Personality Modification

One of the more common descriptors used of me is “sweet”, I’m also “quiet” and tend to startle people when I appear unexpectedly out of nowhere. I find it easier to continue an existing conversation than to strike up a new one. I remember being taught that being modest isn’t just about what I choose to wear it’s a heart issue that also reveals what sort of person I am.

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. – from 1 Timothy 2

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. – from 1 Peter 3

Ah, but men and women are to be different. If women ought to be quiet and gentle, then men ought to be loud and strong. Any woman who grows up with a loud and strong personality must therefore battle against it and make herself quiet and gentle. Any man who exhibits a quiet and gentle nature, must therefore work constantly to become loud and strong. The only men who are affirmed as they are are the loud and strong ones, the only women who are affirmed as they are are the quiet and gentle ones. They quite naturally are who they’re supposed to be. Lucky them.

But in all this, I can’t help but wonder – why would God make a strong-willed woman or a quiet and gentle man and require them to fight against the nature he gave them? I’ve seen how a strong-willed man can be overbearing and a quiet woman can be taken advantage of when she’s not allowed to speak up for herself. Put the combination together, and a strong-willed husband with a quiet wife creates a scenario where the woman isn’t allowed to speak up, to question decisions, to do anything other than to stand behind her husband and let him do all the talking, she’s allowed to have an opinion, but not allowed to voice them when they contradict her husband. Is that the ideal for all Christian families?

There’s also this element of shame – how quiet and gentle men are less complete than their loud and strong-willed brothers in Christ. How loud and strong-willed women are too much like men to be considered a complete sister in Christ. If only God had made them naturally as they ought to be they could spend their time not warring against their own natures and do more productive things like leading or following as they ought to. Is it sin that made them contrary to how the Bible says they must be, or God who created them contrary to his own design for how they ought to be?

It reminds me of that quote from Akeelah and the Bee: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

These ideas about the appropriate personality for our gender seem to say: “Hide your light under a bushel so that the other light may shine all the brighter in the darkness.” Could you imagine just one star – one distant point of light in the new moon night sky? How lonely it must be for that single light. It’s only when all the lights from all the stars, single and binary shine brightly are we captivated by the constellation of stars even on the darkest of nights.

It seems to me that the thing to do isn’t to declare that this person’s natural personality isn’t fit for their gender to try to force them to change, it’s to draw them out and encourage them to be as they were meant to, to celebrate uniqueness and quirks, to let them be themselves – it’s when we see the whole spectrum of human personality for it’s diversity do we begin to understand that we all reflect something of God in some way or another and it’s no sin for women to be strong-willed or for men to be quiet and gentle.

Time for Church

I actually went to church the other day. It’d been awhile and I was starting to think that it was time to just up and go. This church was one we had previously visited – a contemporary megachurch that usually has about three services a day. It’s also about an hour or so drive’s away – making it a chore to try to plug-in or get involved to any degree. The one advantage about this sort of church is that you can be just a face in the crowd. With so many people streaming in and out, nobody really knows anybody. You could attend there for a year and be just as much of a stranger as a stranger making their second visit. At least this time, we knew not to park the car in the western half of the parking lot – which was furthest from the main building’s entrance.

With contemporary churches – it doesn’t take a very long absence before the music goes from the sort of songs you do know to ones you haven’t really heard of. At least when we lived in the same town as our last non-denominational contemporary church, they also had this extremely popular Christian radio station. On the drive to church, you could listen to one of the songs that would soon be sung together. In this area, the radio stations are far less capable – so we have no idea what’s popular or being sung – no way to prepare ourselves for the new music. I did manage to write down the first line of each song that they displayed, but aside from that – there’s no real way to identify which songs were sung or who wrote / sang them originally.

Sermon theme: “Sacrifice”

Main points: “A Christ-follower understands the value of the Kingdom of Heaven.” “A Christ-follower is willing to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom of God.” “A Christ-follower knows the truth.”

The sermon was a fairly standard message – basically it was about giving up everything to follow Jesus. Which is something no church really wants it’s regulars to do. Churches need tithes to operate, tithes come from a steady paycheck, employment, housing, transportation. Sure, technically you could give up hobbies and leisure activities – but even Jesus was known to retreat from the world and rest. It felt a lot like preaching to the choir about needing to sing for the Lord. People don’t go to church because they aren’t saved – they go because they are and they have already given up the rights to their souls. They go for encouragement, being uplifted, being comforted, for a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.

There was a moment I looked around and realized just how much of an outsider I always seem to be. I’m too contemporary for the traditional churches, and too out of the loop for the contemporary churches and in both cases not really belonging to any group at all. If Christians are trying to make it hard to leave – they’re not doing a very good job of it. They’re not really making it easy to stay, come to think of it. Churches have taken this “If you build it, they will come” approach to getting people to show up – but it’s like they don’t know what to do with them when they get there. How friendly should they be? How helpful should they be? Should they be left up to their own devices? Should room be allowed for them to approach the appropriate channels when they’re ready for more?

 

Is it Loving?

Continuing from my earlier thoughts, it strikes me as vitally important to get some idea of what “loving” is. I remember being told some variation of this concept awhile ago:

When people had wood-burning stoves, parents would tell their young children, “Don’t touch the stove, you’ll get burned.” The parent knew the danger the stove represented and wanted to spare the beloved child from the pain of being burned.  The child, having no concept of “burned”, thinks that everything the parent says “no” to must be fun – so he or she reaches up and touches the stove – instantly, he or she fully comprehends what a burn feels like having painfully received one.  Not only that, he or she realizes that the commandment to not do something was based in love and a desire for his or her well-being.  It would not be loving for that parent to not warn their child of the danger of the fact that they would get burned or shocked from sticking things into an outlet. That’s why Christians are commanded to warn sinners of the dangers that Hell represents, it would not be loving to let them remain in sin and get burned.

One thing I had always hated about that logic is that in that parallel, Christians see themselves as the loving parent and all sinners of all ages as the toddler or disobedient young child. It doesn’t matter that the “sinner” in question is actually older than the Christian; it doesn’t matter that they’re total strangers. It’s the same thinking that allows a Christian to go to that “sinner”, push him or her over, and shout something like: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I cast you out demon! Leave! Begone!” This is, the Christian thinks, an expression of God’s love. This is, the “sinner” thinks, a crazy person who for no apparent reason has knocked him or her over and began shouting something bizarre (that’s not an exaggeration, by the way – but something that has actually happened in the name of Christian love). The Christian gives him or herself the power to decide that as the mature one, as the one who defines what is loving, then he or she must act, or else do the “unloving” thing by not warning the “sinner” of his or her fate. This, of course, a judgement call, as they don’t know that this “sinner” came to faith as a child and is just as much a Christian as they are in God’s eyes. The Christian can only see an instance of sin being committed and decides that anyone who sins must be a sinner as Christians don’t sin and it’s impossible for sinners to be Christians.

Christians do have 1 Corinthians 13 as a guideline – a basic Christian definition of love. But not everyone lives by the book and wouldn’t consider being bossed about or pushed over by total strangers as loving by any definition they know. Perhaps one of the best secular concepts of love is to “do no harm.” The same flaw extend even here, though – so it would seem the problem isn’t in the message, but in the transmission. It gets caught up, jumbled, and received in a way different than what was intended. The Christian after all, has been taught that being warned of the consequences of sin – and going to just about any lengths to do so is loving, and that’s why some of them do just that. It’s not the same message that other Christians get though, and those who aren’t Christians don’t see it that way either. In this, humility seems to be a vital ingredient, one that takes the Christian out of the position of power. He or she will need to consider that others might not have the same definition of “loving” – after all, it’s probably the most difficult concept to define in a way that everyone agrees with exactly. It’s difficult to define what loving is, but being unloving is something that’s easier to define – it’s what loving is not. It’s being judgmental, it’s pushing people over, it’s shouting bizarre statements, it’s all these things and more that make that other person feel as if they’re despised or shameful.

On Conscience

But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

We are a guilt/innocence society. We depend our conscience, our inner sense to confirm whether or not we are wrong or right. When our consciences are clear, then we know that we are innocent. When we feel guilty, then our conscience eats away at us. Usually it takes confession and forgiveness for the burden of guilt to be removed. But when it comes down to it – we trust our conscience to guide us into the right course of action and the right set of beliefs.
My friends often tell me that you can be certain that you’re doing the right thing when you feel blessed, happy, affirmed, and even joyful. They would tell me to trust my conscience when it says to do something. But when I don’t feel my conscience telling me to do something – then I must disobey my conscience when it would have me disobey scripture. It makes me wonder – how I can be sure my conscience is right just because Scripture happens to agree with it?
Think back to the era of slavery – this institution didn’t exist apart from Scripture and Christians, but in part through it and because of it. In a documentary I’ve watched over the past week, Frederick Douglass recalls: “I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture–“He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.“” That’s Luke 12:47.
It was the realization that slavery was a violation of their conscience that drove the Abolitionists to those very same scriptures to assert the equality of all people and call for the freedom that had been so very long denied. Again, it was conscience that was the heartbeat of the Civil Rights era that put two sets of Christians against each other using the Bible as the dividing line. “Obey authorities!” Said one. “We’re all one in Christ!” Said the other.
So too, our consciences are moving in us to take stands on issues such as women in ministry and LGBT inclusion. Our consciences are guiding us in our beliefs – and it’s very much an individual thing. All of us have come to decide on an individual basis who or what God is to us, how we ought to worship Him/Her/It, what God would have us do is not necessarily the same exact conclusion a brother or sister in the faith will draw and we’re okay with that whereas in the past there used to an idea of a “one true, right way” and there was no limit to the heartbreak because of disagreements and violence that resulted from the imposition of that standard upon others.
The problems arise when one group decides that their conscience ought to be the standard that all consciences must obey, going against their own standards and bowing to ideas that are not necessarily their own. Worship is a personal thing, it cannot be made into an exercise of conformity and retain a sense of personal relationship; rather, it betrays it’s own nature to make it a ‘one size fits all’ approach. When we are told that we cannot trust our conscience, then that means that we cannot be certain our senses of right and wrong are right or wrong. Now i know most at this point would say: “Good! God is our objective standard of morality! There’s no truth in morality being subjective – then you would have people reaching opposite conclusions and you know that one or both of them are wrong. But with an objective standard of morality, then you know that God is never wrong!” The problem lies not in God being an objective standard, but that the people who interpret and apply Scripture are very much subject to their own whims and desires – that’s evident in how we have historically used the Bible to support both sides in all sorts of conflicts. And since the Bible can never be wrong, then both sides must be correct. The only thing that can decide for us which way to go is our conscience – it will either rage with a burning zeal for the truth of the Scriptures or beat with a ceaseless and tireless love for others in that living out of the Spirit of the Word sort of way.
Sometimes it’s not enough to be “not wrong” – in it’s day and age, pro-slavery advocates were not wrong, Scriptures did affirm slavery, sanction it’s limits, and instructed the masters and slaves how to interact. But they weren’t exactly right – slavery in the Bible never really was the same sort of slavery in the World. The instructions God gave to the Israelites weren’t the ones the Romans had decided to follow when they were in power. Slavery in the American South (and the rest of the world, for that matter) looked nothing like what God had asked the Israelites to do. Even today slavery hasn’t been erased from the face of our planet, in far too many lawless regions it thrives in one form or another. We can look to Scriptures – but ultimately it’ll be on our consciences to provoke us into action and wake us up from inaction – on this and all other matters of conscience.

 

We’ll have to ask ourselves on all things: “Is it right?”

Three Years

Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com!
You registered on WordPress.com 3 years ago.
Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging.
Wow, I hadn’t realized how much time flies. I’m glad to have brought back this blog, though I wish I hadn’t had so many problems with writer’s block lately. It feels like I’ve lost my sense of direction and I’m stumbling around in the woods – and that tree over to the left looks exactly like the one I wandered across two hours ago. (Did I take a right or a left after that?)
Worry not, I’m a persistent person – after all, the last time I had struggled with a lengthy round of writer’s block, I came back with a good two years’ worth of posts – and I’m still attempting to keep on thinking up ideas even if most of them never really get past the vague notion stage of blogging.
For me, it starts with a vague notion. Then I mull it over. Usually things just fall into place and then I hit publish. At the moment I’m mulling over some thoughts on  … well, I’ll not spoil the surprise but it’ll be a good one if starts falling into place. Creativity is a funny thing though – one thing that sets humanity apart – and yet it comes and goes, like water in a well – it can be abundant and then run dry only to flood later on.

Why I Do and Don’t Speak Spanish

I don’t look like I speak Spanish. My ancestry is predominantly Irish, with some French, German, English, and Scottish thrown in there somewhere. As a result, I’m on the paler spectrum of skin types, with sort-of blonde hair and blue eyes. A number of my customers are obviously Latino – mostly hailing from Mexico. They look like they speak Spanish – and so far, they all seem to. But I know that statistically, that’s not always the case. For some reason or another, many second-generation Latinos don’t always know their parent’s language. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable or a situation awkward by speaking Spanish to them assuming that just because they look like they should speak Spanish that they will. So for the first while, I tend not to speak in Spanish until I hear my customers speaking Spanish to each other.

Then I speak Spanish to them. Usually, they’re quite surprised – asking some variation of: “Since when do you speak Spanish?” “Have you spoken Spanish long?” “Do you know a lot of Spanish?” It’s true, I’m quite familiar with Spanish, I’ve studied it off and on for years – and through DuoLingo – I know that pretty much everyday for the last two years I’ve managed to review a lot of it – but I still find myself unprepared to speak a lot of it. The only way to really fix that is to actually speak it, stumble over making glorious mistakes, and learning as I go to develop an ear for hearing it spoken quite rapidly.

I’m getting better, I can tell – though it’s not as quickly as I’d like. My main goal is to get better at understanding others and communicating clearly enough that I’m understood – even if it’s not grammatically perfect. I still try my best to be respectful – Latinos may be a working class, and often taken advantage of – it doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to be treated with dignity – we all do, but they’re also deeply committed to their families and we could learn a lot from them if only we’d learn a little humility first.

America’s actually on track to have just as many (if not more) Spanish speakers than Spain, in the years to come, it might be more and more common to see mainstream t.v. shows featuring Spanish-language programming rather than just on Univision and Telemundo. The time to learn a language isn’t when you need it, it’s long before you need it but know you’ll use it down the line.

¿Ustedes hablan español? Es difícil saber cuándo hablar español? (Do y’all speak Spanish? Is it difficult to know when to speak Spanish?) If not, can you speak other languages other than English and do you have the same difficulties?

That’s Just like a Matriarch

(… or how not to have a conversation on marriage and family.)

For single millenials – catching up with people from a former church (or the church before that) can get a little awkward. I found that one out today. She’s a white-haired little old lady, she married into one of the more well-connected families in an extremely tiny town and her kids are all grown up with kids of their own. She owns the hardware store and has a few rental properties in the area. She’s the eldest at her church – which consists mostly of her relatives. For the year that I attended her church, our weekly interactions were limited to:

“Hi, how are you?”
“Fine, you?”
“I’m alright.”
“Well, I’ll be seeing you.”
“Have a good one.”

Then I pulled a disappearing act and stopped going to her church, wound up at another one and after a year, managed to disappear again. But now I find myself regularly interacting with the crowd from the first church. I had previously caught up with the matriarch either the week or the month before today’s exchange. Today, our conversation was something like this:

“Hi. Are you married yet?”
“Um, no. It just hasn’t quite worked out.”
“Your brother, is he married?”
“No, but he’s pretty busy with his job, he’s been impressing his bosses and about to …”
“It’s just you and him that’s not married?”
“Well, I have a sister … and she’s not married either.”
“None of you are married? At your age? Why I never!”

Maybe that last part is a bit of an exaggeration – but I’d bet you dollars to donuts that’s what she was thinking. Because somehow it’s totally logical for just anyone to meet someone, have a proper dating relationship, kick it up to a proper engagement, get married, and start the process of having kids in under a month and live happily ever after. Maybe it does happen for some people – but I’m pretty sure I’m not one of them.

It’s not the first interaction like that – and I doubt it will be the last. But it really bothers me that whether or not I’m married is far more important that how I’m doing and what I’m feeling about where I am at in life. In a Christianity that’s all about that ring on the finger – it’s tough to be singled out. I’m not sure that married people quite get what it’s like because for them the shoe will never be on the other food: “Why aren’t you single?” “Don’t you know it’s far better to be single than married?” “You can’t handle being on your own, can’t you?

Marriage, it seems, has become the default, where singleness is the ‘other’ that’s not as good as marriage, but definitely better than cohabitation or some other sinful state. I saw that when a conversation about gender roles had to be amended to “gender roles in marriage” – though the piece itself remained the same – men are only true men when they’re husbands and women are only true women when they’re wives. Which means that single people, both men and women, are non-persons so long as they remain unmarried. That’s why I left her denomination.

I wish the conversation would have gone differently.
Hi, how are you?
I’m alright. And you?
I’m doing fine. So are you enjoying your work?
Yes, immensely …
or

So, do you have any hobbies you’re pursing?
I’m taking up photography
or

Do you have any pets?
I have a dog – he’s a …
or

So can you believe the news?
Following any sports?
Are you enjoying the weather?
What springs to your mind when I say the word: marshmallow?
Are you reading any interesting books?
Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?

Something … anything. Just talk to me. If it helps, imagine that I’m married and have a proper number of kids who are all doing amazingly well. Imagine that we’ve covered that topic in it’s entirely and you’d like to learn something else about me that’s not about being married or having kids – you’d just ask it, right? If you have to borrow, a stuffed animal, a pile of note-cards and practice coming with questions that don’t amount to an inquisition of a persons’ marital status. The ones I provided earlier can easily be modified:

Are you following any sports?
Are you following any t.v. shows?
Are you following any singers?
Are you following any actors?

People are more than being married – and it’s long past time that you learned to meet them where they’re at and get to know them for who they are. If you don’t – then you deserve every awkward conversation and the occasional fed-up answer. If you don’t – then a whole lot of single people are going to get the message loud and clear that they’re not accepted in your circle, your church, your world so improperly unmarried.