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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Blogaround

Four kittens laying around. Image source.
1. Roy Moore: Last Time America Was 'Great' Was During 'Slavery' (posted December 7) HOLY SHIT.

2. For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics (posted December 8) "As I watched Donald Trump announce that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move our embassy to that city, I could only think of one thing: my high school youth group Bible study."

3. Official Toll in Puerto Rico: 62. Actual Deaths May Be 1,052. (posted December 8) "The analysis compared the number of deaths for each day in 2017 with the average of the number of deaths for the same days in 2015 and 2016."

4. Pilots stop 222 asylum seekers being deported from Germany by refusing to fly (posted December 5)

5. 'Grieving in a Fishbowl' (posted November 13) [content note: gun violence] "Survivors of mass shootings recount their experiences coping with trauma in the public eye."

6. Robots are being used to deter homeless people from setting up camp in San Francisco (posted December 12)

7. Why I Believe 'To Siri With Love' By Judith Newman Is A Book That Does Incredible Damage To The Autistic Community (posted December 8)

8. How Coco Fits Into The Pixar Theory (posted December 12) [content note: spoilers for "Coco"] "Basically, as long as a single memory orb of you exists in any living person's mind, anywhere, you get to continue on living as a skeleton."

And also that video contains THE MOST ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF BIBLICAL APOLOGETICS I HAVE EVER HEARD: "Because how everything fits into the Pixar Theory is endlessly entertaining and we love talking about it here. But to continue calling it a 'theory' at this point almost feels like the wrong word. It seems more like a game or a challenge. People are constantly telling me that they have 'broken' or 'disproved' the Pixar Theory, and my response to every single one of those people is: You don't get it. Because the goal is to make it work. If you've 'broken' it or 'disproven' it, you haven't done that at all, you've just uncovered a plot hole that the theory needs to be adjusted to explain so we can better understand this universe that Pixar has built."

9. Evangelical Blogger: Christian Leaders Need Extra Protection against Allegations of Sin (posted December 11) [content note: silencing victims] Libby Anne's response to a post by Tim Challies, and WOWWW Challies's post is BAD.

10. Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "Larry Boy And the Fib From Outer Space" (posted December 14)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christians Are Supposed To Feel Bad Over Not Reading the Bible Enough (and Here Are the Receipts)

In last week's post, It seems I can't make an exercise plan because I used to be evangelical, I talked about my experiences with guilt related to daily devotionals. I said that I was taught that good Christians need to read the bible every day, and that if we didn't, we should feel bad about it. I often saw other Christians perform guilt over their "sin" of not reading the bible enough. And even if you do read the bible every day, you may be reading it with the wrong attitude or something, and that's bad too. We internalized the idea that we can never be good enough and it's our fault.

Perhaps there are some readers who find it a little hard to believe, that Christians are required to perform guilt over their failure to read the bible Every Single Day. Well. Here are some receipts. Here are some links where this exact idea is being taught.

The Real Reason We Avoid Time With God
I rolled over and hit the snooze button on my alarm for the third time.

I had planned on getting up a little earlier than usual in order to spend some time reading my Bible, but, like many other mornings, in the fight between extra sleep and good intentions, sleep won out.

Sure, I was tired. I probably needed that extra sleep. But I somehow didn’t see time with God as something I needed.

Maybe you can relate.

In the daily struggle to balance different areas of our lives and the limited time we have, almost everything else wins out over spending time with God.
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We don’t really see it as “avoiding” time with God, we just think that between everything else we have to do, we don’t have time. When we really look at our lives, though, we know that’s not true. We’re all busy, but we could set aside some time. Why don’t we?

The truth is that often, deep down, we lose sight of who God really is and who we are in light of that. When we view God as anything less than who He is, our desire and motivation to spend time with Him wanes.
How to Make Your Relationship with God First in Your Life
If you decide to make your relationship with God first in your life, everything else will naturally fall into place in the right order, creating the fulfilling life you hope to enjoy. Here’s how you can make your relationship with God your top priority:
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Get to know God better through his Word and prayer. Cultivate your relationship with God through personal devotions. Every day, schedule some time to focus on reading and meditating on God’s Word, the Bible. Then pray about how God wants you to apply the passages you’ve read to your life, listen for the Spirit’s responses in your mind, and pray about anything else you’d like, too. Keep a journal in which you can record the biblical insights God gives you, as well as how he answers your prayers.
Image text: "Imagine if you checked your Bible as much as you checked Instagram and Facebook." Image source.

Why Have a Daily Quiet Time?
The key to a joyful and meaningful spiritual life is having that close relationship with God. First you must know Him as your Savior. Then daily seek to draw close to Him. As surely as nutritious food helps the body, so a daily quiet time with the Savior feeds and nourishes the soul. It’s impossible to growth significantly without it.

But your daily quiet time is not just for you! John 4:23 reminds us that the Lord Himself desires your fellowship and delights in your worship. He longs for that one on one time with His child just as any parent would. Why not determine right now, if you haven’t already, that you will make having this special time with the Lord a daily priority?
7 Bible Verses Showing The Importance of Quiet Time With God
With our busy lives it is sometimes hard for us as believers to have consistent daily time with God. Many times we get busy. But, the truth is no matter where we may be, we can do our best to find a nice quiet place to reach out and speak with God.

Having alone time with God and being able to collect our thoughts in a peaceful state of mind is very important. Below are 7 Bible verses that stress the importance of the Bible and quiet time with God:
Do You Read the Bible Enough? This article says that if you ever think you've done enough bible reading, YOU'RE WRONG, and if you can't manufacture constant desire for more and more bible then you are a bad Christian.
Rather than asking ourselves what is the least amount of Bible we can read and still meet the “required” amount, I propose we never stop asking, how much of the Bible can we possibly get into our hearts and minds. With this mentality, we should all say yes to the Barna question — we all should want to read more of God’s word — not from a sense of duty or obligation, but because they are the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

In the end, that is why we read the Bible, memorize it, and meditate on it: to get more of God’s word into us. Because, as we delight in the Scriptures, it leads us to delight in God himself. As we employ Bible reading plans, habits of memorization, or strategies for Bible meditation, all of which are good, that is the goal. Not to check off the time as a duty fulfilled, but to treasure Jesus more as we see him in his word.
"I Celebrate the Day" by Relient K (lyrics)
Because here is where You're finding me, in the exact same place as New Years Eve
And from the lack of my persistancy
We're less than half as close as I want to be
"Background" by Lecrae (lyrics)
And it's a shame, the way I want to do these things for You, yet
Don't even cling to you, take time to sit and glean from You
You haven't read your Bible?!!
He ran his finger over the cover and dug out a ditch in the dust, and looked at me and said, "You haven't been reading your Bible". Oh, I was so ashamed! What excuse could I come up with? There was none! The dust laid heavy upon it due to my months of not touching it, and the dust, oh the dust, it condemned me on the spot! The dust stopped my mouth and showed me guilty before God! The dust was the seal of my condemnation! He might as well have just wrote "condemned" in that dust! The dust was my shame!
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There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write "damnation" with your fingers. There are some of you who have not turned over your Bibles for a long, long while, and what think you? I tell you blunt words, but true words. What will God say at last? When you shall come before him, he shall say, "Did you read my Bible?" "No." "I wrote you a letter of mercy; did you read it?" "No." "Rebel! I have sent thee a letter inviting thee to me; didst thou ever read it?" "Lord, I never broke the seal; I kept it shut up." "Wretch!" says God, "then, thou deservest hell, if I sent thee a loving epistle, and thou wouldst not even break the seal; what shall I do unto thee?" Oh, let it not be so with you. Be Bible-readers; be Bible-searchers."
Why You Need to Make God Your First Priority
Just like a tree needs roots to go down deep and spread wide in the soil for it to grow strong, healthy branches that can withstand the elements, Christians need to develop deep spiritual roots in Christ. Our lives need to be deeply rooted and grounded in the Word of God and in His love – not our "stuff."
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You may wonder what it means to seek God's face. Maybe you aren't used to hearing that term. It just means we need to take time to cultivate a relationship with God…to get to know Him. We need to learn who we are in Christ and trust what His Word says about us. And with prayer, Bible study and time, we will.

We are to pursue God in prayer, crave time in His Word, and go after a relationship with Him with all of our heart and strength, even if it means sacrificing some of our desires. Because the Bible never tells us to seek things, but instead, "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

Image text: "If you don't have time to pray & read scriptures, you are busier than God ever intended you to be." Image source.
Question: "What is a quiet time?"
A quiet time is an important part of a Christian’s everyday life, for this is when he goes to a comfortable and rather secluded place in (usually) his own home, where he can draw close to God with no distractions. It should be a place where there are no interruptions from TV, telephone, family member interactions or traffic noises, in other words, silence. A quiet time is a set-aside part of each day for a meeting between a believer and God. It consists of reading a part of the Bible of the believer’s own choosing, and praying.

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we?
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Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.
7 Practical Bible Study Tips for the Easily Distracted
Despite all of these wonderful tips that have truly transformed my Bible study from a time of frustration to rich deep communion with God, sometimes nothing seems to help me focus.

I’m learning to except these times for what they are—a blatant demonstration of my deep need for grace and mercy.
Image text: "I'm too busy to read the bible every day", with a picture of Captain Picard making a very skeptical face. Image source.

Confessing “Safe Sins”. This article is making a point about how we're not really being authentic and vulnerable with each other if the only "sin" we confess is some little "safe sin" like not reading the bible enough. I'm including it here because it bears witness to the very real phenomenon of Christians "confessing their sin" of not reading the bible enough.
Have you ever been in a small group with people that confess safe sins? Someone will say, “I need to be honest with everyone tonight. I need to have full disclosure and submit myself in honesty. Like ODB from the Wu-Tang Clan, I need to give it to you raw!” So you brace yourself for this crazy moment of authenticity and the person takes a deep breath and says … “I haven’t been reading my Bible enough.”

Ugh, you, dirty, dirty sinner. I’m not even sure I can be in a small group with you any more. Not reading your Bible enough, that is disgusting. And then once he’s gone someone else will catch the safe sin bug too and will say, “I need to be real too. I haven’t been praying enough.”

Two of you in the same room? Wow, freak shows! I can barely stand it.
The Importance of Scripture Memorization
Last Sunday I emphasized the importance of making time to spend with God every single day, and I also linked to some ways you can find time for God even when it feels like you can hardly even breathe.

One of the things on that list was the importance of Scripture memorization so that you can always have it in your mind to meditate on throughout the day and even at night as you fall asleep.

If there's one thing I've learned about Imperfect Homemakers, that is that we tend to procrastinate on things because we don't have the perfect system all figured out yet (or maybe we do and we don't have time to implement it.)

Maybe you're waiting until you've got some fancy Scripture memory plan, or maybe you've got something elaborate in mind, but you just can't find the time to do it. Stop waiting until you have the time to memorize scripture and just do it!   

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.  Psalm 119:11

If you are a Christian, it is crucial for you to have God's word hidden in your heart, and you don't need to put it off another moment!

Instead of watching that TV show — memorize a verse.
Instead of reading that blog post — memorize a verse.
Instead of browsing your Facebook or Instagram feed – memorize a verse
Instead of playing that game on your phone — memorize a verse

You find time to do all those other things; you can find time to memorize Scripture too!
The Danger in Our Daily Devotions. This article is about how, even if we're doing our daily devotions, we might be doing them WRONG and that's BAD.
Do we really need to read our Bible every day?

Happy is the man who does (Psalm 1:1). “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). God’s words revive the soul, grant wisdom, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, and endure forever (Psalm 19:7–9). “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

Need has to be the wrong question. Why wouldn’t we want to spend time in a book like that every day?
An image of a bible, with the text: "The Unread Bestseller. We have free and ample access to God's Holy Book. Yet, 64% of Americans fail to read the Bible because they claim they are just too busy." Image source.

Making Time for God
 If you are like most women, you probably begin your day early, rushing to get your family fed, dressed, and out the door. You probably have a list of chores and errands that must be completed before supper time. After your evening meal, you might spend some time catching up on chores that went neglected during the day and bathing children. By the time your head hits the pillow you are sound asleep, only to wake up in a few hours to do it all over again.

So where does God fit in? You know you should spend more time praying, but you are already pressed for time. You think, ‘God understands. He knows how I struggle just to get the laundry done.’

Yes, God does know. He understands each and every struggle of your day. And He wishes you would tell Him about your day.

Have you ever thought that perhaps your daily struggles would lessen if you simply began your day in conversation with God? If you made a small commitment to rise a little earlier, you could ask God to take the cares of your day and make them His own.When you first make that decision to spend the first moments of your day in prayer, it may be difficult to get up earlier. It may be difficult to stick to it. But I guarantee the rewards will out weigh the costs. You will begin to see incredible changes in your life. The blessings will abound and you will have an inner peace that you have never known.
Lesson 63: No Time for God (Acts 24:24-27)
Every week, we all face opportunities for spiritual advance. There is the opportunity to set your alarm a few minutes early to get up and spend time with the Lord. Or, you can sack in and miss that opportunity.
Image text: "God is never too busy to listen. Don't be too busy to talk to him." Image source.

Here are some articles about what's wrong with us that makes us not read the bible enough. Or about how to change our thinking so we are able to keep the habit of reading the bible. All of these are based on the unspoken assumption that daily bible reading is the ideal which all Christians should be working toward.

Why Christians Don’t Read the Bible
Why Christians Don’t Read the Bible (yes, a completely different article with the same title)
Lee Strobel on Why People Don’t Read the Bible
Three Reasons Why You Don't Read Your  Bible
Why Don't We Read Our Bibles?
Make a Habit of Spending Time with God

We were taught that we needed to read the bible every day, and that we needed to enjoy doing it and be motivated by love for God, rather than thinking of it as a chore. If we didn't keep up the habit and manufacture the correct emotions about it, then we were bad Christians. Back then, I had a pretty-close-to-perfect record of reading my bible every day. I did it because I did genuinely love God, but also because missing a day here or there just WAS NOT AN OPTION. And so, looking back on that time, it's difficult to untangle my motivations. (Which is why CONSENT is so important- people have to be able to freely choose to do something or not.) And as you can see from the links above, this is exactly how the church taught me to view "daily devotions." We need to read the bible every day, or if we don't, we at least need to act like we feel guilty about it.

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Related: Christianity and "Selfishness": Here are the Receipts

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Sum of My Attempts Thus Far to Visit the World's Largest Starbucks

So the world's largest Starbucks just opened in Shanghai last week. As it happens, I live in Shanghai, so I decided to go and see it and bring back pictures for you all. It's at exit 3 of the West Nanjing Road subway station.

However, when I went there, there was a huge line of people waiting outside, and Starbucks was only letting in a limited number of people at a time, so I decided not to actually try to go in, this time around. I'll go back in maybe a month or two when the crowds are smaller.

Anyway, here are the photos I took of the outside of the building:


Here's the same picture but zoomed in.

Here's the entrance. Apparently the Starbucks mermaid has 2 tails? What?

It's called "Starbucks Reserve Roastery."


People waiting in line to go in.

Apparently it has a bakery.

Here's another shot of the bakery.

Lots of people taking pictures on the street.

This guy brought a whole camera with a tripod.



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If you want to see more posts like this, consider supporting me on patreon~ When I reach my goal of $20/month, I'll do a series of blog posts about various aspects of life in Shanghai. With lots of photos. ^_^

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Blogaround

An image of a heart with the text "I didn't actually know what love was till I left Christianity." Image source.
1. Actually, Creationists Do Believe in Evolution (posted November 29) "Yes, really. Let’s think about the timeline here. According to Answers in Genesis, Noah’s flood occurred in 2348 BC. The Tower of Babel occurred in 2242 BC."

2. The Love/Life Principles Seminar: (Not) Making Friends and Influencing People. (posted November 30) "We never learned what acceptance really was, nor that it’s quite rude and controlling to treat others like DIY fix-it projects."

3. ‘All right, then …’ (posted November 29) "Tear up the letter. Turn the raft around. And if you can think up anything worse, do that too."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

That Time Jesus Got Hangry

A breba fig. It's the first crop of the year for a fig tree and is usually inedible. In the photo, it is green like the leaves. Image source.
Today let's read Matthew 21:18-22. It's short, so I'll just copy-paste the whole thing here:
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
So, wtf is going on here?! Why does Jesus curse the fig tree? Was it because he was hangry and had an irrational emotional outburst?

Okay, I did some reading, most of which took me to websites of the "bible is inerrant" bent (which means they could be biased toward forcing the bible to make sense when it actually doesn't), but I found what they said was backed up by this non-religious webpage about fig trees:
Fig trees produce two crops every year, but only one of them may be edible. The first crop, called the breba crop, occurs relatively early in the year on the previous year's growth. These fruits are frequently small, acidic and inferior in texture, but may be useful for preservation. The second crop occurs later in the year on the current year's growth and these figs should be edible.
So, even though it wasn't the season for figs (as Mark's account tells us), the fig tree should have still had breba figs. But Jesus found only leaves, which means it wasn't a healthy tree that was going to produce figs in fig season either.

The idea is, even though the tree appeared good, it really wasn't, and when Jesus cursed it and caused it to wither, he was exposing its true nature. He wasn't letting it get away with looking like a good tree when it actually wasn't.

So maybe it's a lesson about hypocrisy and how "there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed." Recently in the news we've found out about sexual assault and harassment committed by famous and powerful people, victims have shared their stories with #metoo hashtag, and people have also talked about sexual abuse in the church with the #churchtoo hashtag. A lot of this has been covered up for a long time, and it's good that people are finding out about it. Just as Jesus cursed the fig tree, let's curse the corrupt systems that cover up abuse- let them wither so everyone can see how evil and rotten they are.

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All right that's all well and good, I could just end the blog post there, but I still think this fig tree story is freakin' weird and we could also talk about these aspects:
  • If the fig tree was already unable to bear fruit and Jesus was just exposing that fact, then why does he phrase his curse as "May you never bear fruit again"? It really makes it sound like the tree would have had fruit in the future, but Jesus decided not to let it, as a punishment for having only leaves right now. Seems like if this interpretation is true, Jesus should have said "you will never bear fruit again" or "you are a fruitless tree" or something. Is this a translation issue? Is the interpretation about exposing a fruitless tree wrong? Did Jesus phrase it in a weird way to make some kind of point?
  • Was Jesus angry? Did Jesus do a bad thing here? Was he being unreasonable when he cursed the fig tree? Did Jesus ever do anything he later regretted?
  • All right, it is super-not-okay what Jesus tells the disciples about "if you have faith and do not doubt" you can move mountains and "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." This teaching leads Christians to believe that they have to manufacture certain emotions in order to make their prayers "work." Which is really bad for mental health (and I touched on this in my post Prayer Rates Don't Correlate With Actual Risk). It means you can't be honest about how you really feel, because if you allow yourself to be aware of your belief that something you prayed for isn't likely to happen, then it's YOUR FAULT when it doesn't happen.
  • It's also worth noting that the fig tree is used in the Old Testament as a symbol of the nation of Israel. This passage could be interpreted as a judgment on Israel for their hypocrisy and lack of "fruit."
  • The account of the fig tree is a fun one for apologetics because Matthew says the fig tree withered "immediately," while Mark has it withering by the next morning when they walked past it again. Here's an apologetics site that explains "Actually, if we want to be particular, that's not what Mark says. Mark says nothing about when the tree withered; he says that the next day Peter in particular noticed the withered tree." To which I say, ah yes, and Obi-Wan didn't "remember ever owning a droid" even though we saw him with R2-D2 all the time in the prequels because Jedi don't technically own property as individuals. Right. Yeah, that's why. Sure.
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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Clearing the Temple Was Not a "Peaceful Protest" (Matthew 21:12-17)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

Monday, December 4, 2017

It seems I can't make an exercise plan because I used to be evangelical

Three women doing a workout routine. Image source.
So I said to myself, I should exercise, so I can be healthy and strong. I've been really trying to do that- maybe a few times a week I stand up and move around/ stretch/ jog in place/ do crunches/ jump/ etc for 15 minutes or so while I'm watching youtube. And that's a good start, but really it would be better if I had some kind of a more organized plan. Something more structured than "do whatever exercise-ish things come to mind, if I feel like it."

Something with clear goals. Where the number of repetitions or length of time is determined beforehand, so I push myself to finish it instead of stopping because "I'm tired." Something like "on Monday I'll do these exercises for 30 minutes, on Wednesday I'll do these, on Friday I'll do these." Probably there are apps that can recommend a plan and keep track of it all.

But whenever I start to think about making a plan, I feel like I'm trapped and I have to get out. I feel anxiety. And it's because of all the time I spent as a good Christian reading my bible every day.

See, here's the way it works: When you have a "personal relationship with God", you need to "spend time with God" every day, which means taking some time to be alone and away from all distractions, and reading the bible and praying. This is how you grow your relationship with God. This is how you be a good Christian.

We all knew that was the ideal: having a "quiet time" every day. But that's quite a high standard to reach, and most Christians don't actually do that. And so we need to perform guilt about it. People show up at bible study and "confess" their "sin" of not reading their bible every day. Pastors talk about "Jesus loves you so much that he came and died for you, and you can't even set aside 10 minutes every day to be with him?" Christians blame themselves for not having a better relationship with God, saying it's their own fault for being too busy and making excuses rather than spending time every day reading the bible.

It was an impossible standard- but "the gospel" we believed was all about impossible standards. We only deserve to go to heaven if we can be perfect- that is, never ever sin any time throughout our entire life. Never be mean to anyone. Never be selfish. Never be jealous. Of course that's impossible, and therefore we all deserve to go to hell. Those bad "worldly" people think that as long as their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, they'll be able to go to heaven- well, my Sunday school teachers warned me about how wrong they were. See, the bible [supposedly] says it doesn't matter what good things you've done- all that matters is that you have done a nonzero number of bad things. And therefore you are bad and deserve to go to hell, but God loves you anyway and you should be forever grateful for that because you suck and there's no logical reason God should ever do anything nice for you.

I was the best Christian, back then. I did read my bible every day. Maybe I missed a day a few times a year.

I remember there were times I had so much anxiety- when I was traveling so my schedule was all weird and it would be evening already and I would be all stressed out, thinking "I haven't read my bible yet today", trying to find a time to sneak off alone and do it, worried about how I could explain to friends if they saw me sneaking off, telling myself "well maybe I don't need to get my bible out, I can just think biblical thoughts and we'll say that counts", giving up on it when I get to the hotel room and there are people sleeping so I can't turn on the light.

I remember when I had a really long streak, where I hadn't missed a day in a long time, but I still felt bad because, you see, sometimes I would put off my "quiet time" til the evening. I would be so tired, and sitting up in bed for a few minutes, just reading the bare minimum amount and then falling asleep. I believed that was a sin too- I should be making God a priority, not putting it off and then trying to do a "quiet time" when I was too tired to think straight. I felt a lot of guilt over that.

I was so sleep-deprived in college- one day I slept through my alarm and somehow didn't wake up til 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I had missed all my classes except one. But I decided to skip that last one, because I needed to read my bible. God would be my first priority, and since I was obedient, I trusted that God would deal with whatever consequences came from skipping class.

When I came to China... there's a 12-hour time difference, and I wondered how to count a "day" when I was traveling, because I needed to make sure I read my bible every "day." I don't remember what my solution was. Maybe I read the bible on the plane, just to be sure. Maybe I gave myself some leniency on that day.

I did love God, and I really did love reading the bible and praying. I don't want you to think that I did it just because it was a rule- it was much more complicated than that. But when "no" isn't an option, what does "yes" really mean?

Then, probably around 2013, my relationship with God was falling apart and I tried to keep reading the bible every day. The only thing that kept me going was the guilt- that if I don't do it, then I am a bad Christian, I am bad, I am bad. I would read a passage and be overwhelmed by a mountain of questions- the "clear" interpretations I learned in church didn't cut it any more- and be so stressed because of the questions, stressed because "quiet time" is supposed to be about feeling closer to God and I wasn't feeling that at all, stressed because stopping wasn't an option- that would mean I am a bad Christian.

Eventually I came to the belief that God's love for me is not affected by whether or not I do all the "good Christian" habits like praying, reading the bible, and going to church. And I decided that it would be healthiest for me to actually stop doing all those things, for a period of time- to really put my faith in my belief that God's love isn't dependent on them. I decided it's okay not to read the bible every day- and what's more, it's okay not to feel bad about it. And that has been so incredibly healthy for me, these past few years.

So fast forward to right now, and here I am thinking about making an exercise plan. And all I can think is I've never been very good at exercising, so I'm definitely not going to be able to stick to the plan 100%. Maybe I'll plan to exercise 3 times a week, but some weeks I'll end up not exercising at all. Maybe I'll lose interest entirely after 1 week and abandon the whole plan. And when I fail- because, anything short of 100% is a failure, our good deeds are like filthy rags and all that- then that means I am bad and I should feel bad.

When I think about having a plan, I don't feel like "this is a good thing because if I work hard I will be stronger and feel good." Instead the only thing I can imagine is all the shame, all the shame from each day that I miss. One after another after another. Just a pile of shame from all the things I've done wrong, all the good habits that I haven't kept.

(In my analysis of the VeggieTales movie "Rack, Shack, & Benny," I talked about how harmful it is to equate healthy habits with morality. Yeah, turns out that kind of teaching makes me not exercise because I'm too scared I'll "sin.")

Readers, can I let you in on a little secret? I don't really want to write blog posts about the gospel of Matthew. I'm just doing it because 5 years ago I said I would do it, and I feel guilty over the fact that I never finished. Like, don't get me wrong, I think the Matthew posts I've written recently have been good posts- but I would actually prefer to spend my time and energy blogging about other topics. But see, I have this guilt hanging over me. This thing I said I would do 5 years ago, and I still feel bad for not finishing it. I blog about Matthew to make the guilt go away. I wish I didn't have to.

Okay. I have to relearn this. Let's say I make an exercise plan that says I'll do this or that 3 times a week, but then one week I don't do any of it at all? What is the meaning of missing a few days? If it doesn't mean "I'm bad and I'm a failure", then what does it mean? How can I understand this? That belief needs to be replaced with something healthy- but I'm not really sure what.

Here's what I have so far: I don't have any urgent medical issues going on right now, and therefore it's a good time to start exercising. It doesn't matter what exercise I did or didn't do in the past- don't feel bad about the past, just look ahead to the future. I can always improve and get better, and that's a good thing. Don't compare myself to other people- instead, compare my current situation with my potential.

But what if I miss a day? Or a whole week? Or more? What does it meannnnnn? Does it mean I am bad? If I can miss a day without guilt, then what's the motivation to stick to the plan?

Or maybe if I miss a day it means on that day there were other things that were higher priorities than exercising. And that's also something people feel shame over- you're supposed to feel bad about "I would rather watch tv than exercise"- but why? Wouldn't it be better to be honest with yourself about it? To just accept that it's the honest truth about how you feel, and it's not necessarily good or bad? And then you realize that your short-term desires contradict your stated long-term goals, and you can decide how to handle that. Maybe you decide the goal isn't worth it- and that's fine, nothing wrong with making that choice, you don't have to feel guilt about it. Or maybe you decide the long-term goal truly is important to you, and therefore it's even more urgent that you alter your day-to-day behavior- and that's your motivation, instead of "I am bad." Ideally, you find a form of exercise you enjoy, so it doesn't feel like a giant pain to stick with it.

My point is, the first step has to be honesty about what you really want and how you really feel. Without that, all you have is socially-mandated guilt that doesn't actually motivate you to do better.

So. Years of believing that daily "devotionals" were REQUIRED in order to be a good Christian have left me too stressed to be able to set goals about exercise and other good healthy habits. Back then, it was all about impossible standards and sin and guilt; we weren't allowed to be honest about our priorities, because it just wasn't acceptable to have other things that were- even on the time scale of one day- more important than our "relationship with God."

Readers: Have you had similar experiences with "daily devotionals" and guilt? Any ideas about a more healthy perspective on what it means when you make a goal but it doesn't work out?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Blogaround

Cat touching a Christmas ornament. Image source.
1. China Marks Transgender Day of Remembrance With National Survey (posted November 20) [content note: anti-trans violence] "Based on more than 2,000 valid responses — the largest such survey to date — the Beijing LGBT Center’s report points to a lack of access to medical treatment, domestic violence, campus bullying, and workplace discrimination as issues that take a heavy toll on the lives of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in China." Also their video is worth watching.

2. Shocking sexual abuse allegations at a kindergarten in Beijing has China on edge (posted November 24) [content note: child sexual abuse] "On Friday, Beijing’s major newspapers barely mentioned the case. Yet the allegations still went viral on social media websites in China, where decades of draconian family-planning policies have engendered a society-wide obsession with early-childhood education, and pervasive censorship and corruption have engendered a deficit of social trust."

3. Wishful Thinking, Forced Intimacy, and The Nashville Statement (posted November 15) "Due to my work, I read a recent article at John Piper’s website by Nashville Statement signer Rosaria Butterfield. In it, she gives some of the worst advice I have ever read to a woman in a mixed orientation marriage."

4. Nazis Are Just Like You and Me, Except They're Nazis (posted November 25) This is a parody, and it's HILARIOUS.

5. Translating Away Justice (posted November 20) "The noun, for example, is usually translated as 'righteousness,' not as 'justice.'" As a bible nerd, I am ANGRY about this. All bible nerds should read this post.

6. #ChurchToo: abuse survivors speak out about harassment in their religious communities (posted November 22) [content note: sexual abuse] "It’s certainly true that many religious communities’ insularity, combined with their frequent focus on women’s sexual purity, renders these spaces as particularly fertile ground for sexual harassment or abuse." Yes. Focus on women's "sexual purity" is DIRECTLY CONNECTED to abuse- and that's something I never would have suspected back when I was in purity culture. See, "purity" teaching creates an environment where victims are ONLY able to come forward and be believed and be treated as innocent and deserving of sympathy and justice IF they have NEVER BROKEN ANY OF THE PURITY RULES.

7. The Nationalist's Delusion (posted November 20) "What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked."

And this post based on the above article: Blasphemy. "Many white churches support white nationalism and Trumpism. Other white churches allow the option of not supporting it. But it is only that — an option, one that is permitted and tolerated, but never demanded. This, too, is blasphemy."

8. If you believe that only “bad” theology and twisted scripture could result in the sort of abuse #churchtoo describes you must also believe that the following are all examples of such bad theology: (posted November 28) A must-read Twitter thread.

9. Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "The Toy That Saved Christmas" (posted November 29)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"The Author of Leviticus Would Have Been Cool With It"

An image showing a hand holding some kind of old-fashioned pen and writing on a scroll. Image source.
So let's suppose I'm writing the bible, and God "inspires" me to write this:
Kids played soccer outside the church.
Let's assume we believe that the bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God. So, based on this one sentence, can we make any conclusions about God's opinion on the pressing issue of "is it called 'soccer' or 'football'"?

Well, you might say, this passage uses the term "soccer" because the author was an American. But the passage doesn't say that "soccer" is the only correct term and that "football" would be incorrect.

All right let's say I'm "inspired by God" to write this:
Kids played soccer outside the church. Some people think it's called "football" but they're wrong.
So here we find, in the inspired word of God, the statement that referring to soccer as "football" is, in fact, wrong. And, you know, the bible is inerrant, so that means this is The Definitive Truth on the "football vs soccer" debate. It's a sin to call it "football." The bible is clear.

Let's suppose I'm "inspired by God" to write it like this:
Kids played soccer outside the church. There was a British man there who was not very intelligent, and he called it "football."
Heh. Now what can we say about this? The text- the inerrant text- tells us two things: the British man was not intelligent, and the British man called it "football." Clearly the author intends for readers to link those two things together- the author is saying that people who call it "football" are less intelligent, and just plain wrong. But if you look at the actual words of the text itself, it does NOT explicitly say those two facts are at all connected.

So my question is, what part is "inerrant and inspired by God," exactly? Just the text, or also the not-exactly-explicit messages that reflect the author's own biases?

Yeah I'll admit my own biases on this- I'm not a fan of British English because I'm an American and I'm living as a minority here in China, where the English that's taught in schools is way more British than American. I'm homesick and I'm tired of recalibrating my English so it's compatible with silly British stuff that Chinese people learned in school. I'm tired of trying to explain that this is pudding and this is jello and this is jelly but the translation software might tell you otherwise because British people have a totally different understanding of what's pudding and what's jello and what's jelly.

(But on a rational level, I do realize that the rest of the world all calls it "football" and there's no objective right or wrong about language. And obviously the bible wasn't written in English.)

But here's my point: If you believe "the bible is inerrant and inspired by God, and God used imperfect people to write it", then why is there so much study and debate over "what the author intended"? Maybe "what the author intended" was actually wrong. When people claim that the bible is inerrant, are they actually claiming the author's thoughts and intentions and opinions while writing were inerrant? That is quite a claim.

(And again, let me be upfront about my biases: No, I no longer believe the bible is completely inerrant and inspired by God. Maybe some parts are, but definitely not the whole thing.)

Here's an example from the bible: Genesis 30:25-43 describes how Jacob put striped branches in the water the goats were drinking, so then they gave birth to striped offspring. (Jacob did this because he had made an agreement with Laban that all the striped or spotted goats in Laban's flock would be Jacob's.)

Now, the text itself only says that Jacob did this, and then the offspring were striped. It doesn't technically say that striped branches actually cause goats to give birth to striped baby goats. And I used to be an apologetics nerd; I know that when somebody comes along and says "hey that's not how genetics works", the correct answer is "well yes, we know from genetics that striped branches won't cause the offspring to have stripes. Really it was God who made the offspring striped, because God wanted to bless Jacob. Jacob thought it was because of his little striped-branches scheme, but that really had nothing to do with it."

But let's imagine we're interested in "what the author meant" and we're having a conversation with the author:
So, what did you mean when you said Jacob put striped branches in the goats' drinking water, and then they gave birth to striped offspring?

I meant that when female goats look at striped branches, they are more likely to have baby goats that are striped.

Did you mean like, just in this one particular case that's what happened, or did you mean that's something that's true in general?

Yes that's how it always works. Anyone who wants striped goat babies can try this at home.
I believe that, based on their ancient understanding of science, the above hypothetical conversation is "what the author of Genesis meant." Would Christians who believe in inerrancy accept that this incorrect understanding of science is "what the author meant" but then claim it doesn't matter because it's not what they wrote? What they wrote can still be interpreted as inerrant. So... no issues for inerrancy?

Or, let's suppose the apologetics explanation I mentioned is actually "what the author meant." Let's see how that conversation might go:
So, what did you mean when you said Jacob put striped branches in the goats' drinking water, and then they gave birth to striped offspring?

I meant that Jacob thought his striped branches were causing the baby goats to be striped, but actually that's not how science works. Actually it was God intervening to make them striped.

What do you mean by "God intervening"?

I mean that God favored Jacob- not Laban, not Esau- so he chose to bless Jacob by giving him more goats.

What do you mean by "God favored Jacob"? Why would God like Jacob better than Laban or Esau?

"Jacob" is just a way cooler name, obviously, so that's why God liked him better.
Okay it's a silly example, but my point is, you can keep asking "what did you mean by" questions- to anyone, about any topic- and sooner or later you will inevitably hit upon some bizarre/ignorant/nonsensical belief that they hold. Because we all have beliefs and biases that aren't really rational or true. So what I'm asking is this: For those of you who believe the bible is inerrant and are SO INTERESTED in "the author's intended meaning", where do you draw the line between what's inerrant and what's just the writer's own flawed beliefs?

The only solution that could potentially make sense is to say the literal words of the text are inerrant, but "what the author meant" is NOT necessarily inerrant- though it is certainly useful and informative to discuss "what the author meant." I don't see any way to separate out "what the author meant" about one particular bible passage they wrote, such that their opinions on that specific passage form a closed, inerrant system of beliefs that is in no way connected to their imperfect understanding of reality.

But what does it even mean to say the words of the biblical text are inerrant, but "what the author meant" by those words is not? How can words have a meaning which is separate from what the author meant by them? I'll give you an example: Suppose I use the term "red shirt." What does "red shirt" mean? Well it's a reference to the characters on "Star Trek: The Original Series" who wore red shirts and always died in attacks or accidents, and the main characters didn't care about them- their deaths were just a way to show the audience that our heroes were in a dangerous situation.

But then you say "no no, apart from the context of Star Trek, what does 'red shirt' mean?"

That question doesn't make any sense. If I, as a trekkie, say "red shirt", there is no possible way to understand it besides as a Star Trek reference. You can't remove it from the context of my experience watching Star Trek and expect to understand my meaning. It's not like I'm using some intrinsic, context-independent definition of "red shirt" and then adding the Star Trek thing on top of that. No, the Star Trek thing is the entire meaning.

In the "red shirt" example, it's easy to see how it's possible for a word or phrase to literally not have any meaning at all if one attempts to separate it from the opinions and lived experience of the writer or reader. But it's not just because it's a term from a TV show. I believe ALL OF LANGUAGE is like this. ALL OF LANGUAGE has no meaning apart from the lived experiences of people.

See, I know this because I speak Chinese. And in the process of learning Chinese, I didn't just read a dictionary and memorize an abstract definition for each word- no, if you want to learn to speak a language, you have to study by speaking the language. It's about being in situations where you use the words. It's about talking to people. It's about experiencing the culture. How can you talk about what a word means just by itself, without situations, people, and culture? There is no meaning apart from those things.

In sci-fi movies, characters can "download" a language into their brain, or there's a "universal translator" so everything is in English- but here in the real world, languages don't work that way. Tell me this, after you "download" Chinese into your brain: What is a 发票 [fā piào]? A dictionary will tell you it means "invoice" but I'm here to tell you it doesn't. Personally, if I absolutely have to translate it into real English words, I call it a "fancy receipt"- it's a special kind of receipt that serves as proof that the seller paid tax on the income from the sale. There are regular receipts, and then there are fapiaos. At a restaurant they'll give you a normal receipt when you pay, but if you are getting reimbursed by your company or something, that receipt isn't good enough- you need to ask your waiter to give you a fapiao. And usually the waiter will direct you over to a cashier with a special printer just for fapiaos, and the cashier will ask you if they should print your name on it, or your company's name, or what. The fapiao is usually printed on narrow paper like a receipt, and always has a very officially-looking red stamp. For some people, depending on how the salary structure works at their job, some of their income may be tax-exempt if they can submit fapiaos for it- for example, at one place I worked in China, I submitted fapiaos for the rent I paid on my apartment, and then I didn't have to pay tax on that part of my salary. It's a very special, very official type of receipt, and there is no equivalent concept in the United States.

Try downloading that into your brain. It's impossible to really understand what a fapiao is without that lived experience. Without ever having the feeling like you're lost in a giant bureaucracy and you're just screwed because you don't have the right fapiao. (International people living in China actually say "fapiao"- we don't really try to translate it to English. Whereas a lot of Chinese people call it "invoice" when they're speaking English because they don't realize that we don't have that concept in English- they don't realize it's not something you can just easily translate like that.)

Here's another example: I was talking to an American friend, let's call him Mark, who also learned Chinese. He mentioned the fact that the Chinese word for "giraffe" is "长颈鹿 [cháng jǐng lù]", which, if you translate each character individually, is literally "long neck deer." He said, "Before I started studying Chinese, I never thought of a giraffe as being like a deer, but ya know, it kind of is." Then I told Hendrix (whose first language is Chinese) about what Mark said, and how it was true for me too- it had never occurred to me that a giraffe is like a deer. Hendrix was SHOCKED. How could someone live their entire life without realizing that a giraffe is like a deer????!!!!!

My point is, language is connected to the way we think. If someone's first language is Chinese, they probably conceptualize a giraffe as being like a deer but really tall and with a long neck. Whereas if their first language is English, they think of it as just an unusual animal that's not really similar to any other animals. Obviously no matter what language you speak, you are able to study biology and find out what animals a giraffe is actually like- but those biological facts will be layered on top of the implicit assumptions you were taught when you learned your first language. Language affects the way we think. And vice versa.

All of language is like this. Words mean nothing without culture, without people, without experiences. So how can someone say the literal words of the bible are inerrant, but the "author's intended meaning" is not? The "literal words" have no meaning by themselves. And how can someone say the "author's intended meaning" is inerrant, but the author is still a flawed person with an imperfect understanding of reality? Where is the line between the author's thoughts on the bible passage they wrote, and the rest of their opinions about the world?

I titled this post "the author of Leviticus would have been cool with it" in reference to the argument, made by some queer Christians and allies, that "in the bible, where same-sex relationships are condemned, it's always in the context of rape or pedophilia or other exploitative relationships, not consensual relationships between equal partners. If the writers had known about consensual same-sex relationships, they wouldn't have condemned them." I don't agree with this argument- though I do believe it can be an important first step for people coming from a "the bible is clear" background.

Because, who cares how the author of Leviticus would have reacted in this hypothetical situation? Seems like the only reason someone would even be talking about this is if they believed all the author's opinions were inerrant- not just the ones they wrote in the bible. But that's ridiculous- I've never heard a Christian make a claim like that. Usually they say "the bible is inerrant and inspired by God, who used imperfect humans to write it."

Maybe the author of Leviticus would not have been okay with same-sex consensual sex, but God was okay with it so God didn't "inspire" them to write that particular opinion of theirs in the bible. [That is, if you interpret what they did write as only referring to coercive relationships- which the text doesn't say explicitly, so again this gets into what the author wrote vs what the author meant.] Or, we could invent all kinds of hypotheticals about "God's opinion was this, the writer's opinion was that, this particular aspect is inerrant and this one is not." Maybe it's a fun game, but I'll just put my cards on the table here and say it doesn't actually matter to me because I don't believe the bible is inerrant. I believe the bible got lots of things wrong.

When you actually start to think about how "inerrancy" would work, how it could be that imperfect people wrote a perfect book, you'll see it doesn't really make sense. And it makes even less sense for Christians to be so concerned about "what did the author MEAN by this?" Are they really claiming that not only the bible is inerrant, but also everything the authors "meant" when they were writing the bible is inerrant? How can that be? That's not how language works, and it's not how humans work.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Roy Moore Dating Teenage Girls "For Their Purity" is 100% Logical in Purity Land

Cats dressed as a bride and groom. Image source.
[content note: child sexual abuse]

So. We have to talk about Roy Moore. He's a Senate candidate who has been in the news recently because it turns out he sexually assaulted multiple teenage girls back when he was in his thirties. (However, even before this learning about this, we all already should have known Roy Moore is a terrible person. The Slacktivist sums it up well. )

Anyway, a pastor named Flip Benham came to Moore's defense, saying, "He did that because there is something about a purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that."

In some versions of purity culture, it is explicitly taught that it's good for teenage girls to get married to men who are older. In the strand of purity culture I learned, I never heard anything about that at all- though there was occasional discussion of "maybe we should encourage kids to get married really really young, like in their teens, to prevent sexual immorality." (I personally believe that teenagers having consensual sex is NOT sexual immorality, but parents pushing their kids to get married too young IS.) But I never saw that go past a philosophical discussion. The adults in my life who taught purity culture at least had enough sense to know that the vast majority of teenagers aren't ready to get married.

But even though I never heard anyone teaching "adult men should date teenage girls", I did hear discussion on the problem of finding a "pure" enough partner if one is in one's late twenties or older. I've read blog posts about "I'm 30 years old, I'm a virgin but the statistics say that I'm unlikely to find a spouse my age who is also a virgin- how can I deal with this problem?" Because yes, it certainly was treated as a problem. You follow all the rules and "stay pure" but "our culture is so sinful and worldly" so what if there just aren't any potential partners who are also pure?

In some cases, their solution to this "problem" was "God's plan is for me to marry this person who is not a virgin, so I can learn forgiveness." It was seen as a hardship that God would use to make you a better person- the hardship of having a spouse who has had other sexual partners besides you.

In other cases, the solution was "I am trusting God to bring me that pure partner, and I am NOT going to lower my standards." One time, I remember our pastor was telling us about this woman (let's call her Linda) in our church who had gotten married when she was 40 or so. He said, "Linda told me that she was looking for a husband who had never been married before, and I told her that wasn't realistic and she should be willing to date a man who's divorced or widowed. But she didn't listen to me- she said God told her she was going to marry a man who had never been married. And finally she met Bob and they got married- the first marriage for both of them." The pastor didn't mention sex in this case- but the point is, this story only makes sense if you start with the assumption that a person who has never been married before is by definition a better potential spouse than a person who has been married.

I never heard anyone solve the "problem" by creepily looking for high school girls to date. But, given the logic of purity culture, which says that the #1 most important indicator for a successful marriage is how little experience you had beforehand, that would actually be a perfect solution, wouldn't it?

Purity culture is 100% founded on the idea that the less experience one has with sex and relationships, the better a spouse they can be. They explicitly teach that if you had sex with a previous partner, then you'll never be able to truly love your spouse. Your ex will still "have a part of your heart." Forever. (Please note that this is complete nonsense.)

They even say "your virginity is the most precious gift you can give your husband." Seriously. I mean, look how laughable that crap is. I hold responsible every adult who did not interrupt and laugh them out of the room when they said things like that. I'm married, and I'm here to tell you that the most precious gift you can give your spouse is being a good and loving partner. It doesn't matter what you did in the past.

If it is true that virginity is the #1 thing that matters in a marriage, then, logically, it would be a good idea for a 30-year-old man to date teenage girls rather than date a woman his own age who has had sex. Again, to be clear, nobody I knew ever did that. Nobody I knew ever taught that. But they did teach that virginity is the most important thing, and they did discuss what to do about the "problem" of older single people being unable to find "pure" partners.

This is what happens when you teach that inexperience- ahem, "purity"- is the best thing you can have in a romantic relationship. You end up with an ideology that says the proportion of people who are suitable partners decreases with age. You end up with people defending predatory men in the name of "purity."

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Blogaround

Mr. Incredible holding baby Jack Jack in the "Incredibles 2" trailerImage source.
1. Biggest-Ever Singles' Day Buying Binge Has Left Behind a Record-Setting Pile of Trash (posted November 17) "Singles' Day" is what November 11 is called in China (11/11, see there are four 1's, like, they are single, get it??? Or 双十一 [shuāng shíyī] in Chinese, which literally translates to "double eleven") and it's a day when online retailers have huge sales and people buy tons of stuff. (Like Black Friday, except online, and without "I'm buying Christmas gifts for other people" available as an excuse for spending so much money [because giving Christmas gifts isn't a thing in China].)

Anyway this article is about the "estimated 160,000 tons of packaging waste" produced as a result of all these items being shipped. Let me tell you: It is MIND-BLOWINGLY convenient to buy stuff online in China. It is ABSURDLY convenient and cheap. I live in Shanghai and typically when I order stuff online it arrives within 1 or 2 days, and it's often cheaper than buying stuff at a store. It is also RIDICULOUSLY convenient to order food through an app and have it delivered. I do this EVERY DAY because I don't want to spend a ton of time cooking or going out somewhere to get food.

I cannot emphasize enough how cheap and convenient China's delivery system is- especially in big cities. Tons and tons of stuff packaged up in disposable packaging and delivered to people individually. There's so much of it because it's just so damn convenient and cheap. So yeah, I can definitely see that this would create a huge problem with the amount of waste it produces.

2. The Sorting Hat's BIG Secret | Harry Potter Theory (posted November 16) "I'm sorry but I feel like the logic there is a little flawed. But so is the [Fidelius] charm altogether, a little bit. Like, what are the limitations of this thing? Can you just hide any information inside of someone? Like for example, how to use a doorknob. Could I just, like, hide the knowledge and information about how to do that inside of somebody? And then even though lots of people used to know how to open doors, we'll now all be stuck behind doors. Unless that one person tells everyone."

3. Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "Rack, Shack, & Benny" Follow along as I livetweet this episode of VeggieTales~

And here's the next one: Perfect Number Watches VeggieTales "Dave & the Giant Pickle"

4. On public mourning when Evangelical culture kept you in the dark (posted 2016) "When the rest of the culture engages in these displays of public mourning for departed pop stars, I feel like I’m left here mourning the childhood evangelicalism stole from me."

5. Top 10 Hardest to Animate Things in Pixar (posted November 21)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Clearing the Temple Was Not a "Peaceful Protest"

Protesters in Durham, NC kick a Confederate statue after tearing it down. Image source.
This week we're looking at Matthew 21:12-17. Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and drives out the vendors who are selling there. Later, the religious leaders get all upset about children saying "Hosanna to the Son of David" and Jesus quotes a bible verse that says "From the lips of children and infants, you, Lord, have called forth your praise."

I'd like to look at Jesus clearing the temple as a protest. In the past, when I read this story, I always thought of it as Jesus getting really mad and kicking out all these sellers- as if it was just an emotionally-driven interpersonal conflict between Jesus and the sellers. As if they were breaking the biblical rules and then Jesus enforced the rules and fixed the problem. But what if it was Jesus making a statement? He drives them out, but really they're just going to be back the next day. The situation doesn't really change- but he sends a message to the public. Other people may be inspired when they see Jesus taking a stand, and this can lead to change in the long run, even if those same sellers were back in the temple the next day.

Maybe it wasn't "Jesus happened to be walking through the temple and just got really angry." Maybe it was planned. Maybe it was calculated and intentional, to send a certain message. (It doesn't really help that this is the go-to example when Christians are like "it's okay to be angry, Jesus got angry too.")

So what message was Jesus trying to send? What was he protesting? There are a few different explanations I've heard:

1. By selling animals in the temple, they weren't respecting God. God's house is supposed to be a place of worship, not greed and money. I used to go to a church that built a coffee shop next to the lobby, and apparently at the time there was debate about it because "the bible says you're not supposed to sell things at church." People making that kind of argument would be the people who believe Jesus' protest was over the idea that business shouldn't be anywhere near a place of worship.

2. The sellers were telling people "you have to buy these specific animals for the sacrifice", claiming that other animals weren't good enough. And the money-changers were saying that because the Old Testament law specified certain ancient units of money, worshipers are required to change their money into those units before they can buy anything. Sort of creating a monopoly on the sacrifice system, and thereby ripping people off. Excluding people from worshiping God based on their ability to pay. People who interpret the passage in this way can be further categorized into two groups:
a.) This is bad because ripping people off is bad.
b.) This is bad because they were interpreting the Old Testament rules about sacrifices all wrong.

3. The selling was happening in the outer court of the temple- the only place that Gentiles were allowed. Gentiles couldn't go into the inner part. So by having all those animals and crowd noise in the outer part of the temple, they were taking up space that was supposed to be for Gentiles to worship God. (Note that in Mark's version, Jesus says "my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.")

So there are interpretations all along the spectrum from "these sellers were breaking God's rules, which we must follow because God said so, and these rules may or may not be arbitrary or have any relation to how we should treat people" to "these sellers were being cruel and taking advantage of marginalized people, restricting them from access to the temple." Y'all won't be surprised to hear that I'm at the "Jesus defending poor people's and Gentiles' right to worship" end.

So if we think of this as a protest, what kind of modern protest might it be equivalent to? First of all, it wasn't a "peaceful protest." Jesus drove them out through intimidation and threats of violence. In John's account, it even says that Jesus "made a whip out of cords", and then talked about destroying the temple. (Which, by "the temple" he meant his body, but he pretty obviously intended it to be misunderstood.) He knocked over tables and scattered coins.

Was it like when Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole at the South Carolina Capitol building in 2015, and removed the Confederate flag? Note that her protest was carefully planned, not something she just ran out and did, driven by uncontrollable emotions. (I believe Jesus' was too.) She had climbing gear and a helmet. She quoted verses from Psalms as she climbed down. She knew she would be arrested. She had a group of supporters with her, who recorded a video and posted it on social media. A new Confederate flag was put up immediately after she was arrested, but her purpose wasn't to just take it down and naively believe it would stay down, as if she could just go and singlehandedly solve the problem in one day. Her purpose was to make a statement and have people see it.

But Jesus' protest wasn't like that. He was much more confrontational and destructive.

Bree Newsome climbing down the flagpole with a Confederate flag. Image text: "You come against me with hatred, repression, and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today. Bree Newsome" Image source.

Was it like when a group of protesters tore down and destroyed a Confederate monument in Durham, NC? No, not really like that, because they destroyed a thing, but Jesus actually threatened people and forced them out.

Well what was it like then?

Here's the best analogy I can come up with: It's like going into a payday loan office and knocking all their stuff down while screaming at the employees to GET OUT. Because the whole idea behind the payday loans industry is lending money at immorally high interest rates to people who are desperate. It's making money off of people who are going through a financial crisis. You could reason that the whole business is immoral and shouldn't exist, and drive them out for that reason. Just like the business of selling animals in the temple shouldn't exist.

But now I've suddenly thought of a lot of problems with such a payday-loans protest- which apply to Jesus' protest too. Maybe the employees who work there aren't bad people, they just couldn't find a job anywhere else. (Maybe the people selling animals at the temple weren't bad people, they were also poor and needed the money to survive.) You're attacking the customer-facing employees, when it's the higher-up managers who are the ones really driving the whole immoral business. (Jesus attacked the people who were physically there handling the money, but were they the real masterminds behind it?) What about the customers who really are desperate enough that they needed to get the loan- now the office is closed, what will they do? The whole system is broken; if you just destroy one part it doesn't actually fix things. (What about the customers who came intending to buy animals? It's not like suddenly everybody's going to say "oh Jesus says we don't actually need to buy them" and everything is fine. More likely, people will be barred from worshiping because they weren't able to buy the right animals. Because Jesus forced that business to close.)

I'm a little freaked out by the idea of Jesus doing something like that. I personally don't really think it's a good idea.

And here is where we debate the ethics of protesting. Some would say that in order to be noticed and make an impact, your protest has to inconvenience other people. But it's poor people who are more likely to be inconvenienced. People with money and privilege have ways to isolate themselves so they're not directly affected. You protest some injustice, but the people who have to deal with the consequences of your protest and clean up the mess aren't the ones who actually caused the injustice.

Who picked up the tables that Jesus overturned? Who chased down all the animals and brought them back? Probably not the people who were responsible for the decision to operate businesses in the temple.

Any criticism of a protest should also take into account how bad the thing being protested is- if it truly is awful, then it may be valid to cause a big inconvenience to others in order to get them to notice and care and right the wrong. (On the other hand, it can also be argued that if you inconvenience others because of something that isn't even their fault, they will feel wronged and be less sympathetic to your cause.) The decision about how "peaceful" your protest should be, and to what extent it will inconvenience other people, is based on your specific goals, and it's reasonable for people to disagree about this. (I want to be clear, though, that it's a real problem when white people are like "I agree with your position but not with your methods"- this is usually said by someone who "prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice" according to Martin Luther King Jr. They theoretically agree that the thing being protested is bad, but they think it would be too much trouble to actually change the system so the thing didn't happen.)

When Jesus cleared the temple, it wasn't a "peaceful protest." Notice, though, later in the passage, there are children saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David," which can also be considered a protest. Even though the children's protest was peaceful, the chief priests still didn't like it.

Anyway. For the Christians who believe that everything Jesus did was automatically right and good- this passage means you can't also believe that the only acceptable kind of protest is a "peaceful protest." As for me, I don't believe that everything Jesus did was automatically right and good; I think we should use our own brains and our own consciences to judge him and judge the bible. We can talk about his reasons and goals in clearing the temple, and how it ended up affecting other people. And we can talk about other protests in those terms too.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew. 

Previous post: Either Matthew Was Dishonest, Or He Wasn't Writing an Apologetics Book (Matthew 21:1-11)

Next Post: That Time Jesus Got Hangry (Matthew 21:18-22)

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