Category Archives: Religion

Nepal 2013

monkey temple
Swayambhu, or in English, The Monkey Temple in Kathmandu.

As most of you remember, I went to Pokhara, Nepal in December last year to help train women as sewing instructors. I’m so excited to be getting to go back this year!

I’ll be leaving in just a few short weeks to start the nearly 30 hours of flying to get there. Once I make it to Kathmandu, I’ll take a bus through the Himalayan Mountains for 6 hours to the town of Pokhara. It’s a good sized town with a beautiful lake and a tourist village that we jokingly named the Gatlinburg of Nepal.

fish tail
This is Machapuchare, or in English, Fish Tail Mountain near Pokhara. It is sacred to the goddess Shiva so no climbing allowed.

Once we arrive in Pokhara we will meet with our host, Sangte (pronounced Son-TAY). She will be our translator for the week. She is a remarkable woman. Indian by birth, she and her husband felt called to minister to the Tibetan refugees in Nepal so they packed up and moved from India to Pokhara. She and her husband have cared for Tibetan refugee children over the past 10 years. Sometimes she has as many as eight children and teens living with her! She decided that another way to help would be to open sewing schools for women to learn job skills.

It is said that to be born a woman in Nepal you had to have been very bad in a previous life. Girls receive little education and are expected to quit school when they marry. Several of the women we worked with last year worked as seamstresses but also dug gravel and sand out of the river to sell to supplement their income. Sangte’s sewing schools are helping change that. By training women as seamstresses and then allowing them to purchase a sewing machine through a micro-lending program, women are able to start their own businesses in their village to make clothing and household items to sell.

I can’t explain how humbled and excited I am to be a part of this project.

group
Here is our group from last year!

Many of you asked how you could help. If you are inclined to contribute, you can do so in a variety of ways. The group I work with is Global Women. You can donate on that website and please specify that it is for Nepal. You can also help me with supplies I’ll be taking with me. I need: women’s vitamins, calcium, small tubes of toothpaste, yarn, crochet hooks in sizes 5 and 6mm, scissors (Nepalese scissors are very poor quality), sandwich and gallon sized ziplock bags, gum, candy, hand lotion, band aids, or neosporin. I also need fun things to go in a grab bag the ladies can pull from. Fun things like hair ties, nail polish, scarves, necklaces, note pads and pens are things we had in the grab bag last year. If you don’t have time to purchase those items but still want to help you can pass me some cash and let me know what you’d like for me to purchase. You can also paypal me under my name.

Lastly, I will ask you to pray, send good thoughts, light a candle or do your special dance for me and the team traveling to Nepal and for the ladies we will work with during the two weeks. I don’t talk much about my religion here but I will say this: I feel very strongly that God has called me to this place to spend time with these ladies and tell them they are loved and cared for by a community that is on the other side of the world. That they matter and are important to God and to me.

Thank you. It means a lot to me that many of you supported my trip last year and I appreciate what you have done and are continuing to do for this trip.

me teaching

Al Mohler and His Lying God

Al Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s very concerned about evolution, calling it one of the biggest challenges to Christianity. He knows evolution isn’t true, though, because his God is the author of one of the biggest lies ever: the Earth.

I am willing to accept the authority of science on any number of issues. I am fundamentally agnostic about a host of other scientific concerns — but not where the fundamental truth of the Gospel and the clear teachings of the Bible are at stake.

As I have stated repeatedly, I accept without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old. Armed with naturalistic assumptions, I would almost assuredly come to the same conclusions as BioLogos and the evolutionary establishment, or I would at least find evolutionary arguments credible. But the most basic issue is, and has always been, that of worldview and basic presuppositions. The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions. Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions. There is absolutely no reason that a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumptions of evolution.

Pause for a second and let that sink in. Al Mohler is explicitly saying that all of the physical evidence points to an Earth much older than however many thousands of years he and Bishop Usher have decided on. He concedes that point, because in the end, God can overrule natural laws, and has done so to manufacture fake fossils and to fiddle with natural processes like radioactive decay.

Think through what this means. In Al Mohler’s view, you can’t trust your lying eyes. The Earth looks old not because it is old, but because God made it look old. God is lying to you, obfuscating the truth as much as possible because…well, that’s really the question.

This portrayal of God is an interesting one. Al Mohler’s God is always testing you, telling you falsehoods to see if you’ll be able to sort them from the truth. The act that Al Mohler is so concerned about, God’s creation of the Earth, was an act of lying. Al Mohler’s God is a lying liar who seeks to mislead you.

I’ve seen this behavior is described in the Bible. Strangely enough, it’s not behavior that the Bible condones or normally associates with God. If you asked Al Mohler if his God is a liar, he’d undoubtedly say no. How strange, then,  that Al Mohler’s worldview requires a God who lies.

Smaller Pants

I got a wake up call right after the first of the year.

I went to the doctor for a sinus infection and my blood pressure was high. So high in fact, that my nurse practitioner was afraid I would have a stroke. She ripped open a sample box of BP meds and stood and watched while I took the first one. That doctor visit was the first day of my current life.

I had been toying with giving something up for Lent. I had never done a Lenten practice before, so I decided to combine that with something my body needed very badly. I gave up dessert sugar, sugared drinks and fast food.

The first week was bad. Withdrawal craving kind of bad. Several times I would wake up and crave sugar so badly I thought I’d cave and get something. But I didn’t. I made it through that first week and moved on to the second. Each week was easier until at this point, I don’t even think about sugar much. I do have it now but it’s a once or twice a week thing, instead of everyday, twice a day.

I started exercising. Every day. Not when I wanted to or felt like it. I did it everyday.

I lost 20 pounds so quickly if felt like magic.

I bought some new clothes to take on our trip to England.

Shortly before we left on our trip, I hurt my knee. I don’t know what I did to it but it was so very painful. I took a bit of rest the few days before we left and missed my trip goal weight by 1 pound. I was a bit sad but I consoled myself with the fact that I would still be getting plenty of exercise on the trip.

My knee was the singular down note on our whole trip. I had to baby it pretty much every day and the day we were in Edinburgh I didn’t climb Holyrood to see Authur’s Seat because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to walk at all the next day.

When we got home I had my chiropractor adjust it and since then it has steadily gotten better but I haven’t been exercising everyday. After the trip, I took the whole week off from working out. I’ve slowly been adding the daily workouts back to my schedule but I’ve been really careful about it.

Yesterday I went to the store nab a pair of shorts because I gave away all the ones that were too big. I picked up a pair that were the size I bought just before our trip. They were too big. I thought maybe it was a mis-size, so I got another pair. They were too big as well. I tried on the smaller size and they fit! Sometime in the past month, even though I haven’t lost any more weight, I lost a pants size.

I am not too proud to admit that I did a little dance of glee in the dressing room while wearing smaller pants.

In a lifetime of always, ALWAYS, buying the next size up, I bought the size smaller yesterday.

I wanted to come home and start my marathon training. Seriously, it crossed my mind to take up running.

So how’s my blood pressure? It’s better. I’m still taking meds but it is lower than when I started at the first of the year. The second half is that even though I’ve massively overhauled my diet and I’ve taken up exercise, I still had to start taking cholesterol meds. I’m not sure that this is a function of my weight at this point. I think I might be fighting age and genetics. And I’m getting to the point of being ok with that.

It’s hard to be mad at taking my medicine while I’m wearing smaller pants.

Biblical Marriage

Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
-Genesis 28:8-9

“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.”
-Deuteronomy 25:5

After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him.
-2 Samuel 5:13

“‘Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.'”
-Leviticus 18:18

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
-Deuteronomy 22:28-29

Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” … When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave hm his daughter Rachel to be his wife.
– Genesis 29:16-18,25-28

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
-1 Corinthians 7:1

FlashForward Eschatology

FlashForward is a new ABC show about what happens when everyone on Earth passes out for about two minutes and sees a vision of what they’ll be doing in six months. The show is most concerned with What It All Means — why did everyone get a glimpse of their future? and is that future fixed? — but I was struck by the aftershocks of the event. Since people lose consciousness, there are all kinds of terrible accidents, from drivers having wrecks to pilots augering in their 757s during landing. Days later, buildings still smolder where they were struck by news helicopters. Children re-enact the event, asking each other, “What did you see this time? What did you see?” An FBI Assistant Director eulogizes the agents who died. One character on a nearly-empty aircraft sits next to an airline exec who is there to reassure the public that flying is safe again, the punchline being that the exec is scared shitless.

While these are only minor events in the storyline, they help make the show seem more real. Watching them, I found myself thinking, this is what Left Behind should have looked like.

Left Behind tells the story of what happens when God raptures — that is, kills off and snatches away — all of the “real” Christians and also all babies and young children. It was a runaway best-seller. It was also a terrible book, both in theology and in construction. Over at Slacktivist, Fred Clark’s exegesis of the series has been running since October 2003, and it’s taking him so long to catalog all of the series’ sins that, six years later, he’s only 100 pages into book two.

FlashForward shows how shoddy the worldbuilding in Left Behind is. In FlashForward, everyone wants to know what happened. In Left Behind, they’re so incurious that they don’t even think to search the clothes of the raptured to see if, I don’t know, they’ve been turned into red dust or shrunk down or something. The book mentions wrecked planes and choked cab lines, but a day later everything seems back to normal and the planes are flying on time.

Let’s do a couple of back-of-the-envelope calculations. The Fifth National Survey of Religion and Politics pegs the U.S.’s traditional evangelical protestant population at 10%. Assume a third of that 10% agreed with LaHaye and Jenkins’s outlook and thus were raptured. The U.S. population is about 300,000,000 people, which means 10 million people in the U.S. vanished at once. The equivalent of the entire Chicago metro area is gone. Never mind the cabs, think of the chaos on streets and interstates across the country. If one in ten of those True Christians is in a car at the time, you’ve got the potential for 100,000 simultaneous wrecks. That’s nearly two months worth of U.S. auto wrecks compressed into one minute. How long would it take to clear them away?

And what about hospitals? You’ve got expectant mothers whose babies vanished as they were giving birth. What’s that going to do to the doctors and nurses who weren’t also raptured? What kind of post-traumatic stress will labor and delivery staff have? Oh, and were any of the True Christian doctors operating at the time, leaving a patient to die?

Meanwhile, all over the world, parents called out for their kids and got no response. Kindergarten teachers were suddenly facing empty classrooms. Nannies on the Upper East Side, hearing the panic spreading through New York City, looked into the strollers they were pushing and began freaking out about losing their charges.

What happens the day after everyone is raptured? When there’s no need for daycares any more? When pediatricians have no reason to go to work? When firefighters and policeman may have a literally decimated force at a time when every single one of them is needed? Left Behind has answers for none of these. In fact, it doesn’t even ask the questions.

FlashForward has a leg up on Left Behind. It’s based on a science fiction book by Robert Sawyer, and while Sawyer may not be that good at creating believable characters, he’s got that old-school SF love of delving into the consequences of unexpected events. LaHaye, meanwhile, is a minister; Jenkins, the writer of the two, churns out formulaic children’s books, mysteries, and comic strips. Neither of them seem interested in anything beyond beating their polemical views into readers’ heads. Their science fiction begins and ends with their Biblical prophesies, which they assembled from disparate scraps of the Bible like a ransom note from newspapers.

When you think about it, the Rapture as described in Left Behind would be a terrible, bone-chilling event. The ramifications are huge. Yet Left Behind doesn’t pause to acknowledge it. When your novel can’t even match the tiny amounts of worldbuilding that can be squeezed into a 42-minute TV show, you’re doing it wrong.

Taking Care

I’d like to be able to say that it gets easier to prepare for a trip home to go to a funeral. In some ways, the packing and managing of our lives to get ready to go has gotten easier with practice. Remembering to take Liza’s sound machine and to hold the mail before we leave has become a bit of a routine. It’s a day-long routine for me, getting the four of us ready to go, but I start to cope during that time. I take comfort in handling our clothes, our books, the snacks we’ll eat on the road. As I am packing, I project out to the day after the funeral, when the kids will have time with the grandparent we’re there to comfort. I pray for the smile Eli and Liza’s presence might bring to them.

My dad called two weeks ago to tell me that his dad had pneumonia and they were taking him to the hospital. I could tell by the things he wasn’t saying that he was worried. All I could do was tell him that I was sorry.

I’ve never been comfortable around my dad’s dad. When I was young, he seemed mean to me. When I was old enough to understand that he was of a generation used to back-breaking labor and few words, I hadn’t spent any time around him for more than a decade.

My feelings for my dad’s parents have always been complex. I loved them as family and resented them for how they treated my dad and, by extension, me. It’s been tough to forgive things that were said and done, but I feel like I’ve done a decent job of forgiving them and the decisions they made that they thought were right. All the forgiveness in the world doesn’t get back all that lost time, though.

When I called my dad last Thursday to check on Pawpaw he was already gone. My dad’s sadness was so very much more overwhelming to me than my own.

The same second cousin that performed my Grannie’s funeral performed my Pawpaw’s. Once again, I was struck by how he had memories that I didn’t have. It’s hard for me to not feel cheated. And each day since then, I have been practicing falling back on that forgiveness that I’ve been working on for so many years.

In January I had a cold. At the beginning of February it was a sinus and ear infection. I ended up in the ER on the way home from the funeral because I was having trouble breathing. Pneumonia kept me in Arkansas for an extra day to rest before heading back to Alabama. My dad and step-mom took care of the kids while I slept in my Vicodin-induced, no-coughing haze and Stephen headed to DC for business.

My dad has called several times since we’ve been home to check on us. I keep mulling over how we went there to comfort him and he ended up taking care of us instead. I’ve been thinking that sometimes caring for our family is all we have and why we are here. I heard my dad say once that he didn’t want to take care of his parents. Watching him doing it anyway has been very powerful for me to watch.

I’m sorry my Pawpaw is gone. It hurt a lot to watch my dad grieve for him. I am frankly a bit surprised to feel the hole that his passing has left. Should I have tried harder to have a relationship with him? Undoubtedly. I am counting myself blessed, however, for having watched my dad care for his dad and seeing how that has strengthened the bond between the two of us.

Selling Nice Cars to Flawed People

I am a compulsive reader. At breakfast I’ll read the backs of cereal boxes. I can’t not read a sign I pass, or even the warnings on the back of a car’s visor about le sac gonflable. That’s why I read the tag on the back of the new car:

SMITHSON’S MOTORS

NICE CARS FOR GOOD PEOPLE

In between was a fish symbol, just to make sure you got their message: hey, we’re Christians, and we want to sell to Christians because they’re good people.

Let’s slide past using religion as a tool to sell, much less sell cars, a profession that consistently is ranked at the bottom in terms of honesty. It’s the “…for good people” part that makes me grind my teeth so hard that I have to wipe enamel dust from my lips.

People aren’t simply good or bad, as if they pick an alignment off of a D&D table and never deviate from it. People are good or bad in the context of what’s going on, both in the world around them and inside their heads. Moreover, a person who’s a Christian is still a person. It’s not as if all of their flaws vanish, never to reappear. Even the ones who are trying their hardest to embody the best ideals of Christianity are going to slip up.

The idea that Christians are automatically good is poisonous. It flies in the face of everything we know about people, and is a yardstick that no one will measure up to, not always. It leaves no room for people to be human. It is an ideal that brooks no deviation, and grinds people flat. If you’re not a Christian, you’ll look at us Christians and say, huh, they say they’re good, but look at all the times when they aren’t. It doesn’t help that Christians have the bad habit of taking the already-flawed logical proposition and incorrectly reversing it, deciding that non-Christians can’t be good.

You want to sell nice cars to good people? Fine. Just don’t tie it to Christianity in an attempt to move more product.