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Posts Tagged ‘christianity’

The more I learn about God, the less I know. I listen. I study. I have so many questions.

I don’t think of God in the same way as I did when I was a kid. I believe that there are a lot more components to what I was taught while growing up, many more facets to what is spiritually acceptable and what is not.

It’s a little frightening to think this way. Hellfire for stepping over the human-drawn line is always lurking in my subconscious, but I’m learning to let my God-given intuition lead me rather than spoon-fed religion that made me paranoid and anxious. I’m learning to trust that voice within.

I’m giving myself the freedom to learn who I am, spiritually and metaphysically. I am a Christian, that has not changed one bit. What has changed is that I’m going to accept what I’ve been given, what I’ve known since I was small, to explore my potential without fear or restriction. I’m going to stop fighting it. What I learn leads to more questions, but it’s a delicious treasure hunt.

Amen.

 

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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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Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.

Remember when you’re talking to the Man upstairs

That just because He doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean He don’t care

Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”

“Unanswered Prayers”- Garth Brooks, Pat Alger, Larry Bastian, 1990

For those that don’t know, the song is about a man running into his old high school crush at a football game. He remembers praying for God to bring them together, how he wanted to be with her, praying so desperately that he swore he would never ask for anything again, but, alas, it was not meant to be, although he continued to think about her over they years. Finally, seeing her after all that time, he realized that his wife had been meant for him, that God didn’t grant his request because that girl had not been the right one. (Now, this is a little ironic, because although Garth Brooks said that this song was based on true events, he and his then- wife ended up divorcing and he remarried Trisha Yearwood. Sorry to kill mood of the song, but there you are.)

Even though the true-life version of this song didn’t end very well, the concept is a good one. I can’t count how many times throughout my entire life that I’ve prayed for something that I really wanted, something that I was convinced would be the best thing for me, only to have silence on the other end. Boyfriends, jobs, kids, almost nothing has happened as I have planned it, and most of it has turned out much better than I have ever planned.

I’m going through this situation now, and part of the reason I’m writing this blog is to reassure myself that even though I can’t see it right now, God has His own plan. I’ve been struggling with a part of my life for some time now. I apologize for being cryptic, hopefully later I can explain all, but right now I really can’t. (We’re all healthy and nothing bad is happening, so please don’t worry.) I have an idea of how I want things to go, I’ve spent a lot of time fantasizing about how much better things would be if only… But so far, things haven’t gone the way I think they should, which can be incredibly frustrating. Mr. Marty Man just reminded me of another (paraphrased) line from a play, “God hears all prayers. Sometimes, the answer is no.”

Now, let’s get something straight. God is not a fairy godmother. He is not a wish-granting genie. We are sometimes inclined to think that way, that if we only ask God for what we want, we will get it. Mega-church preachers, like Joel Osteen, preach that message, which, with their millions of dollars, is easy for them to say. As we wait for those very specific things, we are disappointed many times. Does God want us to be happy, to be prosperous? Yes, absolutely! He loves us and wants us to be the best that we can be, but maybe not in the way that we think. Rich does not equal happy. Many millionaires are miserable. Job success does not equal happy. Prosperous means different things for different people. Contentment equals happiness, and contentment doesn’t equal the same things for everyone.

In scripture, we’re told to ask for the things we want, but that God will grant us the things we need. It’s a little confusing sometimes, I know. In my mind, I’m thinking: I’m a good person. I go to church, I pray, I read my devotional, and I try to live my life the best I can, and I’ve worked for it. WHY hasn’t (this) happened??? God doesn’t work like that. Sometimes there’s a lesson that I need to learn, or somebody that needs my help before I move on, or that was definitely not the right boy to marry, or going to this event would have meant that I missed something that I loved even more. We won’t always know the reasons why our life takes certain directions. As someone who is been diagnosed OCD, I like to know not only what is happening, but why it is happening and the timeline involved, but, again, God doesn’t work that way. We need to learn patience. I HATE patience, by the way. I never pray for it, figuring that I don’t want any extra doses, but it is necessary for a good character.

Why? Why does God do this? Well, think about it. As a child, did your parents give in to your every whim? I hope not, I really hope not. Good parents know that that giving a child everything he/she demands makes a spoiled, entitled child. The same is true for adults. Just because we’re grown doesn’t mean we’re mature. We all know people who seem to be mentally stuck in middle school and live by the principle of self-gratification. Crimes are committed and lives are destroyed because people think they should have something and they decide to get it by any means necessary, throwing away morals, compassion for others, and their sense of right and wrong. Getting everything that we want sets a dangerous precedent and teaches us that our desires are more important than the basic rights of others. God knows this, hence the unanswered prayers.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I thought I knew it all, like every other young adult. But the older I get, the more I realize that I have so much to learn, that every situation I’m in, whether it makes me happy and seems to fall perfectly into place or whether it leaves me crying in frustration or rage, teaches me something and that I will never know it all.

God doesn’t give us a perfectly mapped-out life. Instead, it’s like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure Books, every choice you make leads to different circumstances. Even those who don’t believe in God can agree with that. If I didn’t decide to go to that party, I never would have met her. If I didn’t work at that camp, I never would have changed my major. Our choices and how we deal with the good or bad consequences of those choices help to design our characters, our personalities. God doesn’t make us do anything, He provides opportunities and we have to decide what we want to do. I’ve learned to pray and to listen to my intuition, trusting that God will lead me where I need to be. It may not be what I have envisioned, I still don’t have a writing contract, but I have faith, however shaky it can be at times, that He will answer my prayers in one way one another. It’s just that sometimes, the answer is, “No”.

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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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I’ve heard and read a lot about forgiveness lately. My pastor recently addressed the topic in a sermon, a favorite author/blogger of mine blogged about it recently, and it’s a constant topic on Dr. Phil. It’s frequently addressed on talk shows, in magazine articles, and even in the news. Just what does it mean to forgive, really, and are we capable of it?

We’re taught from the time we are small to apologize for things that we do wrong. We’re also taught, if we’ve been taught good manners, to accept an apology from someone who apologizes to you. Growing up, I can remember giving and receiving less-than-heartfelt apologies to and from my brothers, cousins, and even friends. Usually, my guilty conscience would kick in immediately and I would plead for forgiveness from whoever I had wronged, sometimes because I was truly sorry and sometimes because I was afraid of getting in trouble. Most incidents, as children, were forgiven and forgotten in the space of minutes, hours, or, at most, a few days. Rarely did we hold long-lasting grudges; forgiveness came easy then.

It’s more difficult to do that when the wrong goes a little deeper than calling someone a bad word. So many people have injustices committed against them that can’t just be brushed off, that stay with people through their lifetimes. Murder, whether of a family member or against an entire people, rape, molestation, betrayal, all of these create any number of negative, devastating feelings that can’t simply be dismissed with a simple, “I’m sorry”. How does one forgive in cases like these?

As Christians, we are told to forgive. I love the story of Peter asking Jesus exactly how many time he must forgive. I can picture him asking, “Seven?” hopefully before Jesus tells him that, no, he must forgive seventy times seven, in other words, always. Even when his brother, Andrew, doesn’t clean out the fishing boat for the fifth time that week. I’m making that last part up, but you get the idea. The point is, Christians must forgive, over and again, if necessary. The hard part is actually doing it.

There are unclear specifics to this forgiveness business, however. Are we expected to forgive instantly? For some offenses, I think it’s fairly easy. I can forgive the jerk who cuts me off in traffic and narrowly misses my bumper pretty quickly, even on a bad day. Sure, it’s irritating and it could have resulted in an accident, but it doesn’t imprint my psyche in a devastating way. It’s forgotten in a matter of minutes, especially since driving in Metro Detroit promises that being cut off will be a daily event. But when an argument happens between two friends or family members, it can take a little while to forgive the harsh words and bluntness that come with that. Whether both parties are sorry for happened, or only one is, the sting needs to wear off before one can look at the situation rationally, out of the heat of anger. Saying that you forgive someone, only to bring it up again in a later fight is only lip service and not real forgiveness. True forgiveness means that one has let go of the anger, bitterness, and resentment that lingers after any kind of altercation.

Sometimes, forgiveness comes easily once we understand the circumstances behind an offense, possibly finding out that, in actuality, there was no offense. A spouse’s anger at the other for being late to dinner is quickly dissipated when a flat tire and a dead cell phone are responsible. An invitation that never happened wasn’t a slight, simply absentmindedness or a mistake. The hurt and worry might be there, but no one needs to be forgiven. Life happens.

Forgiveness for those other offenses, though, those deep, dark, things that affect someone’s life forever, those are the tough ones. I’ll never forget the story of the Amish schoolgirls who were all killed by a lone gunman who broke into their schoolhouse one unassuming day, seeking revenge on God for allowing his baby daughter to die. He sent the boys out and shot the ten girls that remained before killing himself. Five of the girls died. That same night, the Amish proclaimed that he was forgiven for this horrible crime. The gunman’s funeral was attended by the Amish, who publicly prayed for his family. By their actions, the Amish seemed to have really forgiven the man who so callously took their daughters away. (http://lancasterpa.com/amish/amish-forgiveness/) I have to wonder, though, in my heart of hearts, do they all really forgive? Do they really have the peace that comes with forgiveness? I’ve had to forgive some pretty big things in my life. I know how it feels when you really do let go of that bitterness. It feels clean inside, like someone opened a window, and when you think back on that hurt, as you inevitably will do from time to time, there’s no residual left. It becomes a non-issue. I don’t know how the Amish have done it, especially the families of those girls. I truly, honestly, hope that they have forgiven, that they can honestly be at peace with what happened. I don’t mean “be at peace” as in what happened was okay, but that they were able to not hold on to any anger nor have any desire for revenge. That’s a huge misconception about forgiveness, that by forgiving, you are excusing what was done. That’s not it at all. Forgiveness is giving yourself permission to let go of all of the negative feelings that linger after you have been done a wrong. I want the Amish to be spared the horror of reliving that event, day in and day out. I admire their courage and that they were able to pull together and support not only each other, but the family of the gunman. I don’t know if I could have done it that soon or that absolutely.

I also know how it feels to try and forgive, over and over, and even to think that you have forgiven, only to have those feelings come crashing back in on you. This is ongoing in my life. I was molested as a child for several years by my mother’s husband. I won’t go into specifics, but suffice it to say that I have a lot to deal with as an adult. Therapy is a wonderful thing and it helps, but I have to view it as part of a process, not a quick-fix. There are a lot of feelings to still be sorted out, a lot of rage that had built up inside of me for years that I had hidden away while I put on a happy face. I only thought to get professional help when I felt my emotional world crumbling around me. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand that my abuser still walked free, without a legal taint to his name because of the statute of limitations, that people defended him, that people still thought he was a good guy, even though I knew that he was a scum ball. It still bothers me to this day. I have a lot of trouble letting that anger go. I don’t know how. I pray for God to take that bitterness away, to make it disappear, to give me peace, to let me forgive. Sometimes, I think He has, that it is gone, and I’m free of it. I feel triumphant and joyful; I have forgiven, just like I have been forgiven! Then, a flashback happens. Or a bad dream. Or a news story where some child is taken advantage of. It’s in those moments that I feel like I haven’t forgiven at all, like it’s a wound with a scab ripped off, raw and bleeding. I hate that feeling. I wish I could rise above it and someday I believe that I will, but I haven’t yet. I can’t imagine having to forgive the perpetrators of genocide, dictators, human traffickers, and other people who somehow think it’s okay to use their power to purposely hurt others. My situation doesn’t even compare to what some of those victims go through and I wonder how they go on. Some turn to revenge, alcohol, or other self-destructive behaviors, but I’m sure that some of them have forgiven their demons, too.

Forgiveness is a sticky subject. As I said before, it doesn’t mean excusing the fault. It also doesn’t mean that you have to reconcile with the people that you forgive. Reconciliation means renewing a relationship and in some cases, that’s just not doable. The person you forgive may have died, they may be dangerous for you to be around, such as an abuser, or you just might not want a relationship with them anymore, for whatever reason. There’s nothing in the Bible that tells me I have to let toxic people back into my life and really, it would be self-destructive to do so.

What about those situations where you’ve done something wrong, realized it, asked for forgiveness, but none is given? I’ve been in that situation, too. I wronged one of my very best friends in my late teens by blatantly lying to him about someone I was seeing, hurting him deeply. When I was found out, I blamed everything else but me. My apology was no good, mainly because I didn’t take responsibility, and he knew it. He never spoke to me again. I can look back now as a mature adult and totally understand that his anger was justified, not only by what I did, but by my lack of ownership and lackluster apology. I know I wasn’t forgiven and it still comes back to haunt me to this day. I screwed up a really great friendship over a relationship that only lasted a couple of months. Brilliant. Maybe the person who deserves an apology from you has died, or you’ve lost contact with him/her over the years. I look at these situations like this: I’m not going to receive forgiveness, therefore, I’m going to learn from my mistake(s). I try and make sure that I take ownership when I mess up, whether it’s at home, work, or just out in the world. I teach my children and my students that it’s better to ‘fess up than to lie about something they did wrong because it will be much worse when you’re caught. I value trust and honesty and force myself to be up-front about things much more than I ever did as a stupid kid. Does it always work? No, there are plenty of times when I don’t communicate well because it’s hard for me, but that doesn’t mean I will stop trying.

There are a lot of grey areas here, none of it is black and white. It’s not easy. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he told Peter that he must forgive seventy times seven times. It’s a process, not cut and dry. I only know that I am called to forgive, as I was forgiven.

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