Rants, Musings, and Mental Meanderings of a former Conservative Christian Mother. Standing Strong against ignorance, preconceptions, labels and excessive housework. Celebrating original thought, religious freedom, parenthood, free enterprise and chocolate.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Compensation Theology

I have really gotten a kick lately out of what I call "compensation theology." It's hard to explain, but I'll do my best. People will adopt this weird, extreme standard or conviction, and in doing so they feel they are spiritual enough justify sins in other areas of their life. For example, they will rant about a woman wearing blue jeans, and claim you're not even saved if you don't show up for Sunday School. However, then they get into their car and blare this crazy rock music or take the Lord's name in vain every other sentence. Huh?!?!? This confuses me. I am not saying that we all don't have different convictions, or that we should nit-pick people trying to do right and watch for them to slip up. We do, and in fact, we should, have different standards. I am simply talking about those people who go to the extreme, claiming some special inside-track to God. I know a guy from a former church who really thinks he has this special gift from God. He has prophetic visions, is a powerful public speaker, has had more para-normal experiences than an entire season of X-files, but at the end of the day is one of the most arrogant jerks you'll ever meet. He rails against women wearing pants, but you go to his home and his teen aged sons are drooling over chics gyrating around in very decent (yeah, right) costumes on American Idol. Am I condemning him for watching American Idol? I couldn't care less. (In fact, I even watched two seasons of it, until the talent dried up and it was just too boring to endure.) I am simply pointing out that he feels he is above rest of us, so those things are okay for him to do. He even claims that if you do not wish to attend Sunday School, you can't possibly be saved... but good luck finding him in church on Sunday night, let alone Wednesday night. Again, huh?!?! Before you give me a lecture on being judgmental of this guy, let me get to my point. No one takes this guy seriously because of the fact he is so proud of the few convictions he does have and likes to lord them over others. Any influence he could have had, he throws away because he practices compensation theology. As long as he adheres to a few really extreme convictions, he considers himself holy enough to allow himself the other indulgences. Be very, very careful before you announce to others what God's priorities are. Be very, very careful before you declare that your set of standards puts you in better standing with God than someone else's. What may cause you to sin may not even be an issue for someone else, and a good hearty dose of humility is what most of us need. I call it the "spiritual glass ceiling" when a person or church gives their list of add-ons. If you don't adopt their standards in addition to what is clearly defined in Scripture, you are never taken seriously spiritually at best, and branded a rebel and shunned at worst. Unfortunately, while they are obsessing about these issues that are not even Heaven or Hell issues, they often can't see the forest for the trees. They miss the truly damaging sins in their midst, because they are so distracted by focusing on the nonsense. But if you were to warn them about the issues that are truly threatening their families and children, they look at you blankly. They are far too holy to even consider that happening. Sorry, but the longest skirts on your gals and the smoothest shaved faces on the guys won't compensate for a humble heart tender to God's leading... and it won't produce it in your children either.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Digging Ditches

I have mentioned Jean Fleming's A Mother's Heart, and I really wanted to share one of my favorite chapters, or at least an excerpt. I will italicize what I take directly from the book.

This chapter is called "God's Part, My Part." First of all, unless God labors with you, your labors are in vain. We cannot do anything of spiritual or eternal value in the lives of our children. Oh, we can read all the parenting books, go to all the seminars, develop relationships with them, worry about them, pray for them, closely monitor their actions... and have them rebel against it all. You can take a child to church, but you can't make him worship. You can require Bible reading, but you can't make him enjoy it or learn from it. You can live a godly example, but he is not required to follow it. The best possible parenting cannot produce spiritual children any more than witnessing to others can make them Christians. This does not minimize our responsibilities, it simply requires us to acknowledge that our faith, by its very nature, must be embraced by one's own free will. You can beat a child to keep him from sinning, but then he will cease from sinning only to avoid a beating. When the danger of a beating is passed, the sinning will resume in earnest. There has to be a deeper and personal work done in the child's heart, and this is not something that can be beat into anyone. (If it could be, then the militant Muslims actually have it right. Why stop with our children? Why don't we just threaten everyone with physical pain and beat them into Christ's kingdom? But I digress...) Our very best mothering, done in faith, is our part. The rest is up to God working in the child's heart, coupled with the child's free will and ability to choose whether or not he will embrace the faith of his parents. Force it on them, and they will shake it off the first chance they get. Let them choose it on their own, and they will cling to it even when the threat of your punishment is past.

The author beautifully illustrates this concept with the story of King Joram of Israel in II Kings 3. He was leading his army against King Mesha of Moab, but after days of marching through the desert they faced a fatal problem - they had no water. They cried out for the man of God to give them guidance, and Elisha responded for them to "Make this valley full of ditches." Joram's men were given a back-breaking, thankless, unbelievably difficult job - digging ditches in the middle of the desert. This was their part, unromantic as it was, but they became part of a miracle. In the morning, the ditches were full of life-giving water. The army was refreshed, and their enemy was defeated. Mothering is the same concept. We can dig the ditches, but we cannot fill them with water. We can teach our children about God, live the Christian life before them, pray for them, and surround them with those who love and serve God. But only God can bring them spiritual life. God doesn't need our help, but He...invites us to co-labor with Him.

Again, this is not to minimize our responsibilities as parents, or to say that we have no blame if our own sinful lives drive our children away from Christ. I am simply warning against those who believe that a personal relationship with God and a deep and abiding faith in the authority of His Word can be produced in a child simply by "breaking their will." Break a child, and you end up with a broken child. Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Car Sharing?!?!

I just heard about this company, and I think this is just the coolest idea!!!! They actually have cars stationed at certain places, and you reserve what you need on-line. The selection varies, but you can reserve anything from a pickup truck to a BMW. You pay by the hour or by the day. Ideally, the car is walking distance for you, so you can combine the exercise benefits of walking with saving ga$ money (or the price of a second car payment, insurance and registration). I doubt we have one by us, but I hope so. Check them out: Flexcars (Now Zipcars)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Great Read!

I have read stacks of parenting books, but A Mother's Heart by Jean Fleming is hands-down one of my favorites. I don't have time to elaborate much on it now, but I have read it twice (am working on my third) and I get so much out of it every time.

One of the things I like the best is her view that children do not come to you as a empty vessel to fill, or as a rebellious tyrant to be "broken." Rather, she sees the child at conception as a unique person, already, essentially, "who they are." The parent is there to guide, to train, to instill character, but all the while knowing that you cannot change who this child is. So many parents' heartbreak and disappointment in the "failures" of their children is merely the failure of their projected ambitions. They looked at their children as a second chance for themselves, a chance to "get it right," especially if they came from a non-Christian background. They raise their child with the faulty logic that, "If only I had had _______, I would have ______/would not have______." Unfortunately, your child is a different person with a different environment, so what may have influenced you to do one thing may either have no effect on them or cause them to do something entirely different. Children are not baked goods produced when a specific recipe is followed, and they are not your second chance at living. Your immortality is only found in your own identity as a child of Christ, not in creating a clone of yourself (or what you wish you had been) in your child.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On a lighter (and somewhat sicker) note...

Okay, all of this deep thinking and probing introspection is tiring. So, I am taking a break with some mean-spirited frivolity to tick off the few people I haven't managed to offend yet.

The California Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage (HT: Ben in his Red Shirt), but sadly this news came too late for some couples, such as the one pictured below. Although deeply in love with each other almost as much as with themselves, they find themselves already trapped in the bitter bondage of heterosexual monogamy. If only they were still single and lived in California now. *sigh* Oh, but what might have been...

Oh wait, wasn't it already legal in Massachusetts?!!? Didn't Kerry know this? Oh wait, he was already married. Life, however fabulous Edward's hair may be, just is not fair.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Horrors of Hephzibah House

I at one time attended a church that supported this "rehab program," and I would call on anyone who still does to please do your research! My husband and I sat on the Mission Committee for a short time, and Hephzibah House received one of the largest monthly allotments, even though the same church dropped other missionaries for not being through an approved Mission Board. The home is run by Ron and Patti Williams in Indiana, who answer to no one but themselves. (I think this in itself makes it unwise for other churches to support their work.) If you are supporting this ministry, or even worse, thinking of sending your daughter to Hephzibah House in Indiana, please read this post (Adventures in Mercy) in its entirety. Especially disturbing was the link to Ron Williams views on child abuse thinly disguised as "discipline." I am just shocked this place hasn't been closed down!

Here are some of the links I found with information on this place. Ugh.

Former Hephzibah Girls

The Truth About Hephzibah House

Survivor Stories

Exposing Hephzibah House

This is a link to the article I mentioned, where Ron Williams explains how to "beat" an infant.

A Semi-Recovered Fundamentalist

I have really been enjoying a new blog I came across, adventures in mercy. I find a lot of what this author is going through really resonates with my own experiences. I don't share all of her beliefs, but that's the idea! To be free to question, to believe differently, to have different priorities... she embraces these qualities in herself and her readers.

I have been meaning to post for some time on my recent spiritual developments, but lack of time has been the biggest hindrance. I will try to scratch the surface, but I could honestly write a whole book!

I guess I consider myself a semi-recovered fundamentalist. I used to say "recovered" or "recovering," but the more I read, I realized I still am pretty fundamentalist in a lot of my views. What has changed the most drastically is the priority I put on my beliefs, as I try to more closely align myself to what the Bible says as opposed to what man adds to it.

An interesting turning point for me was my study on Pharisees, beginning in Matthew 23. Being raised by pulpit-pounding, hellfire, brimstone, aisle-running, sweating and spitting Baptist preachers, I took this teaching style as the norm. This was just the way it should be. Anything less, and you were a wimp. A liberal. A spineless sinner that just couldn't hack it with the real Christians. Unfortunately, the more I studied Pharisees, the more I saw some frightening similarities to way I had been raised, and the way I was living my life. I say "frightening" because this was the only group Jesus ever verbally and physically attacked! Hmmm... That can't be good. Now, we had been taught that verses like Galatians 5:1 were simply verses that liberal Christians used to justify their sinful behavior. If someone quoted Galatians 5:1 to me, I would retort back with Galatians 5:13 and I Peter 2:16 and feel quite smug. After all, that's the only reason you would seek liberty, right? In order to SIN. (And you had to say "SIN" with a sneering, scary voice to get the full effect.) Sad to say, I saw enough churches and Christians that did just that. They went to church simply to have the best of both worlds, but there was no attempts to pursue holiness or righteousness in their lives. They could live like the devil all week and go to church Sunday with the same crowd they partied with. Their relationship with God was so shallow, fleshly and self-serving, that they seemed to corroborate my views of Christian liberty by all of the wickedness in their lives. (And don't say I was just being judgmental, because, well, although I was, I am not talking about "gray areas" here but some really icky stuff.) So I threw myself with a passion into pursuing holiness through legalism. I crossed my t's, dotted my i's, wore the uniform, sang the songs, etc. I joke now that I "never met a standard I didn't like" during that phase, which lasted until after I got married. I was doing everything by the rules, but something still ate at me. Something (or Someone?) kept whispering to me that maybe there was a middle ground. Maybe there was a balance. Maybe I had been wrong.

Although it percolated for a few years, and my husband and I gradually began making changes, things really reached a breaking point when our girls came along. Two girls in two years, and our lives turned upside-down. It was time to take a step back, and start over from a spiritual perspective. So many things that my husband and I had been tolerating suddenly became a very big deal. We might be able to ignore the fact that the majority of our church prioritized such beliefs as "you couldn't possibly be right with God and wear blue jeans" over issues that really mattered. We might be able to withstand not being taken seriously spiritually because we didn't belive in whiting our sepulchres with the same whitewash most of them used. BUT, what would it do to our daughters? What kind of stumblingblock would we be placing in their way if we continued to keep all these superficial rules? How seriously would they take our authority when they realized we were branded as rebels? How could we tell them, "The church says this, but they're wrong" about one thing, and not expect them to wonder why they should acknowledge any of it? We realized we had to break free of the authoritarian model we had both been raised in. My first instinctual thought was, "I am a failure as a Christian. I am rebelling and can't submit to my God-given authority (meaning the pastor). I just can't hack being a Christian, so rather than grow up and do something for God, I'm going to wimp out, become a liberal, lose my kids and have no effectiveness for the Lord." A very depressing thought, let me tell you. I spent so long crying, trying to submit, begging God to just convict me and my husband of this long list of things we should be doing. But the more I cried, fasted, prayed and studied my Bible, the more I understood God's silence. This was not the path He had chosen for us. Now, again, I could write a book on all of the things He began to reveal to us, but I'll try to sum it up. First of all, He opened our eyes to our mistaken view of just who the so-called God-given authority in our lives was. We suddenly realized that the "Submit to our rules now, the convictions and peace about it will come later" methods were not Biblical! In the Old Testament, the prophets literally spoke the Word of God. They had to be obeyed unconditionally, because they were the only access to God's Word the people had. We realized that applying this as doctrine to the New Testament church was very, very wrong. The pastor is no longer our prophet, our direct line to God. We all have access to God's Word on our own, and the pastor's teachings should only expound on and corroborate what you have already learned in your own study!!! There is no absolute authority in a man anymore, so when a man takes an "application" of a verse (and Bible verses have many possible and perfectly legitimate applications) and turns it into an "interpretation," which essentially makes it a doctrine, therein lies the error of most fundamentalist churches. It's not that it's wrong to apply verses the way they do to their own life, but it IS wrong to teach this as a doctrine that applies to everyone else. The era of the prophets (as I previously defined them) has ended, but the teaching sadly hasn't in so many churches. Once my husband realized that he was head of the home, and Christ was the head of him, not a man to be set up on a pedestal and blindly followed, the walls came crashing down and we experienced the joys of true Christian liberty.

So why do I consider myself only a semi-recovered fundamentalist? Because even after we blew apart our faulty logic, I was able to embrace the things that I truly believed without being ashamed. We base our beliefs, standards and priorities on what the Lord reveals to me and my husband through the Bible, and we try to heed Matthew 23:23 and not get caught in the trap of the Pharisees. That's not to say we don't think we can learn from a preacher, or that we are above anyone else because we are now " mature and enlightened," we just run all the "you should be doing/wearing/avoiding _______ if you call yourself a Christian" through the filter of the Bible. If it fits, we apply it. If not, we discard it. We don't judge those on either side of the aisle, legalist or liberal, since every man will give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12). Many people, when they finally stagger free of legalism, are so afraid of being sucked back into it (or so bitter about the experience) that they go to the opposite extreme. They stop attending church altogether, chuck any moral standards in their life in the trash can, let their kids run wild and in general just trade one set of problems for another!!! Hubby and I were fortunate that we were able to escape legalism while still realizing that we did have an ultimate authority in our lives - the Word of God. So, now I have people mad at me on both sides. The ones who get out of legalism - and decide to throw out the Bible and Christianity as well - think I'm still brainwashed and ignorant because I still have a moral compass in my life. The legalists in my life assume that I just want to be liberal because I am lazy, fleshly, and not totally "sold out" to God. They're both wrong, but I'm okay with that now! I am comfortable in my own spiritual skin, secure in my identity as God's child.

This is a big topic to try to bite off in one post, but I know I'm not the only one out there who doesn't want to go to one extreme or the other. Hubby and I would sometimes get so exasperated and feel like yelling, "Isn't anyone out there just a NORMAL Christian?" Then we realized, there is no such thing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pleeze suport our cauz

(Hooked on Phonics definitely didn't work for these two.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

In the rain with no umbrella

"Study to show thyself approved unto God..."

Our pastor has really been in "teaching" mode lately, and it has really fed that desire in me to ask questions. I love to question everything. Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those who feel they need to chuck everything they were ever taught just to prove who I really am. I just feel that Christianity is the thinking man or woman's faith, and I don't believe it was ever meant to be blindly followed without really digging into all it has to offer. Many people question their faith because deep down, they want to be free of it. They are in bondage to it, and they, essentially, want out. Their so-called spiritual enlightenment (especially if they are coming out of legalism) is usually the result of some kind of crisis: a personal issue, a church scandal, family problems, etc..., and generally involves embracing any view that comes along first that is diametrically opposite to what they were taught. I, on the other hand, question my faith simply because I believe it begs to be explored.

One of the concepts I have been questioning, which brings me back to the verse I mentioned earlier, is this one of submission. I was brought up in a church of chest-beaters that thought that men, especially men in the minstry, ruled the world, which essentially meant they behaved like spoiled children while the women did all the work. This confused me, but still I didn't question it. It was, after all, what the Bible said, or did it? The natural progression to this teaching was that the church was the ultimate authority in your life, headed by your pastor, who was "God's man." The kicker was, all a woman was required to do was submit - even if the man in her life was wrong. I heard over and over "Submit, and let God work on his heart." We were terrified with stories of those who rose up against "God's man," and assured that wives who did not let their husbands live like narcissistic teenagers would be sending their children to Hell. We were given the illustration of an umbrella, although the Scriptural foundation for this is fairly vague. Under your father/husband/pastor/church you were safe under "God's umbrella of protection." Disagree with your husband, leave your church, question your father and POOF you were removing yourself from this protection, even if they were dead wrong. Submit, and God will work out the details. I believed this. I never questioned it. I felt I was confident enough in myself that I could submit to a man without losing who I was. I felt I had faith enough to let the men in my life make poor judgments, and God would smooth out the wrinkles because, after all, I was being submissive. Guess what? I was so wrong. My husband hated it, because he wanted a Biblical help-meet, not a "yes man," figuratively speaking, of course. He wanted my opinion, my input, my spiritual discernment. I began to realize my father made mistakes, my pastor made mistakes, our church made mistakes... and I could not, in fact should not, submit to them in everything. Our church taught things we disagreed with, and we were faced with a terrifying decision. Do we defy all we've been taught and step outside the umbrella? Or do we stay under teaching that we believe contradicts the Bible and risk losing (or warping) our children like 90% of the kids in the churches we grew up in? We both came to realize that this so-called submission is in fact a form of pride and laziness. Laziness, because by practicing blind submission you don't have to think for yourself. Why? Because, as long as you submit, you are not accountable for the outcome. I hate to break it to ya sweetie, but if you throw your kids under the bus in order to submit to "God-given authority," God doesn't owe you anything. You might just lose your kids and be left wondering what went wrong. The second part is pride. Pride is what make you want to be with people who look alike, think alike, dress alike, talk alike, sing alike... because ultimately then you are always surrounded by...YOURSELF. Most legalists are clothed in the deepest humility, just ask them. In truth, they do what they do because it "feels" good to be part of the group. To be on the inside track to God. To be more enlightened than most other Christians. For all their sweet submissiveness, they are eaten up with pride. My husband and I call it the "Martyr Syndrome." People who just thrive on appearing submissive to everyone else's needs and demands, not realizing it's just feeding their own pride in themselves. Now please know, there are many, if not most, who are very sincere in their ultimate submission, be it to church, pastor, husband, whomever. They certainly don't perceive themselves as lazy or prideful. How could they be lazy, when they are working their tails off waiting on all the men in their lives?!??! It's a spiritual laziness. A mental laziness that says, "I don't want to accept the consequences or the outcome of this myself. therefore I'll just submit, and let God clean up the mess." This is a dangerous trap, and shakes the faith of many when, in fact, God does not clean up the mess. Your child may never come back to God. Your family might fall apart. You will hear all kinds of stories of men and women who submitted and God miraculously changed the situation, turning it all into a bed of roses. You don't hear the rest of the stories, where the mothers and fathers do exactly what they are told, and years later they sit in a church pew alone. Their kids are long gone, eaten up with bitterness and suspicion of "organized religion." It's time to wake up. It's time to open your Bible and study for yourself. Don't wait for a crisis to push you off the deep end. Don't trudge along mindlessly following the comfortable rituals of legalism. "Study to show yourself approved unto God."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Not so very long ago...

It's hard to believe that forty years ago interracial marriage was illegal! It's amazing how far we've come in such a relatively short time on matters of race. There are those leaders that like to race-bait, since they would be out of a job if they didn't keep stirring up anger and tension, but overall as a nation I think we've come a long way in embracing equality. Click here for an article about the woman whose marriage paved the way to getting rid of this ridiculous law. I hate to agree with the ACLU on anything, but this is one situation where I applaud the outcome!