Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Attempt At Trying To Figure Out The Bible, Part 1

I've struggled with my faith for years, unsure of what I believe.  It seems there are so many different views of God and spirituality, so many different religions, and even more differences within the same religion.  People interpret the bible in so many different ways.  How can someone like me ever possibly get a grasp on God?  How can I know truth?  Is knowing all the answers important?  If not, what is? 

I am a jumble of confusion, honestly.  But I have come back to the Christian tradition and find that it does provide answers to the most important questions.    Someday I will have to visit my former pastor and tell him he was right.  I did come back to Christianity.  When I left, I didn't think I would.

Through this past year, I've listened to many sermons, had many conversations, and read some books that have started to give me a little more insight into the Bible.  The Bible is a difficult text to interpret.  Much of the confusion and misinterpretation comes when we look at the Bible with our worldview and assume passages mean certain things that the writers of the Bible would never have even thought of.  Our worldview is so different, and we don't even realize that it is shaping our understanding of the text as we read it.  The huge difference in time, geographic location, culture, and language means the writers of the texts which eventually formed what we call the Bible had a radically different worldview.

It seems the important thing is not what we think a text means, but what the writers were trying to convey.

Perhaps you are wondering how a worldview could be so different that a written text would convey almost the opposite of what it looks like it is conveying.  But think about how language evolves over time, even within the same culture.  For example, when I was a kid, the phrase "Oh, that is sick!" meant that something was really disgusting.  Now, it seems to mean something is really awesome.  I've also started hearing people just a few years younger than me use the word epic to mean awesome, which is not a definition that I am used to.  Obviously, the words disgusting and awesome mean quite different things.  And this is only a change from a few years ago, and from within the same culture. Multiply that by 2000 years. 

Another example, from Marcus Borg's book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, is the term golden arches.  Now, everyone living in the US probably knows that term is referring to McDonald's, but who would know that 2000 years ago?  Or 2000 years in the future?  No one.  So could there possibly be terms like that in the Bible, references to places, or perhaps people or events, that we don't have a clue about?

And think of all the cultural differences today.  You could do something that seems completely normal to you and totally insult someone else.  Did you know it's insulting to tip the waitstaff in some European countries?  In that country, tipping someone would convey a completely different message than it would here in the US.

While I've learned a lot over the past year, I also feel like I've just scratched the very tip of a huge iceberg.  The task of studying and understanding the Bible seems pretty overwhelming.  Is it even worth it?  For now, I'm saying yes.  For some reason, I have a huge desire to learn more, so I'm jumping in.  I know almost nothing, but I'm going to share the few bits and pieces that I've learned anyway, and hope that perhaps it will be of interest to someone somewhere.  Please let me know if it is to you, and feel free to comment on my posts.  

Some of the topics I would like to cover are:

*Heaven and Hell references in the Bible - What were they really talking about?

*Turn the other cheek - Was Jesus a pacifist?

*Paul's views on women

*The function of ancient myths in the Old Testament

*Jewish perspective on slavery

*Apocalyptic literature in the Bible

*Importance of the virgin birth story - What does it really mean?

*Differences between the Hebrew and English languages and how they impact translation and interpretation

Many thanks to my pastor who has read a gazillion theology books and knows just about everything (ok, just kidding, I'm sure there's one or two things he doesn't know) and has helped me so much this past year.  Hopefully, I won't totally botch these topics.

Friday, November 1, 2013

This one time, at VeganMania...Our (second) Halloween surprise

Our first sort-of Halloween surprise came four years ago.  We thought James was going to be a Thanksgiving baby, but he turned out to be a Halloween baby.

Then, about a year ago, the hubby and I had fairly recently decided that James would be an only child.  We had considered having more children but had decided against it.  For one thing, we both have issues with anxiety and depression, and wondered if we could handle another child or whether it would cause some kind of mental breakdown.  But I think the biggest issue for my husband was that he was afraid he might kill me, as I nearly died when I had James.  Of course, that was only because I was planning a home birth and not receiving proper prenatal care. But still, the fear remained.

Even though we'd made this decision, we weren't as careful to prevent pregnancy as we should have been.  I won't go into details, but there were a few reasons why I really thought we'd have to put some effort into getting pregnant.  So, the possibility that I would get pregnant from being careless every now and then was pretty far from my mind.

Towards the end of October, I started feeling very unwell, but as I am wont to do, I attributed my symptoms to the anxiety I was also feeling.  Now that I think about it, I'm not really sure if the physical symptoms or the anxiety symptoms appeared first.  But I know I was experiencing emotional distress as well feeling like crap physically.  I even told my pastor about it, who was very kind and concerned for me.

After a few days of feeling really bad, I was sitting at work on a Tuesday morning.  I observed that I felt a bit better after eating something (and like we tell our pregnant moms, an empty stomach may actually be the cause of upset stomach sometimes, and eating can help).  But what really got me thinking was when I also noticed that my food did not taste right.  Now, that's never been a symptom of my anxiety, so then I got really anxious.  Oh my God, something is really wrong with me.  Maybe I have cancer, I thought.  Slowly, it dawned on me.  Could pregnant?  And I realized that my symptoms were similar to when I was pregnant with James. 

 Then I recalled that when I was about 4-5 weeks pregnant with James and talking with the woman who would become my midwife,  I told her I didn't have any "morning" sickness. Her response was that it was too early for me to tell.  My hormones would take a big jump at 6 weeks, she told me.  That's usually when morning sickness starts.  Sitting at my desk at work, doing some calculations in my head, and knowing that when someone is six weeks pregnant, she's really only been pregnant for four weeks, I realized that the date lined up perfectly with the weekend we went to Chicago for Veganmania.  Guess what we forgot to pack???  If I had gotten knocked up in Chicago, then I would be six weeks pregnant.  Whoa...

I didn't have a chance to buy a pregnancy test until Wednesday, which was also Halloween.  When I came home with the test, my hubby thought I was crazy.  When he saw the positive result, he didn't believe it.  It took him a little while to warm up to the idea.  But he did.  Our beautiful Halloween surprise. And so far, we've done just fine.  No mental breakdowns, and I didn't die.

Here is our surprise today.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Who Needs Friends Anyway?

Most people know material possessions can't bring true happiness, though some try to obtain it that way anyway.  So what brings genuine joy in life, if not things? Many people would say things like family and friends.  I used to think this too - that if I had more friends, I would be happy.  But I no longer think friends can make me happy.  Before you "unfriend" me, let me explain.

I've had anxiety and depression ever since I was a small child.  I don't know when I started interpreting everything negatively, but somewhere along the line, I did.  Elementary school and middle school were terrible times for me.  I didn't have the necessary social skills to make and keep friends.  I felt like a loser, and people treated me like one.  People made fun of me.  A lot. At least, that is how I remember it.  Perhaps I am not remembering correctly.

I've pretty much felt like a loser all of my life.  And the one thing I have been most envious of is friendships.  I have this deep hole in me that needs to be filled, and I always thought it was more friends that would do it.  If only I had friends, then I wouldn't feel like a loser.  I would know I was worthy.  Even now, when I see someone post on Facebook about how much fun they had with their friends that day, I feel a deep envy.  Like, how come no one posts about how much fun they had with me???  Actually, recently someone did make such a post, so I guess I can't complain about that anymore.  Ha ha.

I did have a few friends in middle school, but most weren't in my grade.  In high school, through my involvement with Young Life, I did manage to make some more friends, but none that were super close (except for, perhaps, the Young Life leader).  I did make a few friends in college as well.  In fact, my sophomore year of college, I had a horrible roommate, and wanted to move out so badly.  But even though there were empty rooms in the hall, I could not move into one unless someone would move in with me (thus, letting her previous roommate have a room to herself -such a weird rule).  I had two friends that I'd made that year, who were rooming together down the hall.  They actually agreed to split up, and one of them moved in with me.  So.... I guess they must have liked me.  All three of us lived in an apartment together for the next 2 years.

Even as I'm writing this, I'm thinking: Well, wait a minute, I did have friends; what's my problem?  But I guess I always felt like I was nothing special.  I wasn't anyone's best friend (since high school anyway), and most people have way more friends than me.  Again, this is just what I thought.  I realize my thoughts often don't reflect reality.

Anyway, fast forward about ten years. Over the past few years, I've made a few friends through my vegetarian groups, and I've made quite a few friends through my church.  But you know what?  It's not enough.

Because no amount of friends can make up for self hatred.  I guess I thought that if I had more friends, I would feel validated, and my time spent feeling like a loser would be over.  But it's not like the more friends I have, I suddenly hate myself less.  In fact, my friends can do all kinds of wonderful things for me, and I can still find a way to make it mean that I'm a terrible person.  For instance, I have an amazing friend who has done so much for me: she's watched my child for free, helped me clean my house, took care of and harvested my garden all summer, and left her family vacation to come be with me during my labor.  Most other people would take this to mean that my friend really cares about me.  However, I take it to mean that I'm a terrible person; you see, I don't feel I do anything in return to come even close to giving her what she has given me.  I take take take and never give anything back.  Anyway, that's how I feel, though I am now betting she doesn't see it that way (I hope!).  I have another friend who had been meeting with me weekly to discuss theological topics, and I just feel like he is doing stupid me a favor, even though he has said several times that he enjoys talking with me.  Perhaps he actually means it???

So, just in case anyone is wondering, I love my friends and want (and need!) them in my life.  They are all very special. I enjoy the time I spend with them, and I am so grateful for all they have given me.  Of course, without them, I also would not have had this important realization.   I do hope that I give back and am not just a taker.  But the idea of having more friends had sort of become an idol in my life.  I thought I could fill the aching void in my soul with friends the way other people do with alcohol, drugs, sex, food, or material possessions. 

Family and friends are obviously a very important part of life, and I don't think humans could be happy without having some form of connection with others.  But, even though we may need social bonds to be happy, I don't think that is where happiness originates.  It originates from somewhere else.  I won't suddenly become a happy, fulfilled person because I have more friends.  Or a better marriage.  Or a more supportive family.  Humans are flawed.  We cannot fill each other up completely.

There must be something else.

I am reminded of something one of my friends says quite often, that the only way to get through a deep, dark valley is to keep walking.

And so I will.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A thought about Adam and Eve

I'm not a Biblical scholar, and thus I have no idea if my thoughts on this topic have any merit. I'm just going to share the thoughts that popped into my head this morning, as I lay in bed, hoping that James would go back to sleep... :-)
Note: It may be difficult to tell from the post, but I do not take the story of Adam and Eve as a literal story, nor endorse young-Earth creationism... The story of Adam and Eve is a teaching story, with many meanings, but it is not literal.
Traditional Christianity (or at least the Christianity that I am familiar with) usually teaches the story of Adam and Eve as the story of the Fall, the Original Sin. It is the story of Adam and Eve's deliberate betrayal of God's command and the punishment for that disobedience. But, with my recent pondering of my own insecurities, I suddenly thought, what if that isn't the point of Adam and Eve? Perhaps the story is about insecurity. After all, God would have created Adam and Eve to be perfect, right? Why would he have created them with flaws? And why would God command them not to eat from the tree of knowledge? What was really so bad about this tree? What does it represent? 
So, these are just my thoughts on what possibly happened in the garden. Of course, everything starts out just great. Adam and Eve are enjoying the garden and being in communion with God. But somehow, an idea creeps in and takes hold. Perhaps, one of them began to think "I'm not good enough. I'm not good enough to be in God's presence. I don't deserve to be living in this beautiful garden."
So, they begin to think about how they might bolster themselves up. They figure that if they just have more knowledge, they will be good enough. They will be like God, and thus deserve to be in his presence. And so, they seek out the tree of knowledge.

This insecurity is bad for 2 reasons. First, it rejects that God made us perfect in the first place, and we feel we have to fix God's work. We no longer trust God. This does not bode well for the relationship.

Secondly, as I mentioned in my last post, insecurity makes us self centered. It gets us thinking about ourselves, and how we can bolster our own self, rather than caring for and helping other people.

When God discovers what Adam and Eve have done, he banishes them from the garden. But does God really do the banishing, or is it a direct result of insecurity? God tells the man and woman how they will now suffer. Traditional Christianity usually says that this is a punishment from God. But, perhaps God is telling Adam and Eve what the natural consequences of insecurity are?
So, what are the consequences?
Well, I suppose the obvious one is feeling separated from God, but we also feel separate from each other. Why else do people lie, gossip, and judge others? Because we are insecure, we feel we must prove we are better than others. Or maybe we shrink away from relationships that might benefit us. Or seek out relationships that actually are very bad for us, because we feel that is what we deserve... Also, the desire to accumulate money and other material goods, perhaps even the obtaining of higher education, in order to prove your worth, and then using those things against other people, instead of to help. Think about wars. Don't most of them result from wanting to expand territory or show how much power we have, thus proving that we are better than our opponents? What if all evil acts are a result (directly or indirectly) of insecurity?
We don't need to be like God or like anyone else. If someone doesn't like us for who we are, that is their issue. We don't need to be smarter, more successful, or have more money. This, of course, doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve upon ourselves, but it should come from a desire within ourselves (and perhaps in conjunction with prayer) that is not dependent upon how we look to the world.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Are you confident?

Lately, I've felt rather disgusted with myself. See, I've always had problems with low self-esteem. And right now, there is this really awesome person that seems to think more highly of me than I do myself and wants to be my friend. It's kind of intimidating. So much so that I fear I may be sabotaging this potential friendship by constantly lamenting about what a horrible person I am.   It's probably getting old very quickly.
So, I'm writing today about low self-esteem. I've got boatloads of it. But recently I've realized it's not just bad for me. It's bad for everyone around me. I've come to this conclusion; people with low self-esteem are actually quite self-centered people. Now, I say this with love and not condemnation, because I AM one of these people. Let me explain what I mean by this.
One who has low self-esteem may spend a lot of time and energy thinking about his worthiness...his unworthiness to go after his dreams, to be friends with someone who he feels is above him, or whatever.  All these things use up energy, and it is energy he could be using to do good in the world, but isn't. Sounds kind of self centered, doesn't it?
Now, it may not be our fault that we developed this low self-esteem, but the fact is that it's ours now, to do with what we will.
So, what is the answer?
I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan of the book Conversations with God, but Neale Donald Walsh does expound on an interesting idea, that love of your self is the most important thing. Love yourself first, then other people. When we love ourself, we are then free to love others more genuinely, more completely. By loving ourselves for all that we are, we can then love others for all that they are, faults and all. I think there may be some truth to this idea.
We need not to be caught in the shackles of low-esteem, but to love ourselves and to live in true confidence. True confidence is not to be confused with over-confidence, which in fact is not confidence at all, but rather another form of low self-esteem. See, when you have true confidence, you don't need to lament your failures 24/7, and you also don't need to boast. Boasting is a way to get other people to think highly of you, because you don't think highly of yourself. So, with true confidence, we might see a humble individual who is interested in lifting other people up, not in nursing their low opinion of themselves, or in being boastful. This is the type of person who can then change the world for the better.
Where is God in all of this, some of you may be asking. Being truly confident isn't about saying that you don't need God, or that you are perfect as you are. It's about being able to acknowledge your shortcomings, but at the same time not letting your shortcomings make you a lesser person. Realize we all have shortcomings; we all have areas we need to work on. We are all in the same boat. Together. But God didn't create us to wallow in despair at our unworthiness. If we do so, we are not seeking to improve ourselves or make the world a better place, but in nursing our own wounds.
The Book of Acts in the New Testament shows us that God wants us to be confident. Acts tells the story of the beginnings of the Christian church. The leaders of the new church had to have confidence in order to travel to far off places, often in hostile territory, and to promote what they believed with enough confidence so that others would embrace the Message as well. If they had been boastful, they would not have been promoting God's message. If they had figured that they were unworthy (although they do think this from time to time, they are then corrected), then even if they did tell other people about God, they would not have been very convincing. Instead of focusing on the Message they were promoting, they would be focusing on themselves. I have found this to be true in my own life. There are messages that I would like to promote, but I feel so damn self conscious every time I open my mouth, that certainly I don't do a very good job at promoting what I am trying to promote. I need to realize that I am intelligent and quite capable of being who I want to be. After all, why would God create us to sit around lamenting about how crappy we are?
Don't fret if you've been living in one of the two conditions I've criticized, unworthiness or boastfulness. Just realize your awesomeness, now, in this moment. You don't need any of that negative crap. You ARE awesome. Say it out loud, in the mirror if you must, until you believe it. Then, use all that POSITIVE energy to make the world a better place... And most of all, have compassion for those who may still be mired in the ugliness of their low self-esteem. Perhaps lend them a helping hand out of it.
I'm ready for a change. Are you?
I welcome any comments or questions you may have. Thank you, and have a fabulous day!!! :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My grandpa's death and my spiritual journey

September 24, 2012 will mark 10 years since my grandfather passed away from pancreatic cancer. My grandpa and I were very close. I remember sitting with him on the couch in his family room as my mom and grandma met with the lady from hospice in the dining room. He said something to me about how he knew what they were talking about, and that "I so wanted to see you graduate from college," as he started crying.  About a month or so later, he was gone. It was the saddest time of my life, and the thought of not seeing him again, or at least not for 60 years or so, was unbearable.
My grandparents lived in a country setting, and my grandpa loved working outdoors. There was a creek down the road that we often walked to. It was a very peaceful setting, and as a child, I chose to spend almost every weekend there.  Grandpa taught me how to work the old player piano, the kind that uses paper rolls.  I loved that piano, and it is now in my living room.   I played it this summer for the first time in years, and boy did that bring emotions and memories flooding back. We often had marshmallow roasts, and I remember gathering leaves for the fire, and finding long sticks in the yard to put the marshmallows on.  I wonder if my and my sister's heights are still marked on the garage door.
This past year or two, I've started driving out to Fremont occasionally to visit a new friend. I drive on route 20, the same way we used to go to get to my grandparents' house in Luckey/Pemberville.  The first time I made the drive, as I passed by all the familiar sites along the way and then the road we would have turned onto to get to their house, I felt like he was there with me, and I had a long conversation with him.  I don't really think this was a supernatural event; I was just overwhelmed with the memories of driving a route and going to a place that I hadn't been in years.
I have struggled with my faith over the years, even before my grandpa's death. In high school, I was involved in Young Life, an organization which ministers to high school students to teach them the Good News of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this good news is that we all deserve to burn in hell for eternity, but that, if we just accept Jesus, we will be with him forever in heaven. All of our unsaved friends and loved ones, however, will be in hell. Alhough I had doubts, I accepted this for a while, and I hoped that my grandpa would come around.  He didn't, as far as I know. 
I started questioning my beliefs even more after his death. I considered turning to atheism.  I felt that if there really is no physical evidence of God in the world, and if you haven't had a spiritual experience to convince you otherwise, why believe in something just because you were taught that it is true? I wanted some evidence!

I think the only things that have kept me from being atheist are the spiritual experiences of someone I know, who saw the spirit of a departed loved one in one instance, and departed family members waiting for another person who was at death's door in another instance. I also have had my own indirect experience, in which a stranger told me my grandpa was as close to me as a 4 dollar bill, and I later found out that my husband had made a 4 dollar bill in elementary school, which I found in our basement. These experiences are my evidence that I can turn to when I have doubts.
Even with this evidence, I had doubts.  I was a jumble of confusion.  Besides my fear that there was no evidence of a God, my belief in hell was quite troubling to me and also threatened to annihilate my faith. I wanted to know if one could be Christian and not believe that everyone else was going to hell when they died. I could not accept a God that would put my loving grandfather in hell for eternity. I asked my pastor at the time about this, and he suggested the book, If Grace is True. I read that book and also The Inescapable Love of God, as well as looked on the Internet. I found that indeed, there are Christians who are universalists, and their reasoning is actually biblically based! I was so happy to discover this.
As I no longer believed I needed to be Christian to escape hellfire, I felt free to experiment with other churches. I attended a Unitarian Universalist church for about 6 months, and I really liked the teachings, but it just didn't feel very spiritual to me (not all UU's are the same though; my aunt-in-law is a UU minister, and her church has a very different feel), and I craved that. I attended a couple New Thought churches, one at which my son was christened. I learned a lot and feel that these experiences were beneficial. While I don't subscribe to all their teachings, I have incorporated some into my worldview. However, somehow I've found myself back where I started, the United Methodist Church.  I've found (or been led to?) two churches that really resonate with my spirit.  On one hand, I'd love to attend both, but on the other hand, I feel kind of like I'm dating two people, except not people...churches.  I am feeling the need to "settle down" and choose one, such that I can devote my full self to one church and also so my son can have a church family.  I really will miss the church I leave behind, as both of them are fabulous.

I've had a lot of struggles in figuring out my faith, but I feel like I may be close to being on the right path...for me.  While I am still a jumble of confusion, I am working out the tangles.  I've found a God, and a Christianity, I can love.
So, my beliefs have evolved quite a bit since my grandpa's death. Would I have had the same spiritual journey if I hadn't experienced his death? What would I be like today? I don't know. I just wonder, if my grandpa can see me now, is he as proud of me now and the person I've become as he was when he was alive? I really hope so.
To my grandpa: I love you; I miss you; I hope we get to see each other again.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my wonderful grandfather, for whom my son is named, and also in honor of my grandmother, who has survived the past 10 years without him.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Okay, I've learned my lesson.  I should never claim that I'm going to start blogging more frequently, or state what my next topic will be, because it just ain't gonna happen.  Well, anyway, back when Chik-Fil-A was in the news, I wrote the following but never posted it.  It could use editing, but since it's old news already, I don't want to spend any more time on it. So, here it is:

I've been seeing a lot of Chik-Fil-A silliness these past couple days, so I just thought I'd add my 2 cents... Chik-Fil-A's president recently stated that he is against gay marriage. So, apparently the Boston mayor then told Chik-Fil-A to stay out of Boston. Some have taken this to mean he is going to actually keep Chik-Fil-A out himself. If this is the case, I agree with conservatives that this is a bad move. Let Chik-Fil-A come to Boston (and Chicago, and San Francisco, where similar threats have been made), and let potential customers decide if Chik-Fil-A can stay.
However, I do find it baffling when I read from Christians that Chik-Fil-A is being attacked for being pro family. I would actually argue the opposite, that since the restaurant is against marriage equality, they are anti-family. Obviously, gay people want to have families as well. But certain Christians would like to deny their rights to have their own family. And it is a right. Marriage is a civil right. Legalizing civil marriage for gay couples would not be forcing the church to accept anything, because the church would not be forced to marry gay people. The church can believe anything it wants with regard to gay people. What gay people are asking for is a marriage recognized by the government, not the church. So, even if your religion causes you to be against gay marriage, you can still be in support of civil rights. Because you wouldn't want someone else's religion to dictate your rights. But, my main point here is that people who are against gay marriage are not pro-family.
Secondly, Chik-Fil-A is loved by Christians partly because it closes on Sunday in honor of the Sabbath, showing reverance to God. Supposedly the restaurant is choosing God over profits. Yet I doubt its profits suffered much, as more Christians eat at Chik-Fil-A because it closes on Sunday. But furthermore, would these Christians that love Chik-Fil-A for this reason be happy if every business closed on Sunday? Do they never eat out, or go to the store, on Sunday? I doubt it. If I am wrong on this point, and you actually would be quite happy if all businesses (except emergency/health services) closed on Sunday, then I do apologize for that point.
However, I'd also like to point out that being closed on Sunday, being anti-marriage equality, and being married to your first wife (as was bragged by the president of the company) does not make one a Christian role model. For example, I think Jesus would be more about loving God and neighbor than campaigning against gay marriage. Also, I doubt he would eat at Chik-Fil-A. I did look on the Chik-Fil-A website, and I found that they are taking measures to be good stewards of the environment. That's good, although they do neglect one of the best ways to help the environement, which is eating less meat. What I didn't see was any mention of where they get their chickens. Restaurants usually like to brag if they are making an effort to get "natural" or "humane" meat, but I see no mention of that on Chik-Fil-A's site, so it is pretty safe to say they are using factory farmed meat. And really, that is something I don't think Jesus would support. Even if Jesus would eat meat were he walking around us today, he would not choose factory farmed meat, which treats animals (also God's creation) as machines instead of living, sentient creatures.