Why We Must Support the Anti- Gay Bill, And So Much More.

Dear Arizona legislators,

Photo Credit: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

Photo Credit: Sarah Bessey, Pinterest

I am writing to disagree with you about the recent proposal for anti-gay legislation– not because I don’t agree with you (it’s about damn time someone made sure that we only have to talk to people of heterosexual orientations), but because you haven’t taken the measure far enough in order to preserve our precious religious liberties.
We need to pass legislation to ensure that our business owners do not have to serve alcoholics. After all, why should we serve them, when the Bible clearly states that we “shouldn’t get drunk on wine, but instead, be filled with the Spirit?”
Similarly, we must also not be forced to serve overweight people. The Bible offers several verses against gluttony and we must take a stand against this perverse health condition.
We must also pass legislation to give business owners the religious freedom to not serve immigrants. God invented nation-states in Genesis 11, and we must not to violate that. Remember, the saying is “God Bless America,” not “God Bless Mexico.” Along with that, we should not be forced to serve people of different races— After all, God put the races on different continents for a reason.
Furthermore, we must not force business owners to serve women. Next thing you know, women will think they can be autonomous just like men. No. Women must stay at the home. If we let them patron restaurants without the presence of their husbands, they surely must be slacking on their homefront duties.
We also must not be forced to serve those on welfare. The Bible says that “God helps those who help themselves.” Um, hold on a minute while I find that verse. I can’t seem to find it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there!
Moreover, we cannot be forced to serve those who have been divorced. We all know the Bible doesn’t support divorce, and we cannot be forced to interact with divorcees who might think that our interactions condone their marital departures.
It goes without saying that we cannot be forced to serve democrats, either, of course.

So there you have it. I believe the only people that are left are white, straight, males born in the Good Ol’ US of A. I hope that we can get enough patrons to support our businesses, but we must trust God on that one, brothers.

Sincerely,

Your white, straight, Republican, married-to-a-woman male Christian brother in Christ who thinks, looks, behaves, and believes just like you.

In case you haven’t picked up on this, this piece is purely satirical. I hope it can bring a laugh, but more importantly, draw attention for reflection upon privlege, equality, and respect for diversity. Please consider signing petitions or using your sphere of influence as a platform for justice, mercy, and love.

Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/1lm7idH

Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/1lm7idH

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Finding My Voice (and a little pep talk for the young girls out there)

keep the earth below my feetI had a professor in college who taught us about the “principle of leaving and entering,” i.e. one cannot move forward to the next [life stage, opportunity, job, city, destination, you fill in the blank] without making peace with what you’re leaving behind [be it college, your hometown, you get the idea]. At the time, I was dreaming about volunteering abroad after college, and ready to leave behind the America I knew. But what I didn’t realize at 22 is that the next stage of life would be just as much about putting things behind as it would be about pursuing new things.
A couple years after college, I burnt out.
I. simply. Couldn’t. keep. Up.
I lost myself and become bitter and cynical towards much of what I saw around me.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I realized just how many voices of the past were still lingering in my head, like flies in desperate need of a fly swatter. Voices of a spiritual community that said women were to be submissive, to “let their husbands lead.” Churches that said males were to be “pastor, provider, and protector” of his wife. Voices that said being a female pastor was a sin. Voices that made sure everybody knew what Christianity stood against, but left the world puzzled as to what we actually stood for. Voices that tried to rescue souls from hell, while ignoring the literal hells and Gehennas in the world going on right now. Sexual slavery. HIV/AIDS. Extreme poverty. Orphans without homes. Should I keep going?

In 2012, I began a journey towards freedom- freedom of religion, of dogma, of other people’s demands, of paved paradises- into a personal journey of development and enrichment. It’s looked like lots of open spaces, lots of gathering ’round the table over wine and sweets and savories, lots of finding and losing myself on bicycles. In this freedom, it’s as though God took me by the hand to lovingly, but firmly, (because the lesson was too important to miss out on) teach me that the thing about the past is just that. It’s in the past. It cannot hurt you again. It cannot continue to hurt you or frustrate you unless you let those voices zap your energy from the present moment.
For far too long, this woman’s listened to voices of the past that were squelching life, joy, zest for the moment. Alas, I looked myself in the mirror, a good ol’ stare yourself down, straight-up-talk, with a little bit o’ lovin’, and a lot of bit of firmness. I looked in the mirror, and noticed a cynic. Ugh. I hate that word. To me, it’s synonymous with a passive, complaining, do-nothing-to-change-anything kind of persona. So I asked God to silence those voices, the ones that were slowly, painfully, hauntingly taking away my joy, my peace, my resolve, and silence them one and for all, to free me from the people and places and noises that were no longer helping me become the person I want to become. I asked God to change me from cynicism into activism. Hurt into compassion. Bitter to better.

Somewhere in the process, I learned that I don’t need to fight anymore.. not against those voices, at least. A little whisper breathed into my heart,
You’ve been freed.
Let your load feel lighter, your burdens from heavy rocks to little pieces of shiny yellow sand.
Put the boxing gloves down.
Breathe.
You no longer have to defend, nor strive, nor try to make yourself understood.”

I thought it would feel easier. But then I realized that that’s not quite the way it works. The moment you stand for something, there is something you are implicitly standing against. The more and more you become the person you want to be, the voice that isn’t God’s will try to steer you off course. When you become YOU, not someone else’s version of you, you will disappoint people. But let me tell you something, you will become the person you were made to be. The more you will realize that the very people still standing beside you are there because they really do love you, they really do care, and they really do desire God’s peace and love and blessings upon you, not out of pity, nor spite, but out of a selfless kind of love that has found its way through the broken chains of redemption, giving voice and beauty to the very fact that you and I are both humans, composed of flesh and blood, and you and I have both been created in the womb.
I am freed now from what’s been zapping precious energy, and I can’t wait to learn, and love, and do, and grow, and experience with this new found freedom what God can finally place in my life in the thoughts and corners and crevices of my heart that were once holding onto hurt, bitterness, and a seemingly endless desire to be understood. I am free. I can only imagine what will go in those pockets of my heart now. I can love without mountains of expectations or fears of being hurt.
I can express bona fide joy—my smiles will no longer be a veil, hiding a voice that’s afraid of being mistaken as impolite, too afraid to speak up.
I can operate out of a place that points to the horizon and feel alive in my soul, and my bones, and my eyes; to live the story, full and raw, not dependent upon things be one way or another, but ever confident that this risk of living a better story is so much better than living in the choking weight of others’ voices that try to drown out the one true voice of who you want to become.

Go point to your horizon.

MOVE.
You don’t have time to respond to your critics.
You simply don’t have time.
Be you, the REAL you, ALL of you… that’s what the world needs.
Go seek.
Go ask.
Because what I hope that the girls of new generations come  to realize is this: that if ever there was a time for women to rise up and unite, the time is now. Oh yes, I’m thankful for my sisters who gave me the ability to vote. For women who went to college and challenged typical professions. But there is so much work we still must do.

Advocate.
Preach.
Lobby.
Dream. Louder.

May you listen to that one constant in your heart.
May you give voice and flow to all that longs to leap inside of you.
May your songs be peace, may your dance be love, and may your love bring freedom.

Because you have a voice that’s no one else’s.
We’re ready to hear it.

Born of the (Un)Virgin Mary? (Questioning the Virgin Birth but Loving Jesus All the Same)

abstinenceLike many Christians, I was taught the Bible through instruction, stories, skits, and songs. My teachers and leaders did a great job in trying to help us learn more about God, Jesus, and faith, but questions weren’t encouraged, especially questions with no easy answers. Then, I graduated college, left a college ministry, began going to more progressive churches, then the kind of Church that doesn’t meet in a building, but in open fields or with friends gathered around a table in community. It’s been here in these outlets that I’ve taken a more critical look at the Bible.

I still remember sitting down at my friend’s kitchen table two years ago, sharing that, “I don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve anymore.” Whew. It felt so good to say. I felt like I was getting a dirty secret off my chest. I felt invigorated. He smiled. “I haven’t believed that for a long time,” he replied. I talked about my other frustrations with the Bible, like how could a loving God wipe the Earth clean from people because S/He was sick of them? He pointed out that almost every major religion- Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, for some examples- has a flood story. 

One reason why some people are afraid to question is that often, one question leads to many. And when you get to challenging all that you’ve been taught, for some people that brings up feelings of disloyalty or shame.

I’ve moved on from shame and have now fallen in love with questions. Questions give way to freedom. Questions help me wrestle, scramble, muse, fall deep into the enclaves of wonder, reminding me I will never, ever have it all figured out. Well-known pastor Rob Bell shared in his book Velvet Elvis, “Questions aren’t scary. What’s scary is when people don’t have any.” I can’t agree more. 

So naturally, I’ve found myself questioning again. I was taught to believe that Jesus was born from virgins: Mary and Joseph. And like many Christians, I didn’t question it. That is, until recently. A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a dear friend about my frustration over a verse in the Bible that stated because a woman from a long, long time ago ate a piece of fruit, God punished women with excruciating birth pains. Apparently, this painful birthing predicament is also the same act that will save women. The more we talked, the more I grew to believe that the Bible was indeed written by men (literally, men, since women did not receive the education men did) and that if I lived some thousands of years ago, and didn’t understand how humans were made, maybe I would try to explain why women give birth through some story like that too.

And then my friend said it, said the thought that got me questioning all I’ve been taught to believe, all over again. She laughed, “Yeah, it’s just like Jesus being born of a virgin.”

Wait, what?

Her point was that people living in that timeframe didn’t have reproductive education, therefore if a couple accidentally became pregnant, and sex before marriage was disdainful, then maybe that’s where the fable of Jesus’ virgin birth came about.

So if Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, would that make a difference?

Would it make a difference in the lives Jesus touched? The outcasts that Jesus dined with? The poor in spirit that Jesus comforted?

Might it make the Bible not so volatile as to personally be freed from having to believe every bit of it tit-for-tat, line-by-(sometimes angering) line?

Might it put less emphasis on shaming “purity culture” and instead shed light on that, while perhaps not ideal, God can redeem all things, including the stigma of children born out of wed-lock? (For an excellent post in this, see Melanie Springer’s “I Wasn’t Planned, But Am Loved“)

Was the point that Jesus was born of a virgin, or was the point that Jesus’ life would change the world as we know it?

Arguing over whether or not a sexual encounter led to Jesus’ birth is not the point I’m trying to make.

All I’m saying is, isn’t there more than one way to read sacred text when we consider the time frame and potential biases in which this text was written?

Perhaps not everything is literal.

We can think about the context in which passages were written and ask ourselves, “What knowledge did people have at the time?” “If I were a first century Christian, how would I understand this?” (For more on this, check out “Questions for Exegesis“)

If you come away with different beliefs than what was taught to you, that’s ok. Because if “the word became flesh,” isn’t it more important to show the love of Jesus with our actions than nailing down the “right” verbiage?

It words and doctrine bear truth and meaning to you, I have not come to take them away.
All that matters is if you are finding God in this journey.

That you discover wrestling and questioning are holy acts of necessity.

That Jesus redeems all brokenness, even “taboo” out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Because wouldn’t that be so like Jesus, to stand in the periphery of all the religious dogma, and show with his actions that all things can be redeemed and made beautiful?

“Give Me Sons or I will Die!” ((Why I Can’t Stand Most of Genesis, But Do Love Jesus)).

“Give me sons or I will die!” Pleads Rachel (Gen: 30:1).

A bit demanding and a bit degrading, this usage of “sons” is just one of the 132 times “sons” are mentioned in the book of Genesis. Can you guess how many times “daughters” are mentioned? …A measly 46, mostly in the context of taking them as wives. 

“This time my husband will honor me because I have borne him six sons,” smiles Leah, placidly, barefoot and postpartum.

Noticing her sister’s increasing attention among women in the community (“I am happy that the women call me happy,” -Gen. 30:13), Rachel’s aforementioned protest for sons results in her giving birth to a son, though she’s still not satisfied. “May the Lord add another son to me,” she declares.

My re-readings of Genesis have left me disgruntled and hurt at best. Lists of family lineages only mentioning sons while purposely omitting daughters is incomplete, disrespectful, demeaning and perpetuates a society that renders one sex as worthy, cherished, and sought after, while another sex, overlooked, dismissed, incapable, and not as important. Re-reading about men who “take” multiple women as their wives, plus a few more for concubines further revolts me.

And… to throw in a tangent… Not to mention, the part where God rains burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah from out of the sky… God-the God of Love… pouring burning sulfur on God’s people, each made in imago dei… (Gen. 19:24)… ((shakes head)).

These are just some of my struggles with “The Word.” 

Because it seems so unlike the God and I know, and most definitely irreflective of the Jesus I’ve come to adore.

When I read of Jesus and spend time with Jesus, I have no doubt of my worth as a female child of God and do not feel unwanted as a woman (nor do I worry that God will pour chemicals on my head). Why?

Because Jesus treated women with dignity. 24 times, Jesus mentions women in Luke and each time in instructive and positive ways.1 Jesus taught women scripture in era that reserved this privilege only for men. He traveled and “preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God” with his 12 disciples and “also some women who had been healed.. Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and many others who were supporting them” (Luke 8:1-3). While Genesis names lengthy lineages of Sons of Abraham, Jesus chooses to call attention to one of the “daughters of Abraham” (Luke 13:16). Jesus gave women equal rights in marriage by doing away with polygamy and divorce laws (since only men could seek a divorce at that time and men could have many wives, but women could not have multiple husbands).2

Since Jesus treated women with dignity, I am reminded that God does too, no matter what the author of Genesis purports. The Bible is difficult and when Christian males give me a hard time when I say that I struggle with the Bible and do not find it entirely true nor inerrant, I will ask them to read the above passages and ask them what it would feel like if it was their gender being minimized. Imagine if there were only accounts of daughters and women fervently pleading, “Oh please, not a son!! Give me a daughter! A daughter is what I want!” As a man, how would you feel? Wanted? Appreciated? Undesired? Nevermind. Men who take pride in being a “woman’s leader:” guess what, you don’t have to worry about that, because your gender is never reflected in such a lowly way in scripture. Ever.

Though I will never be able to read the Old Testament verses that omit women or diminish their roles without feeling a sense of depravity and hurt, and though I will never be able to say that I wholeheartedly love everything about this book, I am grateful to worship a God who reminds us that no matter what our gender, our socioeconomic status, our sexual orientation, our marital status, or our physical and mental abilities may be, in Christ we are all one and welcome at the table of our God… every day. 

male preference((Interesting article on The Awareness and Perception of Female Feticide in Urban Ludhiana, India).

1. http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200102/024_jesus_and_women.cfm
2. http://www.jesuscentral.com/ji/life-of-jesus-modern/jesus-feminist.php

My love/hate relationship with the Bible.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Bible this year.
There.
I said it.

Oh, I know what I’m supposed to say about the Bible- it’s divinely inspired, living and breathing, sharper than any double –edged sword. I know what I’m supposed to do-  read it daily, memorize it, “eat it” (Jeremiah 15:16), “hide it in my heart” (Psalm 119:1).

But I’m trying to be real here.
And in my current season of life, that’s not quite where I am.

This year, these feelings have been precipitated by a writing piece I’ve been working on as well as the inspiration and wisdom I’ve read from several authors/bloggers I respect. Rachel Held Evans posts about Biblical Womanhood and points out that this can mean anything from making a woman marry her rapist, to calling your husband master, if you take the Bible at its literal word. She was making a point that we need to ask better questions about why we interpret things the way we do and to be wise with the way we throw around “Biblical” in front of words. Because we all “pick and choose” which scripture to follow. For example, I choose not to follow the scripture verse that says to kill a woman if she isn’t a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:21). All of this reading and processing got me thinking. I’ve been working on a writing piece in which I’m trying to find 101 verses that Evangelicals no longer follow and 101, in contrast, that if followed, would literally change the world. I’ve had lots of stops and starts along the way. I’ve been working on it since April. It’s now October.

Why do I keep stopping and starting?

I stop often because I lament and am frustrated about the way women were treated in the Old Testament and how certain verses in the Old Testament and New Testament are used to promote gender roles, in particular, that women should be submissive and men should be leaders. I mourn the wars, the violence, God smashing babies heads on rocks. I feel unsettled when I read narrow verses about eternity and can’t fathom God banishing my Jewish friends or my Muslim sisters in the Middle East who lived their lives in Earthly Hells of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, and honor killings. They dealt with this their whole Earthly life, and now, supposedly, they will have a relentless life in Hell in their life after death too?

Sometimes I feel a sense of shame for feeling the way I do. Especially because I “know” what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and saying about the Bible.

But simply put, I can’t fake it anymore.

It’s leaking out.
I bring my Bible to less and less places these days.
I open it less and less these days.

But I am learning more about God, the ways that He/She speaks, more about people and imago dei than ever before. I am learning that the story didn’t end with Revelation. I believe, along with the UCC and other churches, that God is, indeed, still speaking and that he isn’t limited to the sole medium of the Bible.

By looking for him in ways other than this book, I am washed over with refreshment by all of the ways I discover him all around me. In the beauty of the trees. In a song. In the resilience of women and girls who have been trafficked but refuse to see themselves or others as victims, rather as victors. By not reading this book as much as I “should,” I am more acute to these other ways he speaks (kind of like how dogs don’t have good vision, but make up for this with an excellent sense of smell). I guess what I’m saying is I see him everywhere. And it’s not in the more traditional places that I’ve been so affixed to.

He’s everywhere. All day. I see his love win out over evil time and time again. I know that’s supported by a verse in the Bible. Though I’m not reading it right now and quoting it, I am most certainly experiencing it and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God’s hand is in this, making beauty out of brokenness.

There’s some dark stuff in the Bible. Genocides, infanticides, killing animals (God’s creation) to assuage God into forgiveness of sin, commanding women to remove themselves from everyday society simply because they had their period and that this uncontrollable bodily act is somehow so revolting that women should be embarrassed to be seen when it, by no choice of their own, arrives biologically…

There’s beautiful stuff too. You know. Faith, hope, love. Forgiveness, grace, life over death. I can’t read 1 Corinithians 13 without feeling a deep connection to something holy and beautiful. I can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without feeling as though Jesus was truly remarkable, encouraging all of us to live a life very subversive to cultural, societal, even, at times, religious mores.

But for right now, I’m taking a little break from this book. You can tell me that I’m straying in my faith. You can tell me that I shouldn’t be doing this. You can tell me I’m wrong. You can tell me I’m missing out. You can call me a disrespectful sinner. You can tell me that God doesn’t like the way I’m talking about His word. Go ahead.

As for me, I’ll be sitting here, real, raw and exposed, being transformed into something, someone, I hope, that has experienced God on a visceral level, reminded that some of our “Heroes of Faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 did not even own Bibles. And to let you in on a little secret, I do, in fact, still turn to it from time to time. Just not as often as I have in the past. And to let you in on another little secret, I really do love this book. Not in the pollyanna ways I once used to, but from a part of me that’s been willing to ask questions, talk to God openly and honestly about what’s going on here, and take a chance that even though I may not be reading it, I am, in fact, experiencing it. And sometimes in life we don’t need to read anymore; sometimes we need to get our hands dirty, our toes squiggling through wet grass, because life is meant to jump off the page, have actions to correlate with words, and to be LIVED. Because the story is still being written. Somewhere along the way, I feel as though I’m living the words I have read or heard quoted time and time again. And sometimes I wonder if I’m literally standing on a page in the Bible. But then I realize that I’m experiencing it, in real time, and somewhere in between this reading and experiencing, it all amalgamates, and I don’t know if I’m reading or living or both. All I know is it’s beautiful, it’s holy, it’s reckless, swelling with this life abandoned, messy with watercolor streaks painted far outside the lines. I’m not worried about my behavior (or misbehavior if that’s how you see it) in this season. I’m ok with experiencing God in ways predominately outside the Bible in this current season. Because He’s got me. He’s got you. Letting each one of us experience Him in the ways we connect with him the most. I’ll keep coming back to this book; you can count on that. You can travel the world over, but there is some place in the world that can resonate as home. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve left my “safe home” of Bible reading “quiet times” (Christianese for Bible devotionals) and I’m running around the field, to first base, and second base, and even third, and I will always end at home. I might strike out on my way. But I always start fresh at bat from “home.” I’ve found my home in Christ, and this home is lit with the light from the Bible. And it’s also lit with solar panels and candlelight; it’s energized by some stories of the poor, some preaching, some time spent in solitude out in Creation, sunlight on my face…

It’s beautiful.

So beautiful that the more I think about it, I wouldn’t describe my Bible relationship as “love/hate.”

I’d say it’s “love/freedom,” and it’s an insatiable love that cannot be contained to any page or binding.

If you see me somewhere along the way on my journey to “home,” I’d appreciate your encouragement, not your judgments. I hope we can ask each other hard questions. I hope we can recognize that there is so much going on here than we will ever realize and that’s why it’s called FAITH. I hope you accept me when I say that I see a lot of grey in the Bible, with a few “black and whites.” But maybe you won’t. And that’s ok. I’ll see you at home plate, where we will celebrate the big, big God we worship as this big, big team as brothers and sisters. There might even be ice cream.  

Thoughts on the Bible. ((That read more like questions))

The most persistent question I find myself thinking about lately is, “what are you going to do about this book? [The Bible]” This timeless, mystifying, violent, inspiring, anger-inducing, pulse-escalating, explicit, imbuing, peaceful, clashing, countercultural, unexplainable book? The finite capacity of my intelligence cannot perspicaciously explain it. I cannot comprehend the fact that I arrived on this planet on a day that I have no memory of, where this book would be given to me five or six different times in various translations, where I would have to deal with questions, lots of them. What emphasis will this hold in my life? Will I join in heated arguments over this book’s etymology, hermeneutics, syntax, and translation? Will I tell someone that,”no, this is what [Paul] really meant,” or will I patiently listen to a fellow human being trying to do their best in figuring out how to apply 2,000 year old teachings to this present moment in society? Will I walk, simply and peacefully in the words of Jesus? Will I accept that there is violence, genocide, infanticide, and graphic murder in here committed by a God who is described as, “love?” Will I join in on this life-long conversation between God and myself or will I keep this book shut? Will I pretend there are no difficult-to-swallow passages? Will I blindly accept that this book is “true and inerrant” like I have heard proclaimed so frequently? Will I allow myself to be pulled into a deeper story, lulled by the love of a Creator, my creator? Will I choose not to fight against the propensity my heart has towards a God I can’t explain, a spirit that daily sustains and comforts me? Never have I read anything like it. Never has one book generated so much discussion, animosity, and unity for as many years as this one. Who really wrote it? Sometimes I wish I could be around one of the first circles to hear the teachings of this book; before printers and book presses, gathered around the fire with my family, friends, and teachers, inspired by the faith that’s sustained the people before me, and the people before them, until you’re staring at the start of it all, the first moment of creation. “I’ll tell you how the sun rose one ribbon at a time…”

I will wrestle with you on this one, Lord… some days it may look like a junior varsity wrestler preparing for the first match of the season, and other days, it will look like two kids laughing and splashing in a pool, on top of each other’s shoulders, blithely playing Chicken Fight, or whatever it was called. And some days, the wrestling will stop all together, as we will roll down hills, lay near river banks, and climb trees together, singing about Amazing Grace and Flying Away.

I’m thankful you’re patient with me, Lord, as I try to figure out my best response to this book. May my life be different because of it. May my life be challenged because of it. May my soul be satisfied with rich mystery and wonder, and shun the trite and quick ‘answers’ commonly associated with this precarious position of being a person of faith. And lastly, may I come to know you, may I be moved by you, may I be loved as your child, until we meet together face to face, laughing about the old days…

I love you.