Sunday, September 19, 2010

I changed my blog name (I'm sure you noticed!)

I was getting pretty bored of "Melissa's Space" as my title/blog name. It wasn't very inspiring. I hope you don't mind!

I woke up this a.m. at 8:40. And got myself and three little piggies to church by 9:04. Since we moved churches I'm enjoying being 5 minutes down the road instead of half an hour, making mornings like this possible. Several times a year, my church does a month long "Ask Anything" series, where the congregation is asked to contribute questions they have about faith, Christianity, the Bible, or life and religion, and the most frequently asked or in depth questions are then used as sermon topics, as we engage with what the Bible has to say, how the church in general has felt/feels about a certain topic, and how OUR church fits into that. It's interesting, to say the least. And interesting to gauge my own reactions to sermons. For example, I personally *don't* think being gay is wrong...but when that topic was tackled by my church I was surprised to find myself uncomfortable with the idea of attending a church that doesn't believe homosexuality is wrong. SO ODD. I like being the fringe thinker, the one who challenges the outer ring of our beliefs (not that openly or vociferously because I hate alienating people), but I'm not ready to be immersed in a fully fringe thinking church. ??? Something to wrestle with. Because I was *also* not that comfortable listening to a sermon that tried really hard to be nice about it, but decidedly alienated anyone who is gay. Not that many people there on that Sunday were likely gay, but if they were, it would not have been nice for them to listen to. Not the worst they have likely encountered, but not good either.

Anyways, that was interesting for me to note about myself, considering my reaction to that particular sermon. That was last February.
Today's Ask Anything sermon was on the existence of hell. Of all things. And I had a LOT of trouble with this one!!! I didn't realize how I really felt about the afterlife until this morning, when I got to gauge my reaction to THIS sermon! I learned a few things, namely that Hades (often translated as 'hell' in the Old Testament) is, simply, 'the afterlife.' The intermediary, bodiless place where people's souls go to after death. In Hades, there is a separation between those who choose God and those who do not. Those who choose Him, live in the Paradise portion of Hades (also referred to as 'Abraham's breast' or 'Abraham's side'). Those who choose NOT Him, live in the Agony portion of Hades. The two are traditionally thought to be separated by a chasm, though there appears to be at least occasional communication between the two sides.
Jesus refers to the Day of Judgement as being a day when our earthly bodies are resurrected and the 'wheat is separated from the chaff,' and further separation into life with God for those who chose Him, and eternal separation from Him for those who choose not Him. (I don't like to say choose against Him, because for many it's not really an 'against,' in their minds. It's simply not choosing God).
Part of the question about the existence of hell was: is there really no chance after death to choose Christ?
The answer given this morning was NO, there really is no chance after death. But I couldn't see where in the Bible or common sense or God's character (as presented this morning), this was definitively true. I believe firmly in individual choice and the existence of love. If we cannot choose whether to love God or not, it is not truly love. Not every Christian in history has believed in Free Will, but I certainly do.
George MacDonald, a theologian and writer from the Victorian era, wrote numerous books about the afterlife, in which all of us are repeatedly culled for the chaff of evil, and eventually fully redeemed into Jesus' arms. See, I have a profound problem with this. If I can't choose NOT God, then my professed love isn't love at all, but a robotic foregone conclusion.
But I guess, based on my reaction to today's sermon, I also have a problem with the idea that our death means the end of all choices. I also don't think it'll be much of a Paradise if I can see all these loved ones on the other side of the Hades chasm. Is life some great mysterious guessing game as to which God to follow based on a Holy Book and explanatory narrative that differs wildly in beliefs from (yet shares many similarities in narrative to) other gods and holy books, and then after death we're all stunned to realize WHO'S IN and WHO'S OUT and don't get to change the choices we made in virtual darkness before? This seems colossally unfair for a God who professes to have Justice as a core characteristic of His being.
And besides, Catholicism has an intermediary Purgatory stage after death, though I'm not sure if that state includes an opportunity to re-choose God or not God...but this belief system wasn't even acknowledged in the sermon this morning. I wanted it to be.
Our entire lives seem to be a series of making decisions in the dark with little information, requiring leaps of faith. Marriage, children, careers, post secondary educational paths, parenting, religion, etc, etc. What is it about the leaping that God finds so imperative to the human existence? And what about it represents TRUE choice when it comes to God or not God?
Or, perhaps, my profound belief in choice and free will is not actually true? Or at least not as imperative as it is in my worldview.

Phew. All that in half an hour.

Then we walked several blocks to the river and watched 7 people be baptized. I love baptisms. To me they are like weddings. Lotsa love, lotsa celebration, lotsa joy. A public declaration of love. It was fun to have my kids watch and absorb such a foundational ceremony on a real beach beside a real river on a rainy September morning. I should have driven to the river instead of walked, though. Pregnant, carrying a two year old, herding two older kids, by myself? I was kind of irritated at our society's (a) lack of courtesy towards *others*--namely, moms with kids who are struggling and pregnant and obviously going it alone, since many, many people passed me trekking slowly along with nary an offer of help [disclaimer: on the way back to church after the baptism someone I know who has 2 small kiddos passed me with both his kids in a wagon and offered to also carry Riley in the wagon, so all is not lost in the courtesy department...but I KNOW him: what happened to courtesy towards people we don't know? Or those in different life stages than us? Tons of university aged men fully strong and capable enough of helping me passed me on the way to the river, as well as women who could have helped me herd my older kids], and (b) a profound undercurrent of disapproval and fear of 'strange men' interacting with kids that reveals a perverted lack of trust in men in general that I find supremely offensive, and is likely at the root of the above lack of courtesy.
Do you know what virtually ALL sexual abusers have in common? A history of abuse toward themselves as children. And an addiction to porn.
Is there any way we could, as a society, create more of an open dialogue, which leads to early recognition, and effective treatment or support for children who are abused so they DON'T grow up into abusers?
And also, is there any way we could, as a society, obliterate pornography as truly broken sexual expressions, and discriminatory towards both men AND women instead of embracing and normalizing it, making it a tool for some abuse survivors to become abusers? I don't mean make it illegal. I mean stand up and choose against pornography? Christians (largely) seem to acknowledge the unhealthy nature of pornography, but the rest of society doesn't.
Anyways, I think we tend to paint all men with the potential abuser brush in an attempt to protect our kids but we wind up twisting the very nature of what is GOOD and not actually avoiding any expression of abuse. Because alienating men from children they don't know is not actually addressing the root of the problem of sexual abuse.
I hate that my boys will have to grow up with a sense of caution around how their actions with children will be perceived, being painted with the abuser brush and isolating themselves as an essential part of raising children as a village instead of isolated nuclear pods, perpetuating this unhealthy myth and robbing children and men of the many joys and lessons of interacting with each other.

Not that sexual abuse isn't a hugely horrific problem. This NEEDS to be something we address, especially because it's actually conjectured to be so prevalent. I think 1 in 4 girls encounters some form of sexual abuse by the time she is an adult? And a great many boys do, too. But isolating children from all contact with men isn't healthy, and it doesn't address or reduce the problem.

I think I got off on several tangents, there. Oops!

I was also going to write about my reaction to some of the we're all homeschoolers carnival posts, but this is long enough already. So I think I'll just end there, with all my opinions and guts hanging all over the road for everyone to see.
What else is new? That's my style.


Asheya said...

I really admire your ability to be in a community of faith with people who are not necessarily all on the same page (as you, but maybe also as each other?) on such issues as homosexuality, hell etc. I'm in a place of pushing the boundaries I grew up with, but I just can't reconcile with going to a church that doesn't support that.

Hell, love, free will...I tend to think that love will eventually win, not because free will is abandoned, but because love never fails. Also because at the core of human nature is the desire to be loved, and this is expressed in all sorts of ways and there's all sorts of layers that cover up and try to fill this need, but essentially, love that accepts all of who we are and still keeps loving is what all of us are living for. And our inability to accept or give love is a result of our wounds, some very, very deep, but wounds can be healed.

Also, it's not like life on earth is a matter of free will. We don't get to choose to be born. We can choose to die, but I hope it's not over after that. I wonder if the afterlife will be like being born here: it's not really a matter of choice, after all? But if is, then I definitely want an INFORMED choice, with all the facts, please! My gut feeling right now is that protestant Christianity has misinterpreted the New Testament in regards to hell the same way that the Jews misinterpreted the Messiah. The Jews expected a conquering hero, someone to win a military victory and bring them peace and freedom. Instead, Jesus died. I can't help wondering if something similar goes on in the afterlife, if instead of punishment there is some sort of rehabilitation involving God's humility, grace, and ultimate authority over death and evil.

About pornography, and here I am going to say something controversial! I don't actually think pornography is evil or even anti-feminist (which some people think is the same thing!). I think it is a valid expression of sexual exploration and sexuality, providing the participants are willing and the viewers are too.

I happen to think that the viewing of pornography is a symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself. BUT...I have only recently started viewing it this way, so I don't have a lot of reasons for my views, other than that I'm just exploring new ways of thinking about traditional, conservative Christian topics.

Sorry to hear you didn't get help with your kids...I hear you on that one. I have vowed that when my kids are older I will try to be aware of moms (and dads) who are struggling with small kids and offer to help.

tamie said...

Mel, you're a genius--as I've said before--and I love you. Also, I identify with you on so much stuff. Like, how I like to be on the fringes and start to get itchy if I'm part of a group where everyone believes the same things. I'll have to think more about that one. I do like being part of communities where discrimination isn't the norm though, but what tends to happen often, in those communities, is that they get all arrogant and uppity about how non-discriminating they are. And also, they are definitely discriminatory against "white trash" or "conservatives" or whatever. Ay yi yi.

Man, every time I read a post of yours about parenting and how others perceive parents, I think, I have to be different than that! I want to help moms who are struggling to carry all their kids! But I think it's so tough because I'm worried I'll be perceived as butting in or something, you know? Or like I'll be giving the mom the message that she's incompetent. I really want to help parents around me, but am often unsure how.

I don't believe in hell. And I LOVE your assessment of the guessing game that so many people seem to think life is. What the fuck, man. It's such bullshit. Like, if you happened to be born zulu and never heard of Jesus, well, sucks to be you. Or, if you happened to have been abused in a church and therefore rejected church/God/Jesus, well, guess you made the wrong "choice." BULLSHIT!!!!

Not that I have strong opinions.

I have strong opinions on porn too, and I'm with you on this one, Mel. I want to research it more too, and I'd like to write a blog on the topic soon. I'd be interested, Asheya, to hear what's changing your mind these days.

Keep writing, chica. I'm lovin' it.

lori said...

You had a really full day of thoughts - woo, boy! I've wrestled with hell all my life and still don't have many solid conclusions. From what I gather, so much about the current fear-based evangelical understanding of hell literally came out of the Dark Ages.

I can't write a bunch at this moment - just found out I'm going to Portland tomorrow to see baby Bennett and fam!! - but I wanted to say I read your post and am resonating with it.

I found the book, "Velvet Elvis," by Rob Bell helpful. Though I'm not a mega-church fan (he's the pastor of Mars Hill), I'm certainly grateful for people thinking outside some of the boxes that stopped working for me awhile back. He says some interesting stuff (in lay person terms) about original meanings of Old and New Testament concepts and how differently we interpret them today. Another book I really dug was "The Myth of Certainty," which may be out of print but is worth getting your hands onto if you can. Addresses the whole fundamentalist approach.