Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Toddlers of the Bible: Peter, Jonah, and Sampson


You know those preschooler puzzle toys where there's a plastic box with shaped holes cut in it? And you have all these plastic shapes to fit into the holes? Have you ever watched a kid playing with one of those? Their tiny toddler muscles strain to force the circle block into the flower hole, or their little brains struggle to figure out the right way to turn the star in order to line up all its points. I love watching kids that age play. They are thinking and working so hard, and learning so much, and yet when they return to the same toy the next day, they've forgotten half of what they achieved the day before. I can't help but laugh as they get frustrated and try to beat the pieces into place, or get bored and wander away to another toy. But the best moment is when they finally get everything in the right place and grin, proud of their accomplishment.

I think that's how God is with us sometimes, watching and laughing and letting us figure it out. No matter how hard we shove, the square block is not going to fit into the round hole. And the triangle won't fit in the triangle hole unless you have it turned at the right angle. Sometimes He gets frustrated, thinking to Himself, "We just did this. How can she still not figure out the right work/personal life balance? Why is he still trying to get that promotion instead of going back to grad school? Why won't she just break up with him already? How has he not figured out that he needs to attend church regularly?" And sometimes He gently reaches out and helps us turn the block around, or subtly taps a finger on the right hole for the shape in our hands. And sometimes, when we are getting frustrated or bored or overwhelmed with this confusing shape game, sometimes He is the one who hands us the light-up fire truck, or the singing dinosaur, or the plastic groceries, because sometimes we need a break from trying to fit all those shapes together.


God gave Jonah a specific task: go to Nineveh and tell them to repent of their wickedness. Jonah refused, and proceeded to run as far away from Nineveh as he knew how to get. Then God sent a storm, and Jonah offered to die in order to save the lives of everyone else on the boat, and then he was swallowed by a fish. Then he prayed, and God rescued him, and then he went to Nineveh and preached half of God's message, and then the people figured out the other half anyway. And then Jonah got mad at God for doing the thing that He said He would do.

God is God. You can't run far enough in any direction to escape His will. You can even half-ass the things He asks you to do, but guess what? God is more powerful than you. If you think He can't make shit happen in spite of your rebellion, you're forgetting the whole toddler thing above. It doesn't matter how hard that two-year-old tries to shove that star-shaped block into the trapezoid-shaped hole. It's not going in.


There's this to say about Jonah: he listened to God enough to know what God wanted him to do, even if he then did the exact opposite. And he did eventually do part of what God asked him for.

You can't really say as much about Sampson.

Sampson was supposed to follow a specific set of vows, and was supposed to rescue his people from the Philistines. He broke every single one of his vows in very quick succession, and although he killed lots of Philistines, he only ever did so to correct wrongs that they had committed against him. He wasn't a champion for his people, only for his own ego.

His story ends with all the Philistine leaders dying by Sampson's hands. But don't get too excited: first he broke his final vow, and then they tortured and humiliated him, and then he asked God to allow him to get revenge, and then he killed himself along with all of them.

So, God's will was done. Yay?


Oh, Peter. He tried so hard to be a good disciple, but he kept getting sidetracked with his own ideas. Protip: God's ideas are pretty much always better than yours. (Occasionally He decides to kill everyone, and Moses has to talk Him out of it, but by and large you can just assume that He knows what He's doing.)

After all the time spent with Jesus, Peter still didn't really get this. When Jesus tells Peter that Peter will deny Him three times before dawn, Peter argues back. Then Jesus told them all (for like the eight millionth time) that He was going to be betrayed and die, and then He gets arrested, and then Peter cuts off a guy's ear. (I like to think that a better translation of Jesus' words at that point is, "Dude. Seriously? We just talked about this. This is happening. Chill.") You'll never guess what happens next. Peter denies Jesus three times just before dawn.

But he tried. He tried so hard. And let's not forget that it was Peter upon whom Jesus built His church, and Peter who preached the Pentecost sermon. He could barely take a step without tripping over one foot and shoving the other one in his mouth, but when he did take a step, it was with seven-league boots. His incompetence, pride, and general stupidity were no match for the Holy Spirit moving within him.


It took me a long time to be reconciled to my parents' divorce. Actually, let me rephrase that: it's taking me a long time to be reconciled to my parents' divorce. First, i had to be reconciled to the fact that they were never supposed to be together, that they should never have gotten married. Then i wondered what that implied for me: should i never have been born? Was i God's afterthought?

Here's what Sampson and Jonah and Peter have taught me: God's will is going to happen, whether or not we participate, even if we rebel, even if we make mistakes. God always intended for me to be here. He may not have intended for me to arrive under these exact circumstances. but He wasn't about to let my parents' mistake get in the way of what He wanted, and what He wanted was me.

I can't help but think of the background characters in these stories. I think of the Ninevites that Jonah was supposed to redeem. They were hell-bound and didn't even know it, and Jonah did everything he could to keep them headed in that direction. I think of the Israelites who Sampson was supposed to be rescuing from their oppressors. He ignored his people to chase tail, and forgot about anyone who didn't stroke either his ego or his penis. And i think of the other eleven Apostles, of the multitude of Jesus' other followers, of the new Christian converts trying to spread the good news and build churches and figure out this whole religion thing (can we eat bacon? do we have to be circumcised? is it okay to gossip?), and relying on Peter to guide them through all of these heavy questions, not to mention the persecutions and martyrs.

We never get to find out what they were thinking and feeling about all of this nonsense, but i think i have some idea of what it's like to be caught up in the wake of someone else's mess. It sucks to feel like you're a secondary character in someone else's story, like you're just there for set dressing or for a plot twist. But none of us are secondary characters. In each of these stories, all those background people are the whole point.

God sent Jonah to Nineveh for the sake of the Ninevites. God raised up Sampson as a judge for the sake of the Israelites. Jesus called Peter for the sake of the new Christians. All of these people are our secondary characters, our sidekicks, our plot twists. God wants great things for us, and sometimes He uses other people to work His will in our lives.

For those of us who are Peter, take heart: your ability to fuck up does not outweigh God's ability to get shit done.

For those of us who are Jonah or Sampson, take heed: your attempts to rebel will not succeed, and may destroy you.

For those of us simply caught in another's destructive wake, take comfort: God does not hold anyone else's mistakes against you. His will for you is going to happen, no matter what bad decisions are made by the people who are supposed to be rescuing you.

The circle block is only ever going to fit into the circle hole.

Friday, November 22, 2013

by way of contrast

i've been obsessed with bees lately
industrious and organized
productive and precise
and dying

honey sealed in wax hexagons
honey sealed in glass jars
unspoiled, eternal
never sours, never molds
only crystalizes

if you'd been sealed in wax,
could i have kept you? 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Misquoting Jesus, Chapter 2: The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings

"One of the problems with ancient Greek texts (which would include all the earliest Christian writings, including those of the New Testament) is that when they were copied, no marks of punctuation were used, no distinction made between lowercase and uppercase letters, and, even more bizarre to modern readers, no spaces used to separate words." (pg. 48)

Think of the complexity of some of the New Testament, like Paul's letters (I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.). Even with modern rules of grammar imposed, this passage is pretty ridiculous. When those rules are done away with, it's easier to misread what is on the page. And even if your eyes and brain play no tricks, even if every letter is read in its correct place, comprehension and translation errors can still happen. Ehrman provides an example of what can happen with the following word: "godisnowhere", which can be read as "God is now here" or "god is nowhere".

"Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple -- slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent: it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and willing." (pg. 55)

Mistakes happen, but once they do, it can be hard to figure out where they are and how to correct them. And now, centuries later, how can we ever expect to know for certain which manuscript is the most correct version? 

"What survives today, then, is not the original copy of the letter, nor one of the first copies that Paul himself had made, nor any of the copies that were produced in any of the towns of Galatia to which the letter was sent, nor any of the copies of those copies. The first reasonably complete copy we have of Galatians (this manuscript is fragmentary; i.e., it has a number of missing parts) is a papyrus called P46 (since it was the 46th New Testament papyrus to be catalogued), which dates to about 200 C.E. That's approximately 150 years after Paul wrote the letter. It had been in circulation, being copied sometimes correctly and sometimes incorrectly, for fifteen decades before any copy was made that has survived down to the present day." (pg. 60)

"Original" scripts for the Bible are essentially nonexistent, and even the earliest ones that we have are so far from the original that there is no way to determine how accurate the copies are.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

it's weird how i'm a complex human person

A friend of mine just posted a long, rambly quote on Facebook about not pursuing any romantic relationships until she finds full satisfaction in God. You see a lot of similar quotes when you and/or many of your friends are young evangelical Christians. Hell, i've even said similar things, and back in high school i broke up with one guy and rejected another because i felt like romantic considerations were distracting me from God.

You also see a lot of almost empowering secular quotes about not pursuing a man until you've found full satisfaction in yourself. You know, graduate from college, get a good career going, pay off some debts, buy some fabulous shoes, pick up a hobby. No one else can love you until you love yourself, after all, and men will like you better if they have to chase you and compete for you with your job and friends and dog or whatever, because of their cavemen genes. Or something. I stopped reading Cosmo a few years ago because of shit like that.

I realized over the past year that a lot of the things i have always taken for granted are not guaranteed. I also realized that i had never really thought about whether or not i personally wanted these things; i just knew that they were good things for some people and assumed they would come to me. Things like marriage and kids, for example. I had always more or less assumed that i would be married by the time i was 25. And then i was dating this amazing man, and we were so in love, and things were going well, and i thought i would marry him some day.

Over the summer, John and i talked about exactly that. We'd talked about marriage before, about how we had some things to work out in our individual lives before we could start making those kinds of plans, and how if/when we did get engaged, it wouldn't be till we were both done with grad school. But during this conversation, John told me he wasn't sure he ever wanted to marry anyone. And then as i thought about it more, i realized that John's grad school schedule meant that, assuming we did get engaged, i couldn't possibly expect to have a ring on my finger until i was 26 or 27. I thought about my options for a few minutes. Do i wait it out with John and see if he wants to get married some day? Do i stay with him even if we never get married? If we do, will i be able to marry him while i'm still young enough to have kids? Do i break up with him and start looking for someone who's a little closer to being ready to settle down? If so, can i get over him, find someone new, and wrangle him to the altar before i hit my quarter century? Where did i get this magic 25, anyway? Wait, do i even want kids?

And then i realized that i simply did not give a single fuck.

Getting married is no longer a goal of mine. If it happens, great, if not, oh well. I do want to do my best to love well those who come into my path. I do want to know that i never abandoned a promising relationship before doing everything i could to make it work. But if i'm on my deathbed, looking at my cats and my post-graduate degrees and my written works (published and unpublished), reflecting on years of hard and satisfying work, surrounded by nieces and nephews and friends, i'm pretty sure i won't be saying, "Damn. If only i had gotten married."

I pursue a relationship with God because i love Him, and because everything in my life seems better when things are good with Him. I pursue other things in my life (school, work, shoes) because i like them and they make me happy. I don't pursue them so i can cross things off of my pre-wedding check-list.

And here's the crux of the whole thing: My relationship with God is pretty solid right now. It could be better, but we'll never get to a point where there's no more room for improvement, because that's not how relationships work. And my personal life is heading in a good direction, and i'm working hard to keep it on that track: working nights and weekends so i can (FINALLY!) finish grad school, getting a new roommate, painting my apartment, and even trying to do a little writing here and there.

Yet two months ago, John and i broke up. I'm not dating anyone else right now, and i'm not looking for anyone else. Mostly because i'm still getting over him, and a little bit because i'm hoping we might still have a future. But big picture? I'm not dating anyone right now because i'm not dating anyone right now. It's not because God is trying to teach me a lesson or because He hasn't brought the right person to me yet. It's not because my many impressive accomplishments intimidate men, or because they see my cat pictures and knitting needles and decide i'm too much of a loser to activate their (bullshit) caveman genetic drive to pursue me. I'm not dating anyone right now because i'm not dating anyone right now.

Life is bigger than bumper stickers or Facebook statuses. It is far more beautiful and complex than Cosmo articles or the imaginary goals we think we're supposed to have. It doesn't mesh all that well with timelines and schedules. And it looks very, very different to each and every person who has it.

If you feel like you need to work out some shit with God before you date anyone, great. Go do that. If you feel like you need to get your career on track before you date anyone, great. Go do that. Me, i'm working hard and having adventures. Sometimes i'm alone, sometimes i'm with friends, and for two years i had a steady partner. Maybe one day i will again. But in the meantime, i'm not trying to get my life lined up so i'll be ready for love when it finds me. I'm trying to get my life lined up because that makes it easier for me to have adventures.

Life is the thing. Don't have a great life so that some guy will want to be a part of it. Have a great life so that YOU can have a great life.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Believe it or not, i *do* have a filter.

1. This is why i try really hard to avoid news sites. I stick to blogs and webcomics and other sites that are, at least, up front about their intention to entertain. I'd rather run the risk of missing a legitimate news item than be suckered in by salacious gossip masquerading as something important. And honestly? If there's real news i'll see it on Twitter.

2. ". . . assholes are exclusively people who have to be told how others might be feeling and who think they get special dispensation to do anything. If you're not questioning your behavior, that means everyone else is."

3. THIS IS SO COOL. I don't want to say too much about how cool it is, because a) that would be a blog post all by itself and b) that would involve me getting way more personal about my genitals than i feel comfortable doing right now, but yeah. Everyone read this, especially if you have lady parts/like people who have lady parts.

Also, of COURSE it was French researchers who did three years' worth of unfunded research on the clitoris. I've never been prouder of my heritage.

4. "By this point in your life, I hope I've taught you the importance of honesty, and so I’m going to be honest with you. I've done just about everything imaginable in my adult career and if you dig deep enough you will find things you might think are pretty awful. I can honestly say that I approached adult filmmaking as a job, and, like any job I've ever had, I felt it important to do my best. Sometimes doing my job well meant doing pretty gross things. Hopefully you never see that stuff."

5. Oh, man. Every day.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

have a little faith in me

I had every intention of getting back to a regular posting schedule. Really. I did. Last Tuesday, i had a post half-written in my head. But then Wednesday morning at 5:01 AM, my sister called me to tell me that our grandfather had died. Wednesday night i had to work, and Thursday morning i flew down to Maryland. Poppop was cremated, so there was no rush on the service. I spent the next few days looking at old family photos, digging through relics (family Bible from 1870, holla!), and eating crazy amounts of junk food. Monday i flew back home, spent some time unpacking and detoxing, and went to Bible study. Tuesday was napping and a class. And ordering delivery. I've been too depressed to cook lately.

Anyway. I'm trying. It's been an unbelievably shitty year, but it's almost over now. I have never been so excited for the new year, not even in 1999.

Monday, September 23, 2013

still laptopless, but it's 2013, so that shouldn't stop me from writing a blog or, like, coordinating a missile strike from my phone or whatever.

I'm trying to get back into my life, bit by bit. Bear with me, okay?

1. You might be a Pharisee if . . . 

2. This made me literally laugh out loud.

3. This, on the other hand, made me want to stand on a table and cheer. But i didn't, because i was alone in my house, so that would have been weird. Actually, on reflection, i guess that would have made it less weird. Whatever. Just read it.

4. i used to think i had arrived somewhere,
until i realized there is no shore of arriving.

5. And if you're wondering how i've been the past few weeks, read this.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

more sketchy things i have done

I went to a slightly grimy Massachusetts sports bar with some friends. The bouncer was checking IDs at the door, and was giving us a hard time. I don't know if he was just in a bad mood or if he was genuinely suspicious of us, but he looked at my Maryland ID, and then glared at me, and then took his time deliberating. The next time that he peered at me in dim light of the streetlamp, i stared him down. He apologized and handed me my ID, and let us in without another word.

One time, i placed an order from Athena's Home Novelties for some body chocolate FOR A FRIEND. And when my order arrived, it was accompanied by a whole box of things that someone else had ordered and that had mistakenly been shipped to me. There was tingly lube, massage oil, a "Good Head" lollipop, a starter bondage kit, two bullet vibrators, and other assorted goodies. It took me a few days to decide whether or not it was worthwhile to let the company know of the mistake.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


So. Posting has been light.

August 30th was my last day at my old job. It was odd and bittersweet. It was kind of like graduation day all over again; after four years of undergrad (plus two years as a student worker in that office), and two years of grad school simultaneous with two years of full-time employment in the same office, it's weird to no longer be affiliated with that school. It's weird to visit campus for my student worker seminar or for a Bible study and to have absolutely no obligation to watch my language or dress appropriately or say good things about the school or anything. I mean, i'm still respectful, and i still care about my alma mater, i just don't officially have to.

The 31st was my final MTEL. If i pass, and if i get that passing score before October 1st, i can start student teaching in the fall. If either of those things doesn't happen, i have to wait till spring. But either way, i'm no longer working a 9-5 office job, and it feels amazing.

I took last week as a vacation. It was desperately needed. I can't remember the last time i took more than one day off for myself. Most of my vacation and personal time in the last two years has been spent in hospitals or at funerals. I had a whole week at home to sleep, cook, play with my cat, deep clean some problem areas in the house, organize my bedroom and library, watch Cheers, and read on my roof. On Tuesday, i got a call about the job i had been waiting for and really really really wanted, which really helped me relax and enjoy my vacation.

On Thursday, i spent most of the day cooking with a friend. We made buffalo chicken spring rolls and Irish car bomb cake, and we watched the pilot of Warehouse 13 and talked about comic books, and then i snuggled with my boyfriend.

On Friday morning, John and i got some coffee and took it to the beach. We sat for a while, chatting and sipping coffee and enjoying the weather. Then we had a very serious discussion, one we'd been putting off for a while, and had even started to have a few weeks earlier. Then we broke up.

We went back to his apartment and i packed my things, drove to a wine shop, took two bottles home, and spent the rest of the day in bed. On Saturday, i only got out of bed to get more water, go to the bathroom, feed my cat, and get my Chinese food from the delivery guy.

On Sunday, i had to lead worship at church. It was absolutely hellish. Less said the better. I then went home, changed, and went to a wedding.

On Monday, i got back to life. I cooked, i cleaned the kitchen, i went to Bible study, i talked to Benji about the breakup.

Today was orientation for my new job, as well as my student teaching seminar. It was a long day, but i feel energized and excited about my future. I learned a lot, and i'm so excited to be busy again after a whole week of vacation. I'm especially excited about a job where i can work with food, and be active and engaged, instead of sitting in front of a computer for seven hours a day.

But i'm sad. I want to tell John about my day. I want to tell him about all of my crazy new co-workers (one of them is an archaeologist! One of them is a religious freak and thinks i am too!), and talk about my new work schedule and figure out how and when we will find time to snuggle, and confess my concerns and uncertainties about what lies ahead. I want to hear about his day, too. And i want to snuggle and kiss and be together. And i can't.

There are so many other things i'd like to say about my new job, and my new schedule, and what i've been cooking and reading, and how my computer broke, and how my heart broke, and everything else. But this post is already long, and i don't think i have it in me to say much more about some of this stuff.

I'll try to set up a new schedule soon. I'll keep everyone posted as i can.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


You know what i hate? Artificial sweeteners. Hate hate hate them. I hate them. Hate. I would one thousand percent rather have something completely unsweetened than have to choke down aspartame. I've tried Splenda, Stevia, Sweet and Low, all of them. I've tried them at home, stirred into tea or coffee. I've tried store-bought sugar-free desserts. I've tried diet sodas. I am currently drinking a flavored seltzer water sweetened with aspartame, and the taste is indescribably horrible.

Why isn't it possible to find something unsweetened? Why are the only choices sugar or puke? I hate it.

That is all.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ugh. Tuesday.

1. This story has been really important to me in the last few years. I don't think i really have a grasp on it yet, but i keep running into it again and again.

2. This was on Time's list of the 25 best blogs. It's all about linguistics and etymology. I love it.
3. Here's a fun post about how Shakespeare was talentless.
4. I can't wait to have a classroom to hang Oatmeal posters in.

5. This is how i feel every Tuesday.

6. Okay, i know that everyone and their Aunt Sally linked to this last week, but just in case you are also coming late to the party, allow me to catch you up: ballet dancers in random situations.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Misquoting Jesus, Introduction and Chapter One: The Beginnings of Christian Scripture

Posting has been light lately. I'm in my penultimate week of work, i don't have a new job yet, and if my MTEL scores don't come in soon i won't be able to student teach until January, meaning i will have to start paying student loans now. So my anxiety has been a little overwhelming.

BUT, i started a new book this week: Misquoting Jesus, by Bart D. Ehrman. This is not a reflective spiritual journey, but a scholarly analysis of the Bible and how it happened. I've taken two classes on this subject already, not to mention reading tons of articles and blog posts and listening to sermons and my dad, so i know a fair deal about the Bible's history. But i'm only one chapter in and i've already placed a dozen sticky notes, so i'm excited about all the learning to come!


"The Bible did have a revered place in our home, especially for my mom, who would occasionally read from the Bible and make sure that we understood its stories and ethical teachings (less so its "doctrines"). Up until my high school years, I suppose I saw the Bible as a mysterious book of some importance for religion; but it certainly was not something to be learned and mastered. It had a feel of antiquity to it and was inextricably bound up somehow with God and church and worship. Still, I saw no reason to read it on my own or study it." (pg 2)

I was actually very serious about my Bible reading until college, at which point i was like, "I've read this thing in its entirety at least half a dozen times, not to mention all the bits and pieces from devotionals, Bible stories, Bible studies, sermons, youth group, and so on. Do i really need to read the descriptions of the temple measurements AGAIN?!" Which is, in part, the reason for this whole blogging and exploration thing: trying to keep myself accountable so that i will have to be intentional about my spiritual health.

"There was an obvious problem, however, with the claim that the Bible was verbally inspired -- down to its very words. As we learned . . . we don't actually have the original writings of the New Testament. What we have are copies of these writings . . . Moreover, none of these copies is completely accurate, since the scribes who produced them inadvertently and/or intentionally changed them in places . . . Surely we have to know what those words [of Scripture] were if we want to know how [God] had communicated to us . . . having some other words . . . didn't help us much if we wanted to know His words." (pg 4-5)

I posted something about this a while back, how if God wanted us to take the Bible literally, He probably would have designed language in such a way that translation errors were impossible. Instead, if i write something this very second and hand it immediately to someone who is perfectly bilingual in English and Spanish, there is still room for translation error. Because other languages are not simply codes. You can't just substitute an English word for a Spanish word and have it work perfectly every time. There are nuances and connotations and grammatical structures that complicate things. Even a perfect translation isn't perfect, and the translations of the Bible are based on imperfect copies of languages that no one speaks anymore.

"I kept reverting to my basic question: how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don't have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes -- sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don't have the originals!" (pg. 7, bolding mine)

"Moreover, the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the Church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration something of a moot point." (pg. 10)

". . . I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture than it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew)." (pg. 11)

Yes. This.

The Disciples actually met and talked with Jesus, but we don't know if they all read one another's Gospels (were they all even literate?), especially the Big Four, and most of them were probably martyred long before some books were even written. So is talking to Jesus more or less important than reading Acts or 2 Timothy or Revelations? Less important? Okay, great. I'm going to go pray now. You can take your King James and go home.

"Among other things, this meant that Mark did not say the same thing that Luke said because he didn't mean the same thing as Luke. John is different from Matthew -- not the same. Paul is different from Acts. And James is different from Paul. Each author is a human author and needs to be read for what he (assuming they were all men) has to say, not assuming that what he says is the same, or conformable to, or consistent with what every other author has to say. The Bible, at the end of the day, is a very human book." (pg. 12)

I once witnessed an argument where one guy was talking about two books in the New Testament whose authors disagreed, and another guy was like, "No, but really they were saying the same thing, because they were all inspired by the Holy Spirit." And the first guy was like, "WTF. These are different words. Can you read?" It's okay to disagree, as long as we keep talking through it and loving Jesus.

"What if the book you take as giving you God's words instead contains human words? What if the Bible doesn't give a foolproof answer to the questions of the modern age -- abortion, women's rights, gay rights, religious supremacy, Western-style democracy, and the like? What if we have to figure out how to live and what to believe on our own, without setting up the Bible as a false idol -- or an oracle that gives us a direct line of communication with the Almighty?" (pg. 14)

Chapter One: The Beginnings of Christian Scripture

"Four such gospels became most widely used -- those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament -- but many others were written. We still have some of the others: for example, Gospels allegedly written by Jesus' disciple Philip, his brother Judas Thomas, and his female companion Mary Magdalene. Other Gospels, including some of the very earliest, have been lost." (pg. 24)

"Some Christian authors produced prophetic accounts of what would happen at the cataclysmic end of the world as we know it. There were Jewish precedents for this kind of "apocalyptic" literature, for example, in the book of Daniel in the Jewish Bible, or the book of I Enoch in the Jewish Apocrypha. Of the Christian apocalypses, one eventually came to be included in the New Testament: the Apocalypse of John. Others, including the Apocalypse of Peter and The Shepherd of Hermas, were also popular reading in a number of Christian communities in the early centuries of the church." (pg. 25)

So, since the apocalypse hasn't happened yet, how do we know that John's is better than Peter's or the Shepherd's? Did they describe it the same, but John's was better written? Because that didn't prevent us from keeping four Gospel accounts. And none of it prevented Left Behind from happening, so. Maybe there is no God.

There's a long passage on page 35 that i won't quote in full here about a bishop named Irenaeus who argued that we needed exactly four Gospels, no more and no less, because there are four corners of the earth, and four winds, so it's only logical to have four Gospels as the four pillars of the church. And that's how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John got into the canon. True story.

On page 36, we learn that the 27 books of the New Testament were not listed as the books of the New Testament until 367 C. E. Almost 300 years after they had been written. Even the people writing them didn't consider them to be on par with the actual Bible (they were mostly Jews, so we're talking about the Torah here). They were mostly just writing letters to clarify things they'd said before.

There's also an interesting point in the last two sections of the chapter about literacy in the ancient world. If the actual real words of the Bible were so important, why didn't God make sure everyone in the world was literate? And if illiteracy was so widespread (it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that people started taking literacy for granted for all social classes, and even now illiteracy is a real problem in the global community), why didn't God figure out some other way to speak to us? Like, through prayer and personal revelation and community? Oh, wait . . .

Friday, August 16, 2013

Searching for God Knows What, 11-end

There is a passage on pages 187-189 that is almost worth the whole price of the book, all on its own. Miller was a guest speaker on a radio program, and the host asked him about "the homosexuals who were trying to take over the country." Miller asked the host for the name of this ambitious homosexual group. The host couldn't name any actual groups, but remained convinced that such an uprising was imminent. Miller's response is absolutely lovely:
". . . As a Christian, I believe Jesus wants to reach out to people who are lost, and, yes, immoral -- immoral just like you and I are immoral; and declaring war against them and stirring up your listeners to the point of anger and giving them the feeling that their country, their families, and their lifestyles are being threatened is only hurting what Jesus is trying to do. This isn't rocket science. If you declare war on somebody, you have to either handcuff them or kill them. That's the only way to win. But if you want them to be forgiven by Christ, if you want them to live eternally in heaven with Jesus, then you have to love them." (emphasis mine) Miller later reflects that, while we are in a spiritual battle, the battle is not sinners vs. saved. After all, we are all sinners. The battle is Good vs. Evil, and people lost in sin are hostages. "This battle we are in is a battle against the principalities of darkness, not against people who are different from us. In war you shoot the enemy, not the hostage." (pg. 190)

Obviously, Miller is implying that homosexuality is sinful, but he is at least advocating that we treat homosexual people as people, that we reach out to them in love, that we talk to them about love, and that we stop trying to start a war. Personally, i'm not convinced that it is a sin to be gay, but i understand why a person reading the Bible would come away with that interpretation, and if they have honestly wrestled with the issue (including lots of prayer and talking to people who actually are gay, bonus points if they are gay Christians) and still feel that it's a sin, fine. Just treat them as human beings who need love, rather than The Enemy who must be exterminated and repressed.

Overall, i like this book. It certainly has its issues, both of content and style, but for the most part it neither outrages nor inspires me. There are some books that you read once and they change you forever, but because they have moved you, you can never really love them again. You need to read them when you are at a certain place in your life, and once you have moved past that place, they can offer you nothing. Some books (the Bible, much of C. S. Lewis, Harry Potter, etc.) change and grow with you, and you can keep falling in love with them from new angles as you re-read them. For some people, "Searching for God Knows What" is one of the second type, one that they can read again and again every few years. For me, having read it twice now, i know i will never read it again. It was important to me once, and will therefore always be important in some way, but i think we've outgrown each other.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'm not a theologian, but i do like almond butter.

I love peanut butter. I mean, i have a soul, so obviously i love peanut butter. I went through a chunky phase in elementary/middle school, but somewhere around 7th or 8th grade, i switched to creamy and never looked back. Bizarrely, i don't like peanuts. Meaning i no longer enjoy chunky peanut butter at all, or Snickers bars, or a number of other peanutty treats. But peanut butter? Bring it on.

Lately, i've been making my own almond butter. This is weird for several reasons.

First of all, my tiny food processor isn't capable of turning almonds into the perfectly creamy butter that you find in a jar of Jif. It's pretty smooth and spreadable, but it's also sort of grainy. Not exactly like chunky peanut butter, more like grainy mustard. Now, i like almonds, so it's not really an issue per se, but it's definitely less delicious than i'd like it to be, which is why i haven't made peanut butter yet.

Second, i had never in my life tried almond butter until i made it. So it's not like i was buying up huge jars of the stuff and needed to save money. I honestly don't even remember why i decided to make it. I feel like i may have seen a recipe on one of the cooking blogs i read and thought, "I can do that!", but who even knows. Actually, the more i think about it the more certain i am that i just decided to make it. Welcome to my kitchen.

Third, i am now having so much fun making it that i'm trying to find more ways to eat it so i have an excuse to make more. I have eaten more almond butter in the past month than i have peanut butter in the past year. It's full of protein and light on sugar, salt, and preservatives, but it's also kind of fatty, especially since i add a tiny bit of coconut oil to help smooth it out (this also makes it infinitely more delicious). So i'm not sure if this new obsession is a good idea.

Fourth, despite the half jar of coconut honey almond butter and the full jar of cider spiced walnut/sunflower seed/pecan/almond butter currently in my fridge, i keep thinking of new combinations to try. Chocolate coconut walnut! Cinnamon pecan! Pumpkin spiced almond! I've even thought about savory ones, like coconut curry or roasted garlic with tahini. MAKE ALL THE FLAVORS! It's all i can do to rein in my enthusiasm. It helps that i recently got a roku player, so now i can watch Netflix IN MY BED. Suddenly, the idea of standing upright in the kitchen and watching Netflix on my laptop seems terrible. What is this, 2007? Next you're going to tell me i have to Google things on my laptop or tablet instead of my phone. No. If God wanted me to stand up and do things, or watch internet shows on a computer, He would not have invented roku. Which He clearly did, because it is very good. But my almond butter is very good, too. Like, spiritual gift-good. So i'm conflicted.

Who knew snack food could trigger a spiritual crisis? I'm going to have to meditate on this for a while. Excuse me while i eat home made chocolate ice cream and binge-watch The Office. Religiously.

Monday, August 12, 2013


1. Articles like this are one reason i'm proud to identify as French. And as i once Tweeted, i never feel more French than when i snack.

"They found that of the four populations surveyed (the U.S., France, Flemish Belgium and Japan). Americans associated food with health the most and pleasure the least. Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the phrase "chocolate cake", Americans were more apt to say "guilt", while the French said "celebration"; "heavy cream" elicited "unhealthy" from Americans, "whipped" from the French. The researchers found that Americans worry more about food and derive less pleasure from eating than people in any other nation they surveyed.

"Compared with the French, we're much more likely to choose foods for reasons of health, and yet the French, more apt to chose on the basis of pleasure, are the healthier (and thinner) people."

2. Speaking of food, this is shameful.

3. Hey, look! More food guilt!

The funny thing about this piece (and food guilt in general) is that one of my old roommates is a nutritionist. And she used to advocate low calorie things, like cheesecake made with low-fat Neufchatel cheese and sugar-free sweeteners, or using skim milk and SmartBalance to make alfredo sauce. And we argued about it once. I said i'd rather make the full-fat version of something and then only eat a little, and she said that she'd rather make a low-fat version and eat more.

This is stupid.

Basically, you're saying that you'd rather eat a fuckton of something mediocre than a normal amount of something delicious. It's alfredo sauce! It's butter and cream and cheese! Just eat a small serving of pasta and a large serving of veggies! And don't eat it every night! Eat one serving of chicken fettuccine alfredo tonight, and tomorrow night eat grilled salmon with steamed broccoli. Eat one giant slice of cheesecake now and don't eat any later. Enjoy your food!

"I grew up a Christian, with a pastor for a dad to boot, but my mom is Jewish. And I don't know how well you might know the Jewish stereotypes, but we are a people that have a notorious love for eating and for worrying. So, you know, the little gatherings of my mom and her best friends (Jews, too, by the way) involved bagels, and cream cheese, and lox, or Danish pastries and coffee, or Chinese food, or whatever, but it's like, here are all these women, different sizes, different shapes -- and they're enjoying their food, but at the same time, they're worrying. They're like, punishing themselves for eating. Like, "this is great, but I shouldn't be eating it, I'm fat" or "I'll take JUST A SLIVER of that cheesecake" or eating two different kinds of cake while insisting on Sweet N Low and skim milk for their coffee -- not because they like it that way, but because they're "cutting calories."

4. I can't even pick one quote from this. Just read it. So lovely.

5. Reading this was akin to a holy experience. I wanted to say "amen" when i was done (and at several points along the way).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Searching for God Knows What, chapters 6-10

Miller spends much of chapter 5 talking about the Fall and lifeboat theory. Basically, he proposes that a relationship with God is necessary to give human beings a sense of worth, and that ever since the Fall, we've all been scrambling like crazy to prove our value. Because we no longer have that perfect connection, that innate sense of self-worth and of being loved, we feel the need to somehow demonstrate that we are worth loving, worth the air we breathe and the space we occupy. And one of the easiest ways to do this is to prove that we are worth more than someone else.

This is where nearly all human culture comes from. We explore new technologies so we can be smarter than someone else. We buy cosmetics so we can be prettier than someone else. Every year, teams of athletes compete fiercely to find out who is the best, and whole cities stand or fall on the outcome of the (Superbowl, world cup, semifinals, take your pick). And then the next year, everyone gets traded and shuffled around to new teams, and they do it all over again. What's the point?

"Here is how it feels: From the first day of school the conversation is the same as it would be if hundreds of students were told to stand in line ranging from best to worst, coolest to most uncool, each presenting their case for value, each presenting an offense to the cases of others, alliances being formed as caricatures of reality television (or vice versa)." (pg. 97)

He talks about the old "lifeboat" thought exercise, where there are a bunch of people in a lifeboat but they don't have enough supplies for everyone to survive until they reach shore/are rescued. There's an 87 year old man who was a Boy Scout and Marine, there's a nursing mother and her baby, there's a Black female lawyer, there's a rabbi, there's a kid in a wheelchair, etc. And then you debate about who should die for everyone else. No one ever hesitates in ranking people, no one ever says that all are equal and no one should sacrifice him or herself involuntarily. We assume that our value can be quantified.

"If there are ten people in the lifeboat, and three of them are Jews, adhering to the philosophy that Jews are inferior is enticing. If Jews or Americans or Democrats or whoever are inferior, then I am automatically ahead of 30 percent of the population in the lifeboat. Racism and socioeconomic prejudice would be the very first thing [sic] to start happening in a culture absent God. Not simply because people are "bad" but because a certain system of internal mechanisms would immediately ensue." (pg. 117)

There's an interesting anecdote on pages 157-159. I won't repeat it here because it's long, but read it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

musical fruit

I'm one week into my final month of employment, and i have yet to line up another job. Also if i don't get all of my test scores in by October 1, i'll have to put off student teaching yet again. Which will mean that i can work more hours this fall (assuming i get a job), but will also mean that i took this plunge for no real reason.

Well. There is a reason. It's time.

I feel like a baby bird getting nudged out of the nest, and there's going to be that initial elevator-drop-adrenaline-rush-stomach-in-my-throat sensation, and then i'll catch the air and soar away. And i know that i'll look back on this one day as a great adventure. Especially if i have kids, because as hard and scary as it is to contemplate supporting myself for the next however long on my savings account, there's no way i could do something like this if i had to support someone else as well. And what if i have a job in the future that i hate? What if i'm stuck in it, miserable every day, because i can't afford to leave it because of all these whiny gremlins demanding food? I FED YOU YESTERDAY. DON'T YOU KNOW HOW TO USE THE STOVE YET?

Yeah. I probably won't have kids.

Hey, speaking of feeding, i'm anticipating a lot less of that in the coming weeks. No more picking up an exotic vegetable or foreign spice just because i'm curious to find out what it tastes like. In fact, if i don't have a job by the end of August, there's a good chance i'll be living on rice and beans for a while. It's not so bad; i've done it before, and you'd be amazed how long it takes you to get tired of really well prepared rice and beans. And i'll try to supplement with some kinds of fruits and veggies daily, and maybe once a week i'll have eggs or a burger or something.

To be honest, it will be kind of great in some ways. It's a little like a cleanse, right? getting rid of all the preservatives and salt and sugar and artificial flavorings i've consumed lately, focusing on clean, whole foods with natural, simple ingredients with very little fat or carbs. And it will be something of a relief to not have to think about recipes for a while. Don't get me wrong: i love recipes. But sometimes, standing in front of a pile of tofu, endives, sweet potatoes, feta, and baby dill pickles (actual current contents of my fridge) and trying to figure out what to make for dinner is more exhausting than it's worth. I'm all for creativity, but i'm also all for calling the Chinese restaurant and shoveling MSG prepared by someone else into my face.

I won't be ordering take-out for a while, though. I won't be going out, either. I was heading home yesterday and it took all my willpower not to drive four blocks to Wendy's. All i could think about was French fries and a bacon cheeseburger. Instead, i made buffalo chicken macaroni at home. It made enough for leftovers, too, which Wendy's would not have, and the ingredients probably cost about the same as the Wendy's would have.

So. It's gonna be lots of rice and beans. Unless i get that job at Trader Joe's, in which case, HELLO EMPLOYEE DISCOUNT ON DELICIOUS FOOD!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Searching for God Knows What, Chapters 1-5

I read this book a few years ago and LOVED it. My friend Emily loaned me her copy of Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller's first book), and it was a revelation to me. I wish i'd written about it back then, because i've forgotten a lot of my specific thoughts and feelings and reactions, but i remember thinking that if that book was a church, i would become a member immediately. I then bought my own copy (i actually bought three or four, because i kept loaning it out and not getting it back), and when i found Searching for God Knows What and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, i devoured them.

About a year ago, i tried to re-read Blue Like Jazz, and i found myself immensely annoyed by Miller's writing style. It's too deliberately whimsical, like an outfit from Anthropologie. I couldn't even finish it, and finally decided to just give it away. I was never going to read it again, and i didn't want it taking up space on my shelf.

But i remembered liking Searching for God Knows What even better than Blue Like Jazz, so i decided to hang on to it for a little while longer and see what happened. I'm still mildly annoyed by his writing style (everything is "quite, actually"), and he's gotten some heat lately for sexist remarks, but i'm trying it anyway.

"I returned home and began poring over the Bible, looking for formulas I could use for my book of daily devotions. And I have to tell you this was much more difficult than you might think. The formulas, in fact, are hidden. It seems when God had the Bible put together, He hid a lot of the ancient wisdom so, basically, you have to read into things and even kind of make up things to get a formula out of it. And the formulas that are obvious are terrible." (pg. 9)

I enjoyed reading that after coming off of Year of Living Biblically and Year of Biblical Womanhood. It's true: there are not that many obvious outlines for behavior in the Bible, except for loving people. But we don't get a bulleted list of how to love them, so. Tricky.

". . . the more you let somebody know who you really are -- the more it feels as though something is at stake . . . I feel it in my chest, this desire to dissociate . . . If I could, I probably would have formula friends because they would be safe." (pg. 17)

Oh, this is me.

"The very scary thing about religion, to me, is that people actually believe God is who they think He is." (pg. 20)
"If you ask me, the way to tell if a person knows God for real, I mean knows the real God, is that they will fear Him. They wouldn't go around making absurd political assertions and drop God's name like an ace card, and they wouldn't be making absurd statements about how God wants you to be rich and know if you send in some money to the ministry God will bless you . . . It seems like, if you really knew the God who understands the physics of the universe, you would operate a little more cautiously, a little more compassionately, a little less like you are the center of the universe." (pg. 38)

I'm just gonna let that sit there on its own.

An issue:
"If I were a girl today in America, I would be a feminist for sure." (pg. 65)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

process story

Lately, i've been going through old poems and revising them. I've done this many times before: in high school, i revised poems from middle school; in college, i revised poems from high school; in grad school, i revised poems from college. Now that i'm more or less post-grad school, i'm revising everything.

Usually, this process is largely one of deletion. I'll pull out a line or phrase from a poem that i like and throw the rest away as irredeemable trash. I'll scratch out the main themes of a poem, rearrange the stanzas, and throw out half of it. I'll throw away whole notebooks full of boring and embarrassing scrawls. But as the years go by, i've gotten better. I've trimmed away a lot of the bad stuff and built on a lot of the good. These days, the folder on my flash drive is about 80% potential, with only 20% fluff.

This makes the revision that much harder. When you have a whole sonnet that is absolutely perfect except for one weak line, and you have to fix it without disturbing the meter, and you can't just delete it because then you'd be a line short, it can take weeks and months and even years of work before the poem is solid. Sometimes you put it away for six months or so, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes you delete the bad line anyway and decide that the poem makes a stronger statement as a partial sonnet. Sometimes you start dreaming in iambic pentameter and wake up sobbing, declaring that you will only write in free verse from now on.

I'm at the point now where i actually have two poetry folders, one marked "in progress" and one marked "ready". When i want to send in some submissions, i pull from the "ready" folder. In between submission periods, i work on moving things from "in progress" to "ready". Sometimes i find things i'd forgotten about. Sometimes i go looking for something that i can't find, completely forgetting that i renamed it on the last round of revisions. And sometimes, even now, i delete and delete and delete.

It feels strange to be so business-like about editing my work. I mean, my primary goal is simply to make each poem as good as it possibly can be, but i am aware that the better my poetry is, the better chance it has of getting published. And getting published would be pretty sweet. Despite my strong identification with Emily Dickinson, it would be nice to have some recognition while i'm alive, however slight and passing.

It just somehow feels like it should be against the rules or something, you know? It's like i'm grading my own paper. I'm sorting through my poems and reading them and deciding which ones are good enough to edit and which are not, and then i'm editing them and deciding which ones are good enough to publish. I've never had anything published in my life! It's not okay for me to do this! This is supposed to be someone else's job!

I mean, technically, just because i think something is good to go doesn't mean anyone else will ever agree. I've sent things out before that i thought were pretty good, that other people thought were pretty good, that published, award-winning poets told me should be sent out, and had them firmly rejected. So i don't have the deciding vote or anything, but i feel a little bit like the Chief of Staff, deciding what goes on the President's desk and what gets handled by an underling. And i'm like, I just registered to vote yesterday and I can't remember the difference between Congress and the House of Representatives. I really feel like there should be another layer of authority between me and the President. But apparently i'm a grown-up now, and i have to decide these things for myself. So if you see anything published under my name, thank Obama, i guess.

I think i lost track of my metaphor a little bit at the end there.

Monday, July 29, 2013

I don't actually remember MCI.

1. I envy Dianna her ability to turn her personal narrative into an essay on privilege and on all the negative "isms" that we try to pretend we've fixed. I envy it all the more because, aside from the fact that i am only 23, the following two paragraphs could easily have been written from my own life.

"At 27, this isn't exactly where I pictured my life, though it depends on age you examined looking forward. At 13, I would have told you that I would be a famous writer living somewhere exotic, like New Zealand or Australia. At 17, I would have told you that I would be the next Tucker Carlson (that was in the heydays of Crossfire on CNN). At age 20, I would have told you married, settled down somewhere, working from home (I never pictured a stay at home mom gig) while my husband took care of the kids. At 24, the dreams became fuzzy. All I knew was I wanted to write and I didn't care - still really don't - what form that took.

"Adulthood is a strange thing. Growing up, you think your parents have all the answers. I remember watching commercials for MCI (remember them?), wondering at all the choices adults made in their daily lives, and what would happen if you made the wrong choice (that, my friends, probably explains a large chunk of my anxiety issues). But the thing I've learned time and again in growing up and in learning how to Be An Adult, it's that I own myself, and I am responsible for myself, but my responsibility does not negate being able to ask for help."

2. This is a really interesting perspective on geek culture, and has some exciting info (Sandman Overture!!!).

"'I feel like every culture has a different version of itself sort of writ large,' Whedon said. 'In Japan and different Asian cultures, people are floating in trees and doing kung fu and here we dress up in tights and fight crime . . . it's just become part of our mythos, a genuine mythos, a real sort of evolving mythology.'"

3. I'm not sure how i feel about this poem, but it's interesting.

4. "Against my better judgment I've been doing a lot of reading on the purity movement. If you've never been exposed to it, then I'll explain. The idea is basically that you, as a father, are supposed to serve as the sole male influence in your daughter's life until she gets married. You 'guard her heart (and vagina)' because only you can be trusted with it. Certainly she can't. If God wanted women to be in charge of their genitals or feelings he wouldn't have let them be born in Texas."

And so begins an incredible list of ten things that one man plans to tell his daughter about sex. My dad is amazing and said most of this stuff indirectly over the years, but it would have been nice to have some of it made explicit. Regardless, i turned out okay.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: July through September

"I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah." -- F. F. Bruce (pg. 259)

I think about this all the time. When the New Testament writers talked about the importance of Scripture, they didn't mean Hebrews or John. They meant the Old Testament. And Paul, a Pharisee, had the utmost respect for the Scriptures and would never have presumed to think that anything he wrote (particularly personal letters to friends and specific churches) would be placed in the same category as the Law. Not that i have a problem with taking the NT seriously, but it does feel a little uncomfortable sometimes when someone takes one out-of-context phrase from the NT and uses it to contradict huge chunks of the OT.

". . . I've also never heard a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8, in which Paul tells Timothy, 'I want men everywhere to pray, lifting holy hands without anger or disrupting' that included a universal dictum that all men everywhere must raise their hands whenever they pray (updated NIV). But I've heard more than I can count on 1 Timothy 2:11, just three verses later, which says, 'A woman should learn in quietness and full submission' that have included universal dictums that all women everywhere must submit to male authority in the church." (pg. 261)

If Paul was writing Scripture that we should obey, then he was writing Scripture we should obey. If he occasionally made suggestions and offered his own opinion and talked about specific situations bound by specific cultures, then he has room to be wrong. We can either pick out the parts of Paul that we like and think are good and ignore the rest, or we can take everything he ever wrote as a direct command from God.

Personally, i think that Paul was smart and had a deep connection to the Holy Spirit and was a human being who was sometimes wrong and even when he was right he may only have been right in a specific context and not in every situation in the world. But i'm a woman, so who the hell knows.

"Some rabbis say that, at birth, we are each tied to God with a string, and that every time we sin, the string breaks. To those who repent of their sins, especially in the days of Rosh Hashana, God sends the angel Gabriel to make knots in the string, so that the humble and contrite are once again close to God. Because each one of us fails, because we all lose our way on the path to righteousness from time to time, our strings are full of knots. But, the rabbis like to say, a string with many knots is shorter than one without knots. So the person with many sins but a humble heart is closer to God."

My boyfriend often cites a spiritual teaching from his mom, in which she compared faith to a rubber band. Sometimes we wander far from God, but when we do, the band is stretched tight, and the farther we wander the more likely we are to be pulled in again. In her metaphor, the connection is never broken, but the ideas are still similar. And i like that Judaism (or at least, some of its rabbis) give room for grace. It's funny, because grace is supposed to be the Christian thing. You know: the OT God was full of wrath and judgement and fire and brimstone, and the NT God loves us and wants to forgive us and have us all live in harmony and love. It looks to me,  however, as though God is just a little bit bigger and more complicated than whatever boxes we try to build for Him, and that He always makes room for grace.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

sticks and stones

I'm a poet. For a long time, i preferred the word "crap" to the word "shit" because i liked the sound of it better. It's like a slap: heavy and solid, it registers your frustration and disapproval firmly. "Shit", on the other hand, with its hissing sibilant and thin vowels, sounds like something a crotchety spinster aunt would whisper-scream at you in her fancy parlor. It's annoying and a little scary, but it can be ignored. But "crap"? Crap WILL be heard.

I'm a feminist. It infuriates me that so many swear words are feminine. I mean, we have "dick" and "cock", which are almost more comedic nonsense words than profanity these days. You can call your friend a dick in between bursts of laughter. And you can maybe do the same with "bitch", if the person is a very good friend. But "cunt"? No way. "Pussy" is a little tricky; if you're calling a person a pussy, it can be in a mean bullying way or in a joking fun way, teasing or harassing them for being a wimp, but if you're talking about getting pussy it almost always sounds gross (unless you read a lot of feminist, queer-friendly blogs, like i do. Those bitches can pull it off).

"Cunt", though. That's pretty much the worst one, right? "Fuck" is almost punctuation anymore, like the "like" of earlier decades. My first encounter with the word "fuck" was when i was two or three and i saw it spray-painted on the side of a building. I was with one of my older cousins, and i asked him what it meant. He told me that it was the king of all cuss words, and that i should never repeat it again, especially not to my mom. So i naturally went to my mom and asked her what it meant. Her definition was not much more satisfying, but she was certainly careful to make sure that i knew that it was the very worst word anyone could ever say and that i should never say it again. I heard it a lot more over the years, and saw it again and again in various places. I even began using it, daringly, when i was in college.

My first encounter with the word "cunt" was when i was about fifteen and caught part of a stand-up competition on Comedy Central. A female comic was talking about how someone had called her something rude, maybe "bitch" or "prude" or something; i can't recall. She said that they had clearly meant it to wound, but that she had barely registered the insult at all. "Maybe because I've been called **** so many times, I didn't even notice," she said. Comedy Central bleeped out the word so thoroughly that i couldn't even guess what it was. There were some startled noises from the audience, and some nervous laughter, and the comedian looked upset and uncomfortable. In an interview later, she said that she should have known better than to use the "C-word". I asked my mom what the "C-word" was and she flat-out refused to tell me. I ran into it again a few years later in a book and figured it out for myself.

In college, i had a friend who could out-cuss a Marine. She would say things like "the fuck-word" instead of "the f-word". If you tried to edit her for TV, she would barely be speaking in full sentences anymore. I have never heard her use the word "cunt". We did have a conversation once in which she referred to it as "the C-word", and explained that she hated it and refused to use it. In fact, i know lots of people (mostly women, but some men) who refuse to use that word.

This terrible word, too terrible to even be spray-painted on a building, too terrible to mention when choosing the "king of all cuss words", to terrible to speak aloud? This word means "vagina". So does "pussy", for that matter. And "bitch" just means female dog. "Dick" and "cock" mean penis.

A penis is, at worst, hilarious. A vagina is, at best, weak and cowardly and maybe a little gross. Maybe not even human.

I am a poet. I love the word "bitch". It has a heavy slap, like "crap", but it also has a slightly stabby quality. I love the word "pussy". I like the sputter of the "p", the derision of the "u", the slithery needles of the double "s". "Cunt" is deep and guttural and visceral, like "drunk" and "ugly" and "thrust". I love to say these words. I like to feel them in my mouth, to hear them in the air. I like the way they look on the page, the shapes they make with their black on white.

I am a feminist. I hate the words "bitch", "cunt", and "pussy". More and more, when i find myself irritated with someone (a bad driver, a terrible roommate, a character in Virtual Villagers), i find myself using the word "asshole". Everyone has one of those, so i'm more comfortable using it to express negative feelings. But i don't like that so much negativity is attached to the female body, and i don't like to promote that negativity on my own lips. Vaginas have just as much potential for comedy as penises. Penises can be every bit as weak and gross as vaginas. And both are capable of all kinds of ecstasy and beauty in the right context.

But "pussy" is really fun to say.

Monday, July 22, 2013

lots of poetry and art.

1. "~The first question was, who told you you were wrong
for breathing? Who tried to erase you?"

GodDAMN. Also read part two.

2. I was one of the fortunate ones who was not directly touched by 9-11, but i was deeply affected at the time. And the war triggered by that event cost my brother his leg and his peace of mind and his energy and his health and a lot of his skin and bone and flesh and blood and many sleepless nights and, for a little while, his dignity. And i am still one of the fortunate ones, for so many others have lost so much more. It's odd, the things that strike us, the things that hold our memories.

Ask me if I remember any of their far-away names,
those swallowed by that black September day.
I will say no, but I do remember hers.

3. The Oatmeal: proving, once again, that comics are more than illustrated jokes to hang on your refrigerator or cubicle. Read this whole thing, all six pages, and know that this last page was written straight out of my brain.

"And the buzzing roar of the world is nothing compared to the noise inside my head. I'm an introspective person, and sometimes I think too much, about my job and about my life."

Also, we definitely have the same demons. The first two in particular. Which is terrifyingly comforting.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: January-July

"Now, I've got nothing against aluminum poles, sex outdoors, "sacred stripping", and that sort of thing, but you should be able to tell your spouse that you'd like to try it in the backyard without insisting your instructions come directly from God. Poems were never meant to be forced into commands." (pg. 112) (emphasis mine)

Oh, Christian sexuality. We like to do this thing where we confuse descriptive with prescriptive. We also like to do this thing where we don't really understand what's being described, so it gets kinda messy. And not in the good way.

"Both Jesus and Paul spoke highly of celibacy and singleness, and for centuries the Church honored the contributions of virgins and widows to the extent that their stories occupied the majority of Christian literature." (pg. 179)

We have this narrative in the Church that behind every great man there's a great woman, that it is the role of men to be great and to do great things, and it is the role of women to support them in their accomplishments. Men are to go forth and do great things, and women are to have a clean house and warm meal waiting for them when they return.

But the Bible has a LOT to say about how great it is to never get married. So if men can do great things either married or single, but women have to be someone's wife in order to achieve something great, we are left with two options: men have multiple wives, or women marry each other.

For the first, while it is Biblical, it's mostly been rejected. But if we're talking about Biblical roles for men and women, i guess i can't really stop you. You just have to move to Utah.

For the second, it's a little dicey. I mean, here you have two women, married to each other, making their home an absolutely perfect haven of domestic bliss: clean, orderly, well-managed, with three hot meals a day and never any quarreling or bitterness or discontent or jealousy or anything. Just two happy, domestic, virtuous women being perfect wives to one another. They may not be preaching sermons or writing books or running businesses or ministering to the heathens in foreign lands, but they can certainly feed and clothe the the poor, and they can make their home open to those who need a place to stay, and those are all important Biblical things, too. In fact, hospitality is one of the things the Bible talks about the most. Definitely way more than homosexuality. Really, if you think about it, being a married lesbian is pretty much the highest calling there could be for a Christian woman.

Or, you know, maybe women can be allowed to accomplish things outside of the house and can even be praised for and encouraged in those accomplishments. "As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ." (pg. 180)

"Traditionally, readers of the text have assumed that Jesus called the (Samaritan woman at the well) out on her loose morals, confronting the aberrant nature of her sexual history in order to convict her of her sin. But such a confident interpretation reveals a certain level of bias, for John never actually revealed the reason why the Samaritan woman had five husbands. It is just as plausible, therefore, to assume that her marital history was a tragic one -- women were not permitted to initiate divorce at that time, after all -- and that Jesus sought to acknowledge the difficult set of circumstances facing a woman in first-century Palestine. She may have been a concubine or a slave, which would explain why the man she was with was not her husband." (pg. 199)

The story of the Samaritan woman was an important one for me in coming to terms with my own sexuality, so i was very pleased to see an interpretation of her story that gives her a little more grace.

"In the biblical narrative, hierarchy enters human relationship as part of the curse, and begins with man's oppression of women -- "your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16). But with Christ, hierarchical relationships are exposed for the sham that they are, as the last are made first, the first are made last, the poor are blessed, the meek inherit the earth, and the God of the universe takes the form of a slave.

"Women should not have to pry equality from the grip of Christian men. It should be surrendered willingly, with the humility and love of Jesus, or else we miss the once radical teaching that slaves and masters, parents and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, healthy and sick, should "submit to one another" (Ephesians 5:21)."

*slow clap*

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

So there's a thing that exists that is bad and scary. Well. There are a lot of those things, but only one that i'm talking about right now.

That thing is "pro ana" culture. "Ana" is short for "anorexic", and "pro" means exactly what you think it does.

There are people who believe that anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, are perfectly fine and valid and healthy ways to live. In fact, at the very far end of the spectrum, there are people who speak directly to "Ana". You could say they worship her. They ask her for the strength of will and body to deny themselves food. They believe that they have been chosen for something special. And they look down on those who try to emulate them, calling them "wannarexics".

In middle school, and in high school, and in college, and this week, i am and have been a wannarexic.

I lack the willpower and physical strength to deny myself food entirely. If i skip a meal and do not snack, i am shaking and nauseous and dizzy and seeing spots by the time the next meal rolls around. One meal is all it takes, and i'm falling apart at the seams.

I used to be angry with myself for this. I used to be angry that i couldn't hold out for more than one meal a day, angry that i could rarely go more than a few days in a row before i stopped skipping meals and ate regularly, angry that i couldn't just stop. Stop everything. Stop being fat, stop being ugly, stop being awkward, stop feeling uncomfortable in my skin, stop feeling uncomfortable in my head, stop saying and doing embarrassing things, stop being lonely, stop being afraid, stop being sad, stop being numb, stop being.

When i got a little older and a little wiser and learned a little more about myself and nutrition and mental health, i developed a healthy fear of that anger. I figured out better, healthier habits that would actually result in weight loss without making me physically ill. I climbed mountains, i swam oceans, i lost the "freshman 15", i gained the sophomore/junior 20ish, i lost the senior year haven't-even-been-weighed-in-years-but-all-my-pants-keep-falling-down, put on the real job with an actual paycheck and car now-i-can-afford-food-and-don't-have-to-walk-two-miles-for-it. And none of it bothered me that much. I would like, even now, to jiggle a little less. I would like to feel healthier and happier in my skin. But i would also like to eat all of the chocolate cream pie right now please, thankyouverymuch, and then you can bring me the fresh bread with butter and the beer and the buffalo chicken waffle fries with extra cheese and then maybe a bowl of whipped cream. To dip my peanut butter cups in.

Anyway. I'm mostly in a much better place, and things were going well for a while, and then i lost my gym momentum and while the ten pounds i lost in the first quarter of the year have stayed off, none of their friends have joined them.

And lately i've been depressed and anxious, what with all the uncertainty about jobs and student loans and will i even be able to afford groceries this winter and oh my God what if something happens to my car and everyone in my family keeps getting rushed to the emergency room and my boyfriend and i keep having uncomfortable conversations and i can't sleep and i really wish my thighs were a little slimmer, a little firmer. I wish my stomach was flatter. I wish i didn't have the tiniest shadow of a double chin. Because somehow, if i could magically become super hot and fit overnight, that would obviously fix all of my terrifying life problems.

And then i start to feel out of control.

And then i start to wish that i was chosen. I start to be angry at myself for my lack of control, for eating more food when i really wasn't hungry (even though the "more food" was fresh veggies, or raw almonds with dried fruit, or chicken lettuce wraps). I'm angry about my lack of motivation to go to the gym. I'm angry at my apathy. I'm angry at my depression. I'm angry at my body. I'm angry at Ana.

This week, i have honestly and legitimately had a lot of work to do, and it's been hard to go home for lunch. And every day, there's been some fresh disaster on top of the huge piles of work that i didn't get a chance to finish the day before. And ordering out is, unfortunately, not in my budget right now. So i really don't have a lot of options.

But i could still leave my desk and go eat lunch. Nothing i do at my job is so urgent, so crucial, that delaying it for an hour would spell the downfall of Western civilization. It wouldn't even spell the downfall of my job. And i could still pack myself a lunch to eat at my desk, knowing how hard it will be to get away and go home. I don't have a lot of options, but "not a lot" is more than "none".

And yet.

I keep skipping lunch. I skip lunch and i eat a spoonful of peanut butter at my desk, and then i go home and eat a snack and get busy until it's too late to eat a full meal, so then i go to sleep hungry. And then i wake up hungry and don't have anything fast and easy, so i eat a spoonful of peanut butter at my desk, or some almonds and dried cherries, and i drink a lot of water and tea and pretend that the hunger pangs are dehydration.

I don't have anything clever to say about any of this. I don't have any hope to offer. I don't have a light at the end of the tunnel. But it is two o'clock now and i am heading home for lunch.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Year of Biblical Womanhood, introduction-December

"'The only people who enjoy potlucks are men,' she used to say. 'The women do all the work.'" (p. xvii, introduction) This reminded me of my old church, where we had a long-standing tradition for mother's and father's day celebrations. For mother's day, a small sum of money was set aside from the church budget, and a small gift was purchased. I remember one year, it was a pretty refrigerator magnet. Another year, i think it was a book. Little pretty gifts for each mother in the congregation. For father's day, all of the women in the church baked pies for the men to eat.

October is Rachel's month to learn gentleness. Gentleness has an unfortunate association with spinelessness. For Christian women in particular, gentleness is often contrasted with assertiveness, confidence, and an unwillingness to back down when opposed. But as Rachel learns to meditate, she learns something new. "I don't know for sure, but I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security. A great tree is both moved and unmoved, for it changes with the seasons, but its roots keep it anchored in the ground. Mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn't mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften." (p. 16)

Bad Bible translation does so much harm. The passage in Genesis describing the creation of Eve usually calls her a "helper" or "helpmeet" or something similar, all of which carry sidekick connotations. But a Jewish woman wrote to Sarah and gave her some helpful translation notes: "For the record, in Bereshit (Genesis by you) where it talks about the "helpmeet", the Hebrew is not just Ezer, but Ezer k'gnedo, which means "the help that opposes." The Rabbis explain this term like two posts of equal weight leaned against each other. They stand because of equal force." (p. 68)

From the same source: "Christians seem to think that because the Bible is inspired, all of it should be taken literally. Jews don't do this. Even though we take the Torah literally (all 613 commandments!), the rest is seen differently, as a way of understanding our Creator, rather than direct commands." (p. 87) In college, i took a course about science and religion (technically, i took two, but that's a story for another day). One of our major points of discussion was the great Evolution/Creation debate. As we discovered the science and theorized about how to reconcile it with the Bible (and as one student prayed for the souls of me and the professor), we looked at some pages in the Bible. The Creation story takes up approximately two pages. Fewer, in some Bibles, and if you have some kind of pocket-sized, large-print edition, i suppose it could take up as many as five. I have a pocket-sized Bible on my desk that is 1140 pages long. In this Bible, the Creation story takes up two pages and a few lines on a third page. The whole rest of the Bible is about the purpose of creation, about God's relationship with His creation, about "a way of understanding our Creator". Let's not get distracted by the little stuff, okay?

"The Proverbs 31 woman is a star not because of what she does but how she does it -- with valor. So do your thing. If it's refurbishing old furniture -- do it with valor. If it's keeping up with your two-year-old -- do it with valor. If it's fighting against human trafficking . . . leading a company . . . or getting other people to do  your work for you -- do it with valor."