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The first time I read a book by Rachel Held Evans, I couldn’t put it down. My friend, Terri, had somehow recommended it, either on Facebook or Goodreads, I can’t remember exactly. I do remember, however, being intrigued by the title: A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Two pages in and I was hooked.

In the book, Rachel attempted to tackle the “rules” of being a woman, as outlined by the Bible. Every month for a year, she focused on a different trait of womanhood such as gentleness, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. Needless to say, it was a struggle for her, especially dealing with the topics of misogyny that are prevalent throughout the Bible, but she wrote with grace and humor while maintaining respect and devotion to God and to the important messages of the Bible. She echoed many of the questions and concerns that I had had (and still have, quite frankly) about the role of women in Christianity and does a wonderful job of looking at the scriptures in a modern way. Every time I read one of her books, I have not been disappointed with her insights.

When the opportunity came to read an advance online copy of her new book, Inspired (See what I did there with the blog title?), I jumped at the chance. The Bible, for me, has its places of beauty, of history, and parts that seem glaringly appropriate just when I need them the most but, like Rachel, my experience has also included the problem of how to process the ugly parts. Advocated rape and slavery of women as spoils of war. Genocide. Murder of children. An eternal hell for people who have never even heard of Christianity, or whose experience of Christianity is extremely negative. All of these topics are sanctioned by several of the authors of the books of the Bible and have always bothered me. Thankfully, they never set well with Rachel, either, and she has written this wonderful, knowledgeable, book to help navigate those ugly parts and look at them in a different way.

Inspired

For those who are unfamiliar with her work, Rachel Held Evans was raised as an evangelical Christian with the church and God at the center of her life. As I read Inspired, as with her other books, I was drawn to parallels between her experiences in the church and mine.

I wouldn’t call my childhood church experience completely fundamental or evangelical, but it was very similar. The Bible was taken literally, was fact and law with no room for discussion. I was told how to feel, how to believe, the “correct” way to be a Christian. I learned religion, not how to think for myself or to how really love God. I was afraid; there were too many rules to follow and things that didn’t make sense. The Bible can be confusing, violent, and contradictory, leading to many unanswered questions. When I read Inspired, it brought a lot of peace to my heart.

In Inspired, Rachel tackles these issues and more including creation, evolution, stories of war, deliverance, and wisdom. Her thoughts are backed up with plenty of historical, theological, and liturgical research, culminated over years of studying the topic and from several scholars of different faiths. While her own feelings formed the basis for her interest and research, she is careful to balance it with many perspectives, including her evangelical background. She never claims to have all the answers, but presents a down-to-earth way of thinking about God and the Bible.

Rachel’s unpretentious, friendly, writing style makes it feel like she’s sitting right here with me in my living room with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Her experiences make it feel as if I grew up with her, like she was right there with me in those hard, Pine-Sol scented pews listening to the preacher, wondering why God thought that boys were better than girls, why I couldn’t be a preacher, why God told Joshua to kill everyone in Jericho, including innocent little children. She shares her journey of doubt, of anger at God for allowing horrible things to happen to innocent people, and her thirst to understand and learn. I love her candor, her humor, and her honesty. She’s a genuine, readable, author who, even with doubts of her own, demonstrates a true love for God and a thirst for the truth.

I don’t mean to imply that reading Inspired solved all of my issues about the Bible, that’s not the point. While I still have (so many) unanswered questions and problems with parts, I no longer believe that I’m wrong for feeling that way. I’m not alone; there are other Christians who feel the same, who have questions like mine. Most importantly, it’s okay to talk about it, it’s okay to doubt, it’s okay to not know the answer. Inspiredif nothing else, will make you think, something that I am certain God expects us to do for ourselves. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book: “When you can’t trust your own God- given conscience to tell you what’s right, or your own God-given mind to tell you what’s true, you lose the capacity to engage the world in any meaningful, authentic way, and you become an easy target for authoritarian movements eager to exploit that vacuity for their gain. I tried reading Scripture with my conscience and curiosity suspended, and I felt, quite literally, disintegrated. I felt fractured and fake.” That is how I felt for years: fake. Stepping away from that rigid box of what I “should” think has given me a new freedom to explore and strengthen my relationship with God. It’s not perfect, it’s a work in progress, and I believe that Inspired is a good tool to help me along the way.

Try it for yourself: https://www.amazon.com/Inspired-Slaying-Giants-Walking-Loving/dp/0718022319/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Other books by Rachel Held Evans:

Evolving in Monkeytown

Faith Unraveled

A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Searching for Sunday

Read her blog at http://www.rachelheldevans.com

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The Supreme Court certainly has its hands full this week. They’re about to decide if gay couples have the right for their marriages to be recognized in all 50 states, regardless if the state itself voted for or against gay marriage. As expected, some people are ecstatic that this happening at last while some are vehemently protesting that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Either way, there is a lot of fuss about gay people, straight people, marriage, and what is the right thing to do. Let’s look at this plainly, shall we?

First off, being gay is not a choice. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s the way that someone is born. We don’t choose our sex, height, eye color, hair color, or preferences. For example, I hate most vegetables. My mother loves a lot of vegetables. If she could have made me like them, she would have, but it doesn’t work that way. If I could, I would have also chosen to be just a little taller and to not have such a sweet tooth. Again, not a choice. Neither is sexual orientation. Think about the abuse that anyone who is gay has to endure. Sometimes it comes from their families, a lot comes from the world around them, their places of worship, and even from within. Why would someone choose to go through that on purpose??? It doesn’t make any sense to lose one’s family friends, church, even job in some cases, in order to put on a major farce. There are even identified genetic components to being gay so, again, not a choice.

On the other hand, a lifestyle is how one chooses to live their life. People are not born with a lifestyle, they choose it when they are adults. I say adult because children don’t choose how they are raised. They react to how they are brought up in different ways, good or bad, which can help color their choices later on, but does not set them in stone, nor does it make them gay or straight, promiscuous or monogamous. Both heterosexual and homosexual people can choose lifestyles that are promiscuous, self-destructive, or not; there is no “gay lifestyle”. Promiscuity in heterosexual men is even looked upon as being “manly”, complete bs, by the way, while women or gay men are condemned for it. Just one of many double standards that we have yet to erase from our culture. Self-destructive lifestyles are often indicative of deep, personal pain, so if you know someone, gay or straight, who seems hell-bent on dying young, you might want to try a deeper connection with them. You could save a life.

Speaking of lifestyle, I know several gay couples who are either married or in a long-term, committed, relationship. At least two of these couples have been together for around twenty years. They are like any other married couples who have been together a long time and are still in love: they tease, they have arguments, they know each other’s needs and wants, they balance each other out. Their “lifestyle” involves picking up milk on the way home from work and cleaning out the litter box. I can see my marriage reflected in their relationships. Now, more than any other time, I don’t understand why this is not okay.

I know that there are a lot of people who disagree with me, but I have come to my beliefs through observation, study, prayer, and communicating with other Christians. Christians are split on this issue. Those against gay marriage, or homosexuality in general, constantly quote the book of Leviticus, which condemns it, but they fail to also condemn those who eat shellfish, pork, or do any other litany of taboo things listed in that book. It’s interesting how they pick and choose. Some good books to read about that topic is A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans or The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs. Both authors strive to follow the Old Testament rules and regulations as closely as possible in today’s modern society. While they’re both humorous, the authors have deep respect for the Bible, even if they don’t understand it all. And, really, who does understand it all? Learned scholars have debated about meanings of scripture for hundreds of years and the message of salvation is meant for everyone, not just scholars. Anyway, the point is, if one behavior is going to be condemned because of Leviticus, then you had better get ready to change your entire lifestyle. In other words, if you like lobster or bacon, you’re screwed. In the New Testament, where Jesus is the new law, there is much mention of sexual immorality, but nothing mentions homosexuality, even Jesus. Ever. To me, sexual immorality is the pedophile posing as a staunch church member and those who protect him, or a person who routinely cuts proverbial notches in his or her bedpost with no regard to the feelings of others, not a loving relationship between two adults.

My brother, a gay man who has been “out” for several years, has given me permission to use him as an example, so here’s his (shortened) story, through my eyes, of course.

As I’ve blogged about before, we were raised in very strict home, where my brothers’ father was almost fundamentally religious, at least while we were small. We were made very aware of what was a sin and what was not, to the point where I used to have nightmares about going to Hell because I somehow wasn’t saved enough. One of the lessons that we learned was that being gay was a sin, it was not natural and a choice against God’s law. I grew up, as did my brothers, thinking that anyone who happened to identify as gay was wrong in God’s eyes. Thankfully, when I began to get out into the real world, I began to meet people who were gay, began to know them as people who were looking for the very same things that any heterosexual person would be looking for: love and happiness. My perception changed, I began to see things in a different way that made sense. I still wasn’t secure enough to speak my beliefs aloud to people who disagreed, but the seed had been planted.

My brother had grown up in the same environment as I did. Homosexual was almost a dirty word in our house, something that was not discussed as anything serious. Can you imagine how he felt, knowing that he was different for all of those years, feeling that something must be wrong with him because of how he felt inside, something that he had no control over? I know that he was confused, that he suffered. I wish that he hadn’t had to feel that way.

He did all of the “normal” things that teenagers do, but he never really dated any girls. He did bring a girl to my wedding, but for the most part, girls were his friends, not his love interests. It was no surprise when he was in his early twenties, he called with a lunch invitation and said that there was something he wanted to tell me. I sat there waiting and he finally said, “What do you think it is?” I told him that he either knocked somebody up, he had secretly eloped, or he was gay. He realized I knew, with lots of nervous laughter. He had a right to be nervous, the family didn’t take it very well. Over time, he was sent to Christian counseling, the goal being to “fix” him. It didn’t work.

My brother is married now, he has been for a few years, ever since he went to Massachusetts where it is legal. He is secure in who he is and who he loves. He does not need to be fixed. Again and again, it has been proven that gay people cannot be made straight, thorough any therapies. There are scores of “cured” homosexuals who have recanted their stories later, saying that they tried, really they did, in an effort to be happy, to please their families, but it was all a lie; they could not change what was inside them and, despite extreme prayers and pleas, God didn’t change them, either. Gay people do not need to be fixed.

White people used to think (and some, appallingly, still do) that the color of one’s skin had everything to do with their intelligence and morality. Most sane people today know that to be blatantly false. Today, saying something to that effect would be so wrong, even criminal. I hope that the same wake-up call happens for people today, that they will realize that people are born a certain way: right-handed, left-handed, short, tall, gay, or straight. Is it really such a big deal?

Peace and prayer.

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