Friday, November 11, 2016

How I Lost My Conservativism and a Lot of My Religion, Too: Part 5

So...let's talk about the election, shall we? I am no longer conservative, and all my friends know I voted for Hillary. But now you know a little better why.

And I know a little better that it is time to stop thinking I am "wrong" or have veered off the chosen path and don't deserve to have a voice anymore. I have studied. I have thought. I have prayed. I have worked to be a loving and empathetic person. I have fully experienced both sides of the liberal/conservative Ferris wheel. I have something to say.

I have a few thoughts for my Bible-believing friends who believe God intervened so Trump would win and somehow save the world. "We fasted and prayed for this," they say. "Hillary was for abortions!," they say. And they believe deep within them that Democrats, and Hillary Clinton in particular, are truly evil, the instruments of Satan to bring about the downfall of America and Christianity.

The rage...the rage I feel when you blame this travesty on God....

First, AIN'T NOBODY TAKING ANYONE'S GUNS!! I don't care what anyone says, what anyone wants...your right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment, a historical document that has stood and been the pride of all America for well over 200 years. Do you know how difficult it would be to change the Bill of Rights?! No bi-partisan Congress has the power to do it unless almost all of it agrees, and I am SURE it doesn't. NO EXCUSE FOR VOTING FOR YOUR GUN OVER YOUR NEIGHBOR.

Second, I DON'T KNOW ANY CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT WHO HAS EVER PERFORMED ANY ABORTION, LET ALONE A LATE-TERM OR PARTIAL BIRTH ONE. I do, however, know candidates who stand for a woman's right to choose. I have many Christian friends who believe a woman does not have a right to choose once she has made the choice to conceive. But maybe we could talk about that for a minute.

A few years ago, I was in the throes of a deep, dark, suicidal depression. I shunned the light of day, barely left my bedroom, and spent the nights crying and clinging to a razor blade and a bottle of brandy, wondering how many more miserable nights I could fight the urge to end it all. The very thought of bringing another human being into the world, with all its evil and suffering, could bring me to despair. (No, I was not pregnant; but I thought about these things anyway.) That was the first time I could ever empathize with someone who might choose abortion over giving birth. After all, isn't it better to give your child into the hands of Jesus (if you believe that) than into the maw of a vicious tiger?

Please don't stop reading now thinking I am pro-abortion. I think there are many preferable options to abortion. BUT I CANNOT CONDEMN SOMEONE WHO CHOOSES IT, based on despair. And I cannot always be the judge of what might cause that despair. Therefore, while I do not advocate FOR abortion, it is NOT the primary issue I look at when deciding on a candidate. (Though, granted, I am sure not all decisions for abortion are made because the pregnant woman despairs. However, that is just one consideration with which a thinking and feeling person might empathize.)

You want another? Okay. A person is judged for having an abortion, but don't forget, often she is judged even more harshly simply for being pregnant. How could she have been so loose, so irresponsible?! What a shame for a kid to be having a kid. Oh, look - another mouth or two for Welfare to feed.

There are plenty of great programs to help mothers with children - they provide great tax deductions, some offices (and even high schools) provide daycare for children of employees(/students), and scholarships for single mothers abound. Not to mention, many people would love to have a baby and can't, so why not put that child up for adoption? (PS - have you ever looked into an adoption? They are completely unaffordable for the average person/family, and the red tape is more than daunting.)

Oh, and the foster care system. Well...we won't even really go there. I so respect and appreciate people who do foster care and give themselves to father and motherless children who need them. But. There. Aren't. Enough. And the children are often carrying around hearts with invisible but gaping wounds, because foster care simply isn't the same as being loved and cared for by one's own family.
NO EXCUSE FOR VOTING FOR YOUR OWN MISUNDERSTANDING OF DESPAIR/LACK OF OPTIONS OVER YOUR NEIGHBOR.

So why don't we just get down to it? You likely voted for Trump because you don't like the Democrats' platform - the platform that stands for EQUAL RIGHTS FOR EVERYONE - regardless of race, religion, age, sex, gender, or sexual orientation. You don't think people different from you should have the same rights as you, for whatever reason. By "same rights," I mean the rights that are foundational to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - rights to work without arbitrarily losing one's job because of a difference of personal beliefs; rights to marry the whomever one chooses and loves; rights to worship the God beloved by one's soul (or not worship an unbelieved-in god, as the case may be). Just because people do things differently doesn't mean people aren't very much the same in what they want, what they love, what they need. By voting against the rights of others to do things THAT DON'T HURT YOU AT ALL(!!!!), you ARE telling them, "I am more important than you. You don't deserve to be here. You are less than human." If you feel, and vote based on the feeling, that others do not deserve the same rights as you, I declare to you that you fall into the same moral category as an abusive parent who tells their children every day that they are trash and will never amount to anything. Whether you realize it or not, your actions, your condescension, conjure the same emotional scars on real, live human beings.

NO EXCUSE FOR VOTING FOR YOUR OWN FEARS AND PREJUDICES OVER YOUR NEIGHBOR.

I do not want to throw out a bunch of Scriptures here (for one thing, the post is long enough already). But let me just remind you of some basic Christian teachings:

As Much As Possible, Live In Peace With Everyone.

God Loves The World And Created Everyone With FREE WILL. (Stop trying to make others' decisions for them.)

Love Your Neighbor.

DO NOT FEAR.

Welcome The Stranger.

Provide For The Poor. (Leaving a few extra crops in the field for the refugees...that's in several Old Testament Books.)

You say you love America and want to make it great again. America is great because it is more. We were taught in elementary school that it is the great Melting Pot, a beacon of light and welcome to people from all lands seeking FREEDOM from oppression and a right to live as they see fit, with equal opportunities as all their neighbors at making a life that will bring them happiness.

Despite all this, you think God helped your guy win. You think God put His vote in the American election for a guy putting down women, people of color, people of latinx heritage, Muslims, and people with disabilities, among others. You say he didn't spew hatred, but how can you even say that?!!!! You say I only say that because it's what the liberal news media told me. But I WATCHED IT AS IT HAPPENED!! If you didn't believe it, you could see it from the way the people at his rallies - the people who elected him - your preferred neighbors (let that sink in for a minute) - behaved, beating elderly people, bullying, calling names, and calling for white supremacy. What small, scared people.

He's not going to protect your guns any more than Hillary would have, because no one can take them.

He's not going to protect your money anymore than anyone with an ability to budget would, unless he does what he did with his taxes and just refuses to pay what is owed, or cuts out the meager programming available to help your struggling neighbors.

If you think Christians have become an oppressed minority, look at this election. The liberals did not vote Trump into office. Stop licking your imaginary wounds and do what you say you are called to do. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How I Lost My Conservativism and a Lot of My Religion, Too: Part 4

First, a disclaimer. *MY SEMINARY DID NOT MAKE ME LIBERAL.* If any Pentecostals are reading this, and thinking they will never send their kids to that place to turn out like I did, please set your minds at ease. I had some truly great professors, all of them dedicated to God, loving the world, and committed to deep thinking and education...and the application of it to conservative ministry. Not all of them were ultra-conservative, but for the most part, yes, they were pretty conservative. And I still love them and treasure the teaching they gave me.

But they couldn't keep me from studying on my own on the side.

One of my last couple of semesters I took an exegetical/homiletical class on the Parables of Matthew. For our final project, we had to fully exegete (study the Greek and read history and commentaries, etc.) and then produce sermons on 3 of the parables of Jesus found in the Book of Matthew. The top 3 or 4 papers would get published as an annual anthology. (I actually got one of those spots...after a few minor forced edits to tone down my burgeoning liberalism.)

I called mine "A Theology of Kingdom Inclusiveness in the Matthean Parables of Jesus." I chose the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), and the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14). Looking now at my outline of the paper, I can tell you the main points I derived after thoroughly studying those three parables, respectively: 1) Seed was sown/dropped on all kinds of soil; 2) Weeds were allowed to remain among the wheat until the harvest; and 3) Everyone who could be found was invited, "both bad and good" (verse 10). In my conclusion I considered a few things (also taking into consideration the rest of the parables in Matthew): 1) Will everyone inherit the Kingdom? (ref. the Parables of the Unforgiving Servant; Two Sons; Ten Virgins; and Talents), 2) Who decides whom to accept and whom to reject? (ref. the Parable of the Laborers; also several parables mention - the Reapers, the Father, etc.), and 3) How do the general teachings of Jesus (in Matthew) compare? I'll post for you my conclusion (you'll have to do the studying for yourself!):
The popular television drama Downton Abbey chronicles the daily life of the fictional Crawley family and their servants at the prestigious Grantham estate in Yorkshire in the era of World War I. The series illustrates poignantly that “servants” consist of both trustworthy, loyal individuals as well as those who do the least amount possible to keep their livelihood with only nominal commitment to those whom they serve. The parables discussed in this paper give little explicit attention to the characters designated as servants. The theme that carries throughout the parables presents the servants as those who labor and do the bidding of their overseer; this is simply the befitting response of the servant’s identity. Translated into the community life of the Church, this would seem to allow for participation in the Church’s mission by all who make up the Body of Christ – both the “good” and the “bad,” so to speak (with the earlier caveat from Matthew 18:15-20 that persons who deliberately cause harm within the Church are subject to very cautiously expedited excommunication).
Thus, Matthew’s parables seem to teach that 1) all are welcomed (and actively invited) into the fellowship of the faithful; 2) all who respond may wholly [empahsis added] participate in the community and evangelistic mission of the Church; 3) not everyone who claims the status of “Christian” will produce good fruit; 4) God has not commissioned the Church to separate the “good” members from the “bad” or to exclude anyone from the fellowship; and 5) God Himself will eventually judge between the faithful and those who fail to submit to the gospel, and will mete out the consequences of their refusal to repent.
This study particularly comes to mind as further goading my change from traditional conservative views, still within Christianity, as to who is welcome and included in the spiritual life of the Church.

Other things I learned in seminary impacted me, too, like the electives I took in the counseling/psychology department. I learned about and researched such things as Unconditional Positive Regard, Self-Actualization, and the fact that things I always thought were evidence of demons are really mental illnesses that can be diagnosed and successfully treated. (You'd be surprised what they don't teach you in Sunday School.)

In the next, final post of this series, I hope to talk about what my transition from conservativism means to me now - including, incidentally, my take on the election of Trump as our next President.


How I Lost My Conservativism and a Lot of My Religion, Too: Part 3

In Part 1, I talked about some individuals I had encountered after moving to Springfield, Missouri, in April 2012. In Part 2, I mentioned some of the ideas I had encountered between about 2005 and also after I moved to Springfield in 2012. Now in Part 3, let's go back to Springfield, and I'll tell you about THE person I met that continued and perhaps cemented the process of change in me from conservativism to whatever I am today (liberal? progressive? I prefer progressive).

Her name was Glenda. I met her at the job where I had the atheist and the lesbian as friends. She moved there in 2013, and I met her as soon as she got to Missouri from the state from which she had moved. Her brother was a daytime therapist where I worked and was working late that night. When she stopped in to see him, he happened to bring her through the space where I was working, and she held my newly acquired puppy. She started working there soon after, on my shift. She was very obviously gay (short haircut AND lesbian tattoos), and I was, obviously to myself, attracted to her. After a few months we got a chance to work together. We spent that night playing cards in between our work duties, and we had easy and fun conversation. We decided to attend an upcoming blues festival as friends.

A few weeks after the blues festival, in the beginning of October, we went to a local pumpkin patch and corn maze. Afterward, she drove me around some edge-of-town country roads in her old truck. She found out I could sing and made me demonstrate for her. I sang a little bit of "More Like Her" by Miranda Lambert (because her style and that song suit my voice). Then she reached over and started playing with and holding my hand.

In all my thirty years, I had never held hands with anyone. In fact, I had only ever been interested in getting to know 3 or 4 other people romantically - all guys - and they usually didn't return the desire. So I had never dated. (I had, however, exchanged letters with a guy in Indianapolis when I was an older teenager. My friend had introduced me to him. I went to visit her there once, and I met him - we made an emergency store run for toilet paper, and in the checkout line he harassed the poor lady in front of us, telling her to get ready for the Rapture, though she repeatedly told him to lay off. A few letters into our budding relationship I let him know I had started wearing pants and did not ever plan to go back to skirts, and he never wrote again. I guess he wasn't interested in an independent, liberated woman.)

After Glenda dropped me off at my apartment that night, I had about two hours before she picked me up again for work (my car was broke down, and she had been giving me rides). I bawled the whole time. I had let a girl hold my hand...and I liked it! I couldn't believe I was this close to crossing "the" line into sinnerdom. I backed off, and so did she because she was my coworker and sexual harassment and blah blah blah...so we didn't really hang out much again until I reinitiated it around the end of November. I decided to see if there was something real there. On Christmas Day we decided there was and started dating.

I let other people know we were dating in a Facebook post in late February. Since most of my friends list on there knew me from church and our church denomination, and I knew they would not approve, I decided to be upfront and let them know. I did not want to let them keep thinking I was the person they thought I was. I had changed. Some of you reading this may remember that post and the reaction I got - almost overwhelmingly negative! Seventy or eighty people let me know what they thought about it, in no uncertain terms. They assured me I was on my way to hell (which I sort-of didn't believe in anymore...but I wasn't certain...and it was a huge transition for me anyway, so the backlash was really emotionally taxing to take (and that may be the biggest understatement I have ever made). I did not respond to any of them, and I did my best to show grace, understanding from my own experience that they believed they were really trying to let me know they loved me and didn't want hell for me.

After the announcement, I wasn't sure who I was anymore. My thoughts hadn't changed - I had always posted my theological musings, and I had many of them - but now I was afraid they would all think I was the worst kind of apostate if I continued to talk to them about God after admitting I was in a lesbian relationship (and I'm pretty sure they would have, too). So I stopped posting. And I started thinking more deeply about what I believed, because I didn't feel like my relationship with God had ended, or even changed, since I had entered into my relationship with Glenda. I still prayed. I still asked God to help me please Him. I still liked the Bible. I hadn't seen any demons looking back at me from my image in the bathroom mirror (and yes, I quakingly looked sometimes).

Glenda and I eventually broke up, and I haven't dated anyone since. I don't know that I want to date, and I don't know whom I would want to date if I did. Our relationship just happened. But whether I call myself gay or not, I know I'm not exactly straight. I kissed a girl and I liked it. Even if I in the future kiss a guy and like it, too (and I am not opposed to that!), I don't know that I can call myself "straight".

I am part of the LGBT community. And I love Jesus. And I understand God differently than I used to. I don't know if I believe "He" is a personal God anymore (but I don't know that I don't, either). Sometimes I lean toward believing "God" is more of an essence that leads us toward loving each other and making the world a good and safe and just place. I'm not sure exactly. And I'm okay with that. My beliefs and my spiritual relationship with God are a work in progress. I hope they do continue to do just that: progress.

In the next post, I want to talk about a few insights I gained from my later studies in seminary. And then, in the fifth and (I think) final post of this series, I'll ruminate on where that lands me now. What do I do on this, the opposite side of conservativism? I have a few ideas.

How I Lost My Conservativism and a Lot of My Religion, Too: Part 2

Not only did I get to know and converse with people with different perspectives during this time; I also found some new reading material.

My first foray into reading different points of view than my own, or perhaps even just different views that still claimed to be "Christian," took the form of blogs. I found them in my downtime while working at the headquarters of the denomination I was credentialed with at the time, so it would have been way back between 2005 and 2009. I read a lot of Catholic blogs, even though I had been raised to believe Catholics were idolaters and worshiped Mary as equal to God when "the Bible plainly says" the Lord is One, and to have no other Gods before Him. I was shocked to find these Catholic writers (like this one, and this one which I still follow today) really seemed to love God, just as much as I did. If they were heretics, why did their words speak to me and spiritually encourage me when I needed it?

From there I found other, more progressive writers. One I read secretly for a while (I would minimize the window whenever I heard anyone coming near, so they didn't think I was "that way") was by Kimberly Knight, called "Coming Out Christian: Conversations about being gay and Christian in America." When I first found it, accidentally - I can't even remember how - I was shocked. Here was someone claiming to be both gay and a Christian, two things every Bible believer knows cannot coexist. That piqued my curiosity, and I kept reading to see how it was she could believe she was okay with God even while engaging in the sin of homosexuality. (I still follow her today, too.)

So here I was getting to know atheists and gay people, and they didn't seem to be corrupting the world or luring children to the dark side. And they were becoming my friends. Then I discovered blogs written by people who also claimed to be Christians like me, but had very different beliefs about God, and these people seemed to love Him just as much as I did. (I read more than what I listed in these two or three brief paragraphs, and I read a lot of their views on various theological topics, and how they justified believing these things differently than I did.)

For one of my seminary classes, I researched various views on the inspiration of Scripture. I ended up including some of that information in a blog post afterward. At the beginning of this spiritual journey, I held closest to Erickson's "Dynamic" theory - wherein God divinely inspired the biblical writers with not only the ideas and concepts of the Scriptures, but also the very words they used (not dictating them, but I guess you could say the inspiration was just really strong - maybe like they could almost sense some of the words being whispered in the background or something.) Now, I think I hold most closely with his "Intuition" theory. I think people who loved God wrote what they believed (and had been taught) about Him to the best of their ability, within the settings and even limitations of their culture and ancient knowledge. But this dramatic change in how I view Scripture did not happen overnight. It happened over several years, with a lot of study, adventuring out of my comfort zone, and soul searching.

[Side story on biblical literalism.... When I was a teenager, our backyard had been dug up to put in a septic system where we had moved to previously uninhabited property in the country. In one of my scientific "testing of Scripture" moments, I went out into the backyard and, with all the fervency I could muster, I ordered one of those mounds of dirt to be removed and cast into the sea. It didn't budge - I mean, I would have settled for even a couple of inches! I imagine conservative Bible believers would tell me that verse speaks symbolically to spiritual matters, but I say if the first few chapters of Genesis are supposed to be taken literally, how in the world is that verse not?!]

While researching that Inspiration of Scripture post, I ran across the book The Human Faces of God by Thom Stark. This work looks into some of the difficult passages of Scripture that conservative Christians have a hard time reconciling to their God-box. Passages that indicate God condones human sacrifices (more than just Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, which, incidentally, I plan to write about sometime) while claiming that He hates bloodshed, and even orders genocide while claiming to bless the nations. (It is a well-written, academic book. Good read, really.)

Also around this time (2012-2013), I asked someone I respected as a Christian and mentor, someone who absolutely loved God and was (and is) a beautiful soul, for some book recommendations. Among others, she introduced me to If Grace Is True by Phillip Gulley, which explores the senselessness of hell and eternal torment in judgment of temporary sins. I believe it went so far as to ask, if God has the ability and propensity to forgive, why doesn't He do so freely? Why doesn't He forgive the creatures He supposedly loves, whether they "accept Christ as their personal Savior" or not? Either He loves and forgives, or He doesn't. When I first read the book, I did not like it. It was not academic and it flew in the face of all my hard-won theology. I thought his style of writing was based more on "feelings" than facts, and I didn't like it. I thought it was based more on fallible human reasoning than faith that God has His reasons that we cannot always comprehend. (I was right. It did. I have come since then to appreciate our God-given ability to think for ourselves instead of chalking everything we can't readily and comfortably explain up to "mystery". I have also since then come to look at people with different worldviews than my own as being generally decent people like, hopefully, me; and where does my exclusive theology leave them?)

These things (and I'm sure several others) all kept sitting in my mind and rubbing against each other - "stewing," I think it's called. After the last several years, I have begun to get a feel for how they have shaped and drastically changed what I believe about God.

There happened a few other profound life experiences during that time, too, though, which I will discuss in my next post....

How I Lost My Conservativism and a Lot of My Religion, Too: Part 1

When I lived in Springfield, Missouri, a cynical, pessimistic, atheist coworker started Facebook messaging me out of the blue. This guy had good reason to be cynical and pessimistic (for reasons I won't mention here to respect his privacy); he also was a very decent human. He devoted his nights to working in a residential facility for teens, mostly from the foster care system, with behavioral problems, and during the day he helped rehome abused/abandoned animals. His Facebook messages made me EXTREMELY uncomfortable, with their accusations of two-faced Christians, their pointing out of all the suffering and evil in the world, and their BS-calling of certain "scriptural" principles I had always taken for granted and held very dear. "Eli" was brutal in driving home his anger and spiritual frustration in these online conversations. But I couldn't disengage him. He appealed to my pride by telling me repeatedly how much he appreciated that I didn't judge him or speak to him condescendingly. He also appealed to my Christian duty: I assumed Jesus had sent him my way in order to be saved (but, gosh, couldn't He have given me an easier practice case?! This one was hard!!).

Most of the things he pointed out to me were hypocritical Christians, human (and animal) suffering, and injustice (think despot leaders, torture, etc.). He constantly linked me YouTube videos of emo songs and clips from philosophical movies that questioned the seeming indifference of God in a world that suffered so acutely. In one video he had me watch, someone in another country was out in the middle of nowhere when a bird of prey swooped down and started basically eating a child. It tore the child to pieces. Eli couldn't understand how we can live in a world where someone would video the scene instead of stopping it. (Frankly, I can't either.) All of the videos he asked me to watch were that intense. All of the discussions we had were that intense. He often ended up writing in mostly exclamation marks and expletives. (He seemed awfully angry at this God he didn't believe in. Or perhaps he was angry because people insisted on believing in a God who must be absolutely sadistic for allowing the world to exist in the state it does. I'm not sure which.) But in between the emotional outbursts, he had some points with which I couldn't argue, though I tried. He didn't want answers from Scripture, which he didn't believe. He wanted tangible wisdom from someone who claimed to be in touch with the Source of everything good and right. I gave what I could, but ultimately, I found myself inadequate for the challenge. (I prayed for him a lot, though.)

At the same time, my boss at the same job was an older-middle-aged lesbian who had lived and raised a child with her partner for 20-some years. "Maggie," like me, had been raised in an independent Pentecostal holiness tradition. So while Eli was typing me pages of God-rebuttals every day, I was engaging my boss in similar conversations, trying to figure out how her aberration from the truth had come about, and whether it was possible that this sinful-in-a-way-that-is-more-sinful-than-any-other (according to most conservative Christians I knew) lesbian could actually be a decent person when she wasn't busy sacrificing chickens and luring unsuspecting maidens into lives of debauchery and frolicking in the dark hills with demons. It turned out she could.

Maggie eventually shared with me stories of drunken preachers who beat their wives, and other life experiences that moved her away from her beginnings. Not really a huge game-changer for me in terms of what I believed, but I still kept talking with her, and going to farmers markets with her and stuff, because she was my unicorn - a real, live, lesbian I could talk to and observe - and also had become my friend. It unsettled my church-girl sensitivities that I was getting close to people who were so irreconcilable "different" than me...but it felt a little "right," too. Wasn't this what Jesus had done - actually engaged the world rather than hiding away from and shunning it? I felt like I was learning something, though I still didn't know what. At the time, I was probably still intent on bearing the gospel light to their darkened, shriveled souls.

I was, after all, within a year of earning my M.Div. at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. I had held minister's credentials with another (even more conservative) Pentecostal denomination for 7 years and worked in its national headquarters for 4. People knew me. People expected great things from me. And not only this, but my relationship with God was very REAL to me. I was not a "nominal" Christian. Jesus was the center and source of my universe, and I wanted NOTHING in life so much as to please Him. I had been completely devoted to Him since I was a teenager, and it was not just something I did on Sundays or when the right people were around. It was my identity and I truly strived to give God all of me at all times.

In the midst of my holiness, I met a friend at seminary who was...let's say "untraditional," too. I don't think Bec would mind me mentioning her here. We drove around Springfield smoking cigars. I admired pictures on my Facebook feed of her karaoke-ing hymns at local bars. I was initially put off, but simultaneously drawn to her form of living for Jesus. She is a very radical person and works with the homeless in Atlanta. She is one of the more interesting people I know. She is also one of the smartest Bible-quoting, exegeting, prophesying, all-inclusive Christians I know. And she cusses a little.

These people and more forced me to deal with the reality that people relate to God differently. Does God relate to them differently, too, or does He love them all the same? If He created them, did He despise their quirks and their personal journeys, or did He appreciate their nuances? How should I relate to them in light of it all?