theological sandbox

Thursday, August 18, 2005

saved!: review and synthesis

Now that I've given fair and prolonged warning, here comes my review of Saved!. I'll just lay it out on the table -- I love this movie despite the fact that it's a "teen movie". If I were to detail all of the reasons I love this movie, I would have to write every day for a long time, so I'll just give the highlights. Part of my affinity for the movie comes from my religious background. For anybody who's new around here, I'll give the quick version: I was raised about half and half Southern Baptist and General Baptist. Trouble began brewing the instant I enrolled in a Roman Catholic university, and about two years later I had decided to discontinue being a Baptist. You can read all about my college experience as a Southern Baptist in many of my posts -- it's kind of a recurring theme here. The movie is set in a modern but conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity (pick any label you wish, but I'm calling it CEFC from here out), and so it's an interesting view particularly for those raised CEFC and who are now not-so-CEFC.

The basic storyline of the movie is girl (Mary) has boyfriend (Dean), boyfriend comes out of the closet, girl and boyfriend have sex to save him from homosexuality, boyfriend gets shipped off to Mercy House, girl fights with best friend (Hilary Faye), girl winds up pregnant, girl tries to hide the pregnancy, girl does a lot of spiritual searching.

I love the extra touches put in to the production, such as militant virgin Hilary Faye at the Christian-owned "Emmanuel Shooting Range... an eye for an eye!", Dean's picture in the True Love Waits photo frame, the enormous poster of George W. Bush in Mary's classroom, "spotlight on the sinner" during altar call, and so on. Whether you want to admit it or not, the directors have set the story pretty well in a subculture that embraces "traditional" values and creates their own community to reflect these values (ex. American Eagle Christian High School and the Christian businesses).

The movie has several thinking moments for the viewers. The internal dialogue relayed during the back-to-school assembly is pretty representative of what I felt during my time in a similar environment. Veronica's prayer of "Thank you for sparing me from the eternal hellfires of damnation..." closely reflects my experience in CEFC with an enormous focus on hell. I think I really missed out on learning about grace and the Christian life because we focused on not going to hell and taking everybody to heaven with us. I'm not saying it's bad to recruit and convert -- I think Jesus' message was for everyone -- but there are some wrong ways of (and reasons for) going about it. One such example in the movie is the attempted exorcism of Mary by Hilary Faye, Tia, and Veronica after Pastor Skip and the three determine Mary has backslidden. Hilary Faye drives the handicapper van maniacally close to Mary, after which the girls bound off the wheelchair lift and drag Mary to the van, toting icons and the Bible. The abbreviated conversation is this...

HF: "You are backsliding into the flames of Hell
... Mary, turn away from Satan! Jesus, he loves you!"

M:"You don't know the first thing about

throwing Bible at Mary's backside]

[Mary quickly runs away confused, hurt]

For someone who is not living what you perceive as a Christian life, to the "heathen" it is quite insensitive, overbearing, and unwelcome to evangelize on them. I know of very few (if any) people who would actually pull an exorcism stunt, but you don't have to stuff someone into a van and try to exorcise them to hurt them and turn them away from Christ. I grew up CEFC and every time someone tried to evangelize on me, I only wanted to not accept Christ even more. As we know, I caved at one point. I'm also very hurt from all the years of pushy evangelizing and other aspects of CEFC.

I think that one of best examples of a Christian life in this movie is of Cassandra, the only Jew at the CEFC high school. She'd been kicked out of every school and decided Christian school was better than homeschool; rumors circulated that she was a stripper. At one point she befriends both Roland and Mary; in my mind she does a better job of showing Christlike love than the Christians. When Cassandra discovers Mary is pregnant, Cassandra has compassion on Mary; she offers her support to desperate/emotionally taxed Mary, even taking her to buy maternity clothes to wear instead of an obnoxious and oversized Santa sweater. Maybe it wasn't best to illegally obtain Hilary Faye's credit card to buy all the clothes, but before you judge that action remember that Jesus showed compassion to those in need, even illegally healing a man on the Sabbath. I believe Jesus was a lot more of a rebel than many Christians would like to admit, but that's for another post.

In contrast, Hilary Faye's course of Christian action is committing vandalism (pinning it on Mary and company) and trying to get the trio kicked out of prom. She holds that the trio's presence should not be allowed because of their (actually Hilary Faye's) prior actions and loudly protests when Pastor Skip announces that the Christian thing to do would be to let them stay. She screams

"The Christian thing to do? I've been doing the
'Christian' thing my entire life! I did not have sex with a gay and try to blame
it on Jesus .. Oh shut up you fornicator!"

The rant continues, but the point is Hilary Faye is obviously under the assumption that she has Christianity all figured out and refuses to let that assumption be challenged. I've felt the same way in my life, and now I realize how incorrect in thinking I had everything figured out. I see bits of myself (old and new) in both the old Hilary Faye and the new Mary.

The final prom scene especially made me think. From my point of view, I think it chiefly deals with homosexuality, differences in the church, and moral gray/black-white area; the only reason I'm not going to fully address it here is that I think people need to see it on their own and apply it to their situation instead of me imposing my interpretation on them. It is extremely quotable, but instead of quoting I'll be cruel and suggest viewing the movie for yourself.

I've heard some objections from Christians that the only likeable character is the Jewish girl and all the Christians are demonized. I can see the complaint, but only to a [miniscule] point. The Jewish girl isn't likeable because she is a non Christian, it's because she's more entertaining and shows Christ's love better than quite a few of the Christian characters. While Hilary Faye is busy condemning Mary for her sins, Cassandra offers her love and help to a very reluctant Mary. So far, all the recovering CEFCs I know who have seen this movie wholeheartedly recommend it to others. For those who are still CEFC and fear being offended by the movie, I really don't think you will be offended if you watch the movie honestly and with an open (prayerful, or whatever term you want to use) heart/mind.

I give it two knitting needles up -- but really, go see it for yourself.

Monday, July 18, 2005

retraction of faith?, part two

I feel like a bit of a heathen for even writing this (though not too ashamed to post it), but I not-quite-so-faintly remember getting saved once to get a church camp counselor off my back. The same goes for remembering my friend Stacie tell me that she did the same to get her neighbors off her back. I still avoid car rides with a "certain family member" because of 20 or so too many Spanish Inquisition-esque rides. Do ya think.. maybe confrontational witnessing and conversions aren't the best idea?

I wonder how many others can say the same about their experiences with churches. And I feel bad for anybody who relates, because I feel bitter and I can only guess that they feel bitter as well. It wrenches me to think about all the people that have been hurt by churches and have abandoned faith because of it. I can't help but think that if there truly is a hell, there's a special place reserved for those who have abused their powers in the church or who have otherwise inflicted harm in the name of Jesus. No, I don't think that I've been especially abused, but there was enough maltreatment to make me wonder about spiritual abuse.

I've been extremely lucky to have met people who have lived a similar life and have been able to help me out of that and into a new life. For once in my life, I don't feel guilty about thinking/reasoning about a particular issue that has Biblical perspectives instead of going to the KJV and reading what came straight from the mouth of God (sarcasm). I look forward to going to church every week instead of finding excuses as to why I don't have to go or sucking it up and filling my seat despite my dread. I don't fear the wrath of God for taking communion with one sin that I might have forgot to confess. I'm not guilted into playing roles I wasn't meant to play. The people that I'm around now make me happy to call myself a Christian and be part of that community; the people I knew before made me kind of ashamed, but of course I couldn't admit it -- being ashamed of the Father would deny me entry to Heaven upon my death. It is the latter sort that make me want to retract my faith and profess again in the tradition of the former sort. I still don't think it would really do me any good, but I have to admit I entertain the thought frequently.

In related news, it looks as though a friend from
the church I recently resigned from seeks to leave that church. She isn't entirely sure if she just wants to leave that church, Southern Baptists, or Baptists in general, (she definitely wishes to remain a Christian) but I think I made it clear that exploring [and eventually leaving] has been one of the best things I did and that she is always welcome to come with me to religious functions or take me to church visits for moral support.

One of the things frustrating her is the "sink or swim" mentality for new converts and members. There isn't a real concerted effort to help newbies live the Christian life or even deepen their faith, it's more "Eh, if you make it, great. If not.. well.. hm." I've been thinking and I've come to the conclusion that this sprouts from the dominant Calvinist stance adopted by the congregation. If God has chosen you, you will flourish as a Christian. If not, you must not have been destined to be a Christian. Sorry, sinner.

She's also seen the the group change as I have; after my leaving apparently one of the leaders began observing and noticed a change as well. I feel bad, but this leader took it a bit hard because I was a good member and I was one that he helped "recruit" and look after. I would love to discuss anything with him and I have nothing but high regard for him to this day. The other [more long-standing] leader, not so much. I had hoped that my leaving would have some effect, but understood that it may not have an effect because I wasn't a long-standing member of the group; I was just a newbie excited to have Christian fellowship and willing to help out. Something in those sentences should indicate a serious problem about not only retention but group dynamics and leadership.

Suffice it to say that leaving is wrenching my friend because she is a long-standing member of this church. Exploring (with probable leaving) is hard for her and also hard for me, but for different reasons. For me, it's because I would love for her to arrive at the same religious place as me. This place includes acceptance of female ordination, totally open communion, infant baptism, and other ideas; not necessarily endorsement (though I do for the most part), but more so the acceptance that those ideas aren't automatically dangerous and wrong because they aren't your personal beliefs. Someone recently said that the United Methodist Church is so great because "we've got plenty of nuts on both sides of the fence" and I couldn't agree more. However, I know she (like most people) isn't going to be able to neatly leap from one group to another and it's going to be hard for me to remember that. I know I sure didn't, and for the sake of both of us I need to remember that.

Coming soon: a review of Saved!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

retraction of faith?, part one

At times, the way I was brought to "faith" in Christ makes me outraged and makes me want to retract my original acceptance and profess anew. I put faith in "quotes" because I'm not entirely sure that it was faith I was brought to (athough I am there now). I think I may have done it more out of peer pressure/emotional manipulation/sheer terror than anything. The kind of Christianity I grew up in was based in scare tactics, manipulation, and a bunch of teachings that I now find to be pretty much off-base. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was going to Hell, for every time I had to sit through a sermon on fire & brimstone, for every time someone cornered me about getting saved, or for every time I was reminded that Jesus was coming again soon and if I didn't get saved, I would be left behind to suffer (with no hope of repenting), I would be a filthy rich person. Albeit a filthy rich person who gives a lot of money to charity.

By the standards of many whom I grew up around, I held out for a loooooooong time. Twelve years, if you're wondering. That's close to or under the age that most children go through Confirmation or Bat/Bar Mitzvah. Conversions and subsequent baptisms at the age of five or six weren't too uncommon in my area. I don't know why I held out so long; maybe I subconsciously knew it was wrong, maybe it was the rebellious streak in me, or maybe it was that I was just stubborn, although I think it was probably a combination of the three. Throughout my life, I distinctly remember 45 minute sermons on salvation (although usually any topic could bring about this pastoral response) followed by prolonged altar calls, usually involving the pastor proclaiming "Someone needs to get saved! I can feel it, I can feel it! If you're under conviction -- and I know you are -- just walk down this aisle here and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior!" while the congregation sings 17 verses of "Just As I Am".

I finally caved when I was about 12. Maybe 11, but at least 11 1/2. I know people that would be horrified that I cannot remember the exact date, time, year, and et cetera when I accepted Christ. I only know that it was a Friday night, sometime in the summer and that's only because it was the last night of Vacation Bible School: the night when the pastor gathers all the kiddos who seem to be old enough to decide to accept Christ (after a week of education, most of it about Bible stories and not about the Christian life).

Well, I thought I was going to make it without caving, and I nearly did -- I was one of the last (if not the last) to walk down the aisle. I went because I couldn't stand what the sight of about 15 of my friends (and not-quite-enemies) kneeling and sobbing in the front of the church did to me. I thought it was because I "wanted what they had" but looking back, what was there to want? Nobody looked any happier for it until someone congratulated them afterward with a humongous smile and let them know they should be happy. The sight of it all tore me apart and made me cry; apparently thinking that I could stop that feeling if I went forward, I left my seat and my sin. I'll not bore you with the details -- it was the pretty standard conversion, complete with The Sinner's Prayer.

Side note: out of everybody who got saved at the same time as me -- about 15 of us -- I'm the only one still practicing Christianity.. but PRAIIIZE JEEEZUZ we got some more souls into the Kingdom!

You may wonder (or sympathize) at why I'm so outraged at this method, so outraged that at times I feel like retracting that conversion and making a new commitment (I have no intentions on discontinuing my Christian life). It's because I didn't truly make a decision to follow Christ, I made a decision to follow the masses and to let my emotions dictate my actions. I wasn't really taught about what the Christian life entailed, nor was I until much, much later; neither was I seen as a full member of the church once it happened. I was "just a child", which was ok for a bit but particularly frustrating while I was a teenager telling off people for calling me a child; in my mind, teenagers are NOT the same people as three year olds and should be treated accordingly. This was also especially frustrating when I was 19/20 and my responsibilities had completely changed, but nobody bothered to tell me. It's also because once I made my conversion, I still had to go through these @#*^@&* altar calls on a frequent basis. The emotions and conviction didn't leave me; now I was still called to go forward in an effort to encourage others to go forward. In fact, I definitely remember being urged to "rededicate my life" if I felt the Holy Spirit's moving, which was supposed to feel like your heart racing. I think that's more of a medical thing, possibly high blood pressure, and most people probably had that "feeling" because of too much fried chicken at the last fellowship supper.

I think my rant has went long enough for one day and I'll continue this in a day or few.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

poverty breeds violence

[begin admittedly long rant]
Why isn't poverty seen as a real problem to more Christians? Unfortunately, we have denominations and groups who don't really see poverty as a problem, particularly the impoverished in my country - the United States. The expressed opinion I hear from many (though not shared by all) is that if you're poor, it's your fault. We have no obligation to help you - you could work. I don't live and work so that you can live and not work.

Fact of the matter is, this isn't the case for all impoverished people. Certainly, there are people who elect to not work and just live off public assistance. However, I think they are a small minority; far more people are victims of generational poverty or poverty acquired because of a lack of education, difficulty making a living wage, excessive debt incurred because of health care, or the incredible challenge of being a single parent.

Furthermore, poverty is not seen as an issue for many because it is perceived that another's poverty does not affect them; they ignore that fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering. If one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. They are also too short-sighted to see that poverty breeds a host of problems including economic struggle for all and violence. I'll put the economic reasons aside and just discuss something that is generally perceived as a problem for all: violence. When resources (including money) are not readily available in a legal and reasonably easy manner, people resort to other means.

Guess what? People who deal drugs aren't dealing drugs because it's a fun career with plenty of opportunities. No. It's a dead-end career and too often, quite literally. They are dealing drugs because it puts food on the table and keeps the lights on. It's not seen as illegal, it's seen as a way of providing for your family. "Drug deals don't happen on my street -- what does this have to do with me?" Plenty. Ever been concerned for your safety? Part of that can be attributed to drug deals -- drug deals go awry and violence happens. Allegiances are formed and broken and violence happens. The cycle repeats itself over and over. Your personal welfare is in jeopardy, largely because of poverty.

I write as a female living in a metropolitan area with a high rate of crime. The upside to the high rate of crime (if there is any at all) is that most crime seems to happen between people who somehow know each other, it's not random shootings. Unfortunately, that crime comes from people desperate to end their poverty through drugs, auto theft, and robbery. Given that none of my friends participate in these activities, my safety is still at risk because violence happens to innocent bystanders and victims. My personal safety is more so at stake, when considered that I am usually unaccompanied in my car (which is quite old, but not horribly nasty either) or while walking across campus. I live in a wealthy suburb, but concern for my safety prevents me from enjoying walks down a residential street. Local residents' concern for their kids' safety leads them to keep their kids away from anybody walking through the neighborhood (I'll leave out the prejudices I perceive from them).

To me, what is worst of all is that this is preventable. Given a legal, law-abiding way of making a living wage to provide for oneself/family, I think most people would gladly choose the legal way over the illegal way. However, the legal routes aren't open for everyone because of poverty which prevents people from wearing the "right" clothes to a job interview and from obtaining a better education to make themselves more qualified.

I wish I had an answer to end the problem of poverty, truly I do. I realize I probably will not come up with the answer to the problem, but I think we can start by abandoning the notion that poverty isn't a real problem for our society and recognizing that poverty is a problem to everybody and it has many effects.

[end admittedly long rant]

Friday, July 01, 2005

how appropriate

How many deaths did I die
Before I was awakened to new life again?
How many half truths did bear witness to
‘Til the proof was disproved in the end?
How long? How far?
What was meant to illuminate shadowed me still
And all you ever wanted…

And all I have is gratitude
To offer you
--Nichole Nordeman, "Holy" from Woven & Spun

There's totally a reason why I love Nichole Nordeman's lyrics -- so often, they express what I can't. The song came over my Launch player this afternoon and I thought 'how appropriate' particularly this part. It totally coincided with my life before leaving .
- How many times did I confess my "sin" and guiltily promise to live a perfect life, only to fail and repeat the cycle?
- How liberated did I feel when I left an oppressive church and went to another that supported and affirmed me?
- How many times did I hold up my beliefs as absolute truth to others?
- How stupid and apologetic did I feel when I found out not only had I been lied to, but as a result I'd lied to others?
- I was supposed to bring light to "a dark, Godless world" but I felt darkened and unable to admit it .
- I don't even have the words to express myself except complete appreciation and gratitude.

The sad thing is, [nameless family member] is still caught up in uber-conservative/religious right/fundamentalism/whatever-you-want-to-call-it Christianity and stops short of branding me a heretic. Even sadder, I'm unable to discuss the situation becuse [name] can't discuss religious matters in a logical or rational manner. Maybe someday she'll see the light, but I'm not going to cram my religion down her throat like [name] did to me for so many years.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

dirty dish baptism

This morning, as I washed some outstanding dishes, I noticed that I wash dishes like a Methodist. Yet another thing that would make my mother roll: I don't wash dishes with the only approved method, immersion washing (can you tell I was raised Baptist?). I pour and subsequently scrub with a really soapy sponge.

When I initially got involved with the United Methodists, I was attending a Southern Baptist church. Needless to say, some people were averse to the involvement (I didn't even intend to convert!). Most of the voiced reasons for opposition surrounded "women preachers and baby baptism." I have to admit, these things were problems for me at first as well; I had grown up being told that women were not allowed to be ordained for anything, collect the offering, distribute communion, or be an equal in decisions because God ordained it that way and that's all there is to it ("but we promote female equality" - HA!). God bless my female friend who taught me to knit and revealed that she was going to seminary to be ordained as a minister. She also introduced me to her (and now my wonderful, invaluable) female campus minister who is ironically enough, ordained by a lesser-known Baptist denomination. Objections gone. If God calls you to the ministry, who are we to tell you that you aren't allowed to fulfill your call?

Now remaining was the issue of "baby baptism." Again, I had always been told that the only acceptable form of baptism was consenting immersion/Believer's Baptism. As I remember the official teaching, it doesn't have any saving powers, but it's a commandment of our Lord; therefore, no other form is acceptable. I don't remember Jesus saying Go into all parts of the world, pray The Sinner's Prayer, perform Believer's Baptism, and make disciples. It was something more like what the TNIV records (yes, that heretic version...) in Matthew 28:16-20:

(16) Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. (17) When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (18) Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

So yes, you can make a pretty good argument for the commandment of baptism as part of the Christian life. However, Believer's Baptism isn't specifically commanded or mentioned. We have no indication that Jesus accepted himself as his personal Savior before going into the Jordan River. It is only believed that this was the beginning of his public, "Christian" ministry.

So if your tradition says that the beginning of Christian life is baptism, do you never lead a Christian life if you are unable to be baptized (it happens) or if you profess your faith and are baptized a month later, does it begin when the water hits your head? It seems illogical to me to buy into those thoughts. I could argue a lot more, but I won't. Maybe later, after I've washed more dishes.

Not that everybody has to agree with me, but I see baptism as more of an entrance rite, much like circumcision to the Jews. I don't believe that any salvation is bestowed upon the recipient and I believe in the value of children being welcomed as part of the Christian community. Sometimes kids see it so clearly and have to demonstrate it to adults. Earlier this month while waiting for my turn in the Communion line, I noticed a little girl who had received return to her seat, joyfully dancing the entire way. I think this girl's on to something! Sometimes I think I learn more from the kids' responses during the Children's Sermon than from the adult sermon where we sit and listen and don't get treats at the end.

And all this started because I decided to wash some dishes.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

random thoughts

So it's been awhile since I've posted on here. I'm reminded of a joke I came across years ago and whispered to friends in the back pew of our conservative/fundamentalist Baptist church for fear of being overheard by a deacon.

There are three religious truths:
1) Jews do not recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.

2) Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian church.
3) Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters.

Funny, but sadly true. The Good Ol' Boys Club still exists (shhh). Wanna know what religion Bill Clinton claims? You guessed it - Southern Baptist. I think the sadder thing is that while some people will proclaim that imbibing liquor and performing certain other actions are sins, they still do it/them and condemn those who do. Modern-day Pharisees. At least I own up to my anticipation of drinking a rather large Mudslide when I'm done with my American History class (five weeks!).

Although I said I wouldn't, I'm really thinking about joining the church I first visited back in January and have been "regular visiting" since. I really enjoy the people there and how I can serve, but I know that once the regular academic year starts up, my ability to serve will be considerably diminished or obliterated because of school and campus ministry obligations. I'm still thinking about it; however, I can't help but be reminded that I actually enjoy attending and participating in church, something I detested right up until this year.