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Tension redeemed: Pacifism

Inconceivable! (Image from obscureprotest.com)

War, war, what is it good for?

…I don’t really know.

I’m opening up my series on tension and doubt (read the intro here) with the subject of pacifism. I consider myself a pacifist, but I can’t answer all the questions people ask me when they find out that I am a supporter of non-violence.

So, here’s what I know:

Jesus said, “Love your enemies.”

Killing a person isn’t very loving.

Violence almost always leads to more violence. 

Paul told us to “overcome evil with good.”

Until Constantine, the early Christians were mostly pacifists.

Love wins.

But, here’s what I don’t know:

Is there such thing as a “just war?” Though I’m a pacifist, I must admit, the criteria for “just war” seems pretty reasonable- all nonviolent efforts must be exhausted, innocent lives must be at stake, the goal of the war must be to bring peace. Sometimes I wonder, is belief in a “just war” a sign of one’s doubt of the power of love? Or is “just war” really necessary to defend innocent lives in a fallen world? Does love sometimes have to be tough to the point of violence? I don’t know.

If God controls governments, does that make it okay for governments to go to war? God set up governments to punish the wicked and reward the good. Does that include war? And if so, does that mean Christians should be okay with war? I don’t know.

Why does God command the Israelites to go to war in the Old Testament? I’ll admit, it’s difficult for me to reconcile in my mind the violent Old Testament stories with the peaceful love of Jesus. I could write a whole post on that topic (and I probably will for this series). God tells the Israelites, not just to kill, but to completely wipe out their enemies in the Old Testament, then he turns around and says, “Love your enemies,” in the New Testament. Why? I don’t know.

Should a Christian who feels “called to protect” join the military? I’ll be honest- I can’t even fathom how a Christian could join the military without feeling guilty. But Christians do it all the time. And many say that it is God’s calling for them. They don’t do it out of hatred or a desire to kill. That would obviously be wrong. They do it out of love for their families and their home. Can I argue with that? Can I really speak for another person and say that he/she is not really doing God’s will by joining the military? And how can I complain when the only reason I can even be a pacifist without suffering persecution is because others have fought for my rights? I don’t know.

And most importantly…

If someone broke into my house and tried to kill my cat and rape my grandmother, would I really react non-violently? I wrote about pacifism last week and one commenter brought up an excellent point. She said, “pacifism is an exercise in academics.” None of us really know how we would respond in every situation. I know how I’d want to respond: I’d want to distract the attacker and sacrifice myself so my cat and grandmother could escape. I’d want to disarm my attacker, or throw him/her off guard with a crazy act of love.

But I also know how I have reacted in the past.

I grew up in Sunday School. I heard about Jesus telling us to “turn the other cheek.” And I always thought I would. But when I got into an abusive relationship at age 16, I eventually got tired of turning the other cheek. I gave up on non-violence for awhile. I fought back. That usually only worsened the violence and made my abuser angrier, but that’s what I did.

I’d like to think that I learned my lesson from that relationship- that violence leads to more violence. But have I? Would I really be able to respond non-violently in every situation? I don’t know.

There you have it, folks. My doubts and questions about pacifism, exposed for you all to read. I don’t know everything.

But I do know that no matter how much dissonance I have in my mind because of this topic, one day everything will resolve. One day we’ll beat our swords into plowshares and live in peace. Somehow, someway, no matter how much apathy or violence tries to get in the way, love wins.

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Tension redeemed

Tension.

That word keeps popping up this week.

As a scholar with the spiritual gift of discernment, I like to know everything. But I don’t. I like to be able to clearly perceive right from wrong. But I can’t always do that. I like to have an answer to everything.

But sometimes that answer is a measly, “I don’t know.”

I don’t always like the tension of uncertainty. But as a musician, I realize that some musical dissonance is necessary to make a piece of music interesting. Could the same be true of life?

I spend most of my time on this blog discussing my opinions, but I rarely discuss my doubts. Yet, as a Christian skeptic, doubts are never in short supply. So, over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to spend some time talking about the dissonant passages of the musical score that is my worldview.

Instead of talking about what I know, I’m going to tell you all a little bit about what I don’t know. Tension gets a “bad rep,” but it can make music and life incredibly beautiful. So I’m going to embrace it.

Here’s to the dissonance that makes our lives interesting! To the things that we don’t know and the questions we can’t answer. And here’s to the things that we’ll just have to ask God about in heaven. 

Here’s to tension!


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The problem with generalization

I have been unable to avoid thinking about the issue of gender roles in our society and in the church.

A few days ago, a famous pastor posted a facebook status calling people to mock “anatomically effeminate males,” and reactions to this brought up some interesting discussion in the blogging world. “What gives us the right to call a man effeminate?” people wondered. Where do our standards come from?

Inspired by others (especially Tyler L. Clark and Dianna E. Anderson) who were frustrated with the church’s traditional definitions of masculinity and femininity, I began to explore the issue myself.

I began a few discussions on facebook, and wrote a blog post myself, and some good conversation resulted.  However, I was left with unanswered questions.

The Bible doesn't lay it all out for us like this (fortunately)

“God, not society, defines gender,” was one criticism I received on Facebook, and several people “liked” it. But this simple answer ignores the fact that the Bible gives no such simple answer. The is no one way given to be masculine and one way given to be feminine.

So, do we follow the example of bold female leaders like Deborah, Esther and Phoebe? Or do we assume that Paul’s advice to the Corinthians about women keeping silent in the church is God’s wish for all women of all time?

Should men be rough and tough war heroes like David or gentle peacemakers like Jesus?

Should the church treat women as property, like Old Testament law did by enforcing a “you break it, you buy it” policy for men who rape virgins? Or should the church treat them as Jesus treated them- as friends and as people?

Should men be the leaders and breadwinners while women stay at home? Or should women follow the example in Proverbs 31 and be the ones providing food for the household?

Some of these questions seem to have more obvious answers then others. But all of these questions are based on Biblical accounts. Which accounts should bring us to our conclusions about gender roles (as Rachel Held Evans points out, we ALL pick and choose when it comes to the Bible. It’s not about whether we pick or choose. It’s about what we pick and choose)?

I’m sure God does define gender. But I think the diverse accounts in the Bible make it clear that gender does not place a person in one of two boxes.

“People are too complex to generalize,” said one friend of mine. I couldn’t agree more.

Humans aren’t commodities.

There isn’t a man factory and a woman factory in heaven. We don’t come off of one of two assembly lines. We were created, not manufactured.

NOT how the female brain works.

I am a woman. But that doesn’t put me in a box with all the other women in the world. My womanhood doesn’t require me to have specific character traits, abilities, or desires.

I am happy to accept my femaleness as part of my identity. But I will not let my femaleness detract from the other details that God has painted me with.

I am a work of art. And God is no minimalist. My femaleness is just one brush stroke of who I am.

What about you, readers? Do you ever feel like a single aspect of the work of art that is you gets more attention than it deserves? Perhaps you share my frustration with gender roles. Perhaps a physical or mental “handicap” prevents people from seeing the other details that God has given you. Perhaps people attempt to limit you based on your race, social status, or orientation. I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts!


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Things I have (un)learned since high school:

In high school, people often told me that you go to high school to learn, and then you go to college to unlearn everything you learned in high school. Over the past two years, I have found that to be true. Some of the things I have (un)learned about life since graduating high school have completely turned my world upside-down. Though at many times during this process of “world rearrangement” I felt like I was going to fall off, life looks far sweeter from this new perspective than it ever did before. I would like to share with you some of the things I have had to unlearned since high-school. I don’t expect many people to read this whole note (it’s ridiculously long!). That’s okay- it’s more for me than it is for you. Still, if you have the time, go ahead and skim through it. Perhaps you will unlearn something too.

“You must be an extrovert to succeed in life”– I am an introvert, and extremely so. There is no middle ground for me. I love people, but they are to my energy as Count Dracula is to Mina Harker’s blood (a reference for those of us who still care about REAL vampires). I am terrible at small talk, I am uncomfortable speaking in large groups, and it takes a long time for me to make new friends. In high school, if you were an introvert, you acted like an extrovert. I know I did it. And in acting like an extrovert, I learned that pretending to be something you’re not is a miserable experience. Now, I know I am an introvert, and I know its alright to act like one. I can decline invitations to sleep-overs. I can retreat to my room for several hours after a big party. I can give new people at church a friendly smile instead of scaring them away by trying to start an awkward conversation. It’s okay. That’s who I am (thanks, Freshman Foundations).

“My ‘purpose’ in the body of Christ”– The Bible clearly tells us that if the whole body were an eye, we’d be one screwed up, freaky looking body (I think that’s in the Message somewhere) and that it’s okay to play a different part than someone else. Still, when I was in high school there seemed to be a trend in Baptist churches: Making teenagers feel guilty until they commit to become a preacher/preacher’s wife. I “committed” to the whole “preacher’s wife” thing after many a guilt-laden message at camp, or a particularly convincing alter call at a missions conference. It never felt right though. My desires, talents, and abilities just didn’t seem to mesh with that decision. Now, I understand that not all desires are godly, and that the Holy Spirit can empower us to do things we don’t have the ability to do on our own. However, I have learned since high school that when we are seeking Christ, our desires will often stem from a desire to glorify him, and that God wants us to use the talents He’s given us in specific ways for His purpose. So, if I do end up married to a preacher, that’s cool. But I can still have my own purpose in life. I don’t know exactly what that purpose is yet, but I now know that I don’t have to be a preacher’s wife in order to glorify God with my life.

“Dating is a miserable experience”– My relationships (both romantic and platonic) with men in high school were less than stellar, and the book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (not that the mindset behind it was bad, but for me it only provided confusion) was extremely popular when I was growing up. I left high school with some very negative ideas about dating the opposite sex. By the time I had started dating Aaron for the first time the summer after graduation, I had already sabotaged the relationship in my mind, which led to a break up a few months later. I spent the next six months after that break up in prayer that God would remove my attraction and growing love for this man as if it were a sin. God, being the awesome, all-knowing God that He is, instead strengthened that attraction and love, and threw Bible passages like 1 Corinthians 7 at me, as if to say, “Hey, this is okay. This is how I made you. Not all men want to hurt you and not all dating relationships have to be sinful or unwise.” Eventually, I gave in and started dating Aaron again, this time allowing God to renew my mind along the way. I’m glad I did. Even though that relationship didn’t work out in the end, I learned a lot from it, and it has helped me to learn that it’s okay to date people that I am attracted to.

“I am defined by my mistakes”– High school for me was one big identity crisis. I was constantly knocked down by the concept of “What you do defines who you are.” I suppose to the world there is some truth in that. However, the truth is, in the crazy, upside-down world of Christianity, it is not about how we live, but who lives in us. I may sin, but, in Christ I am not a sinner. I may cut, but, in Christ I am not a cutter. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 brought me to this conclusion. In this passage, Paul lists several types of sinners (slanderers, adulterers, etc.), and states that these people will not inherit the kingdom of God. He then addresses the church stating, “And that is what some of you were.” I think “were” is the key word. No, the church is not perfect- we still slander, commit adultery, steal, get drunk, etc. But we are not slanderers, adulterers, thieves, or drunkards. We are washed, sanctified, and justified of those sins- past, present, and future. They don’t have to define us. Our identity is Christ.

“God’s grace and love are conditional”– This is a tough one. It took me years to grasp the concept that “while we were STILL sinners” God demonstrated his love for us, and Christ died for us. High school was a time of considerable insecurity, as I thought that I could (and did) “out-sin” God’s grace. I mistook principles for godly living as conditions for grace. In reality, the reason Paul gives in Romans 6 for not living in sin is that we are already FREE. It’s silly to live like we’re dead when we’re alive, and it’s silly to act like a slave when we’re free. However, regardless of how we act, in Christ we ARE alive, and we ARE free. I knew Jesus as my savior in high school, yes, but I was acting as if I had to be my own savior too. How foolish! It’s not about me: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

“I am ‘the only one'”– Especially in Christian circles, it seems, there are many things that “everyone is doing, but no one is talking about.” There are issues that Christians struggle with, and because of this “failure to communicate” we each think that we’re the “only one” struggling. We Christians only seem to discuss these issues long enough to condemn them; never long enough to admit we struggle with them to, or discuss how to find freedom.You know the issues: masturbation, self-injury, homosexuality, depression, suicide, porn, abuse, rape, drugs/alcohol, etc. An event that I attended recently called, “Stand Up For You Sisters” was probably the most impacting event in my life to date (outside of salvation). In this event, dozens of women met to discuss the taboo issues mentioned above. We then filled out anonymous surveys listing these issues and were asked to mark which ones we struggled with. Finally, the surveys were collected, shuffled, and then passed out again. Someone read the struggles from the list and we were asked to stand if the survey we were given marked “yes” on that struggles. There was not one struggle where only a few people stood up; many struggles got easily 90% of us off our feet. Looking around the room and seeing how many people were battling the same sins as me was life-changing. I don’t struggle with all of these things, but I do struggle with many. For instance, I grew up thinking that I was a “freak” because I struggled with self-injury. Because I thought I was a “freak,” I hid my struggle from the rest of the world. It was not until I learned that I was not alone that I could begin to confess my sins to others, and in doing so, experience healing.

“Friends are friends forever.”– I had many friends in high school (probably as a result of trying to be an extrovert). Most were good friends, wonderful people, and we had great times together. However, when I went away to college and most of my friends and I naturally went our separate ways, I thought it was the end of the world. It’s hard growing apart from friends, but it is a normal thing. I still see old friends now and then, I still love them, and I still enjoy their company, but I really only have one friend from high school that I still spend time with on a regular basis. I left for college, made new friends, changed in many ways, and my other friends stayed at home, made new friends, and changed in different ways. That’s okay. That’s normal. That’s life. I have heard that if you end up staying close to with one true friend from high school, you’re lucky. I have my “best friend since we were babies” so I guess eating all those marshmallows out of all those boxes of Lucky Charms paid off.

“Change is bad”– In high school, where stability is rare, change seems to get a bad reputation. “You’ve changed” was never a compliment during those years, and it was always stated with sadness. In college, however, I have come to realize that the biggest problem is stagnancy; stagnancy is an enemy of growth. The “theme” of our college this past year was “Moving Beyond.” How refreshing it has been to learn how to move beyond! It’s a difficult thing to do, I’ll admit, but God has helped me to move beyond past hurts, to out deep roots of bitterness, to forgive my past failures, and to look toward a bright future, to stick my head out of my comfort zone and to experience the rest of the world. Change is frightening, change is overwhelming, and strange, but change is also necessary, and in most situations, change is good (whether it seems that way at first or not).

I have had to unlearn many other things. I could probably write a book on the whole process, and I still have much to unlearn! Sometimes, old mindsets creep up and hinder the unlearning process. That’s okay though, because if there’s one thing I’ve unlearned out of all of this its the idea that life consists of one-time fixes. It simply doesn’t. It’s a journey, an adventure, and a process of learning and unlearning as we try to become more like Christ.