What is it we think we believe about divorce that makes it ok? Because Jesus seems to have said it’s not ok. And yet, we allow it on the basis that a person in a constrictingly terrible relationship will be happier and better off out of said relationship. That Jesus mostly went around healing people suggests he wants us to be well and whole as people. What kind of life would we assign the unhappily married to, should divorce not be an option? Similarly, what kind of life do we expect gay and lesbian folks to have if we restrict them from the relationships they want?
Again I find myself considering prayer and it’s usage. I had a friend who suggested this idea and I’m kinda wondering about it.
Prayer chains, PUSH (pray until something happens), and prayer as vending machine Christianity posit that there is a correlation between prayer amount and prayer result. Does this mean by praying more we are forcing God to grant our wishes?
I wrote this thought in my church journal. It has no specific bearing on any church. It was just something that came to me.
Christians shouldn’t want guns. If we say we place our trust in God, why do we need weapons?
It has been on my mind that Christians arguing for guns as defense against humans seems backwards. Jesus was all about peace. Jesus said if someone slaps you, let them slap you a second time on the other cheek. He didn’t say retaliate, he didn’t even say defend yourself. Jesus told us to trust God. Shouldn’t that be enough?
My quest for church is also my quest for understanding the thing we call God. Notice I didn’t just say ‘God’? That’s because I don’t think it’s that simple. I’ve mentioned before how we all have an idea of who God is. Even atheists who think God is fictional have an idea what a person means when they start to talk about God. But people’s ideas can sometimes be so drastically different as to beg the question whether this could even be the same entity. How can we know who God really is? The two answers I’ve received are 1) reading the bible 2) communing with God through prayer. Now, I think the bible has some serious problems. Although it is an actual physical thing we can hold, I’m not sure how good a ‘proof’ it is in terms of telling us definitively who God is. I’ve spoken to this before, but in short it’s an ancient reretranslated book that few people can agree on how to interpret. So I’d like to instead speak to communicating with God directly by praying and listening. Here are my conflicting sides of this ‘talk to God’ coin.
Only my stupidest, most frivolous and inconsequential prayers have ever been answered. I once asked for a parking space, boom! There was one. I asked for the elevator to hurry up, ding! There it was. I asked for God to allow someone’s asthma attack to end. It got worse. I asked for God to spare the life of my friend’s sick infant. No. And so on.
I have been told that God listens to his children at prayer and gives them good gifts. My own experience suggests that God does this only for very small matters, as if he either does not care or hasn’t the power to work on larger matters.
Something like a decade ago I occasionally had the ability to predict unlikely things. A coworker at a kids camp lost his wedding ring at the camp. I mean- a camp full of dirt and trees and a large lake. I told him, “Don’t worry you’ll find it.” He did. How did I know this? It could have been at the bottom of the lake for all I knew. The second clear example I remember was when a friend of mine was sick with cancer. I was thinking of him and almost in this meditative state asking in my head, “Will he be ok?” In my mind I saw a thick book open to the middle. There was text on both pages too tiny to be read. Overlaying both pages, right across the middle of the book in black text I saw the word YES. And my friend recovered and is in remission.
The other side of my coin tells me that something special happened to me during that brief period if my life and I was able to see answers before they came about.
What do both sides of my coin mean? Well they perplex me. I know that many people have also had similar coin sides. Many pray and still lose loved ones. Many pray and are seemingly granted a miracle or divine contact. I’m still thinking about this one; still open to possibilities. I hope it isn’t too corny of me to say I see God in those possibilities.
This is something I’ve been mulling over for several weeks but haven’t come to any big new conclusions or revelations. I’m wondering about the role of peers in church. I think we all have a certain expectation that a church should feel like our home. One way of making sure a church feels familiar and comfortable is to find a church populated by our peers. It certainly helps to find a church of the same variety or denomination we were raised in. Apart from that there are other factors that make a church group feel like our peers. What do the attendees look like? Do they resemble ethnicities we are used to interacting with? Are they from our socio-economic bracket? There are many factors that make the people we meet easier or harder to relate to. Something as simple as growing up during the same handful of years and watching the same television create a shared background. I find these factors increasingly relevant to the church project. It takes more effort to relate to the churches of predominantly black attendance. It takes more effort to relate to churches that speak another language during service. It takes more effort to relate to churches with members who have not had the financial privileges I’ve had. For me the project is partly about intentionally pushing myself beyond this boundary. I could stop at any of the churches I find full of the familiar. But I think I need to see more because there is more to be seen. I don’t see an ending yet, so I don’t know how this will all wrap up. I just know I don’t want to stop. Not yet.
So, out to lunch with my friends John and Evelyn we discussed churches and finding the right fit. One of the things that came up was a nice pictorial symbol involving the cross itself which I had not heard before. The cross in a literal, visual way is two bars crossing each other. One points upwards and the other crosses it horizontally. John described this as two keys to one’s faith experience. The bar pointing upward represents a focus on God and his honor and worship. The bar crossing horizontally represents social justice. Put differently, this is the great commandments: Love God and Love your neighbor. Seems like a solid way to think about one’s faith.
Right now there is a lot of talk in some evangelical circles about whether or not patriarchy is harmful as a model for Christians.* I am mostly seeing this peripherally because I am not in such circles. I follow exactly one blog that speaks to this issue, so I can’t claim to know all the specifics of what’s being said. Patriarchy among Christians refers to separate roles for men and women in families and in society, with the expectation that women are subordinate to men. In its very mildest form this is sometimes referred to as complementarianism. Both terms could be classified as gender essentialism. Those who subscribe to gender essentialism believe that gender is so important that it can and should dictate the proper role for you in some, if not all, aspects of your life. Common roles assigned to women are those involving childcare and housework, with the expectation that men are better suited to working outside the home. There are Christians who believe that women should never attend college, instead staying home until their father finds a worthy husband for them. On the other end of the gender essentialism spectrum, there are Christians who believe women can get a higher education, work outside the home, or pretty much anything men do, but a wife should defer to her husband for final decisions of import to the family. All along this spectrum wives are expected to subordinate to husbands in some way. Sometimes this extends to fathers directing and controlling their daughters. Often this also means females are seen as unfit for Christian leadership positions. My travels have shown me many churches in which there is a clear prohibition of women to pastorship.
I think it’s time Christians ditched gender essentialism. Some already seen to have done this. I strongly suspect UCC has no specific instructions anywhere for how females should act differently than males. In fact, in 2011 they made a resolution regarding sexual orientation and gender identity that suggests churches should do more to fight discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. I think Christians still debating approval of same-sex relationships will find themselves on shaky ground if they try to toss out one-man-one-woman, but keep gender roles intact. And vice versa. Once you decide same-sex relationships are ok, it seems to me gender roles automatically have to go out the door as well. If you base your marriage ideal on different roles for the man and the woman, what will you do when there is no man? Or no woman? Some might see this as an argument to keep both gendered roles and ‘traditional’ marriage. I see it as exactly the opposite. I resist the idea that as a female I need to like pink, or enjoy shopping, or cook, or care for babies, or any of a hundred different things society sees as my place. By the same token, I resist the idea that I must submit to my husband as a matter of course, or be barred from pastorship if I felt called to it. And if I’m deciding gender should not define what I do in my life or my marriage, I can’t very well tell others that it should make a difference in their marriage. It all goes together; gender essentialism and woman/man marriage are a package deal. Keep it all or lose it all. I favor losing it all.
I see much of the gender essential viewpoint as stemming from the teachings of Paul in the letters of the New Testament. In recent years I have started to recognize the heavy emphasis on Paul over Jesus indicated in certain Christian teachings. I think this is a mistake. There is a reason we call ourselves Christians and not Paulians. In many cases Paul taught things Jesus did not. I think it’s possible Paul sometimes overstepped his bounds in what he taught the new Christian communities. I also think it’s possible we overstep in how we view these letters, which are just that- letters. As I recently pointed out to a friend, I would never pick up a love letter someone wrote to his wife and decide it could tell me how I was to live my life.
There are some real problems with gender essentialism I think don’t fit with the good Christianity purports to do in the world. Putting people into different boxes makes it hard on them in case they need to get out of those boxes. Husband ruling over wife might work just fine in some cases. What if the husband is abusive? What if the husband makes bad financial decisions? What if the wife wants to make even one decision on her own? How many exceptions to the rule are needed before we can get past the rule and throw the boxes out altogether?
*The primary story involves Doug Phillips of Vision Forum. This itself is a lengthy story, but to be as brief as possible, it’s a sex/sexual scandal. Phillips claims he fell into an “inappropriate relationship” outside his marriage. The woman in question claims she was “methodically groomed” for abuse and manipulation by Phillips because he was set up as a figure in highest authority over her from age 15. This directly speaks to patriarchy because of its implications that women are to answer unquestioningly to men.