Friday, May 26, 2017

"Are you looking for the answers you want, or the right ones?"

I'm considered a "liberal" on moral issues by my Christian friends because I advocate for equality between men and women, am sympathetic towards gender questioning, like the idea of evolution, and think that homosexuality could be part of God's plan for the world. I am liberal because I question orthodoxy. I search for testimonies on both sides. I am unwilling to take "the Bible says so" as the only reasoning, instead searching deeper for how we interpret the Bible. For me, it is not enough to simply take Bible as literally the words of God. It is translated from multiple languages. It is imbedded with cultural context. It is only a snapshot of God's work in the world.

For some, perhaps I now sound dangerously heretical. I have some sympathy with that, but then, mostly I think they haven't listened very hard. I love the Bible. I love the poetry and the stories and the songs. I love that God left us his story and that he continues to let us read it. I see it as essential to Christianity, to begin to understand his greatness. It is beautiful and it is good and I do not say things that seem contradictory with lightness. In fact, my question, though often stated badly, is generally, "Why is this belief contrary to the Bible? How has belief been confirmed through prayer and, sometimes, observation?"

Again, I'm getting a little heretical here. Confirm the Bible? What arrogance. Yes indeed, what arrogance. I am in total agreement there. God of the universe gives me a textbook and I choose to question it. Except that churches have been doing it for centuries. We made divorce almost acceptable in many churches. We have outlawed slavery. In many churches women can speak, though generally not preach. Men wear their hair long and women chop it all off. Those are a few things that many Protestants have accepted within their communities. They have prayed or observed or studied, probably a bit of all three, and decided that this new course is how we shall live today. The Bible is true. How we apply the Bible, well, that's a little more open to interpretation.

Of course, now I'm just falling down a slippery slope. What is the point of the Bible if we can ignore it's commandments? Why call ourselves Christians with we start to allow all and any beliefs? First, note that I have not questioned the sovereignty of Christ. The Apostle's Creed describes our central tenants quite well. I'm not even questioning if the Bible was inspired by God and I hold the Bible as central to understanding God.

What I am questioning, fundamentally, is how the church defines sin. There are a great many things in the Old Testament which are no longer considered sin, but instead directions to a specific people at a specific time. The church continues to study these teachings, not to apply them, but to understand God. We look for common themes, maybe key verses that seem to summarize a piece of God's character.

Why then, do we assume that Paul's writings are still word for word applicable to us today? Maybe they are and maybe they aren't, that's not actually my point. My point is why do we assume they must be? That, for the New Testament to be considered spiritual authority, Paul's letters must be a moral treatise to us all. Perhaps because once we begin to diverge from the Bible we will splinter into hundreds of fractions that can barely be called a cohesive community. Except that we've already done that. Maybe it's because if one word cannot be trusted, then the whole must be destroyed. But no church preaches every word of the Bible as truth anymore and we continue to be guided by his word.

So the question I ask, in the back of my mind, is have I made the Bible into God? And if I have, how do I fix that? If the Bible, and an orthodox understanding of it, is the moral guidebook for my life, I know (more) about how I need to live. But, I see so much in the world that the Bible doesn't cover. I see Christians quoting the Bible, but ignoring the poor. I see Christians judging without listening. I see disunity. I see divorce. I see brokenness. And I see myself following in their steps more often than not.

Here, I find the solution is to listen for God. That is a whole other bucket of worms, eh? Humanities' ability to hear God does not have a terribly good track record. It's why we look outside ourselves for confirmation of his voice. Which is definitely right, I just wonder if many Christians have lost the ability of listening to God in favour of always trusting the literal words of the Bible, as each person interprets it. Because, when I listen to God, when I look at the world. I see beauty in homosexuality, I see God's greatness being extended to cover a multitude of genders, and I see strong women raised up to preach for him.

That could be wrong! I'm not saying it's right. In fact, I could give you some concrete examples of how this uncertainty has harmed my life. But I could also give you examples of how certainty has also hurt me. I'm just saying, that when I listen for the voice of God, that is what I hear and what I see confirmed in the world. My respect for the Bible holds me back, but I still seek to reconcile these things. In my arrogance, I still hope for reconciliation instead of rejection.

And, even as I write this, a little part of my heart cries at the fact that Christians are spending so much time on this debate. It is, admittedly, the foundation of our religion, but when will we act? If I had spent this time serving others instead of writing, my roommates would have a clean apartment. What if I spend my energy on service instead of ideas? It hurts my heart that we are all so broken that debates take up so many resources. But, we are what we are, and God redeems it all.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Psalm 23

I used to go to sleep hugging my Bible.

I believed it could protect me from my fears. That the words inside brought courage and life and salvation. Psalm 23 stood in front of me, guarding me from imaginary monsters. God's staff led me through the dark valley of the shadow of death, and I always woke up the next morning.

Some days weren't as much fun as others, some nights had a few more monsters. But I knew those words would make everything ok - that even when I was too scared to wake up Mom, my Bible would let me sleep.

Then, like all of us, I grew up. The world became a lot bigger and a lot scarier. Turns out there are real monsters, working on tearing everything apart. Or, that's what it felt like. Being a teenager brings out the dramatic. But I still believed, after all, no monsters had ever attacked me, what really was there to doubt?

Until, I realized I had a monster. That everyone has their own little monsters living inside of them. Some of us bury it in secret, others use it openly, but all of us hurt each other. The Bible calls it sin, and says that Jesus defeated it when he came to live inside of me (or rather, the Holy Spirit). That perfect love casts out fear, all fear, and that we are conquers and coheirs with Christ. The thing is, my monster stayed alive and well, not matter how hard I prayed. I saw other monsters inside my family, my friends, and heard stories of how many people monsters killed every day.

Somehow, it's hard not to feel lied to when the enemy is still so powerful.

But that's ok, I knew that I just wasn't strong enough to contain my monster. Maybe my faith was a little shaken, but there was still hope. I could defeat my monster with devotionals, church, prayer, and fellowship. The battle was not yet lost! Maybe the Bible made much less sense, and the monsters seemed a lot more alive, but that was just because I didn't believe enough. Each step got me closer.

Except that's when I first got a glimpse of the world, just a tiny one, through stories and histories and textbooks. Theories and facts danced in my head as I left home for the first time, and saw just how big the monsters were. Psalm 23 didn't stand a chance, no force behind it. The Bible felt so weak compared to the busy, and terrifying, world, I finally decided to start seeing.

I kinda mark that first year away from home as when I stepped away. Walked away would imply commitment, and I just wasn't willing to give up entirely. I realized that my beliefs were flawed, but not willing to leave. I still prayed, studied, explored, and debated, but there was a new wall. The Bible couldn't protect me from the monsters, but on the other hand, the idea of love that casts out fear, who could truly give that dream up? Also, there was the fact that so many intelligent men and women around me believed in God, despite their deep understanding of the world and its evils.

Now, I don't know. I quote the Bible. I love to worship. My church is my home. But the church is flawed. My interpretation of the Bible misses something completely. And something is just... wrong. God lets monsters run loose and he doesn't seem to fight, at least not around me. I blame him for abandoning me, maybe for abandoning all of us. But underneath my anger, I think I just want him to notice, to remember, to be the savior I wish he was, not the savior I can see.

I see other people around me speaking "his" words, and bringing death. I see beauty blossom out of shameful things. I see the monsters being defeated in creative ways everywhere, not just in church. I see growth through heresy and pain in tradition. My little morality has trounced by the complexity of God's creation. Pastors encourage me to have faith like a child, but it would be a lie to be blind again. How can I separate truth any more? I ponder this constantly, weighing opinions and creating my own.

Still, I have hope that Christianity is the right place to be. That I really can hear God's voice. That there's something here that the rest of the world is missing. I'm just really not sure right now what that thing could be, not when I see those monsters running freely in the church, just as they do everywhere else.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Waves

"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ." - Ephesians 4:14-15

Knowing the context of Ephesians, I assume Paul was writing about pagan teachings and heresies, instructing his followers not to be tricked by the newest fashions in theology. And today that holds true. There are so many theories, theologies, belief systems, moral codes, and ideologies that it's like slowly drowning in a sea of ideas. I could spend my life evaluating each one, and still die without truly understanding more than a few systems. So much cultural and individual thought influences even the simplest ideas, how can I keep from finding truth in many systems? How can I stand firm under a weight of information? When one way feels right, but contradictions tradition, which way do I go?

God did not make a static religion. While he doesn't change, his interactions with his followers does. Maybe that's because we are flawed and it really all should have stayed the same for millennia, but striving for that seems a little strange. We can't stop change, only God can, and he clearly hasn't made a static world. Obviously, not all change is good, but as Christians, we can evaluate which traditions to uphold. For example, the method of baptism is no longer crucial in most Protestant circles. It's important and debated, but not something that church-goers are generally willing to split over. We don't murder people over it anymore.

Our single issue topics have changed as society changes. Our understanding of the Bible has been fundamentally altered, tossed by governments and church leaders and new understandings. Therefore, how can I stand on my beliefs, knowing them to be, at best, flawed. At the worst, they can directly harm others around me.

But, I'm learning that having no firm beliefs can be just as damaging. Understanding what and why I believe is foundational to my character, and for me, that means a lot of questions. Because I love tradition. I want to believe what my pastors preach. I want to simply join the Christian community with faith, no arguing. But that's not who I am, and that's currently the truth I am choosing not to have tossed by the waves of opinions around me.

Note: This probably sounds like a reaction to Trump and the current divisions in the church. But it's something that I've been struggling with for years as I have struggled with traditional understandings of the Bible.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Subiendo... y bajando"

"Subiendo... y bajando. Subiendo... y bajando."

"Up.... and down. Up... and down."

The little boy next to me gives me a brief smile, humming with me as I sing the instructions for tracing the capital "O" over and over and over. It's one brief moment of concentration in the middle of the on-going battle to make him sit for more than 30 seconds. "Subiendo... y bajando. ¡Casi! ¡Casi has terminado! ¿Una mas, para mi? Subiendo... y bajando."

But, pretty soon, the boys at the table nearby start fighting over playdough ("¡Esta robando mi plastilina profe!") and the moment ends. He looks up, distracted, and drops his crayon. Probably not on purpose, this time at least, but that means he needs to get up, get the crayon, and then settle back in again. Today, I am lucky, he actually comes back. Normally he goes straight to the closet, pretending to hide, or to the door, staring out at the larger kids at recess. Or, on a really bad day, over to the other boys to steal some of their blocks.

But today, today is a good day. Even though he will do nothing without me sitting next to him, today he wants my attention more than the distractions of toys and shouting kids. So we sit, blocking out the room, tracing dotted lines clumsily, singing, "Subiendo... y bajando. Subiendo... y bajando."

Monday, September 5, 2016

Friends and First-Graders

So, I am back in Latin America! I've been in Costa Rica for two weeks and in a week I leave for Nicaragua. I should be home in early December. 

So, what am I doing here?

First I traveled with my best friend from college. Beaches and forest and monkeys and ants and math and sand castles and buses and dancing and fun and dresses and yay. Not only did I get to have her around for ten whole days, I got to be a tourist in Costa Rica for the first time. It was perfectly wonderful.

Now, I am staying a YWAM buddy and working with an organization called Transforma. It's program that gives local women the opportunity to develop skills and start their own business through classes and mircofinancing. One of my friends is a full time volunteer, so I'm learning about the ministry and supporting her for about a week. If you want more information, check out their facebook page: just search Transforma, Costa Rica. (Really, do that. I spend like all morning helping translate fb statuses. It was fun. And the group is awesome).

Next is Nicaragua, where I will working Esperanza Granada and living with a local family. The organization supports teachers both with English classes and with homework help (I'm hoping to work with first graders). They also do a number of other things in the community. More on that to come as I understand it and experience it for myself. Here's a link to the website, if you're curious: http://www.la-esperanza-granada.org/. Between my host family and the kids, I expect to know a great deal more Spanish when I get home. No speaking English for me, thanks.

Then it is home for Christmas. And time to plan where I'm going next. 


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Paraeducating, Summer Edition

This July I'm working in the morning Tuesday-Friday with Extended School Year (aka summer school for special education). It's great and pretty low-key, but so different from the kids I worked with during the school year.

First, I'm working with high-school and middle-school students. Yep, bit different from 7-year-olds. Just to let you know.

Second, these are the medically fragile and lower-functioning kids. Of the eight students in my class, half are prone to seizures, three are in wheelchairs, and only three are verbal. It's quite the challenge.

Third, it's summer! So we only kinda care if the kids are working. Mostly our goal is to make sure no one is screaming, crying, or trying to eat gum from under the tables.

That all being said, my one-on-one is an autistic, non-verbal, 13-year-old who refuses to sit in chairs. Unless it's lunch time.  As soon as I take my eyes off him, he's chewing on the windowsill, stealing someone else's food, getting into the teacher's desk, or causing havoc. We have to drag him onto the bus and half the days I need someone to help me drag him off the floor in the classroom so that we can get to the bus in the first place. Oh, and he hums. All day. Without stopping. Unless he chooses to make noises like a seal. Or a dolphin, on really special occasions.

I suppose he is one of the most aggravating human beings I have ever met.

But, then halfway through the morning, he grabs my hand, wanders me out the door, and we go on a walk. As soon as we go out the door, the humming stops, and he starts smiling like it's the best day of his life. When he grins, his whole face smiles. The whole thing. I swear I could tell if he was smiling just from his forehead. And it's because someone took the time to find out what makes him happy. Or because a firetruck drove by. Depends on the day.

That smile makes all the aggravating things fade to the back.


Vulnerability

Someone asked me the other day whether, in general, the ends justified the means. I said, well, it depends, obviously, but often in day to day life I find that the results are more important than the way I got there.

As I'm writing this, I have no idea why I answered that, because my last few years have been a random collection of choices where the journey is more important than the end result. So therefore, I live my life as if the results are not nearly as important as getting there.

That being said, I *do* know how I justified my answer. I used the example of lying. Well, not lying, more "hiding what I really think in order to make someone feel loved and included." I pointed out that once I learned how to lie properly, I began to make friends. People didn't think I was nearly as awkward as before. Therefore, lying achieved good results.

But, now I realize how much time I've spent pretending. Not in big ways, particularly. There is really no way for me to conceal my personality forever. But I tried so hard to conform to what others needed or wanted, that I started losing myself. I wonder these days if I actually have hobbies or interests - I've just been doing what my friends liked. The things I do care about, I don't always want to admit.

Anyway, these days I worry so much about what other people think about me, that I end up unable to actually effectively look outside of myself. The mere mention of rejection sends me into tears. I thought that pretending could help others feel loved. It turns out, it just increases my selfishness.

Ok, that being said. I truly believe that in life there is room for white lies. There is room for doing a bit of pretending until trust between two people has been established. In fact, I think it is beneficial often to have both parties attempting to conform a bit. Still, there's an important balance to look at, and it might be time for me to learn how to be honest again.

Vulnerability