the gifts of the anti-magi

This post has been a long time coming.  This time of the year is always difficult for me, as I feel torn between holiday cheer and resentful drear, obligation and celebration, hope and despair.

I am so very sick of the war on Christmas.

“Oh, good,” some of my Christian friends may be saying at this point, “me too!  Why can’t people just put Christ back into Christmas?”

No, dear friends and readers, that’s not what I mean.  I’m sick of the phrase “put the Christ back in Christmas” and all of the entitlement it entails.  I wish it would all just stop.  Now, I understand that may not sound terribly Christian of me, but hold on.  You may say that your anger and demands are for the sake of Christ, and I wouldn’t want to disparage your motives.  I’m not in your head and I don’t know what you’re thinking.  Yet there’s a painful sticking point in that concession, and it’s one that bears hearing out.  Saying “put the Christ back in Christmas” pretends, even for the space of that second, that Christ is something that can be moved and removed by man.  It implies that Christ’s presence in the holidays for us, as individuals, is somehow dictated by the actions of society.  I don’t like to believe that my experience of Christ this time of year is somehow beholden to the displays in Macy’s windows.  After all, the force of love I am enthralled by is greater than any one man, any one store, any one society.  How weak would I have to be if my sacred observances were somehow shattered by a greeting card?

“Now, it’s bigger than that”, someone inevitably says.  “The fact that people are no longer observing Christmas as a Christian holiday shows how secular society has become, and this is supposed to be a Christian society.”

Hold. On.  Please.

For one thing, the Christmas smashed all over billboards is hardly Christian.  The Christmas touted in the commercials telling our adorable little tots that this monster truck or that Barbie doll will somehow complete them are anything BUT Christian.  The promise of the holiday that society has started to hold on to is almost in direct contradiction to the Gospel.  The “spirit of Christmas”, as it is sold, is that the holiday itself has some ability to heal.  We’re told, in less than guarded symbolism, that if we buy the right things, eat the right food, invite the right guests, and have the right attitude that we will somehow achieve a transcendent state.  The holiday has become a spiritual act of reaching for sacred healing, but that sacred healing is not tied to God, Christ, or the ideals of Christianity.  It is a secular sacredness, and as such treating the holiday as holy is tantamount to idol worship.

After all, it is jolly ol’ Santa Claus receiving the sacramental cookies and milk, not God.

Christmas, the holy mass of Christ, was once not even Christmas at all.  You’ve got the Germanic Yule and the Roman Saturnalia blended in with Christianity, as the Roman empire expanded and brought in new territories and started to expand the practice of tolerance towards other religions.  In order to lower the amount of infighting between sects and oppression as people traveled from district to district, the Roman calendar morphed to overlap the holidays so that people’s observances were not as conspicuous.  It is ironic, then, that a holiday once tweaked to help avoid oppression and foster inclusiveness has become such a battleground.

Honestly, I don’t think Christmas is the real problem.  I think that Christianity has become the real problem.  In the United States, Christians have a huge entitlement complex that has become an idol above God.  We say that this is a Christian society and anyone that acts against that is out of line, ignoring the fact that we are all equal citizens under the law and Christians are not owed privilege or protection to any greater degree than their neighbors.  We act affronted when anything we deem as untoward is allowed to continue, no matter how innocuous it is.  We bicker and argue and fight constantly, sending our representatives to the evening news and gleefully hacking to bits anyone who dares to disagree with them.

Here, in this season of the Magi, when we celebrate the sacred gifts laid at the feet of Christ, I feel that Christians in America have started praising three other gifts, the gifts of the anti-Magi, laid at the feet of our own ego.  We have swallowed these gifts whole and they threaten to destroy us.  They are entitlement, disdain, and division.  Gifts like that are born of evil and exercised at great personal cost.  But open your eyes, brothers and sisters, and see how we worship them!  Hear the entitlement in the voice of the person telling the Jewish shop owner to put the “Christ” back in “Christmas” when they hand up a Happy Holidays banner.  Hear the disdain in the voice of the mother who, when hearing that a classmate of her child’s wouldn’t come to the Winter Program because they don’t celebrate holidays, says, “Well, isn’t that just what’s wrong with this country?” Look at the division when someone goes on Facebook to beg for tolerance and they are told that they are why Christianity is failing in this country.

I have so many friends who say they can’t stand to go to church, that every time they hear someone is a Christian they instantly feel uncomfortable around them, that they believe in Christ but not the church.

I feel like my soul is just shredded, absolutely shredded, by the holiday season.

la pieta

Christianity is not owed anything by society.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Because you are Christian, everyone ought to respect you, respect everything you say, and never cause negative consequences for any of your actions.”  In fact, it says quite the opposite.  It tells us not to be surprised when we’re hated and persecuted.  So why are we so surprised?  Because we have idolized our own society.  We idolize the constitution, idolize free speech, idolize the symbolism of our holidays.  We worship those things as sacred and then react like vipers when they are threatened.  Because we blindly believe they should be perfect, we accept nothing less: even when, or perhaps especially when, the evidence all around us says otherwise.

We bear a tragic consequence for that behavior, but society bears one even worse as people turn from love to disdain and hatred.

So in this time of year, as we dream of the Magi traveling by the light of a sacred star, carrying gifts of adoration and penance to a pure and holy infant king, let’s think about the gifts that we ourselves need to offer.  Not the perfect consumerist presents wrapped in expensive wrapping paper and laid down at the altar of a tree whose symbolism we’ve forgotten, but the gifts we offer each other.

Let’s stop being the anti-Magi.

Photo from Daniela Munoz-Santos

Book Review: Zealot, by Reza Aslan

(I received a promotional copy from Netgalley)
link to the book on Amazon

Have you ever really wondered what Jesus was like?

Growing up, I can remember seeing one too many pictures of Jesus as a blondish haired Caucasian man snuggling with a lamb, and thinking, “you’ve got to be kidding me.”  I read through the gospels very slowly, really trying to understand Jesus’s tone.  Not his words, so much, as his tone.  What did he sound like?  What did he look like?  What did he act like?  Who was he, not in the sense of was he the son of God or not, but who was he as a person?  I can remember the first time I told my dad, rather proudly, that a lot of the time I thought Jesus was being ironic.

“What?” Dad replies.

“I think he was teasing the disciples.  Being ironic.”  I felt proud of myself.

Dad laughed and said, “so you think the Messiah had time to joke around?”

Seriously.  How could you walk around for three years being the freaking Messiah and NOT take time to joke around?

All of that to say, I appreciate Reza Aslan’s deliberative attempt to paint a picture of Jesus not just as the Messiah, not just as a person in a historical context (but brace yourself for five exhaustive chapters of that) but as a man, who had a family and friends and kids that he ran around snot-nosed on the street with, and had a tone of voice and a sense of self that went beyond “I’M GOD, YO.”

This book is as intimate a portrayal of a somewhat secretive man that died thousands of years ago as could be done, I would imagine.  The author pored over texts and other historical documents.  He puts Jesus in a setting that is well-fleshed out, and answers a lot of really nagging questions about the use of language and theater that Jesus must have had reasons for.  Why did Jesus call himself the Son of Man?  What in the world was up with riding the donkey, waving the palm fronds, or turning over the tables of the money lenders?  What would life have been like for a carpenter living in Galilee?  Where would Jesus have worked?  Whose circles would he have run in?

While some aspects of Aslan’s work will probably raise eyebrows (for instance, how in the picture was Joseph as Jesus’ father?  Was the virgin birth a literal story or a fictitious cover for the fact that Jesus was really just Mary’s son?) there is a lot of real gold to be found in the midst of the rubble of broken assumptions.  My favorite theme was how much the tensions between the Priesthood, the Romans, and the Messiah really all boiled down to money.  Did Jesus threaten the temple’s ability to fleece the illiterate farm workers?  Was that why they hated him so much?

I thoroughly enjoyed this read.  It’s in depth enough to be really illuminating but short enough to not eat months of your life (you are on notice, NT Wright).  While Aslan does challenge a lot of assumptions his tone never becomes patronizing or flip.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves curious about the nature of Christ as a person.

I give this book 5 Jesus-Cuddling-Lamb bookmarks.

Highly recommended.

It starts with the pain.

Like many of my friends, I can’t shake off Boston.  Though I’ve no real tie to the city, other than the shared human desire to see the moxie of the masses triumph over adversity, I still feel this sort of gut-clawing grief every time I think about the events that have transpired over the past week.

Like so many stories, it starts with pain.  It looks like here we yet again have a tale of a man turning to terrorism as a desperate last straw after his pain became unbearable.  He turned to religion as a salve for his wounds but the twisted darkness inside his soul only turned the scriptures into further torment, as he sought extremism as an answer to the emptiness he felt. 

What can we take from this?  Perhaps nothing.  All I can say is that perhaps there is another young soul out there aching right now, feeling his or her needs unmet by the surface nature of many people’s religious lives.  Perhaps there is another dark and twisted soul that needs unknotting, and for whatever reason is still balking under the hands of well-meaning mentors who teach at a distance.  Perhaps there is another soul lost to insomnia and loneliness, crying out by acting out instead of leaning in.

And what does our hatred do?

What are we doing?

I wish I could answer my own questions.

Easter: the shame and the glory

I wish there was a rock to hide under, to get away from the various forwards of bloodied up Jesus, bloody palms, Jesus in a ray of sunshine with the crown of thorns, and all of the other iconography replete with all caps captions like “THIS WAS FOR YOU”, as if a person can be shamed into accepting Christ’s sacrifice by being forced to realize the extent of it.  Perhaps it’s a sign of my own weakness of faith, but I have a hard time celebrating Easter with all of the gore and mania of the preceding week being shoved in my face, so it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to church on an Easter Sunday.

Besides which, the constant “this was for YOU this was for YOU this was for YOU” is very upsetting to me.  I find it indicative of a very me-centric kind of theology, in which every passage in the Bible is interpreted in terms of self.  Jesus died for MY sins, he offered grace for MY shortcomings, he preached forgiveness so you need to forgive ME, he preached love so you need to love ME, he preached generosity so be generous with ME, he preached the floodgates opening for blessings to be poured out so he’d better bless ME, and on and on and on.

As if the Gospel revolves not around the person of God, but the person of myself.

I find myself, perhaps pettily, wanting to change the caption of every single Easter meme I see to “he did this for the homeless junkie on the corner who gave up her kids rather than get clean”, and then forward it along.

I mean, it’s not about us.  It’s not JUST about us, it’s about the whole of creation and the whole of the law.  It’s about fulfillment of a blood contract that God wrote not just so that you can be free from your obligation to fulfill it yourself, but so that the whole of creation is free from fulfilling it.  So that the rocks and the trees can be renewed, so that you can be renewed, but so that the homeless junkie on  the street corner can be renewed to.  So that all of us, yes you and yes me and yes the gays and the meth heads and the prostitutes and the Wall Street bankers and shortsellers and the scum of the earth and the scourge of society and even the insurance adjusters can feel a twinge of repentance, respond to God’s spirit, and approach the throne room freely.

Yeah, I guess I should be glad that it’s about me, but I don’t want to live as if I’m the only one it’s about.

It’s about the whole planet, being freed from burden of the law so that it, us, everyone, everything can be molded into God’s design.  It’s about a time of renewal and blessing so intense and yet so simple it should blow your mind.

And it’s not about shame.  It’s not about changing, or being faithful, because the sight of Christ’s blood makes you embarrassed of your sin.  It’s about choosing holiness because you rejoice in the fact you now have the ability to.  It’s about realizing that you have a million chances to pursue God throughout the day, not a limited amount based off of how many sacrifices you can purchase or how often you can make it to the temple.  It’s about the freedom to honor God, not the burden to.

I realize I’m just blathering, but the early light of Easter morning brings it out in me.  I was walking the dogs with the frost still on the ground and my crazy stubborn baby in my arms, and as my feet crunched the ground and I watched the dogs romping as if there was no tomorrow, and my daughter clinging to my neck as if leaving me was death, all I could think was that I’d already found the message of Easter.

The consciousness that this moment matters, that I am free to share this moment with God.

And the realization that Christ’s sacrifice was so that God could be in every moment.  Yes, even the ones where the junkie on the corner looks up at the same early morning sun, and loves God for a moment or curses him.

And we should share these moments, not because we’re hoping that hitting the “send” button on the meme enough will somehow make up for our share in Christ’s pain, but because the best way to honor his blood is by doing exactly what his sacrifice gives us the freedom to do:  feeling God’s love for each other without impediment.

Culture and Faith.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the affect that culture has on faith.  It seems impossible to divide the two with any cleanness.  Why?  We are human.  While we may conceptually believe that there is one fundamental, immutable, unchangeable truth and that God is the embodiment of that absolute, how can we ever fully understand it?  We do not have divine minds.  We have human minds, and inevitably any taste of the absoluteness of God’s nature we have, we interpret through fallible brains.  We judge and mold our faith based off of what we feel is right, a feeling that is the culmination of what we’ve experienced.  Our experiences, those things that mold our understanding, are basely human and only remotely touched by holiness.

If you doubt for a moment that is true, just consider the Bible.  In Biblical times if a woman was raped but didn’t scream, she should be stoned.  It’s what the Bible demands.  Do you feel like that is right?  If a man punched a pregnant woman in the stomach and she miscarried as a result, she should be paid a pittance.  Yet today people will cry out that fetuses are human life as valuable as the born- if God feels that abortion is murder, should abortion by violence really be something that one can pay off with shekels?  Why would God say that it is?

It goes beyond that.  There’s also the fact that so many of the fathers of the faith, so to speak, had multiple wives and concubines.  Jacob’s marriage to both Leah and Rachel is often preached as a sermon on the value of faith and persistence, with the fact that he favored Rachel’s bed to the detriment of Leah and her just inheritance is glossed over.  There’s David, the man after God’s heart, who had how many wives and concubines?  Of course he took Bathsheba wrongly but the Bible is clear that his sin wasn’t marrying one woman too many- it was coveting what rightly belongs to someone else and murdering to get it.  Solomon, the wisest of all kings, had so many wives and concubines he couldn’t have slept with each more than two times in a year.  Yet how do we interpret all of that in light of this current day’s conviction that God intended for marriage to be between one man and one woman?

The truth is, we simply ignore the history that is there and rewrite it.  The idea that marriage should only be between one man and one woman is one that evolved as a response to cultural pressures.  If you married your daughter off to a wealthy man to ensure your family’s inheritance, you wouldn’t want that being fudged up by his later picking a superior mate and bequeathing that inheritance to her spawn instead of yours.  Polygamy died out not because God gave a new word, but because people rationally decided it isn’t a sustainable social system.  Nowhere in the Bible does God say, “one man, one woman.”    He says for this reason a man leaves the home of his parents and becomes one flesh with his wife, but that isn’t a statement of doctrine, it’s a euphemism for sex.  Clearly the people that wrote that part of the Bible didn’t interpret it as “one man, one woman” or they wouldn’t have praised Solomon for marrying more women than he could bed.  Besides the fact that if bucking that law leads to the deterioration of society and God revoking his blessing, why would God have so blessed Jacob?  Solomon?  The myriad of men who kept harems of wives and lovers?  It simply does not stand up under sustained thought, and that isn’t the only place where people start to mold faith to culture.  It’s just one that really stands out in my mind.

I think about these things a lot, because when I start to question why God gave the directives he did I start to question how I dress, feed, and raise my family.  I start to feel like prepackaged foods aren’t “clean” or worthy of my consumption, I start to feel like if God laid out the Levitical code today he’d condemn clothes made out of cheap materials in sweat shops.  I start to wonder about a lot of other things, too.

My point is that we can’t just blurt out what we “sense” is true about our faith without applying history, knowledge of culture, and the caveats of our own fallibility.  After all, we don’t know what God said, we know what people interpreted Him as having said.  Yes, we have the Bible.  That doesn’t mean that we understand it.

We interpret it.

And we, as humans, often only interpret what we want to hear.

SciFi Christianity

Or:  Why do humans imagine impossible things?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my love affair with the fantasy genre and how it’s going south, and I got some interesting responses from friends.  (Not in the comments on the post- other places, like in real life.)  I promised at the time that I’d try to write more about the role I think that fantasy and SciFi can play in the faith, and why I don’t think it benefits people to be too skittish about imaginary worlds.

It’s a difficult thing to write about, because like most of the topics I seem to dip my toes into people have very gut reactions, based off of tradition and personal experience, and I really hate to risk offending someone by poking them where they are already sensitive.  Yet, I find that my ongoing relationship with those genres compels me to write, especially since I’m considering reintroducing Science Fiction Saturday.   You see, what some readers of this blog might not realize is that long before I wrote here, I tried to break into the fiction genre writing SciFi and Fantasy.  It isn’t just my first love as a reader, it’s my first love as a writer.

But I’m a Christian, right?  What am I doing playing around with such darkness?

I’ve heard all of the arguments against Christians being involved in anything that relates to witchcraft or “unnatural worlds”.  It might open doors, says one argument.  We’re only supposed to dwell on what is holy and beneficial, says another.  It’s wasting time, says a third.  I respect each of those arguments and where they come from, but I find that I don’t completely buy into them.  Is it true for some things in the fantasy genre?  Yes, absolutely.  It’s also true for some things that aren’t in the fantasy genre.  The book that gave me the worst nightmares of any book I’ve ever read was Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  It wasn’t a fantasy novel but boy did it “open doors”, that man touched on an evil that definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.  (Chalky!  ten internets to anyone that gets that reference.)  What makes a book a  conveyer of darkness isn’t what genre it is in, it’s the spirit and intent of the author.  Books written with the intent of enlightening and teaching valuable morals will do just that, books meant to disturb and haunt and corrupt will do just that.  The only way to know which is which is to practice good discernment and do your research about the authors.  The genre and cover art don’t tell the whole tale.

The book that made me love fantasy was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, a Christian author.

“At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”  -CS Lewis

CS Lewis used fantasy, myth and magic, not to “open doors” to darkness but to open them to light.  He created a world which made a metaphor for faith, and through that world he taught all of the values of Christianity in a way that a reader either unfamiliar with the faith or biased against it could understand and believe in the value of it.  Aslan was God and Christ, the values he taught echoed Christianity in the most beautiful of ways.  There are still points today where in frustration I will stop using the Bible to try to explain my beliefs and instead turn to a very powerful passage in The Last Battle.  Those books enriched my young learning experience immeasurably.

After the Chronicles of Narnia I turned to the geek’s ever present hero, Frodo of the Lord of the Rings, and from there on out I read as much as was on the shelves of the SciFi/Fantasy section of my library as I could manage to carry home.  I learned a lot of lessons there.  I learned that there is honor in loyalty regardless of the price.  I learned that true friendship sometimes means telling someone something that they don’t want to hear, or walking away from a friend that is destroying themselves.  I learned that people are more than the stereotypes that you hear about them, and regardless of what a situation may look like to the naked eye there is inevitably more under the surface.  I learned that the hero can be flawed and broken and make horrible mistakes and sometimes the true hero is the person you least expect to hear the call.  I learned that we are all, each of us, what we make of ourselves and there’s no prophecy or fate stronger than the choice any one person makes in the moment.

I learned something else, too.  Not from the fantasy section, but from the Bible.  I learned that there are some lessons you never hear when someone tells you outright: some things have to be covered up in a story and mulled over for their true meaning to really sink in.  The Bible is full of lessons that come in the form of stories.  Jesus himself often turned to stories so His message could be easily repeated, puzzled over, and eventually understood.  I believe our propensity for imagination is one that God gave us on purpose, one that is intensely Godly.  Think, for a moment, of how Creative our Creator really is.  Shouldn’t that creativity be reflected in our own lives?

Fantasy and SciFi can tell tales that aren’t so easily told using the auspices of our present world.  I could probably write a really compelling story about relationships between Islam and Judaism.  But I can guarantee that such a story would press a lot of hot red buttons and offend a lot of people.  I don’t think I could ever write that story well enough to have the impact I hope that it would.  And I also can guarantee that a lot of people I would want to reach wouldn’t want to read such a heavy, depressing tale.  But I bet they’d watch an episode of Star Trek TNG where the Klingons and Ferengi have to learn to work together.  They’d laugh, and have an enjoyable time, and somewhere beneath all the hoopla the message would still be the same: we are more than our differences.

And that’s why as a Christian I continue to enjoy these genres that so many people find useless.  I understand the power of fantasy to take people to a place where they are receptive to ideas the real world builds walls around.  Does that make enjoying the genre perhaps a little risky, because of those doors we don’t want opened?  Sure, but that risk is all around us every day, on the TV and in the newspaper.  It’s not the genre that creates the risk, it’s the world full of evil people doing evil.  A strong, discerning mind doesn’t have anything to fear.  If I’d listened to my gut and never read Thomas Harris, I could’ve spared myself all those nightmares.

And I’m going to keep writing fiction, and start posting it on this blog again, because I believe in the power of fiction to give us relief from the burdens we carry in this world, and to teach us lessons we would otherwise tune out.

For my friends that find fantasy distasteful, please feel welcome to not click on my Saturday Sci-Fi posts.

For those that enjoy it, please do so.

Some thoughts on Chick-Fil-A and it’s role in Christian Dialogue

So this whole Chick-Fil-A family values gay kerfuffle is bringing out some really interesting qualities in Christianity. I’ve been party to a lot of debates, and sitting on the sidelines watching many more. I’ve neglected writing a blog post about it because I wanted to watch the dust settle and decide what really needs addressing.

1) “This isn’t about politics, it’s about Christian Values!”

Actually, it’s about both. Chick-Fil-A has directed money towards a number of religiously based Charities. Some, like Focus on the Family, can be seen as more or less neutral as they do a lot of work in several arenas. Others, like Exodus International, clearly demonstrate a sort of bigotry against homosexuality. The language they use to describe homosexuality shows that they view it as a kind of illness humanity is better off without, there can be no question why gay people would be upset to find their money going to a non-profit whose stated goal is to counter-act the bad affects of gayness on society. If this is added to the fact that Chick-Fil-A also funnels money into several “Family Councils” who work to keep gay people from being able to adopt or get married, and these “Family Councils” operate not in the religious but political arenas, there can be no rational argument that this isn’t at least partly about politics. This is about far more than one man defending his Biblical views, this is about several million dollars of money that Chick-Fil-A makes selling sandwiches going to actively prevent the acceptance of gay people in our society. It is personal, and political, as well as religious.

2) “If you believe in a Christian’s right to free speech you need to support Chick-Fil-A”/”If you like your gay friends you need to stop eating there”.

For the first sentence, don’t be ridiculous. It isn’t about free speech, it’s about money. If all that had ever happened was Chick-Fil-A’s CEO saying “I don’t like gay people” I would roll my eyes and say that no one should be surprised that there are Christians who don’t like gays. I mean, Westboro Baptist has taught us that one already. But this isn’t about a Christian’s right to free speech, it’s about where a Christian puts their money and their corporation’s money. At the end of the day, he absolutely has the right. But all Christians have the right to decide where they want the money God entrusted to them to be spent. We aren’t obligated to part with God’s monetary gift to us anywhere, except in the churches we choose to be in communion. I don’t *have* to support Chick-Fil-A. And as for the opposing statement, that somehow I owe it to my gay friends *not* to eat there- come on, people. There are far more effective ways to enact political change than where we choose to buy deep fried animal parts shoved in a bun. Whether or not to eat Chick-Fil-A is a personal choice, and I support my friends whether or not they eat there.

3) “All of the people making a big deal out of this are such bigots against Christians.”

I must admit, one of the reasons this post is so behind-the-times is the fact that I can’t write about this without starting to feel all veiny-green-in-the-face-pulse-pounding-hulk-roaring angry.

Christians, who has the burden here? The world to which we’ve been sent to minister like a doctor treating the ill, or US? Are we owed tolerance? Do we deserve it?

Take a moment and think about the motivation behind the opposition. Think about the gay people who have been spat on at every turn, sometimes literally. Think about the people who have felt strange, different, rejected, belittled, hated, opposed, cut out of society, cursed, and reviled. Think about the fact that they find out that here is one more way in which they are isolated. Think about the fact that someone has been asked if that person truly funnels millions of dollars with the express purpose of counteracting the effect that gay people can have on our society and has answered “YEP! GUILTY AS CHARGED!” and that he did so clearly with pride.

Imagine that the shoe is on the other foot, and that a gay person owned a multi-million dollar corporation and just gleefully admitted that he funnels millions of dollars into teaching atheism and counter-acting the negative impact of Christians on society. Feel that blood boil? That anger? That deep and overwhelming sadness? Now think that hundreds of thousands of atheists and gays line up to support that corporation and start posting pictures on Facebook and Twitter where they are swaggin’ their bags of fried goodness around saying “SEE, I THINK THE BIGOTRY AGAINST YOU IS AWESOME AND JUSTIFIED!”

Can you picture it? Can you imagine your response?

Of COURSE people are offended, of COURSE they are calling you close-minded, because you have completely closed your mind to the pain, humiliation, and suffering that your choice is inflicting on the world. Instead of seeing the world as a sick patient to whom you are called as a caregiver, you have chosen to see the world as a criminal for whom you are called as judge and jury, and your greasy bags of fried food that you so gleefully post look more like a death sentence than a show of moral support.

The Bible has this thing where it says that if we judge, we will be judged in kind. The battle lines in this ridiculous debate about Chick-Fil-A are a demonstration of that in action- Christians judged the world.

So the world judges back.

If you don’t like the bigotry you are feeling, don’t dish it out.

Oh, freedom.

Today all over the USA people will be celebrating their freedom, as well they should.  I would like to say “I hate to mar such happy festivities with anything solemn”, but that would be lying.  So, that being said, try to remember as you exercise your own freedom that God is the Author of all things free.  He first gave Adam freedom in the garden, He gave the Israelites freedom from slavery, He gave my own ancestors freedom from martyrdom here in this great country, and He gave all mankind freedom to turn from sin and seek salvation.

Yet, too often we honor that gift with condemnation for our fellow man and hard heartedness.  We continue to believe that it is our duty to police our society’s sins and limit the freedoms of those we believe do wrong.  We continue to heap condemnation on the heads of the gay, the poor, and those who hold belief systems we believe contradict our own.  I have a very hard time enjoying this holiday, because I see the premises on which the Declaration of Independence was written trampled in the name of God, while at the same time people claim the Declaration itself was inspired by the Spirit.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Obviously certain limits must be made- if one person’s pursuit of happiness means raping my daughter I am happy to see his rights abolished.  But what about the rights of the children of the poor?  Are we truly justified in cursing them to destitution because of their parents wrongs?  And by not allowing gay people to make house and home together with the protection of marriage, whose rights are we protecting?  I am as angry about these things today as I was the day I first wrote this blog.  No, wait, that isn’t truthful.  I’m angrier today, because I continue to see people for whom I have no end of love and respect continue to justify the most cynical of condemnations with the Bible, using words meant to convict their own hearts to curse the broken hearts of others.

It is shameful, and sadly, that is what I will find tainting the color of the fireworks in the sky tonight.

I’ll leave you with these words:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and  pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.  (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

If you cannot hold the hands of the poor or the gay or the forgotten or the single mothers or the drug addicts, so be it.

But pray for them, and pray for your own heart to follow God’s in the way that you view them.  Pray that they can feel the same spirit of celebration that you feel, of thankfulness and gratitude, of love for Creator and Nation.  Pray with all the sincerity that you use when you pray in your own regard.

Love.

hurts like Heaven.

I love my job.

But there are days that I really, really hate my job.  For the most part I work with people who have had a lot of bad things happen to them.  Sometimes it’s really awful- the kind of stuff that seems more at place in a horror novel then a quiet midwestern town.  Sometimes, it’s the kind of stuff that leads to me locking myself in the bathroom for a time out.  The worst part of it isn’t the fact that I’m a visual person by nature and thus struggle with visualizing the badness and taking it home in the form of nightmares.  The worst part is that often I’m dealing with people whose lives have trained them to believe that they deserve no better, they will get no better, and the best that they can hope for themselves is to grow thick enough skins that they become numb to the pain.

There are men who learn that “real” manliness is fighting back and fighting dirtier.  Women who think that they need to trade sex for safety.  Kids who think that learning is for nerds and losers and the way to get ahead in life is to punch the other guy first.  Mothers who reject their children because responding with sympathy to a babies neediness makes them vulnerable.  Men who reject their pregnant wives for the same reason.  The world is full of people who know nothing other than cycles of poverty and pain, people who see daily happiness as just as much of a fantasy as the whole family getting along over the holidays.  The world has a seedy underbelly of pain and discontent that so many are blissfully unaware of- but for the people who live there, that is the entire world.

Pain, heartbreak, rejection and more pain.  The smart ones learn to reject before they can be rejected, to cut more quickly and more deeply, to make sure that everyone else owes them more than they owe anyone.

It’s hard to remember that there’s hope beyond all hopes, that there is a love that conquers fear, that there is a peace that surpasses all understanding.  It’s hard to remember, but most of the time I manage to.  And I do my best to continue to be God’s hands and feet in this world.  I offer love, and then I experience the greatest heartbreak of all: love rejected with a wary eye.  Love mistrusted.  Love responded to with anger and fear.

And I lock myself in the bathroom again.  And sitting there, in the dark and heat (because for some odd reason our bathroom is the hottest room in the building, like a sauna, suffocatingly hot) listening to the sound of the radiator rattling like Marley’s ghost, I realize that what I am experiencing is only a fraction of the heartbreak that the Spirit feels every day when we mistrust God’s love for us, when we respond to salvation with cynism, when we judge others before they can judge us.

The answer is simple:  love more strongly.  Believe with more conviction.  Offer more grace.  Create an overflow of mercy and affection so strong that it washes away even the most stubborn of barriers.  Live every second of your life in the hope of salvation.  Pick up the shield of faith, wear the belt of truth, set your feet in the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace.

We already have earned our reward if we only love those who want to be loved.

We have to love the way God loves.

And God just… loves.  Everyone.  Constantly.

I would say it hurts like Hell, but that’s a misnomer.  It hurts like Heaven, but that’s the kind of hurt that’s worth carrying with you.

It could change the world.

Who I am and what I’m not.

Yes, I am a Christian.  For a long time I didn’t self-identify as a Christian because I hated the fact that people would always make certain assumptions about me.  One instance stands out particularly in my mind.  I saw a table that said “Friends of the GLBT” at the associations, groups, and clubs event my first week in college.  Something prompted me to go over and strike up a conversation with the handful of students sitting there.  At first the conversation was great, but then someone made a disparaging comment about the Evangelical group.  Even though I wasn’t sure about what I believed, I felt a chill.  I wanted to say “not every Christian is like that,” but I was worried that the moment I did I would paint myself as sleeping with the enemy.

That moment is iconic of the choice I’ve had to make every day since I came back to my faith.  Do I say I’m a Christian, and allow people to make false assumptions about what I believe?  Do I say I’m a Christian and try to create a new paradigm?  One in which someone who acts evangelical (as opposed to Is An Evangelical) isn’t a gay-bashing anti-choice gun-totin’ Bible-bangin’ war-lovin’ conservative-votin’ unimaginative non-intellectually-inquisitive probably secretly scared-of-everything uh…  you get the point.  The assumptions people make about someone who is vocally Christian aren’t always the kindest.  And in many ways, I’m the opposite of many of the stereotypes.  So, for the record, let me be clear about what I am and am not:

  • I don’t think gay people are the enemy of society.  I like my gay and lesbian friends, and only want them to change if they want to.  Honestly, the complexity of this one is way too much to fit into a single bullet point, so suffice it to say this:  I don’t think gay people are the problem, I think judgmental and legalistic attitudes are.
  • I’m politically pro-choice.  Personally, I’m pro-life.  I could never imagine a circumstance in which I would have an abortion.  But that doesn’t mean that I want to tell other women what to do with their bodies and their lives- there is no ethical argument to keep an unborn child that doesn’t rely on faith in God, so a secular society should allow women to have choice.
  • I’m a registered Democrat, mostly because I wanted to vote in the last Presidential Primaries.  In my time as a registered voter, I’ve actually voted for both Republicans and Democrats.  I believe in voting based off of who you’re voting for and what their record shows, not based off of party.  Just do not tell me I’m a Republican who’s afraid of change.  I will end you.
  • Guns scare me.
  • I don’t believe the Bible should be used as a weapon. It is for worship, for exhortation, for meditation, for the strengthening of the body…  not for destruction.
  • I don’t believe in quoting the Bible to people who don’t read it. Which is why I so rarely quote it on my blog, and why fellow Christians sometimes assume I don’t read it.  I do, I just think that Christians should be able to make logical arguments without spraying Bible verses into the fray like bird shot.
  • I’m a pacifist. I was raised in the Anabaptist tradition, which means I was raised with a keen awareness of the multitude of people who were martyred for the Faith.  Martyred, that is, at the hands of the Catholic church, which leads to:
  • I believe that people should be able to worship God as they wish- no matter how much you disagree with them.  Not everyone agrees on all the tenants of faith.  I don’t think I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m more likely to believbe that we are all wrong. 
  • I actually do have an imagination, really I do. In my other lives I am a novelist and a jewelry designer.  I have no fear of thinking creatively.
  • I have no fear of other religions.  In fact, I study Buddhism and live out some of it’s practices.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Dalhi Lama.  I respect anyone who practices their faith with compassion for others, regardless of what their faith is.  I think Christianity could learn an awful lot from other religions.
  • I have no fear of being questioned. Don’t believe me?  Question me.  Debate me.  If I can’t argue my faith rationally, I don’t want to have it.
  • I have no fear of being wrong. I’ve done it before and it didn’t hurt too badly.  If I am forced to examine a belief and find it lacking, so be it.  Better that I know now than go through my entire life mistaken.

My name is Lindsey.  I am a Christian.

And I may be a pacifist, but if I ever met Fred Phelps, I’d probably have to drop kick him in the balls.

Just so we’re clear on things.