evangelicalism

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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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.

You’re F**kin’ Perfect To Me

Claire had a word for me earlier this week. A profound word that I received from her while I was at work. A word that drove me to my knees, figuratively cuz, you know, at work. But there in my cubicle I fought the need to cry until the desert within my soul was saturated with tears of release and longing. To rage at the sky at the hurts I have buried deep within my soul, at the things that have been said over me and done to me and agreed to by me that have done nothing but tear away at my sense of self. This word has ripped me apart inside and when the pieces are put back together I know I will never be the same.

[Y]ou are a talented, intelligent, beautiful, capable woman. You are gifted. The Lord has deposited His image in you. It’s a unique image. No one else on the planet, past, present, or future has this particular image. Your expression of this image is your own, and He is excited to continue revealing it to you and others day by day. You, therefore, have no need to compare yourself to others.
Comparisons are pointless. It’s like hummingbird comparing itself to an orchid. The hummingbird is iridescent and beautiful. One must look hard to see it. It is made with purpose. Everything about the hummingbird allows it to do exactly what it was purposed to do. The orchid, on the other hand, lives in rainforests. It’s not even a bird! Like the hummingbird, it’s a rare beauty, but it’s wildly different. The two cannot be compared. How are they alike? They are alike in that they are  magnificent. They are wonderfully made. They cause one to stop and stare.
When hummingbirds are in action, pollinating flowers, sipping nectar, people gather because the hummingbird in action is a wonder. When the orchid is at rest it seems to just be a collection of leaves. Nothing special. But when it blooms, it stuns. Each variety of orchid is different. In fact, one can’t even compare orchid blooms to each other because they are so different and beautiful.
To compare a moth orchid to a Lady Slipper seems almost like a crime. It denigrates their beauty. Each one is incomparably lovely.
For you to compare yourself to another person decreases your worth. It insults God. He thought you up before the foundations of the world were set in place. Everything about you; your laugh, your eyes, your spirit, your hair, even the way you walk. The name given you. The way you drink your tea. Your creativity. Your longings and secret desires….your desire for more. It’s all known by Him and to compare yourself others, to agree with anyone else, natural or supernatural, that you, as you are, in the eyes of God are somehow lesser or less beautiful or too much or not enough in comparison to someone else is wrong.
Come into agreement with who God says you are. On the day He thought you up, He declared to the Heavens–“I  made her. And she is. ‘She is fearfully and wonderfully made.” Agree with that. If you ever get confused go back to that. If you ever lose your way go back to that.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am good.”
“I am as magnificent as a hummingbird and lovely as an orchid.”
“Incomparably beautiful. There is no one like me.”

This was the first part of the word. It went on from there to show me generational sin and agreements in my family line. In my own life. God used Claire to show me how God sees me and to let me know that in some of the deepest and darkest moments in my life God didn’t abandon me. Which I have always known on an intellectual level but truly believed? No. You see, there’s always been this voice in my head telling me I’m not worthy. I’m not worth God’s love. I’m never going to really be His daughter because I’m broken beyond repair. How could a good and perfect God love someone like me.

That voice sounds an awful lot like my grandmother. But it’s not her. Sure, she spoke words over me that were curses rather than blessings. And the spirit of victimization, the spirit of poverty, a spirit of jealousy started to become empowered in my life. It hurts to type this. I am looking back over events in my life, at social ostracization, at always being on the outside even within my own family and I see a girl who had no idea what was at work in her life. And I see a broken view of God. He wasn’t big enough or didn’t care enough to stop these things. He didn’t stop my grandmother from speaking curses over me time and time again. He didn’t stop the mean girls from making sure my life was a social hell. He didn’t stop the sexual abuse or my own choices that occurred after.

I’ve been harboring anger at God. As for how I feel about myself, I’ve been seeing myself as too much and not enough. Always reaching but never deserving.

God spoke to Claire and she imparted to me that God was with me through it all – the good and the bad. And God has never seen me as lacking. He was with me and He knew He would heal me. God is outside of time. Heal me then, heal me now, does it matter? There is healing. God is there, holding my head through the darkest memories and like a good parent, He is telling me that it will be okay. Telling me He knows it hurts, and hurts horribly to the point where I don’t know if I can stand through the pain. But He will heal these hurts and tend to my wounds. And He wants to do that now.

God also knows that like Thomas I have doubts. Prove it to me, Papa. Prove to me that you were there and that you have always planned to heal these wounds. Prove to me that you can. Prove to me that you loved me when I see myself at my worst. Prove to me that nothing I have done to dare Heaven has diminished your love for me. Prove it, Papa.

Since God knows this part of me, He had Claire tell me that it was okay to ask the hard questions and go into those dark and devastating memories and look. He will be there. He has always been there. Even when I raged at Him for not loving me enough, for playing favorites, for letting dreams fall to dust. For not saving me from myself. God basically dared me to bring Him any bad memory and He will show me where He was and what He was doing. He will show me His goodness.

Funny how well God knows us. Had He not dared me, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Had He not said, “bring it” I would have taken this word and I would have tucked it away. But I wouldn’t have done anything with it. I wouldn’t be sitting here telling God to show me exactly where His goodness was when in sixth grade all it took was one sick day for the head mean girl to turn my best friend of a year against me. When upon my return to class she was mocking me during lessons and ridiculing me at lunch. Where was HIs goodness when that same mean girl made it her mission to turn every new student our age against me to ensure that I was always on the outside and alone? Where was His goodness when I was abuse by babysitters, by a family member? Where was His goodness when my grandmother told me time and time again that I would never be enough. When she would destroy my mother in my presence and then turn to me, daring me to cross her, flaying me verbally when I did.

And God wouldn’t be patiently showing me exactly that. Or He would be, but I wouldn’t be listening. I would have my eyes closed and my fingers in my ears chanting, “la la la, I can’t hear you” like a stubborn strong-willed child.

I certainly wouldn’t be listening to Pink’s single F**kin’ Perfect over and over again, the words a love song to the child I remember and the adult I am becoming because seriously, I think God wrote part of that for me.

You’re so mean, when you talk
about yourself. You were wrong…
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever  ever feel
Like you’re less than, less than f**kin’ perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you’re f**kin’ perfect to me

There’s more to be done. More conversations to be had between God and I. There are old  agreements to abolish. There is bondage to work through. Legal rights to revoke. Exchanges to be made. And healing to be had.

This is an opportunity. An open door. And I have a choice to be made. Will I hesitate to walk through that door and enter into the work of healing and divine acceleration of growth that God has placed in my life? Or will I exchange poverty thinking, fear and judgement for compassion and knowing, really knowing my God-given worth and step through that door?

We all have these moments in our lives, moments of great opportunity that may seem like they carry great cost. And evangelical teachings tell us that the cost is to be weighed and never taken lightly. However, I am reminded that God gives us all we need in order to pay the cost, which in essence means we don’t really pay anything. God does. Why do we fear then? Why do we resist? Because we believe the lies and look at what we have and decide it’s comfortable enough here, where we are. And we miss out on so much.

I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I want to see myself as God sees me. I don’t want to be angry anymore or tired of fighting or lonely in a crowd of people. I want something more. Don’t you?

Growing Pains

I am feeling somewhat disconcerted at the moment. I think this is in part because I sometimes when I embrace my gifting and live from  this place of favor and relationship, I feel like I’m playing dress-up with my parent’s clothes. It’s not quite my own. So, when I start to see glimpses of how others view their identity in Christ and it differs dramatically from what God is teaching me, I’m not always quite sure I have the authority or the experience to step in and exhort them in who they really are and call out their false thinking.

Recently I heard a sermon on the seventh chapter in the book of Luke. There are so many wonderful pictures within this story. We have a Roman centurion who cares enough about his ailing servant that he seeks out the Jewish Messiah to see if he can garner Jesus’ favor and have his servant healed. He is a man who has apparently honored the Jews in his community for the elders actually sought out Jesus on his behalf, imploring Him to save the soldier’s servant, declaring his worth because he was a friend to Israel and had even gone so far as to build the synagogue for And you see Jesus who openly admires the faith of a man outside the Jewish community, an enemy of Israel.

You also see that how emotional thinking can potentially get in our way. The centurion did not approach Jesus himself. Perhaps he knew he was asking a lot from a man whose people he was helping to subjugate. Perhaps he felt that as a Gentile, he didn’t have the right to ask this Messiah anything, let alone the healing of a servant. But he was worthy. He had faith and with that faith he stepped out and asked something of Jesus. Emotional thinking tells us what we feel. It does not tell us the truth. Emotional thinking told the centurion that he was not worthy to have Jesus enter his home, or perhaps to meet him face to face. So he sent Jewish leaders to implore Jesus, and friends to on one hand apologize for his impudence and on the other explain his case.

Jesus’ response to this man was wonder. Awe perhaps. Here was a man who had absolute faith that Jesus could heal at a command. He declared as much and, according to the passage, the servant was healed without fanfare.

I’m sure there are a lot of lessons to obtain through this passage alone, but what got me thinking about my lack of confidence in my calling is what I heard during the sermon. I heard this verse called out as our experience. That we are not worthy to stand before God. Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t paying full attention at the beginning of the sermon and perhaps more was said that explained what I am about to exhort.

Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house,
the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself
further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof        Luke 7:6

What I heard during the sermon was that we are like the centurion. We are not worthy to stand in the presence of God. Perhaps the man who gave this sermon was trying to say that except for the work of Christ on the cross, we would have been like the centurion. We would have been under the law and may have been unworthy to have God enter in with us. But because of the work of the cross, we are worthy. Jesus took our sin and made it His. He did this to reconcile the people of the earth to God, to himself. We are worthy. There is nothing between us and God’s love and God wants us to enter in.

But that is not what I heard. I heard we were unworthy but God wants us anyway. Oh, it’s a slight difference in phrasing but so huge a gap in meaning. If we go around believing we are unworthy, how are we going to view God? Faith? The gospel? More than likely, we are going to strive to be worthy and in the back of our minds are always going to wonder if we failed. We will be attempting to please and placate God with our actions rather than entering into a relationship with Him. Why? Because like the centurion we feel we are unworthy and will speak to God only from afar or through the voices of other people. But if we see ourselves of worthy of God’s love, there can be relationship and healing and we don’t have to strive for something we have been freely given.

One turn of the phrase and we are either living outside the Gospel message or embracing it.

What does this have to do with my lack of confidence in my gifting? The man who preached the sermon referenced above is a pastor at my church. And I have heard similar teachings from him in the past. He’s a good man trying to live out his faith. But I get this sense that he is dealing with an identity issue and is perhaps living under the bondage of the law rather than freedom in Christ. And I feel like I should, no that I must say something to him about his true identity. Yet I’m unsure how to initiate such a conversation. Then doubt creeps in; maybe I’m not hearing his sermons correctly. Maybe I’m being trigger happy and latching on to key phrases and tuning out the rest. Maybe he’s not preaching works and the law. Maybe he is teaching the Gospel.

Then I pray and know there are things God wants me to know about this man, things that are rooted in identity and I know I need to speak to him. But I drag my feet because, well, because I feel insecure in proclaiming the truth. I don’t feel bold or compassionate. I feel insecure. It’s so much easier to say things on blog where no one knows me than it is to confront someone face to face with the truth. The truth can be uncomfortable, messy. And life changing.

I think I need to take this man out for lunch or coffee and just talk to him about how God sees him. Ask him about his struggles. Let him know God has great things in store for him. Being a prophet isn’t about holding people accountable or proclaiming the problem. No, it’s about reminding people of who they are in Christ and who God wants to be for them. It’s lifting them up, not tearing them down. And now I have an opportunity to practice this, not just because God wants me to, but because this man is a friend and a leader in a community that looks up to him.

Growing and maturing is hard sometimes. The growing pains, no matter how painful or inconvenient, I think they will be worth it in the end.

Who is Jesus?

I was having an insightful conversation with my friend Claire about the evangelical church in general and my church in particular. Comments shifted, as they do, to the heavy heart I have for my pastor and his wife. They are wonderful people. Gifted. Talented. Both have a strong desire to serve God and to shepherd His people. Both are under a yoke that is not from Jesus. They have a picture of Jesus and it is not the true Jesus. It is something false and it is sucking the life out of them.

So many people have a false picture of Jesus. And they are loathe to let go and embrace a clear, truthful picture of who Jesus is. This runs rampant not just in Evangelical Christian circles, but everywhere. My BIL is an atheist and he rejects Jesus because all he sees, all he had been shown growing up, is a false Jesus. He is right to reject this false Jesus. What he’s not willing to do is seek out the true Jesus.

I understand. I almost walked away from my faith because of the oppression and the false beliefs of who Christ is that I had been taught and modeled. I attended a faith based college and if you ever want to see the faith community in action, check out a campus at any faith based higher education institution. After putting in my four years, I was turning cynical and questioned everything my younger self ever believed of who Jesus was and what it meant to be a Christian. The instructors, staff and students at this college  may have been willing to accept legalism, false humility, the subjugation of women, and a works based faith, but I wasn’t. There had to be something more, something different. I needed it to be different.

I married and moved to a new state. I attended bible studies and joined a sunday school class with my husband. I did my devotionals. And I cried every day because none of these actions felt as though they were leading me to the God my grandmother introduced me to. Instead of feeling love and compassion and acceptance, I was judged. If I spoke an opinion or asked a question that caused someone to think (gasp), I was shut down. I was told I needed to be more like the Proverbs 31 woman. I needed humility. I needed to encourage my husband to be the head of my household and essentially think for me. When I discussed my desire for a career, I was shut down and told a good Christian woman and have babies. Make a home my husband would long to come home to. Pray, study, serve.

I was not attending a cultish church. This was a very mainstream, very large church in my community. There were professional women in this congregation, but the overall teaching was to do, to follow a model someone decided was the one size fits all answer for every married woman.

Initially, I did pray that God would remove my longing for a career, to help people in a different way. I prayed my husband would make enough money I could stay home and be a homemaker. I prayed for the desire to be a homemaker. Which is really funny in retrospect because anyone who knows me knows I don’t love to clean house and cook meals. I’m not fond of my vacuum cleaner and doing dishes gives me a rash. Laundry? A necessary evil. I would do really well with a maid. In one sense, those prayers did help me see the value in those acts, but they didn’t remove the desires that were imprinted upon my heart.

I felt called to be in the workforce so I was. I sought out God in the “secular” world and believe it or not, it was there and not in church that I found Jesus. You see, Jesus does not live in an ivory tower. Jesus embraces the masses. Jesus is unafraid of getting his hands dirty. He meets needs. He loves. He laughs. He lives. Jesus became real to me when I stepped outside of the teachings of my church and stepped into life. My prayers took on a conversational tone. Here was someone who wanted my questions, my opinions, my fears and my joys and didn’t care if they were all a messy tangle of need and longing. He just wanted me to be real.

I am still learning who Jesus is and am learning to distinguish between what Jesus asks of me and what false spirits masquerading as Jesus want to take from me. It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two, but I’m learning.

What does this have to do with the prophetic? I need to know whose voice I’m listening to. If it’s not Jesus then I need to shut it down. How do I know I’m hearing Jesus? In the words of Graham Cooke, if the words are full of the fruit of the spirit, then it’s God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23