Friday, December 26, 2014

Favorite Blog Posts of 2014

I hope everyone had a good Christmas, and I wish you all a wonderful New Year!

In the future I'm going to be posting links to other blogs I enjoy more often than once a year.  But for 2014, these are the blog posts I've saved as my favorites throughout the year.  I hope other readers will find them as profound and compelling as I did.

Trump Verse Hermeneutics  by Ken Schenck at Common Denominator
History has taken away from the American Bible reader the key to success when reading the individual verses of the Bible without contextual training. We have not given them an overall theological compass into which they might fit those individual verses. We have not taught them to see in the individual verses of the Bible the great truths of Scripture. We have not given them the "clear" by which to approach the "unclear" individual verse.
Instead, we have programmed them to come up with a thousand individual truths from a thousand individual verses, ripped from their contexts. We have not given them a dictionary by which to read the individual verses but have programmed them to see each individual verse as an individual truth. Their theologies are a loose collection of direct mandates and atoms to believe.
My Problem with the Bible by Brian Zahnd on his self-named blog.
Every story is told from a vantage point; it has a bias. The bias of the Bible is from the vantage point of the underclass. But what happens if we lose sight of the prophetically subversive vantage point of the Bible? What happens if those on top read themselves into the story, not as imperial Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, but as the Israelites? That’s when you get the bizarre phenomenon of the elite and entitled using the Bible to endorse their dominance as God’s will. This is Roman Christianity after Constantine. This is Christendom on crusade. This is colonists seeing America as their promised land and the native inhabitants as Canaanites to be conquered. This is the whole history of European colonialism. This is Jim Crow. This is the American prosperity gospel. This is the domestication of Scripture. This is making the Bible dance a jig for our own amusement.
Metaphysical Dilemma Part II by Austin Channing Brown on her self-named blog.
While I appreciate the small steps women conferences are taking to make sure that the line-up isn't all white, it is not uncommon to feel like I need to leave my blackness in the hotel room. It is indeed a metaphysical dilemma. I am both black and woman- both- all the time. Hard as I try, I cannot separate the two. I am sure I will not be able to adequately explain this, but if I cannot be fully black in white spaces, somehow my womanhood is also not fully represented in that same space.

It is not just women conferences where I feel like a metaphysical dilemma. I often feel it at justice themed conferences, too. You may not have noticed, but these conferences have a tendency to be dominated by men. I have found that it is not at all uncommon to find justice conferences perfectly willing to proclaim the equality of potential, value, and role of every human soul before God when talking about color but use an asterisk as a provision to exempt women from that statement.
The Five Stages of White Privilege Awareness by Nance at the Rusty Life blog.
This, here, is the critical juncture. This is the point at which we either keep shouting “not me! not me! not me!” or we admit that even though we may not fully understand it, we are a part of this. We are the dominant race in a country whose kids are choosing white dolls over black ones; whose preschoolers make the black kids play the part of the “bad guys” on the playground; whose black citizens are imprisoned for drug possession at a wildly disproportionate rate compared to their white counterparts; whose white students routinely outnumber Latino and Black students in the gifted programs in our schools despite the fact that science shows giftedness to occur at exactly the same rate across all racial groups. The belief that some races of people are better than others evidently exists at least on some level, although it might be simmering so far beneath the surface for some of us that we are unaware of it.
Does Christianity Really Prefer Charity to Government Welfare? by Elizabeth Stoker at The Week:
  • [T]he notion that the state can play an important role in the best possible exercise of charity has profound roots in the Christian tradition as well. Though the conservatives who mount the case that social needs currently addressed by state programs should be relegated to private charity are often themselves Christian, the Christian ethical case for welfare and private charity co-existing is not often cited. So what is the Christian argument, then, for supporting a compound structure of state welfare programs and private charity when it comes to addressing the stresses of life, which range from poverty to illness and old age? Foremost is the idea that human dignity entitles people to an "existence minimum" which guarantees their basic needs will be reliably met without discrimination based on caprice, race, gender, creed, orientation, or any other marker. . . Another practical Christian consideration ruling in favor of a state-provided existence minimum arises from the troubling power situations created by leaving the necessities of life up to the auspices of private charities — even churches. . . When the wealthy have the power to determine who receives the necessities of life, they tend to reinforce the power structures that led to the entrenchment of their wealth in the first place, rather than to challenge them.
10 Things Real People Do Every Day by Micah J. Murry at Redemption Pictures:
I’m not sure where these mythical “rich successful satisfied extraordinary people” are, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never met one. (Perhaps they’re hanging out with Bigfoot and the unicorns?) 
Meanwhile, I’ve been conducting extensive research (and by “conducting research” I mean “scrolling through Twitter”) and have created a definitive list of what actual non-unicorn people do every day: 
1. Make coffee, then forget to drink it.

Because how can we be expected to remember to drink my first cup of coffee if my caffeine-starved brain can’t function without coffee? But it’s totally ok, twice-microwaved coffee tastes great too, right? (SPOILER: It doesn’t.)
Why I Will Not Leave the Evangelical Church Today by Esther Emery:
I am remembering my instructions.

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ And ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
I will not draw a line around the evangelical Christian church. Not as the solely holy saved, but also not as the untouchables. Certainly not as the dead zone in which the failing power of redemptive grace makes change impossible.

This Idaho back country is where I live. And these are my neighbors. This is the religious language of my heritage. And these are the songs I like to sing. I will not leave.

But neither will I be frozen and stuck and let myself feel that I am out of options.
From the Lectionary: An Open Letter to Jesus on this Whole Ascension Business by Rachel Held Evans:
I don’t know, Jesus. I guess I just can’t get over how miraculous and infuriating and profound and ridiculous it is that you trust us, that the God of the universe allows sinners to do His work. It’s quite an unconventional plan. There are days when I’m convinced it’s going to fail.

But we won’t know until we try, right?
So I suppose that on Ascension Day, I best quit standing here staring at the bottoms of your feet, Jesus, and instead get to work—feeding, fellowshipping, healing, teaching, loving, hosting, sharing, breaking bread and pouring wine.

One day at a time.

Ready or not.
A Whisky Priest is Not the Same as a Nazi by Slacktivist:
This is not a matter . . . of fretting over the foibles and peccadilloes of great thinkers. It is, rather, a vitally important matter of identifying the way these men fell into the holes in their own thought so that we can avoid falling into those holes ourselves. We can’t shrug off Yoder’s sexual abuse or Jefferson’s slave-owning as, in Olson’s compartmentalizing phrase, “sides to their personal lives that we cannot be proud of.”
Farewell, Strong Black Woman by Christina Cleveland:
Black women embraced the hard-working, stoic, sacrificial ethic of the StrongBlackWoman and covered up any signs of weakness or vulnerability in order to show the world that black women aren’t immoral, lazy, and selfish. Ultimately, this goal wasn’t achieved as the Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire stereotypes remain alive and well in the American consciousness today. Meanwhile, the StrongBlackWoman identity, which at first glance seems like a positive identity, has wreaked havoc on black women’s emotional, physical, spiritual and relational health. In an attempt to escape one set of racist/sexist stereotypes, black women have run smack dab into another stereotype, one that is also maintained by societal racism and sexism. The StrongBlackWoman identity continues to ensnare black women like myself, as we work to disprove the racist stereotypes that society simply refuses to relinquish.
Dear White Moms by Keesha Beckford at Huff Post Parents:
Right now my son is a little boy, like yours maybe, or maybe like the one you remember. He's goofy and silly. He loves to do all those stereotypical "boy" things (please don't bring up any gender issues -- you know exactly what I'm talking about). Sometimes he likes to tussle, straddling the line between play and real. Sometimes he can't control his temper. But right now he's like a puppy to most people. He's cute and non-threatening. 
What happens when he's grown up and not so cute and non-threatening? When he's walking through the world alone? No more the floppy-eared, playful youngster -- he's now the feral stray dog, worthy of extermination. 
Can you imagine that? Do you see it?
Insomniac Christians by Benjamin Moberg at Registered Runaway:
Every path we’ve tried to take to get to God has been nothing more than a momentary thrill and then a steep unexpected fall. The prayer doesn’t feel the same when we feel anxious or sad. The books feel foreign when we need the answer now. The isolation sets in and we end up just collapsing in it, waiting and waiting and waiting for some formula of our youth to be complete and for us to feel held again. When we don’t, we think we’ve lost Him. We think we have to win him back. We think we’ll spend all our days hustling after him, trying to get him to look our way, to give us the precious good of his Love. And maybe it’s because somewhere along the line, we understood that love of God is a fragile kind, a fickle easily frustrated kind.

This is the lie of religion. This is what keeps us up, groggy and grumpy, this is what extinguishes the light of our lives. We can’t let go of the control on our belovedness.
My "Enlightened" Christian Friends by Doug Bursch at Fairly Spiritual:
I agree with you up until the point you abandon me; the point where your theology becomes more pristine and mine more antiquated. I’m inspired by your words until they turn against me and accuse me of close-mindedness. I close my heart to you when your enlightenment labels my sacred convictions as ignorance, darkness and immaturity. I don’t want to close my heart, but I can’t help it…I can’t help but feel as if I’ve been betrayed by a friend. Once again, I’m not relevant enough to sit at the cool kids’ table. 
You promote the absence of certainty as a virtue. Often I agree; I agree with your rebuke of angry fundamentalism and the rigid systematizing of faith and God. I often agree with you; I sit at the table and interject my affirmations. You let me talk when I agree, you smile when I agree, you agree with me when I agree. 
But you are so certain of the absence of certainty....My attempt to defend my contrasting truth will simply codify your conviction of my immaturity and closed-mindedness.
Cute Little Black Boys Do Grow Up to Be Black Men - And Now They Are 10 by Heather Johnson-McCormick on the Never a Dull Moment blog:
But the world doesn’t see them as I do. No matter how perfectly they present themselves, no matter how spectacular they are, they will be disproportionately extremely LESS SAFE than if they were white. Kyle and Owen’s stellar reputations and hard-earned achievements and family-privilege will not necessarily get them as far as they choose or could go. Because the world might just choose for them and against them — in ways that would simply not occur if they were white. That is what it means to be entangled in structural, entrenched, historic, and systemic racism. No amount of privilege — or charm, or charisma, or pure raw talent — can protect them from the fact that they are black boys.
And finally this holiday piece: Jesus was Born in Bethlehem, NOT Rome: Choosing to Lose the War on Christmas by Kurt Willems on the Pangea Blog:
If we sell a Jesus who demands to be the center of popular culture, then we fail to remember that Christ came to us from Bethlehem, not Rome. Had Christ wanted to fight the culture wars he would have positioned himself in the center of the “pagan” world, the capital of the Roman Empire. 
Instead, he didn’t demand the central place in culture, but humbly “emptied himself” (Phil. 2). Or as the Message puts it: “When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!”

Jesus reminds us that donating our lives from the margins of culture is where we will most effectively make and impact for the upside-down kingdom of God. The moment we try to “sell Christmas” to culture, or rather, coerce Christmas (our holy version of Christ-Mass) back into the center of public discourse, we’ve failed to model our witness after Christ.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Raised by Strangers"

It's a mantra that I've heard repeated many times, especially in Christian circles.  "A good mother stays home full-time.  Don't let your children be raised by strangers!"

"Raised by strangers."  What mom would want that for her kids?  So I believed, as a young Christian married woman, that of course God would provide a way for me to not work outside the home.  After all, staying home with my kids full-time was what I wanted as a young mother, right?  I mean, if I were really following God's will for my life, this was what I should want.  And this was obviously what was best both for me and for my children, right?  I mean, if God designed it that way, then that's how it should work best!

The problem was that the only way we could have given up my income while simultaneously incurring the costs of infant care was by going on welfare, which (we were taught) was also totally a no-no for good Christians.  We had to choose, it seemed, between being out of God's will one way, or being out of God's will another way.  What was being demanded of us was actually impossible.

So I went back to work after maternity leave-- as part-time as we could afford, but I did go back to work. And I thought God had let me down, because He was supposed to provide so that I wouldn't have to work outside the home.  I also felt guilty because I really liked my job as a legal assistant, which meant, apparently, that I didn't love my kids enough to really want to stay home with them full time.

But working part-time seemed like the best thing to do in our situation.  So that's what we did.

I increased my hours gradually as the children grew up. And I'm very grateful to my boss for being so family-friendly. A lot of women don't have the options he gave me.

It ended up working out just fine for our kids-- and for us, their parents.

I'm not going to cite a bunch of statistics here, or sociological studies or expert opinions on children being in daycare.  Frankly, when I researched this on the Internet, I found that the whole thing is very complicated.  For every study or expert supporting one position, there's another expert or study supporting the opposite.  Practically speaking, the outcomes for children depend not so much on whether or not they're in non-parental child care, but on the quality of the care, the income and education of the family, and the quality of the parenting the kids receive when they're not in day care.

There is one thing I am certain of, though.  There's such a thing as prejudicial language, which is defined as "loaded or emotive terms used to attach value or moral goodness [or badness] to believing the proposition."  And if ever a phrase constituted prejudicial language, "raised by strangers" is such a phrase.

My children weren't "raised by strangers."  I mean, let's look at this practically.  Even with both parents working full time (which wasn't true in our house anyway until the kids reached school age), a child still is at home a lot.  There was breakfast time, dinner time, chore time, playtime, bath time, bedtime. And weekends. And holidays.  And sick days, when the day cares said, "Not in here. You have to keep your kid home."  Some parents risk losing paid hours, or even their jobs, in that situation!  I could only be grateful my boss was supportive and that I had plenty of paid sick leave and vacation time.

Also, guess what-- once you meet a person who is going to take care of your children, you begin to develop a relationship based around the commonality of that child, and she isn't a stranger anymore! I found it was important to me that the children be in home-based day care rather than classroom-type day care, so that's what I picked (and I was privileged to have this option-- a lot of women don't, so we need to cut them some slack!)  What I didn't have was any relative, any grandmother or aunt, who lived in the area and could watch the kids.  But the children grew to love their caregivers as they would a grandmother or aunt.  Did the lack of blood ties really matter?  Both children were happy and secure in their daycare settings, looked forward to going, and enjoyed coming home to be with me as well.

So why are we as Christians putting such burdens and laying such guilt trips on parents who are doing the best they can?

The Bible, in fact, never addresses how much time a mother is supposed to be home with her children.  The Proverbs 31 woman, who is held up so often as the example Christian women should strive to follow, apparently spent quite a bit of time away from home and family, doing things like buying fields, planting vineyards, and selling linen garments to merchants.

It's also important to remember that today's nuclear family was simply not what Paul had in mind when he talked about parenting in the New Testament, because such a thing didn't exist. I mean, of course there was such a thing as a mother, father and children, but they generally were just part of a larger household, and the majority of people were actually slaves. Almost everyone lived in household units that also functioned as economic units, with one older patriarch as ruler of the family, his slaves, wife and children (adult sons, with their wives, and minor children) who were all expected to obey him. Most mothers didn't and couldn't take care of their children full time. The patriarch's wife would spend most of her time managing the household and the servants. Slave women worked in the fields or took care of their mistress's children, presumably leaving their own young children to be cared for by older family members who were past the age of harder work.

This idea that a child can only grow up healthy if her mom is there 24-7 is really a fairly modern invention-- and even now is an option only available to fairly well-off families.  Most women throughout history have not been able to be full-time mothers.  Most women today are not able to be full-time mothers.  In fact, many women (like myself, I discovered, when I was honest with myself) end up discovering they're not suited for or happy staying home full time.

What if God didn't design all women alike?  What if "raised by strangers" is really just rhetoric being used to shame women into staying in a traditional role?

What I say is, no two families are alike, and we all need to just do the best we can given who we are and our situations, and not place burdens on ourselves or each other that are too difficult to bear.