Tag Archives: Christian

Jesus, the Bleeding Woman, and Amateur Theology

One of the things that’s hard for me to wrap my brain around theologically is Jesus’s full humanity coexisting with his full divinity. Half and half would make a little more sense to me (like Achilles, for example, in Greek mythology), but fully human and fully God just seems paradoxical. For instance, if Jesus had truly been fully divine, he could’ve gotten himself out of a lot of hard situations (not least the crucifixion)—yet he didn’t. And if he had truly been fully human, he could’ve fallen prey to lots of temptations (especially the ones the devil offered him in the wilderness)—yet he didn’t.

On the other hand, perhaps these two states of being coexisting within one person are exactly why things happened the way they did: maybe full divinity allowed him to resist the kinds of temptations the rest of humanity might succumb to, and maybe full humanity prevented him from using a divine get-out-of-jail-free card to wriggle out of tough situations. It’s still a bit of a brain bender, though, and it’s one of those things we’re sorta just supposed to accept as Christians: Jesus was fully God and fully human. End of story, no questions, please.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I identify a lot with the disciple Thomas, who needs a little more explanation sometimes before he can get all the way on board with something that’s weird and theologically confusing. I’m like that too, and one of the biblical passages that clearly illustrates to me the fullness of both Jesus’s humanity and divinity (even though I’ve never heard it preached this way) is the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. There’s a version of this story in each Synoptic Gospel. Mark 5:21–42 and Luke 8:40–56 contain the details that manifest the character of Jesus that I want to discuss here. Matthew 9:18–26 has the story too, but its details are far fewer.

To summarize the story, Jesus is walking along the road, lots of people are around, he is preoccupied with a request to heal someone else—and then this chronically hemorrhaging woman somehow makes her way to the center of the throng, grabs the edge of his cloak, and is herself instantly healed.

The fact that she is immediately healed is something to notice right away. Certainly Jesus does a lot of healing in the Gospels, but usually it’s in cases where he’s been specifically asked to do it, and he willfully makes the choice to proceed. The fact that he has a choice in these other instances indicates full humanity by way of free will. He can choose to tap into his divine powers and heal someone, or he can choose to exercise his human free will and go on his way. I don’t know if I recall an instance when Jesus actually chooses not to heal someone who has asked for it, but choice is an important factor in other scenarios. For instance, people who are trying to trick, trap, or bait Jesus into performing “signs and wonders”—either as a condition of their own belief, for personal entertainment, or for diabolical purposes—are often disappointed when Jesus tells them parables or other confusing riddles instead.

Here with the bleeding woman, though, the fact that he doesn’t actively participate in her healing indicates his full divinity coexisting alongside his full humanity. Mark 5:30 tells us, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.” It doesn’t say that Jesus sends out power from himself or that Jesus chooses to heal this woman. It says “power had gone out from him,” implying that Jesus has no choice in the matter. To me, this result is proof that Jesus is truly sent from the Father in heaven, who has the power to will and to act through Jesus in situations when Jesus is—say, I don’t know—busy participating in activities that are more fully human, like being pressed by a crowd, walking along a dirt road, heading toward someone else’s home to perform a different (though equally divine) act of healing.

This woman’s desperation has driven her to some extremes, as I understand the story. In biblical Jewish culture, bleeding of any kind is considered impure, and anyone who does bleed (including, I think, women whose bodies simply menstruate on a regular basis, as God created them to do) is supposed to sequester, or quarantine, themselves until the bleeding stops; and, once it does stop, they then have to perform certain rituals, wait a certain amount of time, and get a priest to declare them pure again before they can re-enter public society. At least, that’s my rudimentary and incomplete understanding of ancient Jewish law, but I’m sure it’s not 100% accurate. However, assuming I got more details right than wrong, that would mean this woman has spent more time out of public life than in it over the last twelve years. It would also mean she is taking a huge risk by going out in this enormous crowd to try to get close to Jesus. With the people pressing in as much as the Gospel accounts tell us they are, not only would it be difficult to get near him at all, it would also require her to touch a lot of other people on her way through—probably a pretty big no-no. But this woman is desperate. Mark and Luke both tell us that “many” have tried to heal her to no avail, and Mark even indicates she’s made herself destitute just to pay for the many different treatments she has sought (5:26; Luke 8:43).

Imagine the desperation this woman must be feeling: a desperation that leads her to flout not only social norms but also religious law, a desperation that has driven her to the extreme—and, frankly, somewhat nonsense—notion that merely touching the edge of the cloak of this random itinerant preacher guy will make her well. But she’s been sick for twelve years. She’s tried everything. She’s seen every doctor, every herbalist, every quack peddling sugar water and placebo pills, she’s signed up for every experimental drug trial, she’s spent every last penny she has trying to rid herself of this illness that has plagued her for twelve long years. She’s ready to believe anything at this point, even if it’s some crackpot theory about touching the clothes of a carpenter-turned-rabbi who happens to be passing through town.

This woman’s absolute desperation is why the Father in heaven apparently decides to take part in this healing story. This woman’s insane belief—which Jesus names as “faith” in all three Gospel narratives—causes the Father to look down with compassion and send power out from his Son to heal this wretched illness and free her from her misery. None of the Gospels explicitly state the Father’s involvement in this story, but the implicit hallmarks of his presence are there. After all, Jesus has been clear throughout his entire ministry that he has been sent from the Father, that he is doing the Father’s work in the world, and that he will eventually return to the Father. And so, while Jesus is engaged in other matters, by other people, perhaps the Father sees an opportunity to reward one woman’s desperate faith by using Jesus as a conduit for healing. She believes Jesus can heal her even if she only manages to touch his clothing—and so, that is exactly what happens. Not because Jesus chooses to do it. Not because Jesus feels sorry for her. But because she believes. Because she has nothing to lose. Because she isn’t trying to prove anything, or trap Jesus, or trick him, or catch him in a lie, or get him killed. Because she is simply a woman who has reached the end of her rope, who has nowhere else to turn. And so she turns to Jesus. And is rewarded.

Yet, as we continue, we see more of Jesus’s full humanity on display in the fact that he doesn’t even know what happened. According to Mark and Luke, he can tell that power has gone out from him, but that’s where his humanity takes over from his divinity: he doesn’t know who touched him (Mark 5:30; Luke 8:45). The crowd’s response is kinda funny to me. They seem to answer Jesus a bit mockingly when he asks who touched him. What do you MEAN who touched you?! Do you see this crowd? EVERYONE is touching you! (see Mark 5:31 and Luke 8:45). But Jesus felt the power go out from him. He knows that someone specific touched him, that they did it in search of healing, and that they were rewarded: the power of divinity. Yet he doesn’t know who did it, nor did he specifically choose to send out that healing power from himself: the limitations of humanity.

Divinity and humanity coexisting in one person becomes a far more accessible concept in this weird little story that doesn’t even get its own passage. It’s bookended by what would be viewed as the more important story, the one about the religious leader’s daughter who also needs healing. To all who were there that day, healing the daughter of a synagogue leader—of someone who has presumably adhered to Jewish custom, tradition, and law all his life, who probably can quote the prophets, the Hebrew scriptures, and the entire law of Moses—should certainly be Jesus’s priority. It would be right, in their eyes, for Jesus to reward the faithful, the religious, those of his own “tribe,” those who are at the top of the hierarchical structure of their religion. But, as usual, Jesus turns things on their head and, together with the assistance of the Father, offers a living demonstration of “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” But it’s important to note, too, that Jesus does still choose to heal the daughter of the religious leader, even after she dies and they think it’s too late—again exercising his fully human free will to divinely heal someone deemed unhealable.

Most of our stories about Jesus highlight one aspect or the other: humanity or divinity. Divinity in his ability to resist the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Humanity in cursing a fig tree for not offering him nourishment; humanity that he even feels hungry in the first place! Divinity in his miracles like turning water into wine, feeding thousands of people from just a couple of loaves of bread, calming storms, walking on water. Humanity in losing his temper and overturning tables in church. Divinity at his baptism in the Jordan River, when the Spirit of God alights on him like a dove and the very voice of God proclaims and affirms his divine identity from the heavens. Humanity when he gets annoyed with his disciples for repeatedly misunderstanding him, his stories, and his mission. Divinity when he offers forgiveness to the unforgivable. Humanity in the garden of Gethsemane, when he literally begs the Father to find some way other than crucifixion to bring about salvation for the world.

I guess that’s why I’m drawn to this story about the bleeding woman and how she’s healed just by touching the edge of Jesus’s cloak—because, for just a second, I get a glimpse of both his humanity and his divinity, shimmering and present in the same body, in the same person, at the same time. And, for that quick second, I feel a small spark of understanding, perhaps like Thomas when he saw and felt the scars in Jesus’s hands after the resurrection. I’m grateful for a gracious God whose Spirit teaches me through Scripture, and I’m grateful to be saved by the kind of God who is willing to save all of us, whether we have a lot or a little, whether we’re as desperate as the bleeding woman or as comfortable as the synagogue leader. God deems all of us worthy of God’s saving grace. Thanks be to God.

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Christianity Makes Me a Better Person, but Feminism Makes Me a Better Christian

One day a few months ago I came across an old blog post I published to this site. It was a review I wrote of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I hunted it down on purpose with the intent of showing it to someone on Twitter who had asked for people’s thoughts on Hemingway. For a lark, I read through it again myself and laughed out loud upon reading a line that said, “I’m no feminist, to be sure.”

Quickly I checked the date of the post. Wow, it’s already been five years since I wrote that? And then, on the heels of my astonishment, some surprise: I actually sound kind of proud to be claiming not to be a feminist. A curious realization, considering how sharply my views have changed since then.

The cherry on top, of course, is the part where, at the beginning of the book review, I claim not to be a feminist and then spend the rest of the review lambasting Ernest Hemingway for his blatant misogyny. So it seems that, even though five-years-ago Audra may have been resisting feminism on a conscious level, its deep moral truths had already woven themselves into, at the very least, my subconscious. How I couldn’t see that for myself at the time, I don’t know. If I were a prouder woman, I would delete that post and try to erase all memory of ever having been such a contradictory yet transparent writer. But I’m not all that proud, and besides, that post is part of my journey. So I’ll leave it on my blog. I just won’t link to it.

So now we’ve arrived at the main topic of this post: feminism. At first, I’ll admit, I did resist outwardly identifying as a feminist, although only because I didn’t understand it. Back then, I found it easy to believe that “reverse sexism” was actually a thing. I am aware that I only fell into the same trap that all young people fall into–erroneously believing that they’ve magically figured out the mystery of life by the time they’re twenty-three, and that all the opinions they hold at that age are going to be their opinions for the next sixty years too. But even allowing for the ignorance of youth, I still find myself embarrassed by some of the things I used to believe, and steadfastly. The older I get, the more I realize how much I’ve never known and how much more I never will know.

But feminism has changed my entire life, and I say that non-ironically and completely in earnest. As a younger woman, I measured my own self-worth only in proportion to how much I was valued by my male friends and family members. I did this because society taught me to do it. I was termed (both by myself and others) as “boy-crazy,” as extremely “flirtatious,” as a “tease,” and as a “heartbreaker.” I wore these sexist and demeaning labels proudly, like Girl Scout badges. I sought the company of the opposite sex at every opportunity and shunned the company of other girls and young women almost exclusively.

In part, society trained and encouraged me to behave this way. In part also, I felt more comfortable in the company of the opposite sex because I never quite grew into the feminine persona that I was told all women “should” be. Since I was raised in a Christian environment, my preference for the company of boys was viewed especially harshly. One male youth worker warned a guy who was actually dating me to “stay away from her; she’s a bad influence.” The boy repeated that warning to my face, I guess because he thought it was funny. But I wasn’t a bad influence. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous, although I did enjoy kissing and cuddling and making out. (What teenager doesn’t, though?)

But there was another reason I didn’t like other girls. Sure, I didn’t feel I could relate to a lot of them; I wasn’t fashionable, I couldn’t do my hair, I was awful at applying makeup, and dressing up was a chore reserved for Sundays rather than an elective treat. But that wasn’t all of it. Other girls were my competition. Or, at least, that’s what society said. Plus, I found out quickly and early that if I made fun of my fellow female adolescents for behaving in ways that perpetuated stereotypes, I gained more favor with the guys. So I made fun of gigglers, of bathroom posses, of hair-dyers, of manicures–you name it; if another girl did it, I made fun of it.

But this behavior didn’t really yield positive results for me. What happened instead was that other girls started talking behind my back about what a nasty person I was. What happened instead was that, when the guys whose company I preferred decided they were ready to date the girls I myself had ostracized, I found myself alone and almost friendless. I noticed the negative results of my behavior when I was in college, and I attempted a corrective action in the form of a New Year’s resolution that I sarcastically called Operation: Be Nice to Girls. But it took me many years to figure out how to engage other women in my life in genuine friendship. It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I stopped viewing other women as competition for male attention (single or otherwise) and started viewing other women as true potential friends and allies in a world where power has been derived from keeping women down.

It’s easy to look at this behavior and judge it as wrong. For those who have never struggled with this, it might be doubly easy to judge. For myself, looking at it in hindsight, it tempts me to feel shame over the person I used to be. But, as a former pastor and fantastic friend once taught me, shame is not productive or constructive. Shame has no positive side effects, and shame has no place in any life, but especially not in the life of a Christian. (Nota bene: Shame and remorse are not the same thing.) But more than that, my behavior was a form of internalized sexism. A sexist world taught me to believe that all women (except myself, of course) were somehow bad.

Other forms of internalized sexism have manifested in the way women have been conditioned to be perpetually dissatisfied with our bodies; we’ve been conditioned to shame women who don’t act in ways that society deems appropriate for a woman; we’ve been conditioned to see beauty only in what we’re told is beautiful (like thinness or tan skin), rather than what we ourselves might find naturally beautiful if we were never influenced by outside factors; we’ve been conditioned to blame other women for making the problem of sexism worse. To linger on that last point for just a second before moving on: Calling out sexism as the primary role player in these issues does not absolve anyone of responsibility for resolution, but blaming women for perpetuating sexism is as vile, inaccurate, and ultimately unproductive as blaming black people for racism or rape victims for their clothing.

But feminism has opened my eyes to the realities I’ve described here. Feminism has taught me that women are not inherently bad, and they are not automatically the opposition. Feminism has taught me that femininity is not about wearing the right makeup and always crossing one’s legs and making sure to be polite and never using swear words. Femininity is not about being a good housekeeper or a good cook or a tolerant/easygoing wife. Feminism has taught me that I am a woman because that is my physical biology. Not to digress too far, but in that same vein, intersectional feminism has taught me that I am a woman because I feel like I’m a woman. Luckily for me, these two things coincide. I was born with a vagina, making me biologically female, and I also identify in my heart and mind with what biology tells me I am. But we don’t need to argue the merits, the reality, or the morality of transgenderism here. The point is, I don’t have to conform to societal expectations in order to be a woman. I am a woman even though I hate pedicures, don’t brush my hair, don’t love to go shopping, and hate wearing heels. I am not less of a woman for not liking the kinds of activities that society has assigned as girly.

Honestly, that conclusion wasn’t the hard part for me. The hard part was the piece feminism taught me after that: Other women are not less valuable just because they do like activities that society has deemed girly. Women who enjoy shopping, who love having their nails done, their hair dyed, and walking in six-inch heels are just as validly women as I myself am. I’ve fought so hard to be accepted as a woman even though I don’t want to be traditionally feminine, so it only makes sense that I would extend back to women who want to be traditionally feminine the exact same grace and acceptance I have demanded for myself. People are people, and they are complex. Women are women, and they are complex. Women can enjoy rom-coms, chocolate, and pink. Women can also enjoy sports, science, and technology. Women can be any combination of these things or none of these things and still be women. The beauty of a free life is that we get to choose who we want to be.

For me, figuring out that I didn’t have to be like other women in order to like other women was one of the biggest and most important epiphanies of my life. And, strangely enough, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned back to some traditionally girly practices in my life. I like dressing up and looking nice (sometimes). I enjoy wearing heels (if they’re wedges). I’ve even been known to enjoy a craft on occasion (if it’s not too complicated)! Once feminism liberated me from the bonds of feeling like I had to prove that femininity could look like nontraditionally feminine activities and interests, I felt free to turn around and start re-exploring some of the activities and interests that are traditionally feminine.

Feminism has helped me become more open, more loving, more accepting, and more encouraging as a person. Feminism has helped me view other people in the most positive light I can. I used to look for the negative in other women. Now I try my darndest to find the things we have in common, and if we truly have no common ground, I do my best to listen to them and learn about their interests so that maybe I can find a new interest myself or, at the very least, I can understand them a little better. Because understanding leads to love. And love is what I am called as a Christian to do. Maybe not everyone needs feminism in order to be a better Christian. But it has worked for me.

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The Blood of Christ

Communion has always been a favorite element of Christian tradition for me. I grew up in a church that only served communion on a quarterly basis, so it was a special, occasional treat in that context. And the church I grew up in had an extra-special version of the Communion cracker that I’ve never encountered anywhere else since moving on from that congregation. I don’t know how to describe it, and I don’t know where they got it or how it was made, but it was a really tiny square, and it was extremely crispy. It had this dry crunchiness to it that was very satisfying to a little girl who already loved bread and was usually hungry in Sunday service. One Sunday, I remember my mother chastising me for actually saying, “YUM!” out loud after partaking of the Communion cracker.

Over the years, I’ve experienced different methods of serving Communion–courtesy of my sampling of various faith traditions. I have come to really enjoy the method that allows pastors to serve it from the front of the sanctuary while parishioners walk up and physically receive it. There’s something to be said for the interaction, however slight, of the pastor blessing the parishioner who receives the elements.

The words are not complicated. “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you.” And yet this simple script accompanies a very intimate act, and I often wonder what exactly I’m supposed to do in response. Obviously consuming the elements is the main response. But there is always something in me that wants to make eye contact with the person offering the elements, something in me that wants to express gratitude for this person’s role in bringing Jesus directly to me. But the interaction is so short, so quick, and “thanks” seems so inadequate, that I never manage anything. I simply hope that they read the appreciation in my eyes.

This morning, I served Communion to my fellow church members for the first time in my life. Recently, on Easter, my husband and I became official members of Keystone United Methodist Church, where we have been attending since August of 2015. We are involved enough to feel a true part of the church. We attend weekly service, we have a Sunday school class, and we even have a small group. We tithe, and we participate in the extra events when we can. We feel very much connected to this church. Last month, however, we became connected in a new way in that we were asked to assume “hosting” responsibilities. At Keystone, a host not only hands out the bulletins and greets servicegoers, but a host also facilitates the offering and assists in serving Communion, things my husband and I have never done–until this morning.

It’s not complicated. Our lead and associate pastors always serve the bread, and the hosts serve the cup. We weren’t really given any instructions either, although we were told that we didn’t have to say anything if we didn’t want to, and not everyone who serves in the hosting role does say something to those who partake. However, for me, being told that I’m partaking of the body of Christ, broken for me, and the blood of Christ, shed for me, is (as my husband put it) a very sacred part of churchgoing and church participation. So I decided that I would say, “The blood of Christ, poured out for you” to those who came through my line as I held out the cup.

I was entirely unprepared, however, for the deep way in which I would be blessed by this simple action of holding out a cup of grape juice and saying a few words over and over again. A few times I had tears welling in my eyes as I repeated this phrase I’ve heard for years and years and years, having grown up in the church–and yet which I’ve never said to anyone.

It is customary for those assisting with Communion to receive the elements beforehand, from the pastor, in a quick little ritual that takes place before we get in position to serve. But my reception of Communion today occurred not in having the elements offered to me but in offering the blood of Christ to others. I was so deeply moved by the idea of how humbling and yet how powerful it felt to offer the salvation, the forgiveness, the grace, the very blood of our Savior, to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Who am I? I am no one. I’m not ordained, I’m not called to pastoral ministry, I’m not equipped to explain everything I believe and why I believe it. But I was allowed to participate in extending the grace of God today. I got to experience the beautiful and sacrosanct gift of offering the hope of Jesus Christ our Lord to those who need him. And I was simply in awe.

And I received something else as I stood there and held out the cup to my friends and fellow churchgoers. Almost everyone, after being told, “this is the body of Christ, broken for you” by the pastor and, “this is the blood of Christ, poured out for you” by me, said in response, “Amen.”

What a small word, and yet what other, more genuine, more true response is there for that moment? And now I understand what I can say when I am back in the line, receiving the elements once again with everyone else.

The body of Christ, broken for you. AMEN.
The blood of Christ, poured out for you. AMEN.

Amen, indeed.

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Why Do Christians Get So Judgy?

The more open our country becomes toward people who fall outside the traditional norms we’ve grown comfortable with, the more I watch in awe and sorrow as people who identify as Christ followers become more hateful and look less like the Jesus I know. Although, perhaps not surprisingly, these people do look eerily similar to the Pharisees Jesus repeatedly rebuked and chastised.

In the Bible, being a Christian means letting in “the other”—those previously seen as not included in the blessing promised to Abraham. In the Bible, these are Gentiles, people who aren’t Jewish—in other words, they are the people most non-Jewish Christians alive today are descended from at some point along the line.

In 2016 in some parts of America, being a Christian seems to mean judging the behavior of others, being close-minded, and barring the gates of heaven to anyone who does something that is really hard to understand.

Is it really very surprising that, 2,000+ years removed from the life and death of Christ Jesus, we’re screwing up his message? Anyone who’s ever played a game of Telephone can tell you that ain’t much of a shock.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sad. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mourn the perversion of the gospel—which is love first and foremost, and then grace, and then mercy. Not bigotry. Not racism. Not class distinction. Not homophobia. Not transphobia. Not conditional acceptance. And not fiery Facebook status updates that proclaim all sorts of things we’d never say to a person’s face and that, above all, tend to prove our own ignorance, our own inexperience, our own lack of empathy.

Aside from the obvious answer—the Telephone explanation—I’ve been thinking about why mainstream Christian culture has become this way. Of course I cannot answer for how others think and act, but I certainly can examine my own life and the times I have failed to represent the love of Christ—almost always because I’ve failed to understand the love of Christ.

I was raised in a Christian home. I grew up going to church and memorizing Bible verses and learning about “the right way to live.” I claim Jesus as my Savior even today—but only because I’ve recognized and tried to shed some of the harmful habits Christianity can enculturate, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and because I finally realized in my mid-twenties that it wasn’t God I was mad at; it was the church.

The main thing I’ve struggled with throughout my life as a Christian is judgment. At church, we use euphemisms that give us permission to judge others—terms like accountability, looking out for the souls of others, and moral behavior. Often, being a good Christian gets reduced to a set of right and wrong behaviors that include perfect church attendance and exclude using tobacco or saying fuck. And quickly, very quickly, we find ourselves trying to follow an arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts that’s longer and more complex than the unwritten rules of baseball.

For me, grace (receiving something that was not earned) and mercy (being granted clemency from deserved punishment) were not concepts I understood as a child. Which is weird because I definitely received both on a more than regular basis.

My parents gave me a weekly allowance that I was supposed to earn by doing chores throughout the week like making my bed, taking out the trash, feeding the dogs, washing the windows, and dusting. More often than not, when Saturday came, I held out my hand, expecting my allowance, with no thought to whether I had actually performed my chores that week (and most of the time I hadn’t). I didn’t earn my allowance. But it was given to me anyway. It’s too bad the lesson of grace didn’t accompany it.

Mercy was even harder. Kids are familiar with discipline and punishment, and I was no exception. I got grounded, I got privileges taken away, I received punishments that my parents thought were proportionate to whatever wrong I had committed. As such, I felt deep in my soul the unfairness of others breaking rules and not being punished, and I styled myself as a mini-vigilante (known in some circles as a snitch, a narc, or a tattletale), pointing out rule breakers left and right, making sure that, since I had suffered for breaking the rules, everyone who broke the rules would suffer in the same way. That was my concept of justice: If I suffer, everyone suffers. Strangely, the reverse didn’t translate. If I was shown mercy—if I was let off from receiving a punishment I justly deserved—I saw no reason to let others off for the same offense. My reprieve should be the exception, not the norm—lest the fabric of society be rent at its very seams!

So when I think about how this applies to the question of why some Christians find it so important to police the way others behave, I really think it’s as simple and immature as my childhood mentality. Since there is such a strong expectation of right behavior in Christian culture, many Christians get caught up in making sure they’re toeing the line. And, by golly, if they’ve gotta toe the line, then so should everyone else! These types of Christians are afraid to confront the possibility that they could do everything that’s “right,” and live their lives as straight-laced as possible, and still not get into heaven. Or perhaps they’re angered by the perceived injustice of the idea that someone else could not live the straight-laced way they’ve done and still slide into heaven alongside them (or, even worse, instead of them?).

This mentality has certainly been a struggle at different points in my faith journey, mostly because, in claiming salvation and inviting Jesus into my heart as a young child, I missed the key to the whole thing, which is grace. I don’t deserve salvation. I’ve done absolutely nothing in my life to earn it, and in fact, I’ve done quite a few things in my life to warrant losing it. But I have learned that it doesn’t really work that way (although I’m far from a once-saved-always-saved apologist). On the other hand, receiving the gift of the grace of salvation is meaningless if I don’t learn how to recognize that same grace working in the lives of others; if I don’t learn how to extend to others my flawed, imperfect, human version of the perfect grace of Jesus.

In my long and slow journey toward understanding the grace that Jesus has extended to me, and accepting my responsibility to extend it to others, I’ve been convicted multiple times by three parables in the New Testament. Some of Jesus’s parables go in one ear and out the other because—let’s face it—they can be weird and confusing. But three have acted repeatedly as agents of conviction in my own life: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21–35); The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16); and The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11–32). All three contain characters who have been recipients of grace or mercy and fail to understand the true magnitude of these gifts (hint: For once, the Prodigal Son is not the one at fault from this perspective!).

Some people in this world may only ever know the version of Jesus we ourselves translate (usually poorly or inaccurately). With that daunting thought in mind, I’ve become less worried about whether the people around me are going to hell or whether they receive the punishments they deserve, and I’ve grown much more concerned with whether they, in interacting with me, ever experience glimpses of unconditional love, unearned grace, and undeserved mercy.

Jesus said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples” (paraphrase of Matthew 28:19). And he said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged” (paraphrase of Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37).

He did not say, “Go forth and tell those you perceive as sinners that they’re going to hell.”

He did not say, “Go forth and refuse certain people the right to get married.”

He did not say, “Go forth and act like you’re better than everyone who hasn’t read the Bible.”

And he did not say, “Go forth and punish those who don’t engage in ‘moral’ or ‘right’ behavior just because you’re mad that you’ve done it and they haven’t.”

Some Christians in America in 2016 act like salvation is an exclusive club that anyone can get kicked out of at any moment. But that vision is a warped, garbled, Telephone-scrambled misunderstanding of the truth. Salvation and the gospel of Jesus are wildly, scandalously inclusive.

And thank God, or I would’ve been eliminated from contention years ago.

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An Existential Treatise on the Futility of Rationale

I’ve noticed myself becoming marginally less argumentative and aggressive as I age in this life.

Ha. If you asked for my fiancé’s side of the story, he would probably recount to you the three biggest fights (so far) of our relationship and say adamantly, “Less aggressive? No way.”

But it’s true. The older I get, the less energy I have for arguments (especially on Facebook) that occur between privileged, middle-to-upper-class, white college graduates (and yes, all of those descriptors apply to me).

It’s odd because my belief system is as “figured out” as it’s ever been. I know where I stand on the issues that plague general society and, often more significantly in my circles, the issues that plague the church.

But I have less energy and enthusiasm for an argument with a gun-rights advocate whose platform is so flawed and vague and just…absurdly selfish, I guess, that I get lost when trying to decide how to approach it to pick it apart. But aside from that, even if I knew exactly where to start, I don’t have the motivation.

I have less energy for an argument with a woman who thinks that sexism is a myth, one who is so buried and embroiled and surrounded by the latent sexism in our society that she thinks feminism is a four-letter word instead of what it actually is – a movement that recognizes a severe imbalance in this world and desires to take the steps to equalize it.

I have less energy for an argument with fire-and-brimstone Christians who care more about hatefully espousing their opinions about the eternal souls of those with whom they disagree than they do about getting to know a person who is different from them.

I’ve become disillusioned in this life I’m leading, and I’m past the point where arguments on Facebook, either with strangers or with people I respected until I found out what their politics or morals are, are satisfying to me. I’m past the point in my life where sitting around and debating issues that MATTER is the only thing we do. I live in a privileged world where I get to go to an office every day and earn a yearly salary, complete with healthcare benefits (although sometimes the high deductible feels more like a burden than a benefit). In my position as an editor, I’m constantly engaging and reworking and immersing myself in content that discusses helping, ministering, loving, being Christlike, putting our words into actions (or “feet on our faith,” as one of our monthly periodicals puts it), and I’m tired of these things being words to me and nothing more.

When I was a teenager, then a college student, then a young twenty-something, I dreamed of moving to another country and changing the world. Not in a big way. I don’t have the tools or skills to change the world in a big way. But in my small, linguist-centered way, I was going to make a difference. But now I’m not a twenty-something anymore, and I haven’t done any of the things I thought I would, and my passion has waned.

I don’t know if it’s because I am tired of arguing without doing, or because my arguments get me nowhere, or for some other reason I haven’t yet thought of. But my passion, my energy, my characteristic aggression has diminished.

And what in the world do I do about that? Maybe it’s a good thing, I reason with myself. I wasn’t really argued into any of the beliefs I currently hold. I came to embrace pacifism (and gun legislation), feminism, anti-homophobia, and all of the other issues I am passionate about by observing, studying, reasoning, practicing, and praying. Therefore, what’s the use of arguing my views to someone who doesn’t share them, or holds the opposing viewpoint? If I wasn’t argued in, how can I expect someone else to be? On the other hand, if nobody ever engaged in arguments, would social progress and change ever occur, or would we still be slave owners, who don’t allow women to work or vote?

But did those changes come about because Person A argued with Person B and Person B eventually saw the light and gave in? I don’t think so. I think they came about because Persons A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, and N argued with Persons O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z until some kind of conflict occurred and an obvious winner emerged. Whether the “conflict” be a war or a riot or a vote/election, usually the losing party isn’t suddenly converted to the other side. It’s just that they’ve become a subordinate somehow.

I guess I feel saddened and discouraged that conflict of some kind must occur before things can be made right. I guess it makes me feel powerless. Tweeting about sexism isn’t going to cause employers to raise all their female employees’ pay to match what the male employees make. Arguing with a middle-aged (or older) Christian, who’s claimed Christianity all his or her life, about whether gay people should be afforded the basic rights that everyone else gets isn’t going to legalize gay marriage in the last remaining states. Trying to reason with the overzealous second amendment defenders on Facebook isn’t going to get Congress to pass the gun legislation that this country sorely needs. And writing a blog post about the futility of it all isn’t going to change a damn thing either.

So, don’t mind me. I’m just over here having an existential crisis. I can afford such a luxury since all my other basic needs (except for equality as a woman) have been met. Nothing to see here. Move along, please.

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Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 2 of 3: Feminist Christian]

In the last post, I talked about my need to accept that there are legitimate, biological differences that make men and women different. This time I want to discuss the difficulty I have in finding the balance between being a disciple of Christ and being a feminist.

I have been a Christian for many years. So many that I’m not even sure of the exact number. Certainly far longer than I’ve [consciously] been a feminist. So the instructions to treat others as I would prefer to be treated, to love my enemies, to be kind to those who hurt me, to turn the other cheek – basically to lovelovelove until every little thing I do operates from a framework of love – these imperatives are familiar to me. I’ve grown up on them. I cut my teeth on them. I memorized and re-memorized and quoted and re-quoted every Bible verse related to these commands to various parents, teachers, mentors, and spiritual leaders during my childhood and adolescent years.

In addition, I’m painfully familiar with the humility verses too, and there are many. There are verses that make promises to the humble (sometimes known as the meek); there are verses that implore God’s people to take care of the marginalized (sometimes known as the impoverished, the widows, the orphans, or the oppressed); and there are verses that command me to put myself last, to serve others, to lead by following, to understand that someday those whom society puts last will be rewarded.

These verses – the ones that ask me to turn the other cheek and to subordinate myself to others as a humble disciple of Christ – are the ones I struggle with the most, especially when it comes to feminism. Before I became aware of the significance of feminism, before I knew that my voice was muted in the world simply because it’s female, before I knew that women have to fight for almost everything they get in this world, I had the type of personality that finds it difficult to adhere to what I like to call Jesus’s “be nice” commands. I’ve always found it very difficult to “be nice,” especially when I feel that I am or someone near me is being treated unfairly. So, when it comes to feminism, it sometimes feels that my innate desire to stand up for myself and for my entire, oppressed gender is at odds with my Christian call to be humble and kind, especially toward those who seek to oppress me.

There are lots of teachings and theologies and theories out there that describe Jesus Christ as the ultimate feminist, and while I haven’t delved very deeply into any of them, I can’t say I disagree with the surface premise. There are plenty of examples in the New Testament of Jesus showing favor to women, of Jesus trusting women, of Jesus redeeming sinful women, of Jesus elevating women to societal significance (the woman at the well, the woman with the expensive perfume, the adulterous woman, and the woman at his tomb, to name a few). So it’s never been a doubt in my mind that – in some ways, at least – standing up for myself as a woman is right and okay, even as a disciple of Jesus. After all, my personality type (according to intelligent-type books) is the kind that stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves; the kind that seeks justice and fair treatment for the oppressed; the kind that doesn’t let inequality slide unchecked. So why, when I’m the one being oppressed and treated unfairly, would I suddenly go silent? I wouldn’t.

Still, though. There’s some balance or line or moderation to be found, I think, that I maybe haven’t found yet. Somewhere that I can live both as a humble advocate of love and service without being a doormat or sliding into the realm of the oppressed. I’m called to love my enemies, but I’m not called to submit to them. I’m called to serve, but I’m not called to pander. I’m called to turn the other cheek, but I’m not called to be silent.

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I Was Raped

Yes, you read that right. I was raped.

Don’t worry. It wasn’t last night, or last week, or last month, or last year. But it happened, and this is the first time I’ve said that without qualifying it in some way. I rarely use the R-word when I discuss it.

Shortly after graduating from college, while I was still living in a state I hadn’t been born in, hundreds of miles and a five-hour drive away from my family and any actually reliable support system of friends, I experimented with alcohol and excess and drunkenness. Why? Because I’d been raised in a Christian bubble, right up through four and a half years of undergrad at a private Christian school. I wanted to know what the World was like.

My boyfriend of three years (who was three years younger than me) had broken up with me because he no longer believed in God, and I still did. There were other reasons (another girl, opposite goals and dreams, stages of life that were too different – I was a burgeoning adult in the real world; he was still in early undergrad). But the main issue between us was our difference of belief about faith and religion, and it drove us apart, and that’s okay.

But there were other things that had occurred in that relationship – things that caused me to question whether I was valuable as a person, and desirable as a woman. That boyfriend and I never had sex, but I was not a virgin when we met. I (willingly) gave up that title and became a statistic at the age of 17. For the next six years I allowed guilt and shame over my deflowered, marred, damaged status to conquer and rule me because the church mandates that it should. Premarital sex is wrong, the church says. Period. And, because the church says that it’s such a black and white issue, the implications that accompany the wrongness of the act heap a load of guilt and shame – mostly the shame – upon the person who engages in premarital sex but still wants to be part of the church – and especially so when that person is a young woman.

A lot of people know this fact about me – that I’m not a virgin. A lot of people probably also have suspected it over the years. I have been a flirtatious girl since the time I was four and obtained my first boyfriend, so it would be an easy speculation or conclusion to draw for the speculating and concluding types. But a lot of people also don’t know it. Or, at least, didn’t know it, until just now.

Near the end of my college career, and just after, I ran with a group of friends I’d gone to school with, and in retrospect I can admit that it was a fairly shallow group, catty and petty at times. It was also a very inclusive group, though. Anyone who wanted to hang out with us could, and we had a good old time when we went out drinking and carousing. We got drunk often, and woke up on one or another’s floors on many occasions.

It was through that group of friends that I met a guy we can call Camden. Camden was what many might call a “good ol’ boy.” Big, football linebacker type of guy, sorta square headed, and honestly not all that attractive when it came down to it. But I was getting over my boyfriend of three years, who – even though he discarded his faith – refused to have sex with me, which I took personally, as a rejection of my womanhood, even though he gave lots of other, perfectly acceptable reasons (we were too young; he was a virgin, it was important to him that his first time be…special; there was a pregnancy risk, and we weren’t ready either to get married or deal with the responsibility of a child).

So, back to Camden. Who wasn’t hot by any means, or even mildly attractive, but who found me sexually desirable, especially after we’d been drinking. My natural tendency to be flirtatious encouraged him, which is of course not surprising. Plus, and this is something else the church likes to shame women for, I have a sex drive. My body physically responds to sexual stimulation, to sexual attention, and to sexual hints and flirtatious comments. Sadly, it isn’t just the church that condemns sexuality and libido in women. It’s most of the world at large. But the church is the  context I know.

Camden made lots of advances that I rebuffed. I enjoyed the flirting but wasn’t interested in dating him (either casually or seriously), so in my mind that meant no sexual interaction needed to occur. But he kept joining our group on bar outings, and he kept seating himself next to me, and he kept touching me – first my hair (which was quite long back then), then my arm, my hand, my hip, my lower back, my knee, my upper thigh.

I don’t remember all the details of how things progressed (alcohol was invited to all of our get-togethers too, remember), but things did progress. Light kissing, making out, grinding, and all of the other things that good and creative Christians do when they feel the need to draw the line at actual intercourse. We never went on a date. I never asked for a date, and he never offered.

Though many will start to judge me at this point in the story, I did not feel cheapened by our interactions at the time. Everything we had done, I had agreed to do. And there were plenty of things he asked to do that I did not agree to do, and we didn’t do them. He was pushy, and asked for various acts multiple times in a given hangout session, but I was always firm with the lines I had drawn, and I always “won,” even if only because I could say no for longer than his drunk body could keep his mind awake or his erection stiff. And yet, the church and much of the world would want to label me at this point. Tease is a common word, and slut usually follows soon after.

He certainly thought I was a tease. Why would I flirt with him, text him provocative messages, invite him over at midnight, if not to allow him to penetrate me? How cruel I was. I couldn’t tease him like that. Once his penis was erect, it needed to be satiated, relieved. It was a physiological, biological fact. It’s why men have to masturbate. But not women, right? We don’t have a bulging, throbbing flagship of physical proof. Well, there is physical proof of a woman’s sexual desire, as any educated person knows. But for a woman to seek masturbation for sexual satisfaction, as a relief of sexual tension, as a physiological necessity: That is Wrong with a bolded, capitalized, underlined, italicized W. Women can turn it on and shut it off like a pressure valve, and society says we should. Men can’t, though. Men must expunge their tension, and any woman who raises the tension (literally) but then refuses to relieve it is a tease, a bitch, a slut, a cunt for doing so. But men are not to be blamed for their needs. It is primal, instinctive, and natural. Wet dreams prove that, right? (Hint: Women can have orgasms while they sleep too.)

I eventually broke off my dalliance with Camden, realizing that I wanted better for myself than a midnight booty call. I wanted better than a non-relationship that was only sexual (if not intercoursal). And I wanted better than a man who repeatedly ignored my protests and my NO, treated me as if “no” were a game. As if I were a plantation maiden being proposed to in 1861, and saying ‘no’ was the proper, decorous thing to do but that, if pressed enough, I would give the answer I really meant, and wanted to give, which was ‘yes.’

How many times have we heard that bullshit from some frat guy on TV, in a movie, or in real life? “Her lips said no, but her eyes said yes.” Unfortunately, there’s a wildly popular song here and now, in 2014, that uses that exact same logic, with lyrics such as, “I know you want it,” and “the way you grab me” and “must wanna get nasty” and “you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature” and “you wanna hug me, what rhymes with hug me?”

Frankly, Mr. Thicke, that is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life.

But I digress.

So things with Camden ended, and we each moved on. By that time my main post-college friend group had broken up and gone separate ways, and I had started to meet and make new friends. I didn’t see or hear from Camden for a long time.

Then, months later, one day out of the blue, I heard from his best friend; let’s call him Eddie. Eddie was having a birthday party at one of the clubs downtown, and I was invited. Given how long it’d been since I’d heard from either of these guys – not even a peep on Facebook (and this was back when we actually used Facebook to communicate) – I was surprised. I was reluctant to go. Nobody from the old crowd except these two was going to be at the party, and it didn’t sound like a lot of fun to me. I hemmed and hawed on the phone with Eddie, told him I wasn’t really digging it, etc. He begged and pleaded, said it had been forever since they’d seen me, and they both missed me and would love to hang out again, “like the old days.” I finally relented. “Oh, and by the way, would you mind being DD?”

So that was why they wanted to see me so badly. They wanted to get totally hammered and then get home safely. Well, my conscience kicked in, and I went to the party. I drank water while everyone around me drank everything behind the bar, it seemed like. Then Eddie and Camden and three total strangers somehow piled into my car for the drive home during the wee hours for the afterparty, which was at the house Eddie and Camden rented together. Well, I was game for some house drinking. It would be safe, I wouldn’t be driving until the morning; Eddie had said I could crash on their floor. Wasted Camden made a lewd joke about how I could have as much of his bed as I wanted.

On the drive home, Camden threatened to throw up from the backseat. I threatened his life if he did. I had just bought my car. Alcohol-infused puke was the last thing I wanted to break it in with. I rolled down a window for Camden and sped the rest of the way home. He made it, but just barely. As soon as I pulled into the driveway, he stumbled out of the car, took two steps up toward the house, and spewed the contents of his stomach everywhere. Mmm, sexy.

We all went inside and began the drinking all over again, including Camden, who, freshly emptied, was good as new. It didn’t take me long to get drunk, and I also grew very tired. I wandered into an empty room and slumped on a couch, dazed and hoping to doze off. Camden – drunk again – found me before too long. He touched me in ways that my body found arousing, and I eventually started kissing him. We made out for a while. He tried to take me back to his bedroom, but we only made it as far as his closet. I have no idea what happened after that. I woke up on the floor of the closet, in a pile of clothes, mine included, Camden sprawled on the floor beside me, totally naked. He began to stir when I moved, and he sort of lumped himself on top of me again. I said no, I was tired, I just wanted to sleep or go home. “Here,” he said, “we can sleep. Let’s go to the bed, though.” I started to grab my clothes and was instructed to leave them. I was wearing my underwear and maybe my bra.

We both collapsed on the bed, and I immediately fell asleep again. I’m not sure whether he did, or how much time passed. The next thing I knew, he was on top of me again, groping me again. I tried to push him off, but he was football linebacker big, and far too strong for me, especially as a drunken deadweight. I remember foggily telling him “no, no, no,” and I remember him ignoring me. His hands, his fingers roamed all over. He sloppily sucked at me, he clumsily thrust fingers inside of me, and I wriggled and tried to get far enough away to fall back asleep. I remember saying, “I’m not even wet” as an attempt to deflect his focus from my vagina.

Finally he got up, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I drifted back to sleep.

The next thing that woke me was a stinging, burning sensation inside my vagina. Camden had gone to the bathroom and gotten scented lotion to use as a lubricant. I don’t even know if he had a condom on. I didn’t have time to think; the burn was all I knew in that moment. I shouted, “OUCH THAT HURTS GET OFF OF ME” and shoved him as hard as I could. I didn’t send him flying or anything, but he did pull out, and lazily rolled over.

I didn’t say anything else to him. I calmly sat up, gauged my level of drunkenness, deemed it to be drivable, and went to the closet to retrieve the rest of my clothes. By the time I put them on, Camden was on his back on the bed, snoring loudly. I found the rest of my things, tiptoed through a house scattered with crumpled bodies, went out the door, got in my car, and drove home, where I crawled into my own bed and fell asleep for several more hours.

When I woke up later and recalled the sequence of events, I wondered briefly, Was that rape? But I dismissed the thought because I was a Law and Order: SVU addict, and what had happened to me was nothing like what happens to the girls on that show. Camden wasn’t a stranger grabbing me off the street, after all. He was a regular guy, whom I knew. It was natural for him to think I’d want to have sex with him. I’d teased him (there’s that word again) and encouraged him, and fondled him and let him fondle me plenty of times. Plus, we were both drunk. It’s easy to get the wires crossed. But didn’t I say no? Didn’t I tell him I didn’t want to have sex? I’m sure I said no. But we were drunk. It was my fault for getting him all wired and ready to go. It was my fault for making out with him at all. It was my fault for driving them home and drinking at the afterparty. It was my fault for falling asleep on their couch. It was my fault for agreeing to go that night at all.

It wasn’t long before I had convinced myself that what had happened was not rape at all, or anything close to it. Everything was my fault. I never considered calling any authorities or trusted mentors or even close friends. Nobody would know. I had made a mistake, and I had been punished for it. There was no reason to admit my sin to anyone.

It was more than a year before I told anyone what had happened with Camden, and by the time I did, I had moved back to Kansas City and left behind the drinking, partying, sex life I cultivated after college. By the time I did talk about it, I spoke flippantly and placed all the blame with myself. I never used the R-word; I didn’t even consider using the R-word. The first person to whom I described the scenario used that word, and I cringed and recoiled from it. No, no, it wasn’t that. Not nearly that serious. No way. It was just…drunk sex. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have gotten drunk. I should’ve just gone home after I drove them.

“Audra, did you agree to have sex with this guy?”

Well…no. But-

“No buts. Audra, that is rape. I don’t care how drunk either of you were. Someone having sex with you after you’ve said no is RAPE.”

Well, okay. If you say so.  But..

And so on. Over the last few years I’ve had multiple conversations that went just like that. I describe a downplayed, heavily guilted version of events. My conversation partner clarifies by using the R-word. I deny it, retrace my words, emphasize my own culpability.

The conversations always ended either with agreeing to disagree or – more often – with me pretending to agree that it was rape and then changing the topic quickly. Over time, I began to accept that the situation was far more serious than I ever let myself believe. I began to refer to it in my mind and in later conversations as an instance of non-consensual sex. Even now, writing this today, I don’t like using the word rape. That word implies a victimization of some kind, and I have never seen myself as a victim. I was not attacked, or assaulted. The encounter was not violent in any way. My vagina was not torn, I got no STDs, I did not get pregnant. Hardly anything at all happened, actually.

But something happened. I was advanced upon. I indicated more than once that I was not interested and that the advance was not welcome. I was ignored. And I was physically penetrated against my will. (And, thanks to the fact that he used scented lotion – which is not intended for sexual employment – I was also caused physical discomfort.)

Slowly, after more and more stories like mine surface, I have begun to realize that – alcohol or no alcohol – what happened in that bedroom that night has a label; it has a name; there is a word for it, and it does, unfortunately, start with an R.

And I’m tired of dismissing it as “no big deal.” No, my life didn’t change an especial amount afterward, except for the fact that I cut off all contact with Camden. I stopped taking his calls, did not answer his texts, took his number out of my phone, and blocked him on Facebook. He was persistent for a long time after that. He created new Facebook profiles more than once and tried to friend me as if nothing had ever happened. (It’s actually kind of funny – or maybe a little disturbing – to see how many profiles of the same name appear on my block list.) He messaged me something casual once, asking how I’d been and saying we should catch up, it’d been a long time since we talked. I have not spoken a single word to him since the last time I saw him. The last thing I said to him was OUCH THAT HURTS GET OFF OF ME. I am still in contact with his friend Eddie, who has brought me multiple reports over the years of Camden asking how I’m doing. I know that at least one time I told Eddie he could tell Camden to fuck off.

So, except for that, nothing really changed about my life, externally or internally. Except for my intense guilt and shame in hiding the truth. Except for my belief that I deserved what happened to me. Except for the disservice I’ve done to other young women and men by not being honest about what happened.

I live in a world where it’s not only normal that I blamed myself; it’s accepted. It’s expected. The church is failing women in this regard. Society is failing women in this regard. Men are failing women in this regard.

Having been wronged, violated, doesn’t have to make you a victim. Am I going to fill out a police report? No. But I’m going to stop denying that something horrible happened to me. And I’m going to (try to) stop feeling shameful about it. And I’m going to stop focusing on why it was my fault, or even whether it was my fault.

I’m not sharing my story so people can feel sorry for me. Please do not do that, in fact. I’m telling my story because I know I’m not the only one who’s been holding onto a story like this. I’m telling my story because this story has to stop being written. I’m telling my story because I have young female cousins and a young niece, and I don’t want my story to become theirs.

The simple fact is, no matter what led up to the event, no MEANS no. And nobody, no matter how horny, no matter how intoxicated, no matter how physiologically tense, has the right to ignore that.

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‘Tis the Season to Be Grouchy?

I have never been offended by the term ‘Happy Holidays.’ To be fair, though, I’ve also never thought the term ‘Merry Christmas’ should offend anyone.

But apparently it is a war or something now. Which is so weird because I thought wars were extremely serious things where guns and armies got involved and lots of innocent people died. I didn’t think a ‘war’ had anything to do with entitled people writing argumentative Facebook statuses that claim faux-religious persecution. Huh.

This isn’t going to be a very long post, but I just want to direct a couple of words toward Christians who think their holiday is being attacked or co-opted or something else equally nonsensical.

First off, Christmas is not the only holiday (and, I dare say, not the first) that has been secularized and adopted by people other than the ones for whom it was intended. Look at Halloween. Look at St. Patrick’s. Two holidays originally meant for specific people to observe specific traditions, and now the world has made them about candy and costumes and alcohol and leprechauns (and having a ‘legitimate’ excuse to sexually harass – excuse me, pinch – someone who isn’t wearing green).

What is the Christian beef with the secularization of Christmas anyway? The consumerism? The removal of Jesus from the picture? If someone wants to celebrate Christmas but not acknowledge Jesus, shouldn’t Christians be glad they use Xmas instead? That way they aren’t claiming Christ at all, whether falsely or accidentally or otherwise. As far as consumerism goes, Christians ought to be honest with themselves in admitting that the consumeristic way the world celebrates Christmas is often not different from the way Christians celebrate it. So you do an Advent calendar during December and you make sure to read Luke 2 before commencing the present-opening frenzy. So what? Many Christian families still spend a lot of money on “stuff” and “things” and “toys” at Christmastime. Is it Christlike to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on new toys and gadgets all at one time? Hard to think so.

As far as Christ being taken out of Christmas, who has taken him out of your Christmas? Does someone not acknowledging Jesus or saying “Happy Holidays” take Jesus away from you personally? Do people who don’t claim Christ make you feel as though you can’t celebrate Christ in your home on Christmas Day in whatever way you want to? Spoiler: The answer is no.

The thing is, church, there are a lot of worthy battles to fight in this world in the name of Jesus (human trafficking, child soldiers, extreme poverty etc.), and this just isn’t one of them. December is one of my favorite months of the year because people are kinder during this time. People smile at total strangers and say “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!” and it makes you feel warm and happy inside. People help one another shovel snow and scrape ice off of cars. People let others go in front of them in lines at the store and in traffic on the road. People smile and laugh and say “please” and “thank you.” In December – in my experience, anyway – the world is simply a kinder, happier place. And the only threat to all the peace and joy and good cheer being spread around and shared is this silly non-war Christians have tried to manufacture.

Certain people who celebrate Christmas may not see a reason to add Jesus to their celebrations. But something that is universally understood about this holiday, Jesus or no Jesus, is that it is a time to be with family, to love, to be kind, and to celebrate. Which, like it or not, is everything that is Christian about the holiday too. So, if we actually want the same thing – and it appears that we do – then Christians ought to lead by example in spreading peace and joy, rather than religious strife.

The church gets enough bad publicity. Stop giving the world one more reason to turn away from Christianity. It is possible to be both “yay, Jesus” and “yay, holidays” at the same time. Try it, church. You might like it.

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A Short Consideration of Biblical Anti-Feminism

Early this week, I was approached by a female (Christian) college student who had some questions about the Bible, and specifically how she, as a young woman, ought to feel about some of the anti-woman passages the Bible contains, especially those in Paul’s writings in Corinthians. I was deeply flattered that she came to me to ask for my take on some of those scriptures. I am not at all an authority on the Bible, or on theology, or on scriptural interpretation. But this particular young lady is well acquainted with my personality, and knows that I consider myself something of a low-level feminist, in addition to a Christian. I’m not sure how much of a scholarly response she hoped for, but I am certain she wanted my opinion, and that I have in abundance.

As a woman who was raised from birth in a godly home, I too have had these questions and these struggles along the course of my faith journey. Crafting my response to this query was something that required me to revisit some of my own questions, doubts, and even frustrations with what sometimes feels like an incompleteness in Scripture. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have Jesus-in-the-Flesh so I could ask questions like this when they come up. But then I remember how, every time someone in the Bible has a question for Jesus, the riddled answers he gives leave the recipient just as confused as he was before he asked, if not more so. That Jesus was one tricky fella.

Still, though, coming up with a response to the question of how to approach anti-feminism in the Bible forced me to think through some of these things again, and it made me wonder how others handle it. So I’ve decided to share, in its entirety, the response I drafted and sent, in the hopes that some discussion will be generated. I’m deeply interested in other people’s thoughts on the matter. Keep in mind, I don’t have a degree in anything even close to religion, theology, or the Bible, so my thoughts are more ‘Audra’ than they are ‘educated.’ If you disagree with something I’ve said, that’s fine. I’d love to hear from you. I only ask that you please not be rude.

One final note: I wrote this response without actually looking up the Corinthian scriptures. I probably shouldn’t have done that. Still not having looked them up, I now wonder if what my response addresses is actually contained in Paul’s letters, or if it possibly belongs to a different New Testament writer. The bulk of my response addresses the scriptures that talk about how women don’t have a place in church participation and/or leadership because, when I hear someone talking about the Bible being anti-women, these are the first scriptures I think of, and they are the ones I myself have personally wrestled with the most. I won’t pretend to know off the top of my head what book they come from. Perhaps, though, at a later date, I’ll examine things more thoroughly and find I have more to say. If so, I’m sure you’ll hear from me.

That being said, following is the full, verbatim, unedited text of my original response:

Hey, got your text. Had a much longer answer than could be contained in a text message, or than I wanted to use Swype for. So here we are.

Your question is rather loaded, but I find the answer to be fairly simple, at least for me. First off, it’s important to remember how highly contextualized the Bible is. The books were not really meant to be passed down thousands and thousands of years. When I say “meant,” I am of course only speaking of the authors’ intentions. No author of Scripture intended for his words to be read in 2013, and certainly not adhered to as gospel truth.

It is my opinion that if Paul or any other writer of any other book of the Bible – especially the New Testament books – came back today and saw the way that Christians and the church misapply his contextual words, he would both laugh and cry. And then he’d probably write a letter to the new world, chastising us for being such incompetent fools that we can’t even take the spirit of Scripture and figure out how to apply it to our own contexts.

Now, (*Obama voice*) let me be clear: I think the Bible is important. But there are contextual details in Scripture that do not apply to the world we live in today, and how could they? It’s just not possible.

When I read Scripture that feels misogynistic or seems to disagree with the world I’m encountering (this includes the anti-homosexual scriptures too), I run it through the Greatest Commands filter:

1) Does this scripture – beyond the surface – speak to Jesus’s command to love God? If so, how can I apply it in that way? Loving God does not mean not being who you are (as a woman, in this case; as a gay person, in other cases; as a myriad of other things in a myriad of other cases).

2) If the answer to the first question is no, then it should be yes here: Does this scripture – beyond the surface – speak in some way to Jesus’s second-greatest command to love others? If so, how can I apply it in that way?

The writers of Scripture were human, and they were not without sin. Paul contradicts himself a zillion times. Some of this is because he has different things to say to the different towns/churches because they have different problems. What’s true for Galatia is not true for Corinth, and vice versa. Otherwise, he could’ve just written one document for everyone. Paul wrote from prison, trying to put out specific fires in specific communities. I highly doubt he had any concept or inkling that his writings would survive thousands of years and be taken at total face value in 2013.

Those who chose and compiled the canon were also human, and not without sin. I’m not saying that I don’t believe the Bible is inspired by God; I do believe God inspired Scripture; but I AM saying that I don’t believe in the concept of inerrancy of Scripture, at least not in the literal sense. Especially when the versions of the Bible we have today are so doctored and transformed from the original texts. It blows my mind when someone dissects a paragraph for me and explains all the various meanings that could be meant by one Greek or Hebrew word. The difference is too vast for me to say that my NIV, modernized, Anglicized, translated-into-American-English version of the Bible is totally without error or fault.

When I memorize Scripture, I don’t find it important to memorize the potentially divisive ones that are so highly embedded with contexts and cultures that are dead today. I find it important to memorize the ones that transcend context and culture, such as the one I tattooed on my arm, Philippians 4:12. Oppression of women does not transcend context and culture, but trusting God enough to be “content” (wherever the various nuances of that definition may take me) in any circumstance – that does transcend. It’s a totally timeless concept, as are the two commands to love God and love others.

If the anti-women scriptures are that important to you, dig into their history and find out why exactly that view was important enough to Paul to write it down. And find a way to prove why it’s irrelevant today. Heck, find a way to reapply the Scripture so that the word ‘woman’ isn’t what’s important. Why did he not want women leaders in the church? I doubt very much it was because they were women. Today the application of that Scripture might be more along the lines of, “Hey. Don’t let someone who hasn’t studied up on theology lead your church.” Back then women were not allowed to be scholars. So should they have been leading congregations? Probably not. Today, should someone who has never studied the Bible, or its culture, or its history, or the ancient languages surrounding it, or any type of theology whatsoever, be leading a congregation in a significant way? Probably not. Saying ‘women’ could have been an easy (albeit, lazy) way to say that the uneducated person should not lead the church. I don’t know. I haven’t dug into it myself.

I’m really glad this question and consideration has become important to you. We serve a good God, and we serve a God who made both of us, and called it ‘good.’ Love God; love others. Not easy concepts; but simple. Also, this is the tip of a pretty contentious iceberg, so good luck and be careful digging in!

PS I mentioned this conversation to a friend, and he recommended a couple of resources. The first takes an open perspective and theology on the importance of both genders and God’s original intent for both men and women (the most important detail being that the inequality is a result of the fall, and of a broken world).

And here is one that Nazarene Publishing House published that is no longer in print, that specifically addresses Paul.

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My Friends Are in My Pocket: Why the Digital Age Isn’t Ruining Interpersonal Interaction

Children are raised being told to respect their elders, and not all of them do it, that’s true. On the other hand, nobody tells any elders to respect children, teens, and young adults either. So there’s a constant tension among all the age groups, and for some reason, few from any of the groups try to understand those from the others (hmm, sounds like how all conflict gets started, doesn’t it?).

One of the things that the oldest of the still-alive generations don’t understand is the young people’s addiction to technology. The claim is that young adults have lost the ability to interact face to face, and that teenagers and younger children will never learn it to begin with. Such an assertion is, of course, exaggerated, but, since computers are obviously not going away, and since teenagers and young adults will be running the world soon, I’d like to cast a little different light on how we view relationships in the digital age.

Let me just set the scene for you on what digital interaction looks like in my life. My closest and most trusted friend lives in Austin, Texas (and, in fact, is getting ready to move to the United Arab Emirates), so we conduct our entire friendship via text messaging and online chat. My next-closest friend lives four blocks away from me but is married and has two children, so we also conduct most of our friendship via text and online chat. I use Facebook and Twitter and Gmail, as well as a host of other websites where you are required to have an account and profile of some sort in order to interact. Twitter, though, is the one I use the most.

Interestingly enough, Twitter seems to be the one the older generations understand the least. They don’t understand the point of it, or the layout, or the functions (where is the “like” button?). But Twitter has become, for me, a place to find people to go to baseball games with, or watch baseball games with, or – at the very least – talk baseball with while we each sit on our respective couches at home. Certainly, baseball is a niche interest, and it is the foundation on which most of my Twitter friendships are built, but it is not the only niche community out there that Twitter facilitates.

The best part about Twitter is that I can show up as frequently or infrequently as I want, and someone else is always there. If I’m busy, I don’t have to post. If I’m twiddling my thumbs in a waiting room or standing in a very long line, I can send 10 tweets in the span of 15 minutes and nobody tells me to shut up. Twitter serves as a diary I keep online that 523 people have signed up to read. So, it’s like this blog, but way more popular.

Recently, I was in San Francisco. I went there for vacation. I also utilized my Twitter connections for a couple of things while I was there: 1) to score free (and really sweet, really close-behind-home-plate) Giants tickets, and 2) to meet up with a fellow tweep I had interacted with over the course of the baseball season. Twice during the days that he and I hung out, I was introduced to a couple of elderly-type people he knows, and both of those people wanted to know how he and I met, and both of those people were told the same thing: Twitter. And both of those people launched into a diatribe about not understanding young people these days. (Coincidentally, both times this happened, my friend happened to be engaging a restroom, so I was left alone to defend the honor of young people everywhere to two complete strangers.)

Oddly enough, both also had stories about being in restaurants and observing young couples who were “obviously on dates” sit there and “text each other” on their phones instead of talk face to face. I tried not to laugh, even though it was uncanny that this scenario played itself out almost exactly the same way but with different characters twice in the span of just a couple of days (or maybe San Franciscans just aren’t as unique as they think they are, who knows). When I found myself in this conversation the second time, I wondered if either scenario had actually been observed, or if it was simply an iteration of the “sister’s friend’s cousin’s stepbrother’s nephew” vicarious game of telephone we all know so well.

I also considered pointing out both times that the observed couples were probably not texting each other at all but were texting other friends, or were tweeting. But that didn’t seem like it would help the cause of the young people, so I simply smiled and nodded and continued to listen, all the while appreciating the irony of the fact that these two older gentlemen found it acceptable to deplore young people and their addiction to the internet to the face of a young woman they both claimed they were delighted to have met, and whom they both either hugged or kissed on the cheek at some point, and who was only standing there talking to them in those moments because of the internet.

As to the claim that young people don’t know how to interact face to face anymore, I find the exact opposite to be true. In fact, I even assert that having the internet as a buffer actually helps some people who struggle with interpersonal interaction do it better face to face. Take Twitter, for example. We use it to share our thoughts and experiences with whomever might be reading. My profile says 523 people are reading my tweets, but I know that there are not 523 people who read every tweet I post, and most of the time I just pretend that nobody is reading it, which allows me to share things about myself that I might choose not to share if I spent time over-analyzing exactly who might be reading. (Those who have seen my Twitter feed are probably wondering if, in fact, there even is anything I would not share, and I assure you, there is.)

But, though all of my followers do not read every single tweet, there are many who see each tweet, and some who respond. And sometimes it leads to engaging dialogue, and sometimes it leads to other tweeps who see us going back and forth hopping into the conversation too. Sometimes it devolves into an argument, but most of the time it’s a good and positive thing. I spent the full six months of the 2013 baseball season building up my Twitter community with fellow baseball fans (mostly Royals fans, but there are a fair number from other fanbases too; my San Francisco friend, for instance, is part of the Giants fanbase).

As I was doing this, and having engaging conversations with people I liked a lot on Twitter, I was also constantly searching for partners to attend Royals games with. I’m not a season ticketholder, but I set a silly – and lofty – goal for myself at the beginning of this past season: Attend one game per home series. Did you read that right? Not homestand. Home series. For every team that the Royals played at Kauffman this year, I wanted to be at a minimum of one game per opponent. This meant I went to a lot of games, and it meant I ran out of game-going partners early in the season. My existing friends were happy to go to games with me on occasion, but nobody could or wanted to go as often as meeting my goal necessitated.

So I took to Twitter. Over the course of the season, I met, attended games, or tailgated with more than 20 of my friends from Twitter. (I just did an unofficial count off the top of my head and came up with 23, but it’s possible I left out a few. But even if I didn’t, 23?! Wow. That’s kind of awesome.) Since it was spread over the course of an entire season, I didn’t realize the number had climbed that high, but I did make it clear early and often that I intended to meet as many tweeps as possible at Kauffman, and I found plenty of people willing to meet.

And guess what? We did not find our conversation lacking or stalling out when we did meet up. We’d all already gotten to know each other on Twitter, so it was no big deal to hang out in person. We had things to talk about and updates to inquire about. And, if the flow of conversation ever did start to slow down, we had the Royals (and Royals Twitter) to fall back on because, you see, there are a lot of us, and the ones who are vocal and participatory in the Royals Twitter community all know one another. We all follow and interact with one another, so it’s like we’re a huge group of friends already, even the ones who haven’t met up in person.

Twitter provides us a place to share our lives with one another. Because of Twitter, I know that certain people have recently entered parenthood for the first time (shout-out to baby Parker and baby Cale). Also because of Twitter, I shared that entrance into parenthood too, and all the frustrations about in-laws, and insensitive doctors and nurses, and how long the labor process was lasting (yes, it was the fathers I was following, in both cases). Because of Twitter, I know that a fellow tweep experienced the death of her young son just a few years ago. Because of Twitter, I know that someone is dealing with the medical implications involved with having a thyroid tumor. Because of Twitter, I know that a friend is battling what is likely bipolar disorder, but he’s unable to be diagnosed and get medical help because he lacks health insurance. Because of Twitter, I know that a friend recently reconnected with a brother and sister he never knew he had. (And, that brother and sister found him because of Twitter.)

Because of Twitter, I can have a bad day, tweet about it, and instantly be met with all manner of replies varying from sarcasm to distraction to comfort. Because of Twitter, I can ask hard faith questions and enter a dialogue with people who wonder the same things. Or with people who don’t. Because of Twitter, I am connected to people of all different kinds, many of them very different from myself (as opposed to Facebook, where I’m mostly connected to people who have very similar backgrounds and contexts to mine). My Twitter friends know me. They know who my favorite baseball teams are (AL and NL); they know who my favorite individual players are; they know who my favorite college basketball team is, and they know who my NFL team is; beyond the world of sports, they know I have an adorable and chubby niece; they know I have a black dog, and that his name is Soren; they know that this past baseball season has coincided with my training for my first marathon, and they know that I mostly only trained during Royals games so I could listen; they know that I’m an editor, that I love words and books and grammar; they know I’m a Christian.

These people are my friends, and Twitter allows me to connect with them in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, late at night, at home, at work, out and about running errands, or stuck waiting somewhere. I derive joy from my interactions on Twitter. So, yes, I will be one of the people who stands in a long line and looks at a phone instead of those around me. Some people think that means we are self-absorbed, but my attention to my phone doesn’t mean I don’t care about people. It means just the opposite, in fact. I do care about people, and I’m using my phone to engage them.

Because of digital interaction, I have more friends than I’ve ever had in my entire life. And I don’t say that lightly. For me, friend is a heavy word, carrying weight and obligation and meaning. Some people think they have 1,012 friends because that’s what their Facebook says. This is not that. I have 523 Twitter followers, but I don’t have 523 friends. But I do have friends and people I have come to care about solely because the internet and Twitter exist, and those people are larger in number than they would be without digital interaction. And I care about them, and I know they care about me. And when it does work out for us to get together in person, we do it, and we have fun. (If you don’t believe me, you should come sometime when I hang out with some of them, and I’ll show you.)

So that’s why I don’t like to be without my phone. To be without my phone is to be without my friends.

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