Bow down, bitches, and I shall lift thee up

One of the elders from the church I used to belong to loves Africa. Many sermons contain references to things witnessed during his travels there. Usually these anecdotes fueled the romanticized white saviour mentality endemic to “mission work”.

This elder described witnessing a traditional greeting among one particular tribe from a place I do not remember.

Women always wore a sturdy apron because when they greeted a man, they fell on their knees with their heads down. They remained this way until the man fulfilled his part of the traditional greeting by doing something that allowed them to stand back up. I forget if it was a pat on the shoulder or something else, but it hit a cringe factor in me, mostly because I had experienced something similar and felt condescended to.

I waited for what spiritual truth this greeting would illustrate. Was it maybe Galatians 3:28  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  That we don’t need to have anyone debase themselves because Christianity brought equality? (Yes, I actually thought that, and yes, its totally colonialistic.)

No. This elder got weepy and wistful. He talked about how beautiful that greeting was. How this was a beautiful enactment of proper gender roles.

Women are always more beautiful and godly when submitting-  oh if only Canadian women could greet men like that. Plus giant aprons covering the knees mean more modesty! (aaahh!)

Because the man was supposed to use his authority (and superiority) to lift women up! After they bow down before him. Because men are like god and women are the fallen creation.

Did it not occur to him that it was actually two adult humans, both walking, until one of them had to do a display of subservience until permitted to resume to the original position? That he was metaphorically pushing her down so he could pull her up and take credit for it? (This is how it was portrayed in this man’s illustration; I cannot comment on the actual greeting habits and symbolisms of a culture I do not know.)

No, this couldn’t have occurred to him because it means starting from a position of equality and that isn’t how to do  gender roles beautifully.

The sad thing is, this elder is easily the most progressive and feminist elder in that church.

God needs lipgloss

I loved last Easter weekend!  In part because after a white-out snowstorm, we had some nice weather and the kidlets could have an Easter egg hunt outside!  In part because we had some nice visits with people in the secular community, shared good food, conversation, and fun games!  Also in part because we were not at my old church’s family camp.  

A friend who heard the sermons at church informed me of the usual gender-policing, homophobia and general sex-negativity that was preached.  This was a little different because of the way the girls reacted.

I grew up hearing the modesty talks, which were interspersed with gender policing.  The message was generally: don’t be too attractive, but put in an effort to be attractive in a very specific way.  God apparently wants women to have long hair, skirts, and wear pink.  This year the supposed omniscient creator of the universe added to his list make-up and lip gloss.  For girls to be godly women and pleasing to the old men, er, god, they NEED lip gloss.

 applying lipgloss 

I mean, how omniscient can the guy be if he needs make-up and lip gloss so he can tell the differences between the sexes?  I wonder if this god is aware that most make-up and lip stuff has toxic heavy metals, or if he just doesn’t care. 

Back at the girls’ dorm, there were tears and panicking.  Many of the girls, especially the 11 and 12 year olds, don’t wear make-up.  They thought god was angry at them for not being ‘feminine’ enough and calling them out on their “bad behaviour”.  

Fortunately, some of the girls actually questioned the sermon.  Here are some excerpts of a letter they sent to the elders.
[The first part was a list of things they agreed with like needing a spiritual authority, this is part of what they disagreed with]

“1. Lipgloss and excitement over clothes does not make a woman a woman. Neither does vanity. And we don’t think that God will bless us for either. (Girls were crying because they were worried they hadn’t worried about appearances as much as they should have.)

2. The way he brought up sex outside of marriage. That is between a person and God. The message felt condemning. And there are those who have come out of the world into our church and talking about it all over again may make them feel like it’s something they can’t let go of. Even though God has put that sin behind them.

3. The way he brought up homosexuality and used Leviticus. We don’t follow many of the laws in Leviticus. And Jesus said in John that it’s not our place to judge. Jesus taught love and the old ways were done away with. And we feel that if there were any homosexual people in the church that heard that they would no longer continue coming to church and they wouldn’t want to confide in their elders. …”

You go girls!  (Except for the part about sex that isn’t between a cismale and cisfemale with a legal document being sin.)

 

This is Your Brain on the Holy Spirit

Often I feel a little robotic and awkward.  But sometimes I can break free.

I remember wanting to be a dancer as a small child.  I danced everywhere until I was about 7.  Then somewhere I got the idea (maybe from my grandmother who gave up dancing when she became a Christian?) that dancing was inappropriate for non-heathens.  My body grew rigid and tense.  As a preteen, I went with another church group to a Christian rock concert.  Everyone else was dancing or swaying.  I felt stiff and rusty.  I couldn’t move gracefully and people pointed out to me several times since that my dancing was likely to hurt someone.

Then in Mexico, I joined Pentecostal churches.  I learned to let go.  I could feel the Holy Spirit moving through me and suddenly I could dance!  But only in church.  Proof for me that this was the Holy Spirit.  I felt like I had a different body (graceful) and a different brain (quiet) while I ‘let go’ and ‘let god’ move through me.  But it happened with other things too, not church related.

I almost always feel this way when I play sports, now that I’m not around my highschool sexist slut-shaming gym teacher.  Its how I am able to enjoy sex.   I feel this way sometimes when I paint.  My front brain fades and I zone into emotions, colours and shapes and when I wake up, I’m looking at something completely different than my usual style.

This is exactly how I learned to speak in tongues.  My first attempts to speak in the unknown languages were unsuccessful until I learned to shut down most of my brain.  I had to forcibly suppress thought and fade my frontal cortex into nothingness.   Apparently, I am not the only one to notice this downregulating of prefrontal cortex brain activity:

” Newberg, the director for the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, discovered that activity the frontal lobes decreased, including activity in the brain’s primary language processing centers: “Our finding of decreased activity in the frontal lobes during the practice of speaking in tongues is fascinating because these subjects truly believe that the spirit of God is moving through them and controlling them to speak. Our brain imaging research shows us that these subjects are not in control of the usual language centers during this activity, which is consistent with their description of a lack of intentional control while speaking in tongues.” ” http://brainblogger.com/2010/02/07/speaking-in-tongues-a-neural-snapshot/

That is my Holy Spirit- shutting down my rational brain and letting my limbic system take over.

btw- sometimes I still speak in tongues if I’m nervous about something.  Its one of many tricks I have of entering the ‘nothing box’ of not constantly thinking.

Buffered by Faith

I was recently talking to a couple who immigrated here from Eastern Europe.  They came to this city and are staying with people from the same church as a missionary couple they are friends with.  Since their arrival, the church and its people have bent over backwards and twisted inside out to accommodate them.
They have a free place to stay.  A woman who devotes her entire day to drive them to appointments and their 4 children to their various schools.  People are giving them nice fur coats and inviting them into their homes.  They speak about this couple with shining eyes and pray that they will be a blessing to them.  Most of the comments about them are a gushing “Aren’t they nIce?”.

Yeah, they better be.  Most immigrants have a rough go.  I’m glad they are being taken care of so well, but a bit annoyed that the Ivory Coast refugees who had weaker church connections weren’t also given the red carpet.  This new couple have both worked at prestigious jobs in their home country: law, film, bible school director, and their English is quite good.  They have a lot going for them.

Plus, they have faith.  I asked what sort of work they hoped to do here.  They had no idea, but were sure something divine would come up.  It was easy to see that their faith had helped give them the courage to move to a different climate and culture.  God’s will was clear- they had confidence.

I was wondering why I couldn’t have that sort of confidence when it came to chasing after my dreams.  My husband pointed out that I had never assumed that my wants were automatically God’s wants.  If I had, I would be behaving the same as this couple.  They wanted to do something and felt assured that God would grant them success and went running ahead.  I wanted to do something but was afraid that it wasn’t God’s will so it paralyzed me.   I was well aware that my thoughts came from my head.  This was why I couldn’t prophesy.

Oh well.  I hope this couple’s faith helps get them into good jobs.  Then, I hope they start thinking before their faith can hurt any of their children’s dreams.

If you had faith, was it the kind that allowed you to chase your dreams or the kind that made you question yourself and your abilities?

I left fundamentalism for moral reasons

I could no longer believe Christianity for no good reason when I found there were no good reasons for believing it.  That is why I say I left Christianity for intellectual reasons.  However, I left fundamentalism for moral reasons.

My morals and values were contradicted by some of the teachings of fundamentalist Christianity.

I value truth.  Fundamentalism values faith, which means that believing what you are told is seen as superior to finding out what is true.

Compassion is a large part of my moral compass which leads me to value other things like equality, no harm, fairness, protection and the value of life.  Fundamentalism says it believes in compassion, but compassion is to be sacrificed in the name of obedience.  Obedience to authority is a higher value in fundy religions.  Anything that disrupts the hierarchy is to be punished before compassion is allowed.  That means people cannot be valued equally as part of their moral framework no matter how much they say otherwise.

Fundamentalists are compassionate.  I was a fundy, I was compassionate.  I was most compassionate to people I didn’t view as enemy.  If a person was part of my group or seen as vulnerable I was allowed to show all compassionate I wanted.  If the person was seen as a threat, that fear often overrode my ability to be truly compassionate.  I could pity them, sure, but trying to empathize and understand was called weakness.

We were told ‘compassion’ and ‘love’ sometimes looked like abuse.  It could be the most loving thing to beat an uncompliant child so they would grow up to be compliant and docile.  It could be the most compassionate thing to wipe out an entire nation.  It was more loving to tell LGBTI youth they would go to hell if they didn’t behave hetero- or asexually, to hell with their mental health or love of their life.  Compassion and love were twisted and made subservient to obedience to law or the fundy god’s morality of punishment.

Those values, truth and compassion, lead me out of fundamentalism.  It hurt me to see how women and queer people were treated, how people in other cultures were treated, how the environment was treated and how it was justified as righteous and moral.    Abuse was called love if it promoted the hierarchy.  Lies were called truth for the same reason.  That is because the fear of authority is the moral compass of the fundamentalist ideology.

I didn’t leave because I wanted to sin.  I left because I was too moral and too honest to stay in a world that values obedience over love and blind trust over truth.

I’m not perfect.  This isn’t a black and white transition.  I grew up in a sexist, homophobic, racist world and all of those fears exist in the broader society as well.  Compassion and value for truth do exist in fundamentalist circles, but they are constantly beat down by other harmful values.   There are liberal Christians still going to my old church who follow their own moral compass despite being told obedience and fear is superior.

As non-fundys, we (secular or religious) humanists  really do have a higher morality to offer and that is the truth.

X(tian)-Men

Our church taught us that we all had super powers.  Nine super powers, to be exact.  These were called “The Nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit” and were imparted to us by “the laying on of hands of the elders”.  Of course, some people could operate them before the mystical men touched them and murmured words over them in the special coming-of-age ceremony.

This ceremony is especially important in these near-end times.  We need as many mutants as possible to win the war.

X-Men: The Last Stand Photo

These super-powers are taken from 1 Corinthians 12:

Knowledge gifts

    1. The gift of wisdom, verse 8
    2. The gift of knowledge, verse 8
    3. The gift of discernment, verse 10

Power gifts

    4. The gift of faith, verse 9

    5. The gift of healing, verse 9
    6. The gift of working of miracles, 9

Utterance gifts

    7. The gift of prophecy, verse 10

    8. The gift of tongues, verse 10
    9. The gift of the interpretation of tongues, verse 10

(Aside: I do think some people are naturally wise, intuitive or good with languages.)

Our church loosed mostly teens empowered with their new gifts.  Holy Spirit power.

Everyone was given the gift of prophesy.  Church meetings would dissolve into a super-power display.  I think extra points were given per misuse of King Jame’s English and the syllable Ah.  It was like our tattoo, marking those who belonged.

Faith was another popular power.  This one is used mostly on Facebook where people encourage all their friends to have faith.  It is also popular in kid movies about fairies and witches.  Deviant super-powers at work.

I never met anyone with the miracle superpower.  That didn’t stop the faith power people from declaring events they liked to be miracles.  It also didn’t stop us from all wanting that power.  Oh the possibilities…

I was a healer power.  This meant I was expected to put my hands on people if they were sick.  I liked this one, since I am a touchy-huggy person.   I used to imagine once this superpower got really strong I could walk into a hospital, unleash the power, and bam!  Yep, I could eliminate the national debt over health care costs, although without birth control this one might be more fatal.   Basically, I went around hugging people and giving back massages.   Somehow, my supernatural powers couldn’t match the massage therapists’.

A friend of mine was told he had the gift of discernment.  He promptly went around reading people’s minds.  He did this to me on occasion and even once got a church authority involved over my supposed questionable motives in being nice to someone.  His revelations of what I was thinking not once matched what I actually thought but did give me insights into his mind.  Of course, would he believe me when I corrected him?  Who was he going to believe, fallible me or God?

“God told me what you are thinking, I don’t know why He forgot to tell you”

Like the other X-men, we were a subgroup, distinct from mere humans.  While some were Purifiers, most of us weren’t that afraid of the society around us but we knew we had extra powers and special responsibilities.  We were in a war, after all.

 

From Cowardice to Courage: A story of a rumor

This is a story of a rumor hopefully made right.

A few years ago a leader at my church told me that someone I knew had been sexually assaulted as a teenager.

I asked her about it and she brushed it off, saying it was nothing.  Since this person has a habit of downplaying anything to do with herself, this did not reassure me but in fact alarmed me.  I was worried that this lovely woman had been hurt and never healed.

Bit by bit, I put more information together.  It appears that other people knew things and wouldn’t talk about it directly but now that I had some knowledge, I could see what they were speaking about.

I learned that this woman’s father had known about the assault and not only chosen to do nothing but counselled his daughter to say nothing about it.

Understandably, I was angry at this.  I felt that the father had betrayed his daughter and perhaps other family members whom I knew had also come into contact with the perpetrator.  The father is also a leader in our church.  It has affected my relationship with him due not only to a loss of respect but a feeling of loss of safety for me and my two girls.

I know that I ranted about this online somewhere.  I don’t remember if it was on this blog, or in a comment on someone else’s blog. While the information was partially correct, I had the wrong impression of the character of the father and was passing that along.  For that I apologize.

I wasn’t misinformed, but I was under-informed.  That was enough however to malign someone’s character.

The father did indeed know about the assault and counsel his daughter not to mention it to certain family members.  However, he did not find out until she was in her 30s, two decades after the incident.   She had handled the situation quite well as a teenager and was no longer bothered by the incident.   The perpetrator was no longer in a position to hurt people so easily.  The silence requested was to protect other family members from feeling unnecessary pain.

The father would have done something if he had known.  I was unaware that this quiet man had spoken up several times on behalf of others at personal cost.  In one of those incidents, a neighbour was sexually abusing his mentally challenged hired help.  The father in fact confronted the abuser.

Please let me put that rumor  of the apathetic father to rest and resurrect his true character which does include both courage and compassion.  If this has affected your perceptions of anyone, I apologize.  If you think you know who I am talking about, ask me to email you in the comments section and I will answer your questions in private.

There is still one thing that bothers me.  The daughter had told two church leaders about the assault in confidence.   The man who informed me about it was not one that she told.  I wonder how many confessions I have made in confidence are also being passed around.  For my own good, I suppose :p