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Privileged Christians and Hunger in America

19 Mar

I mentioned the other day I’d been thinking a lot about hunger in America. What I’ve been forced to realize lately is that even being able to think about hunger is a hallmark of my own position of privilege.

I’m going to make a confession here: I hate the word privilege. Just hearing that word makes my defenses go up.

When someone says I’m privileged, I think about all the ways my life hasn’t been easy. My dad lost a good job when I was about 10, and we were really poor for a few years after that. Poor to the point of needing help from our church and our family members to get by and not lose our house.

Oh, what’s that? Yes, we had our own house. It was a cheap little 3-bedroom National, but it was ours. And our car died every time Mom or Dad stopped at a light or turned a corner, so they could throw it in neutral, restart it, and shift back to drive without missing a beat. But we owned a car. Oh, did I mention my mom stayed at home with me until my dad lost his job?

So not only were we poor, but we were in a way better position than thousands or even millions of Americans, let alone people all around the world. I learned a lot from being poor. The Christmas right after my dad lost his job is one of the best in my memory, and it included things he salvaged from a Dumpster and refurbished. But it showed what a huge difference love makes.

Shelves of food in a food bank

So back to my point. I hate the word privilege. Probably because, as much as I hate admitting it, the word applies to me.

Let me share a few embarrassing but pointed examples of how my privilege is affecting how I think about the problem of hunger in America:

 

  1. I am afraid to meet hungry people. It embarrasses me that my jeans cost me $80 a pair when I think about going to the local food pantry and facing people who can’t afford food. I’m afraid I will come across as condescending when all I want is to make a difference in people’s lives. So what do I do? Instead of going down and giving my time (which I have plenty of these days), I donate food and used clothes and things I don’t want any more.
  2. I am learning about hunger in America by watching movies and reading books. How privileged is that? Yes, there were times in my life that my family wasn’t sure where our next few meals were coming from, but I was young, and children are resilient. I’m not facing hunger myself on a daily basis. I’m reading books like Red Letter Revolution and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I’m watching A Place at the Table and getting outraged from my comfortable theater seating. I’m not looking hunger in the face.
  3. I am trying to fight hunger by talking about it. No, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with talking about a problem. You can’t find solutions without discourse and dialogue. But you also can’t build a house by talking about building it. Sure, you have to draw up a blueprint and assemble your supplies, but sooner or later you have to pick up a hammer and nail some boards together. I am not out there feeding people. It’s not like hunger is a new issue for me. Back in November I was thinking about volunteering at some of the service dinners that happen in Indianapolis over the holiday season. Yet here I am, still reading and researching and talking, talking, talking.
  4. I act like posting things on Facebook is good enough. Sure, it’s fine to educate my friends on Facebook about the problem of hunger. But I’m not sure if I’m really changing any minds out there. My Republican friends are getting pissed off because I support entitlement programs and want to make people dependent. My Democrat friends are probably thinking it’s nice I”m finally with the program. And what’s worst, my Christian friends don’t seem to give a shit. I feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness. Posting something on Facebook to try to shock my friends into caring is great and all, but it’s making me feel frustrated by their lack of caring while allowing me to feel smug like I’ve accomplished something. And that just makes me disgusted with myself when I think about it.

I’m a smart person. But it isn’t enough to know there’s a problem. You have to actually do something. And I haven’t made that connect yet. So here’s my commitment, both to myself and to you guys:

I am going to finish reading Red Letter Christians and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Easter, and then I am going to get off my butt and do something. I’ll go to the Caring Center and ask if I can volunteer. I’ll get to meet hungry people. I‘ll find out if there’s a way I can turn my own particular skill set to making a difference in people’s daily lives.

What about you guys? Are there ways you fight privilege in our own lives? Are you already out there doing something about hunger? What do you think I should do?

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A Place at the Table

13 Mar

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hunger and poverty. Of course, over the past year I have been growing more liberal in my politics, so thinking about hunger and poverty, at least as a part of the whole, isn’t a new thing for me. But the week before last I got an email from Panera that kicked this off again.

See, I have a Panera card. You know, the kind you swipe and get rewards after so many purchases and free pastries on your birthday. And because I have a Panera card, the corporation invited me to a free screening of a powerful movie called A Place at the Table. I know Panera is trying to fight food insecurity through their pay-what-you-can cafes. I don’t know much more about Panera, if they pay a living wage and such. I need to learn more. But I respect that they’ve started doing something, because every movement needs a first step.

End Hunger Now

What Panera did last week was open my eyes.

I knew people in America were hungry. I knew that 1 in 6 people are living with food insecurity–they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I read a statistic yesterday that says 8.3 million seniors go to bed hungry each night.

What is going on in America? Why do we have such hungry people, when obesity is a national epidemic and there is plenty of food to go around?

Well, according to A Place at the Table, a lot of it comes down to two things: corporate greed, and the government’s unwillingness to do something about the problem.

Corporations continue pushing out foods that are loaded with non-nutritious calories. Corporate farms suck up most of the government subsidies on corn, soybeans, and wheat, while family farms and orchards are left out. The government gives public schools a tiny amount of money to spend on school lunches, where far too many children are eating the only meal they get each day; as a result, school lunches aren’t as nutritious as they should be. Did you know the average food stamp allotment is $3 per day? How well can you eat on that? Junk food is cheaper than healthful food, and if you only have $3 to spend, you’re probably going to go for the cheapest things around, right?

The actor Jeff Bridges was involved in A Place at the Table, and at one point he says that if another nation was doing this to our children, we would go to war. But we’re doing it to ourselves. That’s insane.

So viewing the movie got me thinking about all this. As the movie points out, there are thousands of private food charities attempting to fill the gap, and yet the hunger problem is worse than ever. Private charities aren’t the solution. Not that I think the government is a great solution either, considering they can’t even come to an agreement about the budget, but something has to be done.

I posted something to this effect on Facebook the other day, and one of my Christian Republican friends pointed out that too much government assistance creates dependency. I disagree with her for a lot of reasons, and I also believe that a well-designed assistance program would be aimed at helping people get on their feet. But that’s a post for another day.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that we need to be worried about dependency right now. I think we need to prioritize things differently. It’s like triage. If a physician has a patient bleeding to death from a traumatic leg wound, does she worry about making the patient dependent on a wheelchair, or does she apply a tourniquet and amputate the leg? Let’s feed hungry people first, and worry about dependency when we’re sure no one has gone to bed hungry tonight.

Along with watching A Place at the Table, I’ve also been reading a couple of really great books. I started with Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis, and this week I began reading Red Letter Revolution by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne.

What I’ve taken away so far is a lot of jumbled emotions and a strong feeling of conviction. I have to change how I’m living my life. I have to encourage other Christians to change how they’re living their lives. I have to reach out to people who have been hurt and judged and condemned and abused by people in the name of Christianity. I have to stop trying to defend all the atrocities committed by Christians and start trying to follow Jesus.

The subtitle of Medearis’ book is “The Art of Non-Evangelism”, but I would posit that the book is about so much more than evangelizing people (or not evangelizing them, actually). It’s about how Christians look at theology and rules and are-you-a-believer-or-not. It’s about how Christians forget to look at Jesus.

What would Jesus do? Well, I can tell you what He did. He fed the five thousand. He healed the sick. He condemned the religious leaders who wanted to stone the adulterous woman, rather than condemning the adulterous woman. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He told us not to lay up treasures on earth.

He fed the hungry.

Video

Jesus, Friend of Sinners – by Casting Crowns

24 Feb

“The world is on their way to You, but they’re tripping over me.”

Reclaiming Friendship Love

13 Jan

Meerkat09 left a great comment on my last post–in fact, Single People Are Not the Enemy received a LOT of thoughtful comments; it’s obviously a hot topic! But I want to talk about Meerkat’s comment today.

Meerkat pointed out that married Christians might not realize what they’re doing when they deny us friendship, because “Singles don’t get to be friends with Christians of the opposite gender.”

It’s a sad but true phenomenon in many Christian circles that friendship between a man and a woman is seen as something dangerous. I don’t know if it’s just a case of too many Christians having seen When Harry Met Sally a few too many times or what, but right up there with belief in the triune nature of God and the resurrection of Jesus seems to be the “fact” that women and men can’t be friends without sex getting in the way.

What drives me crazy about this idea is that it isn’t an honest reflection of the Bible. Men and women in the Bible are friends and counselors to each other in many situations without sex getting in the way. Let’s look at a few:

Deborah and Barak (Judges 4 & 5)

Deborah was a prophetess, one of Israel’s judges. She passed along God’s order for Barak son of Abinoam to wage war on Sisera. What was Barak’s response? “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” Incidentally, this has always been one of my favorite stories in the First Testament, not only because a woman was judge, but also because of the gruesomely awesome way in which Sisera was defeated: while he was running from Barak, a woman gave him shelter in her tent. Sisera fell asleep, and the woman drove a tent stake through his head. Pretty badass.

In any event, Barak thought highly enough of Deborah that he wouldn’t go to war without her advice. When they won, they sang a long victory song together. Then Deborah went back to her husband Lappidoth and Israel “had rest for forty years.”

Paul and Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:1-3, Romans 16:3-5)

Paul met Priscilla and her husband Aquila in Corinth. They were tentmakers like Paul, so he stayed at their home and they worked together. Priscilla and Aquila were such good friends and helpers to Paul that when he left Corinth for Syria, they went with him. Later, when Paul is sending his greetings to them in Romans, he writes, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life…” That’s a pretty strong friendship!

Paul and Lydia (Acts 14: 14-15, 40)

Lydia was probably a wealthy woman, because she was a dealer of purple cloth, and purple was the color of royalty in those days, a very expensive dye. When Paul’s little band of missionaries got to Philippi, Lydia heard Paul’s preaching and was baptized. She invited Paul’s group to come and stay at her home. While they were there, Paul (that rabble-rouser) drove a demon out of a slave girl and got himself arrested. Lydia could have turned away from these dangerous missionaries, but she was a true friend to them. When Paul was released from prison, he went back to Lydia’s home to encourage them before he left town.

Jesus and Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-45)

Let’s not leave out our Savior when talking about friendships between men and women! Jesus was incredibly liberal when it came to attitudes towards women at that time. He allowed Mary to sit at his feet and learn, which was a role usually reserved for men. We know Jesus was also friends with Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus, but look at how Luke 10:38 puts it: “he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.” It doesn’t say Jesus stayed with Lazarus, but with Martha. Maybe Lazarus lived with Martha, but that isn’t indicated.

Later, when Lazarus was sick, John says, “though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”, which I find telling–it lists Martha first. Maybe Martha was the head of that family, or perhaps her friendship with Jesus was stronger than the others. Martha’s faith in Jesus was so strong that, even when Jesus let Lazarus die, she knew said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Then she went on to confess she believed Jesus was the Messiah.

So often all we remember about Martha is that she was too busy to sit and listen to Jesus during one of his visits. But I think the evidence is there that she had a strong relationship with Jesus, both as a friend and as her Savior.

Jesus and Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3, John 20:11-18)

If we listen to Andrew Lloyd Webber or Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene was in love with Jesus. But what the Bible shows us is a relationship far more complicated and inspiring. Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary, and she believed in him and followed him. Mary is one of several women who are referenced multiple times in the Gospels as being active in Jesus’ ministry. In fact, her friendship with Jesus was so important that she was one of the first to see him after his resurrection.

Okay, this is getting long, so I’ll stop here, but I think my point is made. The Bible provides models of friendships between the sexes, and the church is remiss in ignoring this important type of relationship. The fact is, men and women think in different ways, and both perspectives are important when you’re trying to achieve wisdom. After all, God created humankind in His image–“male and female He created them”–so both perspectives are necessary.

As Meerkat said, “I really think that Christians need to reclaim friendship love. Love does not always equal romance/sex. Friendship love exists.”

I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning to this topic in future posts, but for now, what do you think? Can men and women be friends? How do we reclaim friendship love?

Keeping the HOLY in Holidays

6 Dec

Manger sceneToday I want to address one of my pet peeves: Christians who throw hissy fits about “keeping Christ in Christmas.”

Everyone’s received one of those email forwards that talks about boycotting places that sell “holiday trees” or wish people “happy holidays” at this time of year. My Facebook feed today had the classic Ben Stein’s holiday confessions, only this year it’s aimed at the White House, where they’re apparently calling them holiday trees. (For the scoop on Ben Stein, please reference the Snopes page. He did say a lot of what’s attributed to him, but it isn’t about holiday trees or the Obamas.)

I get that we, as Christians, should be concerned about Christ being shut out of our celebrations. But I think we’re going about this wrong, for a number of reasons.

  1. What is a holiday? Merriam-Webster’s first definition of it is holy day. Get that? People who say “Happy holidays” are really wishing you a “Happy Holy Day.” They’re not pushing Christ out. They’re acknowledging that Christ’s birth is a Holy Day.
  2. There are a lot of holidays happening this time of year. Not just Christmas, but also Thanksgiving, St. Andrew’s Day, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, St. Stephen’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Maybe people aren’t heathens, they’re just efficient and want to cover as many holidays as possible.
  3. Jesus Christ probably wasn’t born on December 25, anyway. We all know this. It’s been documented all kinds of places. Go do a Google search. The point is, we’ve just arbitrarily chosen December 25 as the day we celebrate. What does it matter if some people don’t agree with us?
  4. What was it the angels told the shepherds when they appeared to announce Jesus’ birth? Oh yeah, “peace on earth”. The spirit of Christmas is one of redemption and peace. Not one of strife and anger. Are we really honoring the spirit of Christmas by petty bickering about what we call it?
  5. How many people do you think you’re going to reach for Christ by arguing with them about the name of Christmas?

I think we’d all be better off if we spent more time honoring Christ and the spirit of Christmas by expressing love, joy, peace, and goodwill (i.e. tolerance) toward others.

You want to keep Christ in Christmas? Go out and buy a homeless guy a pair of shoes and a meal.

You want to keep Christ in Christmas? Stop giving your family expensive and unnecessary gifts, and go out to feed the hungry.

You want to keep Christ in Christmas? Visit the sick and imprisoned in His name.

I agree, we should keep Christ in Christmas. We should keep the Holy in Holidays. We just need to rethink how we’re going to go about it.

What do you guys think?

Can I Get a Vaccine for the Season of Singleness?

15 Nov 'INFLIGHT' photo (c) 2011, Person of Interest - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Today I want to discuss a phrase that, to me, is like nails on a chalkboard. It’s one I see thrown around all the time on blogs about singleness, marriage, family, and loneliness. Yes, it’s the dreaded season of singleness.

I have a lot of problems with this phrase. For one thing, it implies something temporary. This too shall pass. April showers bring May bridal showers. That sort of thing.

For another thing, it sounds awfully close to something nasty and unwanted. Flu season. Fever season. Singleness season. Yech!

The thing about implying that singleness is temporary is…well, sometimes it’s not. Some people are going to be lifelong singles. Happy or sad, content or kicking-and-screaming, some people will not get married. Take me for instance: I know thirty-six isn’t old, and I know I may someday still get married if that’s what God wants for me, but trust me–my singleness hasn’t been a season, it’s been an epoch.

Another good reason to avoid implying singleness is temporary is the accompanying implication that everyone should desire to end their singleness. When I hear season of singleness, I hear, just a phase, she’ll grow out of it. It comes across as misunderstanding at best and condescending at worst.

Statistically, maybe a lot of people will end up marrying. But then again, we’re at an all-time high ratio of singles-to-marrieds. Almost half the population is single. Sure, some of them have been married before. Some of them are in long-term dating relationships, or have some sort of committed partnership that, for one reason or another, they haven’t formalized. But the fact is, people are waiting longer to marry, and more people are not marrying at all.

Implying that singleness is temporary, or a state to leave behind, is not necessarily honest and not necessarily helpful. If I view singleness as a transitory state, I’m more likely to:

  • put off embracing adulthood
  • be less responsible with my finances
  • spend all my time craving an end to this “season”
  • focus on my relationship with men instead of my relationship with God
  • require dating and/or marriage to validate my self-worth

This is where the real danger of viewing singleness as a season comes in. If I don’t view myself as a real person until I’ve survived my season of singleness, I’ve missed out on a huge opportunity.

Single people have to make a choice to fully inhabit our present lives. 

We can’t live our lives in a constant holding pattern. We have to seek out God’s will for our lives. We have to learn to build others up, regardless of whether those others are parents, significant others, or friends. We have to leave our future in God’s hands and concentrate on what He’s doing in our present.

Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35,

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs–how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world–how he can please his wife–and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world–how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

Read that last sentence again. Do you get that? Singleness is not a restriction.

'INFLIGHT' photo (c) 2011, Person of Interest - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

INFLIGHT

Singleness is freedom. Freedom to be devoted to the Lord. Freedom to live in a right way. Freedom from the affairs of this world. Freedom from pleasing anyone but the Lord.

Paul reframes singleness in such an amazing way here. Rather than saying we’re worth less than those who have married and had children, he says we’re free! He says we should have fewer concerns than married people!

Isn’t that an amazing feeling?

So let’s stop looking at singleness as a season, as something to be escaped or inoculated against. Let’s stop acting as if singleness is temporary, something we’ll outgrow. Let’s take a look at where we are right now and vow to thrive here.

We are single adults, and we are free.

Why I Am Voting Democrat This Year

26 Oct

Let me give you a quick political background. I was raised a Christian in a Republican family. In fact, at one point in time (thankfully before I was old enough to vote), I believed that anyone who voted Democrat had an imperfect understanding of what it was to be a Christian. Over the past fifteen or so years, however, I have begun identifying myself as a moderate. I spent a lot of years voting Republican purely because the Republican platform included an anti-abortion stance.

This year, I have renounced that position entirely.

Have I suddenly decided I support abortion? No. Have I become a staunch Democrat? No. But I have come to realize that the issue of abortion is one that is too complicated and emotionally fraught to be addressed simply by legislation.

I’ll try to explain my position and reasoning here, in points as simple and clear as I can make them.

  1. I believe abortion is wrong, but it isn’t as simple as that. Because of verses like Psalm 139:13-14, I believe that life begins at conception. At the same time, I acknowledge that many people believe that life begins at viability. In addition, I don’t feel comfortable saying that a woman who has been raped should be forced to carry a resulting pregnancy to term. I don’t believe I personally could abort even in that situation, but I have never lived through it, and I don’t believe I have the right to judge. Likewise, in cases of incest or threat to the mother’s life, I believe it would be a greater evil to force the woman to carry the pregnancy to term.
  2. Anti-abortion does not equal pro-life. The Republican Party and right-wing Christian organizations like to simplify the abortion issue to being “pro-life”. I used to agree with them. But in the past ten years, I have experienced the fear and anxiety and self-doubt that go along with being unemployed and uninsured. I can’t imagine being uninsured and finding myself pregnant. Many women who choose to abort do so because they don’t have the financial or emotional resources to raise a child properly. In too many cases, the so-called “pro-life” position only counts until a fetus is born. People who claim to be pro-life, who don’t care about babies born to unwed mothers or uninsured families, who don’t care about children growing up in a family that makes too much money for public assistance but too little to afford proper healthcare, who don’t care about teenagers who never complete their education because they are raising the product of an unplanned pregnancy…well, those people just aren’t pro-life. They are simply anti-abortion.
  3. We need to focus on creating a society where abortion is neither desired nor necessary. But the way to do that is not through legislation. It is through communication. It is through proper financial support. It is through proper emotional support. It is through devising educational alternatives for teenaged parents who have no support structure at home. It is through providing proper, thorough sex education–and through acknowledging that, while abstinence is the only fool-proof way to avoid pregnancy, abstinence-only education does not work.
  4. Legislation doesn’t change people’s opinions. Just look at the Constitution. At various points in our nation’s history, the Constitution has banned votes for women, votes for Blacks, and the sale of alcohol…and yet each of those are legal now. The law didn’t make people believe that it was wrong for Blacks to vote; on the contrary, people knew it was wrong to deny Blacks the right to vote, and changed the law accordingly. The law didn’t make people stop drinking alcohol. It merely created a society where moonshine whiskey and speakeasies served the illegal desires of people who defied the law.
  5. Everyone in America should have access to affordable, quality healthcare. I hope no one would argue against the idea that a healthier citizenry can only benefit the nation as a whole. The point that seems most in contention is that sticky question of who pays for it. Do I think government-funded healthcare is ideal? Not necessarily. Frankly, I believe that the church should take care of the needs of everyone in society. Not just people who belong to the church. Not just people the church says “deserves” it. Everyone. Jesus didn’t say, “Inasmuch as you have given a drink of water to your fellow white conservatives,” he said, “the least of these“. The person who can do you no good. The person who has no power or money. The person who has no job. The person who is a falling-down drunk whom everyone else has given up on. Everyone. We aren’t called to judge people’s worth. We are called to love them. And love isn’t a feeling. Love is an action. But unfortunately, I don’t see churches of any sect or denomination falling over themselves to provide free HIV testing for sexually active teenagers. I don’t see churches willing to teach their teenagers about condoms and birth control, despite the fact that we’re all human and imperfect, so it’s unrealistic to expect every teenager to remain absolutely abstinent. And if the church won’t do it, someone has to.
  6. I believe the government has no business defining marriage. The Republicans claim to be proponents of small government. They use that argument when they talk about the evils of the Affordable Care Act. And yet they conveniently ignore that same argument when they talk about the evils of gay marriage. Why should the government define marriage as one man plus one woman? Because the Bible defines it that way? Actually, the Bible depicts models of marriage that include concubines, slaves, women being forced to marry their rapists, and polygamy. One person’s “Biblical definition of marriage” is another person’s “selective interpretation of scripture.” I believe that marriages should be recognized separately by the government and the church. Allow the churches to decide for themselves what forms of marriage they will or won’t sanctify. The government should recognize any partnership of two consenting adults as a marriage. And don’t even get me started on tax breaks for married people. That’s a post for another time.
  7. God commanded us to be stewards of the Earth. The Republicans favor big business and huge oil companies, many of which are systematically destroying large portions of the Earth. The Republicans believe fracking and oil pipelines are the only answer to our nation’s energy needs. The Democrats are actually taking steps toward better stewardship. Regardless of whether or not you believe in global warming, or in humanity’s contributions to global warming, God’s command is in direct opposition to the notion that we should take whatever we need from this planet, without ever giving back.

What it comes down to is this: I have come to believe, through prayer and consideration and searching the scriptures, that voting in line with my beliefs requires me to vote for a party that cherishes the lives and happiness of all citizens, that is making an effort to provide healthcare and equal rights for all citizens, and that believes we must attempt to care for the Earth.

There are many people who have discussed these issues with perhaps more eloquence and political acumen than I have. I suggest you read Ellen Painter Dollar’s post on Why I am a Christian Democrat, as well as Rachel Held Evans’ many posts on the topic of abortion, particularly Let’s Talk About Abortion – With Gentleness and Civility.

In the meantime, weigh in here–with gentleness and civility–what are your thoughts?

Infographic: Singles in America

24 Oct The Changing Face of Adulthood

I love infographics. I’m not a mathematician, and numbers make my brain feel fuzzy, so I love having a way to visualize what those numbers really mean. Given the caveat that I am absolutely not gifted in math, there may be errors in the following infographic, and if you find some, please feel free to point them out.

That said, I would like to present Singles in America: The Changing Face of Adulthood. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Research Center, and quotes from Bradley R.E. Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, I compiled the following graphical representation of singleness in the United States.

Continue reading

Who the Heck is Apollos, Anyway?

15 Oct

Last night I was talking on the phone to my pagan friend who was raised Catholic. She’s an awesome person, and we’ve had some great conversations about religion and beliefs. Well, last night, we were talking politics too, and I made a remark that I’ve been feeling angry (to put it mildly) at some of my fellow Evangelical Christians. Her response, “Wait, you’re Evangelical? I thought you were Protestant!”

Cue twenty minutes of trying to explain to a non-Christian all the different sects, denominations, and divisions within the Christian church. I tried to keep it as simple, but as clear, as I could, and I still…well, I ended up getting bogged down in all kinds of crazy stuff.

Sometimes I feel like, if Jesus showed up in our churches today, He’d start calling us whited sepulchers and broods of vipers. How did we get so fractured?

(I’ll add a caveat here: I’m not opposed to denominations themselves. Variety is a wonderful thing, and I’ve always enjoyed going to different church services and seeing that people who are very different from me in some ways are also the same as me in the most vital ways.)

First you have the differences between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. Then you have all the different sorts of Protestants, all the different sorts of Catholics, and…well, I honestly don’t know. Are there all different sorts of Orthodox? I confess, I don’t know a lot about the Orthodox church, and only marginally more about the Catholic church.

My dad was raised Catholic, but converted to Protestantism when I was in grade school. Not out of any vitriol towards the Catholic church, just because my mom’s church resonated more with him spiritually, so I’ve been to plenty of Catholic weddings, funerals, and masses in my life. Which, according to some of the people I know, is probably putting me halfway down the highway to Hell.

The longer I tried to explain some of the differences to my friend, the more and more embarrassed I got. If we all believe in Jesus Christ, if we all believe in the saving power of the cross…why is there such vitriol in Evangelical circles against the Catholics? (My church actually supports missionaries to Spain trying to convert the Catholics to our “true” faith. WTH? Catholics have the same basic beliefs we do!) And if we all share a belief in the resurrection and the Great Commission, why is there all this bickering and in-fighting between people who take communion once a year and people who take it once a week?

Oh, sure, I know how it happens. I’ve even had those arguments myself. In high school I spent an entire Sunday School hour arguing with my class leader about baptism being a requirement for salvation. I refuse to believe that, if someone has a true conversion but is for some reason unable to be baptized before death, that person is going to Hell. The Bible says God judges a man’s heart. Not whether he’s had a bath lately.

So yeah, I do understand how we get all these divisions. But at the same time, it kills me that we can’t keep our focus on Christ. We can’t remember that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything in us, and the second greatest is to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of our neighbors, whether they take communion every day or never, whether they go to church three times a week or never, whether they worship with instruments or not, whether they’re 100% correct in every single point of law or not. (And this post is about Christian relations with other Christians, which is why I’m not also adding things like, whether they love someone who’s the same sex as them, whether they’re black or white, whether they’re rich or poor, etc. But that’s the only reason–we should love them too.)

Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 3. He writes,

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.

Have we forgotten that the core of our faith is grace? Have I forgotten? I’m sure as heck not very good at showing people grace. I get so caught up in being right that I forget it’s not about being right. My blogger friend Meerkat009 has a post that discusses “being right” more eloquently than I can, so I’ll direct you to it.

I recently swore off Facebook until after the election is over. I can’t continue to  look at posts from people who say they see pure evil in President Obama’s eyes, or from people who say they think Mitt Romney is the anti-Christ. (Okay, I haven’t seen that last one specifically, but I’m sure someone out there has said it.) But it’s a good illustration of just how much grace we are lacking. There are Christians who say anyone who votes Democrat isn’t a true Christian. And there are equally committed Christians who would say the same thing about voting Republican.

What I say is, if the church would get off its collective ass, stop bickering within the family, and start doing something about all the problems in this world, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry about who wins this election.

And I’ll tell you, after I spent all that time explaining things to my pagan friend, she explained some of her belief to me. She honors all the gods, but feels closest to two in particular. She worships alone, because worship is generally not a corporate thing for many (if not most) pagans. And frankly, as sad as it makes me, her religion sounds more peaceful than mine.

I’m going to close with a quote from a man many revere as the greatest president the United States ever saw. This is from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech on March 4, 1865, and I think it’s a sentiment everyone in America, and all of my fellow Christians–of every brand–would do well to consider:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.

Happy Birthday, You’re Single!

12 Oct

Today is my thirty-sixth birthday, and I have something I need to get off my chest.

I hate what people in the church call “the gift of singleness.” They talk about it like it’s a white elephant gift or one step below a lump of coal in your stocking. They call it a gift the same way my seventh grade health teacher tried to convince me my period was a gift. And we all know better than that!

The gift of singleness isn’t a present you open on your twenty-fifth birthday, when you realize all your college friends are married but you aren’t. It isn’t something that arrives in your Easter Basket, when you realize you don’t have anyone to share a huge, clove-studded ham and chocolate bunnies with. It isn’t something you get for Christmas, along with your annual AAA membership and airline tickets to Disney World.

The gift of singleness is sort of like the gift of patience. It’s something you know better than to ask God for. It’s a gift you want someone else to have. It’s a consolation prize.

Or at least, that’s always how it comes across when it’s discussed at church. It’s not something that’s really treated with the Paul-esque glory it truly deserves.

The gift of singleness is described in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul says, “I wish that all men were [single] as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.” (v. 7-8, emphasis mine)

Did you get that? It is good to stay unmarried. Paul considers the state of singleness as a state to be preferred. It’s better than being married. In fact, in verse 28, he even has to reassure people, “If you do marry, you have not sinned.” And then there’s the part of that verse that makes me laugh: “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.”

So Paul is pretty clear in stating that singleness is better than marriage. He spends an entire chapter talking about this. And yet you know how my Bible describes this chapter? “Marriage.” Excuse me while I take a minute to LOL at this piece of editorializing.

So how does one get the gift of singleness?

I’ll tell you up front that it’s not available at your local department store. You can’t order it from Amazon.com. And to be honest, I didn’t really spend years of my life praying that God would grant me this gift.

It’s something that comes on slowly, at least in my experience. You move forward in your life, worshiping God, watching friends get married and have kids, trying to find your place in the world, making friends, losing friends. Sometimes you spend a lot of time wishing to be married. Sometimes you don’t think about it unless you don’t have a plus one to attend a wedding or other formal event. You pay the bills by yourself and learn to enjoy going to the movies alone (hey, no one talks during the show that way) and probably end up buying a pet.

And somewhere along the way, you realize that you are content with your life. You are happy living with only God as your life partner. You enjoy the fact that you don’t have to share the bed with anyone. You don’t open it like a present. It opens inside you like a blossom.

You’re single. And it’s a gift.

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