On Misconceptions.

Hello, dear friends.

I’m in the midst of summer intensives. Which means my brain, body, and all my free time are consumed by compacted classes that are, well…intense. So this isn’t a real post. And I’m also sorry I’ve been gone for, oh, a month now? Sheesh.

But anyway. I’ve decided to address some of the common misconceptions or misunderstandings about certain aspects of my theology, or my life in general. I get asked these questions a lot, and it would be a lot easier to just point people to a post than to have to explain them over and over again.

So, when I say that I am a pluralist, what I mean is that I think no one religion has a monopoly on truth. Furthermore, I also mean that I don’t think religion or faith in a supreme being is necessary for “salvation.” (I don’t like this word, but it’s the best one for this explanation). I still do my faith and spirituality in a generally Christ-oriented environment–I go to a Lutheran seminary, I go to church, I have a degree in Bible and Theology, et cetera.

When I say that I don’t identify as Christian, what I mean is that I don’t ascribe to the “branded” or, if you want to use fancy words, systematized Christianity that currently exists. Additionally, Christianity has some core dogmas that I disagree with, and thus I do not align with that title or group in order to promote harmony. I’ve found people are less offended by what I say when they know I am not trying to say it as a member of their religious tribe.

I am not “lucky” because I got married at 18. My husband and I chose to get married young because we love each other and we saw no point in putting it off until we were older. It may not have been the wisest decision, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. But, and please, please hear me, being married does not make your life better or easier, and it is not some box to check off on your list of life accomplishments. Our two years of marriage together have been really, really hard, but it’s been far more than worth it. We’ve both grown so much, both individually and together. So, when you find out that I’m 20 and have been married for two years, don’t say I’m “lucky” or I’m “ahead of the game.” I made a choice, which I am thankful for every day, but it didn’t flip some magical switch that suddenly fixed all my problems.

When I tell you I have Asperger’s (or what is now known as high-functioning Autism), don’t tell me that I seem so “normal.” I’ve had 20 years to learn how to cope, and a lot of what I do is not instinctual, but is learned behavior. For instance, I apologize when I say something that someone might find offensive (theologically speaking), because I’ve learned that grace and humility build harmony. Or, I look people in the eye when I speak with them because I’ve learned that conveys respect and attention. I’ve learned how my husband acts when he’s mad, or moody, or antsy, or amorous, not because I can sense it, but because I’ve studied him intensely. If I commit a social faux pas, please know that I’m not a massive jerk–I simply haven’t yet learned what to do in this particular situation. Calmly explain what offended or upset you, and I will make amends and learn from that event.

When I say that I believe in works righteousness, I am not saying that I think I can buy or work my way into Heaven, or that I am capable of saving myself. What I am saying is that I don’t believe faith has anything to do with salvation. Living a life in pursuit of letting love abound and continually choosing selflessness over selfishness with care and respect for all of creation is what “saves” a person, not whether or not they happen to believe in the “right” God. Do I succeed at this? HELL. NO. But if God is real, and God is love, and God knows our character, then God will know what I tried (and failed) to do with my life, and count that as righteousness.

When I say that I am a socialist, I do not mean that I want the government to control everyone’s paycheck and that we all should get the same amount of money regardless of how much we work. What I do mean is that I think wealth needs to be spread more equally, so that all people have the ability to meet their basic needs and work towards living a full life. This means that higher education and healthcare would be socialized, banks would be more heavily regulated, and individuals would have a right to housing. Also, and I’m sad I even have to say this, being a socialist does not make you a communist. They are two very different things.

When I say I am a feminist, I do not mean that I hate men, or that I want to reverse history and establish matriarchy. What I do mean is that I believe in equality for the sexes, which requires (at this time) measures directed towards women to bring them up to the socioeconomic level of men.

When I say that I am nonviolent, I don’t mean that I hate soldiers. Also, I would like to point out, pacifism is a specific set of beliefs, nonviolence is a practice. I eat meat, I yell at people, I know how to fight. What nonviolence actually means is that I do not believe in the use of violent force against another human being. So, to make this practical, I don’t support the military, but I am comfortable with the National Guard.

I hope this clears some things up. If there are terms you’d like me to clarify, let me know.

The Cross or the flag?

September 11th is a tricky day for me.

I live in the United States. I have for my whole life. And, legally, I’m a U.S. citizen. But that is not where my allegiance lies.

My citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20).

It’s unavoidable that, as long as a person is living on the earth, they are going to be living in some country (or commonwealth of a country) under that country’s government. I’m not trying to suggest that we destroy the notion of a government. Incidentally, I’m a socialist, so I believe in a pretty strong government, at least economically. But that’s a topic for a different post.

However, as followers of Christ, we are not supposed to hail Caesar as our lord–Christ is our one and only Lord, and it is Him who we hail.

I might be an American citizen, but I am not an American. I am a Christ follower.

Adding to this, and rather shockingly (sarcasm inserted right…here), I’m also a pacifist. I think Shane Claiborne states it very clearly when he writes (in Irresistible Revolution) that “when Jesus said ‘love your enemies,’ he meant not to kill them.” There’s biblical evidence everywhere for a nonviolent, peacemaking sort of life. Again, that’s not the point of this post, but I promise I’ll address it soon.

I think that what happened ten years ago was awful. I don’t ever rejoice at the death of a brother or sister, and even less at the great number of people who died that day. I think it’s completely alright to mourn, to grieve, and to remember the people who died that day.

But, in the U.S., we often forget (or intentionally disengage) the fact that the people who headed the attacks had families and friends too. They died just the same as anyone else. And, if we’re going to mourn the loss of the U.S. citizens who died, we also have to mourn the loss of our Middle Eastern brothers. We have to stand by their families just as much as the ones within America’s borders. They were just as much people as anyone else.

When I say these things to people…well, outside of my little group of ex-patriates, I am often accused of hate speech towards America, and, more shockingly, towards the church.

So September 11th is a tricky day for me.

Let me state very clearly right now: I have a strong distaste for the U.S. government and the way it conducts pretty much everything. Hating it is a very short step away. But it is definitely not my goal. On the contrary, I’m trying to turn my anger into passion and help individuals affected by the government’s actions. I am not trying, nor will it ever be my desire, to stage a coup or a government overthrow or anything else related to it. I keep my hands clean of politics. I want nothing to do with it because I don’t think, as a follower of Christ, that I can impose the beliefs I hold as a result of my Lord on anyone else who doesn’t follow Him as well. So I can understand how my words could be construed as hate speech, but that is not what they are.

I cannot, however, understand the notion that they are hateful towards the church. Christ did not exclude anyone–no matter how poorly society viewed them–from His love. Nor did He ever take up arms against his oppressors and enemies, but asked the Father to forgive them, and submitted to their Cross, even to His own death. If this is the Christ the church claims to follow, then the church should have picked itself up and gone over to the Middle East, joined hands with our Arab brothers and sisters, and worked for reconciliation and peace.

Instead, it (by and large–there are beautiful exceptions) exchanged the Cross for the flag, appointed itself the judge of who should live and die, and took revenge.

Have you ever seen a little kid start hitting another kid for taking his/her toy? We tell little kids not to do this. Why? Because it’s violent, it’s mean, and it’s revenge.

In the words of my little sister, “It’s just not nice.”

Doesn’t revenge seem a little…childish? Immature? Ridiculous for adults with rational minds and (relative) control over their emotions?

The prophets in the OT got thrown into pits for speaking against Israel, even though their words were from God. Why? They were a harsh critique, and no one likes to be reprimanded or corrected.

So when did a few words of correction, or maybe just suggestion, become hateful? That, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer.

For anyone who has misconstrued my words as hate speech towards the church, let me state my views clearly: I believe followers of Christ are to be nonviolent peacemakers who are deeply concerned with standing beside our brothers and sisters, regardless of their nationality. Each person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and we are to see His face in each and every person, no matter where they are from or what they believe.

We are called to love our neighbors AND OUR ENEMIES. So today, as you remember what happened ten years ago, pray that love would overcome anger, revenge, and hatred. Pray that the light of Christ would shine into this present darkness. Go out and promote peace–not at the end of the sword, but at the end of an outstretched hand.