Children’s Bible

jesus_storybook_bible

I absolutely love the Jesus Storybook Bible. I’m reading it to my kinders right now, and they love it too. The prose is gorgeous, the pictures beautiful, and the image of God spot on. I’ve found much healing even as an adult with a long history in theology.

One thing I particularly love about it, is which Bible stories Sally Lloyd-Jones selected and how she told them. Some kids’ Bible curricula want to tell the most awkward Bible stories. Teachers get no explanation on why the heck we need to know about David and Bathsheba, and little guidance on how to define circumcision or prostitution without turning the class into sex ed.

I haven’t had to deal with any of that so far, and we’re already out of the Old Testament.

Lloyd-Jones does leave out David and Bathsheba, and Tamar, and Rahab the prostitute, but interestingly, she includes a whole chapter about Leah.

Growing up, I always heard the scandal that was Jacob, Rachel, and Leah told this way: poor Jacob, he got stuck with ugly, bitter Leah and had to work another seven years for his true love!

Lloyd-Jones hardly gives a nod to “poor Jacob.” She instead focuses on Leah, “the girl no one wanted.” I love, love, love how she taps into Leah’s mindset. She presents Leah as a woman despised for her lack of beauty, a woman who keenly felt the pain of being unwanted and unloved. And she presents God as a God of compassion, who reaches out to comfort Leah and give her the great honor of being the great-great-great-etc.-grandmother of Jesus.

There are so few Bible stories that resonate with women’s concerns, particularly today’s women’s concerns, and I thought Lloyd-Jones was wise and right to retell Leah’s story in the way she did. Again, I highly recommend this children’s Bible, even for grown-ups!

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Not All Sins Are Equal

sin

One thing I love about the Orthodox? When it comes to Western views of hell, their mouths drop open and they just tell it like it is:

“You believe God predestines people to an eternity in hell? That’s hideous!”

“You believe a loving God would punish anybody, at any age, for any sin, with an eternal sentence of non-stop, excruciating physical torment? What kind of God do you worship?!”

Their frankness always startled me. They didn’t hem and haw and play Bible ping pong. They didn’t use the language of theological debate. They spoke from their gut. They spoke what we all want to believe about God.

And now that they mention it, yes. I suppose a God like that does sound awful.

Isn’t it weird what horrible things we will believe until somebody outside our circular reasoning says them out loud?

So my first response, when anybody says something about how all sins are equal, is to drop my jaw and ask, “Wait, seriously? You believe yelling a curse word when you stub your toe is the same as brutally murdering someone?”

I believed this too. Sometimes, when I was thinking a bit more clearly, I’d respond, “Well, no, obviously, there are different degrees of punishment and consequences here on earth, but still, the eternal consequences of sin are the same for every sin.”

To which I want to get all Orthodox on my past self and say, “You seriously believe a one-year-old’s temper tantrum is worthy of an eternity of physical torment, as worthy as someone who might brutally rape that one-year-old? That’s sick.”

Besides misrepresenting the nature of God as something more capricious and senseless than your average human judge, this sort of thinking often immobilizes Christians against true injustice or causes them to go after lesser evils as heinous…especially when it comes to sexuality.

It amazes me how some parts of the Christian community demonize consensual extramarital sex — or, heaven forbid, cleavage in church — but are unaware of, or even dismissive of, sexual assault, abuse, and rape within our communities and leaders.

The same thing goes for gays. Christians, I think, are at a loss on how to label consensual, monogamous gay relationships as “an abomination” — but it’s so much easier to call something so seemingly innocuous an abomination if all sin is equally abominable: “Bro, you’re going to hell for being gay. But don’t worry, I’m going to hell too. We all are. So don’t feel triggered or targeted. God’s sending everybody to hell for all kinds of things. Just love Jesus.”

It’s an attempt at camaraderie.

And I think that’s part of the reason why we got so comfortable saying “all sins are equal”: it doesn’t make us look like total jerks for preaching damnation to decent human beings. If all sins are equal, we can still say that the Muslim who prays five times a day, and the agnostic who pours her life out defending sex trafficking victims, and every other non-believer who demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit without the Spirit, are still going to hell, and still needing Jesus.

“I haven’t done anything too horrible either,” we Christians essentially say, “but I’m going to hell too! So I’m not judging! I’m just doing my Christian job.”

I find that line of argumentation weak, at best, and pathetic, at worst — I mean that as nicely as possible, because I know, when we say things like that, we really, truly mean well. But it still sounds weak and pathetic — a Christianese phrase that doesn’t jive with the reality of sin, people, and the nature of a loving God.

I want to end this post with this awkwardness, unresolved. It was important for me, to truly work through why I believed what I believed, to see the stark, embarrassing, offensive things I said to others.  It made a difference to stare at this doctrine of sin, hell, and God with my God-given conscience turned all the way up and that urge to reach for a prooftext turned all the way off.

(In case you’re scared of the slippery slope into heresy, I’ll say this: I do believe in an idea of hell, people’s proclivity to sin, and their need for a Savior, and I believe all of this, those ideas and this post’s criticisms, is consistent with each other and Scripture.)

Do You Bring Your Bible to Church?

bible

Back in my Baptist days, I brought my little leatherbound ESV to church with me every Sunday, except for the days I brought my giant leatherbound ESV Study Bible.

It was part of the Baptist liturgy, so to speak: “Take your Bibles, and turn the book of John, chapter three, verse sixteen.”

We took our Bibles and turned to the book, chapter, and verse for everything: the call to worship, the reading of the full sermon passage, and every single other verse mentioned in said sermon — unless the pastor released us with the special words, “You don’t need to turn there.”

I used to follow along, adding mine to the hundreds of rustling pages. I don’t remember when I stopped, but I found I could get a different experience of Scripture by merely listening to the passage read aloud. I didn’t get lost among footnotes, for instance. But mainly, I didn’t skip down to the closest controversial passage and study the commentary’s interpretation instead of paying attention.

The habit started in college, when Sunday was my only day to sleep in, and I found myself throwing on clothes and running out the door three minutes before church started. And of course, my dorm room was always a mess, and I never could find my little ESV Bible in time. (If you actually read your Bible daily, I would shame myself, you wouldn’t keep showing up empty-handed!)

In Orthodox churches, nobody brings their Bibles except to Bible study. We stand to listen to the daily gospel and epistle, and we sing psalms and verses throughout the liturgy, but we don’t bother with turning to the chapter or verse. (In fact, the Orthodox don’t even announce the chapter and verse — just the book.)

It didn’t occur to me how different that experience is from my Baptist upbringing, until, during a Protestant sermon, I had a guy shove an iPad Bible at my empty hands. I’d forgotten this part of Baptist liturgy.

And sure enough, I scrolled to the closest controversial passage.

Do you bring your Bible to church? Do you use it during the service? I’m curious to hear!

The Sex Myth That Just Won’t Go Away

myth

I spent most of my pre- and post-pubescent years learning about how not to have sex, so learning how to have sex went against my entire physical and psychological conditioning. I got lots of practical advice, but not all of it worked.

Like, “Don’t worry — you’ll figure it out. It’s natural.” (It wasn’t. It just wasn’t. I had to Google it. Multiple times. In tears. Because it wasn’t.)

But the biggest practical sex myth — the one I keep hearing preached to newlyweds like gospel — is that you need to pop the cherry.

You don’t.

You do not need to break your hymen in order to have sex the first time.

Which means you do not need to keep pushing, despite excruciating pain, until something breaks and bleeds.

D-O  N-O-T.

If you’re bleeding during sex, stop. Your vagina’s lining is bleeding, not your hymen. It means you’re not lubricated enough, and/or you and your hubby are playing it too rough. Add more lube. More than you think. Do more foreplay. A lot more than you think.

If you’re in pain during sex, stop forcing it. You should not feel pain. Your hymen is not resisting you. It probably disappeared a long time ago that one time you attempted to do cardio. Do not try to pop, break, or tear anything. Slow down. Add more lube. More than you think. Do more foreplay. A lot more than you think.

And be patient. It can take several days to relax enough for full, mostly painless penetration.

Oh, and if anybody tries to tell you that breaking the hymen represents the shedding of Christ’s redemptive blood? It doesn’t. Because (1) that’s literally not anywhere in the Bible, and (2) the hymen doesn’t bleed during first-time sex. Nothing should bleed.

Apologies for the diatribe, but sheesh! This myth needs to die in a hole and never come back again!

What sex myths have you heard?

Long Sermons

sermon

I have never liked sermons.

They are three points too many and fifteen-to-twenty minutes longer than necessary. Even then, it took my church years — years — to get through Jeremiah, verse by verse. My then-boyfriend, a Catholic used to getting through most of Scripture every year, cracked up about this. He’d call me on Sundays and ask, “Still going through Jeremiah?”

“Actually, we just finished,” I said, “and we’re starting a new book.”

“Oh, really? Which one?”

“Isaiah.”

But hey, I give a Baptist church props for reading the Old Testament at all!

Being in a relationship with a Catholic, I heard his odd complaints about Protestant church services, like, “Why do these churches call themselves ‘Bible’ churches when there’s more Scripture read at a Catholic church?” But all of his occasional, confused questions ultimately went back to this point: “Why are the sermons so long?”

I didn’t get his exasperation until I spent half the year in Catholic and Orthodox churches. Their homilies are blessedly, blessedly short. They’re more pastoral. They have one point. They’re about fifteen minutes tops, because everyone’s really here for the Eucharist, not a crash course in systematic theology or verse by verse exposition of Jeremiah.

I love that for two reasons: (1) you’re not sitting there crossing and uncrossing your legs and wiggling and wishing with all your might that you were that two-year-old passed out in his mom’s arms. (2) Less sermon time means more participation. Even though Orthodox liturgy takes longer than the average Protestant service, we’re singing almost the entire time. We’re crossing, bowing, and prostrating. All five of our senses are engaged in worship.

Now that I’m used to short homilies, I’ve lost all patience for long sermons, especially those that go over their allotted time by twenty minutes because the pastor keeps telling stories. I get so passionately grumpy about this issue.

I attended a Christian educators’ conference with three fifty-minute sermons in two days. The irony was we would get out of hour-long sessions telling us the importance of utilizing all three learning styles (kinesthetic, auditory, and visual), differentiating for different students, and moving quickly to maintain student interest….and then we would sit for the same amount of time listening to speakers who did none of those things.

I’m a kinesthetic learner, and I was having none of it.

It was ages since I heard a long Protestant sermon, with that intro of getting everybody to shout “GOOD MORNING!” at the top of our lungs as if we’re eight-year-olds, and then that good ol’ liturgical phrase, “Now take your Bibles and turn to the book of Luke. The book of Luke.” The pause for dramatic effect. Then the well-scripted, articulate launch into the first tangential story.

Fifty minutes later I woke up to the crowd laughing at the pastor, who was still milking that same funny story, the same line, for five minutes, over and over again, as if he were a stand-up comedian. By that time, we’d all forgotten what his second point was.

And we still had the third point to go.

How do you feel about sermon lengths?

More on Seeing People

seeing2

As a follow-up to Wednesday’s post, I’m adding another observation.

There are two kinds of people who respond to an acquaintance or loved one with a different view.

One kind changes their mind about the different view: “I never considered that angle before. I see now why someone would think that, even if I still disagree.” The other kind changes their mind about the person: “I’m shocked! If you were a decent person, if you were a real Christian, you wouldn’t think like that. ”

In other words, some people, upon encountering someone with a different view, will allow that person to shatter their preconceived notions and stereotypes. But some people will remain stubbornly committed to their preconceived notions, and transfer their negative stereotypes onto even someone they dearly love.

Unfortunately, this is just an observation. I don’t know how to encourage the latter person to see me. I think, in these cases, we’re called to keep living above reproach and hoping they eventually come around to seeing us as we are.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

Honor everyone.

St. Peter

The Importance of Seeing People

seeing

There’s a striking difference between two groups of my acquaintance: the ones who encountered different people through college, travel, or a move, and the ones who stayed put in the same circle of white, middle class, conservative Christians.

The former are (with notorious exceptions) sensitive to matters of justice, even if they don’t, say, call themselves feminists or agree with the LGBTQ+ and BLM movements. They are aware of their privilege. They are aware of the underprivileged. For the most part, they’re still politically, morally, and religiously conservative or moderate.

They sound like humans with nuanced thinking, not sound bytes of conservative group think.

The latter (with notable exceptions) are not sensitive to matters of justice. They proudly label themselves anti-feminist. They freak out about transgender people using bathrooms of their choice, and gay persons in monogamous, consensual relationships, while eagerly forgiving a thrice-married owner of strip clubs who openly brags about sexually assaulting women and waltzing into women’s dressing rooms unannounced. They don’t believe in racism and sexism. They can’t find room in their ideology to support both police officers and victims of police violence. They pronounce judgment on those with differing political or religious views, especially those of Catholics, Democrats, and the catch-all label of “liberals.”

They sound like sound bytes of conservative group think. (Liberal group think is a thing, too, equally annoying and flat, but I’m only “friends” with one or two actual flaming liberals.)

My Facebook feed is an interesting place because of this divide. I’ll scroll past a video of fluffy puppies to a passionate plea against sexual abuse to a sexist joke against women officers to a long comment thread on why “black lives matter” just means “black lives matter too” to a meme implying all blacks have the same opportunities whites do, so grow up, black people, and stop deceiving us about racism. When I reach the post taking women to task for complaining about men’s locker room talk (by a woman), I quit Facebook and drown my sorrow in Twitter.

I don’t think this divide comes from the well-traveled, more-experienced college graduates being smarter or better than those who didn’t go to college and worked a local job in all-white conservative towns. And I don’t think the act itself of going or not going to college makes the difference. I know college graduates just as narrowminded as an uneducated country bumpkin, and I know thoughtful, intelligent small-town high school graduates.

The difference comes from seeing people. And leaving an insular group for a more diverse one forces you to look at lots and lots of different people.

Who do you see in a white, straight, evangelical, conservative circle? White, straight, evangelical, conservative people. You don’t have to watch your jokes lest you offend the resident feminist/atheist/gay friend. You can rant rant rant without fear of anyone saying, “Hey, wait. I actually believe that, and you’re mischaracterizing my position.” You can post memes denying the reality of racism, sexism, and homophobia and get thirty likes within the hour.

You aren’t forced to think again, dialogue, and cross bridges. It doesn’t occur to you that reasonable people would think otherwise than you and your posse, because you’ve never met them. You only know gays, evolutionists, and Catholics from out-of-control online debates, a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, and CARM.org.

But when you step outside of that closed circle — maybe to attend college, or move, or something similar — you find reasonable, articulate, lovable people behind the strawman arguments. You are forced to see them, as people, not as agendas or ideologies.

Even if the experience isn’t as diverse as attending UCLA, or even if you stay put in your town, just seeing one real human as a real human can shatter your group think — especially if you see them all day, every day for four years straight.

My sophomore year, I am on record saying, in front of a half-Catholic class, that stigmata could not be a sign from God because Catholics are not Christians.

Two more years of reading the words of Catholics themselves, befriending Catholics over music, books, and the pursuit of truth, and seeing the incredible life of faith my Catholic professors and friends lived, I married a Catholic in front of a half-Catholic wedding party, and am willing to take down any ignoramus who thinks Catholicism is a non-Christian cult.

And this shattering works both ways. Having lived most of my life in an insular, white, straight, conservative Christian community, I’ve been forced to see that community as people too — not as a nebulous dark force of patriarchy and oppression. Of course, I see their faults more readily (because I suffered from and committed those same faults), but I also see their intentions, their desires, and their way of thinking.

I know, for instance, that most of them have never experienced life outside the white, straight, conservative Christian community. And I believe that given exposure to articulate, thoughtful, calm people of different persuasions, many would see their neighbor, and change.

That seeing and experiencing is what changes hearts — not a straight shot of apologetics.

p.s. What to do when you find yourself in the awkward position of “resident egalitarian”

What a Trump Presidency Will Mean to Victims

victim

Even in my sheltered upbringing, I encountered manipulative, verbally abusive men.

There was that thirty-something-year-old guy who sent an email to nineteen-year-old me, describing his self-claimed position of a prophet sent to spy on denominationally-affiliated churches  — and, oh, p.s., I’m looking for a godly wife. Here is my sales pitch. Let me know if you’re interested in courting me.

When I replied, “I’ve got a boyfriend, and look, you’re violating every single thing ever written in Scripture about church authority,” he got offended — not because I took him to task on his prophetic calling, but because I dared to assume he wanted to court me! He never asked me to court him! And seriously, I wouldn’t email him back ever again? That’s just rude, ungracious, and extreme. Please, please email me back.

I felt horrible ignoring him, as my dad strongly, strongly encouraged me to do. I felt like the woman he accused me of being — oversensitive, ungracious, rude. I felt like the abuser.

And frankly, I was just flat-out confused. He did ask me to court him. It’s there, in the email, in plain English. (But I must have read into it. I must have. How can he deny it? Why would he deny it? It doesn’t make any sense. I must have completely misunderstood him. Why else do I feel so guilty if I’m as innocent as my parents and friends and conscience tell me?)

That was my first experience with a manipulator, who later went on to publicly accuse my family and church leaders of the most absurd and petty things.

I now have words for these things: Gaslighting. Manipulation. Narcissism.

I’ve since then experienced more gaslighting, manipulation, and verbal abuse from other men, along with that subsequent feeling of equal parts rage and confused guilt. I know how it feels to panic, to physically and mentally shut down, at the very thought of coming into contact with those men. I know the temptation of viewing every man, even the man I love, as a potential abuser, because I’m scared of being chewed up and spat out again with no defense.

And as far as abuse and manipulation goes, I haven’t even experienced the worst of things. That “one out of four girls are sexually abused” stat — it’s real and informally verifiable even in my Christian homeschool circles.

Donald Trump? He fits the bill of an abusive manipulator. He makes outrageous claims (like bragging about sexually assaulting women) and then makes outrageous denials (“Nobody respects women more than me”). He talks openly of his privilege (like strolling through a crowd of naked pageant competitors unannounced). He rarely apologizes, and when he does, he shifts blame on those who were offended and diverts to other, “more important” topics. He lashes out at everyone who corrects him. He degrades disabled reporters, Muslims, Mexicans, war heroes, and women, especially those who challenge him. He namecalls, throws tantrums, and finds fault with everybody except himself. He makes off-color exploitative comments about bedding troubled women and minors. He threatens his opponent with jail and looms behind her during debates (when he’s not interrupting and contradicting her every other word).

And that’s not even mentioning the credible allegations of rape and sexual assault.

The reason many women are upset that Donald Trump is running on the “pro-family” ticket?

He reminds us of our abusers and manipulators — especially the ones who got away with their abuse because other women, other authorities, and other Christians defended them.

He rips open old wounds where documented abuse and speaking out made no difference in preventing the abuser from abusing again or seeking justice for the victim.

The controversy surrounding his latest comments reminds us of the times we got angry at abuse and were silenced and mocked by the people of God.

The controversy reminds us that some of the same people tweeting and posting against Trump were silent about, even antagonistic toward, our own stories of abuse and manipulation.

He and his many controversies are public reminders that people will readily believe and support the abuser over the abused, that there’s a whole bunch of goodhearted, churchgoing, Jesus-loving people out there ready to disbelieve and disparage you when you come out with your story.

That’s what a Trump presidency will mean — that’s what his candidacy already means — to the many, many victims of verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse both inside and out of the church.

No One Wants to Be “That Feminist”

embarrassed

I went to a Christian educators’ convention this past week. This particular convention by no means colored outside the lines of fundamentalism. I expected the hot wife reference, the session against progressive Christianity, and the exclusively white male platform aged 45-70.

But I didn’t expect the pastor to find his son’s sexist attitudes toward women drivers funny enough to go on and on about before hundreds of Christians. And I certainly didn’t anticipate the passing joke about police brutality. Police brutality. As a joke. From a Christian pastor.

With all the conference’s rules and stipulations (like playing only piano music or requiring grown women to wear skirts), it went out of the way to not offend any of the Christian present. And of course, it’s good to keep the peace. I grumbled about the skirts-only rule (and, not going to lie, considered wearing my shortest skirt just to make a point), but you know, whatever. It’s no big deal.

So with all this crossing of Ts, it came across like the pastor deemed this group of Christians, too sensitive to handle women’s pants or a guitar, an appropriate audience for his tasteless comments about women and violence. It came across like it’s a more crucial Christians issue for women to wear maxi skirts than to stand against injustice — like the pastor didn’t feel like he’d get backlash for saying what he said, like he thought he’d get laugh lines, like he thought yeah, of course, here’s a safe Christian place where people will actually find these things funny.

I’m not surprised for trivial scruples to outweigh issues of justice once again, but it still shocks me every time.

I ranted about it, of course. I felt strong emotions about it. When I came to that last box on the exit survey, the one where the unsuspecting event planners ask for comments, I wrote out some suggestions and complaints:

Also, about the keynote speakers. I would appreciate hearing from speakers with an actual education background. I’d love to see women up on the platform too as speakers or as worship leaders. Women make up a huge part of Christian education, so I’d love to hear a woman’s perspective!

Lastly, with all respect, I thought the pastor’s passing joke about police brutality tasteless. I’m shocked a Christian pastor made such a comment while our Christian siblings in the black community are suffering.

Then I sat there, staring at the words. I re-read them three times.

Am I that feminist? The one who makes a huge stink about trivial things? The wet blanket to every joke? The one who finds oppression and injustice in every single thing alive?

Am I being disrespectful? Am I being annoying? Am I just sounding angry and whiny like the worst of female stereotypes?

Should I try to complain about the sexist joke too, or is that pulling at straws?

Will anybody read this?

Will they Google my name and find out I’m an egalitarian and revoke my teaching license and force me out of a job?

Is this really that big of a deal?

I don’t want to sound annoying.

I should add something positive at the end.

So I did. I said something about “all in all, I thought the conference was professionally put together, and I learned lots of great things.”

And I stared at it some more.

Am I being too conciliatory? Too nice? Does this matter? Should I just exit out of this survey and go back to listening to another forty-five minute sermon?

But I hit enter.

The same thing happened again on Facebook. Someone posted something sexist, and I sat there agonizing. Speak up? Stay silent? Private message? Public comment? Sarcasm? Sincerity? Add a caveat about how you still like them? Let them have it?

I worry about how to present these causes of justice. Many Christians are callous to real oppression and injustice. When they see sexism or racism, they don’t recognize it. They might even defend it. They start ranting about liberals and feminists and their trigger warnings.

I don’t want to be “that feminist,” not just because I hate being written off, but because I don’t want my causes, the causes that move God’s heart, to be written off as overreactions. I don’t want racism and sexism and religious callousness to be written off as feminism’s imaginary friends.

I don’t want my rhetoric to contribute to conservatives digging in their heels and plugging their ears and pointing their fingers, when we need more hands, feet, and listening ears fighting against the exploitation and degradation of others.

But all the same, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating that I feel like I can’t call attention to perceived injustice and know all Christians will jump to careful consideration and repentance. It’s frustrating that I feel like Christians are more concerned with music and dress than justice. It’s frustrating that I feel fear and embarrassment over calling attention to tasteless comments.

I don’t think this is a feminist overreaction. I think this is a real problem in our church today.

Donald Trump’s “Lewd” Comments

Trump’s recently unearthed comments are not just “lewd” and “inappropriate.” They describe criminal sexual assault.

This election is insane. The top options are between two different sorts of bad character and potentially criminal behavior. I refuse to judge or tell people how to vote (though, honestly, if you actively support either top candidate, I’ve got some thoughts on that). We’re truly choosing between two evils.

Regardless of how anyone plans to vote this election, let’s not brush aside this fact: Trump has bragged about sexual assault.

Even if he has not committed actual sexual assault, even if the women enthusiastically “let” him make “heavy,” unwanted, and explicit advances, even if women are charmed by his sexiness and not intimidated by his wealth and power, the way he phrased his comments makes it sound like he’s describing and condoning sexual assault. 

If you vote for Trump, you’re voting for a man who thinks it’s okay to leverage his stardom to “f—,” grope, and kiss women without waiting for their consent.

How that factors into Trump’s evilness and presidential unfitness compared to Clinton’s is a complicated decision for some. I respect that. I’m not voting for him. My vote is expressly and explicitly against Trump.

But if you do vote for him, don’t spin his comments as anything less than making light of sexual assault.