25 Comments >

I’ve been thinking a lot about my deepest held images of God: why do I hold them? Where do they come from? What do they say about the Christian faith I was raised in? What do they say about me? How do they hold me back? Or how could they possibly be liberating?

I used to be afraid to think about images of God. I used to think that if there were no more images of God, God would disappear for me.

Yet, personal religious experiences that I’ve had recently have changed my mind.

I believe there’s Something there, something bigger and more amazing than I can comprehend. Something that feels like love and sings wisdom into my heart. I call that something God.

It’s hard to talk tangibly about something, though, ya know?

So, here we are, humans with limited (as amazing as they are) mental capacities, which are reigned in even further by the confines of language. And we need to talk about. . .

Something. 

I imagine the writers of the Bible had this problem. How to write about something?

And like good writers, the Biblical authors explained this unfamiliar something by comparing it to something their audience would find familiar.

We need images of God. They help us talk about God. They help us pray. They help us understand. They help us fight injustice.

But sometimes these images take hold. Sometimes they become idols.

God is also not a white dude...

God is also not a white dude…

Instead of worshipping God, it seems like often we worship a father.

We worship a king.

We worship a lord.

But we don’t worship I AM WHAT I SHALL BE. We don’t worship God.

We worship men.

As Elizabeth A. Johnson says in her book She Who Is, “The theistic God is modeled on the pattern of an earthly absolute monarch, a metaphor so prevalent it is often taken for granted.” She reminds us the hard truth that, “even when [this monarch] is presented as kindly, merciful, and forgiving, the fundamental problem remains. Benevolent patriarchy is still patriarchy.”

I think sometimes we let our patriarchal, imperialist, domination-based society dictate our faith.

We lose sight of Jesus as God with us, and focus on God over us. 

I think even masculine images of God can be extremely useful in confronting patriarchy, and other systems of injustice. If God is king, then I am not subject to earthly rulers. If God is father, then I am not subject to men.

Yet these images are so easily appropriated by those in power. If God is king, then king is God. If God is father, then father is God.

I don’t suggest we leave images behind. But I suggest we stop, and we think. And we remember.

We must remember God is not really a king. 

If Jesus is any indication as Christian doctrine says, God looks nothing like earthly kings. God died a mockery of their robes and crowns. God rose in victory over death–the strongest threat that powerful men have in their arsenal–and in all God’s victorious glory God . . . went and fried up some fish and chilled with some friends.

The heavens are not literally God’s throne and the earth is not literally God’s footstool.

God is not really a king, and we need to be extremely careful when images of ruling men in a patriarchal society begin to inform our faith. That is when religion’s power of liberation gets wrestled away by the very oppressors it once challenged.

God is not a man.

God is what God shall be.

Advertisements


1 Comment

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week: My Guest Post at Rachel Held Evans

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

Today I’m guest posting at Rachel Held Evans’ blog, talking about abuse and images of God.

God is love. I believe that with my whole heart.

But what is God? And what is love?

We need to ask ourselves these questions and think deeply about them before we can even begin to start solving the problem of abuse in the Christian church.

Read the rest at RachelHeldEvans.com!


5 Comments

Must reads!

Lots of posts that I want to share this week. I hope you’ll check them out, as they are all important! They discuss a wide variety of topics, from God, to rape culture, to The Wizard of Oz, to racism/homophobia, to the dangers of fraternizing with bears.

“For most of my Christian experience, I’ve only ever heard God described in verbs. Very busy verbs.”

“If you want to know why we need to educate men not to be sexually aggressive, look no further than what happened when Zerlina Maxwell went on television to say that we need to educate men how not to be sexually aggressive.”

“But one can’t help feeling that ‘Great and Powerful’ is two steps back from the feminist bent Baum proudly and freely lent his work, and in a day and age when there wasn’t even a label for it.”

To be a victim does not mean that you lack agency as part of your essence; it means that someone attempted to deny your agency in inflicting harm, in rendering you less powerful or even essentially powerless.”

“And right then I knew that I was tired of good people, that I had had all the good people I could take.”

“Though I grieve I cannot ever go back. The steak is a lie.”

“The combination of patriarchal gender roles, purity culture, and authoritarian clergy that characterizes Sovereign Grace’s teachings on parenting, marriage, and sexuality creates an environment where women and children—especially girls—are uniquely vulnerable to abuse.

A gay, black mayoral candidate killed last week in Mississippi was beaten, dragged and set on fire before his body was dumped near a river.”

“I was unmarried, pregnant and they took away my livelihood. San Diego Christian College did not show any mercy or grace towards me.

“A church in which a woman’s voice is not welcomed is a church with incredibly limited mobility in the kingdom of God. It can limp, at best, but it will never run.”

“This attempt to anthropomorphize and humanize bears strikes at the heart of everything the gospel teaches about bears.

Damsel’d women are being acted upon, most often being reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found, or a goal to be achieved.

Here's a cat that rocks. (picture taken by my sister, Sam Moon)

Here’s a cat that rocks. (picture taken by my sister, Sam Moon)


1 Comment >

Trigger Warning for intimate partner violence/verbal abuse and spiritual abuse

I’m on a guest-posting streak apparently, because today I’m over at Dianna Anderson’s blog talking  about images of God for her Account and Countenance series.

I look around me, years later, and I see a Church that is terrified to look its theology in the face. I see a Church that is somehow okay with having two drastically different definitions of love—one for humans and one for God. I see a Church that holds God to a different standard than they hold human beings.

I see a Church that thinks it can do this and still speak out against abuse and to me, it will never make sense. I can no longer listen to a pastor call abusers evil and then turn around and sing a hymn to the wrathful, jealous God who can save even a helpless, hopeless, worthless wretch like me.

These dueling definitions of love have to end. God doesn’t get God’s own definition. God doesn’t get to do whatever God wants and call it love.

Read the rest here! 


12 Comments

Why?

Trigger Warning for discussion of Sandy Hook Elementary shootings

Why?

I guess that’s what everyone’s wondering in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings this week. Why did this happen? Could we have prevented it? How can we stop it from happening again?

As an activist, I turn my eyes to social structures, to laws, to ideologies of domination. I think of words from Martin Luther King Jr., from so many years ago, that apply still today: “we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”

Because we still live in a world where some people are taught that they are better than others.

We still live in a world where random, senseless acts of violence occur, and where people are all but handed the tools to commit these acts.

We still live in a world where it’s almost heroic to kill children overseas with our drone strikes in order to prove that America is the “greatest country on earth.”

Why? In the context of our culture of domination and violence, what does this single event mean? And what can we do about it? I’m not writing this to answer those questions. I’m writing this because I’m lost and I don’t know and I’m desperately asking…

Why?

As a self-identified Christian, I turn to God.

Other Christians don’t have to ask why. They don’t have to ask why because their God is a monster, and somehow they’ve made peace with that. Or at least they pretend to, leaping at the opportunity to post pictures on Facebook declaring their faith in a petty, spiteful, evil being who, all because of the separation of church and state,  would leave 20 children and 6 teachers to die.

I don't know the actually image source, so for now I'm just going to guess--"Image via An Asshole"

I don’t know the actual image source, so for now I’m just going to guess–“Image via An Asshole”

Even several Christian leaders seem to worship this God of Hate. Bryan Fischer’s answer to why is, “God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.”

What gentleman has the power to save 26 people from death and just stands by and watches?

Why?

John Piper has already told us that it is right for his God of Hate to “slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.” His God doesn’t just stand back and allow evil to happen in order to get revenge over Engel v. Vitale. His God plays an active role in the killing. His God guides the hand of the shooter. His God was sending us a “warning…to see our souls as depraved.” 

And I wonder, who is going to send God a warning? How can we show this Monster of a God how depraved it’s own soul is?

Why?

Why do we see this God as good? Why do we not hold this God to nearly universal standards of decency that we Christians like to claim come from God? Why do we worship a monster like that?

I try to drown out the voices of so many prominent Christians whose God is a God of Hate that kills children to prove a shallow point. I try to believe in a God of Love despite the fact that I’m being told that the God of Love isn’t really the Christian God. That evil can be called “love” as long as God does it.

But no matter how successful I am in drowning out those voices, I can’t escape the Why.

So, I won’t try. I’m asking why.

Maybe some of my “why”s will  have answers that will let me join others and work toward change.

Maybe some of my “why”s will simply dissolve as we do this work, only to emerge when the next tragedy strikes.

I don’t know. My thoughts are scrambled and every time I try to gather them I find myself frustrated to tears. For now I’m done trying to give answers. For now I’m just asking. Sometimes it’s okay to just ask for awhile.


1 Comment

In Praise of the Doubting Thomas–A Book Review

My friend Travis Mamone has a new ebook out. It’s called In Praise of the Doubting Thomas, and I recommend it.

It’s short, and I finished it in under two hours, but it’s also thought-provoking and affirming. Travis, in his honest, conversational writing style, tells the story of his faith journey–how he made peace with his doubts without giving up on his faith.

Travis’s faith journey reminds me of my own (and, indeed, since we’ve been reading each other’s blogs for a few years now, our journeys are connected in some ways). He talks about how sometimes he doesn’t believe that God exists. Sometimes his rational mind can’t comprehend God’s existence. Yet something compels him to believe. Some days he feels a presence or a sense of peace that keeps him from being able to identify as an atheist. He talks about embracing his dis/belief, identifying as a Christian agnostic, or an a/theist.

I really like how Travis blurs the line between the strict dichotomy of believer and atheist. I like how he admits to occupying a space somewhere in between, and how he affirms that. I wonder, if we were all as honest as Travis, whether or not many of us would admit to occupying that same space.

I would push back on one area of Travis’s book, that being his depictions of atheists. He describes them as people who “worship Christopher Hitchens,” or who fall into the “Richard Dawkins theism-equals-stupidity” category. I’ve honestly met very few atheists who fit this stereotype, and I believe that affirming Christian agnosticism has to come with a healthy affirmation of those who do not believe in God at all.

Despite that, I think Travis’s ebook is a good read for anyone wrestling with doubts. He simply tells his story–or at least, his story so far–and invites us to see our own stories within and to adopt Doubting Thomas as our patron saint.

If you’d like to read Travis Mamone’s ebook In Praise of the Doubting Thomas,  you can buy it at Amazon.com here or you can buy it here at Smashwords!  Also, be sure to check out Travis’s blog, The Boy With the Thorn in His Side. 

 


15 Comments

Intangible Christianity

I was raised to believe that salvation was a shadow of things to come. An image of an otherworldly kingdom that could never be realized (even in part) on earth. Jesus’ death on the cross was an ethereal magic trick…

It’s an illusion, Michael…

…that somehow, in some way washed away our sins.

But our sins were still here.  We still sinned. That didn’t matter. They were washed away in the realm of the almighty. Covered somehow by a metaphorical river of blood.

This was always explained as a “great mystery.” Something we could never fully understand. But “God’s ways are higher than man’s ways,” they told me. And I was forced to be satisfied with the shadows of things to come, and to trust that these shadows weren’t simply smoke and mirrors.

The same reasoning was given for how Christians should live in day-to-day life. Because salvation was an intangible concept, the worst of Christian “sins” also dealt with intangible concepts.

Like sex. Sure, folks would give lists of the tangible consequences of premarital sex, but if you questioned, if you pushed, if you broke down the tangible consequences the driving force behind them were the ideas of purity and virginity.

And what is purity? Who is pure? What makes someone a virgin…or not a virgin?

You could have sex and then become a born-again virgin. TaDa! No physical transformation required. You just pray a prayer and trust that somewhere in the world of the heavens, that magical blood is somehow covering your sins.

And what about helping the needy? Well, we feed them with God’s word. Nourish them with the scripture. We save their souls but their bodies don’t matter. No one’s do. Bodies are too real. Too solid and physical. They need to be hidden and shamed while the soul is exalted.

More shadows, being cast by a world to come, but nothing to cling to.

And when you start asking questions, they give you Faith to cling to. I never really knew what that Faith was faith of. Faith that something magical happened on the cross that we don’t understand, I guess.

But really, it’s the Faith we’re worshipping and serving. We wait. We watch. We keep ourselves pure.

But do we fight injustice? No, because we’re afraid the oppressed will take over us, the oppressors, if we give them too much freedom.

Do we feed the poor? No, Jesus said the poor will always be with us.

Do we change our world? No, because there is another world waiting for us.

Our salvation is from the horrors of spiritual death, not the pains of physical life.

When I asked, “what’s the point?” they called me unfaithful. They asked me if I was really saved, because if I was really saved I’d be satisfied with the shadows. I wouldn’t be searching for anything physical and real. I wouldn’t be craving a salvation that I could touch and see.

But didn’t Jesus pray “thy will be done on earth?” Didn’t Jesus promise us “daily bread?” Can we really keep pretending, even as we read about him filling the empty, physical bellies of thousands, that the bread he spoke of was just a Bible passage and an accompanying devotional?

If our salvation has nothing to do with this world and with these bodies, than why did God come to this world? Why did God become a body? Why did God feed bodies and heal bodies and rescue bodies from drowning in the ocean?

I think of salvation differently now. Yes, there are shadows that give me hope for a world to come. But these shadows are cast by things that are happening now. When the mighty are brought down and the weak are exalted. When the hungry are fed and the poor find justice. When the oppressed find freedom and the marginalized find love.

If the shadows that you’re grasping at aren’t being cast by something that exists here and now, how do you know you’re not being fooled? How do you know your faith is something more than just smoke, slipping through your fingers?

I want a solid salvation. One that is here. One that I become a part of, continuing Christ’s work on earth. I don’t want to wait passively and blindly for it to come to me when I die.

Today is the day of salvation.