Category Archives: Life

Journal-ish entries about my journey through this world

Exit: The Courage to ask questions

Yesterday, I staked the claim that I’ll be writing a series about why I left Evangelicalism.  Now I’m staring at the screen wondering if I have the courage to put these words out where anyone can read them.

Questions, Questions

I’ve been asking questions since I could talk. My husband deserves sainthood for not telling me “ask Google, why don’t you?” 300x a day.  In the working world, my skillset would be defined as The Clarifier: the person who asks a lot of questions like, “Have you tried it this other way?” “Why do you think this process is breaking down?” “Wait, what if that isn’t the reason and it’s actually this other thing?”  People tell me I’m a good listener, but I think what they actually mean is that I’m a good questioner, and people like talking about themselves and their own ideas.

I grew up in Fundamentalism…. if you don’t know me or what that means, then read this post and also this series.  And be thankful.

Anyway, Fundamentalism is, well, it’s a whole bunch of adjectives: Oppressive.  Well-intentioned. Fearful. Patriarchal. Legalistic. Self-righteous. Afraid. Religious. Tradition-bound. Limited. Simplistic. Naive. Rule-focused. Damaging. Tribal. Ignorant.  Spiritually abusive. Terrified of questions.

Yeah. It’s hard to be a Clarifier in a religiously fundamentalist world.

I need to clarify right here at the outset two contradictory truths: First, I had a pretty gentle journey through Funds-Land. Bob Jones University isn’t the worst of that crowd by a long shot, and I have many good memories of my family, my home churches, my Christian school, and my college years.

At the same time, BJU and the entire sphere of Fundamentalism that raised me was absolutely (and, I believe, unwittingly and unintentionally) twisted and spiritually abusive. I was lucky to escape without a lot of obvious wounds….but new scars keep showing up in my emotions, spiritual practices, sexuality, relationships, intellectual assumptions, personal identity, womanhood, and understanding of God and His ways.  I vastly under-estimated the genuine damage in my soul, heart, mind, and body from being raised in such a toxic culture. And as I began to explain in this post, my decade in the PCA started the healing process but then stunted it. The PCA suffers from many of the same flaws as Fundamentalism, primarily because its theological underpinnings give allegiance to a very similar core of legalism.

There’s a reason we tend to call ourselves “recovering Fundamentalists.”  The “Exvangelical” moniker is accomplishing a similar purpose.

What’s “certainty” going to cost me?

Ask any student of mine from my teaching days what my mantras were.  Hopefully they’ll list this one first: “A good kid isn’t a kid who stays out of trouble and follows all the rules. A good kid is one who DOES good.” (That, to me, is the core of understanding what biblical righteousness is all about, and it bingos the central error of legalism.)

But secondly, Never be afraid to ask The Truth a hard question. If it’s really The Truth, it can stand up to your questions.

I know my first crises of faith, when I was in single digits, came from worrying about whether I was “really saved.” That’s one pile of bullshit that a covenantal view of children and salvation does away with, and if we had kids, I would have happily gone through with infant baptism. But that’s a long post for another day.

My second, and much more valuable crisis of faith, came when I was around 13. It was fall and I was in 8th grade, probably my least-favorite grade until my sophomore year of college (likely for similar reasons).  A lot of things were shifting in my life and I had some questions.  I remember staring at my Bible, daring to say aloud (inside my head), “How do I even know this is true?”

Believe me, I was shook.

Within the entire swath of Evangelical theology (despite the sputtering that would ensue from the Fundy crowd, I’m going to lump them into the Evangelical camp for purposes of this series, because they’re merely the fanatic fringe of a single theological perspective), the Bible stands as THE FOUNDATION of thought and practice.

The reasoning is simple:  God gave us the Bible to explain to us who He is and what He does. Therefore, you establish that the Bible is verbally inspired in every part, and binding for faith and practice, and then move on from there to understand God, sin, Jesus, salvation, whatever.

How do we know the Bible is true?  Well, there are lots of books on this within Evangelical culture, but the answers always boil down to this:

a)  we feel that it’s true (i.e.: the Holy Spirit makes us feel that it’s true in our hearts, or something like that), or
b)  we give intellectual value to a pile of certain facts about its authorship and textual transmission, combined with awe at the miraculous nature of its textual preservation, or
c)  God said it was true (and ignore the obvious circular reasoning thing going on there).

Hello, Modernism, my old friend

I’m not here to debate biblical inspiration.  From what little I’ve read of Karl Barth (thanks to an outstanding course at an Evangelical seminary a few years ago), I think he’s got a better starting point in seeing Jesus as The Word, and the prophets and the Bible as equal Witnesses to the Word.  Barth opens his huge Church Dogmatics with theology proper (who God is), not with a section on inspiration. That subtle shift taught me a lot about why I was becoming deeply unsatisfied with Evangelicalism as a belief system.

A lot of this whole mess is driven by the fact that Evangelicalism (and especially American Fundamentalism) was birthed at the height of Rationalist, Modernist thinking. Everybody — religious or no — was drunk on the idea of reason, logic, and/or science having all the answers.  Cross that with the invention of digital tools like computer processors, and it was easy to believe that a large enough computer could predict the weather weeks into the future. (Spoiler: it couldn’t.)

In American Christianity, this punch-drunk fascination with intellectual-above-all gave us acerbic creation/evolution debates, stifling legalism based on biblical literalism, and insufferable evidence-based apologetics (combined with door-to-door evangelism and street preaching).  Suddenly, American Evangelicalism had a whole lot to lose if people started asking questions

I know it sounds counter-intuitive that the same Christians who are central to the target demographic of Fox News (all feels, not facts) were hoodwinked by intellectual Modernism, but hear me out.  Yes, Evangelicals are happy to ignore facts for the sake of faith (evolution being a good example of this). But the very foundation of Evangelical theology is a Modernist understanding of texts, of inspiration, of parsing language to extract precise meanings.

This hermeneutic is stunted, incapable of wrestling with genre nuances and verbal ambiguity or acknowledge story-truth as a category beyond literal fact. It’s like literary criticism done by a 4th grader. (“But Mommy, why did they make her wear an A on her chest? Doesn’t that mean our neighbor should have an A on her chest too? She’s not married either!”)  And it works itself out in Evangelicalism via spiritual practices that feel like someone left a toddler in charge of the house rules — rigidity of interpretation coupled with emotional immaturity when confronted with opposition.  My word, if that isn’t an analogy for conservative Christian political discourse in the past 20 years…..

If you go all-in on a Modernist view of how the world works, then you fall prey to a closed-mindedness that runs facts through a fine sieve to make sure nothing gets through that will upset the system (again, biological or cosmic evolution are great examples here) and you lock yourself into a paradigm of biblical interpretation that cannot admit when it’s wrong.  See also: women in church leadership, husband/wife roles, finding a place for LGBTQ+ folks to be practicing, communing believers.

I’m not saying Postmodernists get a pass here; a relativistic approach to “truth” also breaks down, leaving us living parallel realities with no agreed common truths (again, see 2016-2018 as a great example). But it’s not an accident that Evangelicalism starts its entire system with a Modernist view of biblical inspiration.  Then, the Reformed folks add idolization of propositional truth over anything that isn’t happening in one’s intellect, and the straightjacket is buckled on pretty tight.

Side note: that Barth class was one of the most amazing intellectual experiences in my educational life – thank you Dr. Richard Burnett for introducing me to a much kinder understanding of a vital theologian who’s been unfairly smeared in America, partly because we didn’t understand him but mostly because his stuff wasn’t even translated into English until decades after it was published. Burnett is one of the premier American scholars on Barth (Amazon), and he’s a committed, faithful believer. He’s currently working to provide rich theological resources for laymen at Theology Matters

A great related reading, if you’re interested, on Barth, Evangelicalism, and inspiration:  Vanhoozer, Barth on Scripture (PDF)

TL;DR on inspiration: If you stop believing in the strictest definition of verbal, plenary inspiration, your whole religious world may not implode around you.

*****

I realize I left you hanging there in my personal story: so what did I do, when at 13 it occurred to me that there are no observable, external proofs for the Bible’s inspiration?

First, I panicked a bit. It was a terrifying thought. What if my entire faith collapses?

This horror was an ever present warning in my young life: sermon illustrations, Christian literature, explicit teaching all told me that the path to Hell was paved with asking questions.

I calmed down and decided I should probably read the Bible and see for myself.  (I’m proud of myself, in retrospect.)  So I did. I started somewhere like Genesis or Matthew and “did my devotions faithfully” for a few weeks. (I’ll need a whole other post to delve into THAT.)

And….that was it.  A few weeks later, the fear and anxiety were gone.  I’m not saying that like we’re in a church service and you should now shout “Jeee-zus!” and raise your hands in worship.  At the time, I considered it a gracious answer to prayer and the result of the work of the Spirit.  Now, after a whole lot more education and life experience, I don’t know whether it was the work of the Spirit or a simple change in adolescent brain chemistry from “anxious” to “safe.”  Probably some of both.

Do I think the Bible is the inspired Word of God? Sure, yeah.  Do I mean “inspired” like you mean inspired? I dunno. Frankly, I don’t care. It’s the wrong question.  If you push me for a more specific answer: I think Barth offers a better understanding of inspiration than the Evangelicals do (read the PDF I posted above for a thorough look).

If you need the Bible to be a book of magic words in order to believe in God, your faith may not survive. 

Ask and you shall receive

Stop being afraid to ask questions about your faith. About whether God is good, about the problems of evil in the world, about the genocide of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, about people dying in countries where they’ve never heard the name of Jesus and being sent to hell.

Do I have answers?  Hell, no.  But you’re either going to ask those questions burning in your heart or you’ll bury them where they fester and poke you and make you afraid or angry.

Either God exists or He doesn’t.  I believe that He does, but I can’t prove Him to you. I firmly believe that isn’t my job anyway. He can speak for Himself, He can act for Himself, He can explain Himself.

Jesus said (I’m paraphrasing Luke and Matthew here) that God isn’t like some dickhead father who gives his kids a rock when they ask him for bread. He hears and answers. So ask.

Are you angry at God? Tell Him. It’s not like He doesn’t know already. And it’s not like we don’t have multiple examples in Scripture — especially the Psalms, but also the Prophets — of people telling God what they think. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it’s terrifying, sometimes there’s silence.  I’m not a divine being. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.

But I encourage you to face up to your questions and fears, and to ask them honestly. Say them out loud.  Search for answers. Search within community (a great read on this in Relevant Magazine recently).

If you’re in a congregation where such questions are suppressed, then get out — if you can. (Be safe!)  If you can’t leave, look online for people with similar questions and find community there.  But don’t stop asking questions.  It’s the sign of a healthy heart and mind.

Faith rests on the courage to ask questions, not on the fear that doubts will unravel your faith.

You might find these posts helpful:

Waking up to questions you didn’t know you had

Quotable: Faith Isn’t About Finding Answers | RELEVANT Magazine

A Taxonomy of Doubt

Questions, Faith, and Doubt: Why all the fuss about Rachel Held Evans?

Unintentional #Exvangelical

Exit: An Intro

A pair of inciting incidents this weekend have convinced me that there might be value in writing about why I no longer consider myself an Evangelical. My journey is hardly unique, but Christian culture is insular and people outside the orbit of “normal faith experience” often find themselves isolated and marginalized.  Perhaps my words can help you clarify yours.

A couple clarifications to start:

First, I am deeply committed to the belief in God and to historic Christianity as stated in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. If you’re here with popcorn hoping for a deconversion story, you’re going to be disappointed.

Second, and I realize this is hard to reconcile but hear me out, my critiques of Evangelicalism are not meant to blame or shame anyone who’s still happily in that tribe. You do you.  I fully trust the Spirit to do His job of leading Christians into full sanctification.

*****

I’ve written occasionally about the #Exvangelical movement, and if you find yourself wanting more, you may run into some helpful people on Twitter under that hashtag. It’s a broad swath of people, some who are still religious and many who are not, who walked away from Evangelicalism, often in the past few years.  I ran across them earlier this year, so I wouldn’t call that group formative in my thinking. But if you’re looking for more people who are trying to pick up the pieces of spiritual life in the wake of 2018, it’s a place to start.

*****

One of the inciting incidents was this convo on Twitter, which I read last night:

*****

I don’t know where all this series will go, but I think it’s going to cover how my thinking has shifted in the past decade and why. About why it’s so hard to pull the trigger on searching for a new church. About why I find myself in my 40s angry at the ringing injustices of the world in a way that wouldn’t even  have made sense to me in my 20s.

I will try to bang it out this month in short order, but we’ll see.

Hugo Winners 2018! A few thoughts

I need to finish my Hugo reviews – sorry, folks. Life got busy.  A few comments while I’m thinking about it today…..

Best Novel:
Winner: NK Jemisin’s The Stone Sky.  I heartily agree!

Jemisin’s trilogy is a resounding success. It’s the only second-person writing that’s ever worked for me, because she has a necessary and clear reason to use that approach, and she deployed it well. If you haven’t read The Fifth Season (my review) and The Obelisk Gate (my review) along with this year’s Hugo winner, you now have THREE Hugo Awards to spur you forward. No other author has scored a hat trick like this in Hugo history.  Plus, TNT is turning the series into a TV event – so read the books first!!

Amazon link to the trilogy or Apple iBook or Audiobook

Best Novella:
Winner:  All Systems Red by Martha Wells.  Yes!

I voted for Binti as #1, but this novella was a strong second and I’m thrilled that it won the award this year.  You’ll fall in love with Murderbot just like I did. The story serves up great military science fiction and characterization, and gives us a good window for grappling with the continuing question of how we define personhood and the tendency of humans to oppress those whom we dehumanize or strip of self-determination.  You can buy Wells’s novella on Amazon or Apple and it’s worth the dollars (plus you can support an author!)

Best Novelette:
Winner: “Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer

This is a delightful long story, one of my favorites this year though I voted for “Wind Will Rove” as the winner (Sarah Pinsker). I need to write a separate review of “Wind” here for y’all. It’s one of the most meaningful stories I’ve read in a long time.  But readers make meaning as we read, bringing our own reality into the equation as we judge the merits of a story.

“Wind Will Rove” tops my list because it’s a story about music and a story about teaching and a story about space exploration, and I love all of those things.  But that doesn’t diminish Palmer’s excellent tale and I’m not sorry “Secret Life of Bots” took the crown.  Her bot story made me smile and reminded me of the best from people like Scalzi. (Published in September 2017 issue of Clarkesworld magazine.)

Best Short Story:
Winner: “Welcome to your authentic Indian experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse (also the John W Campbell winner this year)

This is probably my largest divergence from the Hugo lineup this year. I put Roanhorse’s short story #4 on my ballot, behind “Fandom for Robots,” “The Martian Obelisk,” and “Sun, Moon, and Dust.”  It’s hard with short stories to settle on meaningful criteria for judging the works. Am I going by “feels”? Or story construction? Artistry of language? Punch and surprise? Big Central Question?

No complaints that Roanhorse won. The only short story I didn’t particularly like was “Clearly lettered in a mostly steady hand.” The other 5 were solid.

Best Related Work:  won by Ursula LeGuin.  I’m still not willing to acknowledge the loss of LeGuin, and apparently many of us are in that same spot. I did vote for Zoe Quinn’s book because I think the whole Gamergate dustup needs to be documented, dissected, and studied if we’re ever to get a handle on the toxic masculinity that dominates so much online discourse. But every word from LeGuin is a treasure, especially now that she’s gone.

Best Graphic Story:  I love Monstress, and it won!  But how on earth did My Favorite Thing is Monsters not WIN THE BALLOT this year?  It’s a remarkable work.  Read about it here:

If this sounds like a wild story, so is the tale of how Ferris came to write it. She was a 40-year-old single mom who supported herself doing illustrations when she was bitten by a mosquito, she contracted West Nile virus, became paralyzed from the waist down, and lost the use of her drawing hand. Fighting chronic pain, she taught herself to draw again, then reinvented herself as a graphic novelist, spending six long years creating what’s clearly an emotional autobiography.

And man, does her commitment show. Breaking away from the panel format customary in comics, Ferris’s densely-imagined, crosshatched images explode with a visual freedom I’ve not seen in a graphic novel. And she uses that freedom to give us, well — everything.

I cannot praise Ferris’s GN enough. You should immediately put this on your reading list.  Amazon link.

And I also highly recommend the Monstress series, which took home the award again this year. It’s beautifully drawn and a great story. I voted for the lead artist as Best Professional Artist, and I’m glad she won!
  

Best Long Form and Short Form Drama: I voted for Get Out above Wonder Woman, but WW was a lovely film and gave us the female superhero we always knew we wanted. No issues with how that turned out.

And that’s it for my commentary — I didn’t vote for the other categories (editor, magazine, fan writer, YA, Campbell, etc) because I don’t spend enough time in those worlds to cast a fair vote.

This was a great year for the Hugo Awards, IMO. The nominees were diverse, the selections were interesting and skilled. I’m so glad the “Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies” years seem to have passed.

DO YOU WANT TO VOTE IN THE HUGO AWARDS?

It’s open to all fans who hold a voting membership for the upcoming year’s WorldCon convention.  No attendance required; all voting is done online. Voting members receive a packet of PDFs of the various nominations (including selections from the novels and book-length works) in early June and voting closes in late July. Visit the site for more information. 

My husband and I have been voting for the past several years, and it’s enriched my summer reading. Even if you don’t spring to buy a membership and vote, the nominee lists for the Locus, Hugo, and Nebula Awards are always public. No excuse for not having great reading material at hand! 😉

One more spread from My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

Advice from my 40-something self to my 20-something self

*taps* Hello? Hellooooo? Is this thing on? (You never know with time travel equipment.)

Ok. I’ve got a chance to send some advice back to my younger self, and I think it’s worth the risks. If I poof out of existence because I tangled the timelines…well, I guess this post will disappear too.

But not before I pass along some good stuff, the hard-earned coin of these past couple decades.

Don’t buy things. Buy experiences.

Young Self, I’ve been sending a lot of your stuff to Goodwill and eBay this year, stuff I bought when I was your age and then didn’t really use much. It’s easy when you’re just starting out in life to buy things that other people use because they seem to be getting so much good use out of them.

Here’s the thing: we Americans are hoarders. We’re consumers. We consume things then leave their discarded husks around to clutter up shelves and closets and the garage. It’s dumb, and it spawns a lot of needless dusting and angst. Let. It. Go.

All you need in your kitchen is …

  • An excellent set of knives. When the Cutco Guy shows up at your door sometime in 2002, make sure you let him in. Yes, the price is outrageous, but good tools cost money. No, you can’t afford it – buy a set anyway. We’ve been using these knives for 15+ years now and I thank Hephaestus for them every single day. We got them re-honed and factory sharpened a couple years ago. I plan to use them till I die, and then my friends can argue over who gets to inherit them.
  • A 12″ cast iron skillet and a 6″ cast iron skillet. You hardly need any other skillets. I don’t know why I waited so long to discover the magic of cast iron, but I’m going to blame it on the stupidity of youth. We make a breakfast scramble in the little one at least once a week and use the big one for nearly everything.
  • An enameled cast iron Dutch oven. This is the other half of my short list of “indispensable cookware.” You can make soup, stew, cacciatore, gravy, roasted meat, braised beef, slow cooked pulled pork….. it’s a magical device. It’s heavy, yeah, but it’s worth it. Make this beer braised pork roast and these carnitas and this Belgian beef stew all year long.  I have the one by Food Network because who has money for LeCruset?
  • Round out the cookware with a heavy sauce pan (I have a great anodized aluminum one from Calphalon), a cheap big pot for pasta (big and thin so it boils fast; mine is left over from a T-Fal set), and a small LeCruset metal enameled pot for making rice or cheesy grits. Any small, heavy pot will get a lot of use.
  • A small supply of high quality tools, preferably ones that do multiple jobs (Alton Brown’s rule). My list includes silicon scrapers and stiff spatulas that resist high heat or work for scraping a batter bowl; wooden spoons for cooking because they can handle high heat and a lot of abuse; a sturdy nylon whisk and a pan whisk (so handy – go buy one), good quality ice cream scoop (this one has held up for at least 15 years) and pie server (Pampered Chef wins here); a citrus reamer (I use this metal coated one); a thin and very sharp knife (I got a few of them free at Pampered Chef parties but you can buy them inexpensively on Amazon); and these little spatulas from Pampered Chef which are absolutely perfect for cookies. We also use stainless steel measuring cups (for dry ingredients) and spoons all the time, and a classic set of Pyrex 1 cup, 2 cup, and 4 cup for liquids. Just like Mom’s! 😉

I’ve got a few other random kitchen tools tucked away, but I’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch of them and I feel so much better.

You don’t need to hoard recipes, except a few proven winners. I have a few handwritten cards of my dad’s recipes (still) and the ones given to me by ladies at my bridal shower (though I’ve cooked only a few…..hmmmm….probably should dig into those).  You’ll soon learn that cooking is an art and a set of heuristics rather than an exact science, and I pull out recipes only rarely.  I pared down my cookbook collection as well, though I did keep a few standards or really pretty ones.

This is our #1 favorite coffee-making machine. We got ours from Amazon; click the image to check it out.  Morning coffee is an amazing, sensory ritual – and takes less than 5 min.

Throw out that damn automatic drip coffee maker. Blech. Ours broke one morning 4 or 5 years ago so we turned to Google in desperation to figure out how the “uncivilized” world makes coffee. Discovered that we were the heathens, imprisoning our coffee for years in that sad machine. We’ve settled now on a simple Bodum vessel and a Black & Decker electric kettle (which also helps out for heating water for pasta). Coffee takes 109x better and our morning coffee ritual (which takes barely 5 minutes) is genuinely satisfying.

I don’t know why I waited 10+ years to buy myself an electric can opener (this is ours and we love it). Sometimes you hate doing a particular chore and it’s worth stepping up to a better tool. I should have bought one in Year One of our marriage. Durp.    I put my KitchenAid stand mixer in this same category. It’s 20 years old and trucking right along.  I’ve used it to make bread dough, cheesecakes, and mashed potatoes, but Coart uses it all the time to mix up chocolate chip cookie batter — and that’s a holy rite which shall never be interrupted.

Ok, enough kitchen…. on to other topics…..

Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, even to keep other people happy. Hold your head high when you walk into the liquor store or when you wear that pink shirt and short shorts or when you duck into Hot Topic to see what the kids are into these days or when you crank up the volume on your playlist. I still remember a lady at church talking about hiding beer in her grocery cart and feeling like she had to justify herself to people in the store: “I’m buying it for taco soup!” Look: No one cares why you’re buying beer. And if they do, is it any of their damn business? NOPE. Don’t hang out with judgey people and don’t let them dictate your actions. (But don’t be a jerk either – it’s obviously kind and caring to avoid engaging in actions you know will offend a friend.  I’m talking about the non-friends who exist in your personal orbit.) 

Thing is, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay within particular boundaries, especially when you’re a teacher.  Don’t go out looking for trouble, but don’t ever pretend to be something you aren’t. Eventually people will figure it out. (And teenagers will detect bullshit immediately.)

If something is wrong or harmful or unkind, don’t do it.  If it’s not any of those categories, then don’t pretend like you don’t do it if you do.  Simple as that.

This is on my list for the front door area as soon as planting season hits. (Links to Amazon)

Plant stuff in the yard the first year you buy the house! Don’t wait around (like we did, thinking “we’ll get to it….”) because then you’ll end up owning the same house for 15 years but still have zero landscaping except now you’re angry about how much nicer your yard would’ve looked by now if you’d scraped together some money for landscaping from the very start.  Skip 4 Starbucks runs and buy a plant or a load of topsoil instead. 

Stop working for low pay. This one might be controversial, younger self, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. Other than this: take time to sketch out a career plan. Don’t just let your career happen to you. And don’t allow your skills to be undervalued in your earnings, unless you’re getting something else equally valuable (like experience or learned skills or fulfillment).

Get better sooner at making a monthly budget and sticking to it. You aren’t good at this. And growing up poor warped your understanding of money and finances. I know you know that you’ll get more out of retirement savings if you start sooner. Start with something like Acorns with loose change, at first.   I know it’s hard to forego current delights for the sake of future investment. Not working for low pay will help you fix that problem, but adjusting your lifestyle down to enjoy experiences rather than material goods helps too. Go find a friend and hang out. You don’t need to spend $60 to visit Biltmore to do that effectively.

Don’t pay for cable. Don’t steal it either….just….hang in there. They’re going to invent this service called Netflix and also YouTube and then this other thing called Hulu and then you’ll have all the TV you’ll ever need. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have friends who pay for cable but share their online account password with you so you can watch this hot show on HBO called Game of Thrones.

 

I think my connection is fading, so last thing:   Take care of the kids who need you –they’re going to grow up into amazing adults one day, and they’ll appreciate what you invested in them. Don’t stop fighting for the kids no one else thinks will make it. The underdogs can make it – they just need a hand up.

Peace out.

Waking up to questions you didn’t realize you had

This article in Relevant Magazine (Jul-Aug 2018) wrecked me today.

The Evolving Faith of Lisa Gungor – RELEVANT Magazine

This was rock bottom, the point in Lisa’s life in which she felt the most desperation. And she says the core question—the thing it all boiled down to was love. “What do I believe about love?” she says. “Love is the whole story that I’ve bought into about Jesus Christ, so what do I believe in?”

The answer to this question arrived through a lot of labor. Lucy, the couple’s second child, was born with Down syndrome. “And it was kind of this painful, epic, beautiful, wonderful climax for me,” Lisa says. “This little girl is born into a world that our society says is broken, and needs to be fixed and at the same time, I’m feeling that within my self. I’m broken, and I need to be fixed because I don’t believe like I used to.”

The peace Lisa found in Lucy was not a resolution to her doubts but the understanding that she could live with those doubts and they didn’t change who she was.

I was already weeping, reading the article. But that passage just stopped me dead.

*****

I can’t really tell you what I expected from my 40s, but it’s been a constant merry-go-round of surprises.

Just for starters — I never really expected that I’d be childless and thus was caught flat-footed in my late 30s without any career arc or plan (I’ve written a bit about that here).  My husband and I have watched multiple friends move far away in the past several years, coinciding with shifts into work for both of us that doesn’t inherently create community.  I feel like the world exploded in 2016 with Trump’s election, ripping the mask from a cesspool of racism and xenophobia and hatred that has been simmering unseen in American culture, probably since its founding. But seeing that ugliness on my Facebook feed from people I know? Painful.

And then there’s church. Hoo boy. Where do I start?

I didn’t mean to leave Fundamentalism in my late 20s, but it happened when what I was seeing in Fundamentalism didn’t match what the Bible says. I’d been taught in seminary at BJU to query the text and give priority to the text. When we realized the “doctrine of separation” was invented and unbiblical, we walked away from everything we knew.

That led us to the PCA, which was a good home to us for several years. Reformed theology gave me many gifts which I treasure to this day, not the least being an understanding of the Dutch Reformed stream thanks to our M.Ed. coursework at Covenant.   But the PCA has a big problem with legalism, one that they acknowledge (sort of) but cannot solve because of the presumptions they bring to their understanding of faith.

Also, the PCA along with nearly every Evangelical group harbors a lot of patriarchy-in-the-name-of-Jesus which I can no longer tolerate in silence. If I’d had a daughter (or a son), I don’t know how I could raise her in an organizational structure that entirely deprecates the role of women in leadership.  If anything, I’m more convinced now in the wake of #meetoo that women are endangered when they are powerless.  Traditional Church structures are built to disenfranchise women and locate power entirely in the hands of male leadership, using God’s name to justify this system. I’m so done with that.

All that aside though, I didn’t mean to leave my church in 2016. It just ….happened. I was just as surprised as anyone else.  I took some time off to change jobs and rest a bit, including absence on Sunday mornings for a variety of reasons. When I asked to get back onto the schedule for church musicians, my queries were met with….crickets.  My husband had stopped going anyway (for several of reasons), so it seemed like a clear indication that our time there was done.

I consider my faith to be important and central to my life, but I have struggled in the past 2 years to see “church” as a central practice.  At the same time, I deeply miss the sacraments and having fellowship with fellow believers. It’s just hard to know how to start “dating” a church again when I know how exhausting that process will be.

I haven’t been to church in nearly two years.  When I was reading Lisa Gungor’s description of the questions she could not ask in Church, I nodded along.  The Problem of Evil is lurking at the basis of her doubt, and any theologian who tries to hand-wave away the depths of evil, death, and pain in human experience loses respect from me immediately.  The older I am, the more horrified I am by poverty, murder, school shooting, abuse, rape, discrimination, racism….. not to mention disease, cancer, death. The Bible doesn’t give any glib answers to this.  Why therefore do so many churches refuse to allow its people to wrestle?

I have a friend who’s struggled to accept their sexual orientation.  They have also – understandably – struggle with their faith, and with the idea that God answers prayer. This friend begged God to take away their same-sex attraction, but He has never provided relief.   Is God a hateful Father to create someone who loves people of their own gender, and then condemn them as sinful?  The most faith-rocking experiences in my world stem from knowing several people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender who are also (sometimes) people of faith.  My marriage to Evangelicalism fell apart when I realized I was being asked to act hatefully toward people whom I love, and whom I believe God loves.

*****

To have faith, you must confront doubt. You have to lay it all out on the table and be honest about it. You have to own up to the questions.  Look, if you’ve never wondered HOW you “know” that God is real, are you even a thinking human? Do you honestly just swallow anything anyone tells you?

I’m not saying “throw out your faith.”  I’m saying, Recognize that ‘faith’ is subjective.

If God is in relationship with me — and I genuinely believe that He is — then I have to give Him the room to do whatever He decides He’s going to do.  I also have to be honest about my own questions and acknowledge the ambiguity in that relationship and in the way the Bible uses many different genres to express complex and nuanced ideas that I don’t always understand.  Every church I’ve been in cannot handle a Bible text that isn’t iron-clad inspired, sparklingly clear in its statements, and applied with gale-force wind to the lives of people sitting through a 45-minute lecture on a weekly basis.

If you think Christianity is some easy cut-and-dried process, then…. good for you?      I think you’re nuts.

“My perspective is I’m trying to live in the way of love and the way of Jesus the best I know how. I know I don’t have it all right, but I love the way of Jesus. I don’t have a definition for that.”

I don’t know what to call it either, Lisa, but I’m right here with you.  Whoever said that people get more conservative as they get older apparently didn’t live the life of a GenX woman who’s just now waking up to a whole lot of questions.

That sweet spot of “nailed it”

Someone somewhere defined a way to identify a good career fit; unfortunately I can’t remember where I read this.

Ask yourself, When do I feel strong and powerful?

You’re probably looking at a good career fit if your talents and gifts shine when you’re doing a particular task. Your inner self will know, too, and you’ll feel the strength and confidence – at least you’ll get glimpses of it.

For me, that sparkle hits whenever I’m talking with someone who has a problem they’re trying to solve, especially at work or within some kind of organizational structure or work process.

The other day at work, I enjoyed a double-shot of this joy: I had two conversations with separate colleagues about problem areas, trying to identify the cause of the issue and sketch out potential solutions.

At one point I asked, “But what problem is this initiative trying to solve?” Because that wasn’t clear — neither when the initiative was launched, nor throughout its implementation. So often we leap to implement a solution, often the first workable one that came to light, before we’ve taken time to understand why the problem is happening in the first place.

In this particular instance, someone imposed a workflow on five separate teams of employees in an attempt to gather data on the effectiveness of a particular organizational practice. The workflow itself isn’t terrible, but it’s not efficient for the employees implementing it. I’m sure a few workers were consulted, but none of them asked the right question — what problem are you trying to solve? Because the workflow bears all the marks of a fuzzy and vague goal rather than a laser-focus on testing a precise solution to a clearly defined problem.

I ended up working about 90 minutes past my usual cutoff time one day last week, but it felt so good. I was going something I’m particularly gifted to do: ask questions that get to the heart of the matter, and help others see that focus area more clearly, so they can go off and build better solutions.

I don’t know how to make the leap into my perfect job. One  where this is what I would do all day:
– Go around and visit various people in the organization.
– Ask them how their job is going and what’s working/not working
– Listen hard to what they say, work to understand the problems.
– Clarify the problem and pitch ideas for a solution. Connect people and ideas. Cross-pollinate.
– Move on to the next person. Remember everything I’ve heard so far. Cross-pollinate even better.

This is my gift. How do I turn it into a lifestyle? lol

Good Times, Bad Times

So, are humans a disease to this planet or demigods of power, possessing nearly unlimited strength and resilience?

Am I the only person wondering if the human race has long outlived the patience of any divine being?

2018 is weird, man.

*****

I was raised in conservative Fundamentalism, a sliver of Christianity that’s thankfully grown much smaller since the 20th century.  A lot of people like to define Fundamentalism by its strict code of rules, a feature which drew sharp lines around my desires, behavior, and dreams as a kid. But I think Fundamentalism is better defined by its warped understanding of sin and Grace. Perhaps those both arise out of a core misunderstanding of God, one that shaped my view of the universe well into my mid-20s.

The Fundamentalist God is a jerk, honestly.  As a child I envisioned God as a lot like my dad: a good person at heart, but easy to make angry, and dangerous when he was mad.  I knew God hauled around the cosmic baseball bat of Consequences™ that we always heard about in sermons, how “be sure your sin will find you out,” and how maybe God could be bargained with if you showed you were serious about abandoning sin for the straight and narrow.  “Hey, God, if I promise to never do this again, could you maybe not let my cat get killed this summer?”

An abusive Father who accepts bargains. That’s the Fundamentalist God, no matter how much pastors talked about “grace” in sermons.

One of my friends in graduate school came to me sobbing one evening to confess that he’d cheated off my quizzes throughout undergrad. He was terrified that his girlfriend wasn’t going to marry him – she’d said as much –  and as part of his holy dealmaking, he was coming clean and confessing his sins so God might bless him and not take away his chance at being a husband.  (They eventually got married. I don’t know if he even remembers doing this.)  I’m glad he got his cheating off his chest, but even at the time, I was taken back by the blatant economics of the whole situation.

What’s odd to me about Fundamentalism is how badly it misunderstood sin. I guess it makes sense for a movement founded on a concept of purity to redefine sin as both a horrific impulse that defines humanity at its core, AND an external influence that can and should be avoided at all costs.  I’ve written about this before, here and here and especially here, so read up if you’re unfamiliar with those thoughts.

The critical point is this: properly understood within Protestant theology, sin is an internal impulse, a flaw in the human system, like someone beat a steel rod into a 90 degree angle and then tried to straighten in out again.  The Hebrew words for ‘sin’ are fascinating: words like “pollution” and “twist” and “guilt.”

We humans are bent at the core, and we can’t unbend ourselves well enough to work out the kinks. The entire Story of Redemption expands from here.  God the Father sacrificed God the Son, who lived a perfect human life free of sin and its pollution and twistedness, so that we can be given – as a free gift – the right-ness we humans do not possess since the Fall.

****

I’ve come to doubt nearly everything Creationist that I was taught, mostly because astronomy and evolutionary biology have mountains of evidence on their side, coupled with my long study of how literature works (and Hebrew itself). I mean, we went to the Field Museum in Chicago last summer and I saw — no lie – half a dozen fossils that could easily be the “missing links” that Answers in Genesis people mock. When the evidence is staring you in the face, it’s hard not to realize that literally 24-hour, 6 day creationists are doing argumentative backflips to maintain a highly literalist interpretation of 3 chapters of the Bible, mostly because they’ve also built a theological house of cards that uses literal creationism as a keystone to the entire house of literalist evangelical bullet points. Pull out the keystone and their structure collapses.  (Not that Christianity itself collapses. Evangelicalism is a mere blip within a two-thousand year history of the Church. Thank God.)

http://www.instagram.com/p/BU7edPQg8Hr/

 

That aside, and truly that’s a discussion for another day, I have no problem believing in the special creation of Adam and Eve, of humans being created in God’s image (though we’re not really sure what that means), of God giving his special creation a level of choice with unparalleled and destructive consequences.

I am a firm believer in the Fall, of humanity given a choice to trust God or no.  From this flows the whole problem of evil.  I don’t have an answer for you. Go climb the wisdom of the ages and seek for yourself. It’s complicated.

It’s because I believe that God gave Man a choice, and we failed in that choice, that I believe firmly in Redemption, in Grace, in Love, and in genuine Evil. (Thanks to Milton, the Fall is a fascinating moment in the story of mankind, and Satan should be ever thankful to Paradise Lost giving him such a rich character. “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”)

And that Fall, that permanent twist in the soul of every human who’s ever lived, this is on my mind a lot in 2018.

*****

Let me tell you, 2018 has been an experience.  A rip-roaring ride through the best and worst that I’ve seen of humanity with my own two eyes.

Let’s see. In the past couple weeks, I’ve seen people vilify immigrants and justify that by raising American border laws to the level of a moral code. Those same people have shrugged at the separation of children from their parents in the same of “discouraging illegal immigration.”  I’ve witness a profound ignorance of the effects of American foreign policy on other regions of the world. (Short version: why is life so bad in Latin America? Go read up on imperialism, colonialism, and the American war against communism during the Cold War years, then the War on Drugs in the past 30 years. If you just read about the history of the 20th century till now in Latin America, you’ll get the picture.)

I’ve read the news from Syria with one eye open, barely. It’s devastating. Also South Sudan, Yemen, the massacre of like 150 Mexican candidates for election.  We’ve got wars in several spots of the globe. Meanwhile, our president is punching every ally in the eye as he lumbers through a NATO summit on his way to meet with Putin, the latest Russian strongman.

I’ve watched multiple reports of Americans screaming at people they think are immigrants to go home — as if Americans didn’t steak every single scrap of this nation’s land from the people who were here already.  We glorify rich men, men of power, puss-grabbing men who lie boldly and get away with it.

Our planet is heating up. Our love for red meat and fast cars and air conditioning has spread to the developing world, where the overrun of environment impact from these Western practices will likely raise the oceans and flood island nations and costal cities globally by the 22nd century.

But hey, we’ll all be dead then, right?

Why care for the poor when we can blame them instead? Why provide health insurance when we can instead make it easier for insurance companies to make money off of death and disease? Why tip the balance in support of workers rights when capitalism runs off exploiting labor for the benefit of owners and stockholders?

****

Nobody warned me that my 40s would be a time of such…. anger.

I watched two particularly well-written episodes of GLOW last night (season 2, episodes 4 and 5). It’s a light Netflix dramedy about an early 80s women’s wrestling show, based on historical events. I love the acting and the casting, and the story’s been solid through both seasons.  The two episodes we watched last night tackled first the “exploitation” nature of the wrestling show and its use of racial and ethnic stereotypes as entertainment. You could argue (as I’ve learned from my hubby, who’s been absorbing movie criticism on YouTube) that such shows provoked people – those with an already developed sense of irony – to recognize the actual exploitation that made such shows work. But it’s still hard to watch a black woman throw herself into the ring under the moniker “welfare queen” and not hear the dogwhistle of racism in Reagan’s (and Nixon’s) politics which made that character so relevant to the early 80s.

Episode 5 showed us a Weinstein-esque encounter between a central GLOW character and a station executive. I cringed the whole time. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt angry. Look, I have almost never attracted sexual attention from men during my adult years – I chalk it up to being fat and not particularly attractive. But I know this is what so many of my sisters put up with every day at work. Whether it’s getting catcalled or hit on or treated to the soft misogyny of low expectations as a woman or dismissed or talked over during a meeting or having our ideas absorbed by the male manager who brought them up to someone up the power structure, a power structure we didn’t have access to …. we women know what these things are. We’ve lived them.  I’m angry.

*****

Lately my attitude has been pretty dark. Not as in “not hopeful,” though I have no reason to assume America will drag itself forward rather than backward.  I do tend to think that history progresses, and I’m thankful that many people are actually aware of concepts like white privilege, soft racism, or the highly negative mental health impact of constantly telling LGBTQ+ people they’re either sinning or an abomination or (at best) a mistake. That’s progress.

But I’m thinking it’s good that God promised not to do another worldwide Flood. Because I’m ready to burn the whole thing down, right here and right now.  We humans are a piss-poor example of the Divine.  I’m tired of the exploitation of the poor and weak by the strong and rich.  I get the imprecatory Psalms now, much better than I did when I was a young person.

Psalm 5 NIV
from Bible Gateway