The Haunted Hut(for Friday Fictioneers)

The hitman approached the door to the old hut, guns drawn. “Uh, Kerry”, one of the men said, ” let’s stop. They say this place is haunted.”
“Come on, Will”, Kerry replied, “that’s just a superstition! We have to eliminate the whistleblower — or everything’s ruined!”
Kerry opened the hut door then they barged in, guns drawn. A head rolled on the floor and one of the men yelled as he burst into flames.  He hit the ground and started rolling. A voice shrieked, “The slain shall be avenged!”
An internet video showed a body and a terrified man fleeing the scene. 


This is a story for Friday Fictioneers, started by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields , photo provided by Piya Singh(no link).


Ethnocentrism in Evangelicalism

This post is inspired by a Russell Moore NYTimes article and its critique on Dianna E. Anderson’s “Faith and Feminism” blog. While Ms. Anderson addresses a number of issues, I’m going to focus on Evangelicalism’s ethnocentrism(the belief that one’s own culture makes the most sense and/or is superior to other cultures).
One thing Ms. Anderson addresses is a tendency for “multiethnic” churches to assimilate POC into whiteness; in other words, turn them into white people with dark skin. Many whites fail to recognize cultural differences between them and POC, and they fancy their churches multiethnic even if only a few POC wander in and the church makes no room for cultural differences. One way to explain this is to say that white people are accustomed to eating cake and POC to eating pie. Neither food is wrong. So, what’s wrong with having pie? Why does it always have to be cake?
This ethnocentrism also exists on a global scale. When Evangelicals talk about USA and/or Western civilization being Christian it often is an act of asserting cultural identity, perhaps even superiority. This implies that Christianity is a Western religion and thus causes missionary work to appear as cultural imperialism, especially when Christians proclaim the superiority of American and/or Western culture. This is supported by pointing to the best aspects of the West and the worst aspects of other cultures (thus committing the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy and Confirmation Bias).
However, according to the Bible, it is not to be this way. It is written in Acts 10:34-35, “God is no Respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.” In Acts 15 the Holy Spirit revealed to the church that Gentiles do not have to enter the Jewish cultural mold. Furthermore, Eph. 2:14-15 says, “He is our Peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of Twain one new man, so making peace.” Similar to how some people in the early church who insisted everyone must fit into a Jewish cultural mold, so today there are people who insist Christians must fit into the suburban, white, American, Western, 1950’s cultural mold; just as in those days cultural diversity was affirmed, so today it must be affirmed.
Another passage I’m going to look at is the Tower of Babel. Many view the confusion of languages as judgment; however, it is never referred to as such in Scripture. It is said that language and culture are closely linked; and it’s said that learning a new language is learning a new way of thinking. It says about Babel, “The whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” (Gen. 11:1). That is, one culture, one way of looking at the world. By developing multiple languages God essentially broke the uniformity, so that people will all be looking at things from different perspectives, like the different facets of a diamond. When Jesus began His ministry He said, “No prophet is accepted in his own country”(Luke 4:24), meaning no nation, tribe, ethnic group, etc can solve its problems alone — we need outside voices.(This insight is borrowed from the late Fr. Joseph Donders.)
We must also realize MLK’s words: ” An individual has not begun to truly live until he rises above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” It’s become cliché to denounce selfishness and narcissism(and a popular slam against Millenials), but this almost always refers solely to individual narcissism. Erich Fromm mentions group narcissism, observing that while there can be social checks against individual narcissism there are almost never checks against group narcissism. In fact, going against group narcissism is likely to attract accusations of selfishness, as “it’s not about you” often means “it’s about our group”. This needs to stop! First of all, we need to recognize it is written, ” God so loved the world”(John 3:16). Second we need to, like St. Paul, adapt our message to a variety of cultures, as Jesus said, to not sew an unshrunk cloth onto an old garment(Mt 9:16). Third(and a bit controversially) we need to recognize that offense is the price of diversity (an insight from Irshad Manji). We can(and should) critique injustices in other cultures, but we should NOT be blind to those in our own! We need to stop attacking those who critique injustices in our own culture, to stop telling them to critique other societies instead and accusing them of treason. We need to transcend the Outgroup Homogeneity Effect, to recognize that even as not everyone in our own group is alike, so not everyone in other groups is alike. We can support the reformers in these communities. We also need to fight ALONGSIDE(not for) those who have been historically marginalized, to expand the table to give them a place. We need to be willing to offend ourselves, for that is the route to having both empathy and principles; in other words, to speaking the truth in love. I close with the words of 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. There are diversities of operations, but the same God Who worketh all in all.”

A Close Call(for Friday Fictioneers)

The waves lapped the rocks as the captain walked along the shore. Suddenly three men walked up to him; one of the men handed the captain a poster for a runaway slave, saying, “Excuse me, Captain, one of my slaves ran away and there’s evidence he’s in the area. Have you seen him?”
“No”, the captain replied.
The men showed the captain a warrant and searched his property but found no one. “Well, Captain, just keep an eye out”, they instructed.
The captain breathed a sigh of relief. Tonight he will take Tobi across the lake to Canada.


This is a story for Friday Fictioneers by Rochelle Wisoff Fields , who also provided the photo.

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 4(The Last Part)

Part 1 ; Part 2 ; Part 3
Now to take my spiritual journey to the present day. My apologies for how heavy the last post was, as it was a difficult period of my life. I’ll start with a renewed interest in Judaism, this time listening to Jewish podcasts. What this Goy(Gentile) heard on the podcasts was exactly what I needed. I was able to dream again, that God is not a dictatorial taskmaster. I was inspired by the idea that there is something that each person can do(only them), that even if you make a wrong turn God can still guide you to your destination. This also helped me get past the fear Jesus would return before I got married — I have a mission to fulfill first.
It was about this time the church started a massive building project, due to a dogma that there was going to be a massive economic collapse, that the government was going to start persecuting Real True Christians(TM), we heard of people who claimed to talk with Illuminists(the predictions NEVER came true). One prediction was that Obama would declare martial law and send Real True Christians(TM, who stayed faithful opposing interfaith and same sex marriage, whereas the others are the Deceived[TM)], the Apostates[TM], the Compromisers[TM]) to FEMA concentration camps. Also there were going to be trains with guillotines to decapitate said Real True Christians(TM).
Religion and Ethics did a report on the efforts of the Mormon Church to help Mormon singles find mates, as they encourage marriage(something that was discouraged in my environment). This kindled an interest in LDS. I listened to Mormon podcasts(including parts of the Book of Mormon). I also listened to atheist podcasts, trying to see if I could respond to their arguments. I kinda liked their sticking-it-to-the-man as well. I kept this very quiet. I only listened to the podcasts at home, I immediately deleted the podcasts from my i-tunes library upon putting them on my i-pod. If I was going to be with anyone I made sure to delete the podcasts from my i-pod as well.
In the midst of this the church became enamored of a hardcore Fundamentalist conspiracy theorist, who talked about giants(claiming the Smithsonian covered up any evidence of this or anything contradicting evolution, because they don’t want to admit the truth of the Bible), identifying aliens with demons, claiming that Obama was going to bring in Russian and Chinese troops to take people’s guns, and anyone who revealed who guns is a traitor and going to be killed. The guy thinks social media is a way for the government to monitor people (after he said this people were asked from the pulpit to get off Facebook).
Then suddenly our pastor(who I considered a trusted confidant) had a stroke. We had for a short time a surge of unity. Things ground to a halt while waited for a recovery. We shared dreams of his recovery.
For me a couple of things happened: I read a book on Muslims who converted to Christianity and saw a faith I was impressed with, as opposed to what I saw in my own church. For example a man in Bangladesh was reaching out to help drug addicts, who are reviled even by secular society. A Palestinian reached out in friendship to Israelis. These stories impressed me, and further weakened my anger towards God and helped in my religious crisis.
On the other hand I also felt God was just a heavenly dictator who imposed arbitrary rules and burned those who wouldn’t comply. Another issue was a lot of End-Times stuff with all the conspiracy theories. In Dispensationalism it’s taught that during the Tribulation the Antichrist will make everyone accept a mark in order to buy and sell, but God will burn in hell anyone who takes the mark. I heard people express concern people would cave merely in order to feed their families. For me I thought any god who would torture someone merely for feeding their family because of a freaking mark and arbitrarily refuse to forgive them but forgive people for child molestation or genocide was a jerk who had his priorities off. And I didn’t care who thought that was arrogant or whose feelings were hurt.(I didn’t say it publicly though.) Also during this time I became a bit of a smart aleck and was proud of it, as I saw taboos against this as hopelessly antiquated and a violation of human rights(the same with taboos against rebellion, even thinking the taboo was just set in place by power-hungry people wanting control).
However at the same time I heard talk that my friends were frustrated over the same issues, like the low wages. One friend even brought it up to church leaders; he was told they’d look into it, and not to get into Korah.(Something that didn’t make people happy.) My one friend explained they aren’t trying to do a coup d’etat but just reform. He explained that the guys were reading their Bibles even more, and it was through this that they started questioning the system. I also started mentioning some of the things that had been on my mind for years. One friend mentioned his loss of vision, which I, too, felt. I started rereading books that had inspired me years back(a few I mentioned in part 2). Some things got reformed, but one of my friends moved away. He dropped me off at shop, got in his van, and moved away.
At this time the old prosperity teachings encouraged me that God does not require that I remain poor.(I read a book by a pastor in South Korea.) I saw a Muslim video podcast in which a cleric said Muslims need to show people how Islam is relevant and he gave examples. I found that inspiring for something to do with Christianity. Also, I was about to turn 30, the age in which Jesus began His ministry. Knowing this and that 30 was a milestone year, I was looking forward to this. Interestingly a week before my 30th birthday I got a smartphone and an email address. I got a tablet for my 30th birthday(March 2015) and got a Twitter account at the end of April. I actually got to interact with people of different religious beliefs, rather than just listening to or reading their stuff. I learned for the first time about Religious Trauma Syndrome(RTS), and found blogs and accounts of people burned by purity culture and Fundamentalism in general. For the first time I learned about spiritual abuse(something I don’t consider myself a victim of, though I recognize things were messed up). I appreciate all the people on Twitter who follow me, allow me to follow them, who have influenced my thoughts.
Why do I share this? To tell my story. When other people told their stories it allowed me to compare/contrast my own. I’m still trying to process my own experiences. One passage I reflected on a lot for turning 30 is Isaiah 61:1-4 . Recently I also reflected on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 . That is why I share this story; I find others’ stories helpful, thus I share my own, as a way of saying, “Me too”; two words that, according to Anne Lamott, are the most powerful sermon in the world.

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 3

For part 1, see
And part 2:
I mentioned at the end of my last post of a storm coming. Well it arrived when my friends and I got recruited to work for a guy at church at a very low pay rate. We were told it’s God’s Will(TM) for us to accept this job. As for me, I was told it’s the Kingdom of God[TM] and because it’s a kingdom I don’t get to choose. I was also told that if I didn’t accept this job my marriage and ministry would be postponed, with a “Thus saith the Lord.” The boss yelled at us, preached at us. I won’t get into the details. At the same time a book circulated in which the author claimed God paralyzed him due to his mouthing off to an authority figure who was being a jerk. The message I got was we had to just take all we were going through lying down, or God would be ticked at us. I didn’t want to talk to my friends, due to fear that it would be Korah(Num. 16, he got swallowed by the earth for rebelling against Moses). For the first time in nearly four years I began to question God’s existence. I began to see the god presented to me as a jerk, paralyzing people for petty things that aren’t even wrong while allowing child molesters and genocidaires to prey on children for years; and torturing you for all eternity in a place that makes Auschwitz seem like an amusement park after you die. I got to the point I was thinking I’d rather be an atheist than believe in the god being presented to me and I didn’t care if whose feelings were hurt(as changing religious views is a human right! This still gives me a bad taste for political correctness, but that’s another post.)
In addition the church started turning insular, especially after Obama’s election. We were shown a number of videos on the Illuminati, and how they’re trying to destroy the economy, destroy America, destroy [Real True] Christianity [TM], and all this is leading to the Great Deception[TM], the Great Apostasy[TM], and the Antichrist. There was one on how the interfaith movement is just an attempt by the Illuminati to destroy Christianity, that [Real True] Christians [TM] are singled out for attack, and set up a one-world religion. This caused cognitive dissonance, as I’m not an Illuminist and I support interfaith dialogue. People support interfaith due to the fact that fanatics who believe their way is the only way kill in the name of God those who disagree with them. As it was referred to as “The Left-Wing Shadow Government” I thought it just a way to demonize those who disagree with us; that this is just an “us vs them” mentality. I also saw a bit of xenophobia in this, in that just being interested in other countries would label you an Illuminist. All these things I saw are things I really don’t like! I even asked the leadership for permission to go abroad; but was told, “Not yet; not until you get in the Glory.” This became very frustrating.
I feared that I’d be told, “The Lord says that Sister So-and-so is your wife” but I wouldn’t like Sister So-and-so, and thus be forced to marry her. I really didn’t (and still don’t) want to marry anyone I grew up with, as I knew I’d have to Drink the Kool-Aid and probably give up my dream of living abroad (as some people said they don’t want their son-in-law to take their daughter away from the man of God). Later I grew fearful that I’d never marry(as I mentioned in another post, we had purity culture and dating was verboten. Parental approval was strongly pushed, and my mom didn’t think I was mature enough.) Thus I thought marriage was effectively banned. We were also told that we should be willing to never marry if God says so. Concerning going abroad people asked me what if God said to remain in this bubble the rest of my life. People got offended when I said I’d still go abroad (something that’s a human right — one reason I support the right to offend; but that’s another post). I was frustrated over being stuck in a job making hardly anything, unable to go anywhere, having no prospects for marriage, all because leaders said it’s God’s Will (TM). This definitely helped contribute to my religious crisis, as it seemed God just made arbitrary rules that were impossible to follow and was going to torture us for not keeping them, but Jesus convinced Him into beating Him instead.
However there were a few things I did to move forward. Since we traveled a half hour to an hour to reach the job, I listened to language learning podcasts in the meantime. (However I couldn’t stick to one language.) I also bought books on subjects of interest from Barnes and Noble.
Well, I’m going to end this post here. I apologize this is such a downer, and I promise the next post will have more positive content!(Seriously, this period was one of my roughest.)

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 2

This is part 2 of my post on my spiritual journey. Here’s the link to part 1:
The next event was getting confronted on lust. After the confrontation I mentioned questioning God’s existence, something that gave people a fright. I was told that if I went down that path I’d become a womanizer, get a venereal disease, and/or have a terrible, sexless marriage(but I could have all kinds of blessings if I stayed with God). I’m sure you could guess my decision. I followed the inspiration I received from The Purpose-Driven Life. I was tweaked over feeling coerced until I got praised for having experienced the most growth of anyone in the church, something that was a shock to me! I started reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, something I found inspiring. I decided not to go back to finding demons behind every bush(I didn’t see the need to), and I sought to see how religion and psychology can be reconciled seeing God as smiling on my interest.
I discovered a show called Faith Under Fire, hosted by Lee Strobel(whose book Case for Christ I’d been given). With it being a discussion show I got exposed to differing perspectives even within Christianity, so that I was able to form more nuanced views than the Fundamentalism of my preteen/teen years. I had a similar experience with the “Religion” and “Opinion” pages of a local newspaper, as I got to see a diversity of beliefs and actually encounter liberals for themselves, rather than the right-wing straw man arguments. I also started watching Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS, which sometimes does reports on other religions, allowing me an understanding without the Fundamentalist filter. Another epiphany was Strobel’s saying that it’s OK to have doubts.(I’m going to do a post on this subject.)
In a moment of frustration over my horniness, I was thinking to myself “bad karma”; then it hit me that karma can be changed. I remembered the Noble Truths of Buddhism: 1)suffering permeates all existence; 2) Desire(thirsts, cravings) is the cause of suffering; 3) there is an end to suffering, called nirvana; 4) the way to nirvana is the eightfold path. In my reading about Buddhism I found that ” suffering” includes even discontent and frustration. “Birth is painful, death is painful, aging is painful… association with what is disliked is painful, disassociation with what is liked is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful.” (The Buddha). That is something I can relate to! I began to see how the Buddha, Freud, and Jesus combine.(All these things I do that make Evangelicals and Fundamentalists nervous I’m going to call “Fundie-mistakes”.)
Another post on the journey was my discovery of a copy of MLK’s book The Strength to Love at my great-grandparents’ house.(The book is a collection of his sermons.) What appealed to me was his global perspective, his stress on our being human, more than the accidents of race, tribe, nation; his promotion of peace and criticism of war(this was the Bush era[c. 2005], the Hawks were out); it gave me a sense of purpose. In addition my Judaism interest was rekindled, this time without the Fundamentalist filter. I really connected with the greater leniency towards wrestling with the text, vis-a-vis blindly accepting it. I loved a lot of the rabbinic insights; in fact, they helped me to maintain my faith in the Bible. Though I didn’t read them, I found inspiration in the quotes I heard from Martin Buber and Rabbi Heschel.
One day in Borders I flipped through a copy of Jim Willis’s book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. In this book Willis critiqued both sides and introduced me to The Consistent Life Ethic, which is opposition to abortion, capital punishment, war(though there is space for just war). There was also talk among particularly younger Evangelicals of having a broader pro-life platform, including things like anti-poverty in the platform rather than obsessing about people’s sex lives. My knowledge of rabbinic thought even motivated me to support passing out condoms, as, opposing abortion, I saw it as better that if people were determined to have sex, to not conceive and have and abortion.
In 2006 I watched Bill Moyers’s Faith and Reason on PBS, which was a series of interviews with writers associated with PEN(poets, essayists, and novelists — I became and remain a fan.) None of these people were Fundamentalists; in fact many criticized Fundamentalism and sounded the theocracy alarm.(One defined Fundamentalism as trying to force an antiquated model of religion on people today.) I used the critiques as a way to better understand Christianity, to look at it from a different perspective.
It was through these interviews I first heard of A Handmaid’s Tale. Also through these interviews I developed an appreciation for the hip-hop art form. One of the writers explained hip-hop as taking something old as “flipping it”(that is, updating it), something he did with Sophicles’ play Oedipus Rex, and explained Sophicles himself did with an ancient Greek myth. This gave me a model, as I’ve flirted with being a writer from the time I was little. (That’s another post.) I also enjoyed the interview with Pena Chodron, a Buddhist nun.(I may go back to find the interview to find a text she mentioned; perhaps I’ll review it, no promises though.)
I was inspired by the Jewish concept of tikkun-ha’olam(repairing the world), of making a difference. Reading on Islam I read that there’s a concept in Islam of struggling on behalf of the oppressed. I read in The Purpose-Driven Life that God gives us some of His passions that we could speak for Him. I support peace; I like people from different countries cooperating instead of hating each other; I like people of differing religious views cooperating instead of killing each other in God’s Name. I began to think maybe God’s calling me to promote peace and justice. Upon going to Rick Warren’s website I read of his promotion of education to lift people out of poverty. I connected with this, due to my intellectualism. I read that the Hadith say to share your knowledge (quoted in the why I’m here post). Of course I knew all this went against the grain of my church environment. Thus, I hoped to move abroad and once there, pursue these interests.
Well, I have pretty positive memories of this period, and thus will end part 2 in my happy place. (Storm warning for part 3!)

Where I Come From: My Religious Journey, Part 1

Now for a series in which I share my spiritual journey. I mention I’m Evangelical but disagree with much of Christian Culture(TM). As I mentioned in my homeschooling post( )I was christened AME Zion and raised Charismatic. We were taught the most literal version of hell and a book called A Divine Revelation of Hell circulated, in which a woman claimed Jesus gave her a tour of the horrors of hell. This contributed to a few pacifist phases, as I wanted people to have every possible chance to escape the fires of hell. For part of my teen years I had a fear of hell, such that there was a time I was afraid to close my bedroom door at night. This fear decreased upon reflection on the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith(though I did wonder about works, especially with some of my teenage rebellion).
Another teaching we had was the pre-Trib Rapture. Unlike many of my cohorts who grew up Evangelical/Fundamentalist, I didn’t fear being left behind; in fact, I thought it might be a bit of an adventure, and was willing to remain behind for the sake of those left behind. I did, however, fear Jesus would return before I got married(which means had sex) and lived life.(This is something a lot of people don’t understand — some said, “If you get Jesus in person, why do the other things matter?”)
I also developed an interest in Judaism, as Christianity comes out of Judaism(and our church had interest in the biblical feasts). This was period one of looking into Judaism, the phase in which it was viewed with a Fundamentalist Christian filter. Later I concluded this was an expression of individuality, of an identity crisis. With this being a such a strict environment the only way to express individuality was to be stricter.
There were a few times I had questions about things, like the terror passages in the Old Testament. I didn’t question hell or the Rapture during this time, but if a thought occurred questioning God I’d bind it up.(Say something like, ” I bind you, Satan” and quote a Bible verse or two.) At the time questioning God’s existence was as unthinkable as saying the sky is green. (However during strict periods in which I got a lot of spankings I’d wish I could leave, and at times wished I hadn’t been raised in the church.)
It was after finishing school in 2003 at the age of 18 that I really started questioning my upbringing, that I started considering the possibility of life outside the church bubble. The only way I could explain it was Plato’s Cave Allegory: I began to see myself as one of the guys on the cave wall, and wondering how much of my upbringing was just shadows on the wall, resulting from growing up in USA, and in my social environment. I began to think that I’d be Muslim if I’d been Saudi and Buddhist if Tibetan. I wanted more than just my little bubble; to go places. Plus I was horny.(This, for Fundamentalists, is the Real True Reason[TM] for my doubt.)
This kinda felt liberating(which surprised me as I grew up hearing how freedom is in Jesus). In the words of Lamin Sanneh, “We remember our coming of age on the fateful occasion when the devil, who had stalked us all through our childhood, finally committed suicide from having witnessed the impregnable achievements of science and technology.” (Whose Religion Is Christianity: The Gospel Beyond the West, p. 1). Well, not exactly, but I did quit seeing the devil behind every bush. I no longer needed to fear the devil.
I developed an interest in psychology, especially as I saw the theories applicable for my own behavior, like when I myself couldn’t explain myself. (There were times when questioned about behavior I could get in trouble for I’d be drilled on why, and people didn’t believe my “I don’t know.” Freud’s “defense mechanisms” after I finished school vindicated me on this.) I began to see my interest in cultures as Erik Erikson’s “Identity Crisis.”
I also lost my fear of other religions enough to begin to learn about them, starting with encyclopedia articles. I learned about a 19th century Hindu thinker named Ramakrishna, who after trying Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity concluded they all have the same goals. I began to question the harsh view on Islam. I even read a  National Geographic article(published in 2002) on Islam that included the story of a convert. This convert mentioned that she was at peace for the first time in her life(something that contradicts the Fundamentalist narrative that only Jesus brings peace). When I went to Borders(which sadly closed in 2010) I flipped through books on various religions. It was during this time I first read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, a novel that really resonated with me.(I plan on doing a review of it.)
Probably the system I looked into most was Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their literature was the most readily available. Although I had never questioned the morality of hell, I found their case that hell makes God to be a sadist to be very compelling. I also enjoyed their stories from around the world, giving a sense of a global perspective lacking in my upbringing.
At church the young adults were studying The Purpose-Driven Life. Chapter 8 really resonated with me. The chapter explains worship is anything we do that brings God pleasure and if you say, “I got nothing out of worship” it means you worshipped for the wrong reason. This is because worship is not about our feelings but about God. Beforehand there were times people would say things like, “God is really moving today, can you feel Him?” And the answer for me was, “No.” Thus I got from the book, “If there are no feelings don’t worry about it!”, something I found liberating. Other chapters talked about God’s smiling when we use our abilities, that we could have a conversation with God at any time. All this really excited me. This occurred simultaneously with my questioning and considering other options. But, this has been a lengthy post, so I’m going to get into that more in later posts.