Recently, I snapped.
And I snapped at, of all places, a Christian women's conference.
Recently, my church hosted the "If:Gathering", a Christian women's conference that was livestreamed to hundreds of churches around the world. It featured speakers such as Jill Briscoe, Jennie Allen, Ann Voskamp, and Lysa TeuKeurst. About 200 women came to the event at our church, including many that were not members. (My "snapping" shouldn't be construed as a comment on the conference itself, nor a reflection on the hard work of the women who were involved in putting it on.)
During one of the discussion sessions (where the livestreaming stopped), one of the suggested questions to ask was, what kind of pressures do you feel?
I asked that question to three other women around me. I said that I felt shamed from both sides of the aisle: from the belief that I'm somehow a traitor to the sisterhood because I'm not in a high-powered executive position to the belief that I'm not a "real" Christian woman because I don't have a lot of kids, don't homeschool, and work part-time.
I also have a lot of faith issues that I have struggled with over the years.
All of my frustration over faith, Christian womanhood, and other issues spilled out in one sentence:
"I want to be a good Christian but I don't know how!"
The women around me were very reassuring, and one of them reminded me that only God could judge me, not anyone else.
The Monday after the conference, I shared this event with the man that my husband and I go see every month for counseling. The counselor asked me, what was a good Christian?
I started with, a good Christian woman gets up before the rest of her family and has her quiet time.
Frank objected, telling me that he didn't think the Bible commanded us to get up early in the morning in order to have a "quiet time."
My immediate response was, "Morning by morning I lay my requests before you," which is my paraphrase of a verse from one of the Psalms. That's a verse that's been used to "prove" that you should get up first thing in the morning and pray. Also, Jesus did it (Mark chapter 1, he got up early in the morning while it was still dark.)
I went on to describe the rest of my vision of a "good Christian woman" -- she prays for everyone except herself, because that's selfish; makes sure her husband and kids are fed well before going off to work and school; she homeschools because God forbid that you send a child to "godless public schools" unless it's for the specific purpose of being "salt and light". She prepares herself before her husband comes home, and she'd better look good because if he doesn't have something good to come home to, he'll go looking for it somewhere else and you'll be responsible for driving him into the arms of another woman. After she puts the kids to bed, she spends time with her husband; and if he wants sex, she'd better give it to him because if she turns him down, he'll go off and have an affair with another woman and it'll be your fault!
Not only that, you need to be at church every.single.time the doors are open, and the only acceptable excuses are illness and childbirth--and those, just barely.
Our counselor said to me that he heard a "plaintive cry" from me. I added, "And it doesn't help when everyone lies. The movement I was part of in college lied. The movement I went to to get away from that lied." People use the name of Jesus to lie. (Not everyone who uses the name of Jesus lies, but there are people who do just that.)
So what's the answer? Read the Bible and pray, right?
Well, first, which Bible? I can't read Attic Greek, which was the language that the New Testament was written in; nor can I read ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, which is what the Old Testament was written in. I have to rely on an English translation. Let's see, there's the NIV, the RSV, the KJV, the NRSV, the ASV, the NASV, the Message, the HCSB . . . and, if you're brave enough, THE KJV 1611 version, which many consider to be THE only true authorized Scripture!
And even then, when I pick up the Bible and read, there's things that are pretty straightforward (like "love one another", "forgive as the Lord forgave you,") but if I pick up the Bible and just do a straight reading, there is nothing there that explains to me the period of time or the cultural context in which it was written. I have to rely on people who know--or say they know--about Biblical history, Biblical culture, and Biblical languages.
Supposedly, the way you interpret the Bible is, what did it mean to the original audience? But: 1) how do you determine the original audience, and 2) who decided that that was one of the principles of interpretation? I have also heard of a so-called "spiritual" interpretation of the Bible, which I have no idea what it means, but it's one way that supposedly "proves" that Jesus came back in 70 AD, when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed.
If I'm reading an English Bible, I'm dependent upon the work of a translator. How do I know that the English Bible I'm holding in my hands is translated accurately? The KJV 1611 was supposedly "translated from the original Greek". But since then, there have been older manuscripts discovered that will affect translations made before those manuscripts were found.
And HOW do you determine which commands were only for the audience that a particular book of the Bible was written to and which ones are for all Christians, for all time?
My biggest bugaboo is, everyone believes they are right and can "prove" it by Scripture, but too often, the conclusions that people come to are diametrically opposed to each other. So how do you know who's right?
I have really felt like, lately, that I need a doctorate in theology, plus a minor in Biblical Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, to know what the Bible "really" says. I'm reasonably intelligent. I know how to use different Bible tools such as a interlinear Bible and a dictionary of Biblical words and terms. I know how to use a concordance. But putting it all together so that I really understand how God wants me to live and to worship? And putting it all together so that I can discern true doctrine from false doctrine? I sometimes think it's impossible.
We argue about everything, and I mean, everything. My religious tradition, Churches of Christ, argues over instrumental music, whether or not you can have a kitchen in the building, what the role of baptism is, in what order to do worship (communion before or after the sermon?), how communion is passed (are bread and juice passed separately, or is it okay to pass them together?), are we allowed to take communion more than once a week? Other Christian denominations argue about what "modest dress" is, whether or not women can preach (don't get me started on this one, I don't have the energy to fight), the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, and on and on and on and on.
I have read my Bible, prayed, looked up Scriptures, attended retreats, conferences, seminars, gatherings, church services, small group meetings, asked questions, gone to counselors, and talked to people until I am practically blue in the face, and I am no nearer to getting my conclusions figured out than I was when I started. I believe God exists and I believe Jesus is his son, and salvation is only through him. But anything else? (I do admit, I'm very good at "yes butting", as in, "Yes, but . . .")
I'm afraid of getting it wrong and going to hell because I got it wrong. I am afraid of being shamed by other Christians for my conclusions. I'm afraid of going before Jesus on Judgment Day and then, and only then, discovering that I'm not getting in because I got one little jot or tittle of the New Testament wrong. "You believed in Jesus, repented of your sins, and were baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of your sins, but you gave your contribution monthly instead of weekly, and you should have figured out that I meant for you to give your contribution weekly because of what Paul wrote the Corinthian church: you should set aside a sum of money on the first day of the week. So, sorry, you don't get in."
And when I've seen the question of legalism raised, I've seen the response, "But what about obedience?" Does obedience equal how well you precisely follow some sort of Biblical pattern? (I have heard of the concept of "precision obedience", meaning, doing exactly what God says exactly the way he says it.)
And, when someone teaches a lesson, or writes down a Bible study . . . how do I know that there's not some sort of hidden agenda there? Or whether or not I'm being led to a predetermined conclusion?
Okay, the answer is probably, "You need to make up your own mind," "You need to study it out," "You need to learn to think for yourself and come to your own conclusions." But I often think that when we say that to people, what we are really saying is, "Study it out and come to your own conclusions . . . as long as I agree with them."
And to be honest, the idea of "studying it out" brings to mind piles of reference books, pages of note-taking, and hours and hours of research that I just do not have the time or the energy for. So that leaves me even more overwhelmed.
No wonder I'm frustrated.
No wonder I'm tired.
No wonder I'm overwhelmed.
No wonder I snapped.
Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.