Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's in the Bible (Part 1)

***DISCLAIMER: What follows is not meant to offend anyone, but I’m well aware that this subject--religion, faith, whatever--can be touchy.  If I say something that offends you, please accept my apologies and then tell me.  I don’t want to hurt anyone in these pieces and as always, I am ALWAYS up for a good discussion if you feel like there’s something specific you want to address.  It’s best to approach the situation like this--to quote one of the greatest theologians of our time, “Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man...” (Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski)
If I never went to another traditional church service for the rest of my life, I’d be happy.  It’s not that I think church is bad per se, but after spending the first eighteen years of my life going to every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, Bible study, prayer meeting, church garage sale, church clean-up, Easter play practice, Christmas play practice, youth lock-in, youth lock-out, weekend revival, church camp, weekend retreat, and potluck dinner ever offered, I can safely say I’ve served my time.  (I continued to attend--and serve!--in churches on a regular basis throughout college, and until the last year, I would have always considered myself a regular attendee, even if I did miss a prayer meeting or potluck here or there.)
FYI: You should always pray in cowgirl boots because you never know when you might need to round up some demons.
My “spiritual life” (whatever that means) has undergone significant changes (as I believe everyone’s should over time) and in the last couple of years, I’ve shed my Protestant guilt and allowed myself permission to be okay with not going to church.  Don’t get me wrong--I have MANY fond memories of my time in church.  Of the eight people I chose to stand with me as attendants and Scripture readers in my wedding, seven of them were “life-long” church friends (the eighth was my husband’s sister).  To this day, the first people I call after my parents when anything significant (good or bad) happens in my life are the friends I grew up with because we attended the same church.
On the other hand, it has taken me YEARS to work through some of the feelings I have about other people I went to church with and about “the Church” as a whole.  It’s not so much that I’m bitter or harboring unforgiveness--I have just been frustrated and disappointed too many times to count, and despite my efforts to give the Church the benefit of the doubt over and over and over and over and over, nothing seems to ever change.  (I should make an important distinction here--God and I are still tight--I’m just over being used and abused by his people.)  
Um...this might also have something to do with why I have issues.
My willingness to forgive and start over in the church world has actually been the definition of insanity on some level.  I have tried to approach my relationship with the church delicately and with as much love and grace as possible--I’ve tried going to small churches, big churches, and megachurches.  For most of my life, I described myself as non-denominational or interdenominational, but in recent years, I don’t necessarily appreciate the stigma that sometimes gets attached to those words.  For what it’s worth, I’ve been a Presbyterian for the last five years (the denomination in which my husband was born and raised).  
There is obviously a much longer story to be told, and I’ll probably eventually talk more about who and what brought me here, but for now I’ll just say this.  My frustration stems from both the actions of individuals and the attitudes of the collective.  I have witnessed abuse of power, “moral corruption,” lack of social responsibility, hypocrisy, and intense hate on such a phenomenally grand scale--and all from an institution (made up of individuals) who purport to love God and love others as themselves.  
Youth pool party or Dr. Pepper ad?  Not sure.  This was back in the day when we went to summer camp to meet nice Christian boys.  I kissed one, but she married the camp counselor--hahahaha!!!
The reason I’m blogging about this is two-fold.  I don’t write about anything because I think I’m unique--I write from the hope that someone else out there will say, “Hey!  I’ve been thinking that too lately!”  I know without a shadow of a doubt that there are countless people who will connect with this on some level (which makes me really sad).  
The second reason I’m blogging about this is to highlight a bright spot in my “spiritual journey” (again, whatever that means).  As I already mentioned, I have been attending a Presbyterian church for the past five years here in Charleston.  We originally started attending the church because I found it in the Yellow Pages, and it had the same name as the church my husband attended his whole life.  (That makes as much sense as any reason to try a church, right?)
The services are waywaywayway too traditional for my taste, but the church is very active in community outreach, which trumps what kind of music they play any day.  (I rarely have to sit through a service, anyway, because I was usually working in the nursery at first and then helping with other various projects later.)  There are also a lot of old people in the congregation, so any of the activities involving food are AWESOME (which is reason enough to become a member of a church, too).
My first Sunday school class.  I'm the one in the red tights.  I officiated the wedding of the girl on my left this summer.
Something new to me was going to Sunday school.  Raised in evangelical churches, we didn’t have Sunday school in the traditional sense after elementary school.  So, for the first time ever, I joined a Sunday school class--one that meets before church on Sunday morning, made up of people around the same age and stage as me.  After some of the negative experiences I’ve had at this church, this Sunday school class is essentially the reason I haven’t left the church completely.  (This, and the fact that Will’s Sunday school teachers and the nursery workers who watch Ben are modern-day saints!)  To me, the relationships I’ve built, the support I’ve received, and the way we have been able to live and serve together is what church should be.
I was feeling particularly negative about the situation in general right before Christmas when we went to dinner with some friends from our Sunday school class.  I told them that when we returned from our visit home, I just didn’t think I was going to be able to keep coming to church every Sunday.  With Scott gone, I didn’t have anyone to make me get out of bed, and the negativity I felt in being around certain people was just too much for me to handle.  We would just have to meet outside of church for dinner and play dates for the kids.
However, once we went home for the break, I started thinking about how it might be harder for me to not have that constant contact with some of our closest friends while Scott was gone.  Then, I got an email with the details about what we would be studying, and I decided I better give Sunday school another chance (even if I didn’t go to the regular service).
For a significant portion of my life, I was a daily Bible reader.  As a child, any time I woke up early, I would find my mom drinking coffee in the living room, her Bible open before her.  I grew up in evangelical churches, where “daily devotions” were very much a part of everyone’s Christian walk.  It’s been several years since I practiced this habit, but I believe that reading the Bible, when done meditatively with an open heart can be life-altering or at the very least, a great start or finish to the day.
Our Sunday school class decided to follow a Bible in 90 Days plan for this semester.  When I heard, I felt torn.  I’ve read the Bible in its entirety maybe ten times?  Fifteen?  Who knows?  Did I really want to commit to doing that again?  And did I want to do it in 90 days?  I mean, that’s pretty serious.  But part of me was actually really excited for the challenge, and what better time to do it than when my husband is gone, leaving me with all kinds of free time?  I texted the guy who was leading the class and asked if I needed to pick up any materials ahead of time.  He said to just show up, and I’d get everything there.
So, we started the study on January 9th, and my plan for the next 90 days is to blog on Sundays about what I’ve noticed/learned/laughed about/gotten mad about during my weekly readings.  We are literally reading the Bible straight through from cover to cover, so we’ll see if I can actually finish.  I mean, I’ve certainly got the time, but geez...there are some parts that are going to be tough.
So.
Last week, our class met, and I would say that 4 out of 25 people had read the Bible in its entirety.  Several people said they had read most of the New Testament, and several others said they had read a good portion.  A few people said they couldn’t find any particular book of the Bible if their lives depended on it.  The class is probably made up of a ratio of 4:1 women to men (no surprise there), and we range in age from 30s to 70s.  I am really looking forward to completing this challenge with such a diverse group of people.
Here’s a breakdown of some of my thoughts from this week’s readings, which included the books of Genesis and Exodus (from this point forward, the rest of my posts in this vein will basically just be what is from here down):
  1. Okay, the creation story was always one of my favorites when I was little--the images are so vivid, and I love the idea of “something” coming from “nothing,” one “day” at a time.  I always kind of pictured it a little like the cinematography in What Dreams May Come.  As an adult, I still enjoy the narrative, and the “scene” where God asks Adam and Eve “Where are you?” gets me every time.  He’s not asking because he doesn’t know--I mean, he put them in the garden of Eden, but he’s asking because he wants to know how they got from a place of innocent bliss to realizing they’re naked.  It’s such a personal moment.  Unfortunately, this story is tainted for me because of the way it is used to a) fuel angry arguments about creationism vs. evolution, b) define male/female societal/maritial roles, c) and condemn gay people.  
    • I just don’t get why people want to use the Bible to “prove” their opinion (most of the time to people who are never going to change theirs) about how the earth and everything on it was created.  I have friends who LOVE to talk about this.  I just think it’s a colossal waste of time.
    • I could fill pages and pages and pages and pages about my feelings about gender roles in reference to the church, but for now, I’ll just say this: women are not inferior to men, and nothing makes me more livid than theology that supports a (c)overt agenda that says otherwise.  
    • Also, if you have ever said something to the effect of “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” we should probably not be friends.
  2. The rest of Genesis and Exodus chronicles the lives of what some might call “great men of faith.”  We have Abraham---->Isaac---->Jacob---->Joseph, a lineage of men who were about as screwed up as anyone I’ve ever met, which is comforting on some level because it makes me feel like less of a screw-up myself.  When I was four, some old ladies knocked on our door and invited me to come to Vacation Bible School.  My mom took me because the church was close to our house, and when she came to pick me up the first day, the ladies came out and said, “Oh, you must be Leia’s mom!”  They knew because I was the only white child in all of VBS.  (I don’t remember this exact moment, but I’ve heard the story a few times.)  Anyway, it was at that VBS that I remember seeing a poster on the wall of a cartoon black child with a word bubble that read, “I’m special ‘cause God don’t make no junk!”  If anything proves that God can use anyone--that he don’t make no junk--it’s the lives of these “heroes” of faith.  Abraham--the biggest hero of all--literally gave his wife to someone else (you know, because women are property).  Then, Isaac follows right in his father's footsteps, trying to pass off his wife as his sister.  And Jacob?  Well, he had children by four different women (because, you know, women are property), and cursed half his children from his deathbed--a real charmer.  I actually don’t think Joseph was all that bad (beyond a little youthful arrogance, maybe), but the rest of them were scumbags fairly unlikable.
So, to get back to my original disclaimer, I just wanted to share some of my observations.  One thing I’ve realized is that reading the Bible this quickly does not leave a lot of room for reflection or searching for lessons in the way reading it more slowly would.  I mean, if I got any lesson out of these readings, it would be: don’t make God mad because you never know when he’s going to smite you, and make sure you’re hanging out with the right people because sometimes he smites people just because they hang out with the wrong people.  Oh, and don’t beat pregnant women--I picked that one up right around the part where God tells us how to treat our slaves.  (What do people who have never read the Bible think about this stuff?)
Next week, we’re reading Leviticus, Numbers, and.........................oh sorry, I nodded off...part of Deuteronomy.  Wish me luck!  (Whose idea was this???)

18 comments:

  1. I come from a fundamentalist church background. I have seen and heard some pretty horrible things from other Christians. One time a man at church shoved an old lady across the room because they were arguing about who's turn it was to ring the bell for Sabbath School to be over! I'm sure you have seen it all too.

    I no longer go to church, mainly because of social phobia, but I do follow God. It is great you are still hanging in there. I would say 90 days is too fast to go through the Bible. Did you get to talk about your concerns? I remember being in a class once where someone was asking questions and the leader kept saying, "We have to finish this lesson. We can't get off track." To me, the point of studying is to learn. If we have questions, they should be answered.

    I just read Genesis, and I noticed for the first time that God said to Abraham about Sodom, "The outcry against Sodom is very great..." Who's outcry? I thought about it and saw that it must have been from the neighbors and visitors to Sodom. Look what they did to Lot's visitors? They must have done stuff like that all the time. And it has nothing to do with homosexuality - it has everything to do with rape and cruelty.

    I just think the Bible should be studied super slowly in order to get the most out of it. But -it is just an opinion! LOL

    Well, churches and people may suck, but God is good and I love sharing my life with him. Loving his people isn't always easy, but he can give us the grace to do it.

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  2. Thank you so much, Belle, for your comment! I was a little nervous about posting this, but your comment made it worth it. I couldn't have put it more graciously than you just did.

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  3. It saddens me that people who claim to have a relationship with God continually try to change Him and His word to fit their lives and their beliefs. There are hard truths in the Bible. Truths that I have tearfully and prayerfully come to accept. You can't love God and only accept part of His word. It's all or nothing.

    "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:3-4

    I would be responding to this post much differently if you were an unbeliever or did not know the truth...but I know that you Leia, DO know the truth.

    Just remember that we will have to give an account of EVERY word we speak. I wouldn't want to explain to God why I called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob scumbags. Yikes. God called them His friends and counted them righteous by their faith. He also said he would curse those who curse Abraham.

    This post is nothing but an invitation for deceivers to join together to spit in the face of God.

    "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind and if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit." Matthew 15:14

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  4. @Jaime, "You can't love God and only accept part of His word. It's all or nothing." First, I didn't say anywhere in this post that I don't accept His word. Secondly, I respectfully reject the concept of all or nothing when it comes to the Bible--that is exactly the kind of rhetoric I was subjected to for most of my life. The brand of Christianity that you have bought into is a brand that has damaged a lot of people's lives and turned them away from God. There's a HUGE difference between rejecting truth and questioning how the Bible applies to my every day life--especially when I come across a passage that is not just fuzzy, but contradicts completely something I believe strongly.

    For example, I do not believe slavery--the owning and abuse of other human beings--was/is EVER okay, but the OT God actually gives instructions about how to treat slaves. This is not okay with me. And I'm not EVER going to get to a place where I say, well, God said it was okay, so I guess it's okay! NOT EVER. If you've got a way of reconciling that issue, go for it. I'd LOVE to be able to put that one to rest.

    You and I clearly have different views about the role of women (as evidenced by the pages and pages and pages of stuff you've written on your blog). I've chalked most of it up to a difference of opinion and the fact that I think you've been exposed to some really bad teaching. I don't mean that in a condescending or mean way--really, I don't. But just as you think what I've said here is dangerous and damaging, I think your views on the role of women are dangerous and damaging.

    I will be happy to explain to God why I called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob scumbags. I did it because they were. I didn't say they weren't forgiven. I just said they were scumbags. I also said I find comfort in that (in case you missed that part).

    "This post is nothing but an invitation for deceivers to join together to spit in the face of God." Wow. I am sure you feel really righteous in posting this, but I pray that with some maturity and perspective you'll see exactly how foolish this statement is.

    In reference to all the scriptures you quoted, I'm okay with being lumped in with the heretics. In fact, I'll drive the bullet train to hell if you think that's where I'm going. Last time I checked I've only got one person to answer to, and it's not you. I can quote scripture left and right to support any point I'm trying to make (but so can Satan), but I refuse to do that because it's the easy way out, and I will NEVER use scripture to be hateful. And most of the people I'm trying to reach don't care about the Bible anyway. (Go ahead and post back some scriptures about correcting other believers in love here--that's what most fundamentalists would do.)

    There's one more thing I think you are absolutely WRONG about--I will never claim to "know the truth" as you put it. I absolutely accept Jesus as the Lord and savior of my life and pray without ceasing that He will help me on my journey to become more like him, but to say that I've got it all figured out is beyond arrogant. Having it all figured out is not the point. At all. And as soon as the evangelical branch of Christianity figures that out, the world will be a better place.

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  5. Funny that all of these people that say you have to accept all of Gods word stop before they get to Matthew, then pick up Revelations. Do you take your women to the edge of the village when they start their menstrual cycle? Do you not wear blended clothing? I did the whole church bit, went to private school as well. And when Jesus ask me what I did for him I will say that I tried my best to live his word. I fed the poor, I didn't go to war with my neighbors, I loved all of his people. I didn't judge because I knew only Jesus could judge.

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  6. Thanks, bradley. Especially nice to hear from someone I've never met and probably never will. Keep on keepin' on, dude.

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  7. I applaud you Leia... With courage, integrity, and honesty you are tackling an issue that so many struggle with, question and silently ponder. To cast shame on you for the mere discussion of this topic saddens me. I support your open-mindedness while also keeping your faith.

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  8. Thanks so much, Meg. I have to say it took me a long time to get the courage to say some of those things, and aside from this one little issue--the response has been overwhelmingly, life-affirmingly positive. Much love to you--keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers still!

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  9. Leia, I was amazed at how much I felt your post contained so many of the feelings I have and always worried that there must be something wrong with me to feel this way and still know in my heart that Jesus is my saviour and to want to live my life for him. I have a list of questions I want to ask him someday about why certain things happened or why certain behaviors were okay because I really don't like them! I have seen "the Church" and those who claim to be "following the word of God" or "doing God's work" do more damage to me and those close to me, than I care to admit. It amazes my how hypocritical and judgmental some people can be, when I only have to answer to one person for the choices I have made in my life and he has forgiven me for the wrong choices I have made in the past and is gracious and loving enough to continue to forgive me because I am not perfect. I think it is wonderful that you posted what you did and look forward to reading more from you!

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  10. Hi, found you via JesusNeedsNewPr today.
    I've had many of the same questions you've had ... somedays it's tiring, but yet it's worth it. I've been asking questions since the day I was born and I assume I'll continue.
    Totally connect and agree with this line ... "My “spiritual life” (whatever that means) has undergone significant changes (as I believe everyone’s should over time)"
    I've been going through a major body, mind and spirit transition for about 6 yrs now. It began after I almost lost my life ... and my leg in an accident. Obviously, I had a tough physical recovery, but I also had a tough emotional and spiritual recovery (still happening) kinda due to some of the things people said to me ... God caused this to discipline/train/equip/etc me. Or he knew I was 'special' and could handle it. And I said, "Excuse me, that's a god of love ... I don't think so."
    So I've been rethinking all of it ... and I look forward to your comments about the Bible reading.

    Happy reading!

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  11. @ Jaime Lynn --

    So I guess you're ready to stone your children to death when they're disobedient. After all, the Bible says we should...

    And I guess you're ready ready to tell a young victim of rape that it's her fault because she didn't cry out. After all, the Bible says we should...

    And I guess you're ready to not speak a solitary word in church... and wear a head covering... and renounce any leadership role you may have because you're a woman... For the Bible tells us we should.

    And I guess you're ready to re-institute a system of slavery or indentured servitude. Cause both Paul and the writers of the Old Testament condoned that... And Jesus never said anything to oppose it.

    Throughout history, we've ALWAYS tried to understand God and scripture in context of our times. This was true thousands of years ago, and it's true today. There's nothing wrong with thinking critically about what we believe.

    Most psychologists agree that religious groups which request unquestioning adherence to their precepts are often dangerous. Christian fundamentalism, like any other kind of fundamentalism really can be dangerous. Faith-without-questions groups are at the forefront of this danger. Think about Westboro and how they became the way they are.

    I applaud you, Leia, for being so transparent. We are entering a time when more and more people are asking critical questions about our faith traditions, and this is leading us to a greater understanding of the role that healthy religion can play in our lives. This is good for society and for all of us as individuals. Thanks for writing your blog. :)

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  12. Hey Jo, thanks for stopping by and for the encouragement. It's amazing how one bad apple can spoil the bunch--I'm trying to focus on all the positive responses I've received. =)

    @Janet, it's amazing how major "events" in our lives change our perspective on everything. Thanks for stopping by my blog--I promise it isn't always this serious! Most of the time it's a little ridiculous actually.

    @Crystal, thank you for your kind words, too. I agree with you that the only way to understand God and each other is by keeping an open dialogue. Unfortunately, JLB unfriended me on FB and stopped following my blog, so I'm afraid I won't ever really get to have a true discussion about what set her off. =( Either way, thanks for stopping by--always nice to hear from someone who has never met me but can understand my experience--that's the best part of life really.

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  13. The older I get the less confident I am in what I believe. At the same time, I am more comfortable in being less confident. I've mellowed with age. I don't have to be right, and I don't have to prove other people are wrong.

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  14. @Nancy, you are a wise, wise woman. But, of course, I've always known that.

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  15. Leia,

    I too followed the link from JesusNeedsNewPR and I am glad to see I am in good company. Thanks for posting.

    @Nancy - I feel exactly the same way.

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  16. Annonymous debate like this (among people who don't know each other personally) is one of the most off-putting things about Christianity for me. Any statement about faith tends to polarize people pretty quickly, which I think is unfortunate. But your Sunday school class sounds cool...glad you found a community. The whole Bible in 90 days? Wow. Ambitious.

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  17. @Tim P., thanks for visiting! Glad to know you connected. Jesusneedsnewpr is the best!

    @Emily, unfortunately, this wasn't anonymous debate completely because I've known Jaime for about fifteen years--she's been following my blog from the beginning and been completely supportive of me for a long time. After posting her comment, she stopped following and unfriended me on Facebook. Really sad because I wish I could get to the root of what made her THAT upset. Especially because the rest of the reactions I've gotten from people have been positive and/or challenging but loving. Thanks for reading!

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