My Fair Lady

In the musical, My Fair Lady, by Alan Jay Lerner, a professor takes on a cockney flower girl as his protégé and gives her speech lessons until she can pass in public society as a lady. And indeed he succeeds. Yet in the end this young woman finds herself caught between two worlds: she no longer fits comfortably in the cockney world she came from (a world she can never fully return to for her speech has forever been altered), but neither does she feel at home in the posh world.

I’ve come to see myself in a similar way, as a “My Fair Lady” of sorts. I would rather be myself, authentic, instead of pretending to believe this or that just to fully fit in on one side or another. But it means sometimes journeying through no man’s land. I will be misunderstood. A lot. It’s my experience that people don’t ask questions, they just write me off. If they hear I’m a feminist they assume I’m pro-choice, if they hear I’m an evangelical, they assume I’m anti-LGBTQ. You get the drift. But I wonder … how many times have I made similar incorrect assumptions about others? Continue reading My Fair Lady

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The Sin of Certainty

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3:6)

I was raised right-wing, conservative, Baptist. And one thing I remember in particular from those days was the complete sense of doctrinal certainty that went with the territory. Not just Baptist territory, but in any overly conservative denomination. We had the in with God and were safely headed for heaven—why? Because we had the correct theology. We thought we had all the answers and knew exactly how to interpret the Bible: with a “plain reading of scripture.”

We didn’t openly wrestle with difficult questions or admit to feeling insecure, for that would require being honest about our doubts and fears, which would likely be seen as a sign of weak faith at best or rebellion at worst. If we ever experienced the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, we knew to suppress it and dissociate. Doubt was the Enemy and the Seducer.

Any questions or red flags regarding doctrine were viewed as traps to be avoided: “don’t read that author, read this one instead!” If our heart or our ability to reason led us to a conclusion that didn’t square with fundamentalism, that was the Devil successfully having deceived us (especially if we were women—Eve). So not only did I learn to distrust my own opinions, I also learned that I was even more likely to be deceived due to my gender.

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Madonna vs. Whore

Having been raised in a conservative Christian family, I’ve observed sexism and the objectification of women from two different vantage points; a photograph and its negative.

In much of conservative Christianity, it is taught that women are to “remain silent” in the church. They are not allowed leadership positions, most certainly can not be ordained as pastors, and are to “submit” to their husbands, who are “the head of the family.”

Men are discouraged from being alone with other women in professional settings, which means having their wives along for any meetings, and this mindset puts women in a perpetual state of sexual objectification. (Try to imagine the reverse, where a woman brings her husband along to a professional meeting with a man.) This is necessary, they say, because men are viewed as unable to control themselves with women (either she will seduce him or he will seduce her). There is no professionalism—even in an office setting she is still first and foremost, a sex object (rather than a person and a colleague).

In marriage, she is expected to always keep her figure and be as physically attractive to her husband as possible. She is discouraged from withholding sex, as this would be seen as a “weapon” or a “punishment” to him during times of marital strain, making him vulnerable to the temptation of adultery or porn (read: if he cheats, it’s her fault for holding out). But when do these marriage books and speakers and seminars ever instruct the husband to remain physically attractive and to not withhold sex during conflict? Instead, the burden of healthy sexual relations in a marriage is placed squarely on the wife’s shoulders, first and foremost.

This leaves wives in an interminable state of anxiety about their physiques and libido. Any imperfections in her body, any weight gain she can’t shake, too many nights without intimacy, and she fears he will eventually have an affair with a more attractive woman. Doesn’t matter how imperfect he is, or how much weight he might have put on, that “more attractive” woman is still going to be waiting in the wings somewhere. But when do we ever hear about women leaving their husbands for “more attractive” men or a “younger model”? Now, that’s not to say they don’t, only that it’s seldom mentioned—by anyone.

A woman’s primary role in marriage, therefore, is as a sex object. Everything revolves around the marriage bed. She is a sex provider who is to be in constant submission to her husband, who is her “authority” and “head.” In the church she is also to be in submission to the male leadership, with the understanding that she will always be considered a potential seductress to them, so be wary. And if she dresses in an arbitrarily-deemed immodest way, she is to blame for his lust and lack of self control.

Contrast this to the secular, liberal world where we find the obverse:

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The Vanity of Enlightenment

When we believe that our particular tribe holds the greatest and fullest truth, the temptation is to pride ourselves on it: becoming self-righteous and arrogant. In a word, bigotry.

I first became aware of this a couple of decades ago when as an evangelical Christian I left a stoic Baptist church to attend a legalistic, charismatic denomination. After a couple of bewildering years in that church I extricated myself and returned sober to mainstream Christianity—only to realize that what I’d experienced in that cult was merely evangelicalism on steroids. The problematic base doctrines were still the same: no women in leadership, male headship (the husband has the final say), “eternal conscious torment hell” for the unsaved, and the exclusion of LGBTQ Christians.

A couple more years of church-hopping followed and my husband and I unwittingly landed in a conservative denomination that allows (and affirms!) the ordaining of women as pastors. Scandalous, I know. 😉 This challenged and changed my beliefs regarding gender roles, and we’ve been attending this church for more than a decade now. Labels don’t leave much room for nuance, but today you might call me progressive, or a left-leaning conservative.

Having journeyed this far throughout Christendom (dissecting/comparing the gamut of Calvinism, Arminianism, Open Theism, Annihilation, and Universalism along the way), I’ve now had ample time to experience many levels of dogma from opposing angles. And what I’ve found is that both sides (left-wing, right-wing, and everything between) are saturated with pride and self-righteousness. Continue reading The Vanity of Enlightenment

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The Art of Validation – how God’s silence is a sign of solidarity

Joy is contagious. But so is misery. If you sit with a miserable person, you quickly begin to feel the same way. You mirror them. So if God is mourning with us, he is truly going to be a fellow mourner. And mourning feels terrible. It doesn’t feel warm like joy: it is cold, lonely, raw, and painful. If God is mirroring the same dark emotions that we’re feeling (sitting with us in solidarity because he genuinely cares), then in our pain and loneliness, we are going to feel like God isn’t there—because we only associate God’s presence with the feel-good emotions of happiness, joy, and security.

So, let’s talk about the art of validation. Continue reading The Art of Validation – how God’s silence is a sign of solidarity

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The Mind’s Eye

A virtual reality, a time machine, a teleporter. I’ve heard it said that each person’s mind is like the Tardis from Dr. Who – a time traveling ship, bigger on the inside than on the outside, its corridors infinite.

Whenever I read literature written in the 18th and 19th centuries, I think about how much understanding of geography and history had to be gleaned from drawings and books in those days, unless one had the privilege of traveling. Today we have the advantage of cinematography.

I can fly over and through a gorge with a bird’s-eyed view. I can go on YouTube and look at virtual reality photographs and videos of famous landmarks. It’s all so detailed and sophisticated. But I bet the imaginings of those writers a century or two ago were just as vivid without all of that. Here’s why:

I used to play Sierra’s “Space Quest” as a child and to see it now, I’m reminded just how pixelated it was, how blurry and lacking in detail, compared to the games now available to my children. But back when I was immersed in those games, all the pixelation and blurriness vanished as my mind superimposed perfectly clear scenery into the game. I can easily remember the game both ways – how it really looked and how I transformed it. Either way, it was the same story.

Sometimes this happens with people too, especially when memories span across decades. I can easily superimpose their previous figure over their current one. One minute I see my grandpa as he is today. Bent over with a walker, face drawn into permanent lines that give him a look of perpetual sadness, eyes that no longer recognize me; next he’s suddenly standing upright, shoulders back, thirty pounds heavier, white hair now gray with brown weaving through, a wide smile and eyes alight with recognition.

There’s this one driveway we pass by on the way to the family cottage and I always see him standing there on the grass next to a decorative boulder, wearing a caramel leather jacket, strong and self-sufficient. It’s like seeing a ghost, but it’s only a memory from nearly three decades ago, and besides, he’s still alive. But the weird thing is, though I was standing right next to him when I made that memory (we’d taken a walk together), half his height and staring up to see his face, I now see that memory from twenty feet away, as though I had been the same height and was looking at him from across the street.
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Experiencing God’s presence through love

Previously I wrote about ways to experience God’s presence through our senses. Today I’d like to look at another way, inspired by conversations I had recently with my sister regarding blessings and healings. We talked about how all good things come from the original source of good, God (James 1:17), and how many people interpret these good gifts to be answered prayer or blessings. Now, of course they can certainly be both, but I think they are also random in many cases as well. Here’s why:

God does not discriminate: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). What’s more, a blessing to me could be a curse to someone else. e.g. Sunshine on a wedding day is ideal, but maybe someone drowned that same day because the warm sun had them out swimming.

It occurs to me that for God to specifically grant my wish for a sunny day, knowing that it would lead to John Doe’s drowning, seems immoral of him. But if the day is sunny just because it’s nature taking its course, then it’s still a blessing to me and I can and should give thanks to God for every good gift, but it has not been given to me at the cost of someone else. The sunshine was given to everyone and sadly, tragedies do occur, rain or shine.

It comes down to the “life is unfair” thing. See, the only way life could be fair is if everyone had identical experiences – rendering free will and individuality impossible.

Another blessing/good gift in life is being healed of physical ailments, especially dangerous ones. And the human body is designed by the Great Physician to regenerate. When the immune system works properly (and we have access to good nutrition, medicine, successful surgery, and the like), we are healed. We rightly give thanks to God for healing us because he is our Creator and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Prayer can play a significant role in healing too, don’t get me wrong, but God also heals people who haven’t prayed for healing. Unbelievers regenerate successfully too, just as the sun and rain are sent without discrimination. (Please note, I am not discrediting miracles. By their very definition, they can only occur once in a while, not regularly.)

This leads me to the question of God’s presence in conjunction with love.

Jesus said that love was not unique to believers. He said even the pagans love each other; of course they do! We all know this. But he also said, I’m holding you to a higher standard when it comes to love – I want you to love your enemies too. So it’s not love that is unique to Christians but rather enemy love. What’s more, and this is important, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love then it follows that he is the original source of love as well. That’s what he is, Love Himself.

In the same way that every experience of good is coming from the original source of good (Good Himself), and healing of the body comes from the original source (the Great Physician), all manifestations of genuine love also come from the original source, Love Himself. So, isn’t it possible that the more goodness, health, and love one has in their life, the more they will feel the presence of God? The obverse is true as well, which is why I wanted to write this blog piece in the first place.

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An Open Sesame

Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
(Hebrews 12:28b)

Anything from a ray of sunlight warming my knees as I sit on the sofa, to the cheep of a chickadee, to a hot cup of tea, a tasty treat, time with loved ones, a good story, the hush of a snowfall, the laughter of a child, a power nap, a shared smile . . . and even the less obvious: enjoying the clean floors after mopping, hanging fresh clothes in the closet, washing the pots and pans that made a meal, and neverending clutter (the evidence of a living family!).

The simple (yet profound) act of saying, “Thank you, Lord,” for each and every gift has opened the door to a much deeper and more intimate relationship with God than I was able to have before. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courts with praise.” It really is an open-sesame to the presence of God.

I know though, when life is grim, giving thanks can feel next to impossible. Food tastes like gravel, material possessions seem meaningless, and sunshine taunts an overcast soul.

But it turns out giving thanks is a veritable life line.

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Experiencing God’s presence through our senses

We live in a physical world of matter, so much so that naturalists believe this is all there is, that there couldn’t possibly be a supernatural realm as well. But what if the two are intertwined? God is omnipresent, which means he is everywhere: all at the same time. Have you ever pondered the infinity of the universe? The scientists say the universe is expanding – yet how is this possible? There is no “space” outside of space, so where does the room come from to expand into, so to speak?

Well, think about it this way: if the universe exists within the omnipresent God, who is infinitely big, the universe can expand forever and ever and never come up against a wall. It’s fascinating to think about. But what’s my point? My point is that if you want to experience the presence of God, why not consider the senses as a gateway of sorts?

The omnipresence of God could be why pagans throughout history have been so inclined to worship nature. They sense (feel) the presence of God in his created things, but don’t necessarily look any further. So they worship the flower rather than the One who made it. It was God who created all matter and space – even linear time (the universe had a beginning). As C.S. Lewis said, “He likes matter; he invented it.” Being made of matter is what enables us to have a physical existence in a physical universe. It is also what makes it possible for us to feel the presence of God.

To be close to someone physically, we need to be in their presence.

Think of the infant whose attachment to mom is entirely through the senses. We need to either see the person, hear them, touch them, kiss them, smell them, or feel their spirit, to maintain a connection. The ways to achieve this are obvious with people and animals, but it may not be quite as obvious with God. Or so one might think.

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Diary of a Former Hypochondriac

When I was eleven, I developed an anxiety disorder which manifested itself primarily as hypochondria; with depression as its cousin companion.

I was not, however, the stereotypical sort of hypochondriac child that one associates with verbally fretting over every ache and pain, scrape and bruise; analyzing each sniffle and cough; feeling for lumps; or sighing and fainting with weakness. No, I was nothing like Colin in The Secret Garden. At least, not on the face, that is.

I kept it all a big secret.

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