Where is the Love?

Much of the New Testament focuses on the concept that Jesus is love. In all the accounts written about him he was exemplifying love and mercy to those around him (perhaps with the exception of chasing out the money changers in the temple). Jesus’ ministry focused on healing the sick, blessing children, and befriending the outcasts. If Christians are followers of Christ, then Christianity at it’s most basic level = doing what Jesus did… right? Why, then do so many of my friends and even family who claim to follow Christ live lives so opposite of how Christ lived?

My Facebook feed is filled with stories and posts about the evils of public assistance and how most people are just out to milk the system. The loudest refrain I hear is that people must work, work, work – if you are on public assistance you must not be working hard enough. The assumption seems to be that poor people are lazy and should simply work harder. Those Americans fortunate enough to not be in that position should not have to help out those less fortunate than themselves. Given that a large percentage of people who hold to those ideas claim Christianity, I question their understanding of the Bible. What about this attitude is Christian? Where in the Bible did Jesus tell people to work harder and stop looking for help? How many beggars did Jesus use as an example of what happens to lazy people? How many sick people did Jesus turn away because they couldn’t pay for his services? Can you envision Jesus turning away children or leaving them to go hungry? Would he have prided himself in making lots of money and living in luxury while those around him suffered, struggled, and starved? No. Those are all current American ways of thinking and living. Jesus wasn’t American. Granted, there are more than just Americans who think and act this way. I suppose what I mean more specifically is that many people who claim Christianity have confused what it means to be Christian with what it means (to some) to be American.

The story that really got me thinking about this was how some Americans have responded to the immigrant children that have recently flooded our borders. These children have risked life and limb to reach America, because they believed that they would have a chance at happy, hopeful lives here. These children are fleeing violence, rape, enslavement, and abject poverty in their homelands. Why is this a crime? Why are children spat upon as if they were criminals intent on destroying America? This is America – we have a statue who stands as an emblem of hope in New York, and upon that statue are these words:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

~ Emma Lazarus

 I find it ironic that many people I know who are so staunchly opposed to immigrants and programs that provide aid to people sing a song in church that talks about Lady Liberty and how proud they are to be Americans. I guess they’re so stuck on the “liberty for you and me” part that they’ve forgotten about everyone else, particularly the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Lady Liberty’s poem seems like it should be a mantra Christians would be happy to live by. Indeed, there are many who do… but rarely do they carry the title Fundamentalist or Baptist.

If you are a Christian, please take away this: don’t be so busy squabbling over who’s right and who’s wrong that you neglect to behave as followers of Christ. Jesus set a beautiful example for all of humanity, and the core of his ministry was showing love to people. If you don’t want to love others, stop using Christ’s name to describe yourselves.

Further reading:

The One About God, the Church, and Modern Religion

Here’s How You Can Help Unaccompanied Border Kids Without Giving to Glenn Beck

Child Migrants Have Been Coming to America Alone Since Ellis Island

 Matthew 18:1-6, 19:14,21 6:24; Luke 14: 13-14, 18:16-17; Acts 2: 44-45, 4:32-37; Romans 13:1-7 and pretty much everything Jesus said or did

Advertisements

New Life

At the end of December my partner and I confirmed that we were expecting a baby; we were both overjoyed! Now, 11 weeks into the pregnancy, I’m finally emerging from the awful symptoms of the first trimester. I don’t feel like I’m in survival mode all the time now, which is wonderful. I’ve been able to enjoy reading and thinking during the past week or so, so hopefully my creativity is returning and I’ll be able to write more. The reading and the thinking has certainly taken a new direction due to the fact that I’m pregnant.

I’m assuming that my parents as well as my partner’s parents are hoping that this new addition will magically transform our hearts and we’ll come running back to the fold. The thought of getting involved at a local progressive Christian church has briefly crossed my mind, actually. Not because I want to be involved in Christianity, but because of the community and support such a church would bring. We’re far away from all family and friends of the past, and our lack of community is scary to me as I imagine life with a new baby. There’s a great UU church we’ve attended a few times… but we haven’t been able to attend very frequentlye. We keep missing services due to sickness, morning sickness, weather, my partner’s work schedule, etc. I sincerely hope that things will improve as we draw closer to Spring. Speaking of Spring, it’s fun to think about how the baby will be growing inside me right along with the growth of Spring, and then be delivered towards the end of the growing season in August.

So yeah… a new baby definitely has me thinking about my community, my home, my family, our spirituality, what the future looks like… so many things. I know this pregnancy will be life changing. One way it is already changing me is by reshaping my spirituality and refueling my desire to learn more and grow. I think I know where I’m headed – to a point – but my IFB background is holding me back. It’s so hard to let go, let loose, and simply feel and do things… because of fear. The IFB instilled within me many fears, one of the chiefest being to fear what other people think. My interactions with other Baptist kids (school, camp, and college) taught me to fear how I look and whether or not what I’m doing will seem stupid or silly. Now I still battle with fearing what others think, how they’ll see me. I also battle with a fear of not being in control, which is heavily tied in with my fears about how other see me. Early on I did my best to hide all tears, possibly even all emotion, in public because it opened me up to ridicule and pain. I never liked being asked to do things out of my comfort zone because I feared failure, feared how I would look. I missed out on a lot of opportunities thanks to all this; it’s only been since I left Christianity that I began finding the freedom to loosen up and have fun. I look forward to being further changed by the experiences of this pregnancy, giving birth, and holding my baby.

Spiritual Experiences

When I discuss religion and faith with other people, I find myself most interested in why they chose their particular path. For some their decision was greatly impacted by their family and heritage. For others, it was a spiritual experience that led them to choose a particular religion and/or deity. Spiritual experiences fascinate me.

While I was a Christian I had very few spiritual experiences, perhaps because the IFB world I was raised in downplayed personal experiences and the Holy Spirit. I suppose that’s why we were fundamentalists, though, because we stuck to what we perceived to be the fundamental teachings of the Bible – people of the Book and all that jazz. I had a friend in school who was a member of a Pentecostal church, where the Holy Spirit and personal experience was emphasized more heavily. I never attended any of their services, but the stories I heard were certainly interesting! I imagine the ecstatic fervor that is a hallmark of Pentecostal services would have been scary because it was so far from what I thought was normal. I’ve been to several church services (of varying denominations) over the years that made me very uncomfortable because the church members felt comfortable enough to show honest emotions while worshiping. I’m secretly jealous of how genuine they allow themselves to be while in public.

After I left Christianity I began to study other religions more in-depth than I had previously.
I began to recognize that spirituality and spiritual experiences were universal things… and that the non-Christian forms were not evil and Satanic. Fundamentalist Christianity tends to make the horrible claim that all forms of spirituality that aren’t Christian stem from Satan and his demons. Even as a Christian, I was puzzled by such claims, because plenty of people in other religions had lovely experiences and did wonderful things. They weren’t evil and certainly didn’t act like they were being mislead by a demon! It’s very liberating to no longer feel obligated to label people’s faiths in such judgmental ways. Instead, I am coming to respect the variety that exists in the world – different doesn’t mean wrong or right, just different.

I’ve had several spiritual experiences since I left Christianity, and each has nourished my soul and made me a better person. When other people tell me of their spiritual experiences, I feel no need to discount them if they don’t line up with my brand of faith. I feel that the Divine works through all religions. My mother, who had a spiritual experience when she chose Christ and Christianity, is confident and happy in her faith. I have no desire to pull her out of her faith. I do desire that she is as accepting of my spirituality as I am of hers, though. Fundamental Christians are often quite loud about salvation experiences, because they feel that these experiences prove they have found THE path to the Divine. I take issue with that mentality, and think it’s a bit ridiculous given the fact that people all over the world have had spiritual experiences for thousands of years, regardless of their chosen faith.

So… what are my beliefs these days? I rather like Unitarian Universalism, because it embraces respectful recognition of all beliefs (including atheism and agnosticism). I believe there is a Divine presence in the universe, and that this presence manifests itself in many forms – male, female, both, genderless, etc. The Divine exists in all of us. I also believe the Divine can be reached through many paths – there is no right or wrong way. As many others before me, I too hope that interfaith love and peace will be achieved one day.

Article: Equality of Women in Early Christianity

An interesting perspective on women and the early church. Read the article here. A few years ago I learned how the current canon of the Bible came into being (see below), and was quite shocked. With this knowledge in mind, it would not surprise me to discover that pro-equality letters/books were cast aside and burnt by early church fathers.

http://freethought.mbdojo.com/canon.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_Christian_biblical_canon

http://foundationsforourfaith.com/Foundationsforourfaith/HolyBible.htm From a Christian perspective. Love how this caveat is added:

Before we discuss how the books in the Bible were chosen, we must first take a step back and realize that the decision was a divine decision.   Though it was men who made the decision on which books to include, ultimately it was God, working through the Holy Spirit in those men’s hearts, who selected these books.   For the Bible is the one and only foundational book to which all true Christians look for guidance in their lives.   God, who created the heavens and earth, as well as all of us, would not allow any corrupted document(s) to make their way into His Word, that is, the Holy Bible.

A Disturbing Picture of Love

A friend posted a link to this family’s blog post. I do not know the family, but I’m a sucker for pregnancy stories so I decided to check it out. It was very sweet and exciting to read until I got to this part:

Dear Itty,
The pregnancy test confirmed that I am pregnant…but probably with only one baby. We’ll never know if it is #6 or #7 who lives on within me, so we have decided to call you Itty. And today, although we are so delighted to be housing and mothering Bitty, we want to say goodbye to you.
Itty, I never had the chance to tell you in person, but there is a holy God who made you—at a level much higher than the scientists who joined sperm and egg in the lab. This God loves you very much, and He put His stamp of affection on you by creating you in His own image! His ultimate desire for every person is to be with Him, enjoying Him and worshiping around His throne (which is like a huge and fancy high chair). But we are all born into a disobedient family, even you, Itty, who will never properly be born at all. So God sent His Son Jesus to live a perfect life and be killed as a punishment for the sins of those who believe in Him by faith—making it possible for us, though we are not holy ourselves, to be together with our holy Creator God. That delightful, sunshiny presence that you now bask in—whether as an embryo or as a full-grown person I do not know—is this loving God, who has brought you near to Him by forgiveness through Jesus.
We love you because He first loved us. We wish that we could have had the chance to meet you and see you grow… Goodbye for now, Itty. We love you and miss you already.
love,
Mom and Dad

I’ll get back to this letter in moment. First, let me say this:

I’m all too familiar with the ways Christians often speak of God. People plan things and then add the statement, “if it’s the Lord’s will.” People say they are incapable of doing anything good apart from God. Literally every part of their life is dominated by their God. I myself used to think and live like that. Being able to pass off responsibility onto cosmic forces of good or evil is very easy and more comfortable than taking personal responsibility. If you do something wrong, you can blame it on your old sin nature and the Devil. If you do something right you say God helped you and praise him for it. Why? Because you know that we are all incapable of doing the right thing apart from God because we are evil and sinful and he alone is good and holy.

I now take issue with this mentality. Individuals are left powerless – incapable of doing anything themselves – and that is bad. Powerless individuals can’t take responsibility for themselves and their actions. These individuals may have trouble making decisions in the first place, because they have told they are incapable of doing anything correctly by themselves. Children raised in this atmosphere will probably have a harder time adjusting to the so-called real world, because it takes confidence in your own abilities to be able to succeed. I personally have struggled with this mentality. Women in particular are put into powerless positions in many Christian teachings/circles, so we women are hit even harder.
_____________________________________________________

Now, back to the letter I quoted above. Does anyone else find it highly disturbing that most of this letter is dedicated to informing Itty that he/she would have been born into sin and gone to Hell if not for this amazing God who had his own son die instead? This letter is like a mini-sermon to a dead fetus, whom they believe to already be with God. They want to say goodbye, but they do it by talking about God rather than all the things they would have done together as a family or how much they would have loved Itty. In regards to love, they state, “We love you because He first loved us.” That particular phrase disturbs me more than anything else they say. Why? Because the Christian concept of love being totally dependent on being saved by Jesus is so… wrong. Most of the world is unsaved. Guess what? Most parents across the world love their children.

As an IFB Christian, I was confused by the concept that we Christians had a monopoly on love. Teachers and preachers told me it was so, but all I had to do was look around me to see it wasn’t true. In fact, many people of the world seemed to have a much better grasp on love then the saved people I knew. This observation has held true, as I am now one of those people of the world. Christians tell their kids they will go to Hell if they don’t accept Jesus into their hearts; they see this as the most loving thing they could do for their children. I (and most other people) see that act as horrendous and far from loving. Tell a small child they are inherently evil and incapable of doing good? Tell a small child they will burn in a lake of fire for all of eternity if they don’t say the magic words? Sure… that’s gonna be wonderful for their little developing minds and hearts. I’m sure they’ll have wonderful self-images when they are older and faced with the stresses of life. No!

I’ve always struggled with feelings of worthlessness, insignificance, being unable to do anything right, etc. I still struggle with those feelings today, but, since leaving Christianity I have seen great progress in this area. I’m not the only ex-fundie with this experience – the web is full of their stories. There are plenty of other people with the same story that may or may not have a religious background. If a child grows up constantly hearing that he is evil, bad, or unable to do things right, it will impact how he views himself and his own worth as a human. That’s just common sense. I personally came out of IFB Christianity with a damaged perception of children. I was taught at church and school (not so much at home) that even little babies were sinning because they cried when they didn’t need anything, because we are all inherently bad from day one. I realize now that this teaching is horrible and total bull… but it is ingrained in me nonetheless. I am actively seeking to unlearn these harmful teachings and replace them with positive things.

The image of love portrayed in Christianity is disturbing and I’m glad I’m no longer a part of that world.

Previous posts that are relevant:
Article: I Love You and You Are an Abomination
Love… Or Is It?

Sunday Morning Musings

Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest for Christians, but for most of my 20 some years as a Christian, Sunday was far from restful. The day started out with my family scrambling to all get showered, dressed, and out the door in time for Sunday School (at 9:45). Three out of four of us were not morning people. My mom tried to have a special breakfast for us on Sunday mornings plus she needed to prepare the lunch we would eat after church, so she had added burdens that required more time and less sleep. Getting out the door was incredibly stressful and hardly helped at least me to be in the right frame of mind for spiritual things. The Sunday events at my home church consisted of 9:45am Sunday School, an 11am service, 4pm teen meeting (for the few years we had that), 5pm choir practice, and a 6 pm evening service. The 11 service often ran until 12:20pm or later, but we didn’t get home until close to 1pm because we socialized with friends. By the time lunch was made and eaten, there really wasn’t much time left in the afternoon. We made the best of it, though, by taking walks, playing games, or watching something together. As we kids got older we discovered the joys of Sunday afternoon naps. Some families didn’t allow any activities on Sunday (based on Old Testament principles); I was very thankful my family wasn’t that hardcore. When I reached college I did begin to question spending time on non-spiritual things on the Lord’s day, but quickly abandoned my questions.

My Sundays in college were rarely restful. I chose to attend churches that were at least an hour away all four of my semesters. The first two of those semesters were spent at a church where I did what I could to help the pastor by teaching a Sunday School class, knocking on doors (even in the snow), and working on whatever odd projects came up. The next two semesters I attended a different church, largely so I could be with some new friends that I had made. We spent our afternoons crashed at the pastor’s house, at a nearby mall, or otherwise having adventures together. It was during this time that I began to question how conducive to a day of rest the model of church I was used to actually was. My friends brought this up and I found myself in agreement; if one of us was sick or just feeling wiped out we chose to come back early or, rarely, skip church altogether. The college would have never approved of what we did, but to an over-tired (and very ill, as I was experiencing a mystery illness that would turn out to be fibromyalgia) college student, it hardly seemed important. My body, mind, and spirit needed rest; God had commanded that we observe a day of rest, so I rested.

After I left college I returned home to be with my family. My illness kept me miserable 24/7, so I missed a lot of church, particularly Sunday mornings (mornings are the worst). My parents couldn’t understand and gave me a very hard time about how much church I missed. It became a source of stress and pain in my life and put a kink in our relationship. I spent the time sleeping (I suffered from killer insomnia at the time), doing personal devotions, or listening to the church service being broadcasted online. I discovered that I felt more spiritually refreshed when I had the time by myself than if I attended the Sunday morning services. One Sunday morning in particular stands out to me. By that point in time I preferred to use the ESV translation (my background was militant KJV only). I sat outside in the sunshine with my Bible, a journal, and a cat to keep me company. I read the beautiful words from my ESV Bible and then wrote in my journal. I encountered the Divine that day in ways I’ve rarely felt in a church setting. It was so perfect and healing to my soul. I tried to tell my father about it, but he did not share in my excitement because he felt I should be in church on Sundays. A few months after this experience I left my Baptist beliefs and Christianity as I knew it.

I still attended church as I was able, at least for awhile. I grew up in that church and its school, so it was a huge part of my life. I remember the Sunday my father told me I needed to leave the choir because it was hypocritical to be up there when I didn’t believe what I was singing about. I knew he was right, but I hated to leave because singing in the choir brought me such great joy. Church services became fuel for what I wrote on this blog; what I heard brought me to anger and disgust. The awkwardness of being an unbeliever amongst fervent believers also made it hard to enjoy church. Very few people knew my lack of belief at that point, and I was deathly afraid of how they would react to me if they did know, so did my best to smile and nod and maintain my secret.

When I moved away from home and was no longer pressured to attend church, I found great relief in spending my Sundays as I saw fit. There was no rush or bustle, no need to dress up, no shouting preacher… it was nice. I did try to keep the principle of a day of rest because I thought it necessary for maintaining good health. I toyed with the idea of a low-tech or no-tech day. I spent time outside when I could; Nature has always felt like a spiritual place to me. I also spent time exploring new ways of viewing spirituality through a variety of books. I never wanted to attend church again – I was tired of oppression and embracing my freedom wholeheartedly. I discovered and claimed the title spiritual but not religious; I was definitely still spiritual but wanted nothing to do with organized religion and churches. Things went south with my then-husband, I moved back home for a time, and I was again thrust into the world of busy, Baptist Sundays.

When I left home the next time, I remained content with church-less Sundays for several months. I didn’t spend much time looking for the Divine at that point, but eventually found myself on the path of searching once again. I found spiritual connections in discussions with other people, time spent outside, books and the internet, and within myself. I found the Divine in everything if I took the time to look for it. I also found spiritual healing. With healing I found I was ready to give church another try and began looking for an acceptable church. I became familiar with Unitarian Universalism (UU) many months ago, but never had the courage to attend; I was also afraid of the concept of church and what it might entail. A few weeks ago I found a local UU congregation that fit what I was looking for and found the courage to attend. It was wonderful! I’ll have to dedicate another post to tell you about it. Anyway. I was missing the community that comes with church, the experience of group singing, and hearing words of inspiration. I have found these things again, but they are better than they were in my Baptist church back home because there is no judgement present. There is no pressure, no negativity, no guilt-tripping about lost souls going to Hell. There is support, love, and acceptance. I didn’t attend the service this morning because I needed the rest, and that’s totally fine – nobody will get on my case. My spirituality is my own, and the UU church respects that. I am pleased to be reclaiming my Sundays, church and all.

Article: 15 Things Not to Say to a Recovering Fundamentalist

Defeating the Dragons has written another post that I must share; read it here.

I have been told most, if not all, of the things she lists; I find them equally as infuriating as she does. Perhaps the most infuriating phrase on her list is, “You were never really a Christian.” To have someone else decide  your personal beliefs weren’t sincere enough or real is very insulting. Most Baptists I know have no trouble saying that to/about anyone who left the faith. Another phrase that stood out was, “If you are truly seeking God in this time, he will lead you to the Truth.” The assumption that Christianity, particularly the fundamentalist version of Christianity, is absolute Truth (to the exclusion of everything outside of it) fuels so many un-Christian thoughts and actions. I’m so thankful I no longer hold to a belief that is so exclusive.

13. “Be careful you don’t lose your faith.” — Hännah

People are genuinely concerned about us, and just want to make sure that we’re ok. However, the concept that we could be “ok” without religion, without Christianity– it’s a little bit too far outside the box for a lot of Christians. To a lot of the people I know, living without their faith would be pretty unthinkable. Thoughts like “I don’t know how people survive without Jesus” (which is a modern remix of “you can do all things through Christ”) are pretty common among Christians– and they mean it. To be honest, I’ve said that sort of thing on more than one occasion. But, let me assure you: we are just fine. For a lot of us, “losing our faith” was the best– and hardest– thing that ever happened to us.

It’s certainly been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

A Letter That Made Me Sad & Angry (3-26-13)

This letter is flying about on facebook amongst my IFB friends. I read it and was appalled. The woman who wrote it has chosen to believe that a fundamental aspect of her biological make-up – her sexuality – is a grievous sin.

IFB’s and those who are similar to them are notorious for making sex and sexuality out to be a great evil (unless you’re a man). I myself was affected by that teaching. But the woman who wrote this letter has to deal with more than “just” sex. She is a lesbian. A homosexual. As most IFB’s I know would say, she is a “pervert.” Such ideology makes me sick. This woman is expected to ignore her sexuality and never find pleasure in sex (because to have sex with another woman would be an abomination!). She will probably be expected to find a way to “fix” herself and rewire her brain to find men arousing, not women. She will be expected to either never find a companion to spend her life with, or to choose a man and marry him. For a lesbian (not a bisexual), being with a man, even if she loves him, can be unsatisfying, scary, and possibly feel more like rape than making love. And for that husband, how will he feel? What awkward, possibly awful place will he be put into? Both partners in a relationship deserve to find happiness and satisfaction in their sex life – it is a basic human need and one of the reasons we form such relationships.

Why is this woman having to write this letter in the first place? Why is her sexual orientation a sin? Because the writings of ancient Middle-Eastern men say so. Of course, these same writing talk about stoning witches, forcing rape victims to marry their rapists, and killing massive amounts of people because the Israelites “needed” their land. I’m speaking of the Bible, but you knew that already. Many, in fact most (in my experience), Christians are quick to pick and choose passages of Scripture to promote and preach on whilst conveniently ignoring the icky stuff. If you claim the entire Bible is perfect and inspired, why ignore any of it? Why aren’t you still calling for witches to be stoned? Why aren’t you preaching against clothing made of mixed fabrics? Why aren’t you segregating the menstruating women? Why aren’t you telling all women they cannot teach or be in any positions of leadership? Why aren’t you telling your women to stay silent during church? They can always just ask their husbands when they get home, like Paul said they should do. Ugh. The churches who hold to these ideas are few and far between, relatively speaking, and are considered crazy. As they should be.

Anything that demonizes something as basic and normal as sex needs to be reassessed. And anything that tells someone, “Nope, your body got it wrong. You can’t be attracted to that gender because that would be evil. You love them? Doesn’t matter. Why? Because an ancient text told us so. Get over it and get your heart right!” is the true evil here. If you don’t understand or like homosexuality, fine. I don’t see why you must proclaim it loudly and do what you can to make homosexuals (or their friends and family) feel dirty and like lesser people.