*Please refer to my disclaimer page for a list of disclaimers.
When I was around four, my father met a man who would ultimately change all of our lives via the Church.
If I knew his name I wouldn’t reveal it, but I don’t. He was a supervisor at my father’s job.
This boss convinced my young father he was going to burn in hell for eternity, something my father already held an unhealthy fear of because of a strict Catholic upbringing, so much so that, unbeknownst to us, he was having nightmares and hallucinations about Hell all the time.
He told my young father that drinking was wrong, smoking was wrong, cursing was wrong, watching MTV was wrong and that attending Church was a requirement to enter the kingdom of God.
The former four my father had perfected practicing; the latter he’d refused to partake in. But this guy led him to believe all his Church issues would be immediately solved with a switch from Catholicism to the Southern Baptist Religion. This was the real Church he told my father.
So, there we went, my mother fighting tooth and nail the whole way. Like me, my mother had an intuition about things. I think it’s something gifted to children who have endured sexual abuse. It forces us to be keenly aware of our surroundings because you never know (you really don’t) who might be a predator desiring you to be their prey.
The only thing I remember about that particular Southern Baptist Church in the bayous of Louisiana, was that a sweet, old woman, Alice, I believe her name was, welcomed me into her Sunday School class, gave me Oreos and red punch, and taught me the words to Jesus Loves Me.
I loved Miss Alice and that song, but I didn’t really need to hear that Jesus loved me because I already knew it. He’d been loving, protecting and watching over me ever since he’d been hanging on the wall in my room.
Until the day he stopped.
At least, that’s how I saw it. Beginning around four years old, I was molested by three different family members sporadically over the next decade. (Because it always seems the father is the first to blame, and many times it’s true, please hear me say that my father was not one of them. He is good as gold.)
I didn’t have any idea what sexual abuse meant or how to put what had happened into words so that my mother and father could help me.
My parents were young when they married, and both had arrived at marriage and parenting with their own suitcases full of trauma.
Neither of them had sufficient tools in their toolbox to help figure out what was wrong in their own lives, let alone mine.
So instead, they shamed me. They didn’t mean to, and I have nothing but utmost love for them, no matter how hard our lives were. It wasn’t even their fault that they shamed me because, even in the eighties, a time of cultural upheaval, anything outwardly sexual was shameful, even in marriage.
It’s why women said they were “in the family way,” instead of calling themselves pregnant, and why they covered themselves with mumu drapes instead of letting their beautiful, big, pregnant bellies shine as the glorious miracle that pregnant bellies are.
It’s why to have had sex, talked about sex, thought about sex–a gift from the Creator, mind you–even in marriage was wrong, wrong, wrong. (There’s a reason TLC sang, Let’s Talk About Sex.)
As you complete this Bible study, I hope that you’ll realize that the people God placed you with, the people you’ve tried hard to love, faults and all, are just a large lump of super fallible souls doing the best they can and desperately needing empathy and forgiveness, just like you.
Because I was being shamed for something I didn’t know how to process, it set into motion the constant companion I would carry with me for the next thirty years: Self-condemnation.
The Bible leaves us plenty of opportunity to feel ashamed, confused and guilty.
We hesitate to say that out loud because we’ve convinced ourselves that to say anything ugly about the Bible is akin to blaspheming God.
But just consider for a moment the possibility that the Bible is a book, a good book, even a Sacred book, but still a blook of writings meant to point to the Highest Power in the Universe and his coming to Earth in the flesh.
It’s a book that tells us about God as the Jewish nation related to him, as opposed to being some sort of extension of God Himself for all humankind. Why do we never consider that?
[2 Timothy 3] 14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.Paul writing in his letter to Timothy
When I was a little girl, I loved to read and could get lost in stories for hours, such as Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, and Boxcar Children. I would even pretend to be the characters, living wildly on the prairie, solving clues in a convertible, eating grub out of a train car.
Those books inspired me to act out what I remembered from their pages.
Did I get the stories totally right? No. Could someone interpret my acting differently than I intended? Of course. But the books breathed life into my play time.
I also loved this set of Christian books my mother purchased on a whim from a door-to-door salesman. These were tiny little books full of pictures of the perfect, American, White, Christian family, doing perfect, American, White, Christian things. Written in the forties and fifties, the illustrations showed men, women, and children dressed to perfection, living in a perfect world, but sometimes doing imperfect things like breaking the Ten Commandments, while of course, always repenting immediately and behaving perfectly again soon after.
You wouldn’t think those books could have such a large effect on me, but they did. I always felt a sick sort of bubbling in my stomach when I flipped through their pages. My family didn’t behave perfectly. They drank, fought, screamed and cursed. My clothes weren’t perfect. They were straight from Walmart or Fred’s Dollar Store. My house wasn’t perfect. We lived in one of the poorest white neighborhoods in town. And when I sinned, it wasn’t a one-and-done sort of thing. I sinned often, and I didn’t always do it accidentally, either. Sometimes, I even liked it.
I believed I could never be perfect, and therefore, I could never be Christian.
Starting with Paul, Christians believed that in order to be Christian, one had to live a certain quality of life. That life was whatever the early Christians practiced, eating meals together, sharing their goods, taking in orphan children, showing kindness and grace to one another.
At another point, being a good Christian meant engaging with government and commerce.
Still, at another, being a good Christian meant not meshing with other races, never getting divorced, not drinking or dancing, and definitely not engaging in any explicit behavior like S-E-X.
What happens throughout the history of Christianity is that, when one ideal is elevated, people try hard to practice it, fail, and eventually the ideal falls off the pedestal.
Often, Christian communities will still “claim” they believe in a certain ideal (such as one man and one woman for life–which FYI, isn’t found in a single story in the Bible). It’s just that, when so many Christians within the community can’t seem to stick to it (example, divorce), it loses its appeal and emphasis.
We could address all the ideals that could be covered here: interracial marriage, for example (imagine thinking that all of God’s creation didn’t really mean all of God’s creation, although in the South we still get hung up on that), or mandatory Church attendance (I mean, you shouldn’t miss Church ever–except on travel ball Sundays), or not drinking alcohol (never ever admit your love of wine to a pastor).
If you read the Old Testament, you find that the Jewish people had the same problem. They couldn’t keep their britches around their waists, they couldn’t stop pillaging villages and raping virgins, and they couldn’t seem to give up the drunkenness and debauchery, the idol worship or the murder.
So what did they do, instead? They created a bunch of laws, that’s what they did.
Why? Because laws bring fear, and fear brings a better society, at least, outwardly, at first.
But if you notice, all those laws did little to curb behavior. They only caused more grief.
That word in 2 Timothy, “inspired.” Let’s check it out. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary…
This moving little word may be traced back to the Latin inspirare (“to breathe or blow into”), which itself is from the word spirare, meaning “to breathe.” It didn’t take long to establish itself in a figurative sense, as our earliest written English uses of inspire give it the meaning “to influence, move, or guide (as to speech or action) through divine or supernatural agency or power.”Definition of Inspire
Paul is demonstrating that God had breathed his spirit into the words of the Bible, except, remember–Paul wouldn’t have been talking about the Bible we have today because it didn’t exist!
So what is he talking about?
He is talking about the “Holy Scriptures” used in his day. He isn’t talking about our Bible. Remember, our Word of God differs from the Jewish Word of God.
So clearly, there is already some discrepancy here between what we consider holy and what they considered Holy.
Throughout history, lots and lots of men (and a few women, too) have disagreed about theology. What beliefs are in, what’s out, which books are holy, which are heretical, how to live, who to vote for, etc.
It’s easy to shut off your brain by simply accepting whatever you’ve been told by your “authorities,” but I would argue that unless you “work out your own Salvation with fear and trembling,” you’re never allowing yourself to experience the freedom you deserve.
And it’s okay to doubt.
[Luke 7] 18 The disciples of John the Baptist told John about everything Jesus was doing. So John called for two of his disciples, 19 and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
20 John’s two disciples found Jesus and said to him, “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’”
21 At that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind. 22 Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” 23 And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”Luke
Even John the Baptist doubted who Jesus said he was!
But did Jesus rebuke John for his unbelief?
Did he call him a fool? No!
Jesus gently tells John’s men to let the miracles surrounding him–the healing, helping, listening, and loving–speak for themselves.
My father’s struggle with legalism eventually ripped our family apart.
And the funny/sad thing is, the guy who had held him down with shame was actually having an adulterous affair on his wife with the family babysitter, a young girl, he likely coerced. A victim, like my father.
Speaking of my dad, I don’t blame him, don’t hate him, don’t even hold him responsible. He was just a young man trying to figure out life.
But I do hold responsible the generations of Church leaders who have used the Bible to tie yokes around the necks of believers.
And I must ask: Is the Evangelical practice that the Bible must be taken literally a toxic part of our belief system?
Something to chew on.
See you soon,