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?

The shallow cracks within my soul.

There’s a path I sometimes walk
That doesn’t create wonder and gratitude nor beauty or intimacy
But that walks in the “in-between.”

That’s too afraid of change or the possibility of things turning out worse
So I don’t take full steps to make it better.

The part of me that trades in originality and audacity and brightness
For dullness and sameness.
And makes me feel like a let down
To the 18 year old girl inside of me
Who once woke up with an airbag in her face
Car slammed in a telephone pole
Calling 911
Vowing to never ever take the preciousness of life for granted ever again.

Who pushes off booking a Southbound flight
To roll down hills with my cousin
Who feels like a little sister
All because I’m scared of what will happen
If I don’t make the next dollar
And have to live off savings for a while.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t say the words I want to say
Because I’m scared to be different
And so I choke behind the voices that tell me to be quiet
Just to “fit in.”

There’s a part of me that wants to run the opposite direction of anything religious
And get pissed off at God
Or rebel against every Christian teaching
To spite the dogma of heavy nooses I’ve experienced in Evangelicism.

And sometimes,
I’m glad I do this.

Because in the defiance
I find space to stop hearing the words that hurts me.
And get to ask every unadulterated question I’ve ever wanted to ask.

But most of the time, I know I go home
To my room
And my candlelight
And it’s just me
And God
And I get scared of death
Or need hope
Utterly.
Within my soul
Every part of me in tune with my need for God
And I’m ashamed that I would ever turn my back on him/her
When the last thing God would do
Is turn his/her back on me.

So the words of the most subversive person I know
Whispers in my ear,
“Come with me
And I will show you the unforced rhythms of grace…”

There’s a part of my soul that dies a little when I think about how much time I spend
Ruminating on how much I dislike my job
But don’t know how to make my dreams reality
So I become like many Americans
And get a temporary high on Friday nights
That crashes 48 hours later
With the Sunday evening blues.

There’s a part of me that’s too afraid to take a chance on my dreams
Because they aren’t “academic” enough
Or important enough
Or impressive enough.
And that’s when I remember
I’m feeding into the trap
That certain careers are more important than others
When all we really need to do
Is find that makes us come alive
And go do that
And let everyone else
Chase success and notoriety
In a job they hate but think “looks good.”

There’s a part of me
That wishes I were the opposite gender
Because I hate the fact that mine
Makes me less muscular, less tall
And is laiden with propriety
And tells me to change my last name
And have kids
That I don’t really want to have.
At least not biologically.

There’s a part of me
That’s hurt by every ignorant statement
Mouthed by Evangelicals
Or conservative white or black men
Spewing out their desire for pompous power
By telling women how they should live (the “sanctity” of life) and die (don’t you care go into combat, after all, you’d make the military have to change the way it does things to become more gender equitable and that’s really inconvenient).

I realize how much I want to become sarcastic
And yell in anger
And let men see
A women get angry
Instead of passive, taciturn, and “nice.”

And sometimes I’m glad I do this.

But most of the time,
I think about Jesus.
And how hard it is to love the way he talks about loving.
Especially when it comes to loving those crazy (insert the opposite political party with which you affiliate).
And so I make a fool of myself
Missing out on an opportunity to develop my character
By instead choosing anger and resentment
Instead of something more courageous
Like love.

I walk these icy paths of the cracks within my soul
And confess my wasted moments
And ask God to redeem them
To start afresh in the morning
And ask for just a little more time in solitude
Here in the light
In open spaces
Where the sound of stillness
And the beat of my heart
And the wind on my face
All remind me to come alive
And be contraire
And get out of my head, my self, my biases
And get lost in the dreams and stories of each beating heart around me.

And together we’ll solidify the cracks
Until they become steady ground
Connecting hearts
And minds
And dreamers.

We’ll glance up to the endless sky
And find ourselves and lose ourselves
In these cracks and crevices
Of darkness
And of light.
046

Ignited by a Fire That Will Never Burn Out ((Thoughts on Wanting to be Understood))

I never realized how badly the desire to be understood rested dormant in my heart until waterworks poured from eyes sitting down at a newcomer’s meeting one Sunday morning this past spring. I drove forty minutes southbound to a church I’ve always wanted to go to whose founder has authored writings that have put words to all that I feel in my heart, allowing me to sigh, wow. Someone else who thinks like me. Someone with whom my questions are not only safe, but welcomed, encouraged. So when the woman giving the newcomers’ overview asked me for my name and I burst out crying, I realized that for one of the first times in a very long time, I knew I was in a safe place where I could be understood. Where no daggers would be thrown at me. Where I could grow in my faith without being chastised for asking difficult questions. Where I would be met by other people, walking in faith, who aren’t afraid to acknowledge wounds that the Church has caused, and offer an opportunity to start anew, welcomed with however little or however much faith you possess. I can’t explain to you the peace I felt to be present in a community in which I knew I was welcomed, genuinely welcomed, to explore the Ancient of Days knowing that I was not in a room full of Bible-quoting, finger pointing Evangelicals. Instead, I felt like I had literally been ushered into the arms of Jesus himself.

I knew that that rainy Sunday in April was the start to a new beginning in my journey of faith; one in which I officially surrendered trying to be someone I’m not, letting go of my college Evangelical days in which I sat uncomfortably in my seat, cringing each time I heard that anyone who didn’t accept Jesus into their heart would spend eternity burning in Hell, but too afraid to speak up and say politely that I really didn’t want to pass tracts around campus after class on Friday. Ever.

I now know that I don’t fit in many Christian circles but I can’t let go of this incessant longing for the Divine. My heart is with the thirsty, for those who yearn for something more but don’t necessarily know what it looks like.

I do know that part of it looks like letting so of stringent views about theology. I am frustrated with the walls I’ve seen so many in the church put up. Holding signs that say, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” doesn’t exactly help a fellow hungry human being feel closer to God, much less change their sexual identity, if that’s the “agenda’” you’re after. Writing books about Hell, emphasizing that “we can’t get it wrong” doesn’t exactly help the person with questions looking for hope feel welcomed.

But besides all of that, I am tired of wasted time spent on arguing over theological debates instead of fostering loving relationships. I don’t want to lose any more friends; I also don’t care if you think I’m a heretic; and above all, I really just want to be your friend. I don’t care if you believe in eternal punishment for those who don’t profess Jesus or if you do believe that Jesus did it once and for all to “save” everybody.

I don’t care anymore.

All that I’m concerned about is if you are finding God in this journey. That you are finding freedom and joy and peace and some mess and some conflict and some yes-es and some no-s and questions, LOTS of them. I hope that you can find peace in your storms, comfort in your sadness, grace for every time you fall. I hope your journey is about feeling appropriately small when gazing upwards at the Heavens, in awe of so glorious a Maker. I hope your journey finds God in unexpected places, far from steeples and tracts, like in the smile of the poor, in the playfulness of a child. I pray your faith encourages you to spend time with those who are different from you and challenges you to find the image of God in all you come in contact with. I pray your hurts get healed, and that you would come to realize that God is kinder, that God is warmer, that God is more loving than you have ever dared to imagine. I pray you find your hands holding God’s and that your shoulders will be squeezed in a heavenly embrace and that you won’t want to let go of this moment because this moment is exactly what you have been longing to experience all this time. I pray you never go parched, but oh, that you would still maintain your hunger and your thirst and may it draw you straight into the arms of your Creator, beyond understanding, until your soul is dancing, on fire, ignited by a flame that will never burn out.

The second time I went back to this church, I did cartwheels on the church property with a new church friend. By far, my most favorite Sunday afternoon to date.

Learning to Love the Questions Themselves

3.21.11

It’s my most favorite time of the year, where just walking by a flower causes me to smile. My favorite tree is in bloom and each day, I stop my running mind to observe new budding and flowering of each magnolia blossom. And it’s a reminder to me that God is not finished; that He is on the move, and what I once saw in January was not the final picture nor final fate for these beloved trees, beloved blades of grass, beloved chirping birds… And so it is with people; so it is with me… That I am ever-growing, ever being molded and shaped, ever-taught. And yet still my soul thirsts and hungers deeply, a seeking and asking that never seems to stop. When I think I’ve figured out one thing, there’s always something new to ponder, some new question to ask…

And in this season of life, I am asking more questions than ever before with some kind of shameless audacity and curiousity about the world around me; not a demanding, indignant, deserving sense of question-asking, but rather one of an explorer, a participator. What does it mean to be fully alive each day? What does it mean to be a human, bound to Earth by gravity, seeing all this messiness around me, but receiving my guidance, direction, purpose, and hope from above, beyond this world? What good does it do to be critical of other people; afterall, we’re all brothers and sisters anyway? If Jesus prayed for ‘Your will be done on Earth as in Heaven’, shouldn’t we be actively trying to shape the world around us into something more beautiful, more complete, more whole?

And so I’m learning to not be afraid of questions as they come, but rather, I’m learning to love the questions themselves. That they point to something bigger than me, something beyond me. That my little brain cannot fathom, nor know, nor fully comprehend the majesty of life and Creation… That yes, there are absolute truths in life. But that God is not limited… that his/her Kingdom is more diverse, more whole, more all-encompassing that I can ever, ever imagine. And I feel convicted that my arms want to refuse to unembrace anyone.

So may we  s e e k . And may these questions that cross our minds draw us into holy wonder and awe, straight into the arms of our Creator.