Category Archives: Conservative Christianity

Epic Fail Birthday

This has been one of those weeks when I feel like an epic failure.

Not that everything has gone wrong this week. Far from it; in fact, many good things have happened this week. What has me feeling like an epic failure is that something went wrong with one of my clients—like wrong—and she quit therapy abruptly, which usually causes me to seriously question if I am burnt out, if I am in need of a tune-up of my skills, or if I am just slowly losing my mojo as a therapeutic person.

Obviously, I cannot share any specifics of what happened, since I want to (and legally need to) respect my client’s privacy. Let it suffice to say that we had a major parting of the ways over a religious issue; my client is very conservative and is an activist in this area, and I am a committed progressive that does not believe that my morals should ever dictate what other people are allowed to do. We have laws to dictate behavior; after that, my morals should stop with me.

I have to admit that I view this person as an extremist. I say that because she holds an ethical viewpoint that labels anyone who disagrees with this viewpoint as immoral and of lower personal character.  I also view her as an extremist because she spouts “statistics” and “facts” without really examining if those statistics and facts meet the test of simple logic, which means her belief is unexamined and also unchallengeable.  After all, how do you challenge someone’s viewpoint once they have chosen to simply accept whatever data they are fed by their ‘leader’ without any critical thinking?

This is where I got into trouble with her.  She was sharing her views and statistics, and I lost my ability to smile and remain silent.  And of course, that loss is why I feel like an epic failure right now. I’m not okay with losing my patience with someone and arguing against their opinion. I’m not supposed to speak sternly to a client, ever. I’m not okay when I act like this whether it happens with clients or just with people in general. Sadly, I find myself behaving like this often enough for me to be embarrassed to admit to it.

It’s my birthday today, and I keep hoping that my increasing age will grant me greater amounts of patience, compassion, silence (oh how I could use some ability to remain silent!), and wisdom.  While I often get really nice presents for my birthday, God has not yet chosen to shower me with the gifts of patience, silence, and wisdom.  I don’t know that I actually need to be more compassionate that I am, but I often think that I would be better at tolerating extremist viewpoints or just generally stupid behaviors and viewpoints if I was more compassionate.

Then again, maybe if I didn’t give a damn that would help too.

But I digress.

I keep waiting to grow up, to become more of all the things I thought I would become with age. It isn’t happening, at least not the way I want it to.  I won’t deny that age has granted me a number of characteristics that I didn’t possess at 22. I told my oldest daughter not long ago that the greatest gift of aging is that you calm the hell down. Actually, I think I said it more colorfully than that. Nonetheless, I have calmed down a great deal since my 20s. I have also become a bit more comfortable with having others tell me that I have screwed up. Sometime in my 30s I decided that being wrong isn’t as horrible as we like to make it out to be.  Discovering you are wrong is embarrassing and it hurts your pride a little, but only just a little, as long as you don’t act like you’re being accused of a capital crime and start defending yourself as if your life was on the line. The truth is that being wrong represents an opportunity to learn from someone, to thank them for their honest feedback, and to prove yourself to be a responsible and accountable adult. Oh yeah…and you get to be certain, at least for a moment, that you are now just a little ‘righter’ than you were a minute ago. Nice, huh?

Growing older has also granted me the wisdom of realizing that things are never as great or as bad as they seem, and that I need to step back and let things unfold, instead of going straight into freak-out mode. I used to freak-out over the slightest little thing that didn’t go well…now I moan a little and grump a bit, and then get on with dealing with whatever it was that just happened. I suppose that this could come under the heading of ‘Calm the hell down’ but it also contains a great big piece of ‘Look for the good to show up, because God always sneaks in a little good into everything’. God has a funny habit of blessing me even in the midst of the ickier parts of life, which has led me to start looking for the hidden blessings in just about everything.

You know, considering just how much aging has blessed me with already, I guess that it’s reasonable to hope that sometime in the next 30 years, God will sneak a little patience, silence, and wisdom into this hard head of mine. Maybe He’ll drop a little more compassion into my heart just for fun as well.  In fact, perhaps this particular epic failure will contain the seeds of great things…a few more hidden blessings from God.

So for my birthday, it appears that God has gifted me with hope that I’m still growing up and growing wise, and that is a very nice present indeed. Well played, God.  Well played.

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It’s A Conspiracy!

Can we discuss “the peace that passes all understanding”?

I have heard that phrase for years. I remember hearing it as a child and wondering what it meant and how I was supposed to get something that I didn’t even understand.

Don’t get me started about trying to understand something that says, in its title, that you will not be able to understand it.

But I digress.

“The peace that passes all understanding” turns out to be one of the Christian code-phrases we hear about when millennials and agnostics write about the Church; words and phrases that appear to have no context for meaning if you are not already faithful.

I’ve got news: I grew up in the Church and accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was only five years old, and I still did not understand lots of those Christian code phrases.  It isn’t because you’re young or seeking or simply unfamiliar with the Church; you don’t understand the code phrase because…well, because we Christians hardly ever take the time to define what the heck we are talking about and we pastors can be even worse.  We just throw the phrase out there like it means something and expect everybody else to understand it intuitively.  The evangelical movement has a ton of these phrases:

“Walking in victory with Jesus”

“Growing in grace”

“Die to self”

“Washed in the blood”

“The peace that passes understanding”

“Pray a hedge of protection”

There are plenty more but I figure you’ve probably gotten the point by now.  I remember hearing these phrases and wondering what they meant but never really asking for an explanation. Even when I did ask for clarification, the answer I received was often just as baffling as the code phrase itself.  “Walking in victory is when you have grown in grace enough that you are able to ignore the attacks of the Enemy and follow the will of God wherever it leads you.”  Okay, so how do you ‘grow in grace’ enough to ‘walk in victory’?  “You grow in grace when you ask Jesus to wash you in His blood and help you die to self.”

The explanations were kind of circular in nature.  After a while I just gave in to the thought that perhaps my experience of faith would explain these concepts to me and I would finally understand what no grownup seemed able to fully explain to me.

Don’t get me started on why I thought growing up would cause me to understand what other grownups were incapable of explaining despite their advanced age.

But I digress.

The problem with these Christian code-phrases is that they can lead to a conspiracy of lies around what it is to experience the Christian life.  It makes it sound like good Christians don’t experience fear or anxiety or depression…after all, they have the peace that passes all understanding!  And of course, they don’t struggle with finances or with adverse situations, because they are “walking in victory with Jesus” and victors aren’t losers! Only losers struggle.  If you’ve truly ‘grown in grace’ then you probably ought not to curse or lie or speak unkind words…in fact you can’t be even remotely sinful…because growing in grace implies that you are continually becoming more holy and holy people are squeaky clean!  And goodness knows that those who ‘die to self’ don’t act selfishly since their ‘self’ no longer matters.  Those who have ‘died to self’ just give and give and give and never get tired of giving because they receive all they need from Jesus…

Really?  Because that’s a bunch of BS.

Christian life is full of struggle and fear and pain and failure and sin and self-focus and self-care and prayer and reflection and growth in grace…

There! I said it!  One of those Christian code-phrases makes sense to me!  I understand growing in grace, because I came to understand grace when I became a Methodist.  Grace is an unmerited gift from God that helps me become all that God created me to be, by drawing me deeper and deeper into a relationship with God, which slowly changes me until I am conformed to the image of Christ.

Oops! I just used another Christian code-phrase.  In fact I used several.

The truth is that these phrases do have meaning.  Some are symbolic (since no one really bathes you in blood, thank goodness) and others are more representational of Christian life and faith as it is actually experienced, because I really should become much more like Jesus Christ as my relationship with Him grows deeper and stronger. To me, becoming more like Jesus (more Christ-like) means that I should be more loving and accepting of those on the margins of society and that I should actively seek social justice and equality for all people.  The Jesus I know is a bit of a rabble-rouser.

I want to get back to the conspiracy of lies.

In all honesty, the conspiracy of lies starts as a conspiracy of expectations. I grew up in a fundamentalist, evangelical faith tradition that emphasized orthodoxy (right belief).  We were taught that orthodoxy would lead to orthopathos (right experience). In other words, believe the right things and you will experience the right things.

That’s a powerful draw to faith!  Think about it—according to that concept, believing the right things will lead me to experience the “right” things: peace, prosperity, happiness, success, achievement…you name it, whatever this culture deems “right” is what I will get if I believe in the right ways.

Here’s a few things that our culture does not deem “right” despite their frequency in the general population:

Poverty

Domestic Violence

Divorce

Having children who commit crimes or use drugs

Addiction

Mental illness, including depression and anxiety

Unexplained or chronic illnesses that are difficult to manage

Wow.  Just wow. Can you imagine what it’s like to grow up believing that none of these things should happen to you if you have “right beliefs”?  And it doesn’t help to acknowledge that (of course) these things ‘happen’ to Christians, it’s just they don’t persist and (of course) Christians count on their faith to give them “victory in Jesus” over all these circumstances.

This is how you end up with a conspiracy of lies.  If right belief means right experience, then I better not let anyone know that I am having the wrong experiences, and if I do tell the truth for a brief moment, I better not let anyone know that my wrong experience is persisting.

The funny thing is that Jesus told us that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6) He also said that if we continue in His word, we are truly His disciples and we will know the truth and the truth will make us free. (John 8:31-32).

Does the “truth that will set us free” include telling the truth?  I think so. I also think it means that we will stop fearing the truth as if it will destroy us and invalidate our faith.  Get real people! We worship a Savior who cried out “My Father, my Father, why have you forsaken me?” as he hung on the cross, dying.  Jesus didn’t say that to quote a Psalm and look impressive. Jesus said that because it was His experience as He died a horrific death.

If Jesus didn’t lie about His pathos…and I don’t think we should either.

Skip the conspiracy…both the conspiracy expectations and the conspiracy of lies…and stick with the Truth.

It’ll set you free. Trust me on that one.

The Apple of His Eye

I met with a client this week who is struggling to rebuild her life as she trudges through an ugly divorce.  Let’s call her Anna.

Anna believes that God has a plan for her life and a path for her to follow so that she can move forward after the end of her marriage, and she is doing everything possible to be faithful to both.  She is doing her best to raise her two teenage girls to be women of faith.  She is working hard to build the realty business she opened when she left her husband.  She is struggling every month to pay the bills but is determined to become financially secure so that she can stop relying on her ex-husband, who isn’t interested in being reliable or remotely honest when it comes to child support.  The thing that amazes me is that in the midst of all of this, Anna continues to give to others even when she doesn’t have much herself. She particularly likes helping low income families get affordable housing even though she doesn’t get much of a commission from that kind of work.  Anna and I both believe that she is doing everything she can to be on God’s path, and we can both very clearly see God at work in her life, so why isn’t it getting any easier?

That is the one thing that Anna just can’t get over: that no matter how hard she works to do exactly what God wants, her life is just as difficult now as it was only a month or two after she left her husband.  Anna sits in my office and cries, just wanting God to reveal to her what she’s supposed to do next. What is the next step on God’s path? Not knowing makes her anxious and fearful about what’s going to happen next.  It makes her fear that she has screwed up and has wandered off God’s path somehow.  In the end, despite her deep faith, she’s incredibly anxious, frequently exhausted, and always at the end of her rope, and she doesn’t think that a good Christian woman should feel the way she does.

I try to remind her at every session that no matter how perfect your life is otherwise, raising two teenage daughters will have you at the end of your rope every day, all the time.

Beyond that, though, I get where Anna is coming from.

My parents have always attended an evangelical, fundamentalist church.  They did when I was a child, and they still do now.  As a child, I remember learning about God’s will and God’s plan for your life.  God had a path for your life and you had better be on it. If you stepped off that path, even one tiny step off of the path, you were in big trouble.  Even more frightening was that stepping off the path meant that you were on your own, that God was not going to be present to you and your needs while you went on your little ‘jaunt’ off the path.  If you realized your mistake later and wanted to get back to a good relationship with God, you had to backtrack to where you left God’s path in the first place, and then get busy moving forward on God’s path because being off God’s path was unacceptable, sinful, and a good reason to condemn you to Hell for all eternity.

I suppose that makes some sense, especially to fundamentalists.  The thing is that it makes God sound awfully petulant and kind of like a narcissistic parent. You know, you better play by God’s rules or He isn’t going to play with you anymore.  He’ll just take His ball and go home and you will be All. By. Yourself.  Oh, and you’ll spend eternity in Hell.

I don’t believe any of that anymore.

I’m Methodist now, and I am a feminist process theologian.  That doesn’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t study theology, so I’ll just say that I really like the idea that my beginning (birth) is fixed in God’s hands and my ending (death) is also fixed in God’s hands, and the life that exists between those two points is a negotiation between God and me.  I believe that God will never leave me because God is not in the business of abandoning His children…not even the disrespectful, rebellious ones.  For me, it’s all the more reason to love Him and serve Him.

What does that have to do with Anna?

Well, Anna was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist church just like I was.  Both of us learned early on that ‘true Christians’ had the peace that passes understanding (Phill 4:7) and that meant that you don’t get anxious if you really love the Lord.  ‘True Christians’ trust God and do not fear circumstances.  ‘True Christians’ wait for God’s leading and are patient because God always acts in God’s time, which is rarely early but never late.  God is all merciful and knows your needs; He has numbered the hairs on your heads, so you have nothing to worry about. (Lk 12:7)

What all that boils down to is that ‘true Christians’ don’t ever have unpleasant emotions like worry, fear, or anxiety.  Anger is pretty much unacceptable as well, unless it’s holy anger at the sin you perceive in the world (or in someone else, but that’s another post.) ‘True Christians’ sail through life so zen that nothing ruffles their feathers; after all, their Father in Heaven is looking out for them, so why worry?

I know devout Buddhists who that aren’t that zen and never will be.

Anyone who reads their Bible…heck anyone who has seen the movie The Passion of The Christ knows that Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and was so distressed that God sent angels to comfort Him.

Seriously? Jesus sweats blood, but somehow our faith in God is going to insulate us against the icky feelings that we don’t like?

No, that’s not how it works. Faith in God is not a magical pair of rose-colored glasses that will make our lives all sunshine and puppies.  Faith in God is not an extended release Valium for the soul.

Don’t get me wrong. Please, seek God’s will in your life and then do your best to live by it.  And when following God’s will leaves you exhausted, disappointed, and anxious, know that you have stumbled onto all the things that Christ experienced as he led the disciples for three years and then walked the path to His own crucifixion.  Definitely check in with God daily to make sure that you are following the path He has set before you, but plan on a few nights where you sweat some blood and need some supernatural help to make it through to the morning.

And if you are going to trust in something, trust that the God who delighted in creating you also delights in watching over you, because His son has made it clear that this is a difficult world to live in and we need all the help we can get. The God who created you loves you beyond what you can ever understand and will never leave you because it would break His heart to do so.  You are, in so many ways, the apple of His eye and He adores you.

If that doesn’t make you love God, I’m not sure what will.

I Refuse To Play

This week I listened to my girlfriend as she unburdened her heart about her boyfriend.

She likes him, but his behavior…not so much.

You see, her boyfriend is an ultra-conservative Christian and an ultra-conservative Republican.  He keeps getting temporarily suspended from Facebook for making “offensive” comments about politics and religion.

The recent flooding in Baton Rouge sparked another round of angry posts.  He posted about Obama’s failure to show up in Baton Rouge and what he interpreted as Obama’s lack of concern about the flooding and damage, the loss of lives and homes.  Fair enough.  He complained that instead of visiting Baton Rouge, Obama was busy golfing and vacationing. Fair enough.

And then he finished his post by stating that after golfing Obama went home to (have gay sex with a “wife” that is actually a man in drag.)  I refrained from quoting this man directly because the words are inflammatory and incredibly inappropriate.  Not surprisingly, Facebook suspended his account again.

Lately, Facebook has been rife with comments like what this man posted. My uncle has posted similar things in the past because he is also ultra-conservative on multiple fronts. Posts like these bother me on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.  I despair of ever attaining real, meaningful dialogue about our presidential election with people who don’t already agree with my viewpoint. I despair of getting the American populace to focus on what is truly important and not on petty opinions that mean nothing to the problem at hand.

As much as the world doesn’t need me to monitor its Facebook posts, it’s time to speak up about what I see as truly reprehensible behaviors that don’t reflect true Christian faith and don’t reflect the better nature of the American people.

First, if you are going to make a political statement or complaint, could you stick to the point?  If you don’t like Obama’s choices, then complain about his choices—not his marriage, or what his wife looks like, or whether he chose to have some leisure time instead of working 24/7 (because that’s an unrealistic expectation that you couldn’t attain either).  Stick to the point…because your point could potentially be valid and be an opening for real political dialogue.  I am tired of complaints that make it evident that the person is not actually seeking to express valid criticism of the President or of our political process, but is instead just throwing negative categories out there that supposedly make Obama bad…gay…black…married to a man…Muslim…socialist…BAD! Those kinds of comments don’t change anything and they don’t highlight what might need to change (unless you count the bad behavior of the commentator.)  As I understand the United States, we have a couple of freedoms—speech, voting—that make it possible to change things for the better. You are free to exercise those freedoms any way that you want, but it would be a real shame if you wasted your freedom of speech on your right to say outrageous and hateful things that change nothing but whether or not I am going to unfriend you on Facebook.

Having said what I think are relatively rational things, I’d like to criticize some of the useless dialogue that passes for political posts on Facebook. In case you were wondering, I am about to rant just a little and yes, I will be opinionated. You have been warned.

Michelle Obama is not an extension of the President…stop treating her like she is a reflection on him. For God’s sake, the woman is his wife, not his kneecap or his left arm or the frontal lobe of his brain. She is the First Lady and therefore a representative of the United States, and her actions and words are subject to commentary just like the President’s actions and words are subject to scrutiny and commentary.  Sadly, what I hear from conservatives is that she looks like a man and is not pretty; some have gone so far to suggest she is a man in drag.  Really?  What you think about Michelle Obama’s looks is meaningless.  What you think about her body is meaningless. What you think about how she dresses is meaningless. God did not make women for you to pick them apart and rate them like you would an automobile.  God did not make women for YOU to tell them how to dress or how to walk or how to express themselves as if you alone determine if a woman is acceptable. The only people who are legitimately able to judge a women are God and the woman herself…because that’s who she belongs to: God and herself and that’s it.  No one actually needs to publicly comment on the body of another person unless you are a sports commentator talking about an athlete losing weight or bulking up to improve their performance in their sport…and then you are actually discussing their performance.  Human bodies are not for commentary.  It doesn’t matter whether the body belongs to the President’s wife, or Donald Trump’s wife, or your neighbor’s daughter, or neighbor’s son either.  Human beings are NOT objects to be rated for attractiveness or whether or not they meet your approval.

Being successful does NOT entitle you to have a beautiful partner and failing to have a beautiful partner does NOT indicate that you are not actually successful.   Essentially folks—women are not a reward for accomplishment. Neither are beautiful men. According to our culture, raises and riches are rewards for accomplishment. Medals are a reward for accomplishment. Acclaim and fame are rewards for accomplishment.  Human beings are not rewards for accomplishment.  Just because some rich people choose to trade in their current partner (usually a wife) for a younger and more beautiful partner does not make that behavior acceptable or laudable. The idea that being successful entitles someone to a younger and more beautiful version of their current partner reduces human beings to possessions that can be attained.  There’s a reason why we use the phrase “Trophy Wife” and it is disgusting.  Human beings are not a reward for accomplishment.

Neither sexuality or religion (or any other non-related topic) renders the person incapable and invalid as a human being. Making disparaging comments about someone’s sexuality or religion or disability (add in your own categories here) is not justification for your dissatisfaction with their performance on their job or their performance as a politician.  I’m betting that the folks who find themselves trapped in a burning building don’t bother to ask the firefighter who is coming to save them if the firefighter is gay or what their religious preference happens to be…probably because at that moment, most people just want to be rescued.  Likewise, most folks don’t ask the doctor who treats them in the ER if the doctor is Christian or if the doctor agrees with their political views or if the doctor also rejects the same categories of people and behavior that they reject.  The truth is that we interact with hundreds of people every day without knowing what their sexual preference or religious preferences are. We don’t know if they are liberal or conservative.  We don’t know if they believe in home schooling.  We don’t know if they support gun control.  In the end…we don’t bother to know because it doesn’t impact that person’s ability to do whatever it is that we need them to do.  I’m betting that all of us have encountered more gay people, Muslims, and transgendered persons than we have ever realized…and sometimes those gay, Muslim, and transgendered folks have been our coworkers, neighbors, and friends.  Statements about Obama being gay or Muslim have absolutely nothing to do with his effectiveness as president, any more than Hillary being short or Trump having a comb-over is going to have any impact on their ability to lead the country.  Stop calling people who disagree with you libtards, wingnuts, freaks, or fascists.  Stop using inflammatory statements as a way of shoring up your negative opinion of someone.  It’s okay to say “I really don’t like that political leader…they don’t do what I think they should.”   While others may want you to justify your opinions, don’t bother.  Opinions aren’t science.  Really…you can simply have an opinion and not justify it at all.

I guess what I want more than anything is the chance to have real, meaningful dialogue where no one yells and no one starts throwing around hate-language.  I have a number of good friends who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum and it’s amazing how many things we actually agree on—especially when it comes to identifying the problems.  We spend time talking about what we think might work as a solution to the problem and why we think it might work…and we often don’t agree.  The funny thing is that we still get along; we still work side by side…and we respect each other more than I can explain.

The bad behavior has got to stop!!  It isn’t getting our nation anywhere, and it makes us look like a bunch of uneducated bullies who are fighting for the right to be the biggest bully on the playground. I refuse to play.  I suggest you refuse to play as well.

 

Trying to Balance the One Hand With the Other

A fellow Zumba teacher posted on Facebook that she will no longer be teaching Zumba because it does not bring glory to God and is not modest.  She is concerned with what Jesus would think if He returned to earth and found her dancing to music that is occasionally sexual in nature and moving in ways that can be perceived as ‘sexy.’

On the one hand, the Christian part of me wants to affirm her for following her conscience and doing what she thinks is best for her relationship with God.  In her post she cited 2 Corinthians 7:1

“With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let’s make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let’s make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God.” (The Message)

If she thinks that dancing and teaching Zumba somehow defiles or distracts her from her faith, then I agree that it has to be removed from her life.  I will always support someone doing what will bring them into a closer walk with God.

On the other hand…

I absolutely reject anything and everything that tells us that our sexual nature and our beautiful bodies are somehow sinful just because they are beautiful and sexual in nature.  For goodness sakes: GOD CREATED YOUR BODY.  God knew exactly what He was doing, and God did not build your body with the aim of testing you with the demand that you reject that same body, it’s beauty, and your sexual nature just to prove that you love Him.  God is not weird like that.  Humans…we are weird like that. We play games like that, demanding that people PROVE that they love us.  God has more self-esteem than that.

Personally, I think if you truly love God you ought to try to accept your body as it is.  Accept the flesh that God put you in, with all its flaws and frailties, and with all the gifts that being enfleshed brings.  Sexuality is a GIFT from God.  Your body, with its particular beauty, is a GIFT from God.  The way your body moves is a GIFT and that means that dancing, even dancing that looks sexy…is a GIFT from God.

The God who created you is perfectly okay with your body and all its ways of moving and expressing itself as long as you are not harming anyone (including yourself).  God created the body you are in and He loves that body and the soul within it more than you can ever imagine.

Hear me out: I am not condoning wanton sexual expression or people who expose themselves publicly.  I’m not condoning prostitution or any kind of fornication, either.  I am not condoning dancing in a sexual manner for attention and/or money.  God does not want you to be a stripper, okay?  You were not created by God to be an object to be used for gratification or exploited for cash…you are a human being beyond value to your Creator.

And that last statement—that you are human being beyond value to your Creator—is exactly why I believe that God is okay with our bodies and how we move them.  Dance!  Run!  Play!  Laugh!  Do the things your body was created for, which includes having sex and being sexy.  The Facebook post of my fellow Zumba teacher asked the question Would Jesus, who lived a sinless life, ever be seen moving His body the way I do? Would He expose His body the way I have?   Considering how often Jesus chose to do exactly the opposite of what the religious authorities in Israel thought He should do, I’m guessing that YES…he would have danced and bared his midriff and enjoyed his embodied self without fear. I also think that if Jesus was around today He might just be tattooed and hang out with the people that many Christians reject as sinful.  Jesus did that all the time, and it drove the “holy” people of the time absolutely nuts!

Stop acting like your body is offensive to God.  Cover the private places and know that the rest of your body is beautiful and fine.  If you like being more covered up because it makes you feel better about yourself, then cover up, but remember that your covering is about YOU, not GOD.  If covering your body or your hair reminds you of your identity as God’s beloved child, then cover yourself, but remember that your covering up is what YOU need, not what GOD needs from you.  What God needs from you is do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) Do whatever you need to do in order to live up to all three of those commands, but don’t confuse what YOU need in order to remain within God’s will with what GOD needs from you.  Your needs are individual.

Please, don’t make God into the Almighty Beancounter.  Don’t project your own need for strict rules and guidelines onto God’s generous and loving nature, and then state that God expects such strict and regulated behavior from all of us.  The only thing that long lists of rules and guidelines will give you is a sure and easy way to declare yourself righteous and your neighbor unrighteous.  After all…doesn’t following all those rules give you the right to call yourself holy and righteous? And if the rules and guidelines that you believe Christians should live by are supposedly dictated by God Himself, then anyone who doesn’t live by them is unholy and…condemned.

Jesus had a lot to say about the people who lived by strict rules and guidelines that insured they would be considered righteous. He had a lot to say about the people who thought they could clearly identify who pleased God and who was unholy and…condemned.  They called themselves Pharisees, Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs”.  In Mark 7:6-8, Jesus says to them

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (NIV)

Obviously, I don’t know what you need in your life or what you need to eliminate from your life in order for you to have a deep and abiding relationship with God.  Only you know that.  And in all honesty, I encourage you to closely follow the guidance that God is giving you about what needs to be in and what needs to leave your life in order for you to follow God’s will.  All I ask is that you remember that what you need in order to be holy is on the one hand…and on the other hand is what God needs of you. Do not confuse YOUR needs with what God is asking for.  “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”  There are no clear rules about what justice, mercy, and humility will look like in YOUR life…but I’m betting you that God would be glad to reveal your path to you if you will seek him in prayer.

Seek Him. And along the way, please try not to condemn your neighbor in the interest of your own righteousness.