Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

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Different and Confused

This world is hard.  We all know that, though some to greater extents.  But sometimes things happen that just make you look at that fact…look at it square in the face as if it were a person.  They hit you in such a way on a certain day that you want them to change your life, to change your heart, to change you forever and not just to pass you by with a glance, but you WANT to look at them that way in order to be forced to acknowledge them.

Yesterday I had a couple of those experiences.  They weren’t my own sufferings, and probably were the more poignant for it.  There was a woman with her daughter.  I didn’t think anything of it, the daughter was probably around my age and looked normal.  Then she started talking to me.  And I couldn’t understand her.  It was immediately clear that the girl had what I assumed was a developmental disability or something of that nature.  I thought I was catching some words, but really the only one I was certain of was “confused,” which I got that she was saying as a reference to her mother who was a bit frazzled. The daughter continued to talk to me, and, in the circumstances, not really being able to hear or understand her well, I just nodded and smiled.  Before they left, the mother said, “Confused is her word for weird or out of place.  She was in a car accident and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, ‘I’m different now, and confused.'”  I know that life-long disabilities have seemingly insurmountable challenges, but something about suddenly understanding that this girl used to be just like me, and that tragedy changed her, couldn’t settle in my brain.  The idea of her understanding what she had lost, and the thoughts of what the parents must have felt knowing their daughter was probably never going to do the things she had aspired to do before – it just hung with me.

Then I went to a store to exchange something on my lunch break.  I heard a woman who worked there say something behind me, and I thought she was speaking to me.  I asked her what she said because I didn’t hear her well, and she said, “I was just praying for God to rescue me from my life.”  We had a few back and forth interactions.  She told me that she already served her time in prison and she couldn’t take this anymore, clearly intimating that what she was living now still felt like a prison to her.  I didn’t really offer her anything of substance…I just gave a tiny bit of listening.  In hindsight, I wish I had done all kinds of things, but that doesn’t matter now because I can’t go backwards in time, so I’m trying not to dwell on it.

When I was leaving the store, the woman from before was there with her daughter, and I suddenly felt blasted with other people’s pain – not in such a way as in I wished that it hadn’t happened, but in such a way that I was suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.  Not just their pain, but the pain of the billions of people whose sufferings they represent.

And I felt my smallness.  I don’t just mean in that way of, “Oh, I wish I could help everyone, but you can only do so much.”  I mean in the way that I know I could do a lot more for people than I do…I felt my emotional and spiritual smallness.  I was inadequate.

I had a lot of thoughts throughout the day.  I thought about how often I feel “different and confused” myself, which on the surface seems like it would be in a very different way from the daughter, but then I wondered how different is it really?  Different and confused is different and confused no matter where you’re coming from.  (I’m not saying all of the thoughts I had are true, I’m just telling you what they were.)  And I wondered if that car wreck actually could have saved that girl from some other unspeakable horror.  She seemed genuinely happy.  Maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to her?

I thought about the other lady and how sometimes all of our lives can feel like a prison, and how sometimes that is just life and I even found myself wondering if she was just lazy.  (Many of my thoughts are not highly honorable, I’m just being honest.)

I think that a lot of my thoughts were being formed by the sub-conscious desire to make sense of it, to compartmentalize it and make it OK.  But the fact is that it’s not OK.  Just because suffering is common to all man does not mean it is something that we should walk un-feelingly by or be able to dismiss because it falls into something we can categorize as “acceptable” or “understandable”.

I came home, and though I wasn’t thinking of it in relation to the days happenings, and quite unintentionally since I meant to be reading Proverbs, I began reading in Ecclesiastes.  I couldn’t have read something more appropriate.  Vanity indeed.  All of the things we seek and all of the atrocities that occur because of it are pointless.  What was comforting was the acknowledgment of evil:  “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not marvel at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” – Ecclesiastes 5:8

God is the highest of those high officials, and he is aware of injustice and suffering, and He’s got it.  Though all the seeking of pleasure and riches and even wisdom (though he admits it better than folly), he considers vain, it all boils down to what he says at the last, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed in to judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  It is also interesting to me how even in what seems like a most pessimistic view, Solomon still wants you to fight for justice.  We are to mete out the mercy as God’s emissaries, indeed, it’s part of those commandments we are advised to keep:  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

I want to be severely affected by the reality of other people’s pain.  I want God’s mercy to flow from me to the hurting and oppressed.  I want to cease the vain attempts at satisfaction that, from experience, Solomon tells us will never fulfill.

If Only I Had an Enemy…

Lately I’ve had a lot of thoughts about my lack of concern for other people.  My husband and I have been talking a lot about all of the times the Bible, often through Jesus, says to be kind to the strangers, to show hospitality to them, to visit the sick, to care for the orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to love your neighbor as yourself (expounded on in the story of the Good Samaritan), etc.  There are a lot of them.  Here are a few:

Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 2:8-9: If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself,” you do well.  But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

John 15:9: As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love.

John 15:12-13: This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:17: These things I command you, that you love one another.

Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.

Mark 10:42-45:  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man [Jesus] came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

James 2:14-18: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that?   So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”  Show me your faith apart fro your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion before our God and father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I could keep going, but the point is, I think that I have somehow overlooked the radical nature of what it means if I actually DID this consistently in my daily life, and not just as an occasional “act of kindness” in order to make me feel good about myself.  Right here, my flesh really wants to defend myself, and tell you that I do sometimes do nice things…and I do, but I think I recuse myself from this responsibility far too often.  Sometimes it is time-related: I say I am too busy, but I still manage to fit my favorite TV shows in.  Sometimes it is comfort: I feel that I need some sort of embossed invitation in order to make sure that putting myself outside of my comfort zone is what God wants of me.  Sometimes it is pure laziness: I just don’t want to.  Sometimes it is fear: what if I try to reach out and it is not welcomed, appreciated, effective?

I was kind of down a few weeks ago; I was (and still am) feeling convicted about how little of my time is spent intentionally reaching out to others in distress.  I was reading in the Bible and came across chapter 58 of Isaiah.  I was stunned…we had been discussing all of the Scriptures telling us to help others, to love others, and I was in a sort of spiritual funk, feeling like I didn’t know how to get out of it.  And then I read this:

Isaiah 58: 3-12: “Why have we fasted and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”  Behold, in the day of your fast, you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.  Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?  Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not THIS the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your  healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’  If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, THEN shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy YOUR desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

It’s a lot like some things Jesus said in the New Testament as well, that acts of “religion” are not regarded by him:  Matthew 6:16-18 – “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  And also as it says in Psalm 51, “For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

He doesn’t want us following a list of rules; he doesn’t even want us (per Isaiah 58) to pray and fast and mourn and cry out to him if we don’t plan to act on his words about helping those around us.  He wants our hearts.  He wants them because he wants them to love…him first because that enables us to do the second, which is loving one another.

As I said, I was feeling pretty down before I read Isaiah 58, but it literally gives you a cure for depression.  It says (paraphrasing), “Care for these people, and your gloom will lift.  Meet the desires of the afflicted, and the Lord will meet your desires.  Where you felt disconnected from him (the Lord), he will show up.  Where you were feeling empty and destroyed, you will begin to bloom again.”  Wow.  Depression is caused by selfishness?  It actually makes sense.  We are depressed largely because we are wanting something for ourselves, which we are not getting, feeling, experiencing.  Even if those things are good things, i.e. the presence of God as it discusses in the chapter, we are depressed over them because we are self-focused instead of others-focused.  It’s like all of the things the Lord asks of us, He asks for us to give up self, to die to self even (Galatians 2:20), but it is all because that is what, in the end, will satisfy our deepest longings.  “For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

There is a song by Mumford & Sons with one single line that has run over and over in my head since the first time I heard it…”if only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won.”  I often think that our battle would be more easily won if the enemy were like David’s.  As he was speaking to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”  At least in our American culture, our enemies are much more subtle: 2 Corinthians 11: 14-15 – “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  Their end will correspond to their deeds.”  My enemy is indeed a master of deceit, he is Satan, the Father of Lies (John 8:44) disguised as my own feelings of laziness, apathy, selfishness – if I were to see those things as they really are, even my flesh would rail against them.  I would be appalled at their ugliness.  I watched a video recently about reaching out to the poor and hungry, though I can’t remember what it was from.  At one point in the video, there is a man, clearly starving and malnourished, on his hands and knees, reaching out his hand to a man walking by…but the man doesn’t stop.  He doesn’t even look.  That image has also run through my mind over and over since I saw it.  I am the man who is just walking by, not looking.  One hundred years ago, in our world, we had the excuse of ignorance, the excuse of the logistical difficulties of helping, even if we learned of an issue around the world.  Now, we have no excuse.  Even if there were no hurting, no starving, no poor, no sick around us (which there are), it is so easy to send aid to anyone anywhere in the world.  We have no end of information about those who need help, and no limit to the ways we can help them.  My enemy has become more clear, as I have pictured that man, reaching out to me as I walk out of my house to my car, as I walk into church.  I cannot escape him as he stretches out his arm, pleading for aid.  My enemy is my self-absorption…my desire for a smart phone, though with the extra $ I would pay on my monthly bill, I could probably feed that man each month; my desire for a vacation that, even on a budget, would probably cost more than that man has ever seen, because I “deserve” it…as if that man does not deserve to eat…to live.  If there were a starving man outside my door, even one starving man, I would be callous and cruel to walk past him each day, living comfortably in my relative luxury, but taking no notice.  But there is not just one starving man, there are 15 million children dying every year, and they are all reaching out to me.

So, what will I do?  I am not sure, specifically.  But I know that I MUST cease pretending I am obeying Christ’s words while only nominally reaching out to others who need help.  I must view my apathy as the enemy that it is.  I must take the Scriptures I have included and am including below to heart.  Here’s an interview that my husband did with a man who has done just that, transforming his Christian life from what he acknowledges was just going through the motions, to a life that reflects Christ and his power: Victor’s Story.  Please listen, and note how he embodies the precepts in the texts below:

Matthew 25: 31-46: When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did  see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they will also answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Luke 10:25-37: And behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Pursuing What You Love

A bundle of appetites.  That’s what I am as a bodily entity.  This fleshly tent in which I abide is intent on and, unfortunately, often content with finding things that satisfy it, please it and make it feel comfy-cozy.  Any twinge of displeasure or dissatisfaction is immediately addressed sub-consciously with, “What can I do to alleviate this abomination?”  That thought arises no matter how small the discomfort may be.  Or even if it is not discomfort…even if it is just a thought like, “I want something pleasing at this moment,” which is actually often the follow-up to feeling discomfort in some area, though we may not connect it in such a way at the time, because often the pleasure we choose has no logical connection with the discomfort we are feeling.  This is a commonly known phenomenon.  For example, I may come home from work feeling tired and somewhat disgruntled, thinking my boss is unfair or my co-workers are untruthful, but instead of quitting my job or looking for a new one or trying to come to terms with the situation, I eat a package of M&Ms and watch a funny sitcom, ergo subconsciously trying to alleviate (or rather mask and ignore) one discomfort by allowing myself something that could, in a perfect world, be a good, simple pleasure.  Comfort foods, mind-numbing television…those are two of the most obvious choices.  They are the easiest to come by and the least associated with negative connotations.  Some people do choose alcohol or drugs or lasciviousness or something that happens to be more associated with what the Christian community would dub inherently to be “sin.”  But it all amounts to the same thing, and used in this manner, is itself inherently sinful.

 

The funny thing is that this appetite does not have to be so animalistic as I have painted it in the above paragraph.  It can seek deeper things, even lofty things, aspiring to greatness and achievement. 

 

So, what is one to do with this?  How does one cease constantly desiring and seeking to appease one’s appetite for comfort, for greatness, for recognition, for love?

 

I am not an expert.  I usually say this somewhere in my posts, so perhaps you are getting tired of hearing it, but I need everyone to know that I do not claim to do the things I discuss.  I claim to recognize the truth in the things that God shows me.  I am not always so good at living them.  But God did show me something a couple of months ago that I am attempting to keep in the forefront of my mind as I go through my days.

 

I will not go backwards into what my life has been like this year, but if you care to know the history, read previous posts or shoot me an e-mail.  I will start with the fact that I was in the process of interviewing for a new job.  It is a very regular job with regular hours and regular pay and regular dress codes, etc.  This has not been the reality for most of my life.  I have had very odd jobs, or even if it was somewhat regular, I have predominantly been in charge of my own schedule.  In fact, in looking back, there have only been about 3 years of my adult work history in which I did not control my own schedule.  So, while I was interviewing for this position, I started to get a little freaked out.  Only having two weeks of vacation, and even when I get that is somewhat managed and completely out of my hands??  Well, frankly, that sounds a little like hell to me.  I nearly backed out of the process altogether.  Then one morning I woke up and God spoke to me.  I was still in the hazy state, lying in my bed.  I was not thinking deep thoughts.  I was thinking nothing when these words appeared in my mind’s eye, “Only pursue what you love.”  Well, by the world’s standards of what that means, I have done a pretty good job of that in my life…rarely letting a job take away my freedom to do the things I actually enjoy doing, etc.  But in that moment, I knew that was not what it meant and my next thought was, “What am I supposed to love?”  And everything sort of fell into place for me.  I am supposed to love God and love people.  I am not supposed to LOVE writing or creating or singing, unless God sets those in front of me as ways to love Himself or other people.  And honestly, I have been pursuing those sorts of things in lieu of pursuing the love of God and people for most of my life.  OK, well, “in lieu” of might be an exaggeration.  I have pursued loving God and loving people, but not with such passion and vigor as I have pursued my own pleasure and my “dreams.”  At the very least, I was acting like not being able to pursue those things would inhibit my ability to love God or love other people, which is simply heresy.  First off, I had the order wrong.  I wanted to pursue the things I loved (yes, things) in order that I may better love God and love people.  I was waiting for some moment in the future when apparently, I would feel I had pursued it enough or gotten enough satisfaction from it to be able to start pouring that contentment out on others around me.  How ridiculous.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

 

I have always had the attitude that whatever job I had was evil and keeping me from doing whatever I was really supposed to be doing, i.e. anything important.  I have been realizing for a while now, even before this revelation from God, that this was a serious slight towards those I worked with.  The attitude that “anything important” is outside the sphere of whatever work I am doing negates the importance of every human being I came into contact with during the course of that workday!  It was a self-serving attitude that, at heart, believed “I am more important than these people and I should not have to join in these menial tasks with them.”  Definitely not the heart of a servant.  So, I confess and repent of that here to you now.

 

At the moment God spoke that to me, I knew I needed to get over myself.  I needed to get over my arrogance and let go of myself.  Let go of behaving like a child…as if I could only obey God’s commands to love if He gave me what I wanted first.

 

But let’s take it somewhere else as well and make sure that y’all know I am not saying that God is out to kill all of my fun and enjoyment of life.  Not in the slightest!!  My own selfish desires were fueled by societal training such as Nike’s “Just Do It!” and Barbie’s “We Girls Can Do Anything” philosophies.  I am not trying to negate pursuing excellence in things you enjoy; I AM trying to discourage pursuing those things as a fulfillment separate from those two most important commandments that Jesus spoke and that I am relentlessly repeating here: to love God and love people.  Pursuing or achieving excellence in something does not mean anything special if you are horrible to everyone on the way up, if you crush those who stand in your way or if you are unfeeling or negligent to those around you.  I may not have been horrible and I may not have been crushing people, but I have definitely been unfeeling and negligent.  And I am beginning to understand that pursuing the thing only creates more disenchantment and dissatisfaction, because no matter how hard you pursue something, you are still at the mercy of others to determine its worth.  A song I write only grants me so much fulfillment if no one else likes it.  And even if others do like it, it still only grants me a measure of fulfillment until it begins bringin’ in some cash, right?  All of the doing requires recognition of some sort in order to bring any feeling of satisfaction.

 

But guess what?  Loving God?  Self-fulfilling.  Because God is PERFECT.  He loves you as fully as you can ever imagine being loved.  I’m not saying you feel all warm and fuzzy all the time.  I’m just saying that when you forget yourself and you really are about loving something outside of yourself, there’s much less that will rattle you.  It’s not about, “What’s in it for me?”  It’s about, “What’s in it for God?” which can usually be answered in a much more satisfactory fashion.

 

And when you are really about loving others, the pressure is suddenly gone because you are not relying on their reactions.  You only want to love, to give.  It’s the one thing that you can do, though even that only through Christ’s strength because He has to act through us so that we do not let that bundle of appetites override our love.  It’s suddenly not about you anymore and the stress is off.  THAT is what I felt when God spoke to me.  It didn’t matter anymore if I only had two weeks of vacation or if I was at the whim of the not-so-esteemed corporate elite…they could not stop me from loving.  And loving was suddenly what mattered.  All of the other stuff was mere self-serving prattle…the modern heresy of “following your heart” and “chasing your dream,” which thought very little of others and therefore, by default, could not be thinking much of God.

 

I have spoken of similar things in previous posts and I will give the same disclaimer here:  I in no way believe that putting this into practice leads to that asceticism which denies its own needs or becomes an unhappy martyr.  If the manner in which this life is being led does not lead to joy, then there is still some heresy deep within.  I am still uncovering my deeper heresy, to be sure.  God calls us to this sort of life because He KNOWS us, and knows what our spirits, minds and bodies need.  I heartily believe that living life according to His guidelines will lead us into peace and joy and hope, and that fulfillment which we seek by doing such things as “chasing dreams” will be realized in Him and only in Him.  I do not mean externally; our world may be falling apart around us.  But our hearts will be wholly His and wholly, well, whole, and that bundle of appetites I spoke of at the beginning will not be so ravenous and insatiable.

 

I re-posted my title poem yesterday as a pre-cursor to this.  I did so because I would like people to read this post, and then continue down to read that poem through its lens.  I used to view it as more of an individualistic evangelism, stating that we should pursue our dreams.  Now I know that the idea of passionately pursuing those dreams is part of the mold the world and Satan would like to press us into in order to keep us focused internally, always looking for our own fulfillment and happiness instead of trusting it to God.  It is a road that will wind around into an interminable maze of confusion.  It is much easier to stay on a single path and actually arrive at a destination when I am not bowing to the constant caprices of my own will, instead trusting the Will of Someone all-powerful and all-knowing who will not lead me wrong. 

Why I Did Not Vote

OK, so I know I’m a little behind the game on talking politics.  That is because the whole thing makes me nauseated.  However, this week I have had several discussions with people asking me to explain the reason I was not voting.  I am sure that I will catch a lot of flack for this, but I am interested in people’s responses, whether you agree or not.  So, here goes:

 

My Political Manifesto

 

I did not vote because I believe that until the people who claim their lives belong to God rise up and act like it, this country’s morals and plans will continue to disintegrate and decline.  No amount of human strategy will rebuild the integrity that has been lost.  I do not believe that you can legislate morality, and even if you could successfully do so, whose morality are you going to legislate?  I know people of strong moral conviction and Christian substance who are virtually polar opposites when it comes to politics.  Legislating morality is only somewhat controlling the level that an activity is conducted publicly.  Any activity is going to continue in the shadows regardless, and unless there is individual change, corporate law is merely a label to make us feel better because we cannot see certain things done out in the open.  It is about comfort.  “I want to feel comfortable in my political and societal environment, so I want to see this happening and don’t want to see this happening.”  This is just hiding your eyes from what is really happening.

 

I did not vote because I believe the political system is almost wholly corrupt.  It is full of people grasping for power and pushing agenda.  The political system has very little to do with maintaining personal freedoms now, and is mostly about whose freedoms get upheld.  Instead of maintaining freedom for all, politicians choose whose freedoms are more important and pander to that crowd, often, I am convinced, with very little personal conviction about an issue or the actual freedoms themselves, but with care to who is going to give them the most political support and help them attain the most power.  In conjunction with this reason not to vote, I do not believe that God needs to work within a corrupt system to get His work done.  God does not need a bunch of legislators passing bills to police morality in order to become more powerful.  God needs individuals who are willing to give of themselves and love others unconditionally.  Until this happens, no amount of putting God in or taking God out of government will really make a difference.

 

I did not vote because the political system is almost wholly managed by fear.  The terror that each political party tries to force down the throats of their own supporters just to ensure their actions and votes is not of God.  “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  The fear that is constantly force-fed to people through political campaigns literally makes me sick to my stomach.  I cannot tell you how many people spoke to me during this campaign about how terrified they were about what would happen if their non-favored candidate was put into office…both sides.  Terrified.  This system creates and, in fact, counts on a lack of trust in God.  It says, in not so many words, “God cannot work if A is put into office.  YOU must control your own environment.”  Again, I believe the system gives rise to a corporate blame as opposed to an individual responsibility.  If individuals would act on the beliefs and convictions they claim to hold so dearly and so strongly, then it would not matter who was in power.  We CANNOT control our environment – God never says we are supposed to.  He talks about what we are supposed to do in our own lives.  People have their chosen institutions for who they get to point to when they say what they believe, whether that is a church or a political party or whatever…churches allow the same freedom from personal responsibility.  You can say, “I am affiliated with X church or X political party, therefore, I am doing my part,” when we sit back and, largely do nothing from our own resources or with our own time.  And going back to the verse I quoted above, the politics I see certainly does not give to rise to anything like a “sound mind.”  The irrationality and hatred (opposite of love as in the verse above as well) that politics brings about are NOT of God.  I have seen perfectly intelligent, highly peaceful and caring persons go nearly crazy with anger over politics and distort and demonize everyone who could have a different viewpoint.

 

I did not vote because I see no love in politics.  And this is the reversal of the last reason, being that it is almost wholly perpetrated by fear.  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.  He that feareth is not made perfect in love.  We love him, because he first loved us.  If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he heath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?  And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” (I John 4:18-21)  I touched on it above, but the hatred and slander that is spewed on both sides makes me want to have nothing to do with the system.  I cannot view one or the other party as a representative of Good when that is what I see.  Politics does not encourage, in any way, unity.  It promotes, in order to promote itself, difference, which manifests as antagonizing and stoking every issue necessary to stir people up against one another.  There is not even a common courtesy or respect in place.  It is a gloves off battle for power.

 

I did not vote because I do not believe God needs to “win.”  Jesus was not a political candidate when He was on the earth; He loved people and lived life with them.  THAT is how He effected change, and that is how I believe we, as God’s people, are called to effect change.  Politics, to me, is simply a distraction from living out His love…a tool that the devil has used to take our mind off of the real business of being Christians and caring for the orphan, the widow and the alien as true religion is described in the Bible.  Again, God never says, make sure everyone around you is doing what is necessary to care for the widow, the orphan and the alien.  He says YOU do it.  If we would all follow that instead of waiting for the government to make sure it happens in whatever manner we deem best, the politics would not even matter.

 

I did not vote because I believe that God is in control of individual lives, including mine, and THAT is how His will is going to be accomplished.  I choose not to put my “faith” in a political candidate or party.  I choose not to put my vote and stamp of approval behind the caustic nature of politics, whatever issue or agenda or faith they claim they are going to uphold.  If I do not see love and God and peace in their campaigns, why should I expect that in their terms in office?

 

Addendum: Lyrics to Derek Webb’s song, “A Savior on Capitol Hill”

 

I’m so tired of these mortal men
with their hands on their wallets and their hearts full of sin
scared of their enemies, scared of their friends
and always running for re-election
so come to DC if it be thy will
because we’ve never had a savior on Capitol Hill

you can always trust the devil or a politician
to be the devil or a politician
but beyond that friends you’d best beware
’cause at the Pentagon bar they’re an inseparable pair
and as long as the lobbyists are paying their bills
we’ll never have a savior on Capitol Hill

[Bridge]
all of our problems gonna disappear
when we can whisper right in that President’s ear
he could walk right across the reflection pool
in his combat boots and ten thousand dollar suit

you can render unto Caesar everything that’s his
you can trust in his power to come to your defense
it’s the way of the world, the way of the gun
it’s the trading of an evil for a lesser one
so don’t hold your breath or your vote until
you think you’ve finally found a savior up on Capitol Hill

 

 

Women and the Bible – Christian Atrocities

Prior posts on Feminism and the responses to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article (the article can be found in the first link):

Feminism and the Bible

Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16

Women and the Bible – Church Roles

Women and the Bible – Heroines?

In this segment, I am focusing on one major complaint from Gaylor: the oppression of women under the hand of humans who are claiming to be doing the work of God.

 I think the very first sentence of her article is enlightening: “Organized religion always has been and remains the greatest enemy of women’s rights.”  She says organized religion is the enemy of women’s rights.  This may be at least partially true, but God is not to fault for that.  Humans are.  I will elaborate more fully after we look at the next section of her writing:

 “Church writer Tertullian said ‘each of you women is an Eve . . . You are the gate of Hell, you are the temptress of the forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law.’  Martin Luther decreed: ‘If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.’  Such teachings prompted 19th-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton to write: ‘The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation.’  The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from women’s right to speak in public, to the use of anesthesia in childbirth (since the bible says women must suffer in childbirth) and woman’s suffrage. Today the most organized and formidable opponent of women’s social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion. Religionists defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. Religious fanatics and bullies are currently engaged in an outright war of terrorism and harassment against women who have abortions and the medical staff which serves them. Those seeking to challenge inequities and advance the status of women today are fighting a massive coalition of fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic churches and religious groups mobilized to fight women’s rights, gay rights, and secular government.”

It’s a common argument against God and Christianity:  “Look at all of those horrible Christians and what they have done – what they continue to do.” 

Part of the problem is that it would seem in order to have a case against Christianity, Gaylor would have to assume that all Christians agree on everything and blindly follow every church leader you can name.  Trust me, this is not the case.  So, whatever Tertullian and Martin Luther said, it does not follow that all of Christendom is on the same page.

In addition, if you follow the logic of “Christianity must be false because of all of the bad things Christians have done” then it also follows that non-Christianity must be false because of all of the bad things that non-Christians have done.  You may reply that people who are not Christians have never claimed to be good, whereas Christians do.  I beg to differ.  In fact, all of the arguments against Christianity would be pointless if those people did not think that non-Christianity led to a better life than Christianity.  For this particular argument, that is their main point: if there were not Christians, none of these bad things would have occurred, because non-Christians wouldn’t have done that.  I ask, what about all of the bad things that occur at the hands of others?  The basic answer is this: none of these bad things would have occurred if there were not any people, at which point it would not matter because there would have been no one for the bad things to happen to.  And that’s about as far as you can take this logic.  If you want to start generalizing what is true and false by whether the people who believe in it are good or bad, then nothing in the world will ever be believed, because there are both good and bad people to be found in any belief system.  So, what we arrive at is this: there sure are some bad Christians out there.  And I concur. 

But here’s the main problem: God is not a tyrant.  If He was, we would all be forced to do what He wants all of the time.  Christians would all be perfect and they would never say or do anything stupid.  But He’s not a tyrant, and therefore, a whole heck of a lot of us screw up.  I screw up.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t, although I know a few people who try to pretend like they don’t.  Some of us screw up worse than others.  God has forgiven us (ALL of us – some of us just haven’t accepted His forgiveness). 

 

But I think if you look at the “problem” logically, you will see that there is not really an alternative.  People complain that God is too strict, too demanding, too forceful…always pushing His supposed agenda (I purport that God has no agenda except to love us and give us the best).  He has too many rules.  You want a softer God.  But when it turns out that He IS a softer God –  meaning, he does not strike us all dead to clean up the streets when we start messing things up – you do not like it.  People think things like, “If God were God, He would have stopped that.  He wouldn’t let His followers act like that.”

 

Unless my logic is bad, I don’t think you can have it both ways.  You want a softer God when it comes to your own life – one that will be sort of hands off and not really bug you about what you’re doing wrong – but you want a tougher God when it comes to those evils that you happen to be against.  Or perhaps it is more a question of the level of evil that you think is being done – if you want to lie to your neighbor about “borrowing” the rake he left outside, you want God to keep quiet.  But if someone is going to steal your car, you want God to step in.  God doesn’t see sin in degrees.  And if He did, then His scale would most likely opposite ours based on Jesus actions in the Bible – the most notorious sinners were the ones that He extended His love to with such mercy.  It was the falsely pious religious leaders that He seemed to have the biggest problem with – the ones who didn’t know that they were also part of the problem.  So, if you want to consider yourself above a car theif when you just stole your neighbor’s rake and you wish that God would stop the greater evils, then you had better watch out.  Theivery is theivery, and you just added hypocrisy to it.

 

The point is that God is at neither of these extremes.  He does not let us get by with things, nor does He stop us from committing any evil.  There are definitely consequences for misrepresenting God; we don’t get off scot free.  There are natural consequences from any negative behavior, and God also works in our spirit.  But at the same time, He does not reach down His hand and physically stop us from doing something bad every time we begin to.  We would all be puppets on a string.  Yes, He can intervene in such a manner, and He has in particular instances.  I can’t answer the question of why sometimes He does and sometimes He does not. 

 

So, all I can do is apologize for the atrocities committed by Christians down through the ages.  I can apologize for my own part in misrepresenting God’s character.  I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t happen.

 

What I will say is that God is not to blame; God is on the side of the victims.  And what He does do is offer healing to those who are wounded, afflicted, oppressed and underprivileged.  The Christians are supposed to be the hands and feet of this healing, not the administrators of the wounds, but unfortunately, as I said above, we often fall short.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to [them that are] bound.”  Isaiah 61:1

 

“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.”  Psalm 147:3

 

God also specifically calls us to minister to widows and orphans in multiple locations in the Bible (below).  I don’t see how a God who seems to care so deeply about providing for widows can be painted as a God who does not care about women – or worse, a God who wishes women ill.

 

“At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”  Deuteronomy 14:29

 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.”  Psalm 68:5

 “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”  Isaiah 10:1-2

 “Leave your orphans.  I will protect their lives.  Your widows, too, can trust in me.” Jeremiah 49:11

“’So I will come near to you for judgment.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurors, against those who defraud labors of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me’ says the Lord Almighty.”  Malachi 3:5

And as for the “organized religion” that Gaylor complains of, Jesus complained about it as well, and even in the context of their oppression of women:

 

“And as He taught, Jesus said, ‘Watch out for the teachers of the law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the market places, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widow’s houses and for a show, make lengthy prayers.  Such men will be punished most severely.’”  Matthew 12:38-40  This text goes on to discuss the giving spirit of one widow in particular, who Jesus points out as an example of faith to his disciples.

 

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep onself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27

 

Incidentally, James 1 also speaks against anger in us…”Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God describes.”  So, when you see Christians responding to any group by taking personal offense and responding in hatred or wishing another ill-will, you can know it is not God’s will.  The sin that the Christian is opposing may actually be a sin, but their response to it is also sin.

 

And if you continued on to read James 2, the entire chapter speaks against oppression, against assigning varying degrees of importance to people, against men pronouncing judgment on other men.  God is for equality. 

 

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 

What we are commanded to do is love others as we love ourselves.  It is the second greatest commandment because it flows out of the first.  We are only given the strength to love others in this manner if we are first committed to loving God unreservedly.  We don’t have that kind of power within ourselves.  And all of the disturbing things that Christians have done over the years have come from failing these commands.  Loving another human being as you love yourself leaves no room for any type of oppression or any lording over another, whether it be because of gender, class, race, age or infirmity.  Loving someone in this manner means defending another’s rights as you would defend your own.

 

Christians fail this in more than one way – we often do the opposite, as discussed above…creating more rifts and more oppression.  But we fail it in another way as well, and that is that when we see it, we too often turn our faces from it, deny it, ignore it, treat it as if it is not our problem.  But it IS our problem, and this commandment to “love each other as we love ourselves” proves it.  We are supposed to care about others as if the injustice befalling them were on our own heads.  Can we commit to do this so that we can stop providing people like Gaylor with ammunition against God?  If we did these things, Gaylor probably would not even want to write her article, she would be content to let us continue being loving…if that’s what we were largely doing.  She may even start wanting to believe in what we have.

 

And in Matthew 25:33-43, God even says that acts of kindness performed to the poor, the imprisoned and the sick will be considered as acts towards God Himself.  We need to get on the ball.  And, don’t worry, I’m talking to myself here as well.  

Circus Christianity

This morning as I was sitting in church, an image popped into my head.  It was the image of a clown.  This particular clown had a sad face with tears painted on, but was still doing its silly clown show to make people laugh.  And I thought about how Christians do this…how there are Christians who act like clowns.  They might vary in how they look – some of them may have the sad faces, but some have happy ones and some just look a little crazy.  The common denominator is that each of them has painted on a persona that is not their own – a persona that, in fact, hides what each of them really is.  Have you ever seen a movie or a TV show portraying a clown that ends his or her act, then when they no longer have an audience, they begin treating everyone like scum or you find out that they are a raging alcoholic?  It’s a ridiculous analogy, I know, but this style of Christians does the same ridiculous thing.  Their real character is completely incongruous with what they try to portray, leaving people disillusioned and disappointed when they find out the truth.  They thought those Clown Christians had it all together, but turns out, that’s only while they were on stage. 

 

Christianity is not about faking it.  Some people may say, “Well, we have to look cheerful or act cheerful or do something to make everything look great.”  I say this is one of the best ways to chase people away from Christianity.  It doesn’t take a very long look for anyone to tell that everything is not always great for anyone.  It’s hypocrisy at its grandest.  So, if people do fall for it initially, they drift away easily after coming to the truth of the matter: that Christians struggle and mess up, too.  Even the clowns with the sad faces are going through the motions of making people happy…a performance they’ve often been rigorously taught.  People pleasers rarely please people.  Let’s be real, Christians.  The clown act doesn’t become us.

 

And as I thought through this, I realized it was more than just clowns.  There is an entire Christian Circus going on all around us. 

 

There’s the guy/girl walking the tight rope.  It doesn’t take long to spot this one.  These guys are in shape.  They’ve worked hard.  They probably even have a little talent.  And now they want to show it off.  “Look at me – I can walk this rope.  It’s a fine line, but I can do it.”  They put themselves way up there…they are the elite.  They’re not going to fall…falling is not an option.  I mean, if you fall, you die, right?  There’s no net.  God’s not big enough for me to fall.  These are the legalists.  There’s no room for error, and anyone who can’t do what they can do has not quite got it all together.  What happens with them?  They crash…and burn.  They live in fear of stepping one toe out of line, and inevitably find out that they can’t stay up there forever.  It’s a lonely road.

 

Christianity is not about fear.  And all this act does is scare people.  “Ooh, I could never do that.  I might as well not even try.  I’ll just stay down here and walk around on this dusty tent floor.  You have to really work too hard…and it’s dangerous, too…I mean, what if you fall?  You’re done for.”  When are we going to learn that it’s not about what we can do, but about what God already did?

 

And now we have the lion tamer.  This is the dude with the whip.  He is all about beating everyone into submission.  There’s no love in this act.  It’s all force: conversion by conquest.  And then once you get them conquered, you make sure you keep them controlled.  He’s not getting people to follow God; he’s getting people to follow him.  It’s all about the power.

 

Christianity is not about force.  The lion tamer eventually gets his head ripped off when one of the lions he thought he had tamed suddenly realizes this guy doesn’t have its best interest at heart.  He’s just a mean guy with a whip on a power trip.  If conquest were the answer, then the whole world would’ve been Christian after the Crusades.  Let’s stop pretending we can hold people down until they say uncle…or Jesus.  This would only establish that the strongest guy wins.  It says nothing about truth.

 

Then we have the guy who eats fire.  He’s a showman.  He uses a lot of slight of hand, illusions, tricks.  The Christian fire-eater is really not much more than a magician with an agenda, but he sure does make it look exciting.

 

Christianity is not about the hype.  Hype goes away.  People get tired of watching him eat fire every day…he’s a one trick wonder.  They lose interest.  There is no substance to his message.  People don’t get tired of watching someone who is living the abundant life that Christ offers us to the fullest, day in, day out, in every area of their life.  THAT is something to see.

 

The next one is more like a category.  It includes the bearded lady, the tattooed man, etc. – the pejorative “freak show.”  These are the Christians who have embraced their fears and insecurities.  They have accepted the lie that they have nothing to offer anyone, except as a novelty, and therefore have retracted from normal daily interaction with people.  They get mocked a little bit and just take it as their lumps in life, figuring this is the price you pay for being different.  You may as well just own it, right?  Their inability to fit in has become their identity.  It’s an excuse not to become something else, something more.

 

Christianity is not about hiding behind your insecurities.  It’s about facing them head on, and allowing God to make something of you in spite, or possibly because of them.  When we, as Christians, retreat because we feel inadequate, that says to the world, “Look, they really don’t have anything to offer.  They don’t even believe in the power of it themselves.”  God has promised that He will make something of us, and we need to start acting like it!

 

There are probably more, but this is as far as I got on the performers in the circus.  However, there’s one more I want to mention: the ringmaster.

 

You might think that I’m going to say the ringmaster is God.  Not in this case.  In the case of Circus Christianity, the ringmaster is Satan.  He is standing in the middle of that big red tent, directing the performance.  “Yes, that’s right,” he says.  To the clown: “Don’t you dare show your true colors.”  To the tightrope walker: “You (and everyone else) must be perfect or it was all a complete failure.”  To the lion tamer: “Anyone who disagrees with you should be treated as a hostile.”  To the fire-eater: “Give them a good thrill!”  To the bearded lady: “You are not worth anything.”  Satan applauds it all…anything that makes us ineffective, impotent Christians.

 

How many spectators of a circus do you know who watch it, and then decide they’re going to go join up and become part of the circus, too?  It’s just a show; something to do…see what those crazy Circus Christians are up to now.  There is nothing remotely desirable in it.

 

So, this is a call to all Christians – step out of the circus!  Stop doing tricks and putting on shows.  Become a real person with real purpose as God has called us to.  Be engaged with those around you and with what you believe.  Don’t be afraid of people questioning things; know that God is big enough to handle their questions as well as your own.  Don’t pretend to have it all together; if you don’t know, say so.  Respond to people with the love that God asks us to respond with.  Don’t focus on your own insecurities or other people’s faults; focus on God’s strength and the way He can make something out of anyone – just like He does over and over again in the Bible.

Sadness

I am writing this post, because I saw something that made me sad.  I saw an article about a man who is suing a few publishers of the Bible for “emotional distress” because of its disapproval of homosexuality.

I am usually more saddened by cases of people within the homosexual lifestyle than many other things because in this particular instance, this is where those people feel like they receive love and acceptance.  They are not out doing it because it is fun or in order to get under someone else’s skin – they just want to be loved.  I’m not condoning it – I still believe it is wrong, but for the most part, the typical Christian’s reaction to it just drives them farther away from where REAL love and acceptance comes from. 

Having said that, here is what I think about this particular lawsuit:

The Bible is a book which delineates, in many different areas of life, right from wrong.  We can all agree that people everywhere have a different idea of what right is.  This is why we have wars, why we have different political parties, etc.  Most people are not out to do something because they think it is the wrong thing, unless they are sociopathic.  But, to presume you should be able to live in a world where no one’s disapproval of your own explanation of right can touch you in any way is to call for a totalitarian world that is able to tell you how to think and what to say.  If this is how things should work, then there should be NO books written about how to do right as opposed to wrong in any category, i.e. health, raising children, etc.  Because you cannot have a book about doing right without at the very least inferring what is wrong, and, apparently, you cannot say anything about someone else’s wrong behavior unless no one in the world would be offended by what they may be doing wrong.  As you can see, this is clearly impossible.  I could sue a doctor for writing a book in which he states that drinking coffee is the worst thing you can do for your health if it makes me feel like a bad person.  Indeed, I should sue the Bible, because it says that liars are sinners, and I have definitely lied in my lifetime. 

One of the main points of the Bible is that we are ALL sinners – it says it outright.  And then it offers God’s forgiveness and redemption from that.  So, I will be the first to tell you, if the thought of being called a sinner causes you emotional distress, then the Bible and its publishers are the people to sue.  Because it includes YOU.  And me.  And your neighbor. 

I have discussed in previous posts how the ideas of “equal” vs. “same” have been confused in our society, and this is another severe indicator.  We, as a culture, think we are being tolerant when we ask everyone to agree with everyone else.  This is not tolerant to anyone except for those with the pervasive political and socially accepted viewpoints.  Those who vary from that have to keep their mouths shut for fear of being dubbed politically incorrect.  Our country was not founded on the principle that everyone must believe the same things.  It was founded on the idea that we should recognize the differences in people, and be able to love them anyway, live shoulder to shoulder with them anyway. 

I want people in all walks of life to be able to feel love from me, because that is what God asks us to do, but this does not mean that I condone every act each of them performs.  I hope that we can all recognize that, and respect that a world where people are allowed to point out their idea of right from wrong (whether I agree with it or not), is the only way to keep a society from total anarchy.  You calling me out for disapproving of homosexuality is exactly the same as me calling you out because I think homosexuality is wrong.  You have the right to tell me that you think my disapproval is incorrect; please respect my First Amendment right to speak what I believe is right as well. 

It is a basic idea – if you have a child, you do not love it by letting it do whatever it wants to without explaining to it the consequences of poor decisions, training it to know what will hurt it and what will not – “Don’t touch that stove – it will burn you; Don’t have sex before you are married – it hurts your heart, and exposes you to other, possibly serious and dangerous, consequences.”  You get the idea.  Clearly, disapproval of actions does not have to equal hatred.

I’m sure from this, I could be dubbed a gay-basher, and I assure you that is far from the truth.  No more than I am a basher of those living in bitterness, because I wish they would come out of it – or a basher of those living in alcoholism because I wish they would get free.

I have gay friends, and although each of them know my stance on it, I believe they could say that they have never felt my love for them waver.

Hatred of any people is against the tenets of the Bible – but real love can continue to love, even when it does not agree with actions.  I am sorry that Christians themselves have also attached themselves to the belief that love=approval and vice versa.  It does not, and was never meant to.

Women and the Bible – Church Roles

If anyone remembers, a friend of mine and I took on the task of combating the accusations in an article by Annie Laurie Gaylor, which can be found in the following post: Feminism and the Bible. I’ll be the first to admit that both of us got seriously side-tracked from this project, as you can see from the date of that post, a little over one year ago. I could make excuses, but I won’t. Let’s just work on into the article by Gaylor.

Other posts related to this issue:

Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16

Women and the Bible – Heroines?

After her comments on Genesis 3:16, and the consequences for women she based on this, which I covered one of the the posts listed above, the next issue Gaylor brings up is I Timothy 2:11-14: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”

Ouch. Admittedly, that is one of the most difficult Scriptures pertaining to women in the entire Bible, and I am not going to pretend to have the definitive answer on its meaning. I have read commentaries and conjectures on what it may mean based on cultural interpretations, but I have not heard anyone (who was credible and whose logic was viable) who gave an explanation of it, claiming to have the final word. Pretending like you understand something just so that you have an argument to present does not make you look more intelligent, nor does it grant any redemption to your viewpoint. Everyone sees through conjecture, and so I am not going to do it. I will state some facts, give some opinions, and try to delineate between the two.

What I believe it does NOT mean is this: that a woman is to sit quietly and never speak in church because she has nothing to offer. The two main reasons for this belief are this: 1) the literal translations of some of the words and 2) inferences from other Scriptures.

The literal definition of the word used for silence used in both instances in this verse means something more like desistance from bustle or language; peaceable, undisturbed. The connotation is one that is more of resting, being still and teachable rather than just keeping your mouth shut.

Bear in mind that it also says, “But I suffer not a woman to…usurp authority over the man….” That’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s a pretty Biblical precept that one is not to usurp authority at all. The definition of the Greek word used there is this: to act of onself; dominate. If you have not read my post on Genesis 3:16, now would be a good time. In it, I discuss a portion of the consequences of sin that are listed in that passage. The woman’s “desire” for her husband in that passage is an unhealthy “stretching out after” (literal definition), and by giving in to the nature of pride that Satan exploited in Eve’s deception, it seeks to elevate one’s own self over another by control or domination. That “stretching out after” has occurred in our broken system from then until this day, and is wrong no matter who the perpetrator is.

I mention that many people often use cultural interpretations to explain this passage away, but this does not mean we should not look at it through the appropriate cultural lens. We should simply never use it as a means to twist what is there. I do believe that the discussion of “submission” in the I Timothy passage should be viewed through this cultural lens. The education of women common in that day was severely lacking. Most women who were not in the aristocracy were only given a lower education, and that was basically focused on learning the duties attributed to wifedom or on the things they needed to know in order to educate their own children in basic knowledge or sometimes in something that could be turned into a trade. Even the education for the women in the aristocracy, though somewhat different, was focused on educating them for the purpose of being more satisfying partners for their husbands, studying things such as literature and music. Though their studies extended longer than the lower classes, it still ended far before their male counterparts, and left out education innately for the respect of a woman’s intellect. So, the discussion of women learning at all in I Timothy is a statement that women should be allowed to continue their education, giving no stipulations as to age or status or the purpose it would serve to men. So, while distasteful to us, it was probably necessary for the women to “learn in submission” at this time, being less educated than the men doing the teaching. They had some catching up to do. Perhaps this was part of the problem being addressed – that the women, though not considered inferior, were less knowledgeable, and trying to take over teaching before they were sufficiently prepared. Admittedly, there is some conjecture in this paragraph, and I could never represent this theory as fact. It is, however, a logical deduction based on the times.

Let’s also speak to the fact that if the author of I Timothy was speaking to the lack in the women’s education, this does not mean that he was stating that the less educated have less rights. A child is less educated than an adult, but may, in fact, be far smarter than said adult, and no one would say that a child should have less rights; just that their rights are more supervised until the time they are learned and mature enough to be responsible with them. Anyone in a learning stage on any particular subject needs supervision in order to grow.

I think it is also important to note that God does not view importance and worth in the same way we do. I Corinthians 1:27 states, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” It also says in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” and in Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last….” We should be able to recognize that in the Bible, most of the figures that God uses to do mighty works are in the most unlikely of vessels – weak, broken, sinful. As Christians our place is to humble ourselves, regardless of gender. And by this, I mean not attempt to assert our own importance over another’s. Unfortunately, that is not in our human nature. But, honestly, women have the advantage here, being, albeit unjustly, pressed down by most societies, we are more readily open to being the humble vessel God can use, unless we let this brew bitterness in us instead of true humility. We can still stand up for what God has called us to (and more successfuly so!) without becoming embittered, angry and defensive.

I cannot move on without addressing the verses preceding the portion that Gaylor included in her article. Verses 9 and 10 of I Timothy 2 speak to a woman’s modesty: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”

Just to clear something up before continuing, “shamefacedness” here means something like awe or reverence. One can infer fairly conclusively from this passage that the women were attempting to substitute high fashion for good works. If this were the case, it would obviously be distracting to an atmosphere of learning, and would further validate the need for their subjection mentioned in verse 11. The writer of I Timothy could have simply been trying to get their priorities straight.

So, you viewed I Timothy 2:11&12 based on these views, in modern English, it would read something more like this:

Let the woman learn, undisturbed, with humility. But do not allow a woman to teach taking authority away from a man, but to learn in peace.

And though this will be unpopular, I will reiterate what I spoke in my discussion on Genesis 3:16. I do believe that there is an order of authority that God intended, and we broke it with our choice to step outside of His will, which also takes us outside of His protection. I believe wives are actually to be in submission to their husbands, but not in that pandering, servant-like way that we imagine today. Their submission is first to God, and the submission to their husbands is a responsibility of helping. God says in Genesis 2:15 that He is making Adam a “help-meet”, which means counterpart or to view from the other side. It does not say anything about servant. God wanted Adam to have someone who could look at the other side of things along with him, challenge him, encourage him. And again, if you understand what God asks of husbands, which is to “love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25) and to “love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28). Submission hold absolutely no fear when you are submitting to someone who loves you in this manner. It is not a punishment, but a gift of love, a gift of someone who is commanded to love you more than he loves himself. And based on this explanation, I maintain that even if the passage is referring to submission, it is not the kind of submission you have any reason to be offended at.

Let’s move on to verses 13 and 14 of this passage. I will also be including verse 15, as I believe they are all needed in order to grasp a few important things.

“For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

So, “Adam was first formed.” What does this mean for us? I don’t, personally, think it means much. I could be wrong, but I just think it means that he was formed first. It may have something to do with the order of authority I mentioned above (which in the Biblical sense is in NO way discriminatory), but “first” should never be confused with “better”. Going back to the adult/child reference, is an adult “better” than a child because they came first? Not in the sense of being more important, that’s for sure. The adult may be better at playing chess or better at balancing a checkbook, but “better” in the sense of a higher being, no. So, men may be better at some things than women, but women are also better at some things than men. And “first” is just first.

I think now is a good time to integrate the meanings of “equal” and “same”, as well. Our society, as a whole, confuses the two. People think that because someone may be different, they deserve less – or more – rights. Different is feared and looked down upon. Therefore, our tendency is to try to make everything equal by making it the same. This is a huge mistake. Women should not have to prove their worth as people by showing how like men they can be, and this is, if I may interject an opinion, what the feminist movement encouraged. It maintains that women should be treated equals, and tried to attain this goal by proving that women can do everything that men can do. This does not heighten the importance of women, but simply creates more man-like figures in the world. It is, in a sense, stating that women are innately less important, but answering to that something like, “But, look! If we do all of the things that men can do, we can make ourselves just as important!” I maintain that women should be treated as equals because they are human, not because they are the same. Because they are not the same. No one can, in reality, pretend that they are. I am not trying to imply that they should be limited in their pursuits by outside forces denying them rights and privileges, because they are “different” and not suited for some tasks. This is what discrimination does, as a whole, to any minority. I am, however, stating that a woman’s nature is something beautiful that should be taken into consideration when life decisions are being made, and that this choice has actually been taken away by the feminist movement. I agree that women should be allowed to join the work force, and that before the feminist movement, this was unjustifiably looked down upon. However, the end result is that women, by and large, no longer have the option to choose. Most families require both incomes for a family to manage their finances. The women who do not feel the emotional need to enter the workforce and have a desire to care for a family instead are largely denied that option, resulting in many women who are over-worked, dissatisfied and under excessive stress. The “equality” we have gained is not equality, as statistics will show. Even in two parent homes where both parents work full-time, the most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Families and Households show that the wife does 31 hours of housework a week, while the husband does only 14. That’s hardly equal in my book. Note that the men have never pushed for the same type of “equality” that women did, which entails the “privilege” of taking over all of the opposing gender’s responsibilities. I would have been happy to stick to my own responsibilities, thanks. The point is that both roles are necessary. One person was never meant to have to do the work that was intended for two, and without roles or “job descriptions”, no union, relationship or business runs smoothly. You can redefine the job descriptions as you like to suit personal preferences in your own marriage and family life, but there still must be roles, and “equal” as “same” has simply muddied the waters.

I got a little off track there, so let’s get back to the Bible. Moving on to I Timothy 2:14, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” This verse cannot be used to imply that Adam did not transgress, because he did, and was given the consequences of his choice, just like Eve was. In fact, if you look at it logically, is it not worse to choose to sin knowingly, rather than being deceived into thinking it is a good idea? Eve had a good excuse; Adam just followed the crowd.

And then we are up to Verse 15, “Notwithstanding she shall be saved [preserved, healed, made whole] in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” Verses 13, 14 and 15 when taken in context with one another are obviously sort of a shadow referring to Genesis 3, because he incorporates the fall, and then the woman’s consequence because of it. However, the writer is explaining that the consequence can be undone and redeemed. He is, in no way stating that women must have babies in order to be granted salvation in the Kingdom of God. He is stating that despite the transgression, childbearing does not have to be thought of as that negative consequence, but that a woman will be preserved in it through her faith and love and holiness and sobriety or “soundness of mind”. He is encouraging women not to revel in their misfortune, but to grow in God’s truth, and redeem their circumstances. He could just as easily say the same thing to men about their travail in the work world – and He does, in more generic terms all throughout. “Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9) If we do labor, man in work or woman through childbirth (referring back to the consequences in Genesis 3), if we do it for Him, the burden of it is lifted. Verse 15 is a promise, not a punishment.

And now that we have worked our way through my commentary on the verses, I will list some Bible verses from which we can determine what I Timothy 2 does not mean.

Judges 4 and 5 – Deborah is identified as a prophetess and listed as a judge over Israel and even goes to battle. This is most definitely a position of authority, and she was respected enough by the leader of the battle (Barak) that he said he would not go into battle unless she would accompany him. I am uncertain whether she actually fought in the battle.

Acts 18:26 – Aquila and his wife Priscilla are equally mentioned as instructing a pastor named Apollos more perfectly in the way of God.

Acts 21:9 – in which four young women prophesied (defined as: “speaking from inspiration”), so, clearly, speaking is allowed.

Romans 16:1 – Phebe is referred to as a minister or deaconess, using the feminine form of the same word used to refer to male deacons, so she was even serving in a position.

Romans 16:3 – Aquila and his wife Priscilla are addressed equally as Paul’s helpers, which is translated “fellow worker”, which denotes no lower connotation for Priscilla.

I Corinthians 11:5 – This verse addresses the apparel of a woman, and is a disputed passage among some denominations. However, it clearly states that a woman will be praying and prophesying in church.

Galatians 3:28 – I will quote this one, as it is more of a broad statement than a specific example of one thing. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” If this verse does not promote equality on all faces, I don’t know what would.

I think this will do for now. I will end with the repeated disclaimer that I am not the final word on any of this. This knowledge and these opinions have been gathered from various sources, and I have attempted to represent everything as accurately as I can.

My closing thoughts are as follows: Through other verses and reading, I still have some idea that there may be limits to the leadership roles a woman should take. However, I have not found anything that can clearly delineate what these limits may entail. There are so many times when women were the vessels through which Christ was made known, and the Great Commission is clearly for every believer. Here, Jesus commands: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you….” (Matthew 28: 19-20)

What I do whole-heartedly believe is that if there are, in fact, limitations, viewed from God’s point of view, they are not meant as restrictions, but as gifts, much in the way that submission to someone who loves you above his own well-being would be no sacrifice.

Thoughts

Lately, I’ve been trying to evaluate why I seem to be so unproductive in the way of anything with eternal value.  You may have noticed that I’ve still dropped off a bit in the way of posts about my relationship with God.  I’m not ignoring Him…just having a little trouble with what it needs to look like.  And as I’m not good at sharing what I haven’t figured out, you don’t get to be a part of that.  You usually get to hear (read) things when I have mulled over them enough to think I already have them all figured out. 

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things.  One is this: my boyfriend was trying to encourage me recently and pointed out how David just walked out to face Goliath; he didn’t hesitate or seem iffy on whether it was God’s will.  He just did it.  In considering this, I realized he was right.  So, I read the story again.  My issue with it was that it seemed to contrast an idea that I held based on the story of Abraham.  I mention this in my “Ambition” post.  I say that I have determined we are to wait for God’s hand befor we take action in a direction, even when the outcome seems impossible if we do not take matters into our own hands, because when Abraham took matters into his own hands (think Ishmael vs. Isaac), he totally screwed up the rest of history.  So, when I was considering David’s situation in context of Abraham’s, I realized quickly that the stories were not the same at all.  Abraham took his OWN dreams into his hands.  That is why it was a mistake.  He was acting on selfish motives simply because he wanted a son.  David was not chasing his own desires.  There was no earthly desire in David appeased by going against Goliath…only the desire to defend the True God and make His name greater.  The conclusion is clear, and I have said and recognized this in myself before, but I don’t think really managed to change it yet.  I am still in the place Abraham was, where I think I have to manage my desires myself in order for them to come to pass, instead of David’s state of mind, where my desire has ceased to be for my own glorification and is instead only for God’s.  James 4 says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  That was Abraham and that is me.  But chasing your own desires is not the way to receiving the promises of God.

Psalm 37 says it like four different ways: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land and verily thou shalt be fed.  Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.  And He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.  Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

I don’t think that can be very much more clear, and as I also stated in my “Hope, Take III” post, it says the desires of your heart and the promises of God come to pass when our hope is in Him, when our first thought is Him…not when we are out trying to make our own destinies. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about needing people.  I am not good at needing people, if you were wondering.  I don’t think I really know how.  When there is someone who I think I ought to be able to need, and they are not coming through, I get angry and it shows as anger, which does not make that person more likely to come through, but it makes them push away.  I’m realizing that because of this inability to need, I feel like I am always the needed one.  This might not be true.  Or maybe it is true, and it is because of my self-sufficient aura that I attract people who are more needy than I am.  When I am around others, I feel constantly “on”.  I feel like super-responsible, together me has to kick in for me to be any use to others.  And so it does…but to the detriment of my own psyche.  I don’t know how to relax in front of other human beings, especially if I am at a particularly weak state myself…because I don’t know how to show that to anyone.  I only know how to be strong.  And so it creates in me this sort of resentment towards other people…like it is their fault that I cannot relax and be weak around them.  And in contrast, when I am alone, it is such a relief that I feel I have nothing at all left to give to anyone, and God becomes one of those “people” who needs something from me.  So, I rebel and do pointless things as if to say, “I deserve some time to be free of the demands of society, of You.”  But God is not those people.  And even if my feelings of always being needed and having no one to need in humans is true, my responses to it are flawed and sinful.  This feeling is not where God wants me.  It’s the lie that Satan tells me in order to render me ineffective.  God does require things of me, but they are things that will teach me how to properly interact with others so that these feelings are countered.  They are the things that will allow me to relax in life and be who He wants me to be, not who I want other people to see.  They are the things that will teach me how to chase His dreams and not my own.

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