Um… : 1 Corinthians 14 – 16

Tongues. Prophecy. Women.

As a teenage Christian in a secular high school, I felt I needed to hold weekly press conferences to field questions about the Bible, pitched up most often by surly atheists looking for a fight. I remember this one coming up quite often:

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Oof, that one is hard. They would ask, “Do you think that women should never speak in churches?” I would reply, “Of course not.” So they would say, “So, you’re saying the Bible is wrong?” And I would go, “Um…” and secretly pray for an earthquake or something to distract me.

“Women should remain silent in the churches” is about as cut and dry as “a man who lies with a man should be stoned to death,” and yet, the majority of Christians think that one still applies while the other should get removed.

I think that most Christians must live in this ambivalence (a word I have been using a lot recently). They must read questionable passages, think briefly, and then discard them, hoping to never really think about it again. If they are ever questioned about it, then they always have the “I don’t pretend to know everything about the Bible” comment to fall back on.

I have been trying a tactic for a little over a year now – Show ‘em what doesn’t add up. I know anti-gay Christians who have been divorced, some multiple times. So I would show them Jesus words about divorce, and how fervently he opposes it. So I say, “Look at this, how do you explain this?” They either make an excuse or say “I don’t retend to know everything about…” yeah, yeah, you get it. I retort with passages like this, or with Paul’s condemnation of consuming rare meat, and such. Always those two answers – neither satisfying.

Then when I further press them, they say, “Why are you trying to change my mind? I’m not trying to change yours.” But God, it feels like they are trying to change my opinion, just by… having that freaking opinion in the first place. My own father suggested to me, “Why don’t you live your life and we’ll live ours and just accept that about each other?” Good, sound advice. Understanding. Civil.

I guess.

Why am I do dissatisfied with this “you be you, and I’ll be me” attitude? Isn’t that the liberal go-to standpoint?

This is a huge me problem, one that has only been heightened by this project. I have come to few conclusions so far (the only significant one being that any faith I might have will have to include the premise of a fallible, or at least contextualized, scripture). I have earned more questions than answers.

I do care what people think about my sexuality, most importantly my family and friends. And I wish to God I didn’t.

Two Passages: 1 Corinthians 10 – 13

Temptation. Love.

250 entries down. 40-something to go (or something, let’s say 45-something).

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has so far read like a rolling indictment about their early Christian activity. We have heard that they are divisive, arguing amongst one another about matters that Paul thinks are inconsequential, such as circumcision, sexuality and marriage, lawsuits, and eating habits. It does not stretch the mind to think that Paul would look around the modern landscape of Christianity and shake his head. In 2007, the World Christian Encyclopedia estimated that there are over 33,000 denominations, most of which are “independents” with only a single church to call their own. Even if this seems liberal – and admittedly, their standards might not seem completely accurate – one must admit that the Christian people are divided about what the Bible actually calls us to do.

My church was non-denominational, and Paul was our patron saint for his agreeability. We did not choose stances on divisive issues. Growing up, I never once heard a political sermon, was never chastised over baptism or sexuality, and only learned the “common ground” teachings. They held themselves up with the meat and ignored the rest. I certainly appreciated that approach.

So, we arrive at two iconic passages – in themselves devoid of any problematic rhetoric or confusing wordage. And so without any attempt at cohesion, I wanted to briefly touch on them.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

Temptation comes when desire conflicts with conviction. I want this but should not have it. I have seen many Christians experiencing crises of temptation point to this passage as their motivation to remain steadfast. The idea that God is always with you – and will always provide some meaningful solace – is powerful, and when spirituality appears its most ridiculous, this reminds me of the beauty. We can argue about what temptation truly is and where it comes from – we can spar over what we ought to be tempted about, and whether we hold ourselves to a standard that is damaging in reality. But resilience is a good value, and I won’t politicize it. It speaks to the universality of the human condition that this verse has become so iconic.

Temptation does not usually involve ambivalence – seeing both sides. Those times when I succumbed to temptation… well, I knew my actions were evil. Any feeling of satisfaction faded immediately. I have always had a quick conscience.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (13:4-7)

#LoveWins was a hashtag that dominated my social media usage in June, and then again this past week (marriage equality and a jailed Kim Davis, respectively). Much has been said about love – what it is and isn’t, especially with regards to Christianity – and yet even still, this passage gets quoted at just about half of all wedding ceremonies, even ones not even remotely religious.

So, love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud. It’s honorable and selfless and does not anger easily.

Love is goodness and purity. A child once told me that love was “the most lovely thing,” and I agree with her.

I wonder often about love, and how it is that we are meant to love others. Is it synonymous with acceptance? Ah, that’s a whole debate right there.

I like the word “kind” as a synonym. Kindness feels right. If you’re just selfless or avoid pride, that does not mean you love. But if you’re kind, I feel like you’re on the right track.

Doomsday: 1 Corinthians 7 – 9

Marriage Rules. opeaul’s Restraint. Fight for the Long Game.

“…This world in its present form is passing away.”
1 Corinthians 7:31b (NIV)

I spent an inordinate amount of time growing up listening to doomsayers. I mentioned a hundred entries ago (or more or less) an experience I had at a Christian concert that ended up shaping much of my adolescence. During the concert, a preacher revealed a “doomsday clock” onstage to show just how close to the apocalypse we all were. I mean look around… This isn’t a Christian nation anymore. Gay marriage is legal (except in one county in Kentucky). Hillary Clinton is leading in the polls – although Godsend Donald Trump is closing.

We are clearly on the brink of the “End.”

Disclaimer: The “End” will not come by environmental catastrophe due to climate change, though. That would be ridiculous, and since God promised us no more floods back with Noah, we have no worries about that.

Not every Christian is a prophet like Harold Camping, predicting an exact date and time. But most are like Paul, thinking that it is just around the corner. As quotes above, Paul thinks that “this world is passing away,” and before long, it becomes clear he thinks the end is coming sooner rather than later.

For instance, he has this advice for single folks: 

“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” (7:8)

He continues: 

“Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife.” (7:27)

The reason why?

“…Those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” (7:28b)

Do not get married; instead, become a priest just like St. Paul.

Paul does not say that it is sinful to get married – and that it is better to marry than burn with desire your whole life. But one has to wonder why all the hullabaloo – and precious biblical space – is devoted to this strange advice. After all, so many of us primarily seek love in our lives, and Jesus had nothing but positive words for the sanctity of marriage.

So why all the negativity from Paul?

Reading between the rhetoric, it is obvious that Paul (and the rest of the disciples) thought Jesus was coming back quick. Like he was around the corner, within their lifetimes, coming back. Paul believed that Jesus would be back so quickly that marriage wasn’t even worth the effort.

But of course, we don’t take his word as canon – no one jumps up at the “objection” moment of a marriage quoting Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. We read it within context – Paul was mistaken about the timeline, and so, well, these chapters become a kind of filler – a neat little historical context for the times.

Context. Huh. Don’t hear that word very often.

Standing Alone: 1 Corinthians 4 – 6

“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”
I Corinthians 6:12 (NIV)

Nah, don’t just skip the opening epigraph. I know – it’s there at the beginning of every entry, sort of like a meaningless quote to kick off a book or movie. Something you gotta read but does not mean outside the context of the what it is you’re about to witness. Here it is again, for those of you unwilling to glance upward.

“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”

Those first seven words seem to encapsulate the modern culture in quite a veracious way, and it points to a recurring generation gap that has been on repeat for centuries now. Every thirty to forty years, society doubles down on its liberalism, adding a few more exceptions, a few more layers of gray onto the masses. Someone told me recently that gay marriage is the most recent example of this – that now the very sanctity of something has been altered irreversible. I replied that the pathway to gay marriage was laid about 100 years ago, when a man looked at a woman (or vice versa) and said, “I want to marry you for love, not because our parents made a deal on land.” When marriage became about love, gay marriage was bound to happen.

But back to the point – it seems that with the advent of Facebook and an everyone-need-to-know-my-opinion mentality, my generation’s greatest liberalism is its openness. I’m saying this on the front page of a blog, after all – the ultimate step in that fight. It’s about having a platform to speak my mind, you imagine I’d say. My voice matters! I might exclaim.

In that opening quote, Paul counters his immature bystander by saying that “not everything is beneficial,” and he has a point. Sure, you can post a picture of you making out with your boyfriend online. Yes, you have that right. But that doesn’t mean that you should. This is the ultimate in the wisdom versus youth argument, that same one that has been stuck in the revolving door since the beginning of time. I can do what I want, the child says. You’ll learn your lesson later, the adult replies. And so it goes into eternity.

The irony here is that Paul, our resident master of philosophy, takes his own bait at the beginning of this passage. He says of his actions that:

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” (4:3)

 This is Paul’s pious way of saying that he is “living his truth,” and that he is more than willing to stand on his own for that cause. However, he seems to contradict himself a mere chapter later.

“For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this.” (5:3)

So wait, are we judging or not judging? Is judging in the name of God different than judging as oneself? Are we allowed to judge Christians but not other people? Or is it that other way around?

Paul’s struggle here mirrors the one we all have. I look at someone’s Facebook post and go, ugh, really, she’s posting that? And all the while, I get a nice little blog to call my own.

We’re a generation that likes to overshare. It’s an epidemic really. The greatest thing my parent’s generation did was to tell us that we have a voice. The worst thing it ever did was to make us believe that we should always use that voice – in every circumstance. It’s a little distinction worth noting.

I’m about 50 days from being finished this little process, and after talking for a year, I’m looking forward to listening for a while. Hopefully that skill will not be lost on the generation that proceeds mine.

Division: 1 Corinthians 1 – 3

The Church Divided. Wisdom is Folly. Confusion Over Leadership. Paul Is Not the Christ.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV)

Family meant everything to me growing up, both immediate and extended, and as a result, I reveled in the holiday season. We had a tradition – Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve at our house – wine and food (and presents for the latter) – everyone was invited (and expected) to come. This meant aunts, uncles, and cousins – mostly from my mother’s side – would flood our tiny house for the evening, and I loved every second of it. My mother had three brothers, two local and a third living with his wife and daughter in Atlanta, and I remember the best Christmas celebration was when the entire family made it into town. Together, they had a fiery Italian rat-tat-tat, arguing over politics and religion, bringing each other to tears of both anger and laughter, sometimes within the same evening. I liked watching the exchange, bopping around and occasionally taking a side (though I was a child, and in Italian-American culture, that meant I had no viable opinion about anything). The divisiveness, when it did occur, always seemed in good fun though and hurt feelings never lasted longer than an hour. I imagined bringing my kids to that very house one day, when the aunts and uncles grew into the eldest generation, and having the same arguments with my sister and brother and their families.

But in the winter of my eighth grade year, the family divided. My mother and her two local brothers had started a business some years back, one that was now thriving a decade and a half later, and it seemed my older uncle, who sat at the helm as CEO, felt like my mother ought to work more hours. She felt that was unfair – she had three kids at home and needed to be present there – and after some intense fights, they just couldn’t reach an agreement. He fired her, and they never saw each other again. The family divided – two local uncles on one side and my mother and her Atlanta brother on the other. We started going down to Atlanta for holidays, when we could. A new tradition – smaller family, but still togetherness. I adjusted my expectations and adapted to the change.

After college, I decided to move to Atlanta in the hopes of “trying out a new city,” and my aunt, uncle, and cousin asked if I wanted to live with them while I got on my feet. My uncle even offered to throw me some work as his pseudo-assistant (off the books, but still, it was something); it seemed like a surefire win.

My mother warned me against it though. My aunt and uncle had a rocky marriage, she said, and it wouldn’t be that great to live amidst that strife. Also, she argued, my cousin was headed off to college that year, and without her as a buffer, I would likely be pitted in the middle. I threw off the suggestion. I would be just fine, I assured her.

It went way worse than even my mother imagined. After six months, I was no longer speaking with my aunt, and the hopes of a job with my uncle were gone. I wasn’t exactly the best houseguest, as I was both messy and reserved, and they had money issues that made every conversation tense.

It didn’t work out. I moved out suddenly after a conversation with my aunt went sour quickly,

And with that, I lobbed off another portion of my family. I had no aunts and uncles left, no viable cousins to relate to. It was just my mother, father, sister, and brother.

And then I came out, and suddenly, even that was at risk.

Early on, I threatened my parents with cutting them out of my life. I basically said, “Get on board with this gay thing, or get out.” They said that they would never be okay with it, and if I chose to leave them behind, that would be entirely on me. It was a bluff anyhow – I wouldn’t have ever left.

But I’m tired of the division, and I’m anxious about what life will look like in the future. My brother just got engaged to his boyfriend. In two years, they will be married, trudging off to the little house for Thanksgivings and Christmases. Everyone is welcome, but no one sees eye-to-eye. We had all of this common ground growing up – and now we enter the ring as equally realized individuals, with radically different views on sexuality, religion, happiness, and freedom.

What will keep us together? Will we throw our hands up and divide once again?

I’m not sure I could take it.