Poor people lack integrity?

Often times, I’ll look back on my day  of work and feel like I’m just so insanely lucky to have my job.  But sometimes, just sometimes, I have more of a “WTF?!?!” feeling about my job.  Today is a “WTF, JOB” day, but only because of one writer.  She had a sort of rambling-incoherent essay about integrity and society which she had worked really hard to make more organized.  We tip-toed through it talking about the places where she didn’t have enough evidence to stake her claims and how she could have more of a central focus.  Inasmuch as that is concerned, she wasn’t so different from any other student.

No, what turned my stomach was in her conclusion, where she was talking about how society seems to reward bad behavior, and she threw in an aside about how lazy people are rewarded with food stamps and WIC.  Her teacher had written, in the margin, “lazy children and babies?”, a sentiment which I reflexively backed.  The student responded that she wasn’t really sure why her teacher had made that comment, and then flipped the paper over to show me a bit of a rant that said teacher had made about the working poor, which asked rather bluntly, “if a single mom works two part time jobs and still needs WIC & food stamps, how many jobs should she get?”

So the student and I talked briefly about the plight of the working poor, and I told her that if she wanted to make the argument that society rewards bad behavior she’d have to get another example, “if not because you understand what I’m saying, because your teacher clearly doesn’t think your argument is sound.”

I asked her if she thought that bankers who sold toxic mortgages being rewarded with cushy early retirement deals while the government bailed out their companies was a good example of what she meant.

“WHAT?”

I explained again.  “Do you think that they acted without integrity and were rewarded?”

The student blinked slowly.  “I don’t know.  What are you even talking about?  That’s not like, you know, a real thing that happened.”

I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears.  “Yes, yes it is.  Please google ‘toxic mortgage’ and read the news articles that come up.  It happened a few years ago but we still feel the effects of it today.  You’re younger than me, but you were old enough to be paying attention to the news during the recession…”

“It wasn’t, like, a real recession.”

“My family moved from Indiana to Yakima because there were no jobs.  Like, no jobs.  There was a place that was hiring twenty people and three thousand people applied.  If that isn’t a real recession, I don’t know what is.”

“But it was like not the bankers fault,” the girl said, “if it really was…”

“Please, just look it up,” I said, thinking that it sure as hell wasn’t the fault of babies on WIC.

But it left me feeling incredibly unsettled, this reflexive hatred towards poor people.  Only slightly less unsettling was the defensive trust of the rich.  Yet, what stuck with me was the instinctive way that she equated being poor with having no integrity, without flinching, assuming without having anything to base her argument on that anyone reading it would agree.  As if the final nail in the coffin when arguing that today’s society has lost its moral compass would be the fact that we feed babies and children whose parents cannot get by.

I don’t know, perhaps this is another sign of my own biases getting in the way of my better judgment, as I almost instantly wanted to tap out of the consultation and take up smoking just to burn off the stress.  Yet I cannot, even now, nine hours later, easily shake the sourness in my stomach and get on with life.  How is it that there is an entire population of our country that equate poverty with sin just as simply as I equate the sky with the color blue?  Yet, there is evidence that the sky is blue every day.

What, exactly, is the evidence that poor people are bad?

Where does that message even come from?

I would think that if you were going to write a essay about the duplicitous nature of our society, the better argument would be the fact that our government is more prone to cut food stamps than they are to cut subsidies to corporations, and that human life holds less sacredness than capitalism.

Yet, from the look in that girl’s eyes, I’m the one who isn’t really in touch with reality.

Heh.

Honestly, I’m not sure that reality is something I want to get my hands on these days.

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Sin on a Sliding Scale

So this verse was recently quoted in a comment on my blog:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Actually, I added verse eleven for affect, because I feel it points out something important.  Such were some of them, just as such were some of us.  I find it interesting that the only time I really see these verses quoted are when people are rejecting someone.  When they are rejecting homosexuals and using it as a justification, rejecting a couple known to be having premarital sex, rejecting a drunk.  But what is this verse really talking about?  Not just a few specific kinds of sins, but of sins which all show the same thread: self indulgence.   People who prayed to idols wanted something.  “Fornicators” in that era didn’t think of the cost to their family’s social standing (and the same is sadly true of homosexuality at the time- you couldn’t be fulfilled without leaving the marriage that every man would have had).   The covetous?  Selfish.  Drunkards and Extortioners?  Selfish.

So what’s this verse really saying?  “Selfish people won’t inherit the kingdom?”  Why?  Because they aren’t looking out for the kingdom, they are looking out for themselves.

And yet that verse is generally brought up for a selfish means: to reject someone.

Now, let’s look at a few more sets of verses:

1 Peter 3:9-10

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

1 Corinthians 7:13-15

And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

These verses, along with other verses, have been used for centuries to command wives to know their place and stay with abusive men.  Let me tell you a story.  I know of one church where a man was emotionally abusive to his wife consistently and physically abusive to her on occasion.  He would not take a reprimand about his behavior towards her.  He only showed an attitude of apology when she left- but as soon as she returned, HE returned to his manipulative and cruel ways.  Eventually she tired of the cycle, and she left him for good.  But what was the end of that?  Her church left HER, they rejected HER, because she wasn’t a good Christian.  Well, what about him?  What is Christlike in telling your wife she is worthless, in slapping her around and demeaning her in front of your children?  And yet, the verses that could (and perhaps in some situations SHOULD) be used against the abusive husband, the man who suffers from fits of jealous rage, are reserved for use with the homosexuals.

And the wife, the victim, is the one who is sent away

Please, someone, explain this to me.

Because I certainly don’t understand it.

Why do gay people exist?

“So,” he said, “they got together all kinds of experts, from anthropologists to spiritualists, and no one seemed to have a reason for why homosexuality would exist.”

I thought about that for a minute before replying, “so?”

This took him off guard, “what did you say?”

“So.”  I shrugged, “Why do we have to know the reason?  I don’t think we SHOULD be able to take the whole of human experience and boil it down to cause and effect.”

I meant what I said.  I don’t think there has to be a quantifiable reason for anyone’s sexuality to be whatever it is.  And even if you can pinpoint a reason, that doesn’t mean that sexuality, through that knowledge, becomes more malleable or understandable.  It took me numerous years to understand that I withdrew from intimate contact because I was still afraid of making myself vulnerable due to sexual abuse, and even after I understood the reason I still couldn’t make myself desire a relationship with a man.  Later in the above quoted conversation, the man I was talking to pointed out that a great deal of gay people he knew had been sexually abused as children, and he found that interesting.

Interesting, yes, but not necessarily meaningful.  Interest doesn’t always imbue meaning, and meaningful things are often boring as heck.

Yet there is that nagging thought, “why isn’t sexuality predictable?  Moldable?  Why is it so [censored] DIFFICULT?”

And every time I ask myself that, I still answer, “so?”

The idea that human sexuality needs explanation implies, to me, that it needs defending.  I won’t stoop to that.  God allows our sexuality to manifest itself in so many maddening, entrancing, and exasperating ways because there is a lesson to be learned from it- to be learned from it both done “right” and done “wrong”.

What matters most isn’t WHY gay people exist or WHY abused girls react the way they do or WHY husbands and wives dance the dance of Christ and Church or why ANYTHING works the way it does.  What matters most is that God loves us, passionately, he loves our lives and he loves us when we make good and bad choices and he is heavily invested in humanity in all of it’s beauty and brokenness.   Note that I’m not saying knowledge doesn’t matter, and that through studying the human psyche our compassion and understanding may not grow by leaps and bounds.  Knowledge is invaluable!  We simply can’t afford to wait on that knowledge to make a decision about how we should act today.

What matters most, friend, is not your reason for being gay.

It is you being  a child whom God loves, and the fact that as a Christian I am indebted to model that love.

Learning to live in the world

“I just don’t want my kid exposed to all of that stuff,” the one mother said with concern in her voice.

“Kids talk about drugs and sex at school these days,” another mother replied, “I don’t want to be one of those paranoid moms who home-schools their kid and screens all of their friends and playmates, but…”

I am party to these kinds of conversations from time to time, and I’m often the odd one out.

“Well, exposure is inevitable,” I will say.  “Even if you keep your kid from it until they move out, they WILL move out- and better that they know how to process everything they are exposed to than that they are naive and taken advantage of.”

When I went to college there was a girl living in my hall that had been raised in a somewhat closed community and sent to a private school.  She’d never had a sip of alcohol, never known anyone who used drugs, never so much as kissed a boy.

Her life spiraled out of control so quickly that she didn’t know what she was doing.  Here she was living in a world she had no idea how to deal with.  She didn’t know when to say, “enough.”  She didn’t know how to say no, how to control her desires, how to keep her spine stiff and her morals intact.  And she is not the only Christian in the history of the written word to have her life fall to pieces as soon as she left her parents moral compass.

As a parent, your job isn’t to shield your child from the world- your job is to teach them how to live in it.  While my parents did caution me to stay away from drugs and alcohol and never would have knowingly let me go somewhere that drugs and alcohol were being consumed- they also realized that these things can pop up under the most innocuous of situations (like during warm ups for marching band) and taught me how to refuse, how to make good choices, how to choose friends that wouldn’t pressure me into things I didn’t want.

They taught me not just the precepts of my faith but how to defend it against attack.  They taught me critical thinking and rationalism.  They never said, “that is true because I say it is.”  If questioned, they would explain the rationale.  If they couldn’t explain the rationale, we researched it.  If it turned out that they were wrong they wouldn’t get defensive and angry, they’d accept the truth with humility and congratulate my thirst for knowledge.

I was taught never to accept the words of others as reality until I’d seen the facts defended.  This was especially helpful when I would be mocked for not doing what “everyone” was doing, since “everyone” seemed to be four people with poor judgment who had accepted failure as inevitable and had no desire for excellence.  If that was “everyone”, I didn’t want to be everyone.

Needless to say, as a young adult I wasn’t an extension of my parents will- I was my own person, I knew what I wanted and what I believed, and I wasn’t swayed by the mob mentality or desire for the acceptance of my peers.  I knew where my worth lay, and it wasn’t in the approval of others, as so many kids my age felt.  I didn’t need to be liked to feel secure, so I didn’t give into pressure.

Sin wasn’t a temptation- I knew what sin was and what it cost.  Sex had consequences which had been described to me in gruesome detail by my mother- not just the physical consequences, but the emotional ones.  The same was true of drugs and alcohol.  As a fourteen year old I knew what being drunk could do, as well as getting high.  I liked my liver, being able to stand up straight and having my inhibitions and social filters in tact.  So when I was older and my friends started drinking regularly I already knew that I didn’t want to go there.  Experimenting seemed unnecessary.  And when I was in college and I was visiting friends and they got out-of-their-minds drunk, I stayed sober so that I could give them a humiliating account of their actions the next morning.

By the time that I was living on my own in the world, I knew how to cope with it.  The gradual letting go process that my parents underwent was final.  It wasn’t a sudden cut like some of my friends underwent.  I didn’t feel out in the world terrified, unmoored and unsure of my direction.

As a parent one of the most important jobs you have is informing your child and preparing them for the moment they are on their own, without you as their compass, needing to be ready to live a full and healthy life.  Part of that means showing them the world- both the bad and the good- and giving them the tools to know the difference.

Story submissions for my book, please?

I’m looking for a few people to share stories to put in my book.  So if any of my blog readers would like to submit, please do so.  Otherwise, if you know someone who may be interested in contributing, please cut and paste the following and send it to them:

Let me introduce myself a little:  my name is Lindsey Kay and I’m a Christian.  But I’m not the holier-than-thou “I know the best for everyone”, “please sit still and let me tell you how to live your life” kind of Christian.  I’m the kind who thinks that God is Love, that hypocrisy is one of the worst possible sins, and that the attitude Christianity takes towards the world at large and gay people specifically is so un-Christ-like that’s it’s a real embarrassment.

I’m writing a book.

It won’t be a big book and I doubt it will ever be a popular book, but it will be a short and very heartfelt book begging Christians to change the way they treat gay people and to try to explain to them that the judgmental and stony-hearted attitude some Christians take just drives people away from God and leaves us all with blood on our hands.

And I would like to give you the opportunity to share your story.  Have you ever seen hypocrisy harden someone’s heart against God and other people?  Have you ever seen someone’s soul wounded by the church?  Please tell me about it, and help me to open the church’s eyes to the reality of it’s actions.

Thank you.  My email is shush.lindsey@gmail.com

(Please send all stories in before October 12th)

It’s not a sin to be different

I’ve written this story before, but, again, time passes and new people gather and I feel the need to repeat myself.  (So, for long-time readers, apologies if this tastes stale.)

Several years ago I found myself being an assistant youth pastor at a somewhat small country church.  Our youth group was a rag-tag band of struggling teens who all seemed to have major issues.  There were a few boys who had fallen into addictions, a few who had major “authority issues”, a few girls who were raging gossips, a few fashionistas, a few of my favorites- the social outcasts.

And then there was this boy whom I’ll call John.  John was a sweet kid, into theater and show-tunes, the classic gentle heart who just never seemed to fit in.  There was another kid, Rachel, who was one of the fashionista gossips.  Rachel, it turned out, got into a highly inappropriate and sexual relationship.  And John?  John thought he might be gay.

I must point out that John’s questions were only questions- he hadn’t gotten into a relationship with another guy.  Rachel, on the other hand, was sexually active.

John was terrified.  He wondered if he was going to burn in Hell.  He asked questions like, “what about all of the good things I try to do?  What about how badly I want to have a ministry?”  He wondered why God would torture him.  He prayed and prayed to just be straight so everything was okay- but God didn’t change his orientation.  Months of struggle led to cursing God, doubting God.

Around that time Rachel was found out.  She acted somewhat repentant, and was embraced by the congregation.

John, on the other hand, was starting to be ostracized.  Part of it was his own doing, because he felt as if he wouldn’t be accepted if he was honest.  Mostly, though, it was because people felt strange around him.  He made them uncomfortable.

It’s not right.

It’s not right that people who really want to serve God, really want to be holy, really want to be pure become lepers to the faith simply because they ask questions about their sexual orientation.

It’s not right that people who barely put any effort into their relationship with God are embraced simply because their sin is more “acceptable” than having the wrong sexual orientation.

The point, through the last several posts, has not been that homosexuality is AWESOME and EVERYONE SHOULD TRY IT!  The point is that the attitude the mainstream church has taken towards homosexuality breaks the spirit of boys like John and drives them out of the flock.  It is not the hard heart of the homosexual as some would posit- John had a soft heart, one that was totally broken.  It is not the twisted nature of their sin- there is no sin in temptation and questions, only in deliberately choosing a path that seperates you from God.  John did not choose his nature- he didn’t want it.  Had I been able to snap my fingers and make him like boobs he would have been grateful.

The problem is that when Christians talk about the evils of “homosexuality”, they are talking in vague and blanket terms that leave no room for people like John, good kids who are given a grievous burden to carry.  Kids who want to do right (to be right) but are by nature; nurture; or divine providence cast out of the societal norm.  I don’t care if you think that two guys having sex is bad.  I don’t care if you think it’s base and immoral.  What I do care is if you phrase your argument in a way that makes a kid like John feel cursed by God and leave the Church.

*Any comments stating that homosexuality is a sin without addressing the actual content of this post will be redacted and the commenter verbally spanked.

the darker side of spirituality

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes.  You know, the one that infamously starts with:

Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless…

When I first devoted myself to the pursuit of Christianity, I was suicidal.  I didn’t want to live anymore.  And (through a series of events I won’t delve into as they are deeply personal and this blog is not) I came to an agreement with God: he could have my life, because I didn’t want it anymore.

Thus began this grand adventure.  Not with angels singing and golden rain falling from the sky.  Not with exaltation and praise, not with tears of gratitude, not with love and hope and waking up in the morning feeling like a “new creation”- but with one very bitter pre-teen cursing at God and reluctantly offering him a chance to prove himself.  A chance, I might say, that took not hours or days or months but years to fulfill.  And then after the initial blush of happiness, I became highly dissatisfied with my fellow believers and regressed so fully and quickly I think I left bloody skidmarks at the altar.

Spirituality has a dark side.  That’s the story that most non-Christians don’t hear.  We like to tell them the happy ones- the ones that involve people who prayed for their nicotine addiction to be cured and were smoke free from that day on.  The homosexuals that went to “reparative therapy” and immediately loved the opposite gender and got married and had babies.  The single mom who came to church, found love, and repented of her old ways.  All of the “I used to be” those things and the “I once felt like” thats.  Those are the stories we print out in ten foot tall letters and bludgeon people with, making them feel insufficient when they don’t give up smoking or suddenly want to make love to the right gender or immediately leave their lifestyle for the proper one.  People feel guilty when they find themselves still fitting into the old mold.  They feel like it should be easier.

And let’s be honest- they feel that way because of us.  We’re lying to them.  Is God capable of curing a smoking habit?  Changing your sexuality?  Introducing you to Prince Charming?  Well, sure he is.  Is God going to do any of those things?

Why would God save me, just to have me struggle for the next eight years or so?  Why would God save my life just to have my life be filled with pain after pain?  Why didn’t God make me into a success story?  You could tell me my faith wasn’t enough, that I cursed myself with my own bitterness- but I don’t believe that for a second.  I believed that God could wake me up the next morning with a touch of hope, and he did- and that’s all he needed to do.  God didn’t have to make me a new creation over night for me to get the point.

And, honestly, I think that my eight years of struggle and still coming out loving Jesus and wanting to make a difference in the Church and the world at large is a far greater testament than had I simply ceased to be suicidal and become one of those plasticine Happy White Christian Girls.  I struggled.  And God preserved me through that struggle.  And I could read Ecclesiastes and (ahem) get it, and appreciate it, and that was good.  It was good because it has made me capable of being someone to other people that I couldn’t be if my battles were less hard-won.

Sometimes you need to hit the trenches.  You need to get your hands dirty.  You need to be broken.  After all- we’re reaching out to the lost and neglected, the rejected and despised- what makes us think that we shouldn’t be there, where they are, at least part of the time?  What makes us think that we deserve to be saved, to not have to win our way through, to not have to learn dependency on God?  What makes us think that all we should have to do is be penitent for a few minutes for God to snap his fingers and fix everything?

When God does those miracles, that’s his grace and mercy.  It’s not standard operating procedure.

We need to be honest with ourselves.  We need to stop viewing periods of darkness and spiritual stillness as failure, and see them as phases that are necessary to our growth.  No one can sustain what Evangelicals call the “Mountaintop experience”.  No one is meant to live in twenty-four seven praise and giddiness.

Read Paul’s boasting about his sufferings in 2 Corinthians– do you think he felt that the Christian life should be one of success and prosperity?  Obviously he was being tongue in cheek and pretty badly lambasting the Corinthians for missing the point- but that is what fascinates me the most.  Because we’re missing the point, anyway.

Our success stories aren’t marriages fixed in a weekend seminar- they are couples bearing together for fifty years even when twenty of them are horribly difficult.  It’s not someone being “cured” of their alcoholism in a prayer meeting, it’s someone struggling with the temptation for most of their life and overcoming it a good percent of the time.  It’s not a homosexual whose orientation is “fixed”- it’s one who stays with the church despite feeling misunderstood and discriminated against, and keeps their love for Christ vibrant.  It’s not the prayer meetings where the “spirit comes down” that count- it’s people’s faithfulness for month after month after month, feeling spiritually dry and craving, feeling neglected by God, but showing up anyway- that’s success.

Success isn’t the sunny side of spirituality.  It’s holding on to the light, even through the darkest passages of our lives.

Next time you want to share your faith- don’t share the happy stories.  Talk about the struggle.  Then, talk about how it was worth it.