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.