Tag Archives: theology

How to be a Christian without being a jerk about it

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

A few weeks ago, the marvelous Lindy West over at Jezebel wrote an excellent post called, “How to be an Atheist without being a dick about it.” As someone who has been the target of my fair share of dickish Atheists in my life, I really appreciated it. However, the behavior of dickish Atheists pales in comparison with some of the behavior of my Christian brothers and sisters. So, dear people, I give you some recommendations on how to be a Christian without being a jerk and turning everyone off to not only Christians, but to Jesus. (I’m going to try to cut back on the language in the event that some Christians who need to hear this are turned off by the swears. Let’s see how I do.)

1) Stop threatening people with hellfire and damnation. Nobody likes it. It achieves approximately nothing so far as spreading the gospel is concerned.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, and I’m not going to get into my thoughts on hell and the existence thereof. I have no idea what threats of hellfire are supposed to accomplish. It’s like screaming at someone, “I think you’re ugly and awful! Date me and I’ll fix all of your flaws!” Sign me up? Not to mention the fact that most people who don’t believe in the Christian concept of God DON’T BELIEVE IN HELL. Therefore, your threats are meaningless. How does threatening someone with something they don’t believe in do anything other than make you (and by extension all Christians) look silly? That’s like telling me that if I don’t behave, Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will boycott stopping by my home with their treasures.

“Oh, you think I’m going to hell? Well, then I’d like to be a part of your community and worship your God!” said no one, ever.

2) Stop “speaking truth in love” or whatever you call it. This includes love the sinner, hate the sin (which sounds more like hate than love every time).

Let’s be honest, the most often I see this line used is in the attempt to “correct” the gays, so that’s my primary focus here. Look, I get that for many Christians, correcting someone on their behavior can be a soul saving act. But, let me be clear: speaking the truth in love just about never feels like love. It feels like judgment, anger, hate, prejudice, bigotry, evil, immaturity and a bunch of other negative adjectives (and often times, that’s because that is what it is). Now, there may be times someone needs to be called out on their behavior, like when they are being a total jerk (see this post) or when they are harming themselves or others. Usually, it is best when someone has given permission to have truth spoken into their lives. That means they are ready for it, and what you have to say is valued. Proceed with caution and love. It is important that, in the event you feel the need to correct someone on their behavior, you ask yourself some things:

A) How well do I know this person? If the person you are about to “speak truth in love” to isn’t a close friend, stop yourself right there. Just stop. The phrase “speak truth in love” comes from the letter to the Ephesians, a worshipping community of the early church. These were people who lived in community together, not random people shouting at each other what they were doing wrong.

B) Is anyone getting hurt by this person’s behavior? And by hurt, I am not talking about the state of their everlasting souls regarding eternity in heaven or hell (which is up to God, BTW, not you or me). Drugs destroy bodies and relationships; abuse of a partner or child is life damaging and soul killing. Have the talk. The sex lives of consenting adults (unless they are cheating, knowingly spreading a disease, or engaging in super risky compulsive behavior) are not hurting anyone.

C) Have I thoroughly examined my heart to make sure I am acting out of love, not fear, prejudice, or wrong teaching? If I am not engaged in a regular prayer practice that involves looking into my own heart and confronting my own sin, I am are in no place to correct someone else. And I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot of confronting to do. A lot. Try thinking of what love is according to 1 Cor 13: 4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Which brings me to #3:

3) STOP WITH THE JUDGING ALREADY

In the gospel of John, Jesus comes across a crowd of people about to stone a woman who was caught in adultery. He says to them, “If you are without sin, go ahead and cast a stone. If you have sin (which face it, is all of you) go ahead and stone her but make sure you throw some stones at yourself for good measure after you stone her.”

Wait, that’s not the story.

All too often I hear people talk about other’s sins, convict others of sins, then add at the end, “But, I mean, I’m a sinner too, I know that.” Dude, that’s not what Jesus said to do. Jesus said to stone her only if you were without sin. How about instead of stoning/judging each other, we love each other? Real, deep, compassionate love that sees the brokenness and aches to see it healed with love.

4) Stop saying that God is acting in destructive ways because of the gays, feminists, Muslims, Atheists, abortionists, communists, socialists, Obamacare, liberals, pornographers or whatever. I’ve already written about it here. These storms are happening at an increased rate not because of our personal “immorality” but our corporate sin of degrading the environment and acting like we’re just gonna get another one.

5) Get right with science. I don’t even know how to explain this one. Climate change is a thing. Evolution is also a thing. The ancient people who wrote the Bible would have looked at us like we were nuts if we told them we were taking their stories as actual fact. The United States is falling behind in global education ranking because of our math and science scores. Kids from very religious households are going to college unprepared for intro science classes because they haven’t learned about evolution and they think the Earth is 6,000 years old. There are plenty of scientists who are people of faith and believe that there is an unmoved mover behind all of this. In fact, many people believe that knowing more about science actually makes God all the more wondrous.

If you can’t get right with science, try to understand that there are very valid reasons to believe in science (I really can’t handle that I just typed believe in science, like it is a choice). We would do a better job of spreading God’s love and salvation if we listened and loved instead of shouted and judged.

6) Understand that there are people who are never going to believe, for whom the idea of God makes no sense whatsoever. Faith, according to the Bible, is a gift of the Spirit. Some people don’t have it. Be cool about it. Be friends. Love, laugh, chill and talk. Have conversations about ultimate things, come to understand why a person wouldn’t believe in God. Even for those who have been given faith, it is a hard thing to sustain in this world. Know someone who doesn’t believe in God? Love her. Be salve to his wounds. And let up on the witnessing.

7) Empower women. Paul had women working with him. The woman at the well brought her village to belief, women were the first to witness the empty tomb and tell others. Women are smart, strong and equipped for leadership at home, in the workplace and in the congregation. Our bodies are not made to be ogled at, commodified or make medical decisions about. How someone else feels about my body is not my fault. I will show others respect and Christian love. I don’t owe anyone fielty or subservience disguised as complementarianism, and I don’t have to wear long skirts or cover my head, TYVM.

8) If you know/hear/suspect someone has been molested, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a church member/leader, listen, trust and report it. That’s just a big old duh.

9) Stop trying to legislate using the Bible as your main argument. The Bible can’t be used to make public policy. It can certainly influence reasoning for supporting or opposing a policy, but it must not be the sole reason. Evidence, studies, economic impact, human rights and constitutionality — these are reasons to make or take down laws. Not because the Bible said so. Even in situations when our religious beliefs call us to end injustice, we must (as people living in a democracy, not a theocracy) find reasons to supplement/complement our Biblical reasons for legislation.

10) Focus more on corporate sin than personal sin. Care more about racism than what a woman is wearing or who someone is sleeping with. Get more outraged by war and poverty than something scandalous and/or titilating on tv. Worry more about the melting glaciers than who is marrying whom.

11) Understand you lose any and all moral high ground when you decide to support a racist, xenophobic, sexist, petulant, lying, cheating, oppression supporting demagogue WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE HE NEEDS TO CONFESS SIN TO GOD OR ATONE FOR ANYTHING for president. You cannot talk about the sanctity of marriage and at the same time support someone who has been married three times, cheated on his wives, and likely continues to sexually harass/intimidate women (and who will be on trial in December for raping a child). You cannot talk about how you value life and support someone who a) refuses to allow people seeking life into this country b) seems to be fine with people threatening the life of his opponent and c) still thinks innocent men should get the death penalty. And you can never, ever ask others to repent when you claim into the Christian family someone who believes he is above that.

When I was going to church camp, we used to sing a song with the refrain, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I want that to be the truth. I want to know that when I tell people I’m a Christian, they will think of all the work my people do on behalf of the poor and outcast. I want to be proud not only of my God, but of my people. But that’s really hard. Because, right now, our public image is more like, “They will know we are Christians because our leaders say weird things about AIDS and storms, support sexist, xenophobic racists, would rather refugees die, and we yell a lot about who can marry whom.” So, let’s cut that shit out, shall we?

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Theology with Ice Cube: the beauty of metaphor and killing it with facts

Ice Cube's good day -- a utopian fantasy

These are the things I think about in my spare time. Ice Cube and exegesis.

A few months back, there were attempts made to figure out exactly what day was Ice Cube’s good day in his song Today Was a Good Day. If you aren’t familiar with the song, here’s one of the more pastor’s-blog-friendly segments:

Drove to the pad, hit the showers

Didn’t even get no static from the cowards

‘Cause just yesterday them fools tried to blast me

Saw the police and they rolled right past me

No flexin; didn’t even look in a niggas direction as I ran the intersection…

Plus nobody I know got killed in southcentral LA – today was a good day.

The song has references that help to place it in time – the Lakers beat the Supersonics, Yo MTV Raps is on, the Goodyear blimp is flying (so there’s some kind of big game), people still used pagers. So, some people took these hints and “figured out” exactly what day was Cube’s good day. It was a fun little exercise that got passed all around the interwebs.

When Ice Cube was asked about this recently he made it clear that there was no one particular good day – this was all just stuff that would make a clearly awesome day (for Ice Cube). It is, if you will, a utopian fantasy. In pointing out exactly what would make a good day, Cube points out some stuff that is really messed up about society. It is rare for a day to go by when no one he knows gets killed. The fact that he is surprised that he drives past the police and nothing happens emphasizes police harassment of people who look like Ice Cube (black, car with hops, gangsta: any or all of the above). Making it about facts takes a lot of this commentary away – it’s no longer a commentary on anything, just a story about a rad day Ice Cube had back in 1992 or so.  Making it literal takes some of the commentary out of the song, it weakens it, takes out the creativity and the story. It’s a fun game, but it’s not really what the song is for. The song is a story meant to express Ice Cube’s dreams – some base physical needs (sex, food, money) and some greater needs (freedom from the constant threat of death, from the watchful, profiling eyes of the police). When it becomes literal, some of the magic is gone. It is just another day.

(It’s pretty clear that this song is not meant to be taken literally – especially the end of the song, where Cube says, “Wait, wait, wait a minute poo, stop this s***. What the f**k I’m thinkin’ ’bout?” Like man, this is just a dream. Let’s get back to it. )

Does this sound at all familiar? Do you recognize the practice of taking an interesting and disturbing story that points to immediate and greater themes and reducing it to dates, times and facts? Isn’t this what many of us do when we study the Bible?

So much of the Hebrew Bible is this amazing compilation of stories written by people who were trying to make sense of their world. They were trying to communicate their immediate needs and their longing for freedom, love and peace.  The people who wrote the Old Testament were helping their communities grapple with famine, death, oppression, and slavery (not entirely unlike a lot of rap and hip-hop music today). Their stories gave meaning to people’s lives and provided hope for a future that will have something different to offer.

Much like a lot of rap, these stories can be violent, disturbing and confusing. So we try to make them into fact. We try to pin dates on things, we try to find Noah’s ark and the location of the Ten Commandments. We take a metaphor and strip it of its meaning by reducing it to facts, all so that we can be more comfortable.

One of my least-favorite examples of this is Jesus’ statement that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Ow. This is awful for most American Christians. Most of us have a lot –we are rich by the world’s standards even when we feel poor. So, this verse sucks. It makes it pretty plain that at worst we won’t even get into heaven, at best our money won’t help us get there. So we try to make it into fact. We make the eye of the needle an actual geographical place that was really narrow, but not so narrow that a camel couldn’t get through. Jesus was using a metaphor to make a point. We use truth to avoid it.

I’m not saying this is all bad. Archeologists and historians have their thing to do – it is their job to ferret out the truths of the ancient world. Christians have another job, a different job. It is our job to hear the voices of the Bible speak to us as they spoke to the people of their time. It is our job to hear the cacophonous multitude of voices express pain and grief and violence and hope and to hear what they were saying to their community through these stories. It is our job to sit in the difficulty of the story and the challenge of the metaphor, to let it inform our faith, our ideas of God, and our actions in the world around us. The question is not whether the events and stories in the bible are factual, it is whether they are True. Harsh, confusing, violent, full of hope, full of pain, replete with love, lust, mistakes, hubris and just plain weird — that sounds an awful lot like life, doesn’t it? True? True.

Today, it was a good day.


Slut shaming (Jesus says don’t do it)

Slut shaming. It’s the new thing. Well, it’s not new at all, really. It’s at least as old at the prophets, who repeatedly refer to Israel as a whore and a prostitute (two different things, mind you) for being untrue to God. Over and over again, Biblical imagery paints Israel as a woman who is verbally and physically abused by YHWH (God) for being unfaithful, for straying to other Gods. It is really painful to read this. It would be even more painful if I read these words as God’s words and not the expression of a community of faith trying to come to grips with horrific suffering. These are the scriptures of my faith. This is my holy book. And, at times, the things it has to say about women are pretty ugly*. Sadly, things haven’t changes much in the past 2500 years.

Clearly some things have, at least in the wealthier nations. It’s pretty uncommon to sell your daughters or to kill women who aren’t virgins when they get married, at least in the United States. These things are also illegal here. However, as mouthpieces as diverse as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Mahr have recently demonstrated, it’s still okay make women less than due to their sexuality. As it has been true throughout history, a pretty quick and easy way to take down a woman is to call her a slut, whore, hussy, tramp, prostitute, or bimbo. Call a woman’s sexual activity into question and she’s done. This is even more clear when we examine how quick everyone is to say that the woman Limbaugh insulted, Sandra Fluke, is NOT a slut, she is NOT promiscuous, she was just standing up or a friend who needed birth control for medical reasons. What if she did sleep with a ton of people? Would that have somehow made Limbaugh’s take down of her okay? Would it have been totally reasonable to disregard her testimony because she was *gasp* having a lot of sex?
This is tricky territory as a female Christian leader. I don’t want to strap women in chastity belts or conscribe us to lives of submission, nor do I want to make anyone feel dirty or ashamed of sex or their bodies. However, I don’t want to glorify having a lot of sex with random people. It is my observation that women tend to have random sex to fulfill other needs — the need for emotional connection, self-esteem, or approval — and usually end up not only not fulfilling these needs but usually feel worse afterwards. I also fully believe that sex is best had within a loving, committed relationship. This is where emotional and physical needs can be met (even spiritual needs), where you can talk about what you like and what you don’t like, where you can experiment, where you can cry during sex without being a total weird-o, and where you will (in theory) both be physically safe from disease and (also in theory) where you will be better prepared if a life is created from your coital joy. However, there’s something else I believe.
I believe that when Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” he meant it. He said this to a crowd that was about to stone a woman who had been caught in adultery. He took on an angry crowd that was about to kill a woman for having sex by drawing a line in the sand and challenging the status quo. He stood up for the sluts of the world. When all the men went away, he asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” I love this part. He takes the time to point out to her that no one has any room to judge her, freeing her from her internal voices of judgement. “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus replies. “Now go and sin no more.” So, he’s not saying, “Have at it sister!” But he’s saying she’s alright, but she might want to change her ways. He doesn’t lecture her, doesn’t demean her, doesn’t take away any of her humanity. He loves her. He implores her to fix her brokenness. At no point does he judge her. And, as he is Jesus (and therefore God), if anyone gets to judge, it’s him.
So, in conclusion, STFU, angry mob of slut-shamers. Jesus said so.
*I’m still working on the roles of women in the prophetic texts. If anyone has words that will make me feel better about the whole God raping the woman Israel thing, I’m all ears. Or, in this case, eyes.

Because I’m a woman

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I vividly remember the first time the Bible was used to tell me I couldn’t do something because of my gender. I was 20 and in my first semester at my second college. Hanging out in the cafe talking to this really cute Christian boy (likely the only one at Warren Wilson College that year), I mentioned that I felt a really strong call to ordained ministry. He informed me, without so much as a pause, that I must be misinterpreting this call, as God would never call a woman to such a position. Then he started quoting Paul. Off the top of his head. This was all new to me. I had never been proof texted before, and I sure as hell had never had the Bible used to tell me I couldn’t do something.
Being told I was less than because of my possession of tits and a vagina was nothing new to me (or most women). Especially as I am crap at things that require hand-eye coordination. My mom and dad taught me to shake that off because I could do and be anything I wanted to, and my inability to play tee ball was not about my gender. But I had never been told that I couldnt do something because God said so. I didn’t have the defenses for that.
I left the cafe almost in tears. As soon as I got to my dorm room, I found my Bible and looked for these verses. There they were, plain as day (or so I thought). God told Paul that I couldn’t lead a congregation, couldn’t be an equal partner in my relationships with men, and generally should just shut my pie hole. Crying, I threw my Bible against the wall and cursed God and the apostle Paul.
Fortunately, we had some amazing religious leaders on campus. Dr. Sommers walked me through the importance of audience and context when reading Paul’s letters. Paul wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to a specific people at a specific time in history with specific issues. And he had some issues of his own. He also had female leaders in his group of gospel spreaders.
In the years since this experience I have heard again and again that a woman’s role is to have babies and care for the family and submit to the rule of her husband, through whom God speaks. Every time I hear this, it breaks my heart. And the voices peddling his crap seem to be getting louder. Purity balls, a creepy ritual in which young women pledge their purity to their fathers and fathers pledge to care for it, are an actual thing. Mark Driscoll and many like him are teaching that women should be submissive and feminine all the while treating that “sacred” and “blessed” role as an abomination if men want to take it on. And my sisters are buying it. Women are struggling with obeying what men are telling them God says and the different message they hear the Holy Spirit whispering to their hearts.
Now this battle to re-domesticate women has moved from churches to the government. Too many have heard the words of Christ as words of liberation, too many know that we are created in God’s image, male, female and somewhere between. The Holy Spirit has revealed to faithful men and women that women CAN lead, can preach and teach and administer the sacrament and lead households. And many Americans are so sick of the hate and prejudice spewed by the religious right that they aren’t listening to the church anymore. Now, those who want to keep women powerless have to force it upon us through legislation. Want to keep women out of the public sphere? Make birth control illegal so that they have to keep pumping out babies. Force them to be vaginally violated by the government if they decide that they don’t want to carry their pregnancy to term. Make sure women know their opinion is irrelevant by not allowing them in on the conversation.
Unfortunately for those go wish to make sure women’s voices are silenced, God created us to be badasses. Blood doesn’t scare us; we bleed every month. Pain? We were created to push watermelons out of a hole the size of a lime. Intelligence? We invent, we create, we write. Strong and fast? We win sports championships. Church cred? We become bishops. We reform the church. We push through your glass ceilings even while being harassed and put down; we do it in uncomfortable shoes and an itchy bra. We love radically and fiercely. This is how God created us. And, as long as God has our back, your efforts to keep us silent and subservient are going to lose.

An anthem for this post: