Monthly Archives: September 2013

Living the Word

God is doing things in me. I’m sure of it. My faith has transformed so drastically over this past year that I  truly don’t even recognize the person that I was in Christ a year ago. My relationship with God has become something new, something transformed, something so much more authentic and vibrant than it used to be. Some days I just want to burst with gladness that He is teaching me so much, and that my heart has been opened to learning from Him.

And along with this, God has convicted the living daylights out of me. He’s impressed something upon me again, and again, and again, through the Bible, and through people at my church, and through various books about Christianity that I’ve been reading lately. I’ve come to realize that the strength and maturity of my Christian walk is not measured by how diligently I study his Word, or how often I meditate on His will, or how often I attend church, or how many sentences I string together about Him on this blog. The maturity of my Christian walk is measured by how well I love those around me who are most desperately in need of His love. That’s the whole purpose of this Christianity thing. To love. To be so enveloped with the confidence of God’s love for me and my love for God that it melts into every aspect of my life.

We Christians—myself included—are terribly good at reading Scripture selectively. We jump all over 2 Timothy 3:16, quote it and memorize it and use it to justify our idea of Biblical authority. Yet we aren’t too great at remembering 2 Timothy 3:17, which reminds us of the entire purpose of why we have faith that the Bible is inspired by God to begin with. Why? So that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work!!! That’s the point of it all! The entire purpose of reading the Bible and praying and going to church and…all of it! The purpose is so we can do great acts of righteousness in God’s name, and be people in whom Christ’s light shines so strongly that everyone around us sees little Christs, Christs-in-progress. In his marvelous book, The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight summarizes this idea wonderfully:

Any reading and any interpretation [of the Bible] that does not lead to good works, both as a practical application and as the behavioral result, aborts what the Bible is designed to produce.

Wow. How’s that for a good dose of conviction.

So I’ve committed myself to letting my words and my actions be as deep a reflection of my devotion to God as my Scripture reading, prayer time, meditation, and church attendance. I’m going to serve, and try to be a vessel of love for those around me. I’m going to try to be more patient with those who anger me, and more compassionate toward those who are down-and-out, and more gracious toward those who I don’t understand. I’m going to take 2 Timothy 3:17 seriously, and instead of just reading the Word, I’m going to do my very best to surrender to the strength of God and, through Him, LIVE the Word.

Legitimate Romantic Love?

Just to let you know, this post veers into a pretty freaky discussion, one that I am entirely at a loss as to how to understand. So, I’m quite sure I’ll say some things that could be perceived as extremely offensive, because I’m going to discuss pretty taboo things that I feel compelled to bring into the light in an attempt  to understand them a little bit better. I’m not really bringing the Bible into my exploration of this question too much, because it is complicated enough as it is, even when I am just discussing my personal train of thought, apart from what the Bible has to say. Maybe another day I will share verses that might shed light on this extremely complex topic. So, anyway, you are warned.

The other day, I was discussing the issue of homosexuality with some dear friends of mine. We were taking turns explaining what we believed about it and why. One of my friends posed a very thought-provoking question that I have been mulling over in my head ever since she brought it up. I am at a loss as to how to answer it, and even whether or not there is one particular answer that is true for all people in all places and in all times:

What is the definition of legitimate romantic love? That is, romantic love that abides within the will of God?

David, a man after God’s own heart, who loved God desperately and enjoyed a passionate intimacy with Him that makes me feel all kinds of jealous, had dozens of wives. Polygamy didn’t really get in the way of his relationship with God in the way that sin is supposed to, or at least we have no indication from the Bible that such was the case (and before your mind jumps to Bathsheba, remember that this sin had more to do with David lusting for Bathsheba and murdering Bathsheba’s husband than the fact that he was taking her as another wife). So what makes polygamy a sin, if it is not specifically condemned in the Bible and men such as David, Abraham, and Jacob enjoyed fruitful relationships with God even though they practiced polygamy?

Here’s another, related thought, one that is baffling me and one that I just can’t figure out. Why do I affirm gay relationships, but condemn incestuous ones? Now, before you freak out and get all angry at how unfair that comparison is, consider this. What is “harmful” about romance between two adults who are biologically related? What is it about two such people that makes romance between them sinful? I’m not sure how to answer that question, except  to say that such romance “feels unnatural”. And most Christians would use that exact same phrase to explain their condemnation of gay relationships. It’s  a phrase that I myself have used in the past to support a belief I no longer claim.

You could apply this same idea to a plethora of other forms of romance, not just polygamous and gay relationships. What about polyoramous ones? What about people who claim a poly orientation, and who say that, based on the way they were born and the way their romantic attractions developed, they could never be sexually and emotionally fulfilled with just one romantic partner? Yeek. Now there’s a freaky exploration.

When my friend asked me these questions, I really couldn’t answer her, beyond the easy but entirely unsatisfactory response that “it just doesn’t feel natural”. But I refuse to use that argument anymore, not just because I affirm gay relationships, but also because, quite frankly, it’s a ridiculously lazy answer that when carried to its logical end results in downright horrific arguments like this one. So we must answer the question, WHY are polygamous, incestuous, polyamorous, and (for many Christians) gay relationships unnatural?

But here is the flip side of the coin. Because that answer I had in my head felt like more of a cop-out than a true answer, I didn’t know how to respond to my friend except to turn the tables on her, and ask her, with a lot of frustration and not a little bit of snarkiness: “Okay. Answer me this then:  what defines monogamous male/female relationships as the standard? Why should they be considered the only legitimate form of romance?” And she didn’t have an answer for me any more than I had answer for her. And that’s where we left the conversation, and that’s what I’ve been mulling over ever since. How do we define legitimate romantic love? If polygamy was okay in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David’s times, why aren’t gay relationships okay in our time? Is culture really the deciding factor, or is there something deeper than that? Why are monogamy and heterosexuality the only combination in which we can accept romantic love as legitimate?

Lots of questions in this post, and precious few (if any!) answers. Geez. And I really thought I had every nuance of this debate figured out.

Disclaimer: Just to clarify, I by no means affirm polygamy, polyamorous relationships, or incest. I’m just trying to figure out what distinguishes them as sinful, and why I don’t place gay relationships in the same category—or straight ones, for that matter. Also, I apologize if anything I’ve said here is offensive to you. That was not at all my intent.

The Many Faces of God as Seen by Man

Some look at God, and they see a benevolent deity showering blessings down on His children.

Some look at Him, and just see Someone to blame for their pain.

Some see holiness, but can’t see a Friend.

Some look at God and see wrath and fire and a hater of sin.

Some see God as a friend they can pour their heart out to, but not a Lord who requires obedience.

Others look at God. And they see nothing.

I look at God, and I see a King whose powerful love reminds me of my identity, yet whose ways I still can’t begin to comprehend (that, of course, is the short answer!).

We are all human, and we are all created in the image of our gracious Father. But we are all uniquely fashioned by Him, with different personalities and perspectives on how to relate to Him and characteristics of Him that we emphasize. We are all walking along with Him on different stages. Some of us never cross the starting line, stuck firmly in our certainty that He won’t be there if we search Him out. Some of us sprint careening into relationship with Him, only to be gently told we must slow down. And some of us just walk with Him. Not at a rush, but not with a sense of urgency either. Some are so focused on the finishing line that we forget about the race.

We all relate to God differently. We all give Him a difference face and worship Him in different ways and love Him in different ways.

And that’s not pluralism. That’s just beautiful.

“Truth meets human beings on their own ground…Truth, then is relative to each; all come to the light differently. Nevertheless, it is the same Truth they come to: Jesus is the way, the truth and the light.”

Crystal Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith

What to Believe about God and His Doctrines?

I am quite baffled by something. The other day I had Bible study. About 20 or so of us women are going through the Beth Moore study Believing God, and today Beth talked about God, and who he is. And the climax of her talk was about the fact that we can’t put God in a box, that His mystery is part of the sovereignty of who He is. Here’s the quote that I wrote down about what she said:

“All attempts to define God cannot help but minimize him. If in our pursuit of greater knowledge God seems to have gotten smaller, we have been deceived. When we do this, we take the wonder, mystery, and wildness out of our conception of God.”

As Beth said these words, I saw heads around the room nodding in vigorous agreement. The women’s faces all said, “Yes! God is so huge! He is bigger than my dreams and and so much bigger than every box I could ever try to stuff him into!” They were totally buying it.

So here’s what baffles me. If God is really that big, WHY are we as a church so dogmatically determined to define Him with doctrine?! Because isn’t that what we’re doing, when we say, “THIS belief is God’s almighty, immutable Word; it says so in the Bible and any interpretations to the contrary are false and born of the devil!!!” I’ve heard language like that over and over. But when Beth was talking about how God is so huge and mysterious and impossible to define, all these ladies were nodding their heads in agreement, as if their God’s character is indefinable, but what they ought to believe about his doctrines are set in immutable stone!!

Well, I, for one, believe that you can’t separate God from his doctrines. If certainty about the nature of God himself is beyond human comprehension, then so is certainty about his doctrines. Of course, we can get a picture of God from his Word, and discern bits and pieces of his character and his ways and his laws and what he desires us to believe about him. But at the end of the day any claim to know with absolute emphatic certainty that THIS way is the only right way, THIS belief about this particular issue is the only right belief, and anything to the contrary is absolute trash, is also a claim that you know God.

So. There are precious few doctrines that I claim as my own (and a lot more that I’m still working through figuring out). The belief that gay relationships are equal to straight ones is one of them. But right now, in this moment, I surrender that belief to God. I’m not turning away from that belief, because I still think it’s the one that makes sense within my understanding of the Bible. But I surrender my certainty about it to God, and declare that he is bigger than this doctrine too, and that my small human mind may be wrong about his design for marriage.

It was so difficult to admit that, but I’ve worked so hard to shatter the box I put God in, and the last thing I want to do is stuff him into another box—especially since a box like that would be of my own design, and not my religion’s.

And I offer this challenge to you as well: don’t limit God to the doctrines you believe about him. Stretch yourself. Acknowledge the profoundly mysterious quality he possesses, and the incomprehensible nature of his holiness. Be willing to be wrong, and be willing to engage in healthy conversation with those with whom you disagree. Because you never know, God just might be working through that person to teach you something new.

Am I a Feminist?

Feminism. Such a loaded word. But what does it really mean? And…should I count myself among the numbers of those who support it? My first inclination is to say “no”.

Why? Because I believe that God endowed men and women with qualities that are unique to their gender. I do believe those qualities are generalizations, and apply to many of us, but certainly not all of us. But I also believe those generalizations are there. I don’t think it’s a load of patriarchal bull to say that most (but not all) men feel more worthy and more capable as fathers and husbands when they provide for their families financially. Or that they (again, mostly) have an intuitive desire to protect women. Or that they are able to separate their emotions from their logic, and thus can often make difficult decisions more rationally.

And I also can’t help but believe women have unique qualities too. For most of us, our emotions and our logic are all jumbled up together, which makes it so much easier for us to think compassionately. And most of us have a deeply ingrained desire to fortify our loved ones and make them feel like they can conquer the world. And we also are pretty darn good at nurturing children and raising them well. And so forth, and so on.

So. I guess you could call me a feminist to the extent that I don’t think men are more inherently qualified for leadership roles, and that women would bring an entirely different perspective to the table that is no less important in a role of leadership. But I also think that most women would be less able leaders than men where thinking rationally is extremely important (say, being a military officer). And I think men would be less capable leaders than women where thinking compassionately is extremely important (say, being the head honcho at an orphanage). Do I think there aren’t any women out there at all who wouldn’t make great military officers? Not at all. And do I think there aren’t any men out there who would make great heads of orphanages? Nope. I just think that, generally, each of those roles fits naturally with the unique qualities God gave to men and women.

Now, I’m still not so sure if these ideas are coming from my own mind or from a mind that has been brainwashed by my hierarchy-minded church upbringing (it’s happened before, and I’m still working through breaking out of being “brainwashed”). Maybe this idea of men and women having unique and distinct qualities is purely a social and religious construct, and has nothing to do with how God made each gender. But everything in my experience tells me something to the contrary, tells me that the way I think and act and live my life is pretty different from the way the men in my life think and act and live their lives. So at least for now, that’s what I’m going to go with.

So. Does that make me a feminist or not?

P.S. Gaaah. It definitely is a sign of being “brainwashed” that even typing the above question gave me chills. “Heaven forbid I ever become a feminist!” screams the dying fundamentalist in me. Guess I still haven’t broke free of the stigma surrounding the word “feminist” yet.

The Paradox of God

So, there’s this enormous paradox about the identity of God as revealed in the Bible that I am at a loss as to how to figure out. Jesus called his disciples, and by extension, all of us who are his followers, his friends. We are called to intimacy and closeness, and a deep relationship with our Heavenly Father. I get that. I’ve been told that my whole life and I understand that it’s a crucial, crucial part of the Christian faith.

But here’s what I don’t get. I am also called to revere God, to honor him as the sovereign Lord of the universe, the Almighty King whose word is law, whose precepts are non-negotiable and whose identity far, far, FAR beyond my human comprehension. As his disciple, I am supposed to be constantly in awe of the vastness of his glory, in the same way that Moses trembled and fell and couldn’t even handle being in the presence of God on Mount Sinai.

So, how do I juggle these two facets of God? Because, if God is my friend, then I want to be honest with him. I want to pour my heart out to him and express my anger towards him if that’s what I feel, and express my gratitude for him if that’s what I feel.

But expressing anger toward God feels…disrespectful? I don’t know how to share intimacy with God without trying to bring him down to my level. How do I share intimacy with a Creator I will never be able to understand? A God who is perfect and just and holy and…a God who IS LOVE…? I feel as though the very fact of being in his presence ought to make me hush in an awe, whereas if He were my friend, being in his presence would make me gasp for joy and run to embrace him.

So it’s a paradox that I don’t understand. God is my Almighty King. God is also my Friend. But what does that mean for my daily prayer time with him? Can I really be honest and respectful at the same time? Because sometimes the honest thoughts that my heart feels for God are also disrespectful.

Jesus Was Divisive and I Should Be Too

Ever since I read David Platt’s book Radical, and went through a Bible study that covers a lot of the concepts from the book, I’ve felt wracked with guilt. David talked about all those troubling things Jesus requires of his followers, stuff that is so insanely radical there’s no way we’d ever do that.

And it makes me feel like a fake Christian. Like I’m not a real follower of Christ unless I up and pack my bags and move to Africa. Or something like that. I felt ashamed and lukewarm and like I wasn’t good enough because wasn’t radical enough. David’s book and Bible study were marvelously effective and pointing out all the things wrong with my life, but they were an absolute failure when it came to teaching me how to respond realistically to those radical verses in the Gospel. In short, although he stressed over and over again that Christianity is about our hearts, not our actions, I still came away from the study feeling like I had to DO more to earn God’s favor. Not exactly the effect David Platt was looking for, I’m sure. In short, he did an excellent job of telling me all the things that are “wrong” and “unbiblical” about my lifestyle, but offered precious little advice about how to move forward applying these radical teachings of Jesus to my very ordinary, responsible, safe life.

Then I read a different take on Jesus’ commands to us, in this article. This guy, whose name is David Henson, also doesn’t shirk away from the idea that Jesus was asking these things of us literally, and not just figuratively. But he frames these things Jesus asks of us—things like leaving our dead parents unburied to follow Him, things like realizing that following him means you and your family may very well have a falling out (to say the least!!)—within a context of love. Our love for God ought to be so great that when we do things and be things in His name, the people around us think we’re off our rockers.

And even more than this, David H. puts forth the idea that the Gospel, by its very nature, is divisive. Say what?! Let me repeat that. The Gospel is divisive. It demands that we see God’s belovedness not just of ourselves, but of that coworker we just can’t stand to be around….that homeless man down the street….that hypocritical Christian we’d just love to hate. The Gospel demands that we remember we are no more worthy of His love than any other person alive, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. The Gospel requires that we fight prejudice and befriend the people that the rest of society has rejected. It demands that we live our lives in ways that confound the norms of our culture and our society, and go against every selfish desire that we have. It demands an allegiance to God that is so fierce, so all-consuming and powerful, that no other relationship in this world can come close to it.

And dang—that’s divisive. But it’s a love that I want. It’s a love that I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, would infuse my life with meaning and purpose, a love that would not be afraid to challenge the status quo, but instead to embrace that change in a life that is lost in servitude and friendship to a loving Father.

To conclude, here is one quote from the article that sums up its message so poignantly. It serves as a great reminder of why we follow God in the first place:

“But this love, God’s love, our gospel tells us today, is more likely to bring us stress and division rather than peace and harmony. And this is Good News. Because God’s love is inclusive enough and wide enough to upset those who want to limit love to a chosen few who follow a few cherry-picked and misconstrued rules and regulations about beliefs, about sexuality, about politics.”

Here’s a link to the article. It’s really, really worth a read!!

Finding Commonality in God

I stumbled across this quote while reading a new blog I’ve just discovered. Reading it created a little moment of identification with this writer. Although I’m a straight, privileged woman who has never endured the awful experience of being told God hates me because of my sexual orientation, I still feel like the “voice” this blogger speaks of is a voice that I’ve listened to and believed in during most of my Christian walk, without realizing what a false “god” the one described below really is.

“I believe that a great many of us have been so enamored with an image of God that bespeaks of some demanding, judgmental, perfectionistic entity whose call to discipleship is heavy on the Cross but light on the joy, that to break away from it means a radical break with one’s very notion of God. For me, it means that I’ve been so damaged by this “god” that I had to leave “god” to find God. This false god granted me no identity outside of an ecclesial structure or theological system; it convinced me that discipleship consisted of an endless series of “purifications” that would leave me broken, deconstructed, and crushed with no way to go but up. This “god” had no likeness to human love—it certainly had nothing to do with the kind of love I felt drawn to. This god was no more than a projection of my own interiorized voice of self-criticism and inadequacy—and I suspect that when a great deal of people talk about God, that voice is exactly what they have in mind.”

Praise God that He has revealed His true nature to this young gay man, and that He is slowly but surely revealing His true nature to me too.

Please read the rest of his blog post. It’s heart breaking.

Rescue Me

I feel as though I am need of rescuing. The feeling of disillusionment that came long with my writing of the “Called Out to Get…Real?” post hasn’t really left me.  Listening to podcasts like this one doesn’t really help matters at all. Part of me feels like I ought to stick to my church, even though their authoritative, black and white, literalist (did I use enough adjectives there?!) approach to the Bible is driving me crazy. Why? Because if there’s one thing my church rocks at, it’s creating relationships. I’ve found friends, mentors, and teachers at my church. Sure, a lot of the theology they buy into is fundamentalist and goes against the grain of everything I’m now exploring, but the fact remains that at the end of the day, these women have reached out to me and fed me and encouraged my walk with God. And that’s a rare and precious gift.

It’s just so hard to see those gifts and strengths when I’m constantly deconstructing and criticizing so many things about my church right now. Like the fact that their sermons and Sunday School lessons revolve around one thing: proving the literalism of Genesis. Or the fact that I genuinely don’t feel safe asking hard questions there – partly because of the emphasis on biblical literalism and partly because nearly every hard question I’ve ever asked there has been shot down or oversimplified.

For the first time in my life I feel like an outsider looking in on all the happy faces of my peers, faces that are so safely cushioned by things like their parents’ beliefs, their religious upbringing, their church’s teachings, their friends’ influences, etc. (and yes, even their genuine faith in God. I’ve got to grant that, too). Meanwhile, I’ve looked at all those fluffly, deceptive cushions and I’ve torn them all to pieces. I don’t have a safety net anymore, I don’t have the rigid simplicity of fundamentalism anymore…and it makes me feel like an outcast in my church.

It’s frustrating…and I don’t know what to do about it, or what the solution is. I can’t change my church overnight. I probably can’t even change it at all. So what should I do? Accept that my church is the way that it is and just leave it? I don’t think so—like I said, that gift of relationship is such a strong one in my church. So maybe, instead, the solution is the hardest one I can think of: be vocal and honest about how I feel, and hope for the best.

The Meaning of Biblical Inerrancy

Question. What do fundamentalist Christians mean when they say the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God? Such a claim has a host of meanings, ranging from ridiculous to convincing:

  • It could mean that every single fact laid out in Scripture happened exactly as the text explicitly states.
  • It could mean that the principles in Scripture are infallible and will never steer us wrong.
  • It could mean that the contents of the Bible from beginning to end are applicable regardless of time and space.
  • It could mean that God authored the entirety of Scripture, and the writers are just empty vessels; i.e., their own opinions and biases and perspectives do not in any way influence what is written in the Bible.

I probably missed a good few. But even this short list is a lot to wrap your head around. There are so many ideas about what we mean when we call the Bible inerrant, and I don’t know how to make heads or tails of most of them. All I know is that no one—not a soul on this earth—believes they ought to obey every word of the Bible. No one. So really, does that mean there is a soul on this earth who can say in good conscience that they subscribe to the fourth bullet I listed? Seems to be a bit of cognitive dissonance there.