God

Age of Consent

vosges mist

I’ve been thinking a lot about consent lately. What it is. What it isn’t. And how this fits into my world view. I’m not just talking about consent in sexual relationships, though consent is a HUGE part of sexual relationships. From the one night stand to the committed monogamous relationship. Without consent, enthusiastic consent, sexual partnerings are not equal. Ever. Consent goes deeper than sex. It should be a part of the very fabric of our lives. Which is why I’ve been thinking about it so much these days.

I’m a Christian. I’m learning that I’m a very strange breed of Christian. I believe in love. And acceptance. And inclusion. I don’t believe I have all the answers. The Bible is not to be taken literally in all cases. God gave us free will and expects us to actually use it. I believe in ethics before theology. I think sin is overused as a focus for faith. And seriously, why should we be focusing on sin and hell when God is all about life? I’m not sure I even believe in hell. And I’m not 100% sure that Jesus died for my sin. Or of how the concept of the trinity really fits into the foundations of Christianity, which is first century Judaism. I disagree with the religious right. And I wish the United States would get back to separation of church and state because this entire policing morality shit is really messing us up.

I question things. A lot. And I’m okay with not having a definitive answer. I am not okay with doing harm. I don’t consider myself messed up, backslidden, or apostate. I consider myself a person trying to do the best she can in this world.

What has this got to do with consent? In one of my daily excavations of the internet I link clicked myself to a blog post by a wonderful woman who for reasons of her own has deconverted. Her post centers around consent and the fact that Western Christianity has a consent problem.

This makes me sad. Not because this woman experienced a lack of consent through her fundamentalist upbringing. That makes me angry, actually. That faith was used to beat submission into her. That it’s used to tear away a person’s right to belong to themselves. That is abusive and wrong on oh so many levels. And I know it happens in almost every denomination from the fundamentalist conservative right to the liberal left.

While her experience make me furious, what made me sad was that she’s so very right. And this is part of what’s so very wrong within Western Christianity.

Think about it. Do Christians ask permission before they evangelize or proselytize? Do we teach our women to submit to their husbands because for some strange reason men just know better than us women? Or are less emotional?  Do we teach that emotions aren’t to be trusted? That we belong to God and therefore aren’t entitled to live our own lives? That we should be holding each other accountable whether or not we have been invited into each other’s lives? That boundaries don’t belong in a community of believers because we are one big happy family?  That saying no to a request from a sister or brother in Christ is just…wrong?

Do we expect everyone around us to live life according to our rules? To never question authority? That women don’t really have dominion over our own bodies? That men are to be held to a different set of standards because there are apparently different rules? That there is no room for other religions, philosophies, points of view because whichever brand of Christianity we belong to is obviously the right one? Is there room in heaven for those who do not comply with our particular brand of faith?

In general, no. And this makes me sad. For us. For everyone else. Because aren’t we supposed to be different? Safe? Non-judging? Inclusive? Compassionate? Loving? When people start telling us we aren’t, there’s a problem. A huge problem. And some of it comes down to what we teach , or don’t teach, about consent.

I can’t speak for all Christians. I can only speak for myself. Consent wasn’t in any of the lesson plans in the curriculum of my faith. I was presented with a lot of mixed messages about a lot of things, which lead me to believe that no one denomination has it right. That no person has all the answers. That maybe there are many ways to interpret the bible. And many ways to live life.

In every church I have attended consent has rarely been a topic of sermons or conversation. Respect, sure. Honoring the autonomy of others, sometimes. But consent? Never. Submission, oh yes. Submission to parents, to authority figures, to husbands, to God – this has been preached and taught in spades. But consent? Not so much. Without consent, well, I’m not really an individual, am I? Without consent one doesn’t have to worry about things like rights. Or questioning authority. Or questioning at all.

I want to be different. I want to be a Christian who cares about consent, respect, and honoring the autonomy of others. I want to help build a community that is all about love and inclusion. I want to honor the individual for all that is unique and wondrous about her. I want to be a safe person and live in an environment that is safe for every person, every gender, every race, every faith system. I want to enter into your hopes and joys and fears. But only if you give me the consent to do so. It’s not my right to tell anyone how to live, how to love, or how to believe. It is not my right to judge.

I want to apologize to every person who has been hurt because someone didn’t honor your right to be yourself. Because someone took away your consent. Or imposed their world view upon you. I’m so sorry. What can I do to be different? To be safer for you? I can’t change the rest of Western Christianity, but I can change myself.

Photograph by David Penny

 

 

 

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Knowing and Believing

For years God has been trying to get my attention regarding some specific weeds that are choking the life out of my spiritual garden. For years I’ve either dismissed Him or haven’t been listening for Him, and the weeds have been allowed to continue to grow and flourish. But God is full of second, third, tenth chances and this time I heard the message loud and clear. Maybe it’s because Claire and I spent some time last year doing some work that humbled me while at the same time preparing the ground. Maybe it’s because I’m not currently working and have nothing but time right now to talk with God. Maybe it’s also because God has a quirky sense of humor and decided to use a deceptively simple line of dialogue from one of my favorite fictional novels to drive His point home. Either way, as I was laying in bed rereading some of my favorite scenes, this line set off a clanging in my head complete with noisemakers and flashing lights.

Knowing isn’t always believing.

Deceptively simple, isn’t it? In the context of the story, the line is meant to point out that knowing something intellectually doesn’t equate believing it, of trusting it to be true. In the case of the book, the heroine knows she wasn’t responsible for the death of her fiancè, even believes it most of the time. She knows she doesn’t have to carry her burden alone, doesn’t need to protect her loved ones and friends from the trauma of her life, but her current actions point to knowledge with a lack of belief. Knowing without believing.

As I was reading this exchange, the proverbial light bulb when on in my head – I know many things about God, about His nature, about what He says He wants for us and His immense love for us. I know about the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. I KNOW and I fully believe this deep love of God, the relationship with the Holy Spirit, the redemptive love of Jesus…for other people. I only believe some of it for me. When I told Claire of my revelation, one I’m sure she had already deduced, she asked me one question that I’m still mulling. Do I know why I don’t have expectation?

What a good question. I’ve been sitting on that question for a long while and all I can think of is that deep down I’m not sure I’m worthy. And deeper down I’m afraid that all this goodness of God will be snatched away and I will be left broken and bleeding, alone and cold and that voice in my head that tells me that people like me, people from my family, good things just don’t happen for us, that this voice will be right. I’m not at the bottom of why I don’t have these expectations. There’s something else there, something that flirts with the edges of my conscious mind and disappears when I try to focus on it. The thing is, now I’m angry. I should be able to expect good things. God didn’t say He loved only some people. He loves the world. Every. Damn. One. Of. Us. Just look at the oft quoted verse that we all love for it’s validation that we are special to God but seem to forget when we interact with Him and with everyone else.

God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.John 3:16, Amplified Bible (AMP)

If this love is mine, why shouldn’t I have expectations of God? Why shouldn’t I want something different, something more from my life? Why should I simply know and not believe? Claire once told me that she holds God to His promises. She actively reminds Him of what He promised and let’s Him know in no uncertain terms that she EXPECTS Him to fulfill them. She may not know what that fulfillment looks like, but God promised and He must follow through.

I admire that in Claire. That chutzpah. I have stood before God and held Him to the promises He has made other people. I haven’t done that for myself. It never felt right before, but lately knowledge and belief have been merging. My husband and I spent a long weekend at a lake a few hours from our home. While he was out chopping firewood,  I stood at the water’s edge and I argued with God. At first, tentatively. Who was I to engage the Creator of the Universe in such an irreverent way? I’m His daughter, that’s who. And daughters argue with fathers, even while they love and adore them. My conversation became more intense. I reminded God of some of the promises He spoke to me. I told Him I didn’t see the outcome of these promises in my life. I demanded He remember these promises, the same way He remembered His promises to Israel. I have been trying to uphold my part, now I need to see Him uphold His. I expect Him to uphold His.

I don’t know what my future will look like. But I know, I believe it has to be better than it is now. I have an expectation.

We’re Better Than Alright

It’s been raining for the last few days. I love the rain. I want to dance in the rain, call down the thunder and revel in the electric charges that slither across my skin. I used to. Not call down the thunder. But I used to dance and spin, my face to the sky and just breath in God.

I wonder why I don’t do that anymore.

I’ve been asking God for a sign. For something just for me. Something that tells me He loves me. That Her kindness is a mantle covering me. I had a sign last summer when I saw orcas breaching the ocean’s surface in a stunning display of strength and beauty. I love orcas. If I believed in spirit animals, they would be mine, these amazing wolves of the sea. Something stills and settles when I see them in nature. Something roars with pain when I see them in captivity.

But I live far away from the ocean so orcas can’t be my only sign. I need something else I can carry with me.

During one of my rain-soaked errand runs I turned on the radio and this song started playing. It’s about love and loyalty but I felt this zing through my soul. This might have been penned as a haunting love song, but it took on a deeper more personal meaning as the words flowed over, around, and through me. Between the Raindrops by Lifehouse. I have some of their music on my iPod, and sure enough this song was lurking there. I don’t remember downloading it. The only album I remember gettings is No Name Face. Regardless, there it was. I’ve been playing it on repeat. That zing is still there.

Sometimes we need a reminder that we aren’t alone. We need to know that God smiles on us. That He’s there with a smile and a promise. Those obstacles, He’s not going to let us figure them out on our own. He’s right there, walking between the raindrops with us.

I needed this promise in a visceral way I can’t explain. The chorus undid me, still does.

Walking between the raindrops
Riding the aftershock beside you
Off into the sunset
Living like there’s nothing left to lose
Chasing after gold mines
Crossing the fine lines we knew
Hold on and take a breath
I’ll be here every step
Walking between the raindrops with you

And then there’s the second verse that holds this acknowledgement. The world is f’ed up sometimes, but God promises to stay. I don’t think this is what the writers of the song had in mind. but I see God saying these words to me. Together, you bet we’re better than alright.

The world’s such a crazy place
When the walls come down
You’ll know I’m here to stay
There’s nothing I would change
Knowing that together everything that’s in our way
We’re better than alright

Sometimes we need a sign. Something we can hold on to. I’m holding on to this with both hands.

Am I Standing Still?

As I write this, we are 36 days into a new year. I used to love New Year’s Day. There was this bright promise of a fresh start. The sort of fresh start that came with the beginning of summer and the end of a school year with nothing but freedom ahead until September. And reprised again with a new school year, new teachers, new things to learn. New beginnings. Yet, when New Year’s spun around, it didn’t seem to spin with it any new beginnings. It seems to…stand still.

I look around me and I see the same things I see every day. Home renovations that drag on and on. Assignments at work that I feel woefully unequipped to fulfill. Snow. Bitter cold. A Father who seems rather silent.

Winter is a time for the land to lay fallow, dormant. The land is allowed to replenish nutrients and, in some cases, heal. Sometimes healing takes more than a season. Sometimes it can take years. Land that has been deeply saturated with toxins takes decades to rejuvenate and become fertile once again. Much activity takes place beneath the surface and what looks still is full of unseen activity.

I feel like that land. Tired and battered and barely gasping with life, now lying dormant. That new beginning? It feels so far off in the future that it might as well not exist right now. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe I need to stand still in order to grow.

I didn’t realize just how scared I was until last year. I’ve been through therapy. I’ve been a therapist. I’ve worked as a life coach and have worked with a life coach. All of this is to say, I’m no stranger to doing the work. I am responsible for my happiness; that task doesn’t fall to anyone else. So, when a mirror was held up to me I had to take a long, hard look. Sure, work had been done and I had grown and become a stronger person. Stronger for what?

This last year has taught me, or rather reinforced for me, the truth that God will give us what we need to become a little stronger, a little more who He knows we are. He wants to provide for us, to be for us what we need in this moment. And when this moment is finished, He wants to be what we need next. To think that we’re finished, that the overcoming and growing and healing is finished is perhaps arrogant. Phew, I dealt with my borderline grandmother. That was hard work. But, hey, I’m finished now. I’m complete. Right.

I’m a trained therapist, you would think I would know better. Life is a process. A journey. We have victories along the way and God does indeed provide what we need in this moment. And a little more because He knows what’s ahead. There’s another beginning somewhere ahead of me. There’s another story to write, another passion to pursue, another layer to my purpose. But right now, it’s time to lay fallow. To renew. To grow. And perhaps to learn anew who God is for me. To spend time in a word that is near and dear to my heart and rely upon the Holy Spirit to write it upon my heart. And give it meaning in a new way.

In a sense, isn’t that a new beginning? It’s not the lush growth of spring or the wildness of summer. It’s not the loamy richness of autumn. It’s the rest of winter. Resting is not standing still. It’s allowing for rejuvenation and healing. It’s finding that secret sacred space in the Holy Spirit where our wells are filled to overflowing within the empty and broken places inside us. It’s a quiet revolution that yields a quiet strength.

Identity Crisis

There is something that has been gnawing away at me for some time. It claws at me when I read articles about Christian ministries taunting atheists with billboards. It infuriates me when I become aware of teachings in the church that create more shame-filled rules we can’t live up to. It slaps at me when friends jokingly ask for permission to skip church for reasons other than illness. It breaks my heart when I hear it subtly wend its way into sermons and bible studies at church.

What is it? Identity. Or rather a lack of understanding who Jesus is and what that means for a Christian’s identity. I am still learning about my identity in Christ and some days I feel as though I’m on shaky ground. But I know enough to know this:

  1. God is amazing and we are made in His image so that must make us pretty amazing, too
  2. Failure is not a bad word. We learn as much if not more through failure as we do through success
  3. Asking questions about our faith and what we believe about God is okay
  4. There is a lot of fear out there in the Church, a fear of change, a fear of not being right, fear of not being good enough, fear of what others think
  5. When we are touched by the astounding love of God, fear starts to take a backseat to joy
  6. What the Church needs, what the world needs, what you and I need is not another set of rules we can never live up to or shame when we fail to meet expectations

What we need is a lot more Jesus and a lot less religion, fear, shame and condemnation. We need compassion and kindness and acceptance. We need God, not some bull shit that’s passed around as The Way. This got me thinking, as I do, about who God really is and who His bride is really supposed to be. I have to say, I don’t think we have it right most of the time.

Think for a moment. What if the Church were to shed its rules and religion? What would happen if we no longer had to sit in a pew on Sunday and attend programming during the week to be considered a person of faith?

What would the Church and Christian ministry look like if we stopped wasting time shaming people and started loving people? Not for who they are, but for who God says they are? What if we took Jesus’ teachings to heart and instead of debasing and degrading our enemies, we prayed for them and loved them ans showed them compassion?

What if we stopped preaching and started listening? Not just with our ears but with our hearts? What if we allowed our hearts to break for the broken? What if we cared for the widows and the orphans instead of leaving that for the government? What if we stopped judging and started seeking to understand?

What if we were unafraid of change in the culture around us? What if we stopped digging in our heels when it comes to belief systems that just don’t work and embrace seeking the truth?

What if instead of trying to isolate our youth and children from the world around us we taught them that critical thinking and faith can go hand in hand and that loving God does not mean hiding away from the world? What if we started talking to our youth and children about what is happening in our world with regard to sex and consumerism and lifestyle choices and talked about what Jesus did with the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the forgotten. What if we showed them that instead of condemning others for harmful choices, we teach them to have compassion? And help them understand that love is stronger than hate?

What if we stopped pitting creationism against evolution and admitted that science and faith both have a place in the world and at the end fo the day we don’t really know how the earth was formed, just that God was behind it all? What if we stopped being afraid that science could really one day debunk God as a myth and start embracing science for what it is, a tool to help us understand the world in which we live?

What if we stopped being gnostics and stopped treating the flesh as evil? What if we admitted that God loves sex and sex is a wonderful thing and God wants us to enjoy it? What if we stopped trying to hijack marriage as a Christian institution and treat it as the civil contract it really is? What if we talked of healthy boundaries and loving others as we love ourselves instead of talking against dating and sex before marriage and abortion? What if we did away with all shame language when it comes to people and their choices?

What if we let go of our fear of failure and embraced the messiness of life and the gift of second chances? What if we were the first to extend the hand of hope and healing instead of slapping down with shame and fear? What if we started to see ourselves as new creations instead of sinners saved by grace who still battle a sinful nature? What if sin wasn’t the issue anymore?

What if we finally stood up for who we really are in Christ instead of standing against all the things we think are wrong with the world?

The Church has been having an identity crisis, it seems, ever since the first century. I’m not telling you to throw the baby out with the bath water because the Church is the Bride of Christ and before we decide we love her or hate her we have to remember one thing. We are her.

Every single one of us is part of the Bride. If Jesus loves us in the way a good and caring and compassionate man loves his wife, then we need to start looking at ourselves differently. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about because you haven’t experienced that kind of love, I suggest you look at some very well written romance novels, especially those written by Nora Roberts. The love between a man and a woman is an epic thing that is never taken lightly in a solid romance novel. I should know, I read a lot of them.

Jesus looks at us not as we are or as we think we are. He sees us for who we really are. Who God created us to be. I know it’s radical, but God looks at everyone this way. Everyone. God created everyone in His image, not just a chosen few. If we start here to really look at who we are, think of everything that changes. For those of us who live in relationship with God we can let go of all the false beliefs that hold us hostage to fear and shame. We can start to love ourselves and know ourselves anew. And we start to look at everyone around us the same way.

Our identity, it starts with Jesus and with compassion and truth.If any one tells you anything different, thank them for their opinion and love them. They may not understand they have an identity crisis.