When I was around 20 years old, I hit rock bottom. I was losing touch with reality, I was in a mutually abusive relationship, and I sought comfort in the arms of men over and over again. My best friend and room mate suggested innocently that I speak to her youth pastor from high school. I was desperate and willing to try anything.
I sat on our stoop in the fading sunlight pressing through the trees, listening to the man on the other end of the line tell me who I was according to my experiences and according to scripture...
God's Unfaithful Bride.
He asked me to open up a bible and read with him through chapter 16 of the book of Ezekiel. He told me that from birth I was wretched, sinful, and unwanted. Then God came, found me, and took care of me as his own daughter. He washed me, made me beautiful, and made me his. But I played the harlot. I was unfaithful. I slept around and sought out other men. And because of my sinful behavior, God let me become worse than a prostitute. He let me become a whore. And in his rage, I am now being punished by God. He will take all of my lovers and gather them around me, expose my nakedness, and let them do to me as they wish. And only after that will his fury subside, he will calm toward me.
Yeah, so, that youth pastor pretty much told me God was going to let my lovers gang rape me.
My friend and I talked yesterday about how growing up in the church and in evangelical Christian culture really set us up for failure. We grew up around people who liked to tell us things that God told them to speak over us. We grew up hearing messages that said God has a unique and special purpose for each one of us. We grew up hearing that everything we do should be for the glory of God, should be full of intention, and divinely-inspired. We grew up thinking we were supposed to single-handedly change the world.
And then we grew up.
My friend has her own business, but still has to work a full-time job to make end's meet. She had a vision and purpose for her business, fueled by a desire to build a beautiful and enriching Christ-like community that blessed everyone that came in through the front door. You know what she told me yesterday? "I feel like a failure." Because it's not exactly those things. Because it doesn't facilitate her true desire. Because it's still a financial burden and will take a while to pay off.
As a child and teenager, people liked to tell me how smart I was. They liked to tell me that I could do anything I put my mind to. Then, when I started going to church, people liked telling me what God wanted me to do with my life. They liked telling me these visions that God had given them for me. For example, one person's vision that I was standing in front of thousands of people, sharing the gospel with them. And another person's vision that I would be a famous worship leader and tour around the world with my husband. And then someone else's vision that me teaching yoga has brought a curse upon my family.
In case you're not familiar, these kinds of things are usually called "prophetic words." But this is what the apostle Paul says about the prophetic:
My husband and I lay in bed last night, talking about our future.
We talked about the idea of a second child. We talked about finances. We talked about having less, needing more, feeling strapped. I think those conversations naturally turn into discussions of control.
Control is addicting, but there's no room for it in a joyful life.
I am happier than I have ever been. I've been going to therapy for six months. My child is beautiful, joyful, and healthy. My husband has a good job where he feels appreciated. I am writing more and stepping toward my passions. But those things aren't rooted in taking control of my life. They're actually born from me being willing to let go.
I think I'm starting to realize that for me, faith is about release. It's about taking the pressure off of myself and trusting that if I am pursuing what is true, good, and loving...then the rest will fall into place. It doesn't mean there will be more money. It doesn't mean that everything will be easy. It doesn't mean calamity won't befall us. It's just about loosening my grip so that I can be present, so that my future isn't blocked by fear.
It's a popular word in Christian jargon.
"I'm just in a season of humility right now."
"He's in a mourning season."
Is God telling you something you already know?
A group of French researchers recently conducted a study on sleep and dreams. They discovered that people who often recall their dreams tend to be bad sleepers, easily influenced by external stimuli (i.e. noises, light). But they figured out something else: the sleeping brain cannot memorize or learn new information.
The word "dream" occurs six times in the New Testament, all in the Gospel of Matthew. Five of those occur in the first two chapters. God communicates to people through dreams, thus influencing them to make very important decisions in their waking lives. For instance, he tells a man named Joseph not to divorce the young and pregnant Mary who happens to be carrying "somebody else's" baby.
Have you ever had a gut feeling that you ignored?
You know what I'm talking about. There's something you know without a doubt that you should do, but you're worried about what other people will think, or you're afraid you'll do it wrong. You second guess yourself into doing nothing, and then later you regret it.
Have you ever heard something so many times, that after a while it just doesn't ring as true?
There are a few verses in Peter's first epistle that I think make for a classic example. They're from chapter three, and discuss how wives should conduct themselves. They suggest submission, timidity, purity, humility, and gentleness. It's a hard description to embody, especially if you don't really want to in the first place. But time and again, these verses are given to unmarried women, and to wives experiencing marital hardship.
Stepford Wives comes to mind.
Remember the little boy Peter who cried wolf? He kept fooling his neighbors, until one day he finally meant what he said. The word "wolf" at last matched the thing he was identifying. I feel that way about these verses. I think we've been told they mean one thing over and over again. It leaves a bitter taste in our mouths because we can't live up to it. We can't possibly be this perfect, infallible lady. And a lot of us don't want to be. So, I decided to unpack the Greek a little more than usual, to see if maybe we've been crying wolf all this time.
"God bless us, everyone!"
Remember Tiny Tim? I think my favorite adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is by the Muppets. Robin the Frog, Kermit's nephew, plays poor, sick Tiny Tim Cratchit in the movie. His family is terribly poor, humble, and kind. In the end, Ebenezer Scrooge blesses the Cratchit family with food and riches on Christmas day.
In the Sermon on the Mount (or the Hill if you're reading the Gospel of Luke), Jesus talks about blessing. He says the poor in spirit are blessed, those who mourn are blessed, the meek are blessed, those who desire righteousness are blessed, the merciful are blessed, the pure in heart are blessed, the peacemakers are blessed, the persecuted are blessed.
In context, here the word "blessed" is used to congratulate. As in, "Congratulations! You just won the lottery!" So, if you're meek, congratulations! You just inherited the earth! It's kind of funny to imagine Jesus like the guy from Publishers Clearing House showing up with a big check.
But just like the lottery, God's blessing doesn't discriminate based upon one's character.
Esquire recently published an excerpt from The Moth about exorcism. After studying depression treatments for years and being treated himself, Andrew Solomon wanted to research different methods from cultures all over the world. His journey took him to Senegal where he met a woman who performed exorcisms and was willing to do one for Solomon. He agreed and was exorcised, a ritual that included a sacrificial ram, being covered in blood, calling out spirits, and all the locals taking off from work to cheer Solomon on.
Five years later, he has a conversation with a guy in Rwanda who tells Solomon that they had to send away a bunch of Western mental health workers after the genocide.
“Instead, they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to get them to leave the country.”
In chapter 12, Jesus talks about an unclean spirit that's cast out of a person, who goes around looking for a place to rest. When the spirit can't find one, he figures he can just go back to where he came from. Jesus describes the person as a house, neat and tidy, swept clean and in order. The spirit calls up his pals and they all move in because even though the house was clean, it was empty.
Welcome to grow!
My name is Natasha and I am using this little corner of the wonderful wide web to share my unconventional musings pertaining to biblical scripture. I have a B.A. in Religious Studies, having focused on the Christian Tradition by specializing in Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew. Does that make me a genius? No. Does that make me right? No. But what it does make me is curious, and I think that is a vital trait when it comes to reading the bible.
grow. is a safe place for asking hard questions about the biblical text. grow. is a community - your community - where you can bounce ideas off of a supportive sounding board. grow. is for encouraging all of us to read the bible, not because it makes us more religious or faithful, but because we should know what it says for ourselves and not hear it second hand.
So, if you're new here, a couple things you can do:
I make stereotypical jokes about my ethnicity to break the ice with people. I might get a few laughs, but I end up backing myself into a corner. Breaking the ice with a joke at my expense erases my individuality. I give people permission to marginalize me with humor and to associate me with politically incorrect labels. This says something about my heart,
about my lack of self-esteem,
about my need for validation,
about my inferiority complex.
Jesus gets super impatient with some of the religious folks and his disciples because everyone is focused on manmade traditions that have somehow come to supersede the commandments. When a group gives him a hard time about washing your hands before you eat, the crap kind of hits the fan. Jesus says it's not what goes into your mouth, but what comes out of your mouth that defiles you, because what comes out of your mouth comes from your heart.