religion

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.

Genie in a Bottle

Earlier this week I posted a very personal word from God. Someone asked me why I would put anything so personal out into the world for all to see. The answer is simple. Everyone needs to know that regardless of what any of us has done or not done; regardless of whether we are living in relationship with God or not, we are divinely and uniquely made and we are all incredibly beloved by God. While there are personal layers and meanings specific to me in that word, the essence is for everyone. God. Loves. Us.

I have spent most of my life longing for and running from God’s love. Sometimes at the same time. If you had asked me about this at any point in time, I wouldn’t have seen my actions for what they were. I would have told you how I felt my relationship with God was based on how well I thought I was performing at the time. Or how steeped in religiosity I was. Or how beaten down and alone I felt. My response would have been based on emotion or performance, not on relationship at all.

As a young child, Jesus was my imaginary friend. We spoke all the time and often it was just Jesus and me because there was no one else.

In my teens there were times I treated God like a genie and times I treated Him like a welcomed confidante. All those hours spent in my room with the door closed were spent trying to figure out the hormonal angst that had become my life, however much of the relationship was one way. I was spilling my guts to God, but I wasn’t actively listening to Him.

In college I ran. I mean I really fled from God. Which is a little ironic as I was attending a faith-based college at the time. It was during this time that all my issues seemed to coalesce and I was confused enough to fall into pitfall after pitfall. There was a point in time when I felt like nothing was going right and God was allowing disaster to befall me in Job-like proportions. If God was going to punish me, I was going to walk away from God. At the very least, I was going to keep Him at arm’s length.

I look back now and I can hear the Holy Spirit snicker, “Yeah, good luck with that.” There’s no escaping God. Elijah learned that as he tried to hide from God after having battled the priests of Baal. Just thinking that there is a way to hide from God is a human attempt to make Him smaller than He really is. We are very accomplished at making God small.

And that’s what I have done most of my life. I have stuffed God in a box and put the box on a shelf and told Him to stay there until I decide I need Him. Then He’s allowed to step out in all His glory and set my world to rights.

This faulty thinking reminds me of Disney’s animated movie adaptation of Aladdin. When Aladdin was trying to wrap his head around just who and what the genie was, the genie explained that he was a being of phenomenal cosmic power trapped in an ity bity living space.

 

The genie was an enslaved magical being and not God, but I think this is often how we see our Heavenly Father. He’s majestic and mighty and the creator of our very universe, yet we treat him like His hands are tied. Just like Aladdin’s genie’s hands were tied.

If we view God as being too small or as less than all-powerful, can we really believe that God has this amazing and unfettered love for us? Can we trust that when God looks at us through the filter of Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross, He sees us as redeemed? Can we even begin to grasp what it means to be a much-loved child of God, let alone the ridiculously cherished bride of Christ?

It doesn’t take a gifting in the prophetic to see where this path leads. It leads to rules and religion and believing those insidious little lies about the nature of God that ties our own hands behind our backs and makes us less effective in the Kingdom than we could be. By making God smaller, we are diminishing ourselves, our ministries, our relationships, our experiences. God is bigger and yes, He can do great things despite our lack of belief or understanding. He can choose to give us amazing experiences and put incredible people in our path. At the end of the day, it’s our own values and belief systems that diminish what God wants to provide for us.

I’m learning this quickly. As God was giving me that incredible word, He also saw fit to shed light on some areas of my life where there is bondage and on the forces that have been working in opposition to God for years.

This is what I find truly amazing. God knows what He wants in my life. He has always known. He knew that for me to reach this next phase in growth that I would need support, that I would need desire, and that I would need to hear just how He sees me over and over and over again before the walls of steel and stone I erected around my heart could start to crack beneath the weight of His truth. Timing, it seems, is everything. I may have been offered similar windows of opportunity in the past, but for one reason or another I didn’t see them for what they were. I didn’t recognize them as gifts of great love.

This time is different. That box I stuffed God into, it’s starting to disintegrate. No more am I treating my Almighty father as a genie in a lamp or just a sounding board. This time I have a trusted friend and mentor in Claire. This time something has shifted enough in my belief system that I desire this growth and no longer want to walk this half-life I have been living. I want to take this time to break those bonds and to start to experience God’s goodness in all it’s fullness.

Losing My Religion

I seem to be ranting a lot about the spiritual teachings I experienced throughout my life. Please don’t get the wrong impression. My parents are good and well-meaning people with their own biases and experiences that have shaped their own faith and belief in God. They didn’t abuse me or force me to walk a certain path. My decision to be baptized at the age of twelve, that was all me. In fact, my parents attempted to talk me out of approaching our pastor about being baptized because I was only twelve and did I really understand what I was doing? As it turned out I did.

My parent’s church was made up of people who were trying to live faith as they understood it. They meant well. They were earnest in their belief and I think they truly loved Jesus – as they understood him anyway. I have no idea what they though of the Holy Spirit for he was never really discussed. God, well, it depended on who you talked to, but by and large God was always referred to as Father and we spent a great deal of time worshipping God. The teachings themselves were more about being worthy and the change we need to make, rather than the change God makes within us. I do have some memory of some talk about the power of God. Those pale compared to what we were supposed to learn from characters in the bible, and the morality teachings. Youth group is a blur of mean girls, cliques and “you are set apart so live like you are set apart.”

My experience in church is likely not very different from anyone else who has attended an evangelical church. There are good people within those walls, people who earnestly love God and want to live life according to His precepts. People who truly see God and have a strong and loving relationship with Him. As a whole, it is the broader teaching of churches that is errant. Instead of teaching what Jesus taught, these churches unwittingly (or wittingly depending on the leadership) teach rules and judgments and works based faith. In fact, most of these churches, mainline or evangelical or charismatic, preach religion not faith. I’ve been to many churches in my forty some years, so I know of what I speak. And note, I said most not all. There are some exceptional churches who are grounded as a whole on their identity in Christ. It’s also not all teachings that are shrouded in religion, but enough that it keeps people from really seeing God.

So, while I speak out against the religious teachings, I recognize there are amazing people within those walls who see and hear and live the truth of who God is. These are the people to get to know. There’s something about them that is authentic, peaceful, joyful and filled with grace. These are the people to seek out if you want to learn what Christianity is all about, even if you’ve been attending church since you were a babe in arms. These people will speak a different language – one of grace and reconciliation. They aren’t filled with judgment and they won’t speak of you as if you are a sin filled person in need of redemption. They will love you for who you are and will see you as who you are in Heaven. They will show you what a relationship with God really means.

I’ve had a few of these people in my life along the way. Sometimes I listened to them and attempted to live a different way. Sometimes I ignored them because being around them made me feel like I was less, unworthy. What I didn’t know was that this was the religiosity in my life rebelling against God. I was resisting my identity, the nature God bestowed upon me when I laid my life at the foot of the cross.

There are people in church who can and will make a difference in your life if you let them. There are people who don’t attend a church for various reasons who are in a deep and abiding relationship with God. These are the people I seek out. They are my people, if you will. I want to learn from them. I want to enter the journey with them. I want to have honest discussions about God and religion and life with them. As a prophet, I want to give them the gift of seeing more of who God is for them and a deeper look into their identity.

I would love for everyone one who was a member of a church or had ever been involved in a church, to get to know God the way I am getting to know him. I would love for the well-meaning and earnest believers in my life to let go of rules and works and struggle and religion and find a relationship with God. I am beginning to experience such immense freedom and grace. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone experienced this? If we were able to let go of the religiosity of Christianity and focus on the grace and relationship.

It would be very easy to look back on the teachers and influencers that have been a part of my journey and to see them through the eyes of condemnation. I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted. My self talk can turn to pointing the finger at them and blaming them for the length of time it took me to really enter into to life with God. Just like I’ve been tempted to blame my grandmother for her part in my distorted view of my identity. Or how I want to blame the man who sexually abused me. Or the fiancé who took advantaged of a vulnerable person and emotionally abused and manipulated me. Or the employer at a faith-based non-profit who treated me unfairly. Or the mean girls in youth group and the youth leaders who let them get away with malicious character assassination. Or …

That’s not fair – to them or to me. God has been there all along the way. God has been speaking, guiding, nudging. God will redeem the time. God is accelerating my journey. And He will do that to anyone who comes to Him and asks. So no, I look at the people on my journey and I see where I made choices ,where I adopted mindsets or beliefs, where I was shaped, and where God has been working. I am where I am. And the things He is doing in my life now despite and because of where I’ve been.

So, while I rant against the religion in my life, I choose to love the people. To partake in the process of forgiveness. I choose to enter in to life in Christ fully.

Faith and Works and Ramblings

There was a huge thunderstorm on Sunday so instead of going out and taking care of the yard, my husband and I spent the afternoon snuggling in front of the TV catching up on some of the television shows we’ve accumulated on our DVR. If you’ve read my previous post you know my husband is a task oriented man. Taking a day off of doing in order to exist and relax may not seem like a huge deal to you, but for him, it’s a monumental accomplishment. I swear, he does not feel like he’s worthy of being called an adult if he’s not doing something at all times.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why people become focused on doing instead of balancing that with being. Some people call it the Martha and Mary syndrome. Others call it being an adult. Yes, we must do things so our bills are paid, so our homes are not hovels,  and so we contribute to the good of our families and communities. I’m not suggesting we stop doing everything right now and lock ourselves away in meditation rooms so we can commune with the Holy Spirit 24/7.  What I am suggesting is that somewhere along the line, many people of faith have bought into the lie of a religious spirit and have started to equate doing with salvation and identity in Christ. That they must work for happiness, or at the very least for the worthiness of being happy.

There is this thing Claire and I discuss, sometimes tongue in cheek, called the protestant work ethic. We live in a part of the world where this is alive and well. Basically, it’s taking James chapter 2 to an extreme and equating my salvation, my faith with works.

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

One of my aunts had a working goat farm. Her family raised goats for milk and meat. They also raised Angora goats for the hair. My favorite time to visit was spring when there were baby goats. The babies would scamper and skip and prance. They were a joy to watch and in my young mind, nothing in life beat time spent with a fun-loving baby goat. Not even the chores necessary to keep the babies happy and healthy were a burden to me. I would feed them, clean their hooves, clean their pens. It didn’t matter if it was the ass crack of dawn or evening, I was there with pleasure taking care of the baby goats who gave me such joy.

My cousins couldn’t understand my willingness to assist with the chores. For some of  them, it was a drudgery. They were expected to get up before breakfast to milk and feed the goats. After school, there were more goat related chores. It didn’t end for them until the evening, when the goats were herded into their pens for the night. This was their life, day in and day out. One cousin told me that he thought the reason his parents had children was to have free labor. He felt his parents put the workings of the farm ahead of him. He was also ashamed of how his family lived. This was a farm. No matter how hard one would try, the house would smell like goat. There wasn’t money for name brand clothing. Or for long vacations. Who would watch the goats?

My cousin confided in me that he felt he wasn’t worthy of his parents’ love. He was not going to follow in their footsteps and had informed them on several occasions that as soon as he could, he was out of there, living a life in the city. And he did. But he mistook the look on his parents’ faces for judgement instead of the grief and pride parents feel when their children grow up and go on to do the things they are called in life to do.

I think we often look at God the way my cousin looked at his parents. We read the bible and we hear in sermons that we are here to work. Doesn’t the bible tell us that the fields are ready for reaping? Didn’t Paul and Peter and the apostles go out and do great things? Didn’t James write that faith without works is dead?

So we work harder and we rely on our own strength. We get tired, we burn out. But we don’t stop. Our Father will be very disappointed in us if we take that break we need. And if we want to be worthy of heaven, we work harder – we volunteer at church for committees and bible studies and work projects. We go on mission trips, or guiltily throw money at others who are doing the work we feel we should be doing. We work hard at having a good reputation and “living Christ” for everyone we meet. We pour our efforts into working hard at our professions, in our homes, at church. And we lose so much along the way.

We work to obtain what God has given us so freely – His favor. His blessing. It’s funny, but I often think we work because we don’t believe God’s promises. Or because we don’t believe He is here, present and active in our lives. How many of us picture God up there in Heaven, distant and uncaring? No wonder we work so hard at earning our way!

Hey, there God, look at me! Look at what I’ve done! I go to church every Wednesday and twice on Sunday. I bring my family. I teach Sunday School and I mentor young women. I give 20% of my earnings to the church and mission organizations. I volunteer at the homeless shelter. I have a fish bumper sticker on my car and I talk about you to everyone I meet. Aren’t I doing a great job? Oh, and I have instilled a strong work ethic in my children. You know, idle hands are the devil’s tools. We have chore charts and memory verses and they are in all these programs to keep them busy. We have filled our lives with doing all these things to honor You. Do you love me enough now? Or do I need to do more?

I’m reminded of the Greek and Roman mythologies, of gods who are mercurial and capricious, and who demanded every sacrifice from their people. If there was one misstep, one threat of insult from those people, the wrath of the gods would our down on them, in some cases destroying them. I fear this is how too many people see God. They see wrath and vengeance and capriciousness and fear that at any time He could destroy their lives. So we must be on our best behavior and work very hard to be pleasing in His sight.

But God isn’t like that, people! He’s not. I haven’t studied James in depth, but I believe what he’s saying here is that faith isn’t just belief. Even the demons believe in God. Faith proves out by what we do and who we are. If you look at the beginning of the passage about works, you see James writing about seeing someone in need and walking past them telling them to be blessed. If I believe that God has blessed me and has compassion for me, why would I in turn walk away from someone I know who is in need? Why would I not look for a way to ease that need? If I am living in relationship to God and have my arms open to receive his favor and blessing, why would I not allow that to pour out onto others in my life? Why would I horde it? I think this is what James was speaking about. Our faith, what we truly believe, is lived out in the actions of our lives. It’s not about doing more or working harder. It’s about authenticity in faith and identity and letting the spill out to the world around us.

I could be wrong. I’m not a bible scholar. But I think of the difference in my experience with the goats and my cousin’s. I took care of them out of joy and, yes, novelty. But it was a joy to care for them when I would visit in the spring. My cousin did so out of duty. There was no joy, only heaviness and resentment. I took care of the goats so I could get to know them and enjoy being with them. He took care of them because it was expected.

Then I think of what I’m learning about relationship and God. I don’t need to work to be worthy of His love. I already am. I don’t need to strive to live a faithful life. I need to receive from God, to stand between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in first love, and that will pour out as a blessing to those around me in all I say and do. The “works” in my life, that’s a result of the relationship. And it will never be a drudgery because I have to. It will be a joy because I get to. Because of my relationship with God.

I hope my husband can come to learn that. It was wonderful and refreshing to watch him rest and relax and learn to be himself. Even if just for a little while.