When the church hates “Immodest Women”

I’ve been thinking for a little while about this modesty thing, and this week in particular I’ve finally been able to pin-point the reasons why discussing it in church can be so tiresome and hurtful. In my eyes, the church has become a place in which anyone who dresses immodestly is separated as an evil entity worthy of scorn, shame and disrespect. Last week, I saw a presentation about modesty, during which several photos  of Meagan Good were shown for the church to gasp at and gossip about her marriage and character. I looked around the room and felt embarrassed for everyone. Since when was sharing photos of another woman a Christ-like way to discuss modesty, when the woman in question isn’t even there to defend herself? Back in school, misogynist boys used to do similar: they liked sharing photos and videos of women to each other via their phones, all the while crying “slut! Hoe!”. How was everyone’s behaviour that night much different?

I’m genuinely perplexed. If someone had an alcohol problem, the response would be different. When people speak about their lust/pornography/masturbation issues, there’s much sympathy and support (maybe because it’s normally men who speak out about these? People expect men to have such problems, after all…). I would never expect photos of drug addicts or porn addicts shared around the church for everyone’s enjoyment. It would be wrong. So why do we not give women (I’ll say women cause we’re always called out on this), who are struggling with dress reform the same the same care? It’s almost as if, by their attire, everyone else thinks they have a right to talk about them, to slander them and make judgments about their spiritual life….

The typical phrase that I always hear about the judgement thing is “well, by their fruits ye shall know them”, which is true. But people are still far too quick to come to a conclusion about someone’s character. If you are using something as superficial as an outfit to make conclusions about how someone must be, then by principal the only fruit you can confidently assess is their dress reform fruit. You can’t say anything about their personal prayer life; or how much they’re studying the Word; you can’t say what’s in their heart or if they’ve witnessed that week; you can’t see if they’re a nice person, or even their motives for dressing how they do. All you can say is that when it comes to dress reform, they’re ignorant.

Now, in regards to someone who has no second thoughts about publicly shaming a woman who has come to church dressed immodestly; who gets angry at the thought of having to be “politically correct” when approaching someone about their outfit; who doesn’t know or understand how to talk to someone about this issue with respect and understanding; who has forgotten where God has brought them from; who sees women who dress immodestly as “trying to tempt men”, or “trying to take men” (errm, maybe cut down on the Tyler Perry films?), and who gets annoyed when said person reacts emotively to their treatment—I’d say their actions speak volumes about their spiritual life. If behaviour like that is second-nature, then it says more about what’s in their heart, than the person dressing immodestly. I would even say that these are the fruits we should be focusing on more, since they verbally show what’s going through a person’s head. If a Christian habitually behaves in this way, they deserve prayers. Because in essence, they’re wasting time coming to church: they are a Christian who’s mean. What’s more, being told that the modesty issue requires “politically correct” speech annoys them. You’re going to be talking to someone about their appearance! Why would you not want to be kind to them? Have you ever heard of a Christian who gets offended at the thought of showing kindness? How bizarre.

It’s worrying because we have two classes of church-goers that emerge from this scenario. People who display fruit that don’t really look all that good. Like a persimmon, or a pineapple. Maybe their fruit is covered in dirt? But inside it’s all sweet and rich and all it will take is some gentle encouragement, study and aid to guide them to understand more what Christ wants for them. Just because they may not dress the part, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re rebellious, or that they have no care for God’s sanctuary; they want to take everyone’s husband, or they have a vendetta against all men and want them to sin. It means that God is bringing them on a journey. We all have to start from somewhere; everyone’s had their own struggles and problems throughout their Christian walk, through which we’ve all been met with discouragement and scorn and unfair judgement. Why should be pass on that same attitude to someone else who’s trying just as we are? Why not break the cycle and do the Christ-like thing for once?

The second person displays the fruit that looks amazing: a big Julie mango, ripe and fresh. But unbeknownst to everyone else (probably not even themselves, which is the scary part), the flesh is sour and rotten with mould. It’s no good, but because they wear a nice hat, and high-necked tops and long skirts, everyone assumes them to be virtuous, modest, vegan, natural; the perfect wife and all those idealised stereotypes of women we have in church. We tend to make archetypes out of women based on appearance—in the world as well as the church—and these affect the level of respect a woman is given; the confidence that church members put into her; and how she gets treated from day to day. Massive conclusions of character are made about a woman by how she looks. The person with the deceitful fruit also needs lots of prayer, that they may be kinder to those around them and not internalise the horrible way in which they were probably treated in the past about their dress.

Let’s try to remember that every speck or blemish in our characters is a sign of some sort of struggle with sin. It’s up to us to help each other not only take responsibility for our actions, but to empathise and encourage. The modesty issue is never really seen as someone “struggling” with a particular way of life: it’s much easier to paint the woman in question as some sort of Babylonian/Golden Calf-worshipping heathen, for which she should be as publicly and unsympathetically dealt with as possible. Not cool, guys.

Think before you speak, and ask God to make your thoughts as close to His as possible, so that your own faults have a higher priority in your mind than everyone else’s.

So… We can’t just be friends?

Ages ago, I watched a really silly interview with Steve Harvey, where he essentially reeled off all the generalised sayings about men and women that’s made him money over the years. There was one comment he said that made me laugh. How ludicrous! I thought. Why do people buy his relationship books? Surely he’s a man who’s become a parody of himself without even knowing it! In the interview, he’d said that men and women can never be “just friends” because the man is always thinking about sex; in his mind, as long as he’s close to her there will always be a chance for him. Obviously I’m uncomfortable with how similar this sentiment is to the “friendzone” mindset: when a man just doesn’t know his boundaries and decides that pushing himself onto a woman is the best way to ignore her stance that she really is just his friend, and in response to his rejection he hurls abuse at her for “friendzoning” him (or sometimes worse).

I shook my head at Steve Harvey, because I’ve never believed that to be true. It was just another stereotype based on pseudoscience and biological determinism about the crazed, feral, explodingly strong libido that heterosexual men have which means that if you’re not going to sleep with them, shut up and leave ’em alone.

Until now, I suppose…

Let me explain: I don’t believe the biological determinist lark, but recently I’ve been hurt by certain events that have left me disappointed in a few people—men—who I thought were my friends, but who now live a nonexistence in my life that I find quite worrying. They have both been alluded to in previous blog posts, and I would love to link to said posts, but it’s half-past ten in the evening; I start at 9am tomorrow and it just seems too long. I’m only writing at this time because I’ve had these thoughts in my head all day and I need to get them down.

Both of these guys were… not “love interests” by any means, but they were (in my mind) potentials. One of them used to message me often on Facebook and we used to chat and pray together on Skype or on the phone; he invited me to his church once, which was nice. Now, these things aren’t extraordinary, but he did this thing that I now know a lot of church guys do for a reason I still don’t understand. He had this habit of talking to me about marriage and kids and homelife. He even recommended that I read Adventist Home and used to always talk to me about relationships. In fact, he once asked me if I was seeing anyone. I took this to mean he was interested, but one day, he posted a picture online of his girlfriend (a woman who never came up in any of our conversations), and I withdrew a bit. I was shocked. This was my first experience of the “church way” and I didn’t like it. In my opinion, all the evidence showed that he had played about with me a bit. If he’d told me there was another woman from the start I would have known where I stood and continued correspondence as friends.

The friendship I shared with guy number two was too intense. As I think about it, I cringe. He told me very personal things about himself (that I still and will always keep to myself); I spoke to him about personal things; we spoke almost daily either on the phone or on Skype; he told me he was attracted to me and just when I thought things were going somewhere, he said I was more like a sister to him and that he didn’t mean to make me think we were going places. At this, I was angry. I felt as though he had called my heart out and I felt vulnerable because until then, I didn’t realise I was still trying to come to terms with a fairly recent instance of unrequited love. It made me really reassess myself; I put a lot of blame onto my actions and I was paranoid because I felt as though I would never get this relationship thing right. After a very tense and difficult and uncomfortable conversation with Guy Two, we almost stopped speaking.

Today, I can’t really say I’m friends with either of these men. With the first, we don’t even like each other’s statuses, let alone private message. With the second, he’s changed his number twice and has decided not to give me either of them—and I’ve been texting the wrong number for a long time. I don’t even know what he’s doing with his life or if he’s doing well, which is a shame. Now it’ll be awkward for us to talk again because it just won’t be the same.

Now, I wonder if the relationships I had with these guys were genuine, of if they were only used as tools to see my character and if I would be a good match for them. When it didn’t work out, they discarded me, which I don’t think is fair. Did I ever have a true connection with them, or what is all one-sided?

I realise now, that some guys really can’t be “just friends”. Of course, this is only my take on it and there could be a reason why we’ve all lost contact, but from where I’m standing, it looks as though they’ve both terminated whatever contribution I made to their lives.

Until next time…

xXx

Understanding the Three Angels’ Messages

So, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. I haven’t been in the church for ages, but a good few years have passed, through which I’ve experienced personal spiritual changes. I’d like to think that I’ve endured the winter of ignorance, bereft of knowledge; enjoyed hopeful spring and the budding excitement that a joy of true Bible study brings; then summer, and that strange overabundance of everything: witnessing zeal, criticising everyone else for not behaving how I behave–and now I’m comfortably in autumn: calm, not too much of anything, mellow and happy enough that major trials don’t keep me down for too long. Pretty much just drifting along with the wind now, like leaves…

Speaking of leaves… If I remember correctly, Ellen White said that she wanted her book, The Great Controversy, to fall like ‘autumn leaves’ across the nations. The Great Controversy is about a lot of things: sin, prophecy, papal corruption; the Protestant Reformation and Jesus’ soon coming. As Adventists, we pride ourselves in knowledge (or assumed knowledge) of Bible prophecy, Biblical numbers and times; interpretation and most importantly– the Three Angels’ Messages from Revelation 14. As a church, we believe that we should be giving this message to the world and to warn others about the enormity of sin, and the return of Jesus. All this is great, but for a while now I’ve become disconcerted with this whole ‘mission’ of our church. I’m not saying I don’t believe in it, but I think at times, we as individuals fall out of place with the rest of humanity in regards to it.

I am all aware that the Glory Days of the church were pretty much in the late 1800s: it was when everyone studied their Bibles, knew the doctrines back-to-back and prayed with faith and fervor. Now, we’re lazy and slack: I’m seeing grown adults who’ve been in the church for over 40 years making childish mistakes: I’ve witnessed people who should know better display worrying signs of never having known God at all. I’ve seen it and I get it and I hate it too, but I fear the response to this slumber has propelled some people into the other extreme. Spending hours in the Word; pouring over prophecies so that they know and can do a Bible study on them; preparing presentation after presentation. They know everything. They know the Message and the Mission off by heart, even.

But do they understand it? What happens when you read Revelation 14 with Revelation 18: 4 and then Ezekiel 33?
You get a cry and a plea for people to hear the truth. You understand that being a Seventh-day Adventist is more than the prophecies and the knowledge of the Bible, it’s about what you do with it. I’m honestly fed up with Bible scholars complaining about how little everyone knows about the Word, how terrible we all are as a church, but they can’t hold a conversation with anyone–and no one would ever approach them for solace during personal turmoil because they’re not compassionate. Some people in church have a lot of knowledge, but very few true friends: people in their congregation have been hurting through the week and there’s a reason why they haven’t opened their Bible in several months. They know they have a problem and they need you to pray for them, not lament about how little everyone knows compared to you.

I’ve spent this Sabbath evening watching interviews of B-Slade (Tonex); services recorded from Rainbow Churches and trailers for the reality show Preachers of LA. I could have cried. The world is dying and in need of true, Bible-believing Christians to give them a message of hope, to let them know that there is corruption and there are problems and they’re being deceived by a false message. These people are sincere and earnest in their worship to God, and seeing the above videos and how confused these congregations/preachers/gospel artists were made me so sad. This isn’t the time to just acquire knowledge so you can show it off to everyone–it’s time to ask God for wisdom! We need to pray for love and compassion; understanding, patience and tact: we need to understand that not everyone is the same and that we all have our own problems. We have to see sin and the world as God sees it: a planet in trouble, with hurting people who have been waiting their entire lives to hear from him. It’s this that will spur us on to commit to our duty of sharing the Three Angels’ Messages: not End Time videos and scare-sermons.

To me, that’s a true understanding of the Three Angels’ Messages. God is telling the world to come out of Babylon. He calls them “his people”. Being Adventist doesn’t make you better than them: being transformed by God makes you better than what you were before.

Happy Sabbath.

 

Nothing else to be but You

Quietness has always been ‘me’. Always contemplative, I was never the person who owned the room and most of the time I hated being in new environments where  I would be forced to make friends, or where I was expected to be bubbly just for the sake of it. I’m not a showgirl by any means, but it was never something that really bothered me.

In year Eight I got into trouble with some of the girls at my school and fell into months of bullying, teasing and basically just a period of people taking advantage of my quietness. Because obviously, “quiet” means “pushover”; it also means “innocent”, “kind” and “peaceful”. It’s strange how often people make such bold statements about a person who hardly speaks and hasn’t had a chance to tell others who they are for themselves (how many times have I subsequently been accused of hiding my true self, when in fact I never told anyone that I was innocent and angelic–people chose to see me as such because I only talk when I have to). During that time I withdrew into myself a lot, and the one person I truly called a friend spent her time drilling into me, moaning every lunch time that I just kept quiet all the time. “Haven’t you got anything to say?” she would say, “why aren’t you talking?” It was months of variants of this dialogue that has today made me so paranoid whenever I’m with someone else and no one has spoken for a while. For some reason, regardless of whether we’re both silent, I’ll be singled out as the one that didn’t speak, making me a bore to be around.

I remember last year when I went to ARME camp. The friend who I went along with is very outgoing and makes friends very easily. I’ve always been comfortable being by myself; to think with myself and just observe others, but several times during our weekend together I felt as though I was dragging her back–and felt increasingly uncomfortable. To be honest, a lot of the time when I’m with a louder, more extrovert friend, I feel this way. I just assume that they feel they have to look after me…

So this year, I prayed for confidence and to be more outspoken. Basically, I asked God to turn me into someone else.

We quiet, shy people at church are always told that God will give us more boldness in the future; that we obviously don’t believe in the Word, or in God’s power, even, because we’re nervous to speak in front of others, or sing solos, or perform in any way–they tell us that they used to be like us before they let God lead in their lives—all of that nonsense. So they’re kind of saying that being quiet is sinful. It’s one thing to be scared to proclaim the gospel and to be ashamed of God, and it’s a completely different thing to just enjoy being quiet and meditative. Why would God want us all to be the same? One size cannot fit all.

It was only this week that I realised the only reason why I had prayed for boldness was because of other people’s problems. Other people favour loud extroverts, other people made assumptions about me; other people like to talk first and think later. The reason for my lack of confidence and low self-esteem was because I didn’t fit into a mould favoured by the mainstream, not because I had done something to bring myself down.

So, yesterday I prayed for self confidence. To be sure of my self. So that I would love myself, be happy with the person I’m becoming. I prayed that I wouldn’t let the negativity of others drive me to become someone else ever again. Sometimes we get too excited over the Elijah figures and the ferocious Peters, and brush over the thoughtfulness of our Moses’; people with the calmness of Daniel and our humble Esthers.  This is probably the reason why some preachers who say nothing of any weight and mar certain Biblical truths get the ‘Amens’ and appreciation they crave–because they shout and jump up and down. The ones who speak conversationally, presenting their message with calm rationality, are met with weariness.

I think it took me far too long to notice my qualities. I hope ignorance like that never drives me to pray in such a dangerous way again.

So, the Piggy Bank is Empty.

“All the youth are leaving the church.”

And all it’s variations are common in most churches. It’s not something unique to my local church, but I think at times, mine is one of the worst churches for finding solutions to this problem….

Every now and then, the members have a discussion that we youth have entitiled: “What is wrong with our church?” When the afternoon programme has failed to materialise, we usually end up having a discussion about the problems we have in our church: all the issues and concerns, and what we would like to see done differently. When I was a newbie I actually believed the concerns would be taken to the church board and dealt with, but year after unfruitful year passed and I learned that my fellow members in reality used these meetings to get anger off their chests; say things that everyone’s been thinking for ages in order to get a hearty ‘Amen!’ and slag off the leaders that they have a problem with. Then there are those within these meetings that feign authenticity: they establish themselves as the One Sane Voice: the rationalist, who has loads of amazing ideas, only to end their speech with ‘well, this church hates change, so there’s no point in doing any of these things!’ Basically, what they mean is that they can’t be bothered to sacrifice the effort and time it would take to implement all these great ideas, so they’d rather blame their lethargy on the rest of the congregation.

To be honest, I’m tired of talking too. At the moment, my church has a good amount of youth but a huge group of teenagers—a group that is almost entirely disenchanted with church. The older members weep and wail over this disinterest and I think a lot of us who are older than them fluctuate between showing them sympathy and tough love. As I’ve observed the workings of my church, I too have lost respect for the older generation and I also feel disenchanted with the way things are going. Like the congregation that was too caught up in the spirit to see tired ol’ Eutychus on the windowsill in the Upper Room; the adults of my church, and many churches I know, are too caught up in themselves to see the problem.

If you want youth to stay in church, get them involved. Treat them like the fellow humans they are and give them greater responsibility. The church I attended in Jamaica was in the midst of a two-week campaign run by the children: everything, from the Bible working, Prayer Ministries, Music Department and lay preaching, was all handled by the children, and the church supported and encouraged them. Such a thing could never happen at my church! From when these teens (and some of the older youth) have been born, they’ve had to sit on a chair and get things told to them. They don’t get a chance to do much. Then their parents and the other adults expect that at 15 and 16 they would have developed their own relationship with Christ. Why is it that we only see children taking part in the main service when it’s 13th Sabbath School? Why must it be a youth day before the platform party is made up of youth? Why must it be Teens Day to see a teen giving a sermon, or doing special items in the main service?

The older generation has failed to invest in the young people. The youth have low confidence in their abilities and lack the will to do things because they’ve never been given a chance. Money goes on stupid things instead of securing the future of the church.

Why do we spend thousands of pounds on new PA systems and speakers and projectors? Why was money used to get new mics at £600 each?

Why were thousands of pounds spent on a community day, a project that was supposed to build rapport with the community and educate them about the church, when since that time last year there have been no followups with the community members who attended? None of those people have come into the church. What was the point of spending all that money, getting the most expensive option of everything, if the remainder of the evangelising was going to be abandoned?

Why is so much money spent on lunch?

Why are thousands of pounds wasted on flying international speakers over to do a campaign when only a quarter of the church can be bothered to turn up anyway?

Why is it that young people are having to do fundraisers and rely on people from outside the church to give money in order for them to go to evangelism and preaching schools? Why doesn’t the church use those thousands for the international speakers to give to their own youth and start bringing up confident speakers and evangelists from their own congregations?

Why are students having to suffer and struggle financially through their studies, and when they go to the church for help they have to involuntarily donate 20% of their funds to the church—because it’s just so broke it now needs the money from poor students.

Why does the community services department have to rely on donations in order for their soup kitchen to run smoothly? Why hasn’t there been money put in place so that they can buy materials to give to homeless people?

Why does the church now have no money?

Because it’s all been spent on the wrong things. We’ve lost focus. We’re more interested in entertaining ourselves than thinking about the future, about people out in the world, about the youth and teens who want to get involved but aren’t able to; who need to find their own relationship with God.

Stop praying. Stop groaning. Stop spending. And invest in us.

Fighting Fear and Being Encouraged.

It can be a frustrating experience to get into an argument with another Christian on any topic that involves God or spirituality. I’ve felt the frustration whilst trying to explain the Sabbath to someone a few years ago who was Pentecostal and I’ve seen the near-anger of two people arguing over the use of tongues in church. I remember a scenario being described to me about an Adventist, a Jehovah’s Witness and a Pentecostal (what joke is this?) pretty much bickering over a homeless man sat before them at a bus stop. Homeless man had been spotted: three religious people arrived at the bus stop around the same time; clocked each other, and after that it was all or nothing. Level-playing field, cups on, helmets ready–who’ll win his soul first? But they got into a bicker: the Adventist thought the best way to help the man was to get him a hot drink and some food, to help him at his needs; the Jehovah’s Witness suggested a copy of the Watchtower would be better; the Pentecostal urged them all to pray over him. They argued so much that by the time they had settled on a compromise, the homeless man had run away somewhere, and a person in need had run from the people who should have given it!

Sometimes, discussions can be helpful, especially if two people are coming from polar opposite views. In my opinion, a Christian should view such discussions as healthy: it can show you who you really are; how did you go about it? Could it have been better? What did you learn? What arguments from the other side did you agree with, but hadn’t thought about before, and will you take these views into consideration next time, to allow for empathy with others? A Christian who feels as though there is nothing to learn from others is one who thinks they are perfect already, and need a bit of a reality check. I try to keep this in mind when engaging in discussion.

Sometimes, however, discussions are next to pointless. I feel this way when debating with my dad sometimes: he’s very stubborn so if he’s found a text that makes sense to his viewpoint, nothing I say will change it. After a while we just keep saying the same things over and over and no one learns anything. There are others who are so enclosed within their Scripture that they don’t actually know how to discuss things coherently. You want an answer from them, but it sounds imposing and irrational; random Bible texts spew from nowhere; tenuous links from Old Testament stories about people who didn’t listen to others and all the curses that came upon them arrive in abundance; dubious exclamations of how much prayer you need and disingenuous offers to pray for you, because you’re going down a destructive path that can only lead to one place…

I got a lot of that stuff for a while. When I was younger, I was told my lifestyle was a dark one and I’d have demons around me; I was pretty much told to stop thinking and just obey what the elders around me called ‘God’, otherwise nothing good would follow me. At the time, it was a frightening thing to hear: years of trying to get over an actual phobia of God, and trying to reeducate myself about a God of love rather than one who watches my every moment to slip up so he can banish me from heaven, made me–and still makes me–sensitive to any allusions to threats like that. Very recently I got into a discussion with a church brother about feminism and some of the things he said ignited those fears and insecurities again and after that discussion, there was nothing I could do but pray. I prayed for God to remove those thoughts from my mind, because that isn’t of Him at all. I knew the brother didn’t actually intend to rouse those thoughts within me, but I’m too heightened to subtle threats and forebodings to not think negatively about myself and to worry and to fear about things I have no need to worry about.

Sometimes, the people who bring us down the most are our own church brethren.

But it’s also important to remember that there is always more than one party in an argument, and that if you felt offended, then it’s likely the other person felt offended also. What more can be done but to pray for insight and to step away from it all? If it’s causing problems, it’s not worth your time. If needs be, don’t talk to that person about that topic again. If it won’t lead anywhere, what is the point?

Life is too hard. You gotta pick which obstacles are really worth fighting for.

Sometimes It Feels Like There’s a Bomb in My Head, Waiting to Explode…

I’ve always been a victim of my own destructive thoughts. I have a habit of day dreaming that I’ve cultivated, fertilized and tended to for years now; I’m pretty much standing in a tangled mesh of roses, thorns and bristles at this point. This all started a few years ago, when I began suffering from psychotic episodes. My concentration was awful; I’d practically sit in class staring at a wall, and only regain consciousness with ten or so minutes of the lesson to spare. It was during this time that I saw just how sinister and self-destructive my thoughts could be. My day dreaming often led to long moments, sometimes hours, of lying in bed with my eyes fixed on the ceiling. And I’d think, and think, about how awful I was, how much I was unloved; that I was ugly; that I should be dead. This usually resulted in physical self harm. One night, I boiled the kettle and poured the water on my arm.

Thankfully, God brought me out of that. But the vestiges of the past haunt me from time to time.

If I’m honest, my levels of lust within my relationship has been hard to cope with. Before I had ever been in a relationship, I naively thought that ‘lust’ wasn’t a huge issue for me; that I could always control myself. Well, now I’ve grown up. It’s been difficult, but I prayed; I set boundaries and curfews; I spent more time studying the Word, got involved with loads of church work to keep me occupied. Those things worked brilliantly, in fact, but every now and then I slip, and end up feeling really awful about myself afterwards…

Today has been a low day. I got home really late last night (fell asleep sometime after 1am), and ended up waking up at half six in the morning, only to find I couldn’t get back to sleep, despite my eyes stinging with fatigue. I rolled over and looked at my university email from my iPod and saw that I received my lowest score of the year so far. That already put me in a bad mood, but coupled with the tiredness, and the spiritual stumble that I took the night before (I broke the curfew) led me to think again. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, becoming more entangled in the thorns; cut and bruised, I emerged in a fit of literal tears. I cried for quite a while and the more I cried the worse I felt. I tried to get rid of this image I’d created of myself in my head, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking, ‘how far are you going to push yourself to the edge before you end up participating in something you’ll really, really regret? What are you really worth? Why are you making yourself so open? Since when were you a prostitute?’

I understand that a lot of the self-blame stems from the cultural belief that a woman needs to exercise more chastity than men, and in the church, a woman who is ‘hard-to-get’ and perches herself on that pedestal, away from all male hands until her wedding night, is a woman truly fit to be given the title of ‘Proverbs 31’. A virtuous woman, indeed. And my boyfriend holds nonof these views. Not even a little bit. I kept reminding myself of this fact, but I chose to listen to the voice that did not have my best interest at heart.

We spoke on the phone in the morning. When we ended the call, I burst into tears again, mainly because he sounded so sorrowful and I thought I’d caused him unnecessary upset. I felt as though I shouldn’t have said anything, but I wanted to be honest.

I’m yet to eat a meal today. I had my shower late; popped to the shops to get some water and household stuff; got back into my nightclothes retreated to my bed, eating chocolate and turning on the laptop to write this post. I felt sorry for myself, but I checked on Facebook before logging onto WordPress, and the statuses I saw almost took my breath away.

I have many Adventist/Christian friends on my Facebook, so I’m used to Bible texts on my Newsfeed, but this afternoon something else happened: all the passages that people were putting up were about sin, and the penalty that Jesus paid in order for us not to feel guilty and dejected and depressed when we do something wrong, but for us to give all our burdens and baggage to Him, at the foot of the Cross. I almost cried again, but for a different reason this time. So many people, so many texts and words of encouragement–I hadn’t told anyone about how I was feeling or what was going through my head, but it was as if the Spirit moved, so that they all wrote texts that corresponded with each other. The text that really stood out to me is taken from 1 John 2:1-2:

My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world…

I was also reminded of the lyrics to a hymn that has been in my head ever since I read the Bible text: Jesus Paid it All:

I hear the Saviour say
“Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness, watch and pray
Find in me thine All in All”

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a Crimson stain
He washed it White as snow

Sometimes, God leaves me lost for words. Despite what has happened today, with my habit of self-destruction reaching such a high level, it’s finally taken a turn for the better…

…Because God has the power to save me from myself.

When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

There’s an odd culture in church, a dangerous attitude where certain members who are perceived as holy become icons amongst their contemporaries. This turns into a ‘hype’ of sorts, and before long the person has acquired celebrity status; they will be found at every church event, their picture is in every album; people from North London to South Manchester know who they are. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; some so popular they have to rotate people, deleting some to add others, because they’ve reached the friend count limit. To be a part of this person’s true friendship circle, you have to be a very special person, and this automatically makes you important, just for being seen as important by the celebrity.

This behaviour is displayed more explicitly among the youth. My friends and I call these celebrities the “A-Listers”. Normally, the A-List is filled with singers and musicians, but there are also preachers on there, their girlfriends; socialites; people from old Adventist families; Bible workers and missionaries, and those who have set up their own ministries which have gained a following. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness, but the sycophants that follow the A-Listers are what worry me. Even if they think they’re being sincere in their attempts to approach this special group, to find role models in church, their actions can be the downfall of others.

I bear no grudges against these popular people, for of course, they didn’t nominate themselves to this position, but even in a place like church a culture of celebrity exists and sometimes, even the most unsociable introverts are thrust into the limelight. But that meekness and humility of character can very easily warp into something ugly when you’re forever followed, praised by others, complimented on your talents, told how amazing you just are as a person; and everything you say is taken so seriously and dwelt upon. It’s almost as if your words become a gospel of their own… And then you start to believe you really are important. You are no longer a vessel surrendering to God to be filled, but you have filled yourself with the compliments of others. Your words are ambrosia: people taste them and receive strength.

It comes to the point when you feel the need to admonish for the sake of admonishing; filled with a zeal given to you by your peers, it is now your duty to show everyone where they’ve gone wrong. You could actually go onto Facebook or Twitter, write something as mundane as “Baa Baa black sheep”, and your followers would believe it has some esoteric meaning; they’ll just assume you’re so deep that they need to decipher the meaning of your sentence. Why is the sheep black? Is that a symbol for sin? Are we the sheep, like in the parable of the lost sheep, instead we’re not lost, we’re saturated in sin, but completely oblivious so we only talk in babble, which is what our sinful words sound like to God…. (???)

You get where I’m going? I’ve seen this attitude. It’s very unattractive for a person to believe that they are so important that everything they say must be from God, even when it truly isn’t. I’ve read some ludicrous statuses on Facebook where I’m literally peering deep into the screen, utterly perplexed, and all I see are commenters praising a statement that is quite spiritually questionable. This person, this A-Lister, has only reached this level of pride because they were thrust onto a golden stage and made into an idol. And because no one has challenged them, they have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, to the point where their very sermons are an abomination, because the words came from a selfish place.

To conclude: there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people you can see are doing well, but it’s always important to know when to give God credit when it’s due. If someone is clearly walking on the right path, it’s because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything they have done within themselves. Once you realise that, you will stop looking to others to start changing your own attitude about things, and start looking to God.

Because these church celebrities are as fragile and as prone to sinful ways as you are.

Grey Areas and the Christian

One of the things I really dislike about Christianity … or Christians (I’m not sure which at this point), is that the over-simplification of life tends to be part of the “territory”. The Bible does say that you are either for God or against Him, there’s no denying that, but there are things that I feel need debate because they’re not explicitly addressed in the Bible.

The Novel, is the main one that comes to mind. I love reading–absolutely adore it. I thank my mum who, even though we had little money growing up, made sure to take my sister and I to the library every Saturday so we could pick up books. My mum really inspired me to read and there were books everywhere in the house. She’s not a Christian and back then she had no interest in Christianity either, so there was no religious material. Lots of horror stuff, actually. Gore. Crime thrillers. I know she read loads of Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Tom Clancy, Deen Koontz, Lee Child and John Grisham. There were loads of Pattersons too, and Ruth Rendells and Danielle Steels… I was attracted to horror when I was young (I think most children are. Who didn’t love telling scary stories to their mates during sleepovers?) and I read a lot of mum’s tomes even if I didn’t understand all the words. I think I read Deathday when I was about 7. ‘Twas fun.

As I got older, tastes changed, but I never stopped reading. Sadly, though, the main feeling I get, since coming into the church, is that reading anything other than Ellen White or the Bible is wrong. I find that really worrying.

Because what is the argument here? That anything secular is wrong? So does that mean that auto/biographies are wrong? Or history books? Or science books? Or poetry anthologies?

Or are novels the problem? Things that are fictional. Why so? Fiction is fiction is fiction. Events that happen in most novels are actually more believable than the Bible, in fact. No author tries to manipulate their readership into believing something that is never going to happen.

I wonder if it’s the popularity of novels? The Harry Potters and Similar Tales. The things that draw people away from what’s “really important”? What I’ve realised about the people who are anti Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and other popular fantasy stories is their over-zealous, almost obsessive hatred for these stories because it’s easy. In the same way it’s easy to be against certain strains of rock music (Black/Death metal in particular), because of all the black, the upside down crosses, the explicit lyrics; but get annoyed whenever someone speaks against acoustic music, or jazz. All of those genres are secular, but only with music do people intelligently discern between the “good” and the “bad”.

When it comes to novels, though, something just doesn’t compute with people. It’s all a bit higgledy-piggledy, because I know people who say that novels are wrong (whilst quoting E.G. White’s comments on the dangers of novels), and yet they’ll read 1984—A novel. Or they’ll read Austen, or Dickens. Or Shakespeare plays. These are all fiction, can they not see how confused they are?

And why, pray tell, do none of these people have a problem with The Pilgrim’s Progress? A book cherished by Christians. Or similarly, Paradise Lost? Allegories are literary devices used in fiction all the time.

I know how to be discerning. I know that there are some novels that are just unedifying. Twilight is unedifying (even if it was written by a Mormon), 50 Shades is unedifying, anything by Dan Brown is unedifying (haha, I kid), but for me, as an aspiring writer, the first criteria I give for a novel being unedifying is: will it make me a better writer? Will I learn anything from it? Will it teach me how to write well? Then I think about the sort of responses it’ll induce in me; the thoughts it’ll put into my head; if the novel is glorifying  violence and crime? (note: describing is not glorifying, otherwise we shouldn’t be reading the Old Testament).

Those sort of things.

If I ever have children, I want to give them the passion of reading. Especially as Black children, children who society has already called “second-class, unintelligent” (“What’s the best way to hide something from a Black man? Put it in a book”). I don’t think that just because you’re a Christian then you should never read anything fictional. What’s wrong with imagination? (Cue Spongebob)

I also say this because I write fiction… and I’m currently writing a novel (haha), so I’ve always wondered if I’d be dis-fellowshipped from the church for being such HEATHEN? ; )

xXx

I Like Naked Women

This is my first post of September. My posts have been irregular of late. Forgive me, I’d like to change that.

Last post I spoke about lust and beaches. I put a note at the end that the discussion would be continued because I have a lot to say on the matter—I reckon I could do three more posts on it, actually. Maybe in the future, when the time is right. For now, I want to address something that followed on from the discussion I had with my friend about swimming costumes…

I have very interesting friends. One of my other friends (male) has a problem with me reblogging photos of naked women on my Tumblr page. In another conversation I had, one of my male friends told me that it’s inappropriate. It led on to a discussion with the first friend about why he thought the way he  did about my blog having naked women on it. I won’t go into details because it was long and we went around in circles quite a bit, but I find it interesting that Christian men (in general) find issue with such photos.

For me at least, to be naked is to be in your natural state. We weren’t born with clothes on. So if I wanted to have a picture of a naked woman on my blog it shouldn’t (in theory) be any different from having a picture of a bare tree in winter. What it boils down to in essence is the sexual response one would experience from looking at one and not the other. Even though this shouldn’t be the case, a lot of people—in church and out of it—see a naked body as something sexual first, before they see it is something natural. Forget pornographic pictures, because I’m against pornography anyway, but to me nakedness in photography can provide a very bold statement about vulnerability, boldness and inhibitions. It can make us question our own responses to certain images and perhaps challenge them.

People aren’t as repulsed or shocked or uncomfortable at naked photos of children because it’s children, and only a very small group of people in the world would be sexually aroused by such images. It’s the photo of a fully grown woman, round breasts, wide hips and all, that seems to be  a bigger problem for some. Interesting to note: the same people aren’t as appalled to step inside the National Gallery, where there are hundreds of oil paintings from way-back-when of naked women. For some reason, that is art, but a real-life image is too much.

I speak not from a corner of condemnation, but from my own experiences. You see, Tumblr is a very free social network. It doesn’t have the same restrictions as Facebook and Twitter, therefore people go wild and it’s likely that you’ll stumble across blogs dedicated to naked people and, in some cases, porn clips. As a heterosexual woman, I have no problem seeing naked women on my Tumblr Newsfeed, because I’m able to rationally separate the photos that are supposed to be there for titillation and those that are there to make a point (or are just very, very pretty and empowering). I mean, breasts don’t phase me because I have a pair of my own! And I can look at them whenever I want to. However, when a photo of a naked man comes along my Newsfeed, I get all uncomfortable (“scroll quick! Before my eyes are burned.“) This isn’t because I actively objectify men, but because a naked man will—most times—strike me as an image of sex, before something more artistic. And, as someone who’s had problems with lust in the past and still struggles from time to time, I’m not too keen on having photos of penises in my face. I’m not completely unable to separate porn from art, but I find it much harder than if I was looking at a photo of a woman.

But this means that it’s my problem. I can’t look down my nose at the men posing, as if they’re doing something morally wrong, because they may not have taken the photo to arouse anyone, so if I am aroused, it’s something I need to deal with and the logical step would be to avoid certain users on Tumblr who I know like to post those things (no, I wouldn’t close down my Tumblr account because that’s a bit extreme in my eyes. There are harmfully unedifying videos on Youtube, but I still have an account there and the same can be said for the things you find on Facebook.)

What I was able to get from the discussion I had with both of my friends is a mutual understanding. I appreciate the male body, same way how my male friends appreciate the female body, so if they don’t think photos of the female body is appropriate, that’s their view.

As for me, I love women’s bodies. God is surely an artist ; ) . So yeah, I don’t have a problem with those photos, as long as the women in them aren’t being exploited.

Happy Sabbath.
(Gosh, sunset was at 7:16 today. Summer is over…)

xXx