Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Favorite Blog Reads of 2012

I wanted to celebrate the New Year this year by turning this blog into a celebration of things other people have said in the blogosphere in the year 2012.  These are the messages that had the most impact on me in the last year; these are the things people said that made me gladdest that someone had said them.

So in no particular order, here are my favorite blog reads of 2012, with quotations from each and brief statements of my response and why I liked them.

Disability and Autonomy

Suzanne McCarthy over at "BLT: Bible Literature Translation" discusses dignity and autonomy as basic human needs, and how the authority/submission relationship paradigm espoused as "biblical" by patriarchal Christians is actually dehumanizing and thus contrary to the teachings of Christ:

Today, working with children who have severe cognitive disabilities, I rejoice at the child who learns the first step of the pyramid of learning – to initiate. The child with no language must learn that he can initiate communication. This is done with pictures, accompanied by words, if and when that is possible. But here is the thing. You have to have something that the child wants badly and it has to be something that you can give him or her over and over. In my case, it is the train track. The child requests each piece, and he can also request the engine and the cars, the straight track or the curved. This is the first task of human dignity – to initiate, to want, to request, to build.

In another episode this afternoon, another child protested, “I don’t want to. Stop! I want this.” Yeah, I know, I did close that browser window and offered him something else. But, we rejoiced that he expressed his opinion, he tried to assert his autonomy. We did not view this as rebellion. It was healthy resistance. It was another aspect of being human, saying no. How important that is.

I am not unrealistic. We deal with the kicking and biting, the toileting problems, the non-compliance. But we celebrate the humanity of the child. And that is dignity, autonomy, agency, inclusion and choice. . .
Why do some Christians say that women do not have the right to those things that I work every day to provide to the child who doesn’t even have language? Why are women told that their role is to submit and respond, to be lower than the so called trainable mentally handicapped? To live without what are considered basic human rights, initiating, choosing and deciding. But no, it is only for men to initiate, choose and decide, not women. I lived that pain. I live now to prevent others from living that pain. The relationship of authority and submission, the trainer and the trainee, that is a model that once was. Man and woman, human and animal, the intellectual and the handicapped, the trainers and the trainees.

If anyone ever says that being the submissive in an authority and submission relationship is of equal human dignity, tell them to flush that thought down the toilet where it belongs. I don’t treat even the ones who can’t talk as the submissives in an authority and submission relationship. We take that child, and we teach him or her, to initiate, to resist, to choose, to raise bloody hell, but please live your life as a human being with equal human dignity.

I think this is possibly the most important thing I have read in the blogosphere this year.  To elevate a supposedly "biblical" principle of hierarchy and rule, over the real needs of the humans for whom God's revelation was intended, is to turn the gospel-- the "good news" -- into bad news for human beings.  And that means all human beings, ruler and ruled alike; male and female, adult and child.  Inasmuch as we demean any human being in the name of Christ, we demean all human beings, including ourselves.  And because Christ participates in humanity, we demean Christ too.

I Was Wrong About Being Right

Perfectnumber's blog "Tell Me Why the World is Weird" talks about how she used to understand Christianity when she was in high school:

I thought becoming a Christian was about arguing. People would debate, and then if one of them ever didn't have an answer, they'd have to change religions. And the "answers" weren't things I'd decided after thinking through everything on my own- they were from books of apologetics, written by experts who were totally infallible.

It was a very "us vs them" mentality, about arguing and needing to always be right. Actually, I guess I subconsciously thought being right was more important than being honest.

She compares this with the way she thinks about her faith now:

I don't believe that any more. I believe in actually wrestling with those questions. If God is good, why do bad things happen? Perfectnumber, take a minute to actually consider it, and understand why it's such a tough issue with so much emotion behind it. And maybe people don't need a bunch of words in the form of an argument- maybe they need my understanding and whatever compassion I can give.

And maybe it's okay for me to say I don't have an answer. Or, I have a couple thoughts but I understand if that doesn't answer it for you.

. . . I conclude that no question threatens God. Now I believe everyone has something to say, and everyone is worth listening to. And I realize more and more that I was wrong about a lot of things- and that's okay, everyone is wrong about a lot of things- but I try not to be.

And "trying not to be" means actually thinking about these questions, not being afraid of doubt. It means listening to people. It means that compassion is more important than informing others about what "the right answer" is.

I really liked this.  It reminded me of the kinds of things I was thinking about as I came out of Maranatha Campus Ministries.  It occurred to me that it was really important to me to be taken seriously, listened to and heard, and to have my point of view seriously considered and not summarily dismissed. And also that Jesus said, "whatever you want others to do for you, you do for them."  So if I wanted to be truly listened to, how could I do anything other than start to truly listen?

Why the Church Failed Me Yesterday

Chandra at the blog "Dispelled" articulates beautifully a heart-cry that encompasses the feelings of many different kinds of people who show up in churches today.  This is something I think every Christian in every church (including me!) should listen to:

Yesterday, I went to church. Yesterday, you didn’t see the tears that had caused my mascara to run. Yesterday, I needed understanding, a soft place to land my hurting heart. Yesterday, you told me that I wasn’t strong enough, that I hadn’t forgiven enough. Yesterday, I went home feeling defeated.

Yesterday, I was proud of myself for taking my girls and myself to church. It was something I wanted for all of us. Yesterday, I walked in with my hands full of two rambunctious girls who were missing the daddy they barely knew. Yesterday, I was met with cold judgment. Yesterday, I felt unwelcome. Yesterday, I heard, “Where is your husband?”

Yesterday, I went to church for the first time in years. Yesterday, no one said a word to me.
Yesterday, I went to church and pulled out a cigarette. I felt the scorn of the holy ones. They don’t understand how hard it is to break the cycle of addiction.

Yesterday, I went to church.

Tomorrow I won’t be back.

This is only a selection from what she had to say.  All of it is well worth reading.

The Modesty Rules: Is a Woman Responsible for a Man's Lust?

Emily Maynard at the "Church Leaders" blog makes this common-sense distinction between lust and sexual attraction:

I propose we’ve lost sight of what lust actually is.

In fact, we have confused biological sexual attraction with lust and called it sin. This is one reason why shame is so rampant in Christian circles, why we hide rather than confess our reality, why we try to control rather than offer each other the open love and freedom of Christ: We have made into sin something that is not sin.

God created you to desire another person for affection, intimacy and relationship!

Being physically attracted to someone is not lust.

Wanting to kiss someone is not lust.

Enjoying kissing someone is not lust.

Those desires can be a catalyst for lust, but in themselves, they are morally neutral, God-created, biological and chemical reactions. Your body recognizing sexual compatibility with another person is not inherently evil.

And she counters the whole "you're causing me to stumble" dialogue with this freeing advice:

In fact, nothing you do or do not do can influence lust in someone else.

Only Jesus can lovingly confront and heal a lustful heart through the working of the Holy Spirit. You can’t change anyone, control anyone, make someone sin or not sin, and you’re only responsible for taking your own heart to Jesus.

I’m asking you to pause and think about this issue differently than you may have encountered it before, especially if you grew up with the Modesty Rules on your side.

If anyone tells you that you are responsible for the hearts or minds or actions of any men or women, particularly with your clothing choices, don’t accept it!

Jesus Himself taught that it is not just looking, but looking "in order to lust," according to the actual Greek text of Matthew 5:28.  The Greek words there indicate choice and decision, not simple attraction.  And Jesus placed the responsibility squarely on the one doing the lusting, not on the one being lusted after. Ms. Maynard is quite right that we should do the same.

Modesty, Body Policing and Rape Culture: Connecting the Dots

Along the same lines, Sierra, who is one of the regular contributors at "No Longer Quivering" (a collaborative blog written in resistance to the patriarchy/Quiverfull movement), writes as follows:

Definition: The “modesty doctrine” is the belief that women need to cover their bodies to prevent men from being attracted to them, because sexual attraction is lust that leads to sin and death for both. The modesty doctrine is not the same as wearing conservative clothing. You can do the latter without believing the former. The modesty doctrine is found in fundamentalist Christianity, Judaism and Islam, with milder echoes in mainstream Western culture. . .

The hyper-vigilance of fundamentalist men and women to root out “immodesty” conceals a hatred of female sexuality: secondary sex characteristics should not be visible except in approved circumstances. The system is designed to ensure that the only time a man is “turned on” by a woman is when he is allowed to act on his urges: in the marital bed. In other words, if a woman’s body is visible, it ought to be available for sex. Although I don’t think many men think this consciously, the idea crops up in misogynist rhetoric all the time. “Immodest” women are “asking for it,” or it’s “false advertising” if a woman in a short skirt won’t go home with you, or (in the terms of the Christian patriarchy movement) a woman “defrauds” a man (literally, deprives him of a right or property) by allowing herself to be attractive in a situation wherein sex with her is illicit or unwanted.

The modesty doctrine frames this idea in terms of clothing to preserve the veneer that women are somehow to blame for this, and that there’s something they can do about it. There isn’t. . . 

The woman does not have any agency in this model of male sexuality. What she wants or doesn’t want is either erased or subordinated to what he wants or can’t have. The relationship is between the man, her body, and the law (monogamy). Similarly, entire facets of male sexuality are written out. Men are not allowed to see themselves as objects of desire, to consider themselves attractive or to enjoy the idea of sex with an initiating woman.
Emphases and links in original.

I believe that this blog post, though confrontational, is something that very much needs to be said.  By putting the responsibility for men's lust on women, Christians are, whether they want to or not, perpetuating a thing called "rape culture"-- defined as  "'a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women … a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent' ( Buchwald et al. 1993 : v). An earlier definition was offered by Herman (1984) , who characterized the US as a rape culture because the image of heterosexual sex is based on a model of aggressive male and passive female."   

And this mentality hurts both women and men.

Why Does God Allow It? (Also see Theodicy: The Problem of Pain and Short Lives by the same author)

The Newtown shooting caused a lot of Christians to ask "why?" and I found most of the responses to be fairly self-righteous and unhelpful.  However, Metacrock over at the "Doxa" blog said some things that I thought were wise, helpful, and compassionate:

[T]he best time to think about such things and to ask "why does God allow this" is not right after the tragedy strikes but when one is safe and happy and there's no tragedy on the horizon. That way we can think in a rational and detached manner about it.

During the tragedy when we are grieving and outraged, this school shooting was a total outrage, is not the time to ask the question and expect an intellectual answer. During such a time we have to blame God because we have to blame reality. Reality is what it is and we can't change it. When those things strike that we can't stand all we can do is blame the basis of reality for ordering things in such a manner.

But the question of evil in the light of belief in God does have to be asked, and even though there are no fully satisfying answers, Metacrock comes closer to anyone else in his theory, which he calls "the Soteriological Drama." As defined in his foundational post "Theodicy: The Problem of Pain and Short Lives":

Soteriology means the study of salvation. I am saying there's a drama, not entertainment but the kind of real drama one finds in life, concerning the pursuit of salvation. God has designed a search into the process because it is only by searching that we learn to internalize the values of the good. . . God wants a heart felt response which is internationalized value system that comes through the search for existential answers; that search is phenomenological; introspective, internal, not amenable to ordinary demonstrative evidence.

And in "Why Does God Allow It?" he elaborates:

God wants us to have free will so we will have a moral universe. Moral universe doesn't necessarily mean one in which nothing immoral ever happens, but one in which free moral agents willing choose the good. . . The reason it's important to allow moral decision making is because it's part of growth. God could make a world of robots who never disobey but that would not be a moral universe, because they would not be free moral agents, there would be no moral decision making. Through moral decisions we internalize the values of the good. To make moral decisions we must seek truth and answers to major questions all of which requires more internalizing of values. So the real bottom line of what God seems to want in creation is a universe in which free moral agents grow in their heart's choices of good over evil and in which they come to be wise, progressive, adult, mature citizens of the kingdom. The price God pays for that is the world has to be screwed up.

When my speechless pain over the Newtown shootings began to abate, I again found the idea of a God who wants us to grow in moral maturity, even if it means allowing bad things to happen, very comforting, and I think it makes a lot of sense. 

The Inconvenient Truth About Mental Health and Gun Control

The Newtown school shooting also raised issues of gun control in the United States, and the problem of access to guns by the mentally ill.  Along those lines, Kristen at the "Rage Against the Minivan" blog suggests:

We can change our gun laws to make sure that only mentally competent people can own a gun.

Would this be challenging? Yes. Would it require people to pay more out of pocket to obtain a gun? It would. Might I have to pay some more taxes for this? Yep, but I’m willing. If I have to take a test to prove my ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, it only makes sense that we would apply the same criteria to gun possession in our country. It’s the best way to rule out people with mental health issues that are highly correlated with antisocial and violent behavior.

Here are some ways that we could do that, while maintaining 2nd amendment rights for a majority of the population.

She goes on to list some common-sense measures, like requiring references as part of gun-ownership applications, and selling guns with lockboxes as a required part of the sale.  I found this to be a balanced, common-sense approach that refrains from falling into the false dichotomy that the U.S.'s only two choices are to either allow all guns, or forbid all guns. 

Wade Burleson at "Istoria Ministries Blog points out:

I sometimes hear evangelicals condemn churches and pastors for being accommodating to culture in their ministries. . . I propose in this post that the adoption of cultural mores and norms to communicate the message of Jesus Christ is precisely what the inspired Scriptures mandate we Christians should be doing. . . 

It is what Paul did in Acts 17:19-30. He went where the people of his culture gathered. He learned what the people of his culture liked. He met people in their comfort zone, and then he delivered to the people of his culture the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

The apostle wisely made the distinction between cultural traditions and gospel truth. . .

In love for the people of Athens, Paul stood on Mars Hill and quoted pagan poets (like Aratus). But before he could quote the pagans, he had to read them. Paul walked with comfort and ease among the philosophers of Athens. He conversed with them on their turf, in their language, and with a singular purpose. Paul met the pagans of Greece on their playing field in order to give them Christ. 

Christians throughout the ages have adopted cultural norms to communicate Christ.

Pastor Burleson goes on to explain that just because Christmas is set on the date of a pagan holiday is no reason for Christians to refuse to celebrate it:

Christians, don't be afraid to change. Don't be afraid to take cultural norms and adopt them as your own in order to share Christ. The celebration of Christmas ought to be an annual reminder to us that Christians throughout the ages have adopted pagan customs as their own to give the message of Jesus Christ to a people comfortable in their culture.

I couldn't agree more, and this applies in many other areas as well, such as Christian marriages.  Most things having to do with human-to-human relations are products of passing cultural norms.  It was not the intention of the Bible's authors to set their cultural practices in stone.  As long as we uphold love and righteousness, changing things like marital customs (from male authority to full equality) will help spread the gospel, whereas holding women to the customs of the first-century world manifestly hinders it.

So those are my favorite blog posts for the year.  I know not all my readers will agree with everything that was said-- and certainly many of these bloggers would not agree with one another about many things!  But these posts can make us all think, and that's always a good thing. 


perfectnumber628 said...

Great list! Thanks for including my post. :)

And I also really liked Emily's post about modesty. That's totally something that needs to be challenged- I'll probably write something on my blog in the next few weeks about how modesty has affected my life.

TheOneLeftBleeding said...

Great list , thanks for posting this . It's so nice to read articles from people who haven't gone off the deep end ;)