A Three Year Old, David & Goliath, & God’s People

My three year old stepson was recently exposed to a lot of Bible stories and has been recounting them to us with great flourish. One story in particular has really stuck with him and he loves to tell it to us over and over again: David and Goliath. I take issue with the violent nature of that story, now that I’m a mom, and wonder why on earth it’s a favorite for teaching to young children. I’ve had to repeatedly explain to my stepson that the point of the story is not how exciting it is to kill a giant, but that sometimes people have to do very brave things to protect themselves and the people they love. My stepson was pretending that everything was a giant to be killed; as he whipped his sling around (usually a sock) he would shout that he was killing ____ in God’s name (!!!!). We naturally put a stop to that. How can anyone expect a three year old to respond differently, though? Tell a child that story and all he’ll remember is the excitement of whirling a sling around and killing something. The child has no understanding of killing and death, of course, but that is what he will latch onto. After a lot of discussion I’ve noticed my stepson has begun to alter his version of the story to better match up with what I’ve taught him, which is encouraging.

Another point I’ve had to discuss with him is bravery. In the version of the story he learned, God blessed David and made him brave enough to fight Goliath. I’m trying to instill into my stepson that people can be brave even without being blessed from above. People can certainly ask for help through prayer etc., but we each have a lot of strength within ourselves and can do brave things on our own. So far my explanations have been met with adamant replies that things have to be like the story said they are, but that’s okay. So long as he’s hearing more than one side of things on regular basis, then I am content. I realize that he thinks everything in the world is either black or white, right now, and if some people say one thing is true while other people say something else is true… that’s confusing.

The remaining part of the story I have yet to address is the part where Goliath is attacking “God’s people.” Even in a book written for tiny children, the concept of Israel as being extra special to God is worked in as fact. This bothers me. The whole concept of one group of people being “God’s people” bothers me a lot. Continue reading

Finding My Voice

I pulled out of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement (and Christianity as a whole) in the fall of 2011 – that’s roughly thirty one months ago. My beliefs have changed so much during that time frame. Who I am has changed, and I’m very thankful for that fact. I’m happier. I’m healthier. I’m more confident. My spirituality is more fulfilling. I’ve found my voice and am no longer afraid to use it. Life is better.

Christian fundamentalism greatly stunted my personal growth. I’ve only recently realized how greatly it stunted my ability to use my voice. For starters, fundamentalism did its best to prevent me from developing my individuality. Self-aware individuals don’t conform to rigid rules and certainly don’t do well with one-size-fits-all doctrine. Individuals realize the world doesn’t fit into a box. Individuals use their voice to ask questions. Questions are dangerous if they remain unchecked. A child may except pat answers, but when that child grows up, his questions will not so easily be set aside. Fundamentalism prides itself in having the answer to everything, even if that answer is “God’s ways are not man’s ways” or “God knows best.” Receiving an answer like that was very unsatisfying, but it usually was enough to shut me up because I didn’t want to appear to be questioning God or the authority of the person whom I’d asked. Asking too many questions got you in trouble or, at the least, caused people to find you annoying and troublesome. I asked too many questions anyway, though, and didn’t get enough answers.

I can recall puzzling through matters of theology as a college student. Homework assignments designed to help me better understand my faith only made it more puzzling. One particular event stands out in my mind. I had been studying the arguments for and against predestination and free will and thought I’d had a breakthrough moment of understanding. I wanted to share my discovery with other people so I did my best to put it into words (which was long and complicated to do) and then put in Facebook. Immediately I got backlash from fundamentalist friends who disagreed; ultimately I chose to take down what I’d written. I saw then and there that a hole-proof, Biblical argument that reconciled predestination and free will didn’t exist. That was one of many things that I realized was not as hole-proof as fundamentalism declared/needed it to be. My faith was crumbling,
not being strengthened, and I began to realize why hyper-conservative fundamentalists declared higher education to be a “tool of Satan” used to pull young people away from their faith. I was not involved with Satan, though, and had only studied at conservative Christian educational institutions. My fundamentalist faith was not holding up to the thoughts inside my own head, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Eventually I had to start telling the people around me that I was no longer a believer. My voice was a squeaky whisper as I fearfully undertook the task of breaking people’s hearts. I put on a brave face, tried to protect myself by putting up a wall of defense, but nothing helped. I could no longer believe, could not live a lie to please people, but couldn’t bear to cause the people I loved so much pain and confusion. The year during/after my exit was messy and painful for all involved. I felt desperate for independence and a chance to discover the rest of the world, and in my desperation I made some bad decisions (my first marriage being one of them). Mistakes added to the pain and confusion, but through it all I began to find my footing and realized how strong I was – not how strong a deity or religion could make me. I found a place where I could blossom, a partner who supported me, and a faith community that was safe and nourishing (Unitarian Universalism). Finding love and support has given me the confidence I need to start using my voice.

I recall one conversation with my mother sometime after I had left fundamentalism: she asked me not to become an activist. Turns out the term activist made her think of 70’s era feminists like Jane Fonda. I know very little about Jane Fonda, but I’m aware that some of the activism of days gone by left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Feminism and environmentalism both got a bad rap in IFB circles, and since those are two of the most well known areas of activism, I guess many fundamentalists assume activism is crazy, despite their very active attempts at proselytization and protecting themselves from what they considered to be infringements on their religious rights. IFB told me to speak out about salvation so the world would not all die and go to hell, but it cared very little about the worldly state of humanity and the Earth. Humanitarian efforts were seen as secondary (at best) to missionary work that resulted in conversions. I was always troubled by this, and wanted to involve myself in something that sought to help others at whatever level they needed help – not just their souls.

I guess I’ve always been an activist at heart. I don’t like sitting idly by when I see something that is needed, but years of doing just that must be overcome. I’m finding my voice and have lots I want to say. I don’t have the courage to speak very loudly, and the thought of public speaking still terrifies me, but I’m finding ways to use my voice. This blog is really what got me started; I needed to tell my story, and in the absence of an existing audience I made the web my audience. There are other things I’m passionate about, and I’ve been able to use the web to help me speak out about those things as well. Now that I’m a member at my local UU church, I think I will quickly find new ways to speak about what is important to me. I don’t have a special story, but I do have my story. I don’t have great ideas or even unique ideas, but if I don’t speak my thoughts I remain part of the silent majority. I want to bring about change, not remain silent while the world dies around me.

Article: Unity of Religions? "God is not One!"

This article makes some good points. I am totally for all religions learning to peacefully coexist rather than all religions losing their individual identities and being merged into a single blob. It is the beautiful diversity that exists amongst the religions of the world that prevented me from hating religion altogether after I left the IFB. It’s true that I currently attend a Unitarian-Universalist church, but it seems that the UU’s version of universalism and the universalism described in this article are not the same thing at all.

Meditation

Meditation used to be something I misunderstood and viewed with a mixture of skepticism and awe. Some Baptists/Christians say meditation is too New Agey and invites the Devil in… or something silly like that. I think they say such things because they don’t actually understand what meditation is. See the definition here and/or allow me to sum it up for you.
To meditate is to focus on something, particularly something spiritual.
Prayer is meditation. Thinking about Scripture (as commanded in the Bible) is meditation. Mary meditated as she “pondered these things in her heart” after she found Jesus in the temple speaking as a learned adult rather than the child he appeared to be. Quoting passages like The Lord’s Prayer or the Twenty Third Psalm is meditation. Meditation is Biblical.
Anyway. Growing up I viewed meditation as some weird thing Asian monks did. Pastors and teachers warned against the evils of meditation, yoga, and anything else “New Age” so I saw these things as negative. Negative and mysterious. Fast forward to my post-Christian days as I explore forbidden fruits and discover the truth about them. In looking for ways to help myself heal from and cope with chronic illness, I read a lot about meditation and guided imagery. What was this nebulous thing called mediation? How did people sit and think about nothing for hours upon end? Was it just craziness? I looked into it some, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I came to understand meditation.

I first tried meditation as an aid to help me fall asleep. Then I sought to use it as a balm for the stress of life. It was quite helpful, but I found it difficult to calm my effectively. Life got busier and I forgot about meditation. I needed its calming influence in my life, though, and reinstated it in my life recently. In lieu of focusing on “nothing” (clearing my mind is hard!), I began using guided imagery. Guided imagery (or guided mediation) has worked so much better for me! Having someone else guide me – via a recording or in person – is easier than guiding myself, but I think guiding myself is good exercise for my brain. I try to meditate daily, even if it’s only for a few moments. The more I meditate the more calm and stress-free I feel. Meditation feels spiritual to me. It nourishes my spirit and helps me find balance.
I find a quiet spot where I can be alone. Peaceful place outdoors are especially nice. If I’m indoors I like to light a candle or some incense to help me relax. I find a comfortable way to sit or lay down and then begin by counting backwards from 10, inserting the names of colors between each number. Focusing on that task successfully guides me into a state of meditation. If I’m in pain or feeling tense, I find it helpful to focus on relaxing each part of my body until my body feels soft and heavy. This feeling is remarkably peaceful. Then I may turn my focus on any specific things that need my attention – problems, concerns, etc. When I used to pray as a Christian I often discovered answers/solutions as I focused on what was going on in my life – I experience the same thing now, which is not surprising since I was meditating before. If I am struggling with guilt or other negative emotions I remind myself of positive things through stating affirmations. Affirmations have been very helpful! In the past I found comfort in affirmations such as “I am a child of God,” “my sins are washed away,” or any number of other things Christians tend to say. My affirmations may have changed since then, but the power of positive thinking has not! Sometimes as I meditate, I do end up thinking about nothing other than the fact that I’m breathing, and it is quite nice. It’s all quite nice and is something I look forward to every day.
Many, and perhaps all, religious traditions call for or incorporate meditation into their practices. I see it as a universally-held spiritual practice that is of benefit to everyone. I’m very glad that my hyper-conservative, fundie background did not ultimately prevent me from enjoying this peaceful practice.

Bubbles

My fibro. was kind enough to flare, so I’ve had lots of down time lately. I’ve spent most of it reading and researching a variety of topics. Every time I feel some sense of pleasure in acquiring new knowledge, I also sense just how little I really know. There was a time when I was content to ignore anything that didn’t fit into my narrow worldview. I was taught that a great many things were evil, and those evil things were to be avoided. Always. You know, evil things like rock music, tight clothes, dancing, movie theaters, lots of makeup, kissing boys, etc. I attended the school run by my church, so I got a heaping dose of the church’s teachings six days of the week. Then I worked at a Christian camp for two consecutive summers. I was around plenty of people far more “liberal” than what I was accustomed to, and wasn’t sure if I should pray for them or embrace the less rigid mindset (this is all hilarious now). I was raised to believe that any non-King-James Bible contained some sort of heretical changes and was bad. Suddenly, I knew people who read other versions of the Bible, and they didn’t seem like heretics. Then I went off to Bible college, where I was surrounded by a variety of opinions and personalities. I still had to have all of my pants approved, to make sure they weren’t too tight, lest I cause one of my brothers to stumble and start lusting. Rock music was still preached against, and I couldn’t be alone with a guy unless I had special standing, permission, privileges, etc. Many things I once held as hard and fast beliefs began to change. Teachers asked questions, I did research for papers, and I saw that there was a much bigger world than I’d ever been allowed to see before.

Basically, my life can be summed up as living within several sets of bubbles. By bubble, I mean a controlled atmosphere that was meant to keep people “safe” from the outside world. Anything deemed harmful was censored, and we were required to live within acceptable guidelines or be kicked out/punished. Exploring other options was not encouraged. Circular reasoning  and legalism are a natural result of living in a bubble. If all you need/know is around you, then you start comparing yourself to those around you rather than remembering that there is a HUGE world out there full of people and ideas. Bubbles quickly become stale and even poisonous for lack of fresh “oxygen.” Intelligent people who normally have lots of common sense may find themselves in odd positions after living in a bubble. Why? The pressure from those around them,  the herd mentality, and the lack of outside (fresh) influence makes it easy to go down paths you might otherwise eschew.
Having left the bubbles behind, I now wholly embrace freedom of thought, personal independence, and access to any and all information. Stale air chokes and eventually kills those who breathe it – that’s a fact. Get out of the bubble.

I’m Free

I’m not a Christian anymore.
I don’t believe the Bible is inspired, without error, THE guidebook, etc. I don’t believe in so many things that were ingrained in me through church, school, college, and my home. My life has changed. I am free. I can live my life without fear, without willingly being down-trodden in the name of love, and without the guilt of the eternal souls of the world. The knowledge that my God died for me and now holds me responsible for telling the rest of the world will no longer drive me to despair and confusion. I no longer have to see the pain and wrong in the world and try to find ways to explain why God is in control AND good. I no longer have to find a way to convince myself that the conflicting passages of Scripture somehow add up to create a unified, perfect picture. It doesn’t matter what people think about me now. I don’t have to sit and wait for God to tell me what He wants me to do. I am responsible for my life. I can now do my best and know it’s okay. I no longer feel the weight of being unable to attain the perfection demanded by the Bible. I’m free to say that Paul was a sexist, narcissistic, controlling jerk. I’m allowed to think and search for the truth, without having to make it fit the Bible. I see reality. They always told me there was no love, no beauty, no truth, nothing apart from Christ and the Bible. They were wrong. I’ve found all these things in abundance in “the world.” Instead of finding darkness, pain, and emptiness I’ve found light, peace, and joy. Life is more simple, the world is brighter, and hope abounds. No, I will never go back. It is impossible. Some things cannot be unlearned, and once you’ve tasted freedom you don’t voluntarily go back into slavery.
I am not a Christian anymore.
I am free.

Does Belief Matter?

What makes a religion, or any other belief, good or valid?
People of all faiths can talk about their experiences, the good feeling or peace that their beliefs bring them. So, the question that always bugged me is: Are all of the experiences, emotions, whatever that people have valid, or is only set’s real? Christians claim to be the only truth in the world, and other religions make similar claims. If only one set of beliefs is the truth, then the experiences of everyone else must be invalid. To a Bible-believing Christian, the happiness of the Buddhist or Muslim is somehow fake, because the only “true” happiness is found in Christ. The followers of Christ should, by default, be the happiest people in the world. All of their problems are simply explained as happening in order to bring glory to God, right? Then Christians should welcome their every trial and tribulation as just another opportunity to bring God glory. People with chronic illnesses and debilitating conditions should just accept them with joy, since they have such a great opportunity to bring glory to their God. Their beliefs sustain them, and are the source of their happiness. Everyone else in the world has beliefs, and their beliefs also bring them happiness and fulfillment. But, only one set’s happiness and fulfillment is real… or is that just an exclusionary lie? Is the rest of the world simply faking their happiness and fulfillment? Or, horror-of-horrors, could be it be true that all beliefs are valid, in the sense of bringing the believer happiness and personal fulfillment (along with all the emotions and experiences associated with “discovering the truth”)? Is all truth set in stone, or can it be relative? History is full of people who found joy and contentment in believing what we now know to be lies. Was their joy lesser than anyone else’s?
It seems to come down to the act of believing in something, rather than what that something is or isn’t, is what brings fulfillment and joy in one’s life.