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


21 Comments

Creationism, Evolution, and Doing Justice to God

I’ve been reading Kenneth Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God for a class I’m taking. Although I’ve been out of fundamentalism long enough (about two years) for most of this information to be old news to me, some parts have challenged me to think about how low of an opinion of God I had as a fundamentalist.  

In the chapter I just finished, “God the Charlatan,” Miller (who is himself both a scientist and a believer in God) takes on the fundamentalist idea that God created the earth with the appearance of age. And not just the appearance of age, apparently, but with a consistent appearance of 4.5 billion years of age.

According to Miller, “this sounds like a deception most cruel. Their Creator deliberately rigged a universe with a consistent–but fictitious–age in order to fool its inhabitants.

He continues (emphasis mine),

What saddens me is the view of the Creator that their intellectual contortions force them to hold. In order to defend God against the challenge they see from evolution, they have had to make Him into a schemer, a trickster, even a charlatan. Their version of God is one who intentionally plants misleading clues beneath our feet and in the heavens themselves. Their version of God is one who has filled the universe with so much bogus evidence that the tools of science can give us nothing more than a phony version of reality.

Art by Gerald Shepard (click for link)

Art by Gerald Shepard (click for link)

I am not a Biblical literalist. But even in a literalist perspective, is this really the God that the Bible puts forth?

Is this the God who “is not the author of confusion/disorder?”

Is this the God who “cannot lie?” 

Is this the God of whom “the heavens declare the glory?” 

According to Miller, to worship the God of young earth creationism, one must “reject science and worship deception itself.” As a former young earth creationist, I agree.

The fundamentalist God I once believed in was extremely fragile, in constant need of defense. And everything was a threat, even creation itself. The best way to worship God was to know as little about the world that God created as possible.

I don’t think that view does God justice.

I don’t think that view even does the book of Genesis justice.

In the words of Michael Gungor,

Genesis is a poem if I’ve ever seen one.

It’s full of refrain, metaphor, and rhythm.

And God said that it was good.

Over and over like the hook of a pop song, like a wave sculpting its shores…this is good, this is good.  The poetic refrain of Genesis hammers the wonder and beauty of a creator making a good creation into our hearts.

In a science book, you’d have to discredit a text like this for glaring logical errors like the creation of light before stars, or days before an earth and a sun.  In a poem, you don’t have to worry about such things.  You simply can enjoy it’s beauty and hear the voice of God as it speaks over and over.

By trying to force them into my tiny fundamentalist box, I missed the amazing complexities of nature. I missed the poetic beauty that some ancient writer used to describe that creator.

And I missed the Creator herself.

I missed the creative wisdom in the laws of nature and physics and I settled for a world that was haphazardly spoken into existence.

I’m still forming thoughts and words for what I actually believe about God. But I do know this, the god I worshipped as a fundamentalist was too small.

What if we can trust God not to lie to us? What if the heavens really do declare, and not deceptively lead us away from, God’s glory? What if God gave us brains that could at least in part understand the world around them and those brains really were good?

What if, by trusting that creation is what it seems to be saying it is–old, yet constantly evolving into fascinating newness–we are actually doing God justice? 

As Kenneth Miller says, “As we walk through the gates, aware of the dazzling richness of the genuine biological world, there might even be a smile on the Creator’s face–at long last [God’s] creatures have learned enough to understand [God’s] world as it truly is.”


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!


18 Comments >

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

IMAGE BY DANI KELLEY

Back in February, Sen. Marco Rubio explained why he opposed the Violence Against Women Act:

I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs.

Rubio has this idea, apparently, that different types of abuse have nothing to do with one another. Not a surprising conclusion in a world that’s determined to paint all abuse as isolated incidences committed by monsters, but that’s not reality. Often, sexual abuse is present in violent relationships.

No one wants to talk about the fact that different types of abuse are connected because that means challenging the very society–ripe with hierarchies that enforce themselves with violence–that we live in.

Today, I’m discussing spiritual abuse as part of a Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week that some fellow bloggers are hosting. Also this week, Rachel Held Evans will be hosting a more general discussion of abuse (which I will be guest posting for) and Elora NIcole will be sharing the anonymous stories of survivors.

With all these thoughts of abuse in general going through my head, I think about how ridiculous statements like Rubio’s sound. As if we can end violence against women without ending sexual assault.

Truth is, the violences that women (and other oppressed groups) face often stem from the same root–a deeper violence that questions the legitimacy of their very humanity.

I don’t want us to miss this point while we talk about the different types of abuse that people face, inside and outside of the church. Abuse happens, and society either ignores or accepts it because there is an assault on humanity that says certain bodies are objects, or are public property. An assault that paints some bodies as worthless, gross, weird, animal-like, sinful, collateral, too sexual, needing to be taught a lesson, etc. 

Religion is far from the only institution that perpetuates this kind of abuse, but spiritual abuse can be a powerful tool for painting some groups as less important than others and therefore “deserving” of violence.

This happens in obvious cases such as the Southern Baptist Church supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the many church groups that advocate hitting children who misbehave.

It also happens more subtly in ways that I don’t think most leaders (though when you hear stories like Jack Schaap’s, you wonder…) or church members intend.

Here’s where my own story comes in. I grew up in church and grew up learning many things about myself and about my body and about the way the world is. I also ended up in an abusive relationship when I was 16.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I was physically, verbally, and sexually abused in that relationship, but little thinking about how I was spiritually abused. My ex-boyfriend used my own deeply-held religious beliefs to make me think that what he did to me was okay. It was easy for him to convince me, too, because I had been absorbing abusive ideas from the churches I’d attended my whole life.

I will be writing in more detail about how my idea of who God was affected what I accepted as love. But my churches growing up also fed me dangerous ideas about who was, what my body was, and what my place in the world was.

I was a woman, the church told me, so I had to be passive, meek, submissive, caring and nurturing, and endlessly patient and forgiving. A man, on the other hand, was just naturally aggressive, out-of-control, and sexual. These were God-given traits.

My abuser, knowing this, played on those, even sometimes calling my relationship with God into question when I didn’t live up to my role.

My church also taught me that I was worthless. From the sermons the pastors preached to the books that my youth pastors recommended. Because I was not a virgin I was what the Christian dating book, Dateable, would call “dollar store leftovers.” 

My abuser, knowing this, told me constantly that no one else would want me so I had better stay with him. That I was already impure and couldn’t be fixed so I might as well let him do whatever he wanted with my body.

My church taught me that I was responsible for men’s actions. That dressing immodestly could make men lust after me.

My abuser, knowing this, blamed me when he sexually assaulted me. He told me it was my fault for being too sexy, even in the Baptist school-approved outfit I was wearing.

All violence is connected.

I’m positive that the churches I grew up in did not want their teachings to be used by abusers to support abuse.

Too bad. That’s not how it works.

Those teachings were violence in and of themselves. They did violence to my humanity. And in doing that violence to my humanity, they sent the message to abusers that I did not have to be treated as human.

Churches don’t have to be as cult-like and controlling as Driscoll’s Mars Hill or First Baptist Church of Hammond to be abusive. By using language about groups–whether it’s women, children, LGBT people, or people of different colors, cultures, countries, or religions–that does violence to their humanity, they commit spiritual abuse. And spiritual abuse won’t confine itself to the pulpit. Those abusive words and teachings and ideas leave the church in the hearts and minds and Moleskine notebooks of every church member and are spread throughout society like an infectious disease. 

The church is not the only source of this disease, again, but it is a powerful one because battling it means battling ideas and perceptions about God (something I will discuss more in my guest post for Rachel Held Evans later this week).

A church that claims to worship a man whose purpose was “to set the oppressed free” should be horrified to learn that its teachings are being used by abusers to support abuse.

Is it though? Are our churches concerned about how their messages are received? Are our churches concerned about abuse survivors? Or are they more focused on so-called sound doctrine and on giving “grace” to abusers?


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

Must Reads!

Here are some posts from the past week or so that you simply must read.

[Note: Several of these have a trigger warning]

Maybe I’m not outraged. I’m exhausted and open and exposed and a lot of other people are too because we are wounds that get picked at and picked at and picked at one day, there won’t be anything left to heal.

When we blame women for the reactions of men – whether it is to their art, to their clothing, to their “unladylike” behavior like riding public transit after dark – we reinforce rape culture. 
I was going to have a girl. I had named her. When I started bleeding I begged. I cried. I asked. I told the guards at the detention center I was pregnant. They said it was not important because I was going to be deported anyway. I was left to bleed and cry.
A Sunday school teacher once encouraged the gathered group of girls that if we ever got home one day, and our feet were dying to get out of our shoes, that…we should leave our shoes on and not sit down for another thirty minutes, at least– so we can make our bodies “submit” to us.
And, maybe our first action in response to injustice should be learning about the causes of the problem in the first place, and refusing to ignore, simplify, and whitewash them further. 
When I was gearing up for my ordination I contacted the press. In one of the articles someone left a comment that said, “Our Catholic community ordained a transgender [side note problematic language was the commenter’s] in 19XX but we didn’t go out looking for press over it.” And I thought, that’s the problem! 
 
I shouldn’t have needed that push. But I did…I, white lady feminist, have a responsibility here and I want to meet it.
The puppy purses. I just can't with the cute of the puppy purses. (image via eonline.com)

The puppy purses. I just can’t with the cute of the puppy purses. (image via eonline.com)


2 Comments

Must Reads!

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the time to sit down and post links to my favorite blog posts. So I’m going to catch up today, and share some of my favorite posts from the past 2 or 3 weeks. Enjoy these smart people and their smart words!

“If there is one thing that Western Christians and atheists have in common it is a shared legacy of colonizing bodies of color.

“You can get a lot of people to do what you want them to do or believe what you want them to believe by saying God will be disappointed in them if they do otherwise.”

The word “forgiveness” gets thrown around a lot in Christian circlesParticularly at women. Particularly at women when they notice injustice and dare to speak up about it.”

“A history where people of color are the innocent victims of white violence is an offense to white supremacy.”

“I don’t describe God has being on the side of the oppressed, but rather on the side against oppression – wherever it is found – and advocating justice – wherever it can be found.”

 “One thing in your song should always be on fire, be it our heart, our souls, this generation . . . Something needs to be in flames.
“And even if every sex act you perform on this earth is Yes Means Yes consensual, if you think like a rapist there is a very good chance you will attract rapists who want you to confirm that the next person they rape has it coming/will enjoy it/does not matter.”
“Conservative Christianity can’t exist without their conservative Christian God. And their conservative Christian God is anti-consent.
Also, this, from my Twitter friend @somaticstrength:
Image