I cannot know what it is like to be a woman

One of my classes this semester is Women in Religious Traditions. We are studying world religions over the centuries and the role of women within those religions, how those religions addressed women, and the general androcentrism of pretty much every culture. As we talk about gender roles and how women are viewed as “other,” or entirely left out of texts, and in particular how women are now finding ways to interact with religions that have been traditionally somewhat misogynistic, I’ve realized that I will just never be able to understand some of this.

Continue reading

Domestic Disturbance

April is visiting her mother today, so I walked home from church. I generally enjoy the walk, as it’s not very long and our neighbourhood is relatively quiet, but today I heard shouts and cursing from a side street just a couple of blocks from our house. I started to walk past, but then decided to detour to make sure everything was OK.

Mostly, I wondered if I needed to call the police or not. The situation appeared to be that an ex-wife was visiting because it was a child’s birthday, but the ex-husband and his new girlfriend/wife didn’t want the ex-wife there. Meanwhile, the ex-wife accused the ex-husband of stealing her stuff because he wouldn’t let her come in to claim one particular item. He responded that she could come and take everything, but he wasn’t going to let her in if she wasn’t moving all of her belongings out.

Lots and lots of shouting. Lots of expletives. I went back and forth about calling the police, and made note of the address just in case, but as I slowly walked past the house and decided to stop in the park (which is the center of our community), I decided to pray. I sat on a stone wall and prayed for about ten minutes.

And I wondered as I prayed whether it would do any good. Would an angel appear to minister to them, or to quell their tempers? Would the ex-wife suddenly realize she wasn’t handling the situation maturely and, instead of shouting curse words, calmly explain why she was upset and seek a way to fix the situation? Would they suddenly remember that kids were around and maybe they shouldn’t be screaming at each other?

I prayed, and finally asked God what I should do, and he told me to go home. He’d take care of them. As I walked away, I had a moment of Schadenfreude as I thought, “At least I didn’t have to go through that when I was young.” Then I remembered that I went through exactly that, and I wondered why I had forgotten.

I turned out OK. I didn’t have the competing exes thing going on, but I did have to hear my parents scream and fight while I tried to stay out of the way. And though an angel never appeared, and though my parents never honestly confronted the obstacles that lay between them to deal with those and sort everything out, God was with me. He didn’t fix the situation in the moment, but he did fix me, eventually. Or, to be more accurate, he remains faithful and continues to work on fixing me. Though I wasn’t really Christian, though I hadn’t fully given myself to God, God gave himself to me. He took care of me through it all.

I prayed that God would take care of those kids, and he said that he would. I could go home. I got a cup of coffee and sat on my porch for a while, listening to the wind in the trees and the chatter of the birds. God took care of me. He takes care of those birds and of the leaves on the trees. He can take care of this disturbance too. I have faith in him.

What alignment is God?

Preface::

First, please don’t get turned off because I’m referencing some Dungeons & Dragons stuff at first. It’s not much, and you’ll be past it eventually.

Second, this post has been a long time coming. The matter has been on my mind for weeks if not months, and I’m still not settled on the matter. It’s a bit of a mind dump.

Third, because of that, I’d really like your consideration and input. Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking, even if you just agree or disagree. This is one of the theological subjects I’m really wrestling with and curious about right now.

Moving on::

For those of you who haven’t played D&D before, or maybe have only played the latest edition (the 4th), you may be unfamiliar with alignments. In general, there are two axes, as seen below.

The 3.5 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook lists nine alignments as options for a player character, because in addition to the four labels you see above, there is also Neutral. Someone might be Lawful Good or Chaotic Good, but they could also be Neutral Good, or Chaotic Neutral.

With that established, let’s talk a bit about God, Christianity, and myself. For my part, I have finally reached the conclusion that I am Lawful Neutral. This is kind of a Big Deal for me, mostly because it’s not what I expected. When I was younger, I liked to think of myself as Chaotic Good: I didn’t always follow the “rules,” and I didn’t always listen to “the man,” but I generally strove to do good things and help people. Robin Hood is Chaotic Good, as is Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly.

When I was a kid, my heroes were the knights in shining armor from the fantasy stories I read, but I bucked authority a lot of the time. I didn’t care much about school or grades, or what my parents thought or wanted me to do. I tried to do good, but I did it my own way. Now, though, my outlook seems different. I don’t know if it is that I have changed, or if I was always this way but just idealized “Good” and strove for that… but it’s not me. I’m not Robin Hood. I’m not even Mal.

Lawful Neutral is generally referred to as the “Judge.” Wikipedia has a good definition of Lawful Neutral:

Characters of this alignment are neutral with regard to good and evil. This does not mean that Lawful Neutral characters are amoral or immoral, or do not have a moral compass; but simply that their moral considerations come a distant second to what their code, tradition or law dictates. They typically have a strong ethical code, but it is primarily guided by their system of belief, not by a commitment to good or evil.

In regards to D&D, you generally see Lawful Neutral characters on the side of Good, because Evil has a tendency to go against the law. The important point is motivation: where a Good aligned person would uphold Good for its own sake, a Lawful aligned person upholds it because it is the law. If a law is unjust or not “good,” someone who is Chaotic Good may choose to not uphold that law and will make their own code–a course of action that would be practically anathema to a Lawful Neutral person.

My work has forced me to the analyses of my own alignment and motivations because we do have some policies and ways of doing business that I don’t particularly like or agree with. Because it’s my job, though, I have to follow through regardless of my personal feelings… but I have found, over the last couple of years, that my personal feelings strongly uphold the following of these rules for the mere fact that they are the rules. I’m an INTJ, so inefficiency and poor work angers me, and within the bounds of the system I will do everything I can do improve matters, but as a Lawful Neutral, I have found that I won’t break the rules ((As the above linked definition of INTJ states, I will sometimes “implement critical decisions without consulting my [sic] supervisors or co-workers” and I have little respect for anyone I perceive to be slacking, even if they are higher ranked than me. But I don’t break any rules, which is the key.)) to do it. Not anymore, anyways.

So my first question becomes, “How does being Lawful Neutral square with being Christian?” Jonny and I were on our way to a conference a few weeks ago and the topic of alignments came up–we were discussing why certain things in our jobs have gone as they have, and I replied that I do what I do, how I do it, because I’m Lawful Neutral. He was surprised; a Christian should by default be Good, he said.

This really set me to thinking: if God is Good, then should all Christians be Good? The more I thought about the classical, humanistic definition of Good, though, the less God seemed to fit into the assumed alignment.

From Wikipedia:

Lawful Good is known as the “Saintly” or “Crusader” alignment. A Lawful Good character typically acts with compassion, and always with honor and a sense of duty. A Lawful Good nation would consist of a well-organized government that works for the benefit of its citizens. Lawful Good characters include righteous knights, paladins, and most dwarves. …

Lawful Good characters, especially paladins, may sometimes find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to obey law or good when the two conflict – for example, upholding a sworn oath when it would lead innocents to come to harm – or conflicts between two orders, such as between their religious law and the law of the local ruler.

If God is Lawful Good, then, how do we account for the suffering we see in the world? For centuries philosophers and theologians have attempted to address the problem of pain in the world: why do bad things happen to good people; why do children die; why do natural disasters wipe out civilizations; do those who have never even heard of Jesus to go hell, etc. If God is all powerful and all Good, would He not then save these people? Why would He not wipe out all disease, death, and pain?

In short, the answer is generally, “Adam and Eve sinned and now we live in a fallen world.” When asked why God doesn’t just fix it, the answer is generally that God is either waiting for more people to be reconciled to Him through Christ, or that some other plan is at work. We, as Christians, work very hard to reconcile the existence of evil in the world with God’s goodness.

Before I was Christian, I believed strongly in the “rules” of this world. I believed that angels and demons, while powerful, were only able to interact with this world and shape its events within certain restrictions, and that the deities were likewise limited, not due to a lack of power but due to some cosmic agreement. At the time, I considered it a dualistic issue: the gods of Good and the gods of Evil had made an armistice to prevent the destruction of the world over which they fought. Skirmishes occurred, but outright war was avoided.

I no longer hold that dualistic view, but the more I think about the world and God’s interaction with it, the more I come back to the idea of there being some sort of cosmic rule at work, or a self-limitation by God. Jesus is a good example of this: we uphold that he was entirely human and entirely God, yet there seemed to be times when he didn’t know exactly what would happen next, and he went so far as to ask that the suffering to come be put away from him. In taking on mortal flesh, limitations were put in place, and since I do affirm that God is all powerful, I can only conclude that these limitations were self-imposed to provide a better teaching example to Christians. ((Or for some other reason–the conclusion stands regardless.))

What if God was closer to Lawful Neutral than Lawful Good? Our concept of Lawful Good is someone who protects the innocent without hesitation, works and fights always on the side of Good, does whatever he or she can to protect and benefit others. I don’t propose the Deistic concept of a clockmaker God, who set the world into motion and then stepped back to watch silently, but I do perceive restraint that contradicts what we think Lawful Good should be. Could a Lawful Good deity who was all powerful watch as Haiti was torn apart and innocent children died in the streets? Could a Lawful Good deity sanction the genocide in Darfur or the ongoing civil wars in Sri Lanka and the Congo? We wonder at the horrors inflicted upon the Hebrews in the Hebrew Bible, and it is hard to reconcile them with our concept of a Lawful Good God, but they make more sense if we consider God to be Lawful Neutral, a God who has made certain laws that must be upheld.

By this, I do not mean that God is not generally good, but I do question our concept and the assumptions we make about God’s goodness. If you ask me, “Is God compassionate?” I will reply, “Yes, yes, God is compassionate.” And if you ask if God is forgiving, I will say, “Yes, yes, God is forgiving.” He is kind and loving and awesome. But if you ask, “Is God good?” I will wonder at your definition of “good.” If by good you mean that God is our servant and sworn benefactor, I say no, God is not these things.

We assume that actions follow nature, and so if God is compassionate, He must act upon that compassion. Likewise, too many look upon suffering and conclude that God must therefore not be compassionate, and since the Bible teaches of God’s compassion, many take it a step further and conclude that there is no God. These conclusions do not follow; God can be compassionate without always acting upon that compassion.

Let us consider Jesus who, as I referred to earlier, displayed adherence to the rules (if such do exist) throughout the gospels. There are numerous stories of Jesus healing someone, but he heals relatively few of the people around him. In one such story, Jesus actually delves into a great crowd of the ill and infirm, and finding a particular man at the center, asks him if he wants to be healed. ((John 5:1-18)) The man states that he has been seeking healing but has been unable to find it, and Jesus heals him.

Why does he heal no one else in all that crowd? Why pick that one man out? Some have wondered whether the issue is that Jesus’s power is limited, using Luke 8:40-48 as indication that he not only had limited power but the use of that power depleted his reserves. What if, instead, Jesus was limited by a set of self-imposed rules, a guiding plan, and was loathe to deviate from that course? The man at the well was healed for some purpose, and we can only conclude that an all powerful God would not heal those He didn’t want to heal, so Jesus must likewise have had some reason to heal the woman who touched his cloak (though he seems surprised when the event occurs).

Perhaps Jesus only healed those who would have the greatest impact on his mission–it certainly makes sense in a Lawful Neutral way. I wonder as well about the mystery of faith. In Luke 8, Jesus states that the woman’s faith has healed her, and it seems to me like that gives us a clue in itself. No one healed by Jesus is recorded as temporizing or rationalizing away the miracle, but I have seen miracles occur to people who have done just this. I believe that, in the stories recorded in the gospels, those healed had the faith to believe, and subsequently they kept that belief. I might conclude, then, that faith is one of the components necessary for a miracle. ((As Jesus himself seemed to state in Matthew 17:20.))

We have read that the door to heaven is narrow and few will enter, ((Luke 13:22-27)) but we all believe we will be part of that few. Just as I questioned our definition of “good” above, I question as well our concept of “faith.” How many Christians in the Church are there because they want something, rather than because of their faith? What they want might be all good things: to serve others, to join a community of like-minded individuals, to find belonging or love, to find peace or healing, etc. But how many are involved in the community of Christians purely because they believe in Jesus and the truth of the Bible? All those good things follow faith, but I wonder for how many faith is the primary motivator and factor.

It would be Lawful Good for God to let everyone into heaven. He indicates in Luke 13 that this is not the case. One could argue, though, that the “Lawful” balances the “Good,” and that God is indeed Lawful Good in this respect: God wants everyone to enter heaven (Good), but must turn away sinners (Lawful).

Back to the earlier question, rephrased, I ask, “If we consider God to be Lawful, then who’s law?” The previous paragraph feels more like temporizing to me. ((To be honest, I’ve reached the same conclusion in regards to Calvinism as a whole.)) I feel like we’re attempting to cram God into the Lawful Good alignment because we want to believe that God has our individual best interests at heart and will always take care of us. In looking at the world and at the Bible, particularly in light of the verses above (as well as countless others I’m not relating here because I don’t feel like taking the time to look them up right now), that conclusion just doesn’t seem to fit. It seems more like God has created a world and an order and we have deviated from it. It is now our job to get back in line, and God has aided us in that by providing the sacrifice of Jesus. We still have to accept that sacrifice ((A la Arminianism)) and follow God faithfully to get back within the boundaries accorded by the cosmic rules.

I’ve got another branch of thoughts on this topic brought up by the book I’m reading, but I’ll end the mind dump here because those veer off into spiritual warfare territory. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with it, and please comment to share what you’re thinking. I’d really like to read it.

Unapologetic

The back porch was screened with bamboo shades that descended along its sides like nature’s blankets, smooth and serenely complacent as if they had always rested there. Little light was available, but we had gone past the point of reading our Bibles and were conversing about something or other. The details of our evenings on that porch are hazy for me, but I recall the long drive west of Springfield to reach their home, the awkward feelings in my throat because I knew so few names, and the hesitant way I would smile at people and they might smile back as we talked briefly about God. I mostly just sat and watched.

My head came up when the associate pastor’s son began to speak about authenticity though. His tone caught my attention, and as I looked up, my eyes met his where he was staring at me with a fierce intensity.

“Yeah, some people go up to the front to pray, I guess. But I think there are some who go up there just to show off. Just to be up front so everyone thinks they’re holy and great. It’s all just a show,” he spat derisively, words clipped in a harsh staccato beat.

I felt my world drop out from under me. He was talking about Sunday mornings, where there was a weekly altar call for anyone who felt the need for prayer. They would go up front and those who felt led to do so would join them, praying as they knelt together. God regularly asked me to step forward and pray with people, so I did, but from that moment forward I would question myself and God. I didn’t want people looking down on me or thinking me a phony. I didn’t want to be on the outside yet again.

For the next six years I would struggle with singing in worship, praying with others, or even talking about my faith. I have not overcome that poisoned barb, and for the last six or more years I feel like I have been shrinking away from God.

There was a family with whom I ate lunch after church on Sundays, and one day I mentioned talking with God. He and I have had a very communicative relationship since long before I was Christian, and my salvation experience was similar to that of Saint Thomas, where God was very direct in convincing me of his authenticity. The response from the father of the family, a pastor, took me off guard however. He was jealous and upset. “I have served God for over 30 years,” he said, “and He has never spoken to me! So why would he speak to you?” he asked. From that day on, I would be hesitant to share my faith with others.

The time has come when I must learn to be the man God has made me. God has gifted me extravagantly in a variety of ways, with my health and intellect, my various skills and talents, and with spiritual giftings that He would have me use. I fail God daily when I do not do so.

I have been apologizing for the last six years for my relationship with God. Every time I failed to confront a friend who sinned, I was apologizing for my God’s commandments. Every time I failed to go forward and pray with someone, to raise my hands in worship as the Spirit moved in me, or to seek out the devils that plagued those around me and confront them in power, I failed my Lord. I am done apologizing for my wonderful God or my relationship with him. It is time to be honest.

A friend of mine replied with disbelief when I shared my testimony with him, “I’m sorry, but this just falls outside my worldview.”

“Then you will have to expand your worldview,” I stated, “because it is true.” For those of us who express belief in God Almighty, it is no stretch to believe in angels or devils. And if you can believe in God, his angelic servants, and those who turned from God and were cast from heaven, it is likewise not hard to accept that God has gifted his humanly servants in extraordinary ways. Saint Paul writes of spiritual gifts and expresses that all Christians share these gifts. I am not unique in this.

Nor should I be ashamed. God has freed me from sin, though I often wander from God and stumble over it again and again. What would it be like, I wonder, if I were to live free from this fear of judgment as well? If I were to give it up and stop apologizing for God’s gifts?

My primary gifting from God, or the one with which I am most familiar and comfortable, is that of discernment. It is the gift to discern the spirit of things, be they from God, humanity, or Satan. It is applicable in both testing the veracity of teaching as well as spiritual warfare and the testing of spirits, and I have begun expressing it more often. I feel that God has called me to learn more of him and the Holy Spirit, and to become more faithful, for the times ahead.

Therefore I will be bold. If the Lord is for me, who can be against me?

Seeking Closure

I wrote a pretty bad poem by this title around four years ago, when Abbey was ending her friendship with me. Amongst all the different failed relationships I had, I wanted to know why they had ended so poorly, what the final straw was, and how to make things better or, at the least, not make the same mistakes again in the future.

A few months, or maybe a year, later I read the poem again, then wrote another poem in reply mocking it. The original was sappy, and Granting Closure was what I needed; a kick in the rump telling me to get over it and move on.

Ever since Margaret got back in touch with me (around a year ago or more now, I think), however, I’ve been craving that closure once again. I don’t need to know what failed now, though. I have a pretty good idea that it was me: I failed.

The blame isn’t all on my side of the table; I’ve learned to not blame myself for everything under the sun. But I still feel, or felt rather, the need to apologize. To try and make amends. At the least, to let them know that I’m sorry for my part in the negativity and failure of the friendship.

So I’ve been contacting these people, apologizing and tying up loose ends. As of last week, I sent the final missive, and there are no ends left to tie.

There are probably two others I could contact, but am not, either because communication has been tried in the past and failed, or because it doesn’t seem worthwhile. When trust has been so badly damaged, an apology becomes worthless; how do you know they mean it, and aren’t just trying to manipulate you yet again? I have nothing left to apologize for in those instances, and their words could never mean anything to me. I’ve elected rather to let it lie in the past, where it belongs, and move on towards a brighter future.

There is an important part of me that has found peace through this process, and what’s more, I’ve discovered the wonder that is forgiveness. Its healing power is truly remarkable, and I never understood it before this last year.

Being forgiven by God is one thing, and difficult to grasp and understand. Being forgiven by Margaret, or Katie, or Jennifer, or all the others is another entirely, and helps me understand my Lord all the better. Jesus has forgiven me for far greater things than these few forgave me, yet how wonderful their forgiveness is.

The question has been posed many times elsewhere, “What would our lives look like if we were to act truly forgiven?” I suspect it would be happier, and far more free. It is something I need to work on, accepting and understanding God’s forgiveness. On a mental level, I have, but now that I have felt mortal forgiveness, I can recognize that a part of me is struggling to accept God’s forgiveness.

It will be the last great closure I will ever need to seek.

God’s Faithfulness to Provide

Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

– Luke 12:27-31

It is easy for us to forget God’s role in our lives, largely because he doesn’t always make it terribly obvious. The nature of the matter is such, in fact, that strong arguments can be made by either side, either for or against God’s involvement, so that any argument again comes down to a matter of faith. For we who are Christian, though, and profess a faith in both God’s existence and the death of his son for our salvation, it is doubly important that we guard against pride.

Two years ago, there was a job I desired greatly. It was internal to my current place of employment, so I felt I was well qualified and deserved the position, and I worked very hard on preparing my resumĂ© and worried greatly over whether it would come through or not. The review process took about four months before I heard that I had not gotten the job, and I was devastated. As I walked home that night, I was incredibly frustrated and depressed… and then I realized that I had never prayed about the matter.

During the entire four months, and even before then, I had failed to ask God what he wanted for me. The God who provided for my schooling, my bills, my food and the bed I slept in; the God who had faithfully continued to teach and lead me, who brought me to a place of fellowship, and who loved me even in my continual willfulness against him. I forgot. Or I didn’t care.

And yet, he didn’t cut me off. God, in his omnipotence, could have at any time burned my apartment down. He could have gotten me fired from my job, or cast me out my community. Yet he continued to love and provide for me, despite my sin.

I believe all of this because I feel strongly that what I have is provided by God. I wouldn’t have come to the university I did if not for his influence, and I wouldn’t have chosen the student worker position I did if not for him. Through that job and the favour he granted me with my employers, I was able to pay bills. When I prayed for a community of believers that I might join, God honoured that prayer and led me to one. When I was at the end of my wits, he comforted and led me on. Eventually, through that student worker position, he provided a full-time job, but in his own time.

I had to learn to not worry and to instead trust in God’s faithfulness. Once I was able to give my life over to him, he was able to work even more fully for my benefit. Too often, we are like children with a broken toy. We take the toy to our father so he might repair it, but once he has just begun, we jerk it away from him and break it all over again. We are impatient for our reward, and so we never gain the fullness that is available to us. If we wait on God, he will provide most abundantly.

Considering Faith

Perhaps the hardest aspect of evangelizing is that the Bible simply doesn’t make sense to a non-believer. I don’t know how many non-Christians I’ve heard say, “I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover, and it’s terrible!” A taoist wrote that the Bible was base and vulgar compared to the Tao Te Ching; long and rambling rather than succint and poetic like a holy text should be. Who cares about long lists of genealogy or measurements of geography? An atheist might remark on the war and violence in the Old Testament and a polytheist might point out that the concept of the Holy Trinity is clearly not monotheistic.

Each of these statements, however, is made in ignorance. The Hebrew Bible, what we Christians call the Old Testament, was written for the Jews who care a great deal about genealogy. It wasn’t just a holy text to them, but also a record of their history. War in the Old Testament only makes sense if you understand the difference between murder and execution (the first committed by an individual, the second by a nation), and the Holy Trinity has always been a matter of faith.

What I have found is that, for every question someone might bring up that attempts to tear down or discredit our faith, there is a reasonable and satisfying answer. But more often than not, the questioner will not seek out the answer simply because they have no faith. With no strong belief that God is good, there is no reason to look beyond base assumptions; one can simply write the Bible off and give up. But for the Christian, it is imperative that we learn the answers to these questions or we will be unable to give an account for our faith. How can we expect someone else to acknowledge even the reasonableness of our beliefs if we cannot state why we hold those beliefs?

If we are unable or unwilling to ask questions, seek answers, and then accept what we find, we must ask ourselves what kind of faith we hold. Are we so unsure and so weak that we fear chasing after the Truth? If that is the case, pray that God helps your unfaith and gives you the strength to seek honestly. He will give answers eventually, but we must remain faithful and steadfast in our desire for God’s Truth.