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I’ve been in the city for less than two weeks, but I’m already learning quite a bit. Something I’ve been continuously learning is this: just as we are not defined by the color of our skin, life is not determined by “black and white” oppositions.

We use terms like “black” and “white” to describe the differences between our skin color. But these terms are not accurate. I have yet to see anyone who is as “black” as a sheet of construction paper, and though I qualify as “white,” my skin is more of a beige sort of color.

We also use the term “black and white” to describe situations and events. We try to fit the participating people into not just racial categories, but moral and spiritual categories as well. There’s right and wrong. Cut and dry. Black and white. You can’t be both.

Is this how the world really operates? Is this how Jesus operates? Are we supposed to view people as black and white on the outside and the inside?

Today I got in my car after running some errands, and I drove back to my new home, which is in a pretty sketchy neighborhood. It’s not safe for me to walk to work. Most of the negative interactions I see are drug related. I turned onto my street and I saw that there were only a few parking spaces left. To a born city-dweller? No problem. To a girl who grew up with a driveway her entire life? Somewhat intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, I used to be excellent at parallel parking. I had a knack for it from the moment I started driving. However, I never had to use it much due to my rural environment. I struggled to fit into a parking space, even though there was quite enough room for my car. I was embarrassed. I could feel everyone in the surrounding area watching me—the glow-in-the-dark, naïve, suburban girl.

Then one of my neighbors showed up. I’ve been told by several people that she’s a well known drug dealer in our area. She’s a little rough around the edges, but she always talks to me when I see her. She always smiles. And not because she wants to sell me drugs. She’s genuinely a nice person. I realized she was trying to help me. She motioned to me and kept telling me to back up, and then she told me when to stop so that I didn’t hit the car behind me. I got out of my car and walked up to her, somewhat ashamed of my lack of parking skills.

“Thanks.” I said. “I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, hun.” She smiled, revealing a few gold teeth. “You just got here.”

“I used to be really good at that, I swear.” I replied. “But honestly I’m just a white girl from the suburbs, and I haven’t had to parallel park in years. I’m so afraid I’ll hit someone because I don’t know where my car begins and ends.”

“Oh, I do that all the time, sweetie.” She laughed. “But I figure it’s better to be too careful, right?”

I laughed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Well, thanks anyway.”

“No problem, sweetheart.”

People aren’t black and white. They’re people. I don’t condone drug dealing, and I dearly hope that this woman is able to pull herself out of whatever situation she’s in.  Nevertheless, I am floored by her graciousness. She’s not a mistake, and she is as multi-faceted as I am. She is as valuable as I am. She is as redeemable as I am. And she was a far better “Christian” to a stranger than I have ever been.

This may seem like a small and innocuous interaction, but it is far from trivial. Viewing people as extremes at opposite ends of a spectrum is wrong. These are the stereotypes we are trying to break so that we can build community together. And building a community involves taking responsibility for everything: the triumphs as well as the failures, the happiness as well as the misery, and the comfy hipster coffee shops as well as the drug dealers. There is no one without the other. There is no evil separated from good. I don’t intend to promote dualism by saying this. I just mean that the good and the bad is all mixed up in itself because we live in a fallen world. And Jesus came to us anyway, knowing full well that perfection isn’t necessarily something to be attained immediately, but rather something to strive towards without ceasing.

You can think what you like about me. Maybe I’m stupid for talking to a drug dealer. Maybe I shouldn’t be associating with such “dangerous” individuals. Maybe I should get a real job. Maybe I should be boring.

But that would be boring. And I wouldn’t write about it. And then you wouldn’t have something decent to read.

When I was in high school I was a modesty freak. I knew all of the rules, and I never wore anything that I thought might be the slightest bit revealing. This wasn’t difficult. I’d always been a tom boy, and I mostly wore jeans and t-shirts. Once I started to actually dress like a girl (around the time I went to college) I ran into problems. I had grown a lot, and I was taller than a lot of people. So finding shorts that were “fingertip” length was a lot more difficult than it should have been. Also, I come from a long line of “well-endowed” women. So anything I wore that wasn’t a t-shirt pretty much guaranteed that I wasn’t following the oh-so-sacred “modesty code” I learned in high school. I had a crisis. I am a follower of the rules! I abide by the letter of the law! I felt guilty that I couldn’t find clothes that actually followed the rules.

Somehow I had gotten this idea that a Christian woman should dress to keep a man pure. From early middle school I learned that men are “visual creatures” and that we must dress to “keep them from stumbling.”

I’m all for protecting my brother. As human beings, I think it’s important that we stay conscientious of our humanity and act accordingly. I would never offer a recovered alcoholic a beer. I wouldn’t tell someone struggling with anorexia that “they probably shouldn’t eat that.” All of us struggle with sin, and as Christians we should encourage each other to step away from temptation.

I do have a problem with people telling me that my shorts are too short, and that wearing them is causing other men to engage in sin. To be quite honest, I don’t care. I’ve spent way too much time in stores stretching my fingertips as far as they would go before deciding that I can’t buy the fortieth pair of shorts I tried on because they were technically immodest. My legs are super long, and I really can’t hide it. I am not going to bend over backwards to make sure that some guy never has to exercise some self-control not to look at them.

I realize a lot of this sounds selfish. It probably is to a certain degree. I’m sure it sounds like I don’t care about guys and their spiritual well-being. But I do. However, I don’t think it’s my sole responsibility as a woman to hide whatever beauty I possess for the sake of keeping a man out of trouble.

I guess the biggest problem I have with all of this is that I feel like the church is faulting women for mens’ lustful tendencies. If a woman dresses to accent her beauty, it’s her own fault if a guy looks at her the wrong way. The church is sending the message that women should dress for men.

For a church that is supposed to be in the world, but not of the world, it sure sounds like it’s exactly mimicking the world. Let me explain.

I think we can agree that we live in a culture that objectifies women. Women are used as sex objects in everything: all forms of advertising, all forms of media, all forms of art. Leave it to the world to take a good thing and distort it for evil. In this case, it’s a woman’s natural, God-given beauty. Our culture is constantly telling women, “Dress this way. Wear this much makeup. Expose this much of your body. You won’t be loved or respected if you don’t look like *this*. Change your appearance according to what a man desires.” Christians complain about this all of the time. Our culture is destroying women by this toxic image that we’re fed through the media.

I agree, but then I turn around and look at the church. I see the church telling me, “Dress this way. Wear this much makeup. Expose this much of your body. You won’t be loved or respected if your don’t look like *this*. Change your appearance according to what a man desires.”

God made women beautiful for a reason. I very strongly believe that beauty was God’s gift to Eve. I am a woman, and I am naturally beautiful because God created me that way. It is a fact, and no one can tell me I’m not, because God definitely told me that I am. The world tells me I am only beautiful if I reveal too much of that beauty. The church tells me I’m only beautiful if I hide it. I don’t think either are correct. I think there’s a happy medium of discernment, forgiveness, and redemption.

I am a woman. God made me beautiful, and as the Creator of my body, He holds me accountable for my appearance. I do not allow people to tell me who I am based on what I look like, whether they are the perpetuators of media-driven ideals or well-meaning Christians. I don’t dress a certain way for anybody. I do strive to act in such a way that would please my Creator. If I do that, I figure that the appropriate attire will follow.

Some people have told me, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re naked or wearing a parka and snow pants. A guy could still have lustful thoughts about you.” Perhaps this is true, but I don’t really like this statement. I feel like it’s what women say to fault men for the issue of modesty and to release themselves from having to consider how they can encourage men towards righteousness. And what I’m really trying to say is that I believe addressing the issue of modesty should be a team effort between men and women. Both men and women have a lot to offer each other, and both are equally responsible to keep each other accountable. Just as I can forgive myself for wearing shorter shorts due to the length of my legs, I can also forgive a man for having a lustful thought even when I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The redemption that we should emulate is one of love and forgiveness…not blame and accusation. I think we can all strive to forgive and protect each other a little bit more.

I am very familiar with the church’s cliches. My least favorite church cliches focus on purity. I’ve seen a lot of illustrations regarding those topics. One of my least favorite is when a youth pastor takes a crystal clear glass of water and fills it with all sorts of junk food. The glass of water represents a teenage girl (or guy…I mean this post to speak to both guys and girls, but I’m just using this illustration because I’m a girl and this is how I see it), and the junk food represents how many guys she’s ever dated. In the end, the glass is a dirty mess, and the girl is worthless because she “gave too much away.”

This is bullcrap.

There’s this idea amongst Christian teenagers that if they screw up once, they’re worthless. I’ve seen the statistics, and most teenagers have made a “mistake” or two (at least) with a member of the opposite sex. So I’ve got news for the church: illustrating with glass of water isn’t working. But why?

The glass of water demonstration tells teenagers that they lose their value if they make a mistake. It tells them that nobody will want what they have to give away if they’ve already given it to someone else. This is wrong. People’s past actions never lessen their worth. Jesus ensured that when he died and rose again. It is wrong to tell young women that they are somehow equivalent to a car that loses its value as soon as it leaves the dealership. It’s appropriate to caution them against throwing their gifts before people who don’t appreciate them. It is wrong to say a woman is ugly and dirty because she gave her heart to a man who didn’t value it. When we say this, we ultimately say that a man (and not God) determines a woman’s value. This is completely wrong. Humans don’t determine the value of other humans.

Besides, I would like to think that God, who can do all things, can (at the very least) wash a dirty glass and fill it with new, clean water.

My birthday is coming up soon. And it’s a semi-important one. My 21st, to be exact. I’m excited, I suppose. I mean, I actually feel older this year. So that’s something. But there is one thing that bothers me. It seems like every time I have a semi-important birthday, several people like to elbow me in the ribs and crack jokes about my journey into adulthood. Here are some examples from my 16th birthday.

“So, we’re driving now I see? And how do your parents feel about that? Hahaha.”

They feel just fine about it, actually. You should ask them. They’re very proud of me since I passed my permit test without missing a single question. O.o

“Oh, so you’re turning 16? I’ll make sure to stay off the roads! Hahaha.”

Oh haha indeed. I’m splitting my sides. Let’s take a look at my 18th birthday.

“So you’re 18 now? What are you going to do, play the lottery and smoke?”

Why yes, because clearly that has been my life’s goal up until this point.

“So you’re off to college, eh? Don’t party too much, haha!”

Honestly, I don’t understand how this joke is relevant considering that I’m attending Houghton College, of all places.

And now I’m turning 21. I really shouldn’t have to tell you what comes next. The winking and the nudging as people make wisecracks about how smashed I’m going to get. As if it’s funny. Really, people. If you want to make me laugh, then find some new material…perhaps some that pertains to your apparent inability to say anything remotely useful. That would be funny.

Why do people find this humorous? If I were a nastier person, I might break out the sarcasm and say something like, “Why yes, you’re completely correct. It is clear from my long history of irresponsible and rebellious behavior that I am now going to engage in it further by drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Because let’s face it, the law has been the only thing standing between me and alcohol for the past 21 years. It’s not like I could have gone to a gargantuan party school and found a way to drink when I was underage. That’s just unrealistic.”

All that to say: if people really thought I was an adult, they would treat me that way. They wouldn’t condescend to wink at me about drinking…as if there was something I didn’t know about it. I’m not ignorant, and if I was nastier people would find that out the hard way. But I’m nicer than that, so I just write it in a blog.

And as a side note: I’ve already had my first drink. In Europe. With my dad. And as a second side note: I’m not drinking until the day after my birthday. Because it’s my choice, and I choose to be incorrigible. Because I’m 21 (almost).

So this summer has been a summer of firsts for me. Most of them involve my car in some way. First car. First internship. First animal I ran over. There are a lot of firsts. But the one I think will make a great story is the first time I got pulled over by a cop. Oh yes. I can see you sitting on the edge of your seat.

It was a Saturday night (this past Saturday night to be exact). I had just reunited with three of my good bandy/sound/musician friends, and we decided to drive and get delicious food. I was the one with a full tank of gas, so I drove us down to get pizza at midnight (because let’s face it, pizza always tastes better at midnight). Anyway, on the way back we passed a cop that was out patrolling the area, and I said, “Hahaha. You can’t ticket me! I’m going the speed limit.” Well, apparently New York cops can find any excuse they need to pull you over, and shortly thereafter I found myself being followed by a few flashing lights. Gut wrenching terror shot through me like lightening. Fortunately, there were three other people in the car who were very nice to me and told me it would be okay.

So I rolled my window down and said in a very squeaky voice, “Yes, Officer?” I felt like I was in one of those horrible sitcoms when people get pulled over on either the worst or the best day of their lives.

“License and registration, please.”

So I gave him my license. Then I opened the glove compartment, thinking to myself, “I’m so glad that I was smart and put my registration in the glove compartment like my father told me to do.”

But it wasn’t there. And I had my first heart attack ever. This couldn’t be happening. I am a responsible person, darn it! Why on earth would I ever do something as stupid as misplace my registration. Then I screamed inwardly for about 30 seconds while my heart exploded into a mucilaginous puddle of anxiety.

In the meantime, Mister Policeman is firing questions at me.

“Where are you going? Home? Where’s home? Where are you coming from? Are all of you from Houghton?”

I answered obediently, using my very very polite I’ve-never-done-anything-wrong-in-my-life voice. In the end he said, “Well, the reason I pulled you over was because the license plate lights were out. Just get it fixed for me, okay?”

Excuse me??? That was not why you pulled me over. You pulled me over because you thought my friends and I might be drunk…even though I was driving exactly the speed limit and not weaving like drunk morons tend to do. Also, you didn’t even check my registration, which I am clearly still searching for very frantically.

Then I got back on the road and continued driving, only to be passed by the same cop car 10 minutes later as he decided that he wanted to speed. Figures.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. He was pretty nice to me…for a cop. And I didn’t get fined, which was pretty awesome. Not to mention I got a great story out of it. In addition, my registration actually was where it should have been. My glove compartment just decided to eat it.

The End! I hope you have been sufficiently entertained by my not-so-scary story of being pulled over by the cops.

I’ve always struggled to understand the vicissitudes of God. Some days I feel like He says one thing and does another. For instance, how can He say that He is love when he smoked the Israelites every other generation? How can he be love incarnate but still use metaphors that refer to the armor of God, the battles between powers and principalities, and other such violent terms? God is all about showing compassion to people. On the other hand, He’s all about fighting for His people. As humans, we don’t understand this. We are beings that measure our lives against standards that are polar opposites. Most of us fall somewhere close to either end of any pair of opposites, and we struggle our whole lives to find a good balance between them. Do you love someone blindly to a fault? Or do you mistrust them so much you miss out on a good relationship? Where is the middle ground?

Balance. Humans are bad at it. But I wonder: is that why we constantly accuse God of being hypocritical? Smiting Israelites one moment and showing them The Promise Land the next? Jesus flipping over a table in a temple and then scolding Peter for cutting off a man’s ear? What gives? God can’t perfectly embody BOTH polar opposites. He can’t possibly be more violent than any war we’ve ever seen AND more loving than anyone we’ve ever known. He can’t be both man AND God. It’s imbalanced. Impossible. Opposites don’t go together. They never can. They never will. And God definitely can’t have both.

Or can He?

I’ve been thinking a lot about wit recently. More specifically, words and the truth behind them. I’ll start off with a story.

My father is an extremely witty person. He’s incredibly intelligent, and he’s got a large vocabulary that rivals Wodehouse. He’s also really good at figuring people out and finding their weak spots, which I also inherited from him. He and I love finding truth. It’s one of our better strengths.

Truth and words. A recipe for a great word battle. And so I grew up on word banter, which was only encouraged by my friends, who are also very smart and loquacious people. I love word battles. They’re fun. Back then, it was basically every man for himself. If you couldn’t handle the conversation, you were slow and boring. Although I enjoyed word battles, I did get a little tired of having to keep my guard up all the time. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to win all the time. So I became a cutthroat wit. I pinpointed people’s insecurities, and I sliced them and diced them until they didn’t bother to cross me anymore. After a while, it didn’t really matter who I talked to. I just wanted to be the best, regardless of whether or not it hurt the other person. I took cheap shots, became a sore loser, and hated myself the entire time.

I was mean. The worst part was that when I finally realized I had a foul, competitive mouth, I couldn’t shut it up. I had too much pride. I knew that letting go of that pride meant I would have to lose. I’d have to be the brunt of a few jokes. I’d have to face the fact that I’m imperfect. I couldn’t stem the ugliness bubbling up from my unrepentant heart and out of my mouth. All because of stupid pride.

That’s when my dad started making sense to me…in a weird sort of way. Ever since I was a young teenager, he’s said to me, “if you’re capable of doing something mean, you’re equally capable of doing something equally nice.” It took me a while to realize that I could do the same thing with words.

Wit is words. Words can be used to convey truth or twist it. Wit is a way of twisting words to create implied meaning, often at someone else’s expense. Some wit is harmless. Who doesn’t love a good joke? In the right place at the right time, wit can be a very healthy tool. But wit can also be a dangerous weapon. The best and worst aspect of wit is its truth. There is always a grain of truth in wit. And the truth can really hurt. (Warning: I’m about to get a little preachy. So just bear with me).

I believe this is why God tells us to “speak the truth in love.” Truth is a tool. It is also a weapon. Truth is vulnerable. When we speak truth, we speak to a person’s heart, which is the most vulnerable part of anyone. That’s why wit hurts. But it’s also why wit is so important.

If you’re capable of doing something nasty, you’re equally capable of doing something equally nice. If you say something nasty, you’re equally capable of saying something nice. Something truthful. Something loving.

All that to say, wit works the opposite way. You can use it to tear down people. But you can also use it to build up their honor. Wit can be an encourager as much as it is a way to put people in their place.

I always thought that I’d have to give up my wit, and subsequently my intellect, to become a better person. I thought I’d have to be the stupid one. How wrong I was.

I reached the end of my rope one night. I surrendered my wit to God because I hated myself. I hated making people suffer for the sake of boosting my ego. Turns out, when I gave it to God, He didn’t throw it away. He transformed it. I didn’t even notice it until this year, but now I’ve finally figured it out. God transformed my ugly wit into encouragement.

I love encouraging people. It’s legit my favorite way to serve people. Encouragement is about finding the truth inside people and speaking it to them at the right time and place in order to build up their character. Basically, encouragement is witty love.

I’m not so scared of losing anymore. I don’t really mind being the brunt of jokes (as much as I might protest sometimes, I really don’t care). I don’t mind seeming stupid most of the time. My ego is not worth protecting. I mean really. I know it’s going to get bruised. Why bother trying to hide it? However, it’s always worth it for me to protect someone else’s insecurities. It is always better to love someone else. After all, that’s pretty much what Jesus did for me. He decided to sacrifice his ego for mine. He was ridiculed, spat on, tortured, and killed for the sake of my life. For the sake of my ego. All so that He could tell me the truth: that he loves me.