When the Answers and the Truth Take Different Sides…

What’s that smell, you say?

Oh nothing, just my brain cooking inside my skull.

Hi, my name is Denika, and…I’m burned out. (Hi, Denika.)

It’s taken me a while to get here. Not to the burned out stage, I think that happened somewhere in the middle of sophomore year and has ebbed and flowed ever since. I’ve always been stressed out. No, I mean to the point where I can admit it.

It’s incredibly humbling.

I’ve been in this mindset lately of “I can do anything!” Which is good, to an extent. Not feeling crippled by whatever social or physical or mental limits we might place on ourselves (or are placed on us) is a healthy place to be. However, I turned that “I can do anything” into an “I can do everything.” I’ve gone far past allowing my limits to cripple me into the dangerous realm of denying I have limits.

I’ve been working myself to the bone on my schoolwork, including spending my entire spring break sitting in the library writing a paper that’s not due until April 30th. I’ve been jumping through hoops to try to make my boss’ job easier (being that that was basically what I was hired to do). I’ve been trying to secure a community house and a job at an awesome church, in which I’m trying to get involved anyway because I dig the community they have there. I’ve been trying to sustain relationships with many of my friends who I’m not so sure even want the relationship. I’ve been trying to focus on loving my husband sacrificially and giving him the attention and time that he needs.

In the process of trying to do all of this, I have neglected two important things: myself and Jesus.

I’ve always tried to be outward-focused. We’re supposed to put our neighbors in higher esteem than ourselves, to love them even to the point of our own death. We’re supposed to give from whatever we can offer. This isn’t a bad thing, but I’ve done it wrong. Instead of loving self-sacrificially in a way that respects my neighbors by giving them the best possible me, and investing much in a few than little in many, I’ve tried to do everything. And I can’t.

Cue Jesus.

Except that I’ve gotten so wrapped up in theology and Greek translation and debating issues with people of whom I know we will never see eye to eye, that I’ve forgotten to spend time with the One whom all of it is about. I spend hours each day reading the Bible in Greek and English, but I’ve neglected to realize that it isn’t just a homework assignment. I’ve read countless articles and books about living out the gospel in this age, but the closest I’ve come lately is trying to donate a fake Christmas tree that’s been in the trunk of our car since November.

I’ve spent so much time talking about Jesus that I’ve forgotten to let Jesus speak.

And for those of us hooked up to the Jesus tap, we know that if we close ourselves off to the Source, things dry up pretty quickly.

So it’s no wonder I’ve burned out. I’ve been pouring myself out, but I haven’t allowed myself to be filled.

If only it were that simple, though. Because my professors couldn’t care less if I didn’t do my work because I needed a break–they stop hearing at “I didn’t do my work,” and I’m supposed to have figured out how to make school and the rest of my life mesh by my senior year. My boss probably understands this more, but there is no room for a break in my job. I can’t just quit on my community and especially not my husband. And I need to have a job and a place to live lined up because we’re too broke to not plan ahead.

I know what some of you are thinking: “Don’t worry, God will provide.” That may be true, but nowhere in any provision language does it ever say that God will make sure we can pay our bills, or that we can graduate from college. Providing could be as little as a bridge to sleep under and enough food to keep our bodies running until the next meal. I’d really prefer to keep things from going that far.

So I’m stuck. On the one hand, I have a million responsibilities from which I don’t have a feasible way of escaping. On the other, I have no time, energy, will, patience, or sanity left to uphold these responsibilities.

My only hope (and an increasingly common prayer of mine) is that somehow Jesus will break in to my overtaxed existence and fill me up. I’m out of other options.

Will Jesus still find me through all this smoke?

Secrets.

I have a secret.

Someday, I want to be a theologian.

Yes, I want to spend my life working for justice and love and other good things. No, I’m not going to grad school (much to the dismay of my professors). Yes, I would be much more content running a bakery in Palestine than being a professor in the States.

But I still want to be a theologian.

And I don’t really know why. It makes no sense to me. But that’s what I’m going to school for, even though I had planned, up until what I sort of call my freshman year of college, to be a pharmacologist. Theology makes me feel alive in ways that other areas of study do not.

I have another secret, though. One that makes this dream, and everything else about life, much more difficult.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome.

Most people who know me have no clue that I do. I didn’t, until I was in high school and wasn’t developing emotionally in the way that I was apparently supposed to (because every teenage girl needs to be on an emotional rollercoaster, right?) and, after a series of diagnostic tests and awkward conversations with psychiatrists, it became clear that I had AS. Because I had already reached my teens by the time I was diagnosed, I had already learned to cope with it. I thought I was just a weird kid who was socially awkward, and I needed to fix that if I ever wanted to be “successful” in life.

The few people I told after I found out asked me if I was okay, did I need a hug (no, please get off me, you’re too close), did I want to talk about it. They talked to me as if I had just been diagnosed with a disease.

But I was feeling like everything finally made sense.

I wasn’t weird, or crazy, or abnormal. I just have a brain that works differently than other people’s brains.

It seemed natural, then, that I would go into a field like pharmacology. It was science (so it depended on reason and fact, things I could easily grasp), and it would allow me to isolate myself in a lab with perhaps two or three other people who I would only have to interact with on a professional level (read: I didn’t have to be friends with them if I didn’t want to.)

But, despite my efforts to the contrary, I feel called to the field of theology.

It’s strange, being a theology major and having AS. People use the phrase “I feel…” or “I believe…” as a precursor to nearly every statement. The word “fact” is our F-word (incidentally, the F-bomb gets dropped by my professors on a regular basis). Often, I don’t understand concepts that come naturally to other people (like how God could be loving and wrathful simultaneously). Much emphasis is placed on the spiritual nature of this realm, which is completely foreign to me (I tried the whole charismatic thing. I was freaked out the whole time and I felt like people were always trying to get inside my head. Take prayer, for example. For me, it is a conversation with a being who I simply am unable to see, not an esoteric, other-worldly experience). I usually feel incapable because my emotional reasoning is almost non-existent.

This is true, too, in marriage. My husband is an INFJ, so he processes emotionally and is very feeling-oriented. I am an ISTJ–I process by reason and logic and I am very fact-oriented. It’s a constant learning experience.

I am faced with two realities: 1. I have AS, and 2. I want to be a theologian. It is always a battle to reconcile the two. Especially when most theological issues demand some ability to understand non-logical reasoning.

Here I am, at the end of my post, and I have no idea why I’m telling you this. Perhaps it’s because I need to share my weaknesses. Perhaps because I want to show you my location so that you can understand my theology better. Perhaps I just want more traffic and more posts will get me that. I don’t know.

I think, though, that I’m sharing this because I know that we bond best when we are honest with one another. I’m tired of keeping these secrets. This is a part of who I am, and denying that doesn’t bring about anything good.

I’m a work in progress.

I Just Call Myself Denika

As you know, I’ve been writing my senior sem paper on the damages of conservative theology and the emergent response. (Side note: I’m 18 pages in, and not even close to done. This is going to be one mother of a paper). Throughout this time, I’ve been researching conservative, traditional Christian views of several issues in the Church, biblical studies, and the world today.

My whole premise was that our faith has been monopolized by a very vocal minority, and thus Christians everywhere have been associated with the U.S.’s Moral Majority/Religious Right, even though many of us fall in the liberal camp (myself included, quite obviously) and most of us (myself not included…yet) are not part of the U.S.

Therefore, to be “Christian” is not just to follow Christ, but is to also believe conservative theology X about issue Y. It is to align ourselves with Jerry Falwell, Mark Driscoll, and whoever else wants to make sweeping claims for all who follow Christ. It is to be anti-gay, pro-life, pro-capitalism, pro-Israel, anti-welfare, et cetera. And, for some people, these things are true.

The problem is, they’re not for me.

I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Calvinist. I’m not big on tradition for tradition’s sake.*

Truth be told, I’m not big on Christianity.

Because I follow Jesus and I believe the Bible and I want to spend my life doing good in the name of this God, but I don’t fit the mold of Western Christianity.

That being said…I don’t think I can call myself a Christian. Not because the word itself does not describe me (“Christian: a person who is a believer in Jesus Christ and [Jesus’] teachings.”), but because the things associated with Christianity do not describe me.

For quite some time now I’ve been referring to myself as a “Christ-follower,” because it describes me better. I follow Christ. I try (and fail miserably) to live like Jesus. It’s a much more accurate term.

I don’t want to divorce myself from Church history or from Christian community. But I am an outsider to Christianity, whether I call myself a Christian or not. My beliefs put me on the edge or, as is more often the case, well past the edge of what is considered acceptable Christian theology. If I am an outsider, I cannot call myself a Christian (not that I want to anyway).

My problem is that I don’t know how to do both. How do I engage Church history–my history–without being a Christian? How do I partake in Christian community without fitting its primary descriptor?

The truth is, I don’t really know.

I’m curious what you all (and by “you all,” I mean all 5 of my followers) think. Do you call yourself “Christian?” If yes, how do you reconcile that with your difference in belief (assuming you have some, because those who don’t probably don’t follow my blog) from the most vocal sect of Christianity? If no, how do you still manage to fit in?

In the meantime, I think I’ll just call myself “Denika.” It fits me best of all.

 

*I do, however, support traditions when they are constantly kept in check with a changing world. Also, this is more in terms of theology than practice–I love the traditional practices of some churches. It just bothers me when people believe something simply because that’s what their family/church/denomination has always believed.

A Call for Resources and the Dreaded Senior Sem Paper

We’re nearly to midterm here. Thus begins the senior sem paper writing extravaganza. For the next two months, I will be a slave to Greek translation, the seminary library, and my thoughts.

I’ve finally decided on a topic (hurrah!) that I am certain my professor and most of my classmates will hate (…hurrah? Yes. HURRAH!). It all started at 2 a.m. on Saturday (…Friday? I’m never sure how those wee hours of the morning work), while I was cutting out quilt fabric and listening to this. Because that’s what I do on Friday nights, apparently.

Side note: I’m super cool.

Anyway. The title popped into my head: “The God I don’t believe in.” What I mean by that is that the perception of Christianity, and God, by the non-Christian world is that of a very traditional, conservative belief system (thanks again, TNT, for this, which spawned my thoughts). I’ve been faced with this a great deal throughout my senior sem class (as you all know) and just realized that I could write my paper on that. My plan, then, is to look at the way both traditional and conservative Christianity look at theology (especially Romans, since that’s the focus of our class), and critique it from my very non-traditional, non-conservative position. I will also be engaging with critiques of Christianity by atheists and followers of other faith traditions.

Why am I posting all this junk on here, you ask? Because I need your help! There are precious few resources from perspectives similar to mine available at my school’s library, and branching out beyond there is a bit of a nightmare as there are SO MANY BOOKS to contemplate. So I’m asking for recommendations of your favorite resources on these topics: liberal Christianity, progressive Christianity, the emergent church, critiques of Christianity by non-Christians, non-Calvinist/non-awful commentaries on Romans (I’m already using the NIB version) or just books on Romans in general, and/or anything else that you think might be helpful. These can be books, articles, blog posts, interviews, podcasts, anything really. They can even be written by you. Send me anything and everything you’ve got.

I’ll try to make my final paper publicly available for anyone who is interested in seeing the final result of all of this.

Thanks for all your help, friends!

Let Justice Roll On Like A River

Today was rough.

I’ll explain why in a second. First, some background information.

I’m taking a class on the Prophets of Israel this semester. I didn’t really want to take it, per se, but I needed the credit to graduate. It’s not that it’s a bad class, it’s that the professor has a reputation of being a very tough grader, and getting a poor grade in this class could keep me from graduating with honors.

The professor himself is a wonderful man. He led the trip I and 25 or so other students went on to Israel/Palestine last year, so I know him in a much more familial sense than many other students do. He’s open and honest, kind, brilliant, hilarious, and a great teacher. Really, I don’t know why I was so apprehensive about this class.

He lived in Jerusalem for five years in the nineties. He witnessed, firsthand, the awful effects of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In his classes, he tries to inform his students of what the conflict is really like, which is very different from what many of us hear from pastors, politicians, and even other professors. While I cannot say for certain, I can infer from context that he aligns himself with Palestine.

We’ve been studying Amos for the past few days in this class. Today, this professor spent the entire class time telling us about the conflict, and charged us at the end of class to interpret Amos in light of this present issue. The stories he told were gut-wrenching. They were both from his own experience and from the experiences of others throughout the past seventy years or so. It took everything I had not to break down right there in class.

Because I feel for these people. As an advocate for social justice, I align myself with Palestine. I stand on the side of the oppressed and the hated, the poor and the homeless, the violated, mistreated, and abused. I’ve been unashamedly pro-Palestine ever since I went there and saw just a little of it for myself. My husband, who has a degree in Reconciliation Studies and thus studied this at length while he was in school, has aided me in my learning about the conflict and has walked with me as I’ve come to see things this way. We plan on moving to Palestine sometime within the next decade or so to do humanitarian work because we’re both convicted in such a way and are not content to sit back and allow this to continue.

My heart breaks for the Palestinians. You see, prior to WWII, they had been the nation of power in the region that Israel now dominates. Jews who were now homeless after the war were relocated to Palestine as part of the Zionist movement. The Palestinians welcomed the soldiers who came to scope things out as guests. The Zionist soldiers returned the favor by destroying their cities, killing many of their people, raping their women and stealing whatever they could from them.

It’s a great track record for the so-called people of God. It’s also not surprising, then, that some Palestinians have chosen to respond with violence. What they have done is so minimal in comparison to what the Israelis have done to them.

This conflict has continued since then. It is still just as awful. Palestinians are not even considered citizens, or even people, in their own land. They often cannot travel into non-occupied Israel, thus limiting their options in terms of jobs, education, healthcare, and nourishment. Their cities are taken over by Israeli soldiers, and with very little effort they can be determined “illegal” and be bulldozed.

Yet, so many evangelicals think that they deserve this. They think that Israel ought to have dominance simply because God promised them that they could live there. They think that, because they assume all Arabs are Muslim, and all Muslims are evil, that they ought not to be treated as humans.

Nevermind the fact that many Palestinians are Christians.

Also, and I’m embarrassed that I even have to say this, nevermind that ISLAM IS A RELIGION THAT HOLDS PEACEMAKING EVEN HIGHER THAN CHRISTIANITY DOES. Islam is not evil. Its followers are not evil. They are people. They are created in God’s image just like anyone else. If you disagree with them, fine. But you’re still called to love them.

I am so, so, so sickened by the Church these days. I cannot see how Christians, who claim to follow Jesus, who made company of the “least of these,” can say that the Palestinians deserve death. I also cannot see how Jews, who are held to the Mosaic Law, can do the same either. Let’s do a little comparison here to demonstrate:

  1. “Love your neighbor as yourself;” “Love your enemies.” (Luke 10:27, cf. Leviticus 19:18; Luke 6:27) Many Christians and Jews express hatred towards the Palestinians.
  2. “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) I don’t think this gets any clearer. Rape, stealing, destruction of homes, denying human rights, and murdering would all fall under the banner of “mistreating,” and claiming oneself as a superior race and ethnically cleansing out another “foreigner” does not mesh with treating foreigners “as your native born.” Side note: it’s interesting that the Jews, fresh from their own ethnic cleansing during the Holocaust, would turn around and do the same damn thing to the Palestinians.
  3. “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:13-15) The Zionist soldiers killed, raped, and stole from the Palestinians whose villages they destroyed.
  4. “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) In this psalm, Israel is calling on YHWH to do these things. Yet, they refuse to do the same towards the weak, fatherless, poor, oppressed, and needy in their midst.
  5. “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe foreigners reside, there you are to give them their inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD;” “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Ezekiel 47:21-23; Leviticus 25:23) It is clear here that “inheritance” does not mean “ownership,” as the land is God’s. It also says that foreigners are to be treated as equals. Israel claims the land is their possession, and doesn’t even treat the Palestinians as humans, let alone equals.

These are only a small handful of the verses that could be used to indict the nation of Israel and evangelical Christians who support it. I encourage you to check this out for more.

I rarely claim that any biblical passage that was directed to a specific group of people in a specific place at a specific time has the same force and meaning as it does for us today, primarily because I’m about as far from fundamentalism as one can possibly get. But, in cases like these, I make an exception for Amos. Read it. It sounds an awful lot like today, doesn’t it? And it seems pretty clear, if we are to read it as a message to us in light of the Israel-Palestine conflict, that we’re supposed to stand on the side of the poor, the needy, the oppressed, otherwise known as PALESTINE.

Consider these things. If you support Israel, can you truly continue to do so when confronted with this? Can you really write off such horrible injustice as the will of God? If yes, I suggest you leave this blog immediately, because you and I do not believe in the same God.

However, if you are of the same mind as me, please do not be complacent. Do not simply align yourself with Palestine and leave it there. Justice requires action. There may be precious little we can do from here, but at the very least, listen to the stories of the Palestinians. Books like Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour and The Palestinian Catastrophe by Michael Palumbo are great places to start. Tell these stories. Pass them along. Show your brothers and sisters in Christ this side of the story. Ask them to consider these things too.

Do not remain silent for any longer.