• Power and Love On the Cross

    One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 39-43

    Over the years I have heard this interaction between Jesus and the thief on the cross explained mostly as a demonstration of power. Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Jesus has the power to defeat death. Jesus has the power to secure salvation from hell fires to those who recognize him. Even as he was dying on the cross, I have been told, Jesus was demonstrating his great power!

    And I suppose there’s some truth to all of that, so far as it goes. But I can’t help thinking that most of those who point to this interaction as a display of power are missing what actually happened here. Jesus’ didn’t tell the thief who defended him that he was going to be with him in paradise that day in order to demonstrate his power. At least not in the way we often think of it.

    What Jesus really did was give a man facing an inevitable, excruciating death the only comfort anyone could give to someone in that situation. “It won’t last too long,” he says, “and it will be OK when it’s done.” As the man suffered his trial of crucifixion, how many times did he repeat Jesus’ assurances to himself? How much easier was that man’s death because of Jesus’ words to him? And I can’t help but wonder if as the thief on his other side suffered, if he did not turn his hope towards Jesus’ words as well.

    When all you can do is endure pain and suffering, this is really the only comfort anyone can offer: it’s not going to last forever and everything will be wonderful when it’s done. The power Jesus displayed was the willingness and ability to show love and offer comfort, even in the midst of his own suffering. May we all strive to be so powerful.

  • fatalism_large1

    Free Will and Its Discontents

    fatalism_large1OK, so let’s talk about free will. I’ve had several people ask me to explain my understanding of it lately, so apparently it’s a subject of interest. As the conversation usually breaks out, you have free will on one side and determinism on the other. Free will says we make our own choices. Determinism says that everything is decided for us. Free will is a mental illusion and nothing more.

    Now, to be frank, I’ve never had much interest in the subject of free will. The reason being that it makes no real difference in how we live our lives. If the reality is that I have no actual free will, then either choice I make will be the inevitable which is more confusing than helpful when faced with a decision. How do you pick the “right” path when whatever I choose is inevitable. It’s a supremely unhelpful concept when you have to make some decision.

    As a practical matter, I must chart my course as if I had free will. Even if predestination is true, the illusion of free will is such a powerful internal sensation that for all practical purposes, it’s my reality. That being the case, what difference does it make is from some cosmic perspective everything is predestined?

    Now, my personal understanding is that we have incomplete free will. There are simply too many factors which can take away our ability to choose freely to say that we have unfettered free will. Like I can’t stick my elbow in my ear. Seriously, I’ve tried and I just can’t do it, not matter how much I freely choose to. Or take someone who is facing extreme poverty, war, crime, sickness, oppression, etc. People’s options can become so circumscribed by circumstances that free will loses any real meaning.

    However, within the limits we are working under, I think we have complete free will. More than people even realize, in fact. I believe strongly that we are always free to choose to do anything we want, so long as we are willing to live with the consequences. Not only do I believe that, but I  believe that this attitude is key to living a life of freedom, wisdom and power.

    The problem I have with free will enthusiasts is the often unstated assumption that having free will means we are all captain of our own ships and masters of our domain. If life is directed not by outside forces, but by the direction of our free choices, then clearly we are all responsible for those choices and the consequences of them. It is my opinion that this is why the idea of free will is so popular in American Christianity. We like to judge. We feel that it is our duty to judge. When we refuse to judge, we end up with reality TV shows featuring Flavorflav in hot tub filled with erotic dancers. If we have free will, then people are culpable for their own choices and our job of warning people away from such things is both simple and a moral imperative.

    Now, if you are fairly privileged; if you are not impoverished, under-educated, disabled, living under oppression, haven’t suffered significant trauma, don’t have a chronic illness, aren’t being held hostage by stoned pirates, etc., then free will is very appealing. It means that a fairly direct line can be drawn between what is good in your life and the good choices you made and the bad choices you turned away from. You can take responsibility for both your poor choices and the good choices you made which allowed you to overcome them. You are free, wise and powerful.

    However, what I know from experience is that for someone who is not so privileged, the teaching of free will becomes a trap of condemnation. If you made a bad choice, it was because you freely made a bad choice and therefor can be held accountable for the consequences. It doesn’t really matter if you were so stressed and overwhelmed by circumstances that you couldn’t think straight. It doesn’t matter if you were in so much pain that your judgment was compromised. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to escape a dangerous, untenable situation by any means possible. It doesn’t matter if you made your choices without the sort of maturity or information that would have allowed you to make a good choice. You made your choice. It was a bad choice. It’s all your fault, so don’t expect any coddling or sympathy from the good people who knew better than to choose so poorly.

    In fact, so deeply ingrained in a lot of Christians’ thinking is the idea of free will that the church is well known for resisting psychology, many social justice concerns and calls to display greater compassion towards society’s undesirables. Frequently such things are seen as excuse making by and for those who are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves. The fact that the average church goer is better educated, happier and wealthier than the rest of the population means that a lot of white Christians, in particular, haven’t ever spent years on end being pushed past the limits of their ability to cope and so have no real idea what life is like for those they see as excuse making failures.

    If we admit that things like trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance remove at least some culpability for people’s poor choices, then the answer is to do something about the sources of trauma, oppression, addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse and ignorance.  And really, it’s much easier to tell people to buck up and get their acts together. In practice, free will enthusiasm is frequently an excuse for eschewing any responsibility for lifting burdens, ending oppression and righting injustices.

    Of course, I am writing this as a child of western culture which is excessively married to the idea of free will. There are plenty of people who come from cultures that are excessively married to the idea of fate. I suspect that for a person who has been told that life is all up to God and fate, the idea of free will is exactly what it should be – a source of freedom, wisdom and power. But for someone like myself, the idea that fate has its say is a comfort to me. It’s a bit of reprieve from a harsh, judging and demanding world that blames me for all of my own suffering.

    In the end, only God really knows the extent to which life is and isn’t in our control. It is foolish arrogance to claim to have such knowledge ourselves. The best we can do is accept that even if it’s not our own experience, for most people, life is continually circumscribed by circumstances beyond their control. Not every obstacle can be overcome through force of will. Sometimes we are completely powerless and just going along the best way we can figure out how. Yet, when an option presents itself, we do have the right to choose, so far as we are able. And frankly, many people do not take full advantage of the free will they do have because they do not consider the full range of options available to us. As usual, the best answer seems to be both/and rather than either/or.

  • riddikulus

    Laughing At Inappropriate Things

    Now, this may come as a shock to some of my long time readers, but sometimes I make jokes that people thing are inappropriate. Like maybe I throw out an animal sex joke in the middle of a discussion of scripture. Which I don’t think anyone should be offended at; animal sex jokes and scripture go waaaaaay back. But you know, there’s just no pleasing some people.

    The thing is that this isn’t a problem that’s confined to my writing. I frequently laugh at things other people don’t think are funny. For example, I was once telling a couple of women the unbelievably hilarious story about my wedding. As I got to the part where my uncle got set on fire, I looked at one of the women and realized that she had started crying. Which both made me feel bad and made me laugh even harder. 

    Conversely, I’ve been known to laugh at things people say, thinking they were joking only to discover that they were perfectly serious. And, you may not realize this if you have better social skills than I do, but that’s uncomfortable. Yeah.  Continue reading

  • Want To Hear About the Time I Was on Moody Radio?

    I was once offered a job simply on the basis of how I said my name. People sometimes stop me and ask if I sing. I had a teacher who let me into class without a late slip if I would say my name for the class. Such is the great power of my voice. Which I, of course, think is weird. If my voice is so great, shouldn’t I have more money than I do? It just seems like the two should go hand in hand or something. Ah well.

    Anywho, as I may have mentioned already, I was a guest, along with a dude named Thi’sl and a dude named Joshua, on the Moody Radio call-in show Up 4 Debate over the weekend discussing the church and it’s handling of racial issues. And I’ve had several people ask for the link to listen to it online. So here it is. Right here. This is the link. Click it. 

    Obviously the issue of race and the church is a huge one and we just barely scratched the surface on the show. Hopefully I will get a chance to write some more thoughts on race and the church in the next week or so. If my brain will cooperate. 

    In the meantime, go listen to the dulcet sounds of my amazing voice. I don’t recall saying anything incoherent or ridiculous, but I’m too chicken to listen myself and find out. And I think I’m OK with that!

  • Enough Bigotry to Go Around?

    Hey y’all! I just finished my fancy pants appearance on Moody Radio’s Up For Debate. (That I told you about yesterday which you would know if you had been paying attention. See the things you miss when you’re not paying attention?) Anyways, I will get the link to the show up just as soon as it’s available.

    Almost immediately after the show was done, I got a comment from a listener which addresses a concern I really would have liked to address on the show, but obviously, we could only scratch the surface in an hour. I think it’s an important point, so I thought I would share the comment and my response with y’all. So pay attention! ;)

    Dear Rebecca:

    On the Moody Radio show discussion about Ferguson you mentioned how you had prejudices and biases of which you weren’t aware simply from growing up.  I agree whole-heartedly.  What you didn’t mention is that the same is true for the black community, the hispanic community, the Middle Eastern community and the Asian community.  We all have biases that we are taught as children.  I’m a law enforcement officer in Orlando, FL.  I have worked in the schools for more than 15 years. I encounter black kids and their families that have an automatic distrust and bias against me, simply because I’m white and a cop.  This is a bias the children are taught.  I also work in the parks of a private community which owns the parks.  Part of my duties are ensuring that those who are using this private park are residents or guests of residents.  My concern isn’t race, religion, or anything but whether the person is allowed in the private park.  In 18 years, I can only recall one instance when a white or hispanic person challenged me for doing my job.  On the other hand, I have had a 1/2 dozen black people insist or imply that I was checking them simply because they were black.  By the way, all but one of these folks were NOT residents and did not belong.  This is a racially and culturally diverse community and I have great relationships with young people and adults of all races.  Please acknowledge the biases taught to the children by both races.  Thanks and God bless.

    -E

    E, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would just challenge you to consider that because of the way race works in this country, that the sort of defiance, hostility and distrust which you encountered among African Americans has its roots in legitimate problems which we as Americans have never dealt with, much less solved. As a white person, my prejudices were shaped almost entirely by the media, my community and the rare encounters I had with African Americans who were serving me in stores and restaurants. An the other hand, my husband has a lived experience of regularly being mistreated, of being belittled, of being threatened, of being afraid which occurred at the hands of white people. His discomfort with and distrust of white people is fundamentally different from my own prejudices. While I might wish an African American person would process and deal with his experiences differently, I had no right to tell him or her that s/he doesn’t have a right to be uncomfortable and distrustful after all that s/he has experienced and continues to experience. Of course, my husband’s a mature, educated, spiritual man, so he isn’t going to start resisting authority, being rude or hostile simply on the basis of race. But it’s easy to see how someone in a less comfortable, less experienced position would walk around with a negative attitude towards authority (which has always been the tool by which abusive, oppressive laws and customs are imposed on African Americans, btw).
    It’s interesting that you bring up working as a guard at a private park. When my husband was 8 his mother moved them from Texas to the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago. As they were moving in, my husband noticed that the only playground was a set of swings on a blacktop surface. He asked his mom, “why did someone put those swings on the blacktop? Someone will get hurt if they fall off.” He says his mother bent down and spoke into his face, “honey, there’s something you need to understand right now. Nobody cares what happens to you here. If you fall of those swings and get hurt, nobody’s going to care. We might not even be able to get an ambulance to come and help you. You have to take care of yourself here because nobody else is going to make sure that you and your brothers and sisters are safe.” It was 1978 and she spoke the truth. Now, imagine living in a neighborhood where the playground is unkempt and potentially dangerous. And right near-by is a nice, safe, well equipped park. But you can’t go there. Because it’s not for you. It’s for the people who paid for it. It doesn’t matter that you and your family can’t dream of affording to live in such a place. Nobody cares about you and your problems. Put yourself in that situation and the hostility makes a bit more sense.
    Thanks again for your comment!
    Blessings,
    Rebecca
  • Your Daily Cud

    A random thought to ponder:

    When it comes to gender differences, a lot of what we think we know is nothing but myth. However, when there are legitimate, measurable gender differences, the break down tends to be that 50% of people will fall into line with their gender, 25% will be evenly balanced between what is typically male and female and 25% will fall into line with the opposite gender.  (A researcher working on gender differences in the brain shared this years ago and I’ve found it a helpful way of thinking about it.)

  • Walking each other home sm

    Dancing The Way

    How many of you, at some point in your life, thought that there were two ways to do things; the right way and the wrong way? And that your job was to find the right way. Failing to find the right way might mean being a bad person, being unlovable, being rejected by God, being outside of God’s will or just being a stupid doo-doo head. I suspect a lot of you just raised your hand. I suspect that those of you who didn’t just haven’t dug quite deep enough into your heart to find that particularly nasty snare that gets planted in the heart of nearly every human being along the way.

    Now, do I mean to say that there are no wrong ways and no right ways to do things? That all options the human mind can conceive of are equally good? No. Of course not. Going to the spa is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. As anyone who has done meth has probably figured out by now. Hell, smoking weed is a much better way to deal with burnout than doing meth. But not if you are prone to addictions are might be tempted to do meth. Because meth is really, really bad, donchano. (Hey – fun fact: do you know how much weed it takes to kill a rat? Continue reading