Thursday, February 25, 2016

Fear and Love for Others

All my life I’ve been taught two competing attitudes towards others. One is the Jesus attitude: Love thy neighbor (and everyone is your neighbor). The other is the America attitude: Fear the stranger/other.
Like all good women, I’ve rationalized and reconciled these two beliefs. After all, I have to be prudent. I shouldn’t walk alone in the dark, or let a guy I just met drive me somewhere, or leave my purse hanging open when walking down a busy city street. All women know how to avoid being a victim, right? Because in our current rape culture, the burden is on women to avoid victimhood, rather than on criminals to avoid crimes. So being “street smart” didn’t mean I didn’t love my neighbor. I can love someone even while I protect myself from him, right?


As I watch the rhetoric of the presidential race, I’m beginning to wonder just how fear and love interact. Fear of the stranger is a common theme running through all the speeches. The immigrants take our jobs, the refugees will be secret terrorists, the Democrats want to destroy capitalism, the Republicans want to enslave women, and the Libertarians just want to split the vote.

I’m reminded of 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Is that true for me?

I’m not talking about survival fears, and I don’t think John was either. The physical fight or flight reaction that kicks in when someone points a gun at me isn’t what is driven out. I am an animal: survival instincts will overpower my rational mind when necessary. I’m talking about everyday fears. The fear that if I leave my car unlocked, someone will steal it. The fear that if Candidate ____ gets elected, the country will fall apart. The fear that if we raise the minimum wage, the economy will tank. The fear that if we don't balance the budget, China will take over the USA. The fear that Muslims, LGBTQ people, white men, black men, feminists, fundamentalists, rednecks, gangs or pedophiles will destroy whatever we personally hold dear.

We have been taught that we can love our neighbor even as we fear him, and I don’t believe that’s true. Love is self sacrifice. Love is being willing to die for someone, yes, willing to die. Jesus' death demonstrates that God believes every single human ever born is worth dying for. Every. Single. Human. If I am not willing to die for a person in order to show him/her love, if my fear for my own needs and desires stop me from serving that person, then my fear prevents me from loving him/her. 

I write these words to myself as I see my own rage and hatred towards Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. I fear what they will do to this country if elected. I despise them. And I am wrong. Because both of those men are worth dying for. Both of those men are deeply beloved by God. I cannot be a light in this world if I allow hatred to cloud my heart. I confess and repent. I will not vote for either man, and I will not support either man, but I will endeavor to soften my heart and let God's love be present there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Capitalism and the Kingdom of God

The question of capitalism, it seems, is how long can we exploit people as cheap labor?

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, we have seen labor violations, strikes, and reforms. And then, once employees are treated as humans, the factories move elsewhere. It started in the “civilized” countries: Europe, Russia, the USA. We employed children, women, men, without safety concerns, without shift limits, without any care. Reform movements and unions resolved the situation, along with bloody revolutions and uprisings. And gradually the factories moved elsewhere. Now we exploit Mexicans, Chinese, and Pacific Islanders. And what will happen when those people get their rights? Who will be our slaves then? Indians? Africans? Who next?
I’m not an historian or an economist, but it seems to me that this question of workers’ rights has yet to be answered. Instead we keep pushing it off, finding more people to exploit. 

Is capitalism inherently flawed, and if so, what is the answer? Or is capitalism redeemable, as long as we remember that every person has rights?

As a Christian, this is more than just an economic or historical question. It is a question of ethics. A question of the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, every person is worthy of love. Jesus’ death proves that every single individual on this planet is worth dying for. And we shove whole groups of people into toxic environments making meaningless crap in order to enrich a minority. That is not the Kingdom of God. I’m not saying that money, or even profit, is evil. I am saying that there’s a better way.
What can I do to fight for workers’ rights? What can I do to live a Kingdom life? What can you do?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rape or Adultery in John 8, Does It Matter?

What if the woman in John 8 were a rape victim? You probably know the story. A woman, caught in the very act of adultery, was brought before Jesus and her accusers asked Jesus if she should be stoned. After all, the Law was clear that adulterers must be stoned. Jesus said nothing, but knelt down and began writing in the dirt. After a while, when asked again, He told the men gathered there to go ahead, but to make sure that whoever cast a stone was without sin. The older men left first, followed by the younger, until Jesus and the woman were left alone.
I’ve always loved this story, despite the possibility that it is not an authentic part of John’s Gospel. It's so dramatic: a woman's life in the balance, a crowd ready to pounce on Jesus's actions, the sex factor. And Jesus faces this high stakes scenario with nonviolent calm. It's so suggestive: Was the woman's lover in league with the men who brought her out? Was she seduced just once, or were they in a long term relationship? Was her lover even present?
But in all the scenarios I have considered, I never once considered the possibility that the woman was a victim of rape.
What would change in your reading of this story if the woman “caught in adultery” were a rape victim? Stop and consider it. No longer a woman having sex of her free will in a comfortable bed, facing her lover. Now she is a woman bent over a table, screaming for mercy. And before the violation is even complete, a troop of men rush into the room and drag her into public. She is dragged before a prominent rabbi, blood between her legs, robes torn, while an angry crowd picks up rocks to kill her.
Does it change your opinion of this woman if she were a rape victim? Does it change your opinion of the men standing before Jesus? In what ways?
Now, I hasten to say that the text does not suggest she was raped. This is merely my own speculation on the text and how our view of it might change. This is a meditative exercise, not an exegetical analysis of the text.
I have long considered this woman the victim of a scam. I believe that she was seduced and betrayed by her lover: used as a tool in the Pharisees’ desperate campaign against Jesus. I thought that her lover, while a jerk, probably didn’t believe that she would actually be stoned. He suspected that Jesus, a rabbi notorious for hanging out with sinners, would find a way to protect this woman. But today I read the news about the public stoning of four rape victims by ISIS, and I thought about this story.
It has long been known that under some interpretations of Islam, women who are raped are considered adulterers who must be stoned. It is also a sad truth that women in America who are raped are often considered to be at fault. Christian or Muslim, sexism teaches that the woman is responsible for the actions of the man. Is it such a stretch to say that the same mindset existed in the patriarchal culture of Jesus 2000 years ago? Is it really likely that a group of men set on destroying Jesus would hesitate to rape an innocent woman to further their cause? The text does not say the woman was raped, but ISIS didn't call what happened to yesterday's victims rape either: in both cases it is defined as adultery.
Take a moment to really put yourself in this setting. It wasn’t a courtroom, it was an angry mob – think Christmas shoppers in the mall parking lot on December 22nd. A woman is laying in the dust and dirt, and her life is in immediate danger. Jesus has no gun, no mace, no sword, and neither does she. But the crowd has rocks, and they aren’t afraid to use them (as witnessed in Stephen’s martyrdom).
Now consider this: why would her choice in the matter make a difference? Whether she said yes or no to the sex, the consequence was the same: a horrific, painful death. If the question of consent changes our opinion of her or Jesus, then what does that say about us and our beliefs about sex, consent, and rape? What does it say about our culture?
I’m not writing this to shame anyone. Don’t let the enemy distract you with guilt or shame or shoulds. Instead, let the Holy Spirit speak to you.
We live in a world where, to one degree or another, women are blamed for being sexually assaulted. In order to stop that, we must first break our own hearts and search for the victim blaming attitude within ourselves. Once that is eliminated, we have made progress in eliminating that poison from the world. 

One final note: I cannot verify the ISIS story definitively. However, it is not contested that rape victims have been convicted of adultery and stoned to death by terrorists who claim Islam as their guiding principle. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Why I Let My Daughter Blow $40 on Legos

One of my goals as a mom is to teach my daughter how to handle money well. In January, we started giving her an allowance, along with a special piggy bank. It has 4 slots: Save, Spend, Donate, Invest. I was raised in the traditional 3 point plan, so at first I wasn’t sure how to handle “Invest.” But then Husband and I had a breakthrough. We told her that she would earn interest every 6 months: If she leaves the money in there until her birthday in July, she’ll get an extra dollar, and a second dollar by Christmas.
How much? Four quarters a week, one for each slot. She doesn’t have a lot of buying power. At first I wasn’t even sure that would be enough to teach her about handling money. After all, what can you buy with a quarter? But 4 year olds have many small wants. There are kiddie rides at the mall play area that cost 50 cents per ride, and I NEVER pay for those. In addition, she already had a piggy bank with some cash thanks to generous grandparents, so I could take some of the money from there and let her buy a piece of candy or some such.
This week we had our first test. We were walking around the mall one evening and she went into the Lego store. Now, she doesn’t play with Legos. She never played with Duplo, and she has never shown interest in Legos. She has some other building toys and she rarely plays with those either. But one Lego set caught her eye, and she desperately wanted it. We let her look at it and then we left. After all, it cost $39! No way were we going to buy a $40 toy that we had no idea if she would play with. 

The next morning, Husband casually mentioned to me that she probably had enough money to buy the set herself.
“What? She has $40?”
“Sure, from her grandparents.”
I went and checked the envelope of cash and sure enough, she had the money. But naturally, I wouldn’t let her buy it. I mean, you don’t just blow all your savings on a random toy! That’s not good stewardship!
Then I moved past my initial resistance. She hadn’t saved that money – it had come to her in big chunks. She had no idea of the value of it. And what if she bought the toy and didn’t like it? Well, no returns. And if she only played with it for a week? Well, still no returns. And what if she loved it and wanted to buy a second set? Well, at her current allowance rate she’d have to wait at least 20 weeks to earn $40, while not spending any of her Save or Spend allowance. She might even have to choose between keeping her Invest money to earn interest or taking it out and losing the interest. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great chance for her to learn about the value of money.
And that’s how I ended up fighting the most insane traffic* ever at the mall on Saturday in order to let my daughter blow $40 on Legos. So far she has loved the toy. I look forward to watching her learn the value of money.

*Why was traffic so insane? Because the Stanley Cup was at the mall for people to take photographs with. This traffic was at least as bad as Christmas traffic! It took me 30 minutes just to find parking.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ash Wednesday

It is a decidedly odd thing, the imposition of ashes. We kneel before a priest and let her smear ash on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. As a mother, accustomed to licking a finger and vigorously wiping errant smudges off faces - my child's and my own - I have to resist the urge to wipe away the ash.

It is so physical. So unabashedly dramatic, to smear ash on my head as a reminder of my mortality. But in the Episcopal church we hold fast to the bodily rituals of Christianity. We wash feet. We don ashes. We kneel. We drink from a common cup that is held to our mouths as though we were children. Our worship is not a passionate outpouring but a calm embrace of an outrageous and absurd theology. Jesus is the wisdom teacher who not only died for his words, but refused to stay dead. We believe that a man died and then came back to life, and that man was not just a man, but also God Himself. We believe that the Creator of the universe would rather experience total suffering and obliteration than justice and revenge. We believe that love, surrender, and self-extinction are more powerful than fear, anger, might, or justice. And we embrace these wild and ridiculous truths with a pleasant smile on our faces as we obediently and calmly worship God.

When I shower, this ash will be removed. But Lent is the time for me to keep my mortality and weakness ever present, even when the ash is gone.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Musings About Head Covering for Religious Reasons

Lately I’ve been thinking about head covering.

It’s a strange topic for me, a proud feminist and theological egalitarian. It all began when I started praying about a Lenten practice. Well, maybe it began a little while before that.
A few years ago, the French government banned the hijab. And I was (am) fiercely opposed to their action. Why? For one simple reason: when a group of men (conservative imans, politicians in the Judeo-Christian tradition, male fashion designers) declare what a woman should or shouldn’t put on her body, it is oppression. Frankly, it’s oppression if a group of women do it as well (looking at all the women who demand high heels).
Lately, a certain President wanna-be declared that all Muslims in the US should be registered. My initial response was that I would also register as a Muslim – that if EVERYONE, Muslim or not, registered, we could prevent that form of discrimination. Think about it. What else could render such a registration meaningless? And as a Christian, it is my calling to fight against oppression and discrimination. (I realize many will disagree with me on this point. That's fine - I'm not asking your opinion or agreement).
And now, the question of Lent. When I first began praying about Lent, it occurred to me that I could wear a hijab during Lent. A sign of solidarity with Muslim women who are oppressed. At that point, I had not heard about Larycia Hawkins. As I considered it, I thought about the Christian head covering movement and decided to do some research. That’s when I learned more about the Jewish head covering movement and the PAGAN head covering movement. Yes, some Pagan women cover their heads as an expression of faith. Head covering is more than just patriarchal oppression.
And now I’m just curious. Having read accounts from women (Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Muslim) who choose to cover, I’m wondering what would I learn? I’ve abandoned the idea of the hijab. I don’t believe that is what God is talking to me about. Because I do believe that the Holy Spirit is talking to me about head covering. But the hijab is not the covering I need, if I need one at all.
What would – what COULD – the Holy Spirit teach me if I chose to cover my head during Lent? What would I gain and what would I lose? How would those around me react?
I asked my husband about the issue this morning. We are egalitarian, so I certainly wasn’t asking permission! And he would hardly see a head covering as some sort of license to oppress me. However, as someone who goes out in public with me a lot, as someone who is affected by my actions, I want to know his opinion. He was bemused. After our chat I experimented with some head coverings, goofing around with a pirate look and a wrestler look. Because there's nothing wrong with having a little fun!
Having done my research, IF I choose to cover, I will likely not adhere to any one style or tradition. I have a number of scarves, which I will simply wrap around my head. I’ll leave my bangs exposed. I may even leave my ears exposed. In fact, I’ll try to make it somewhat inconspicuous - I will avoid any covering that indicates a particular faith. After all, this is a personal devotion, a private Lenten practice. It’s about changing a habit to create space for the Holy Spirit to speak to me. And isn’t that what Lent is about?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Buh Bye, Facebook!

Today I begin a fast from Facebook. Why? For many reasons.
I was contemplating the approach of Lent and considering whether I wanted to sacrifice anything. I have been an uneven practitioner of Lent in the past. As I thought and prayed about it, it occurred to me to fast from Facebook.

As most people know, Facebook is a black hole when it comes to time. I knew that by giving up Facebook for a while, I would find time for the projects that are most important to me. I’m not talking about my family or my faith: I make time for those. I’m talking about my hobbies: the small habits that make my life meaningful, colorful, and joyful. I’m currently working on a massive cross stitch project. Now, cross stitch is a hobby for me. It has long been my own personal “coloring book.” But this year I want to enter my work in the State Fair, and to do that I’ll need to finish by August. My last project of this size took me over 4 years to complete! So spending time daily on my cross stitch is a necessity if I want to get it in the State Fair. Oh, and it has to be completed in a year to be entered: I can’t just wait until 2017 and enter it then if I don’t finish in time. Another hobby, which is also part of my life’s vocation: Writing. Using all my Facebook time to write will be a wonderful use of time! I’m in a delightful group, the 10 Minute Novelists, on Facebook, and for the second year in a row, they are hosting the 365K challenge. Participants have committed to tracking our word counts in order to develop a regular writing habit. Substituting writing for Facebook time will strengthen my participation in the 365K challenge. Oh, and don’t worry! I don’t have to be on Facebook to participate. The tracking is done via a Google spreadsheet, so I don’t even have to log in to track!

But aside from time, there is another reason. Currently, I get a lot of my news from Facebook. And that’s fine with me. I don’t like watching TV news and reading news is fairly boring. But I’ve noticed that Facebook likes to insert inflammatory items into my newsfeed. Memes and statements that irritate and anger and upset me. I don’t like seeing that, and so I’m taking a break.

I have a lot of righteous anger, and I’m a warrior at heart. But spending that anger and fighting spirit on Facebook is a waste. It’s unproductive, because it’s divorced from context, from relationship, and most importantly, from real impact in the world. I can debate gun control on Facebook, or I can devote myself to prayer and find a way to create community around me. As part of my Lent discipline, I want to channel my strong feelings into prayer and love, because only LOVE wins.

The more I thought about giving up Facebook for Lent, the more excited I got, until I decided to jump the gun and do it on February 1. I’m not big on waiting. And so here I am, writing instead of Facebooking.

If you came here from my Facebook page, great! Check in here for updates on my life. Also please follow me on Twitter. After all, I’m giving up Facebook, not all social media!