genitals", or do they truly feel that your genitals are "your body" in a special, intrinsic way that's different than your other body parts?

And, maybe it was "intimate" before, in a sense- in the same way that you might have a splinter that's so bad that you need somebody to help you get it out, and it's a huge act of trust to allow someone to do that. Yes, for me, sex always required a lot of trust and love and so it never made sense to imagine it with anyone other than Hendrix (my husband). But now it's intimate in a different and better way, not the "help me with my splinter" way.

And this is all swirling around the question "am I sexually attracted to my husband?" and I don't have an answer to that yet. Maybe yes? But I still want to ID as ace, for a bunch of reasons.

It's all new and different- in a good way- and I want to talk about it because I'm a blogger and that's what I do. And the world needs descriptions of sexual feelings that are accessible for asexual readers. And... there's a lot here, a lot that I could say. Maybe I'll write more about it in future posts.

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* ace = asexual

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Related:

How Pregnancy and Childbirth Changed My Asexuality (or, actually, A Post About Vaginismus)

I'm Still Asexual 

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This post was written for the October 2021 Carnival of Aces. This month's topic is "attraction."

Friday, October 22, 2021

Blogaround

1. Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle (posted October 19) 

(Also, in case you forgot, the orange antichrist is THE WORST.)

2. How Taylor Swift (Legally) Changed Music Forever ft. Rick Beato (posted September 28)

3. The Extremely Simple Model of Orientation (posted 2015) "For those not mathematically inclined, that means a single orientation consists of a complete mapping from every circumstance to a feeling."

Saturday, October 16, 2021

US Immigration and the Definition of Marriage

An image showing a US immigrant visa, social security card, and green card. Image source.

So my husband and I are working on applying for his US green card, so we can move to the US. There are a few different ways that one can be eligible for a green card; in our case, it's because he's married to me, a US citizen. And since our marriage is the entire reason that it's possible for him to get a green card, the US immigration system is very interested in making sure it's a "bona fide marriage."

The US government provides this list of evidence you can submit to prove you have a "bona fide marriage":

Evidence of the bona fides of the marriage, if petitioning for a spouse:

  • Documentation showing joint ownership of property;
  • A lease showing joint tenancy of a common residence, meaning you both live at the same address together;
  • Documentation showing that you and your spouse have combined your financial resources;
  • Birth certificates of children born to you and your spouse together;
  • Affidavits sworn to or affirmed by third parties having personal knowledge of the bona fides of the marital relationship. Each affidavit must contain the full name and address of the person making the affidavit; date and place of birth of the person making the affidavit; and complete information and details explaining how the person acquired their knowledge of your marriage; and
  • Any other relevant documentation to establish that there is an ongoing marital union.

In our case, we have some of these things but not all. We have a whole child together, don't have joint bank accounts (joint bank accounts are not really a thing in China). I have been told that if you have kids together, then that's pretty much all the evidence you need, no worries that the US government will think your marriage is fake.

I also submitted photos of us together, going all the way back to when we started dating. And affidavits from some family members about how me and Hendrix are totally married. (And I joked about submitting a statement about that time we had a whole discussion in Ikea about what kind of brush to buy for cleaning the bathroom- that's basically the most married you can get.)

Looking around on websites about immigration, I read a lot of advice for how people in more tricky situations can prove their marriage is "bona fide." What if you have never actually lived together? What if you are currently living in different countries? What if you don't speak the same language? What if you have been in a relationship for a while, but the timing of when you rushed down to the courthouse to get the marriage license was very much forced by immigration laws?

Overall, when USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) talks about a "bona fide marriage," what they really mean is that you actually intend to make a life together, as opposed to just acquiring a marriage license for the immigration benefits. And apparently the best way to show that is kids, living together, and joint bank accounts- though if you don't have those, there is plenty of advice about what other things might work. I found it surprising, to be honest, because I always assumed that if you have a marriage license, then you're married, and that's that- but no, for the US immigration system, that's not enough.

(And I have heard anecdotes about going to the visa interview and being asked questions about your sex life, as evidence that the marriage is real. I don't really expect any questions like that in our case, because we have a child so I don't think they will doubt our marriage fits their definition of "bona fide"- ie, we are not just faking it to commit immigration fraud. I also heard an anecdote about an asexual couple having trouble because their marriage was seen as not real due to not having sex- no idea how common that is, or if that was in the US or another country.)

This is FASCINATING to me, because when I was an evangelical, there was always such a big deal made about "the definition of marriage." "Marriage is between one man and one woman." Apparently this is "the biblical definition of marriage"- though I very much believe that anyone who thinks the bible is a dictionary deserves to be mocked. Really, though, this "biblical definition of marriage" stuff is solely a response to same-sex marriage and polyamory. That's it. It doesn't address any other aspects of marriage at all.

And now that I think about it, I have heard a lot of different "definitions of marriage." There are people who aren't interested in marriage, who say "marriage is just a piece of paper." Maybe they are in a long-term relationship but don't see any reason that they need the "piece of paper" in order to make their relationship more "real" or whatever.

And in purity culture, there is such a big deal made about "don't have sex before marriage," that it made me imagine that marriage was basically about sex. What a surprise when I did get married and found out it's actually about inside jokes and buying the kind of yogurt your spouse likes.

And one time I read a blog post from a polyamorous person; she already had a boyfriend, then she met someone else and "I knew right away that I would marry him" and indeed she did marry this new guy while still in a relationship with the boyfriend, which is fine if everyone knows what's going on and they're not sneaking around. I read that blog post and I was so fascinated and confused about why she would say "I knew right away that I would marry him"- clearly she has a different definition of marriage than what you see in the kind of Disney-style romance stories where people "knew right away that I would marry him."

Here's a thought: What if it makes sense to use different definitions in different circumstances? And people from different backgrounds have different understandings of what marriage means, and that's fine? Though I do have a problem with purity ideology pushing their "marriage is about sex" message on naive teenagers (okay they don't phrase it like that, but that's basically what I took from it). 

And... I don't know, maybe it's a problem that the US immigration system privileges certain family structures over others, and puts limits and waiting periods on different categories of visas and different countries. (There are no limits on the number of green cards issued to spouses of US citizens.) I don't really have a whole opinion about it... I understand that maybe for practical reasons we can't just "let everybody in." But I am just thinking about how easy it was for me to come to China and find a job teaching English, way back in 2013, and I had absolutely no idea how hard it is for non-US-citizens to go in the opposite direction. That's privilege.

So. Anyway. Applying for my husband's green card has introduced me to a definition of marriage I'd never considered before. Realizing that different definitions make sense for different situations kind of makes the whole "marriage is defined as one man and one woman" seem a bit silly.

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Related:
What My Marriage Is Actually About (It's Not Sex And It's Not Jesus) 
4 Biblical Definitions We Need to Defend in the Culture Wars 
On Immigration and Double Standards

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Chopsticks for Babies

I live in China and I have a little toddler son. I thought you all might be interested to see the chopsticks they sell for little kids who are learning how to use them. Here are some photos I took at the baby store:


These are imported from Japan- see all the text on the packaging is Japanese. (Except the 右手用 which means "right-handed use" in Chinese; I guess the characters for it in Japanese are the same?)



Basically one chopstick has 2 loops for your fingers, and the other has 1 loop for your thumb. Some of the chopsticks sets (like the bear and My Little Pony, above) let you attach the 2 chopsticks together at the top. Also you may notice the pointy end which picks up the food is a little bit flattened or has a grippy texture, to help with that.

I have heard some moms complain that the design of the loops only works for right-handed people. (In China traditionally people think you should teach left-handed kids to be right-handed instead...) Apparently you can also get training chopsticks without the loops; some moms think those are better.

Little Square Root has a pair of chopsticks with the loops, but he hasn't used them yet. So far he mostly uses a spoon, or a fork for fruit. Even though forks aren't traditionally used by Chinese people, they are easily available to buy for babies. (And also he eats with his hands of course, being a baby and all.)

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Hey readers! My Patreon reached a goal of $20/month, which means I am writing some posts with photos of life in China for you all! The previous ones are: 

If you would like to sponsor me on Patreon, link is here! Thanks readers, you are all great!

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Blogaround

1. The Holy Land Experience Never Made It to the Financial Promised Land (posted August 10) "After 20 years, the ambitious biblical theme park is closed for good."

2. ObGyn Explains Abortion Ban in Texas (posted September 14) Yes, this is a MUST WATCH video. Mama Doctor Jones is an obgyn in Texas and she has some Things To Say about the abortion ban.

3. Lil Nas X - Jolene (Dolly Parton Cover) in the Live Lounge (posted September 22)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Hope Someday I Can Go To Church Again

 

A church sign that says "Sundays 9:30 am. All are welcome." Image source.

I tried so hard to go to church. 

A few years ago, here in Shanghai, as I was in the process of leaving evangelicalism. I had gone to church my whole life (in the US) but suddenly everything was different. I didn't believe in hell any more. I didn't believe unmarried sex was a sin. I was 100% out of patience for any debate about "do you let women be pastors in your church?" I totally affirmed everything queer. I was dating a non-Christian (who is now my husband) and I was completely uninterested in convincing him to convert. I stopped praying, stopped daily devotions because I found it was bad for my mental health, and I had come to believe in a God who cared about my mental health. (A completely different God than I used to worship.)

But I was still a Christian. (And I still am now.) I had followed Jesus' teaching about loving your neighbor, which led me to reject all those anti-human beliefs, and no one is taking that from me; I am still a Christian.

So, I wanted to find a church. I tried lots- a Chinese church, an international church, a few bible study groups. I tried so hard. I talked to people, tried to tell them I am a Christian but I don't believe in this or that extremely common churchy belief, and it was like hitting a wall. Eventually I had to call off the search because I developed depression symptoms.

And I thought, someday, I hope I can try again, and go to church again.

It's been a few years since then, and I've decided on this policy: If I am searching for a church to be my "church home" where people take me seriously as a Christian, then I will not waste any time on a church that says anything other than "yes" when asked if they are LGBTQ-affirming. Not "let's go get coffee", not "all are welcome", not "we want God's best for you", not "God's design for the family"- no, those are all sneaky ways to say "you can attend the service and give us your money if you're queer, but as soon as you show interest in being a volunteer or getting baptized or getting married to a same-sex partner, you will find out all along we didn't see you as a good enough Christian."

I'm done with that, I'm not going to do any "change the system from the inside" stuff any more. I'm done.

It might seem odd, though- why would a clear statement of LGBTQ affirmation be my litmus test? I am queer, but I am not the kind of queer that Christians fight culture wars about. I am asexual. I am straight, I am married, I have a little son, and I am not interested in being "out"- I am only out to a small subset of people. Churchy discrimination against LGBT people will never affect me directly. So why do I choose this as the test for what churches I would consider?

Because it's an indicator of whether the church believes they have the right to police members' personal lives. Do they believe Christians are in charge of making the rules for everyone else? Do they believe it's their job to judge whether your identity is valid or not? Run from a church like that. 

It's about boundaries (ever since I learned about boundaries, I've discovered everything is about boundaries).

(Also, being asexual doesn't mean I don't run into problems with evangelical ideology about sex. HA. NOPE. There was lot of teaching about "temptation" and how sex will totally "just happen" if you are alone with a person you are attracted to- which made no sense to me at all, so all I could do was fear it. There was a lot of teaching about how sex is a duty that a wife must do for her husband, because men "need" it and women don't really like sex that much. There was a lot of "we are all sexually broken." And so on.)

I've visited a few UU churches (unitarian universalist) on trips to the US, and I think maybe I would start there, looking for a church. UU is not a Christian church; they accept all religions (or lack thereof). I'll look for a church when I move back to the US (the plan is next year). I'm not going to try again here in Shanghai.

I'm still a Christian, and I'm proud to be a Christian, but I can't go to church, and I wish I could. Some day I will try again.

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Related:

So I've Discovered That (For Me) Church Culture Causes Depression 
The Church is a Safe Place for Awful Beliefs
Unaffirming Church Bingo 
Church is Supposed to Hurt
Miss me with your "we are all sexually broken" hot takes. I'm asexual.

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This post is part of the September 2021 Carnival of Aces. This month's topic is "The 'We' of Me."

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Disney Store at Lujiazui (Shanghai, China)

Hi everyone! In the previous post, I showed you my photos from the subway journey from Century Avenue to Lujiazui. In this post, we'll see the photos from Lujiazui.

Lujiazui (陆家嘴) is where all the famous Shanghai skyscrapers are. Several big financial companies have huge offices there. And it's so extremely touristy- like, if you come to Shanghai as a tourist, there is no way you don't come see the sights at Lujiazui.

So let's take a look at what we can see at Lujiazui:

KFC

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Taking the Subway in Shanghai, China

Hi everyone! I went out and took a bunch of photos to show you what it's like riding the subway here in Shanghai!

All right! Welcome to Shanghai! We are going to take the subway from Century Avenue (世纪大道) to Lujiazui (陆家嘴). Here we are outside the entrance to Century Avenue:

This sign shows that lines 2, 4, 6, and 9 all go through the Century Avenue station.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Blogaround

1. Honest Trailers | Loki (posted August 11)

2. Clanging gongs and noisy cymbals (posted August 18) "If all you're doing is 'worship,' then whatever that is, it ain't worship." Amen.

3. Operation Onion Ring – Thomas John and the Children (posted June 10) "The other stuff about the grandmother showing him flowers and a garden are vague cold-reading statements. Throwing in a farm, possibly belonging to an older man that could have been Ida’s great-grandfather should have been an easy hit."

4. Pastoring in a Racist Church: One Pastor’s Story (posted August 19) "They warned that people would leave if I kept preaching social justice and pressured me to change course."

5. The New Leader of Harvard University's Chaplains is an Atheist (posted August 26) Cool!

6. Bethlehem Baptist coddles white supremacy (posted August 31) "This is a story about Doug Wilson, white supremacy, and enabling abuse. Not because these are 'hot-button issues,' but because they are very real sins, heresies, and injustices that the current leadership of Bethlehem Baptist is determined to 'coddle' while exhibiting 'untethered empathy' for people like Wilson and Derek Chauvin."

Sunday, August 22, 2021

OF COURSE Dating is Different as an Adult

A man and woman on a date. Image source.

From time to time, when my friends tell me about their dating lives, I ask them questions about their views on how dating is supposed to work. I do this because my background is Christian "sexual purity" ideology, which left me with a really twisted and bizarre perspective on dating/sex/etc, and I am very curious about what "normal people" think instead.

Recently, though, while talking to a friend about her new partner, I realized a huge flaw in my thinking. I was asking her about the choices she made about dating and the reasons why, and comparing that to my life back when I was dating. Back when Hendrix and I first got together, about 8 years ago, and also my views on dating before that. Back when I was just beginning to question all that "sexual purity" nonsense and work my way out of it, back when I was clueless, back when I had never had sex, was terrified of sex. When I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship where I had never even kissed my boyfriend because, well, probably purity culture was wrong when they said kissing would ruin my life, but let's not risk it, just in case. Back when I had depression because Hendrix and I were living together, and I was sure God thought that was the dirtiest sin anyone could ever commit.

When I was in the "dating" phase of my life, that's where my mindset was. But now Hendrix and I have been together about 8 years, married 4 years, and a lot of things have happened to change my views on sex and dating. I've had sex, and discovered it wasn't some monumental transcendent experience that totally changes who I am as a person- discovered I didn't need to be so scared of it for so long. And I've been getting farther and farther away from purity culture, and developing a healthier view of consent and sex and how I own my own body- yes, even in marriage. And I came out as asexual. And I gave birth vaginally and that changed things too.

So I asked my friend about her experiences and her thoughts on dating, and then I realized I was comparing her "mature adult with years of experience" dating with my "clueless 20-something who was never allowed to even explore her own desires" dating.

Hmm.

And realizing, everyone changes as they grow up and get more experience. Of course everyone's independent-adult approach to dating will be different from their naive-teenager approach to dating. Of course! And my discussions with friends were less about "were you raised religious or not" and more "do you have enough experience to know yourself and know what you want."

It's not about being religious or what kind of sex ed you were taught- it's about growing up.

And this is just astonishing to me, the idea of "growing up" being a significant factor in one's approach to dating. Before, it just never occurred to me at all. That idea is nowhere in purity culture. People were categorized as "single", "in a relationship", "engaged", or "married", with different rules on "how far is too far" for each category. There was never any awareness that being single and 15 is a much different thing than single and 25, which is a much different thing than single and 40.

I believed that "God's plan" was that I would only ever date 1 person, the man that God had chosen for me, and that maybe God's plan was I would meet him at age 20 and maybe God's plan was I would meet him at age 50, who knows? If it was age 50, then no I am not allowed to have any romantic or sexual experiences at all until then, and that's that, I don't have any choice, this is God's plan. Imagining I'd get to age 50 just as naive and clueless as I was as a teenager, and then dutifully pray for God's guidance as we started dating... carefully following all the same rules I had learned in church when I was 14... really?

I remember someone told me that when older adults are dating, they tend to date for a much shorter amount of time before getting married, because they know what they want. I had no mechanism to understand this little factoid; all I had was a rule I had heard from some "purity" teacher, that said "you should date for 2 years before getting married."

I remember reading an article in a Christian magazine one time, basically it said "Bob and Carol were both in their 40's when they started dating. They had both been married before and both had made mistakes, but this time they were committed to sexual purity, and they waited till marriage to have sex, even though it was hard." It sounds so strange to me now... if you have already had sex and therefore know what sex is, generally, then why would you wait till marriage? I guess I'm coming from the perspective of "the choice to have sex or not is about how sex is this big scary unknown thing." But everyone's situation is different, and there are valid reasons to wait till marriage, but, in general, I don't think it makes sense for older adults to wait. 

And I remember reading blogs questioning purity ideology, and one commenter asked what purity culture has to say about widows. Specifically, this commenter was in her 20's when her husband died. I have no idea what purity culture has to say to that. It never came up. Turns out all the teaching in purity culture was targeted toward clueless teenagers, but they said it was for all unmarried people. Can't believe I'm just realizing now how wrong that is.

And if I was single again, hypothetically, there are things I would do differently now. But that doesn't mean "there are things I should have done differently back then." No, it just MAKES SENSE that at a certain age you would act a certain way, and at a different age you would act a completely different way. It MAKES SENSE that with more knowledge and experience, you would make different choices. Of course. That's normal, that's healthy. 

But in purity culture, experience is bad. Experience is the worst thing you can have. Experience is the opposite of purity. That's just... so weird to me now, because I've found it's so good and healthy to know yourself, to know what you want, to really own yourself- and you get there through experience. Growing up.

They taught us "here are the rules" and there was no concept of getting to know yourself and what you want. It was all "here's God's plan for you" and you don't have a choice.

But wow. Of course that's wrong. How did I never notice? Of course dating is different as an  adult.

-------------

Related:

I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage

For This Asexual, Purity Culture Was All About Fear 

My Husband Is Not The Entire Focus Of My Sex Life

"How Far Is Too Far?" My Story, And What I Wish I'd Known

-------------

I wrote this post for the August 2021 Carnival of Aces. This month's topic is "Second Chance at Any Past Topic." I guess I am writing for past topics related to relationships/dating.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Blogaround

 

640 Afghan civilians in a cargo plane leaving Afghanistan.

1. Creationist Kent Hovind Arrested on Charge of Domestic Violence (posted August 5) 

Related to that, Captain Cassidy gives us an overview of who Kent Hovind is, including a timeline about his ministry and legal troubles. And I was astonished, because, yes, I remember hearing a while ago that he was in jail for tax evasion. And yes, I remember when I was in college and I was a follower of Answers in Genesis and then somebody sent me hours and hours of Kent Hovind's creationist videos and I watched them all, and I basically believed most of it but he came off as a little more wacky than Answers in Genesis. Like he was all hung up on the King James being the best English bible, and he mentioned that God instructed us to eat fruit "with seed in it" and everyone's medical problems are caused by eating fruit without seed- all those years ago, watching his videos, I thought of my grandparents' medical problems and felt it was really not cool for him to downplay that as if there was this magical easy answer, eating fruits with seeds. And I remember in his videos he mentioned "I don't pay taxes" and I felt that was a little bit, uh, crazytown. Well. Reading Captain Cassidy's timeline now, I see that AT THE VERY SAME TIME I was watching Kent Hovind's videos and thinking it was pretty shady for him to be boasting about how he doesn't pay taxes, he was LITERALLY IN JAIL FOR NOT PAYING TAXES.

2. The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark (originally published in 1983) "The animals, many of them so sensitive that they have never yet been kept in zoos, had to make it through in good enough condition to reproduce and to spread over the earth."

3. After Backlash, Joshua Harris Cancels Class for Those Feeling "Shame Around Sex" (posted August 15)

4. Let's donate to help Afghan people. I donated to Women for Women

We should also donate to organizations that help refugees. Look at what's going on: More than 600 Afghans cram into one U.S. transport flight, as thousands flee Taliban (posted August 17)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Everyone Else's Nadab and Abihu Fanfics

A picture of flames, with the text "What is strange fire?" from a good Christian webpage about how God killed people in the Old Testament for worshipping him wrong. Image source.

When I was working on writing Strange Fire, I did some googling to see if maybe there were some other sources, ancient Jewish traditions, stuff like that, stuff I could maybe incorporate into my story. Back when I wrote my Noah's ark fanfic, I used "traditional" names for the wives, even though they are not given names in the bible. I figured maybe I could do the same thing for Nadab and Abihu's story.

But wow. The whole first page of google search results was all about why Nadab and Abihu totally deserved to die for "offering unauthorized fire." I was blown away by how vicious all these articles were. There were no cute details about "did they have wives, what were the wives' names", or at least, I wasn't willing to wade through all that nastiness in order to find out. (So I invented Daniela, Bekah, and Daniela's unborn baby myself. We know the baby will be a girl because the bible says Nadab and Abihu had no sons.)

Wow, it was bad. But really, I should have known that. The whole reason I wanted to write this fanfic is because for a long time it has bothered me how good Christians read the story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10 and then immediately invent all kinds of fan theories to reassure ourselves that yes, these guys really did deserve to die. For a long time, I've felt there was something really f***-ed up about that. (Wow, yes, a long time- I even mentioned it in this post from 2015.)

Seriously, here's what the bible says:

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.

Then later in the chapter it mentions priests aren't supposed to drink alcohol on the job, so, you might infer from that that they were drunk. But that's it, this here is the sum total of what the bible says they did wrong. Apparently, they deserved to die for it.

So yeah, back when I was an evangelical, I would read this story, be very confused because it's unclear what "unauthorized fire" is and why exactly that's a bad thing, and feel like "it looks like God did something unjust here." It was okay for me to think that, temporarily, but then my next step had to be convincing myself that, no, everything is fine, God was totally right to kill them, wow they did such a bad thing, they were very bad people, and so on and so on, embellishing it with things the bible doesn't say at all. Fan fiction.

I'm coming at this from an evangelical background, where one of the most important beliefs is that the bible is authoritative in a way that nothing else is. Yes, the story of Nadab and Abihu is also in the Jewish bible, and Jewish people have probably been grappling with it for thousands of years. Non-evangelical denominations of Christianity surely have their own take on it too. And maybe some of this "they were really bad people" is valid if there's another ancient source regarded as canon that says so. Perhaps these other religious traditions have something like that, so then it's not as much of a problem for them. But not evangelicals, who firmly believe that the bible is the only thing we can trust, and all that "ancient tradition" is just made-up nonsense. Evangelicals who then respond with their own made-up nonsense about Nadab and Abihu's supposed contempt for God or whatever.

It says something really ugly about us, that our first response to "God killed them because [confusing, suspicious reasons]" is to invent additional reasons. Reasons that are not confusing or suspicious, that help us believe that their sin really did deserve the death penalty. Reasons that are completely fictional. Nothing more than fan theories.

It's a Black Lives Matter story, really. We read this passage from Leviticus, and we search desperately for a bible commentary to help us - "Someone, convince me that Nadab and Abihu really were bad people who deserved to die! I can't handle the idea that the bible is wrong about something. I can't handle the idea that I should judge the God that Christian leaders present to me, and I should decide if he is worthy of worship or not."

Oh, it's okay that he was killed, he deserved it. Because he was a suspect in a robbery. Because he had done drugs in the past. Because he was arrested for something, years ago. Because he took goofy photos of himself pretending to make gang signs. Because he didn't do exactly what the police officer said. Because he was "acting suspicious."

All these reasons, some of them based in reality, some of them completely made up, none of them worthy of the death penalty, but this is what we do. We have to convince ourselves, because the alternative is to face the reality of the white supremacist violence that's embedded in our society. 

I have seen the way good evangelicals treat Nadab and Abihu, and the way white people treat black victims of police brutality, and it's the same. We can't ever let ourselves consider that the bible is wrong about something, and we can't ever let ourselves consider that the US is not "the greatest country in the world", built on "liberty and justice for all." So we need to blame the victims. Please, someone, help us believe they deserved it, so we can continue with our lives and we don't have a responsibility to care about injustice.

So I hope the next time you're in a bible study and you read the story of Nadab and Abihu (okay it's not really one of the popular ones that get read in a lot of bible studies...), you're angry like Daniela. I hope you read Moses's line about "Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die" and hear it as an extremely creepy threat, and you think about the impossible pressure that Eleazer was under, and the choice that he made. Wow, I had always read that line as "the Lord is justifiably angry right now, let's lay low for a bit" but now I can't hear anything besides "Nice two remaining sons you got there, be a shame if anything happened to them."

And Bekah. Oh poor Bekah. (A character I completely made up, btw.) The decision she makes at the end is just tragic. Her faith was so strong, she chose her petty, murderous God over her loving husband. I know something about having a faith like that- though I've never, uh, thrown dead relatives under the bus in the name of God. A faith that strong can't last. It will burn so powerful and passionate for a while, and then when it breaks it will break into a million pieces. At some point she will realize she was betrayed- that they took advantage of her trust and innocence and they fed her lies and she actually bought them. And once you realize that, there's no going back.

Another thing I wanted to do in my story is offer a different understanding of what "God's holiness" means. As an evangelical, I learned in Sunday school that "holy" means "set apart" (whatever that means) but really, the way people used it in practical terms, "God's holiness" means "you make 1 mistake, and YOU DIE." And this is, apparently, a good thing. Apparently, God is so incredibly good that he destroys anything that's not perfect. Apparently, that's what "good" means. 

Yeah, I say that's f***-ed up, and I hope my fanfic was able to give a glimpse of Nadab's and Eleazer's understanding of "holiness"- it's more about the respect and awe that they felt at being allowed to come into God's presence and act as a bridge between humanity and God. Not "you make 1 mistake and YOU DIE"- like what on earth? Why did I ever believe that? (Well I guess because the "gospel" I received when I asked Jesus into my heart was "every sin is an infinite offense against a holy God"... like I said, "holy" apparently means "you make 1 mistake and YOU DIE." ... I put "gospel" in scare quotes because that sure as hell ain't good news.)

So yeah, I wrote a Nadab and Abihu fanfic because I don't like everyone else's Nadab and Abihu fanfics. And if you're gonna write fanfic or fan theories about the bible, at least be honest with yourself that the things you're saying are not actually in the bible. You want to reassure yourself that Nadab and Abihu totally deserved to die for the cryptic sin of "offering unauthorized fire"- maybe instead of inventing fan theories to reassure yourself, you ask yourself why you need that. It reveals something inside us that isn't good.

----------

Related:

Reading US History Inerrantly 

Blaming the Biblical Victim (And More Horrifying Implications of Scripture) 

Yes, I Want Justice (A post about white evangelicals and #BlackLivesMatter)

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Strange Fire

A priest burning incense in a censor, in front of an altar. Image source.

"Bye, sweetheart," Nadab said as he leaned down and kissed his wife, Daniela. She was 8 months pregnant and hadn't slept well at all. Felt too huge to get comfortable. She tried to roll on her back, but it was worse, so she rolled back to her side.

Her husband was going to the tabernacle very early that day. He worked as a priest along with his brother Abihu; they were sons of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Always very busy, but he always talked about how blessed he was to be able to participate in the worship of God. After a few minutes, Daniela went back to sleep.

-

"Daniela?" a voice said. 

Who on earth could it be this early in the morning? And who would be coming into her tent? "Daniela?" It was Eleazer, Nadab's brother. He looked extremely concerned as he poked his head in through the doorway of her tent. 

"I..." He looked between her face and her huge belly. "Do, uh, do you need some water to drink...?" he asked, then awkwardly started to look around, probably searching for a cup.

"What is it?" she asked. "Are you okay?" 

Eleazer looked at the ground. He ran his hand through his dark hair. "There was a fire... at the tabernacle. Nadab and Abihu..."

Now Daniela was awake. "Is he okay?"

Eleazer bit his lip. "He... no... I'm sorry... they didn't make it."

"What?" she asked, and he shook his head. She sat up and started to breathe faster and faster, and realized she was crying.

"Here, sit down," Eleazer said, which made no sense because she was still sitting on her bed. "Or... let's go see Bekah...? Can you walk?"

Of course she could walk, she didn't need everyone treating her like a delicate flower just because she was pregnant. He offered his arm, and she waddled out with him to find Abihu's wife Bekah.

-

They sat in Abihu's tent. The two widows- Daniela and Bekah- and the two remaining sons of Aaron- Eleazer and Ithamar. 

"They were serving the Lord," said Bekah, her face wet with tears. "How could this happen? They always worked so hard, always getting up early, doing everything Aaron and Moses said."

Daniela nodded, leaning against Bekah's shoulder. "Nadab ... he always said it was such an honor to be presenting offerings to the Lord." Her baby kicked her, and she thought about how her child would grow up without a father. It was too much, too overwhelming.

"Martyrs," said Eleazer, and Daniela realized it was true. Her baby kicked again, and she started to cry again. Bekah put her arm over Daniela's shoulders.

"How will I take care of this child without him?" said Daniela. "How... how can I without him?"

Eleazer's eyes were soft and compassionate. "We're all here for you," he said. "I know it's not the same, it can never be the same... we're here for you and your baby. You'll always be part of our family and eat at the priests' table."

"He's the child of a martyr," added Ithamar. "The people will always respect that." Ithamar was very young, 15 years old, only a boy, really. He was timid, always following his older brothers' lead.

A young man appeared at the entrance of the tent. "Hello? I'm looking for Eleazer and Ithamar?" The two brothers stood up and went to see what he wanted, leaving Bekah and Daniela still sitting there together.

Bekah sighed. "I can't believe it. I just, how could the Lord let this happen to his priests?" Daniela rested her head against Bekah's shoulder and didn't answer.

After a minute, they heard Eleazer's voice, from the entrance of the tent. "No, no, I think there's been a mistake. ... No, there's no way they're being taken outside the camp. They died in service to the Lord."

"What is it? What? Outside the camp?" Daniela said as she struggled to her feet and went over to where Eleazer was talking to the messenger.

"Oh, it's fine, I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding," Eleazer reassured her.

"Okay..." said the messenger, appearing unsure, "I'll tell them you're not going to carry the bodies outside the camp."

"OUTSIDE THE CAMP?!" cried Daniela. "WHAT? Outside- like, like, like they were some kind of traitors? What on earth?! Oh my, oh my-"

"Sit down, sit down, sit down, calm down, it's okay," said Eleazer, helping her onto a stool. "It's just a mistake. He's going to go back and tell them that Nadab and Abihu were martyrs. Of course no one is taking them outside the camp."

The messenger still looked uncertain, glancing between Eleazer, Daniela, and Ithamar. Finally he sighed, said "okay," and left.

Bekah and Daniela went out at midday to get water. As they stood waiting, they heard a group of women near them talking.

"Well, just goes to show that's why you have to follow exactly what the Lord said. So arrogant, going in there, thinking they could burn incense their own way. They had it coming, I say," said one of the women.

Another added, "Yeah, and they always acted like they were better than everyone else. I guess the Lord finally had to put a stop to it."

Another person said, "I heard they were drunk," and the whole group started giggling.

Bekah and Daniela froze, looking at each other. "Are they talking about..." Bekah started to say.

"I can't believe this," said Daniela, shaking her head. 

As they walked back to Bekah's tent (Bekah carrying water, Daniela not carrying anything because she was 8 months pregnant) they heard a group of three men talking. One of them said, "You know, I heard they weren't even supposed to go to the tabernacle today. They just did that themselves. They thought they could do it their own way."

Bekah turned to Daniela. "That's not true!" she whispered. "Aaron told Abihu to be there this morning! What is happening?"

They heard another man say, "Nadab was kind of a jerk anyway. One time he yelled at my brother. Probably deserved it."

Daniela gasped. "Hey!" she called out, and the three men turned to look at her, a bit surprised and awkward. She marched right up to them and yelled, "How dare you say that! How dare you!"

Bekah was at pulling at her shoulder. "Come on!" she whispered. "Let's not make a scene, let's figure out what's going on." Daniela continued to glare at the men, but she let Bekah pull her back a few steps to where Bekah had left her water jug.

"I can't believe this, I can't believe this," Daniela was saying, and she realized she was shaking, so angry.

"Let's just get back and tell Eleazer. He will know what to do," Bekah answered.

-

"The official story," Eleazer said somberly, "is that they were not authorized to be at the tabernacle this morning, and that they directly disobeyed the Lord's command by burning incense improperly. The Lord is the one who sent the fire. And also, our family is not allowed to mourn publicly."

Daniela was speechless. She couldn't believe it. Only hours after their death, and already people were making all these baseless accusations. Not supposed to be there? Burning incense improperly? She knew her husband would never do that. He was so dedicated to serving the Lord as a priest. Doing everything exactly the way the Lord commanded.

Daniela and Bekah were sitting down, hugging each other and crying. Ithamar was also there with them, in Bekah's tent, sitting on a stool by himself.

"We have to do something!" said Daniela. "We have to tell everyone the truth, before this fake story spreads too far."

"Yes, absolutely," said Eleazer firmly. "My brothers deserve that."

-

Daniela and Bekah went to talk to the women, and Eleazer and Ithamar went to talk to the men. Daniela wished she could rest, wished she could just have some time by herself to grieve, but it wasn't possible. She was so angry. How could people be saying these things about her husband- a martyr who had lived his whole life in devotion to the Lord? How could people say that the Lord had been the one to kill Nadab and Abihu? 

How could they say that Nadab and Abihu had offered incense the wrong way? There hadn't been any witnesses. How could anyone even know? But Daniela knew her husband, how he had worked so hard to memorize all the precise details of every kind of offering. That was his duty, because of God's holiness, Nadab had always said. The Lord deserves that kind of honor, deserves to have priests who devote hours and hours of their time to learning exactly how to prepare the offerings and incense. And Nadab had always been awed by it. God's holiness, and his own position as just an ordinary man who had been chosen for the incredible job of coming into the presence of a holy God. Nadab has been obsessed.

He had even found a perfect white goat, and was raising it to offer in worship to the Lord after their baby would be born. He wanted everything to be the best, because the Lord was holy and deserved it, he always said.

And now, in less than a day, it seemed all that was gone. That Nadab and Abihu's reputations had completely changed, and now everyone was saying they were sinners, they were blasphemers, they were arrogant and disrespectful, and they deserved what happened to them.

She was so angry.

All afternoon, Daniela and Bekah went from one tent to the next, announcing the truth to any group of women they met. It was excruciating. Over and over, people answered with "I heard they were drunk" and "but they disobeyed the Lord" and "sit down, you need to calm down for your baby."

Yes, her ribs hurt. Yes, the muscles all around her pregnant belly hurt, as the baby weighed her down. She felt sick and exhausted, and then remembered that when she got home, Nadab wasn't going to be there. All she could do for him now was continue to try to convince people that he had been innocent. 

And then, at one of the tents, while Daniela was making her case, someone interrupted to say, "You're not supposed to be saying this." When Daniela just stared at her, confused, she continued, "The Lord told Moses they died for their sin. You can't go against the Lord."

Well, what on earth? thought Daniela. How dare anyone say that! But Bekah pulled her to the side and said, "We've done enough for now. We should go."

They made their way back home, through the rows of tents and the campfires. It was starting to get dark. Bekah held Daniela's arm to support her; she was so exhausted.

"Well, well, well, look who it is," said a voice behind them. "It's the traitors' wives! Hey, shouldn't you be at home mourning? Oh, I forgot, we can't mourn because they deserved it! Hahaha!"

Daniela and Bekah turned and saw Mishael and Elzaphan (Nadab and Abihu's cousins). Mishael strode over to them and continued, "I heard you two are on some valiant mission to tell everyone they weren't sinners. Try to convince everyone that the Lord made a mistake! Ha! Good luck with that!"

"Shut up!" Daniela yelled at him, taking a step toward him. "You don't know anything." 

Mishael laughed at her, and then Elzaphan said, "Oh I'd be careful, little girl. You go around saying these things, the Lord might think you're a blasphemer too, just like your husband."

"Haha, we wouldn't want that!" answered Mishael. "Better watch out for any fire the next few days! Don't want the Lord to burn you too!"

Bekah had shrunk away from them, but Daniela stood up straight and angrily pointed her finger in their faces. "Shut up," she said through clenched teeth. "You're just jealous you'll never be as faithful as them."

Mishael put two hands on her shoulders and shoved her backward. She stumbled, and would have fallen down, but Bekah caught her.

"Oh look at that, not so brave now, are we," said Elzaphan. "Now why don't you go back to your own tent and mourn like good little widows." He smirked at his brother Mishael.

"You - you -" Daniela started to say, while Bekah pulled at her arm, urging her to just go home.

"Hey!" Suddenly they heard Eleazer's voice. "Leave them alone!" Eleazer came and stood between his cousins and the women. "What do you two think you are doing, shoving around a pregnant woman like that? You-"

"Ah ah ah," interrupted Mishael. He put his hand up, but didn't touch Eleazer. "You know, you should be careful too. Sons of Aaron-"

"GET OUT!" roared Eleazer. "GET OUT! I mean it!"

"Have it your way, then," said Mishael. "But don't act too surprised when Moses tells you this isn't the kind of behavior a priest should have." Then the two of them turned and left.

Eleazer stood there, tense and seething. He took a few deep breaths. "Those jerks. I'm sorry you... I'm sorry they're like that," he said to Daniela and Bekah. "It's late, let's continue this tomorrow."

The three of them walked back to Daniela's tent. 

-

After Eleazer left, Bekah hesitated. 

The low lights of the nearby campfires flickered over her face, and she put a hand on Daniela's arm. With tears in her eyes, she said, "I don't understand how the Lord could let this happen. It doesn't make sense. It just doesn't make sense."

Daniela just shook her head. There's nothing to say that can make it better.

"The Lord..." Bekah continued, "he is supposed to protect his servants." Her voice broke into a sob. "What happened?"

"Yes, I know," said Daniela. She was exhausted from walking all day. Also thirsty.

"How... where was God?" cried Bekah, burying her face against Daniela's neck.

"I don't know, Bekah, I don't know," said Daniela.

-

That night, Daniela lay awake for hours. She couldn't get comfortable. Nadab used to give her massages because she was pregnant, but now she was alone. 

She thought of the song he used to sing to their unborn baby. Of course it was a song about the Lord; what other song would a priest sing to a baby? "Among those who approach the Lord, he will be proved holy." He used to sing it at night to help her and the baby sleep. He used to talk about how much he looked forward to teaching their child all about the Lord and his greatness and holiness. How he could train the child to be a priest, if it was a boy.

Now Daniela just lay on her side, and felt the baby kick. She had been so distracted most of the day, she hadn't paid attention to the kicking. Now she felt the life inside her, and realized it was all she had left of Nadab. She turned her head and cried into her pillow.

At least she still had Nadab's white goat. She would take that goat to be offered to the Lord after the baby was born. She would do that for Nadab.

She thought of Bekah, poor Bekah, so young, with such innocent faith. Bekah was having a really hard time with this, because she actually believed that bad things don't happen to good people because the Lord protects them. Daniela knew better. Daniela had seen enough suffering and pain. She knew the Lord protected their nation, brought them out of Egypt, made them his chosen people... but that didn't mean he protected every single person 100% of the time. 

Nadab had known that too, and had always said we need to continue to honor the Lord, in good times and bad. The Lord's holiness is unchanging, he always said. Poor Bekah. Daniela wondered if Bekah's faith could handle that.

Everything was too hard, but Daniela told herself she just had to focus on what she needed to do. Keep speaking up in support of Nadab and Abihu, and take care of her baby.

-

Bekah came to see her in the morning. "Daniela," she said, with a very serious and troubled look on her face, "Eleazer and Ithamar have decided to go with the official story. That our husbands died for the sin of making unauthorized fire."

"WHAT?!" said Daniela, fully awake now. She couldn't believe it. "What? Their own brothers? They're - ugh!" She started to stand up, determined to go find Eleazer and tell him how wrong he was.

"But, wait a moment," said Bekah timidly. "Doesn't it..." She looked scared. "Doesn't it... kind of make sense?"

"WHAT?!" Daniela shrieked, turning to face Bekah. Bekah took a step back, clearly scared of making Daniela angry.

"I just... it's the only thing that makes sense!" Bekah said. "How could the Lord really let them die, if they were doing their job correctly? Maybe they were burning the incense in disobedience."

"Ugh!" exclaimed Daniela. Why was everything so hard? "How could you turn on your husband like that? You - you - you said yourself that Abihu told you his father asked them to be there!"

"Well, maybe he didn't! Maybe I was wrong! Maybe he lied!" Bekah shouted back.

"Ugh, you just, you just sell out like this! Just because you're too naive and you think God really protects everyone all the time!"

Bekah recoiled. She looked down, shaking her head. Finally she said, quietly, "It's the only thing that makes sense."

"Fine," said Daniela. "Forget you. I'm going to do this myself. I'm going to find Eleazer and talk some sense into him. I'm-" she clutched at her side; it was suddenly painful.

"Do you need to sit down..." asked Bekah.

"NO! No! I'm going to find him." Daniela hobbled out of the tent.

-

She came to the tent of meeting. Eleazer and Ithamar were there, wearing their priestly robes instead of mourning clothes. She was so mad; it's like they were just pretending nothing had happened.

She marched right up to Eleazer and yelled at him. "You! You're really going along with this? What kind of brother are you?" 

"Daniela..." Eleazer began, "please take it easy, sit down, think of your baby."

"No! No! I am the only one who can see what's really going on here! I can't believe you are selling them out like this! They're good people, and now... people are saying this about them."

He took a deep breath, looking troubled. "Daniela, I would lose my position as a priest, if I go against the official story. People will say I am going against the Lord. I could even be labelled a blasphemer and be stoned. And if you do this, they won't let you eat at the priests' table. I... it's not an easy thing, don't talk to me like it's so easy. You should think of your baby and how you'll provide for him if you are cut off from the priests' share."

"But it's wrong!" she said. "Doesn't anyone care about the truth? What, all you care about is saving yourself now, saving your job."

He hesitated, then said, "There's something else I should tell you... we are using the white goat as an offering." He winced, bracing himself for her reaction.

"WHAT? WHAT? That is Nadab's goat! Oh my goodness! You- ughhh!" She paced back and forth, so angry. She glared at Ithamar as she walked past. "That was- he was going to offer it to the Lord in worship after our baby is born! EVERYTHING IS BEING TAKEN FROM ME!"

"Moses needed it," said Eleazer. "He says it's the best one we have, and we have to do something big to reassure the people. They're scared. This is really a terrifying thing that has happened, and people need something to restore their trust in the Lord and in the priesthood."

"I can't believe this," said Daniela, sitting down because of the pain around her ribs. "I can't believe this. Do you know how Nadab checked that goat to make sure it had no blemishes? Do you know how many goats he looked at, to find that one perfect one? He was so careful, doing everything the way the Lord commanded. He was going to use it to worship the Lord after our baby is born."

"I know that," said Eleazer. Then he knelt down beside her and took her hand. He lowered his voice. "I know it was Nadab's goat. And... actually, I refused. When Moses told me to go get it for an offering, I refused. I agree with you."

He continued, "But..." He glanced at Ithamar. "But, if we don't do this, then our cousins are going to be the priests. Mishael and Elzaphan. Daniela, it would be a disaster. I can't let that happen."

Eleazer continued, "Being a priest, it's not just about knowing all the precise details for making the offerings. It's about mediating for the people. Coming into the presence of God. God's holiness. Playing a role in the people's worship. When they come and bring their offerings, they're nervous. A lot of them want something. They're praying for something, and a good priest should be compassionate about that, you know, reassure them that God sees them and God cares. Nadab knew that.

"He was a better priest than I'll ever be. He really understood the significance of it. The job is not about following the directions exactly- though of course Nadab did that; of course he paid great attention to all those details that the Lord gave us. And it's not about the perks, getting the best meat for ourselves. It's so much more than that; it's about connecting the people to God. And Nadab knew that better than anyone, and, and" he clenched his hands into fists, "and I won't be able to say any of this at his funeral." He turned away. "I can't even go to his funeral! I'm not allowed to mourn."

Eleazer stood there for a moment, with his back to Daniela and Ithamar. Then he sighed and turned toward them again. "I need to do this-" he paused and gestured to Ithamar, "we need to do this, because we can't let Mishael and Elzaphan fill that role. They're greedy. When people come to us to make offerings, they're nervous, they're vulnerable, and Mishael and Elzaphan would exploit that. You saw how Mishael talked to you yesterday. Threatening a widow. It's like he has no compassion at all. He just sees an opportunity for himself."

He turned to address Ithamar directly. "None of this leaves this room, okay? But you already know all this." Then back to Daniela. "The people need priests like Nadab and Abihu. And I can't be them, but I promise I will try. I can't let my cousins have the job, though."

Daniela sat with her head in her hands. She felt defeated. Without Eleazer's support, what could she do? Just fight this battle herself? And he had his reasons for the decision he had made, but that didn't mean she had to make the same decision. She wasn't a priest, maybe she could keep fighting for Nadab. Alone. As a widow. With a baby. Maybe not.

"But how can I do it without you?" she said.

"I'm still here for you," he said. He knelt down beside her again and held her hand. "You need anything, just tell me or Ithamar. But I just, I won't be allowed to say anything to support Nadab. It's awful, it's so awful, I'm sorry."

She looked down at her hands, and at her pregnant belly. Maybe this was the best option she had.

Just then, Aaron came in, from another room in the back of the tent. He wore his best priestly robes, not mourning clothes, and he looked exhausted. "Sons," he said, "I need you to come help with the goat for the sin offering." 

Eleazer and Ithamar both answered, "Yes, father," and Aaron went back inside.

Slowly Daniela began to realize what Aaron had said. "Sin offering...?" Then suddenly she tore her hand away from Eleazer's, disgusted. "Sin offering?! You, you, you are taking his goat, as a sin offering?! Ugh!" she said, standing up quickly.

She paced back and forth inside the tent, so angry. "It's like you're telling everyone that yes, he did die for his sin. Like he deserved it, like he really was that bad of a priest. A blasphemer. You're taking his goat, that he was saving to offer to the Lord, and you're using it to tell lies about him!"

"Daniela, your baby..." Eleazer tried to say.

"No! I will not sit down! Stop telling me to sit down! I'm fighting this, I don't even care! I don't need you! Ah!" She stopped and clutched at her ribs because of the pain. Eleazer and Ithamar nervously exchanged a look, but didn't dare to say anything.

"I'm going to Moses!" she announced. "I am going to march right in there and tell him the truth."

"No no no no no no," said Eleazer, and he looked truly scared.

"I'm going!" she said.

"No, listen," Eleazer said, frantic, reaching out to her, "Moses is -" he stopped and lowered his voice "- Moses is the one behind all this!"

"Well then, I'm going to tell him it's wrong! My husband was a good man!" And she walked out of the tent.

Eleazer continued to yell after her, "No, Daniela, no!" She kept walking, maybe too fast, because now her back was hurting. She heard Eleazer's desperate voice again. "You know I'm not allowed to leave this tent!" She kept walking.

Moses would help. He was a man of God. If anyone could help, it would be him.

-

Daniela pulled the tent flap open and marched right in. Moses was sitting on a stool, with some parchment in his hand. He didn't seem upset about her bursting in; he seemed very calm. "Please, sit," he said, gesturing to another stool with brown fabric draped over it. Daniela sat down. Her back was really hurting now.

"Sir," she began. "My husband Nadab was performing his duties as a priest, when... when this happened." She took a deep breath, trying to stay calm. "People are saying he was burning incense improperly. They are saying he was arrogant and disrespectful to the Lord. They are saying he was drunk."

Moses looked at her for a moment. "The Lord proves his holiness," he said. "It is a grave sin to approach him in and unworthy way. The Lord intends for this to serve as a lesson for the people. They need to respect and honor him."

"But Nadab did that!" she said. "He did respect and honor the Lord! He took his job very seriously!"

"Child," Moses said. He gazed at her calmly. "I know you don't mean to suggest that the Lord erred in his judgment. That would be quite a thing to claim."

She sputtered, too shocked to answer. That was not how she expected this to go.

Moses continued, with that same calm look on his face, "Some might even call it blasphemous. People have been stoned for less."

"But- you-" Daniela tried to say. 

"Why, imagine what would happen if the people believed one could be struck down even when acting in obedience to the Lord. Imagine the mass panic that would cause. Child, I don't expect you to understand the difficulties of leading this whole nation of people. They need certainty. They need something to keep them anchored. They need to know that these things don't happen to people who are following all of God's commands precisely."

The pieces were all falling into place, in a horrifying way. "You mean all of your commands," she said, glaring at Moses.

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," he answered smoothly. "Pregnant women often get carried away by their emotions and say things they don't really mean." He smiled.

More and more rage was building up inside her. She was determined to fight. This was shocking; this was unbelievable, and it was not okay. She would tell people. She would expose and fight this.

"Now," Moses said, "think of what your husband would have wanted. Would he want his child to become destitute, cut off from the priests' share? Would you do that to your child, just because you keep fighting back against the truth about your husband?"

And just like that, all her vows to fight came to a stop. Because Moses was right about what Nadab would have wanted.

Daniela felt trapped. It wasn't fair. She felt the baby kick inside her, and she loved that baby so much. Everyone kept telling her to give up on Nadab's memory, to play nice so that her baby would have food. She was a priests' widow; she and her child would always have a share of the offerings that were brought to the tabernacle. Plenty of food to live on. But only if she went along with the official story, which said her husband was a blasphemer who despised the Lord and deserved to die. A disgusting lie. Nadab deserved better.

Her baby kicked again.

"Think about it, child," said Moses. "What will you do, you and your baby, with no one to support you? Would Nadab want that?"

She knew what Nadab would tell her, if he were here. She knew he would do anything for their child, including sacrificing his own reputation. Daniela saw her future stretched out ahead of her, begging for scraps from strangers, begging for anyone to listen when she said her husband was a good man. What kind of life would that be for her baby?

Moses continued to sit calmly and look at her. "I trust you'll make the right decision," he said, and then turned slightly and looked down at the parchments in his hand.

She struggled to her feet, with the weight of her baby, and the weight of her shame pulling at her. Slowly she walked out of the tent. Moses called after her, "You may mourn, but don't say anything against what the Lord did."

She would give up anything to save her child, even the truth about her husband. She had to. She stared at the ground as she walked out, and she wondered if anyone would ever think she was brave.

-

Moses wrote:

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me
I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

Moses said to Aaron and his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, “Take the grain offering left over from the food offerings prepared without yeast and presented to the Lord and eat it beside the altar, for it is most holy. Eat it in the sanctuary area, because it is your share and your sons’ share of the food offerings presented to the Lord; for so I have been commanded. But you and your sons and your daughters may eat the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. Eat them in a ceremonially clean place; they have been given to you and your children as your share of the Israelites’ fellowship offerings. The thigh that was presented and the breast that was waved must be brought with the fat portions of the food offerings, to be waved before the Lord as a wave offering. This will be the perpetual share for you and your children, as the Lord has commanded.”

When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons, and asked, “Why didn’t you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the Lord. Since its blood was not taken into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the goat in the sanctuary area, as I commanded.”

Aaron replied to Moses, “Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” When Moses heard this, he was satisfied.

--------------

Other fanfics:

Noah's Evangelism
Achan's Sin
In Your Anger Do Not Sin (a Hulk fanfic) 

Follow-up post: Everyone Else's Nadab and Abihu Fanfics

Friday, July 23, 2021

Blogaround

A poster for the tv show "Loki", with gator!Loki. Image source.

1. Preach.

2. What’s the Difference Between a ‘Borb’ and a ‘Floof’? (posted 2020) Extremely important article from Audubon. 

3. ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Explained By a First-Time Marvel Viewer (posted 2019) I LAUGHED SO MUCH. "He encounters a man named Howard Stark. It’s not clear who that is, but from the movie theater audience’s murmur, he must be a person of significance."

4. Freshly Remember'd: Kirk Drift (posted 2017) "Kirk, as received through mass culture memory and reflected in its productive imaginary (and subsequent franchise output, including the reboot movies), has little or no basis in Shatner’s performance and the television show as aired. Macho, brash Kirk is a mass hallucination."

5. This blog series from the Slacktivist is very good: 'For you were [redacted] in Egypt': Concordance-ism and the ESV (part 1), part 2, part 3, and part 4. "After centuries of insisting that the best way to understand 'what the bible says' about slavery is to look up every occurrence of the literal word 'slavery,' they cannot imagine any way of avoiding a pro-slavery interpretation of the Bible that does not also involve looking up every occurrence of that same literal word and then replacing it with the different word."

6. Gather round and laugh at Owen Strachan, everyone:

It reminds me of how I always heard evangelicals making such a big huge deal about how the bible is so perfect and valuable and life-changing and we need to read it every day, but the vast majority do NOT read it every day, and if they did, they would see that all this fluff about how perfect the bible is doesn't really make any sense. Like, seriously, changing one comma is going to "drastically demote it"? That sounds like something you say when you love the idea of the bible and its perfection, but you're not actually engaging with it as a "living and active" account of how people have struggled to connect with God over thousands of years.

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