Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Take it to the fridge

So a friend of mine did a turkey earlier in the week, I guess for the sheer joy of having leftovers or something, and posted a picture for all to behold.


Is it just me, or does this kinda look like a T-rex?

No? Ok, wait, how 'bout now?

Still just me? Huh. Maybe I need to go lie down for a while.

Meanwhile, the illustrious Whiskeypants makes a compelling case for naming your Thanksgiving turkey "SexyBack". I have not the words.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Of course, the REALLY special holiday is tomorrow, so in advance, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Discount Candy Day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"We're not made of money! We'll swim to Oakland!"

So, there's this thing. This "local artists showcasing their stuff" thing. And I'm going to be one of those artists. Showcasing my stuff. Possibly even selling it. You know, if anyone buys it. It'll be for sale, anyway.

It's tonight.

Tonight seemed a long way off, two months ago. Two months ago when my friend and I signed up, thinking, "Hey, this'll be a great way to remove our bullshit excuses and throw ourselves out there."

And don't get me wrong, I think we were right about that. But I've never done this before. I don't even have a goddamn etsy shop, which is ridiculous, because I think everyone and their mother has an etsy shop these days. (I should probably get on that, but it's not really high on my priority list just yet.)

But anyway, it looks like it'll be fun. Selling stuff isn't really the point, though I'll probably be thrilled if it happens. The point is, I'm actually getting brave enough to put myself out there---acting brave, anyway, if not really feeling it at the moment---rather than hiding out until I decide I'm "good enough", which of course, will never happen if that's what I'm waiting for. I made a ton of silly feathery hats and costumey shit, and I had fun making them. They make me smile. It's not exactly What I Want To Do Forever, but it's not like "dicking around on the Internet" is what I want to do forever either, and lord knows I do plenty of that. It's been a long time since I've looked on my work with anything resembling satisfaction. I'm finally starting to feel like the person I wanted to grow up to be. That's a really good feeling.

Still, it's a little nerve-wracking. If you'll excuse me, I have to go finish up some final touches, and then I'll be off in this corner, hyperventilating into a paper bag.

So, if anyone reading this is gonna be in the East Bay tonight, pop on by. Hosted by the Rock Paper Scissors Collective, at the lovely and historic Sweets Ballroom. Doors open at 7. Should be a fun time.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Zombie Jesus Day Symbolism: Teh Brain-Nomming Of The Saved

My brother has come up with a terrific ritual for commemorating the miracle of the resurrection of Our Zombie Horde Lord:

Happy Zombie Jesus Day to all. May Zombie Jesus eternally nom your brains and forever cleanse your souls. ... you know, or something. I haven't been to an Easter service in I don't know how long, so I can only assume that people celebrate the Dawn of the Dead Jesus H. Christ in such manners. I myself intend to honor his brain nommage by ritually biting the heads off of marshmallow peeps and dropping their remaining corpses into a cup of hot chocolate... cause... biting the heads resembles the brain nomming of the saved, and the hot chocolate resembles Hell...

There's gotta be a Bible reference for that shit somewhere, or at least some quote I could manipulate to make that sound true.

Amen. I'm off to make some cocoa, y'all.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My ears still bleed when I hear the dogwhistles...

You know, I've been struggling with the idea of explaining the New Apostolic Reformation---the particular brand of neocharismatic/dominionist theology I was involved with in the years directly preceding my departure from God altogether---not knowing where to begin, where to end. I'd been wavering between the need to explain the crazy, and the fear that I wouldn't be able to do so very well.

Well, guess what? I don't have to. It's been done already, and done exceptionally well:

Prayer Warriors and Palin Organizing Spiritual Warfare to Take Over America

Lest you think the title sounds a bit over the really isn't. This article sums up pretty much everything I've wanted to explain about the NAR: the ubiquity, the subtlety, the militaristic structure, the aim to infiltrate and manipulate society from within as "rulers"...and the way it disguises itself in more innocuous forms to garner support from more moderate Christians (and even non-Christians).

It sums up perfectly why the thought of Sarah Palin in any position of power freaks me right the hell out (well, y'know, besides the standard "she's an empty-headed twit" thing). The leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation are not interested in democracy. They view themselves as spiritual royalty, and believe they have a mandate from God to rule. I've heard this preached from the pulpit, taught in conferences. I trust this article because, well, none of it sounds weird or over the top to me. It was my normal for so long, and I guess that hasn't fully gone away. Maybe it never will.

If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here's an excerpt:

BB: Why should the American people be concerned about the New Apostolic Reformation?

RT: I believe this movement's threat to separation of church and state is greater than some of the more overtly theocratic movements of the religious right. The inclusion of women and all races in leadership roles, and their enthusiastic sponsorship of social services conflicts with a popular notion about religious fundamentalism. Despite their radical strategies, leaders in the movement have been labeled in the press as moderate, including Apostle Samuel Rodriguez -- president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference -- who has been described as a "new evangelical."

Unsuspecting people are certainly becoming involved in New Apostolic activities without understanding its agenda. For example, the Global Day of Prayer sounds benign but was founded by Graham Power, head of the Africa division of Silvoso's International Transformation Network. Numerous citywide prayer efforts and pastors' networks are under the auspices of Wagner's apostles. Charities, social services, and "reconciliation" events appear to welcome all, but are designed as stealth evangelism to advance the "Kingdom."

In June, Lance Wallnau, an ICA apostle and motivational speaker for the Seven Mountain campaign, spoke on stealth evangelism at Wasilla Assembly of God. In Guatemalan jails, according to Wallnau, New Apostolics teach prisoners a secularized version of "Kingdom" worldview for a full year before making any attempt to convert them to "born-again" Christianity. Wallnau encouraged the congregation to follow this example for infiltrating the seven spheres of society.

(Emphasis mine, etc, etc...)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Tales Out Of School, Vol 2: FAIL

You know you had a "Christ-centered education" when you were taught to believe that your heart was deceptive, that your own understanding was not to be trusted, your thoughts and reasoning were worthless, anything good you ever did was like filthy rags in the sight of God, that your only worth was in how you metaphorically put your self to death...but that evolution and secular humanism are what's responsible for people having no self-worth these days.

(And when it took you well over ten years to realize what a monstrous logical fail this all is.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tales Out Of School, Vol 1: She Blinded Me With Science!

Many of you are likely familiar with the chemical reaction featured below. It's popular with high school chemistry teachers, probably because it's been scientifically proven that even the snottiest of snotty-ass teenagers will give you their undivided attention while you're setting things on fire.*

However, I'm guessing that for most of you, this demonstration didn't come prefaced with the announcement that "THIS little gummy bear didn't accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior..."**

And THAT, kiddies, is what sets Christ-centered education apart from the rest!

*Ok, "scientifically proven" in the Ken Ham sense. Which pretty much means I pulled that out of my ass.
**I wish I were kidding, but that's pretty much verbatim. Slightly off topic but not quite: recently, a new Facebook group appeared in my little orbit, "You Know You Went To [Redacted Christian School] When...". I initially stayed away from it, as I tend to avoid like the plague anything that has to do with that place, until I found it was full of other people who felt the same way I did about the years of indoctrination. It's been sort of therapeutic, and certainly thought-provoking. There may be more posts on the subject soon.

Monday, December 28, 2009

There Goes The Neighborhood...

Nothing says holiday cheer like a huge* freakin' T-Rex in your front yard. (Oh yeah. We're those neighbors.)

I have nothing useful to add. I'm just really proud of this.

*Ok, so he's only about a foot and a half, but the up angle makes him look really ferocious, no?

Also, yes. That's ketchup. Sometimes I wonder what normal families do on Christmas morning...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wayward And Down

The problem with being a pastor for too long is you start to view people as sheep.

No wait. Perhaps I'm viewing this all wrong. Maybe I should be flattered. Yes, that's it. I should be flattered. After all, my pastor now considers my loss of faith important enough to merit special attention.

Not special attention to the extent that he would want to listen to me, mind you, or give serious consideration to my reasons for leaving Christianity. But being willing to manipulate me behind the scenes? Well, hell yeah! Which is why he offered my husband guidance, during a private meeting last week, in stealth-counseling me back toward a reconversion.

I...wait, no. Just let that sink in. Let yourself feel the full impact of all the wrong in that statement.

It seems I need to clarify with people that I'm in no way surprised by the reconversion effort itself. That's just standard evangelical practice. I get that. Hell, I expect that. I am, however, surprised at the creepy underhanded tactics, because it seems so uncharacteristic of this pastor. I'm equally surprised that he thought my husband would actually take him up on the offer. My husband, for whatever reason, seems to view me as an independent human being with the ability to think and I'm a person. He seems to think that coercing me back into the faith wouldn't be very respectful. Pfft, I say. Doesn't he know that it's men that God designed with a need for respect? Women need love, and that love is best expressed in stern spiritual guidance from Them That Have Penises.

You've gotta love the overweening confidence of a pastor who, while unable to give me satisfactory answers back when I was grasping about for any reason to keep believing, is somehow certain that he'll magically win me back now that I'm comfortably godless. Also, let's ignore the assumption that the only possible way I could have left the faith is through ignorance of what the Bible teaches. Even my husband laughed at that one. "I may be the one they ordained, but you know the Bible a helluva lot better than I do."

I expected better of this pastor. For the past eight years, he's been like family, and throughout my deconversion---even though I grew to disagree with him, and became uncomfortable with his growing emphasis on authority---I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I'd never seen him use his authority to bully people around. He seemed content to let people make their own decisions, and he'd always treated me with kindness and at least an outward show of respect. Because of that, I was naive enough to think he actually respected me.

Oh well. Ain't the first time I've been wrong.

"If your wife isn't on board with you 100%, it's going to hold you back in ministry."* And the sad thing is, he's right. Most of the fundie faithful won't give you any credibility if you can't convince your own spouse of the truth of the Gospel. After all, if God were really working in your life, there'd be no room for doubt. It's a big reason why, as my faith began to falter, I kept my damn mouth shut. Not because anybody asked me to---I knew that my husband would defend me if it ever came down to it---but because I didn't want him to catch any flack. It's not right, but it's how the evangelical church operates.

That's the thing, though: before this, I'd never known this pastor to keep himself bound to "that's just the way things are". He's always had this "fight the system" attitude to things he saw as flawed, especially within the church. He's gone against his denomination to ordain women. He's put his neck on the line for people---my husband being one---because he believes in them. And he's always treated me like a person in my own right, rather than some doe-eyed accessory to my husband's career in ministry. So it's that much more of a shame to see him behave this way now.

Even as we grew apart in our beliefs, my husband and I were determined to support each other in the searches and choices we were making. Of course this would all be easier if I could make myself believe again, but I can't, and furthermore, I don't want to, so we make it work. We're very careful with each other, because each of us values the other person more than we value any ideological stance. And then this asshole, this self-styled apostle** who presumes to speak for God, feels qualified to come around and dismiss it all as not enough. The only thing that will be enough, apparently, is my total mindless compliance. At any cost, apparently, even at the cost of the love and respect within the relationship. If he's going to play Mephistopheles in this dirty Faustian bargain, then I feel pretty comfortable with writing him off completely.

I don't care who I married, I'm nobody's fucking pawn, and I object to being written out of the equation of my own life. But then, why am I surprised? That's You Suck Christianity all over again, isn't it? You've died, and it's Christ living in you. You have no thoughts, feelings or desires of your own. You have laid down your rights. You were bought at a price.

You are a sheep---a fluffy, brainless animal with a numbered tag on your ear. And they claim you in the name of Jesus.

*To be fair, my husband insists that this statement, though spoken in the same private meeting, was not connected in any way with the reconversion offer; however, I can't imagine that the offer would have even been extended if this pastor didn't seem to view hubby as some sort of protege. It's hard not to view the whole encounter as: "Your wife has become a liability. But I can help fix that."

**Yes, he's upgraded himself from "Pastor" to "Apostle". I'm not even going to try to explain this one. Google "New Apostolic Reformation" if you want to get a taste of the crazy. But don't say I didn't warn you.

**Note: This post has been flagged for italics abuse. The author of this post shall be forced to walk all day at a diagonal slant.**

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up If I Tried...

Grandma: Well, nobody wants to get married anymore, except those gays and lesbians...
Dad: Hmm... Do you have something to substantiate that claim? Some sort of statistic, or report...?
Grandma: Oh, your father saw something. On ESPN. About the lesbians.
Dad: Ahh. Yep. Always them lesbians on ESPN, wanting to get married.

((A deep, fretful silence from Grandma. Dad tries in vain to contain his chortling.))

Grandma: I just miss the good old days, you know? When right was right and wrong was wrong. Everything was either black or white, there wasn't any of this...gray matter in between.
Dad: Well, that's exactly the problem, Mom, there wasn't any gray matter...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Unintentional Racist Humor?

The following is from an email I sent to my stepmom, a liberal Catholic who teaches at a rather conservative Evangelical university. I knew she'd appreciate it.


"So I'm reading The Shack. (I know, I know, but it'll be nice to have people quit telling me how I totally need to read it! And how it will change my life! And anyway, I checked out a couple Christopher Moore books along with, just to balance things out.) To be fair, it's not as bad as I was expecting, but I wouldn't exactly call it a must-read. The unintentional humor, though, is pretty killer. At least, I hope it's unintentional. Here's a gem:

Just as [God the Father, apparently played here by Della Reese from Touched By An Angel] turned to enter the cabin, a small, distinctively Asian woman emerged from behind her . . . As she stepped back, Mack found himself involuntarily squinting in her direction, as if doing so would allow his eyes to see her better. But strangely, he still had a difficult time focusing on her . . . It was almost easier to see her out of the corner of his eye than it was to look at her directly. (Emphasis mine.)

Am I reading too much into this? Or did he really just introduce one of his characters as an Asian who can only be seen in your peripheral vision?"


Seriously, how does an editor not catch that?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Tomorrow morning, my sister-in-law will be returning from Iraq. After nearly a year away, she will be mom to her two girls once more, and I will return to being mom to only my own.

And thus, early Friday morning, I'll be heading up to Oregon for a long overdue break. A Sabbath*, if you will.

It'll be about a 9-hour drive, by the way, so I'm happily taking music suggestions.**

*Hat tip to A.J. Jacobs. If you haven't read "The Year of Living Biblically", do it. Do it now!

**Though my 19-month old daughter has already made it clear what she'd like to listen to on the drive up. Yesterday, at the library, she toddled over to the audiobook section and immediately pulled George Carlin's "When Will Jesus Bring The Pork Chops?" off the shelf. I really wish I could take credit for that level of awesomeness, but I think it's pretty much all her.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


"I don't wanna hear you say you're sorry
I don't wanna hear you say we can start all over again
I think you must think that I'm stupid
Well I might be stupid for the rest of my life
but I'll never be stupid for you again
I just want it all to go away..."

Everclear, New Blue Champion

I enter a low, small building that some people have set up as a sort of synagogue. It looks like it was someone's house, but it is bare of furnishings, even of carpet. The walls are white and the light is dim, as though lit with many invisible candles. My friend and I are hanging around by the front doorway, unsure of what to do: we are not Jewish, and we do not want to show any disrespect to anyone. We notice a sign that tells people coming in to remain by the front door until shown where to go by someone in charge, and I am glad to find that we've been doing the right thing. "Remember," the sign warns, "You are in the presence of God."

To the left of the front door when you enter is a small brick firepit, tucked into an alcove, filled with iridescent rocks. The candlelight is stronger here, though still, I see no candles. We wait, and two priests approach; they are young, friendly and welcoming, with white robes and black hair and glasses. They smile and the front one extends his hand in either prayer or blessing. I bow my head out of some combination of habit and respect. Suddenly, I feel the air in the room grow heavy, tremulous. I am dizzy under the weight of it, numb and drunken. "Do you feel this??" my friend asks me. She is pitching forward; reeling back. I'm having trouble standing up as well; I feel my head spinning, my knees buckling. I fight it. I am angry, because I'm sure it's the presence of God. It feels so warm, and so peaceful, and at the same time, so terribly, terribly threatening. It'd be so easy to sink, to let myself back in at this point. To succumb.

Isn't this what I'd always wanted? To experience God like this? Isn't this what I had prayed for every time it happened to everyone else? Some mark, some token by which I would know that God had accepted me too? But it was always withheld from me for some reason. Until now. After I'd spent so long fighting for my mental and emotional freedom. Instead of feeling accepted, I feel betrayed. Manipulated. Fuck you, dude.

"See?" a little internal voice nags, "You ARE hardening your heart! You nonbelievers all rationalize away the truth of God because you're too uncomfortable with what it would mean for you." Ugh. Fuck it. Fuck you all. I begin thinking about what I'd been reading recently about brainwaves and suggestibility, and that focus seems to make the feelings fade away. I go and sit people while they talk and eat, quietly processing my experience. Composing a blog post in my head, even.

I wish I could say I felt some sort of triumph by the end of the dream, or even when I woke up. I suppose I began to feel calmer, but never quite shook the nagging, internal voice. Thing is, even if it's right, I don't care. And I suppose that's the point.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Evacuating the Elephant

"So then. Since we're on the topic. Do you think I'm going to hell?"

There. I did it. I threw it out there.

I waited. He thought.

"I don't know."

"But what do you think?"

"Well...I mean, one day I hope that you'll experience God the way that I've gotten to. And, uh... I guess I used to worry about you more, but...I guess, not so much now. Because I trust you, and I have to trust that God's got you where you're supposed to be."

"Ok, and that's fine. But still: I no longer consider myself a Christian. Say I died today. What would you assume?"

"I...I don't know. And I'm not trying to dodge the question, I swear. I just...I really don't know, I don't even know what I think about that. I mean, there's the whole debate about know...'once saved, always saved'...and...well, I guess don't really give a whole lot of thought to either heaven or hell anymore."

I took his hand and felt him relax a bit. I know this isn't any easier for him than it is for me. Perhaps easier for me, now, since I've wrestled this out for myself already. It's one of the upsides to the way I deal with things. It isn't that I don't worry about the questions, he told me once before, it's just that...I don't think I have the same drive to deal with them all right away like you do. You get new information and you can't rest until you've assimilated it all. And he's right. I get that. There are downsides to my way, certainly. Like the two solid years I spent feeling like I was losing my mind. There's something to be said for the ability to set a matter aside for a while, let the dust settle. To be able to live in peace with a bit of inconsistency. To make a few allowances for being human.

What can I say? I'm fucking stubborn. I don't know when to quit. It's my greatest strength and my fatal flaw.

"Let me rephrase, then. Would you send me to hell?"

"Well. No."

And I didn't know if this would be crossing a line, but, well...we were already here, so I went for it:

"Does that bother you at all? To know that you're more merciful than a God of supposed infinite mercy?"

He didn't answer. I didn't force it.

"Just a thought. It was one of my crumbling points, though. That realization."

He nodded.

I squeezed his hand. "Look, ok? I know the theology. I know what I would have thought about someone like me, years ago. It's okay. For the record, I don't think I'm going to hell, if that helps. I'm not looking for reassurances or answers, pressure. The question's sort of irrelevant, really. I lost my faith in hell a long time before I lost my faith in God."

He smiled a bit. "I know."

"I was just curious, is all."

We lay there awhile.

"Anyway, thanks," I said.


"Listening. For being someone safe. And especially for...well, for taking me at my word, instead of re-framing everything I say to fit your theology and your terms. It's more courtesy than I would have afforded someone like me, years ago."

I thought a bit; laughed.

"Funny," I said.


"It took me leaving my faith to realize you were never the asshole Christian I was."

This time he squeezed my hand. We lay there for a while. When we spoke again, it was of easier things.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"You Suck" Christianity: A Roundabout Primer

I was a good hour from home. I'd missed my turn, gotten myself lost, and was now stuck in a mess of traffic near the tunnel, unable to pull off. I'm mildly claustrophobic, so traffic jams have never been my thing (not that they're anyone's thing, I guess, but I think I get a little more anxious than what's considered normal). Then, in a display of impeccable timing that seems peculiar to grumpy infants, my daughter began screaming from the back seat. I never have handled her crying very well. Other people seem so calm about babies, seem to be able to pick them up and coo sympathetically while they kvetch and howl. Me, not so much. If I can't fix it, I'm clearly doing something wrong, and I get anxious and panicky. She was my baby, though, and I'd become pretty good at fixing my baby. Usually.

But not tonight. Tonight, she was inconsolable and frantic. And so was I.

My first impulse, even in little things like these, had always been to ask God for help. I would breathe deep, focus my thoughts: "Dear God, please help me thr---"

NO, I stopped myself. No. No more, remember? You can do this.

Right. I can do this.

I can do this.

So I stared ahead at the road, forcing myself to ignore a God who I was sure was growing angrier by the moment. Hardening my heart.

And then it began to creep in at the corners of my mind. The fear. The fear they build into you when they teach you about God, the God of the Bible. That unnamed fear, tightening in the back of my throat: the knowledge of how God humbles those who don't acknowledge, at every turn, their abject dependence on him. I knew about Nebuchadnezzar. I knew about Job. I knew the God of the Bible. I knew he demanded to be first in my life. And I was terrified, because I never had been able to give that to him---no matter how I tried, I always knew in the back of my mind that my husband, my family, my friends all meant more to me. My daughter. And who knew what---or who---God would take from me, and when, just to prove that He was in charge? To bring me to the place where I could admit, dependent and chastened, that He was finally my everything?

He's a jealous God, you know? But it's only because he loves you so much. I wouldn't be so jealous if you weren't such a whore.

I wasn't scared of the situation I was in. I wasn't scared of the fact that I was lost, or stuck, or unable to comfort my baby (though these were all, admittedly, frustrating). No. I was scared of what God would do to me if I didn't immediately turn to Him for help. Even in the smallest of day-to-day trials. See, you don't pray to God to keep you safe from the bad things happening around you. I mean, God's in control of all those things anyway, right? No, you pray to God to keep you safe from God. You don't want to stand out as one of those uppity folks who think they can accomplish anything on their own.

This is why you ask things of God: so that you'll know that everything you have, you've had to ask for. So that you know your place.

And this was why it had to stop.

I can do this.

And you know what? I did. It's probably no surprise to any of you, of course, but it kinda was to me. I made it home just fine, with a peaceful, snoring baby in tow. No car accidents, no house fires, no general smitings. And no prayers. No negotiating with terrorists. A small victory, sure, but a victory all the same.

"All I have is what I give myself."

That line came to me in a dream back around September of last year. In a way, that dream saved me, certainly more than Jesus ever did. When I woke that morning, I understood for the first time that until I saw myself as worth something, nothing outside---not even God---could give me that worth. I was responsible for my own happiness; not God, not anyone else. It was, for the first time, power unto myself. But really, the only reason I got that message is because I was ready to hear it. I would have filtered it out before, because a message like that is antithetical to the idea that all fulfillment comes from God. The self is something to be denied, even despised. I must decrease so that Christ may increase. It's "You Suck" Christianity at its core. And while I was still clinging to a tattered belief in God at that time, I'd pretty much stopped treating my dreams as messages from God, and started thinking of them as messages from me. I guess what that translates to, on some level, is that I'd finally decided that I was worth listening to. That I had something worthwhile to say.

And hey, maybe I don't. But it couldn't hurt to give myself a goddamn chance for once, right?

There's a certain variety of Christian who will insist that God makes himself clearly known in the world around us, and so, anyone who chooses not to be a Christian is deliberately rebellious, rejecting the obvious truth of God out of pure spite. I don't know if I ever really bought into that idea fully---I think it always seemed a little sketchy to me---but I can't remember ever calling bullshit on it either. However, I know there are plenty of people who would probably say the same about me now---many of them old friends. And the annoying thing is that, in my case, they'd be right. See, because I'd been programmed so heavily to accept these things as true, they had become obvious to me. They are the default, even still. And in order to set myself free, I have had to actively reject them. And it's not been easy.

I'm not so sure that evangelical apologetics has much to do with winning new converts at all, now that I think of it. I think it has more to do with keeping present believers in line. Try and think for yourself, and you slam up against all these mental barriers you never knew were installed:

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, says the Lord"

"...but we speak God's wisdom...not in words taught by human wisdom..."

"The heart is deceitful above all things..."

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding."

The bottom line? You're not to be trusted. You are not capable of making good decisions, or even thinking for yourself. You suck. But Jesus loves you anyway, in spite of it all, and if you just submit to him completely*---mind, emotions and will---then it'll all be fine.

Anyone else get a creepy abusive boyfriend vibe off any of this? Just me?

Yeah. That's what I thought.

*By the way, when a person calls you to submit to Jesus, they almost always mean "submit to me and my understanding of scripture". Nobody would ever say it so outright, I think, but examine the attitude for more than a moment, and it's pretty clear.

Oh, wait, here. The esteemed Fred Clark of Slacktivist already tackled it (knew I'd remembered reading that somewhere):
It bears repeating here that Marshall Hall's claim of the pre-eminence of scripture is bogus. He claims, as all Unilateralists do, that he is treating the Bible with great respect as the final arbiter of all things. But this is not what he is really doing. What he is really doing is making his interpretation of the Bible the final arbiter of all things. Therefore what he is ultimately arguing is that he, Marshall Hall, is the final arbiter of all things. His assertion, in other words, is not really that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, but that he is.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I picked up a copy of The Power of Myth from the library today. I'd been interested in reading it for a while now for a couple of reasons, the first being that I've been on a bit of a journey of self-discovery lately---who isn't, right?---which has involved me keeping a dream journal, which in turn has led to me reading up a fair bit on myth and archetype. Yeah. Whatever, it's fun. The second reason, though, is a little more complicated, and requires a little background. But before that, I think I need to explain what prompted this post.

When I opened the book, the first thing to catch my eye was that someone had written in pencil, above the Introduction:
"...the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge and mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should decieve (sic) you through persuasive words...Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit...not according to Christ. Col. 2:2-8"
Now, I take it as a positive sign that my first thought was, "Huh. Some douchebag on a holy mission", rather than "God is sending you a warning! Turn back! Oh noes!" That was, however, my very next thought, and I had to take a moment to talk myself through the panic before I could move on...which is a pretty clear sign that I'm not all better yet. Once I got past it, though, I began to read and found that Douchebag On A Mission (DOAM) had littered the margins with smarmy little notes.

"Who defines good?"

"Never talk about truth just what seems best."

"Professing to be wise, they became fools. Rom 1:22"

"Creation tells us things about God men understand but corrupt yet God is the same."

"Those principalities went against the Gospel just like Campbell."

And much as I wanted to fling the book across the room, I had to laugh. How could I not? It was like looking at myself through a mirror into the past. If it weren't someone else's handwriting---and if I didn't have some scrupulous aversion to writing in books in the first place---I'd have guessed it was me. Which, strangely enough, leads us back to my second reason for picking up this book, which again, as I said, requires a bit of background.

See, while the Christian high school I attended was pretty solid on academics, it was equally (if not primarily) concerned with instilling the proper worldview in its students, which meant making sure we all were properly equipped to view life through the lens of their peculiar subset of Christianity, so that we could go out into the public sphere and badger others into doing the same.

Geds the Accidental Historian wrote up a great little Field Guide to The North American Evangelical some time back, which should serve as a helpful reference to any of you unfamiliar with this subculture. By my senior year, I had become #6, Answers to Everything, a particularly obnoxious little breed who, out of her own raging insecurity, seeks to amass knowledge for herself to build up a sturdy defense against all comers. I can't say for the whole staff, but a fair number of teachers there were of the Answers to Everything variety as well, and seemed to uphold it as the highest standard of Christian virtue. And I, being an obliging, codependent little wench, wanted nothing more than to give the right answer and receive a pat on the head in return.

Anyway, senior year. English class. Mrs. Jacobs. She was one of my favorite teachers, actually, and still is. She was a funny, insightful woman who, in spite of it all, genuinely challenged us to think. Looking back, actually, I notice that most of my favorite teachers were my English teachers . They seemed to have a better sense of humor and a more relaxed approach to life and human nature than did, say, the Bible teachers---but I suspect that's true of anyone who routinely deals with literature outside of a bizarre, narrow interpretation one's own holy scriptures.

But that's not to say the English teachers were entirely exempt from the little quirks of the Evangelical mindset. As we sat there one balmy May afternoon, wishing for the final bell, Mrs. Jacobs stood before us and warned us to be on our guard as we went off to college: the ideology represented in the video she was about to play for us was now standard fare at most universities, and it represented a grave danger to our faith. We spent the rest of the week watching the PBS special with Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, with Mrs Jacobs piping up every so often to point out specific heresies we would no doubt encounter. I don't remember much about Campbell himself except that he said "metaphor" funny, and had really sweaty armpits. That much I remember. The embodiment of deception stood before us and he had sweaty armpits. I marveled at the banality of evil.

Months later, while my friends had all gone off to their colleges of choice, I was taking evening courses at community college with no real aim. I rationalized, of course. Two years here, then Berkeley. It's cheaper this way. People smiled and nodded, perhaps because they sensed that I needed them to. When two years had passed and I hadn't transferred, I had, by that time, become a very active member of a Charismatic church nearby, so it was very easy to decide that God had kept me at said junior college, in spite of my plans, for His greater purpose. Praise God. Every new turn of the story brought a new spin; a new understanding of God's divine plan. But of course it was all me: I hadn't turned in the things I needed to turn in, I had procrastinated until after all the due dates, mostly because I was afraid. I'd spent a lot of time online, avoiding friends and hiding from the decisions everyone kept saying I needed to make. In the end, I decided by not deciding, and now here I was, rotting in relative obscurity and embarrassment, while my friends were all off doing something to be proud of.

But I took deep comfort in the idea of "defending my faith", which, as most of you can probably guess, mainly meant cultivating a sense of persecution and striking back at imagined foes. In those moments, I didn't feel like a failure: I felt like a warrior. If my world looked mundane, that was only the illusion: everyday life was fraught with hidden meaning and significance, and I walked by faith, not by sight.

My first fall semester, I took a course in World Mythology. I can't exactly remember why, at the time, though I remember always liking mythology. I grew up reading Greek and Roman myths---sanitized for children, but still recognizable---and on hot summer nights, when we would sleep in the front room where it was cooler, my mom would put on the cassette of Navajo legends she'd brought back with her from one of her backpacking trips. As I drifted off to sleep I would watch the four arrows--- blue, yellow, white and black---stretching out into eternity as the world was born.

Of course, that was when I was a child, and I thought as a child, and now I put childish things behind me. I had a higher purpose, and I wouldn't be swayed. I bought the books for the class, one of which---wonder of wonders---happened to be by Joseph Campbell. The warnings from high school rang anew in my mind. My Peretti Novel Spidey Sense tingled as I noticed the black snakes entwined on the cover, and I left the bookstore with a renewed sense of importance. Campbell represented some vague, looming evil---a man who had set himself up against God, daring to address Christianity as one of many myths, instead of acknowledging, like C.S. Lewis, that Christianity was the fulfillment of all previous myths. A man who was singlehandedly deceiving millions. Not knowing what else to do, I spent the rest of the evening in the cafeteria, reading, and jotting down notes that sounded a whole helluva lot like the ones I found scribbled in the margins of the book I picked up today. At the time, I'd thought them an incisive apologia for the Christian faith. I happened upon them again when I was cleaning house a couple months ago, and found them, not surprisingly, to be an embarrassing example of Completely Missing The Point. Like DOAM, I'd been so defensive of what I'd been indoctrinated to believe, that I never really got what I was reading.

I rarely ever learned for the sake of learning, in those days. I either learned for the sake of having knowledge to put on display, or I learned for the sake of building a defense against what I was being taught, in order to preserve my brittle faith. And that's why, in spite of years of hard work, I remain pretty uneducated.

And it's why I picked up that book today. It's not entirely about it being a big "fuck you" to my indoctrinators, though I'll admit, that sure doesn't hurt. It's not even about sitting at the feet of Campbell and mindlessly absorbing all he has to say---I'm not looking for a new religion. It's about dropping the defensiveness and being willing to learn. If I were still one to couch things in Christian terms, I might call that humility*. It's about dropping the battle mindset, and being willing to see someone who disagrees with you as just that: a person, who happens to disagree with you. They don't represent The Enemy, and you sure as fuck don't represent God, at least no more than any of us do. You represent you. Why can't that be enough?

It's about liking myself enough for that to be enough.

And going from there.

* D'oh! Michael Mock points out in the comments that "humility" is by no means an exclusively Christian term, and he's absolutely right. Sorry about that. Unfortunately, for me the word had always been used in a religious context, so I still reflexively think of it as Christianese. Not sure how to fix that in the original post, so I'm patching it up here with an asterisk and a disclaimer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Damn those Mediterranean fishing boats! Damn them to hell!

Sometime during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I created a second email account with the intent of sending out stupid, cryptic emails to all my friends, mainly to see what kind of reaction I'd get. These were the days before spammers became a real problem, the days when most people I knew would see an unfamiliar name under the "Sender" column and think, "Hm. I wonder who THAT is," and open it to see, rather than, "Hm. Spam filter must've missed one," and send it to the trash.

The emails themselves were bizarre, stream-of-consciousness rants in the style of an Old Testament prophet, for no other reason except it was what came to mind at the time, and it made me giggle. They usually began with something along the lines of, "Woe betide the unruly ostrich..." or "Hearken not unto the caterpillars of perfidy, they that dangle from the shovel in the yard..." I wish I had the emails still, but I deleted them all in a fit of repentance some years later, so everything here is pretty much a paraphrase.

I was seventeen, bored as hell, and up way too late on a 56K modem connection. I don't know what else to say about it.

Most of my friends had me figured out within the week. Apparently, I'm some kind of predictable, though it pleased me a little to know that my friends' reasoning was that if it walks like a deranged psycho and quacks like a deranged psycho, then it's probably Amanda.

One of them, though---we'll call her Gwen---took a little longer to clue in. After the first couple emails, she sent me a message demanding to know who I was. I told her, lo, that my name was Jarlsburg Lovebuggy, and proceeded to channel another message from on high. It wasn't anything particularly threatening, at least, no more threatening than any unhinged ranting delivered in King James English would sound. But these were the early days, back when the internet was a place where the ratio of Normal People to Creepy People was lower than anyone felt comfortable with. You never knew What Kind of Person was out there.

"Who the hell are you?" she finally demanded. "Why are you sending this to me? Where did you get my email address? DO YOU KNOW AMANDA [my last name, misspelled]?!?!?!?!?!"

And there it was. The game was up. Unless...

I stared at the screen, knowing I was at a crossroads. I could do like I'd done with the others, and say, "Yep, you caught me." We'd all have a good laugh, and move on with our lives. Instead, I shot back the first thing that popped into my head.

"I'm sorry I scared you. I really didn't mean to. It's just that, I'm so lonely..."

I don't remember the exact reply, or how much of my story I told in that first email, but that's not important. What's important is, over the course of the next several months, I constructed a character I named Jessica. Jessica was an orphaned ninth-grader in Iowa who lived with her cruel aunt and cousin, whose only friend was her little budgie* named Froot Loop, and who had just wanted someone to talk to and wasn't sure how to go about it.

Her parents died in a Mediterranean fishing boat accident when she was very young. My mother fell into a vat of live shrimp and was trampled to death under the indifferent, scuttling legs of a million beady-eyed crustaceans. My father, paralyzed in a state of grief and shock, fell overboard and drowned.

I fleshed her out with a multitude of details, ones I can't even remember anymore. I remember a time, somewhere toward the middle of the game, where I responded to one of those ubiquitous "getting to know you" surveys, trying to make her my opposite. I love white chocolate! And any poetry by Jewel! I think I was trying too hard at that point. But it didn't matter.

I recounted the few hazy memories I had of my parents before they'd died, how my mother would make Velveeta sundaes and sing me "Love In An Elevator" as a lullaby every night before bed.

I built up entire stories around some truly awful free verse I'd written under the influence of caffeine and friends who were now in on the game. For example, I spent a week on an elaborate story about a beer-drinking squirrel that I'd befriended and that my evil cousin had killed off---all so I could send her this poem:
The squirrel of my hope
is dropped
into the blender of despair.

The lid is shut.

Whirl. Squeak. Frappe.
I kept trying to make it so absurd that she'd call bullshit, but she never did. It was growing out of control. I didn't feel like I was telling the story, most of the time. The story had a life of its own. I was just along for the ride. My family, who'd thought this was pretty funny at first, began to wonder if I had any sort of conscience.** In the quiet, nagging corners of my mind, I began to wonder the same thing.

I knew I needed to stop this, but I didn't know how.

And I'm not sure why I didn't just own up in the beginning, like I had done with the rest of my friends. Maybe it was because she'd confronted me by email, where I hadn't had to worry about keeping a straight face (not a reliable skill of mine). Or maybe it's because she was the last one left, and I hadn't been ready to give up the game just then. Or maybe it's because, deep down, I'm a bit of an asshole. I don't know. But here it was, months along now, and Gwen was emotionally invested in this person who didn't even exist. It's not that she was stupid. She wasn't. See, she had her doubts sometimes, but she chose to believe me anyway. She wanted to trust me. I'd presented myself as such a vulnerable character, that she didn't dare risk hurting me even more by calling me a liar. I probably would have done just the same.

I don't remember how and when I 'fessed up, but I did, and I had to face up to the fact that I hurt a friend. And I'd like to say that I never did it again, but a few weeks later when I first started using AIM, I convinced her I was a Zimbabwean exchange student hired by the CIA for a top secret operative, who grew up wearing pink hot pants from the charity bin. To be fair, I thought for sure she'd call me out this time. Instead, she developed a bit of a crush. So basically, neither of us learned our lesson.

I'm not sure where I was planning on going with all this. I realize I haven't really told this story to a lot of people, not really because I'm ashamed of it, but because I feel like I'm not ashamed enough. I hurt a friend, and don't feel great about that, but whenever I think back on all this, that's not what I think of first. What I remember first is the fun of the story, of playing the game and having people fooled, even if only for a little while.

The idea of writing fiction has intimidated me for a while now. It seems like a language I can understand, but can't speak myself. I've spent the past couple years following Fred Clark's excellent analysis of Left Behind over at Slacktivist, as much for the comments from the other Slacktivites as for Fred's original posts. And while I've appreciated the education, it's also been sort of discouraging: I read those books in high school, and never picked up on how poorly they were written. So how can I trust myself? The voice of my internal critic joins with their voices, and I'm petrified. I can't turn it off long enough to create. I'm afraid I'm just as bad; worse, even. At least if I don't try, I'll never have to face that.

But then I remember these idiot games I played, when I was bored, and wasn't worrying about what people would think. What else was I doing, really, but crafting fiction? I wasn't worried about whether it was any good, or profound, or original---it was fun. And I that's what I miss. I miss the fun.

I'd like to find that again.

* Yep, that's where "The Woeful Budgie" first came from. Mostly I just liked the sound of it, though I added the pet bird explanation in as a way to make it all make sense in the context of the Jessica story.
**Well, except for my Aunt Mary, who gave me a blender for Christmas that year with a toy squirrel in the pitcher holding a sign that read "Frappe, please". Incidentally, the title of this post comes from a letter from Aunt Mary I found earlier tonight, presumably one she sent in reply to my telling her about all this mess. She writes:
[Gwen] sounds like a great friend to have...I miss having friends for torturing. And it takes a very special person to do that to their friends. But here's my advice to you - 15 years from now, when she hunts you down and stalks you through letters and phone calls, then wants to hook up with you again, by meeting at some casino in Primm, NV, DON'T GO! Nothing good will come of it...she'll talk non-stop, run over anything you might want to say, and then try to french kiss your boyfriend when you finally get to get the hell out of there. It's a nightmare no one should have to experience.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sketchbook 10/17/08

Dumpus fell asleep in her stroller on a walk today. She woke up with panda prints in her mooshy little face.

Monday, June 23, 2008

IF - Hoard

I love this snake. He's been living quietly in my sketchbook for almost a year now, but I'd been avoiding turning him into a full-on illustration for fear that my finished product wouldn't live up to what I'd pictured in my head. It hasn't, of course---I never am quite satisfied with what I end up with, at least not right away, though it eventually grows on me and replaces the original in my head. Until then, I'm still not loving the purple background, which is a shame, considering how I now have a repetitive strain injury in my shoulder from all my digging in with the colored pencil (and my bad posture, no doubt). I could Photoshop it, sure, but at this point that feels like admitting defeat.

Anyway, what finally motivated me, other than the fact that it matched nicely with this week's theme, was a quote I'd jotted down one day right next to said sketch. I wrote it down as a reminder to myself, one that I find I constantly need:

"Artists who seeks perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything."
--Eugene Delacroix

IF - Forgotten

Aptly, I forgot to do an illustration this last week.

Ha! Ya like that?

Well. "Forgot" might be a bit strong of a word. I thought about it. Even almost made an attempt. But...we took a twelve-hour overnight train trip up to Oregon for my mom's graduation. With an infant. And then, three days later after a big party and two straight nights of projectile milk vomit from an overtired Monkey who decided she didn't want to sleep ever-ever-ever again, we did it again to come back home.

We sort of spent the week recovering from it all.