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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

I haven’t written in a while, I’ve had a lot going on. It’s been all I could do to post a meme. May is always crazy busy, especially if I’m in a show. Any parent with school-age children can tell you that there is at least one activity per week in May and having a high-schooler is no exception. Concerts, advanced-placement testing, driver’s training… oy. Add to that my own end of the year teaching craziness (data, testing, data, testing, data…why???), a college graduation, and that leaves little time to write.

But now I see a light at the end of the tunnel (20 teaching days left) and I’m making myself sit down to write. It’s important, like exercise.The more you do it, the better you get.

Here are some of the random things that have either happened or that I have thought about during the past couple of weeks.

  • Anyone who is wondering what to name a baby (or a pet) should go sit in on a college graduation. Seriously. We listened to 1,200 name combinations read in about an hour and a half. The odds are that you’ll find something you like.
  • One of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans, tragically died at the young age of 37. She is responsible for shaking up the Christian world in amazing, progressive ways and was a voice of reason in these crazy times. I feel she was a true modern-day prophet.
  • I believe now, more than ever, in supernatural things.
  • There is a new royal baby. I make no apologies for being happy for them because new babies are wonderful and I like them. Fight me.
  • You meet some incredible people in theatre. No joke. The level of bonding can be intense.
  • If you really love someone and they really love you back, you feel safe and valued. I feel safe and valued.
  • One way or another, I need to stop wishing my life away. Changes must be made. Do something that you love, or at least find fulfilling.
  • My faith has taken a beating lately.
  • Having adult children can be wonderful.
  • Eating the first asparagus of the season right from the garden is fabulous.
  • I feel much younger than I am. I’m not comfortable with my number and I don’t know that I ever will be.
  • Do you have a pen-pal who lives in a different country? You should. Mine started out as a pen-pal, but is now a dear friend.
  • I’ve never been more disillusioned about the state of our country than I am right now. O. M. G. It feels like we’re living in a dystopian novel.
  • It’s spring, time to get my hands dirty, literally.
  • Teachers compiling data is a stupid thing. Really, really stupid. Hire someone to do that; there’s more than enough on my plate.
  • I am still planning on moving to London.

And lastly:

  • It’s been a bad year for suicides. Suicidal people are not weak or looking for attention, they’re desperate and genuinely feel that ending their lives is the only way to end their pain. Don’t judge them, listen and love. Get them help. You could save a life.

I promise I’ll be more organized next time.

The End

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On my Facebook Author page (@JulieBallantyneBrown), I posted this question tonight:

SATURDAY NIGHT QUESTION TIME!!! Name a book that changed your life. One of mine (I have several books that have changed my life or have caused me to reflect.) is Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans.

I’m posting this because Rachel Held Evans needs your prayers, good thoughts, and/or vibes tonight. She is currently in the ICU in a medically induced coma, according to her husband, Dan. (https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/health-updates) I don’t know her prognosis, but it does sound extremely serious.

I wrote the truth in my post. Her book, Faith Unraveled, did change my life. While growing up, I had questioned so many things about my faith and most of the time, I felt alone. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to question my faith, that I was supposed to see everything in black and white when it came to religion. As I have written about before, I was raised fairly fundamentally, leaving that behind when I had my own family because i didn’t want to raise my kids with the levels of fear and shame that I had grown up with. To me, God was not supposed to be a terrifying entity who sent people to Hell on a whim, but a loving presence who wanted the best for me, for all of us.

Those thoughts of a dreadful God  stayed with me for years, even though I had physically moved on. Then, one day, a friend of mine recommended a book online. It was A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In that book, I was introduced to someone who spoke what I was feeling: my doubts on my faith, my thoughts. I eagerly devoured her other books, but Faith Unraveled really resonated with me. While our experiences weren’t exactly the same (I was never the astute Bible student that she was), it spoke to me that I was not alone, that it was okay to question religion, to question, gulp, God, and to be okay with it because He welcomed our thoughts, our questions, and even our doubt.

I’m not writing to preach tonight, but to ask for help for a woman who has given me a new perspective on faith. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, or if you have any at all. I’m quite positive that she would agree with that.

Shalom, A Blessed Passover, and a Happy Easter (Buona Pasqua, Sabri) to you all.

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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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*Disclaimer* This post is about harassment and assault, but does delve slightly into politics, so if you don’t like it when I write about politics, don’t read it. I’m not debating politics with anyone. Fair warning.

So, when is sexual assault and/or harassment acceptable to you, exactly?

When is it okay to sweep it under the rug?

When is is okay to brush allegations aside?

Is it when the perpetrator is white?

When the perpetrator is a Democrat?

A Republican?

When it’s someone who fought for civil rights?

When it’s someone from your party in an election?

A television personality?

A senator?

A representative?

An entertainment mogul?

A comedian?

A woman?

The President of the United States?

How do you decide whom to excuse and whom to condemn when the allegations begin to fly?

How do you choose which victims to believe and which to shun?

What is your reasoning? What does your heart say, no matter how much you want to fight against it? If your religion, politics, or family ties have anything to do with your decision on believing whether or not someone is a predator, that’s the wrong answer. Religion, politics, and family ties mean nothing to someone who’s been victimized, who’s been subjected to unwelcome advances, or worse.

I heard it said over and again that if allegations were true, victim(s) would have stepped forward immediately or much earlier than they do. False. One million percent false. I didn’t tell the majority of my family, including my husband, about my years of abuse because I thought no one would believe me. The truth made me sick and scared and the prospect of losing my family over it was terrifying, so I stayed silent. It wasn’t until I had my own child that I took that risk and revealed the truth. The thought of my son growing up in the shadow of a predator was worse than being alienated from the people I loved. Painful? Hell, yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Like many girls, I was harassed in high school and in waitressing jobs that I had, mostly by customers making sick comments and once by a creepy dishwasher. One drunk actually grabbed me by my wrist, only to be thankfully removed from the restaurant by my friend. It was always uncomfortable, and sometimes scary, but I never really felt that I could say anything about it, except to friends or coworkers afterward. There were always customers we watched out for, asking the busboys or male waitstaff to stay close by. It still amazes me, and grosses me out, how some middle-aged men think it’s okay to make lewd comments about a teenage girl’s body, or about anyone’s body for that matter. It stays with a person, even after all this time. Remember that.

None of this is new, it’s been going on ever since there have been people. The difference now is that people are finally starting to speak out, we’re finally beginning to not be afraid of offending the powerful. Several giants have fallen in the last few months, most admitting to at least part of what they are accused of, some have admitted to everything. It’s been difficult to watch, even shocking sometimes, but necessary. Ugly secrets, even about the rich and powerful, have a way of coming out, sometimes years later. Nothing stays hidden forever.

When I talk about harassment or assault, I’m not talking about playful banter, or silliness between friends. I enjoy bawdy jokes as much as the next person, but the key to that is knowing when the other person is comfortable with it or not. If they’re not laughing, shut up and back off! Using your position or power to behave inappropriately toward someone else or to coerce them into sexual favors is WRONG. Don’t touch what you don’t have permission to touch.

Watching all of this happen just makes me angrier and angrier. I’m angry that allegations can be overlooked in order to beat out another political party. Just this morning, the Today show, which is going through its own crisis, revealed the 71% of Alabamian Republicans were planning on voting for Roy Moore, even with everything alleged against him. Even more sickening is that many of them profess to be Christian. How would Jesus, the champion of the downtrodden and voiceless, feel about this? At the very least, Christians should be asking for an investigation instead of instantly blaming the alleged victims.

Think for just a minute. What if he is voted in and later admits to everything? I have a feeling that he would still have supporters. After all, the prospect of what he allegedly did doesn’t seem to bother them one bit now. I don’t understand. People are willing to vote for a sleazeball into office even with some pretty strong testimony from several women about his actions in the past. Even with many in his party encouraging him to step down, more have stayed with him, someone with huge creeper potential, because they don’t want an evil Democrat in office. Barf.

For more info: https://www.snopes.com/2017/11/17/roy-moore-banned-mall-harassing-teen-girls/

Speaking of Democrats, several accusers have come forward against John Conyers, the longest-running person in the House of Representatives who conveniently retired today in the wake of many allegations of inappropriate behavior ranging from holding meetings in his underwear to groping. This stuff isn’t confined to one party, one religion, or race, folks. It’s widespread.

I’m angry and deeply disappointed that people I have admired or followed are now tainted. I’m angry that this culture exists. I’m angry that people think they have the right to abuse others. I’m angry that people are deceived, that lives are ruined. I’m angry that powerful abusers have supporters, excusers, sympathizers. I’m angry. I’m just…angry. Mad as hell, really.

Until we take a stand, until we say, “No more!”, until we knock the feet of clay out from under giant golden statues and give a voice to the wronged, the problem will go on. Force the ugliness out into the light so that it shrivels up and dies. Give victims a place to turn, educate our children, and make this world a better place. Don’t make excuses for bad behavior.

The world is a scary place these days and I’m really trying to stay positive.

Hang in there.

 

 

 

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I’m jumping on the review bandwagon for the end of 2015. My train of thought won’t be terribly long, just a little recap of this year.

2015 was alternately awesome and difficult at the same time, although many of the difficulties had a role in pushing some of the awesome things forward. Let’s start with the not-so-good, shall we?

Crappy Things About 2015:

  1. Depression. This was a bit of a tough struggle this year. I think a lot of it had to do with my current job situation, but a supportive family and an awesome therapist got me through the worst of it. Depression is no joke, though. If you can’t shake feelings of hopelessness, self-loathing, or defeat, if you have a case of the blues that is just not normal, or you have a desire to hurt yourself, please set up an appointment with your doctor immediately. He or she can point you in the right direction for you to get some help.
  2. Job Frustration. There are a lot of good things about the place where I work, it’s the line of work I’m in that brings me down. Much of the parenting I see makes me fear for the future. Don’t make excuses for kids’ bad behaviour. Have them acknowledge their mistakes, fix them, and move on. Stop looking for someone else to blame. Hire (or watch) Super Nanny to build some parenting muscle and to put accountability where it belongs.
  3. Religious Extremism. Yeah, ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever you want to call them) is a top contender here, but so are religious groups closer to home. It horrifies me to see people who identify as Christian call for violent measures to rid the United States (or the world) or people who practice a different religion, who come from other countries, or who are just different in general. That isn’t what Jesus preached and that’s not what I stand for. Do we need to get rid of the bad guys? Yes, but the wrong people are being targeted. Maybe we need to review the First Amendment instead of being so hung up on the Second Amendment. We may be one nation under God, but the right to practice any religion is protected here. Anything else just divides this country even more than it already is.

Really, those were the worst parts of the year, at least for me. There were only three major categories, but each of those was enough to negatively affect my life. Now on to better things.

Awesome Things About 2015:

  1. Italy. My mom took me to Italy last June and it was fabulous. Hot. Very, very hot, but fabulous. We learned a lot of valuable things, such as the gypsies throughout the country make the pan-handlers in Detroit look like amateurs and that they don’t take kindly to being told off. The traffic in Rome is deadly and Italians are extremely patient with foreigners trying to speak Italian. The gelato, REAL gelato, is amazing, as are the wines.

337We saw priceless works of art that made me cry for the sheer beauty of them (La Pietà, the Sistine Chapel) and walked where the apostles did. It was an experience of a lifetime that I can’t wait to do again someday, except the next time I go, I will spend more time with my dear Italian friend Sabrina.

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2. New Career Opportunities. More on this in another post. Good things are happening!!!

3. Oldest Child Went to College. I miss Oldest Child. I miss him terribly, but he is very happy where he is. College life agrees with him. He has always been independent and he’s had a fairly easy time navigating dorm life. A parent wants a child to be happy and he is. That makes me happy, in a bittersweet kind of way.

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4. Theatre. I love my theatre, the Players Guild of Dearborn, to be precise. Last spring, I got my first non-musical role in To Kill a Mockingbird and was able to be the assistant director for The Miracle Worker this past summer-into-fall. My theatre family is wonderful, patient with me, and I’m so lucky to have found them. I’m looking forward to 2016.

5. My Family. I’m a lucky girl. Next week, Mr. Marty Man and I will celebrate nineteen years of marriage. We have three boys who never cease to amaze us, even if they can frustrate us now and then. (Or more than that, depending on the day.) We have our health, we have jobs that take care of our family, and we love each other. That in itself, my friends, is a reason to celebrate.

 

Happy New Year to you all!

 

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There was an article on Facebook today that made me think a lot about my religious background and about how I feel on those matters. The article was about how Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, had renounced his membership in the Southern Baptist Conference due to, in a nutshell, their views on and treatment of women. I reposted it and cheered silently to myself that someone of that stature would have the strength to stand up to that organization at the risk of the backash that could happen. I remember the Southern Baptist position very well. I was raised in it for much of my childhood. Here are some of my memories.

When my mother married the step-monster, we went from attending the Catholic church where my mother’s family had always gone to attending a Southern Baptist (Missionary Baptist) church. We attended that particular church until I was about 12 or 13 years old. I was not quite four at the time we started, but I still remember the huge differences. Where I had been used to quiet prayer and unison responses, there was now yelling and shouting, most of the time by the preacher and sometimes from other people in the congregation. Women would sob, shriek, and walk the aisles, hands raied in the air, praising God. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that if you’re someone who expresses joy that way, but to a small child, especially to one who’s introverted, it was a combination of terrifying and hilarious. For the record, I’ve never been comfortable with that, but to each his own. The pastor would rant and rave for hours, literlly hours, about all of the ways that we could go to Hell, and we would, if we stepped one toe out of line. “Backsliding”, it’s called. There was no real way to know if you had crossed that line, but there was always the dread fear that I wasn’t saved and would therefore wake up in Hell should I die while I slept. I remember the thought of it keeping me up for hours many a night as a small child.

The services would go on for hours at a time. Service started at 11:00 and sometimes wouldn’t get out until 3:00. Then there was evening service at 6:00 that rarely got out before 8:00, which we usually had to go to as well. Of course, if we were bad, we got spanked when we got home, even for that long time we had to sit in the hard pews. I hated Sundays for a very long time.

There were other things that kept me awake and perplexed in addition to the concept of Hell. One of those things was the position of women in church. Women were supposed to obey their husbands in all things because husbands were the head of the house. Women could not be pastors or in any position of leadership in the church. I distinctly remember sermons on that very topic. Also, that men should not dress like women (i.e., wear their hair long and have earrings) and women should not dress like men (Short hair and pants). For that particular reason, I was only allowed to wear dresses to school until third grade, when my mother had finally had enough of my complaining. Seriously, though, how are you supposed to hang upside down on the monkey bars in a dress? I remember always knowing that that couldn’t be right. Why wasn’t I as good as a boy? Why didn’t God like me as much as a boy? By then, my mother had refused to attend anymore, but we children were still forced to go with the step-monster.

The mixing of races in relationships was not to be tolerated, especially blacks and whites. All types of offensive names were used to describe ethnicities other than white. I remember the word “abomination” being used whenever a mixed-race couple was discussed. Alcohol consumption of any kind was sinful, yet there were crowds of cigarette smokers in the fellowship hall. Hypocrisy at it’s finest.

Homosexuality was a complete sin. Pure and simple. “Fags” (their words, not mine) were going to Hell. No hope for them at all.

I don’t remember hearing of kindness and love, only of sin, punishment, and retribution. My idea of God was an image of a vengeful entity, just waiting to strike me down for the slightest thought. Any other religion, even other Protestant denomnations were wrong and deceived. Ours was the ONLY denomination that was right in our way of thinking. Even more modern translations of the Bible were forbidden. It was the King James version or nothing.

Partly in order to get my mother to come back to church, the step-monster found a new one when I started high school, around age 13. It was still Southern Baptist, but not the kind I was used to. The pastor had a point to his sermons instead of simply ranting and his family was, and still is, wonderful and caring. Slowly, God seemed to take on more of a loving persona. The pastor’s wife was the music leader and you could see the emotion in her voice each and every week. They didn’t think that questions were out of line and it was during teen Bible studies that I found that it was okay to discuss what we read, even to disagree about some things. I learned how to have a real relationship with God and how to listen to Him. Now, I didn’t and still don’t agree with everything that was taught there, but I have a love and appreciation for those people who did so much for me.

Even with the love and support of that congregation, there was still a lot of me that was struggling with my faith during that time. I had been molested by the step-monster for years and had a difficult time understanding why God would allow that to happen and how He could let that man go unpunished. I still do struggle with those thoughts today, but my thoughts on other issues are much clearer.

I believe in God, fully, with all my heart. I know that I have friends who are atheists or agnostics, who think that God is a superstition, an idea used as a crutch for the weak. But with everything I’ve been through, I feel Him. He is real. I believe in a Heaven and a Hell, but that there is no “scorecard” that God keeps to determine where we go. We are asked to do one thing: believe. We are not asked to worship in a certain way, to interpret the Bible in the same way, or to agree on every religious doctrine. We are called to believe. Simple. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, truly believe, your behavior will mirror that, with many, many imperfections, but you will use your salvation as a guide. You will feel badly about some of things that you’ve done and work to correct them. There is no magic “line” to cross. We’re not expected to act as mindless robots, but with the individual understandings that God gives to us.

I believe that women are called to be pastors and leaders, just as much as men. My pastor right now is a woman and she is incredibly knowledgable and open-minded about many things, not the least of which is faith. One of the reasons that I’ve been with the Methodists for more than five years now is their acceptance of people from all backgrounds.I don’t believe that women are subservient to men or that men are to be dominant over women. Men decided that long ago and it’s just now that the lights are coming on in the world. I am my husband’s partner, his equal, and he is mine. We have different strengths and weaknesses and love each other in spite of them. It’s not only Southern Baptists that believe that women are less than men. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and several other religions and religious denominations have held women back for centuries. I see it every day where I live. It’s something we must continue to fight against.

I don’t believe that we should be divided on race. We are the races we are because of the conditions in which our ancestors lived. Nothing more. No one was cursed to look a certain way. We all began in the same place.

Alcohol, in moderation, is not a bad thing. Just like anything else, when taken constantly in excess or it begins to control you, it then becomes something to avoid. The making of alcoholic beverages can be akin to an art form, with all of the different beer and wine-making techniques. There’s nothing sinful about a glass of Merlot after a long week at work. It even has health benefits, which smoking does not.

I don’t believe that people choose to be gay or straight; I believe they are born that way. My brothers and I were raised in a completely anti-gay household, yet my youngest brother has always been gay. I don’t believe that one chooses to go through that agony to be judged on who they love. It is what it is. Even if you don’t agree, it’s not anyone’s business but the person involved. Butt out.

There are other things, but I’m running out of steam. I’m not a Biblical scholar and I know that not everyone will agree with my sentiments. In fact, I’m expecting some downright opposition and that’s fine. We’re all entitled to out own opinions and I don’t have all of the answers. No one does. It’s part of the beauty of having individual minds and individual thought processes. What’s true for one person won’t be true for another. This is simply a snapshot of some of my background and how differently I have come to think than from how I was raised. I’m hoping to raise my boys differently, with open, questioning minds. We’ll see how it goes.

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