The New Year: A Sociological Perspective and Personal Thoughts

In a few days, all over the world, people will be celebrating the start of the new year. In this post, I will be sharing thoughts for the new year. I will explain rituals from a sociological perspective, apply the insights to New Year’s celebrations, and show how it applies to us, both personally and socially, while addressing religion and power structures in that application.

I will start by saying that, technically, January 1 is just another day, and labeling it as the start of the year is arbitrary. (In fact, other calendars have their New Years on different days: the Jewish New Year [Rosh Hashanah] is in the early fall, the lunar  Year in East Asian calendars is on the second new moon after the winter solstice, the Iranian, Kurdish, Zoroastrian, and Baha’i New Year occurs on the vernal equinox, and the Muslim New Year goes back through all the seasons*.) However, the tendency to designate such dates fulfills sociological functions.

Originally, the calendar helped farmers to know when to plant their crops. Nowadays, it allows us to determine our ages, make appointments, and remember important events. This brings us to another function: to set aside dates for specific purposes, popularly called “holidays”. In sociology, a school of thought called “symbolic interactionism” focuses on symbols and rituals, and how people in a society or social group interact to give meaning to said symbols and rituals. In our discussion, holidays are an example of dates assigned meaning. There is another school of thought called structural functionalism, which discusses how different parts of society work together to contribute to the functioning of the society and meeting the needs of the society’s members. Holidays function to encourage solidarity, reinforce social values, allow an outlet for various sentiments, and remember historical events important for the identity of the social group.

These holidays are some of the few remaining rituals in the modern world. The importance of rituals is discussed by The School of Life in their video “HISTORY OF IDEAS — Ritual”. At the 8:21-8:45 mark, the speaker says, “Even in the hands of religions rituals have been guardians of important states of mind that would otherwise be crushed or neglected. A book of poetry is in the end a hushed object in a noisy world, whereas a ritual protects emotions to which we are sincerely inclined but without a degree of fabrication and structure we might be too distracted and undisciplined to take time for.” Around the 12:20 mark, the speaker observes that what we once did in ritual we now do privately, but that our gestures are more vulnerable to half-heartedness and forgetfulness, and suggests that rituals remain useful in our journey to be sane and kind.

So, what does this mean for New Year’s Day? Well, internationally, January 1 has been designated the start of a new year, and this is tied to a desire to start over, to change course, an idea that religion appeals to as well. One expression of this is making resolutions. Through these, we express a desire to do things differently, to change course. This desire is best expressed in the Ecuadorian tradition of Año Viejo (lierally, “old year”), the custom on New Year’s Eve of burning effigies made of old clothes and newspaper that symbolize the anger, regrets, failures, sins, disappointments, mistakes, etc., of the past year and allow for the hope and resolutions of the coming one. This symbolizes most dramatically the general desire to leave behind the old pain and to look forward with hope and start anew.

This is expressed in a number of religions; in this post, I will discuss it from Jewish and Christian perspectives. (My apologies to readers who practice other religions; I am not knowledgeable enough. Please feel free to leave a comment below to add your thoughts.) Years back I listened to a Jewish podcast called Spiritual Truths in an Outrageous World, hosted by David Sacks. In one episode (I can’t remember which one), Sacks told the story of an encounter between a Jew and a Christian on an airplane, and the subject turned to Gen. 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. The Jew explained that the Hebrew is better translated as “With a beginning…”, meaning you can always have a new beginning. (Years later, this conversation and idea saved the Christian from suicide.)

Christianity mentions that a Christian becomes “a new creature in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17), and that the old man is dead, and we are new in Christ (Col. 3). On the one hand, there is the notion of having died to the elemental spirits of the world (Col. 2:20), but on the other, to “put to death” that which belongs to the old nature (Col. 3:5). These are linked in 2 Pet. 1:5 to add “excellence” (that is, character development) to our “faith”.

Now, I realize that I likely have readers who aren’t Christian. I think these passages in general discuss the idea of looking forward, of being a better human being, and that is what I want to convey. This is an expression of general human sentiments, and expressed in resolutions.

Now, to the social aspects, and the dark side of New Year’s Day. A major reason January 1 is the international New Year is due to the dominance of European and European-descended societies since 1492. This legacy includes vices such as imperialism and colonialism, which has resulted in a majority of core nations’ being Western and to such societies being advantaged over others (though there is change with the rise of Asian nations). While many of us in the West would like to go forward and forget this, we must reckon with this. We may want to deal with history as a multihyphenated line “where the past ended at some definite point and the present started from scratch, and there is nothing but rupture in between” (Şafak, p. 165). A perhaps more accurate view of history would be that of a cycle with “the past incarnated in the present and [where] the present birthed the future” (ibid). In these quotes, Şafak was comparing Turkish and Armenian views respectively in reference to the Armenian Genocide. 

However, this is applicable to Western society; one example of this applicability is in American race relations. Many white Americans have a multihyphenated line view of history, in which one line ended in 1865 with the abolition of slavery and another in the 1960’s with the abolition of segregation, and even the assumption that racism is dead in USA. With this mindset, many whites think that black people need to just get over slavery, as it ended 150 years ago.

However, a cycle view is more common among African-Americans. From their viewpoint, though slavery was abolished in 1865, the effects continue to this day, and black people continue to face disadvantages in society. In short, we are haunted by the ghost of slavery. The challege issued is what future are we going to birth, and to fight for a future of greater equality for everyone.

This concept is reflected in the Bible, when it records the praise of the living creatures, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come” (Rev. 4:8). I heard from a rabbi (I don’t remember which one) that God’s Holiest Name (that Jews don’t even pronounce) is a combination of the past, present, and future tenses of the Hebrew word for the verb “to be”. This shows, he explained, God’s involvement in our past, present, and future. This reflects how history affects us, and the need for awareness of how our present actions affect the future.

This all also applies to our personal lives. While we often want to forget our pasts, what we have been through affects our present lives. Sometimes we have trauma from our pasts. This helps us to be aware of where we are now, and help us to make decisions that will birth a good future. So, as we go into the next year, to go forward in hope, we may have to confront our past, not only the previous year but sometimes things from years back. (That may mean therapy or counseling.) In my case, I wonder how my experiences can be used to help others (which is one reason I started this blog), and ask about my hopes and wishes, and how I can benefit others. Where am i going?

That is the question for us all? Where are we going this year? What kind of life do we want? What can we do? I think the best thing is to take it one day at a time, as Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Mt. 6:11, KJV). Each day take little steps, as little things add up. 

To sum up, rituals are started as people ascribe meaning to symbols and objects through their interactions with each other. These symbols, such as dates, serve to communicate values, remember significant events, attend to important states of mind, and allow for expressions of emotions. In particular, New Year’s Day serves to provide a chance for people to pause, take stock of their lives,  think of where they are going, and start anew, which is an idea expressed in religion as well. However, in our desire to leave the old behind and to start anew, we need to remember that the past continues to have an impact today, and the present influences the future.

Towards the end of the movie Rudolf’s Shiny New Year, as Father Time puts a crown on the head of the baby New Year, he proclaims the year 19-Wonderful. So, my wish is that for you, dear readers, the next year may be the year 20-Wonderful! May you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Happy New year, everyone! 

*Note: all seasons refer to the seasons on the Northern hemisphere.


All scripture quotatiins, unless otherwise noted are from the New English Translation  (NET).

Scriptures marked KJV are from the King James Version. 

Şafak, Elif. 2007. The Bastard of Istanbul. Penguin Books.


BOOK REVIEW: The Power of Mindful Learning, by Dr. Ellen J. Langer, Chapter 2

Finally, I am getting around to the next post in my series! You can read the Introduction and Chapter 1 as well. Now, onto the post!

In the introduction to the book, Dr. Langer references seven myths that “undermine true learning…stifle our creativity, silence our questions, and diminish our self-esteem” (p. 2). In this post, I am going over chapter 2, which addresses myth #2, “Paying attention means focusing on one thing at a time.” In this post, I will summarize Dr. Langer’s case, discuss a couple of her studies, give applications concerning religion and language learning, describe my own experience, and evaluate Langer’s argument.

Langer contends that, instead of focusing on one thing at a time, “the most effective way to pay attention is to look for the novelty within the stimulus situation” (p. 43). She starts by exploring the conventional meaning of “distraction” (wandering focus, p. 35) and suggesting an alternative definition of “otherwise attracted” (p. 36). She observes that there are many situations in which we have no problems paying attention (such as computer games, p. 37) and asks about times in which we have difficulty, “What is so attractive about the alternative stimulus? What can we learn from that attraction? Can we add the attractive elements to the stimulus to which we want to attend?” (p. 36). She uses studies in perception and the experiences of meditators to show the near impossibility of “holding an image still” (which is  general meaning of “paying attention”, pp. 37-39). She concludes, “People naturally seek novelty in play  have no difficulty paying attention in those situations” (p. 39) and “The idea that to pay attention means to act like a motionless camera is so ingrained in us that when we do pay attention successfully we are usually unintentionally changing the context or finding novel features in the subject” (p. 40). She backs this up with two studies (discussed below) that show the influence of mindfulness in paying attention (pp. 40-42).

Langer concludes by applying these principles to ADHD. She starts by describing ADHD’s symptoms,  effects, theories of the cause, and the usual methods of treatment. She then turns to mindful approaches and describes situations in which increased attention was observed: the absence of toys, the presence of game format, listening to rock music, and color stimuli (pp. 45-46). She tells of an experiment she participated in involving a poster with fourteen landmarks, and the task was to remember where the landmarks were. There were three groups: a sit-still group, a feet-shuffle group, and a move-around group. The move-around group performed best, and the sit-still group worst (pp. 47-48). However, when the study was repeated in a Montessori school (where movement is expected), the findings were reversed (p. 48). Langer concludes, “The studies suggest that mindfully varying perspective helps us to pay attention” (p. 48) and ends by summarizing the chapter’s findings (p. 49).

Now, to discuss the two studies on novelty I previously referenced: one study involved a computer task and the other short stories. In the computer study, an image appeared on the computer screen and participants were supposed to click a button when it disappeared (the reaction time was measured). They were divided into three groups: one group was to “just pay attention” and hit the button, another was to “outline the target”, and a third was to think of the shapes in different ways and to notice differemt things about each one” (pp. 40-41). The mindful group outperformed the other two groups and found the task easier. There was no observable difference bewteen the outline group and the pay attention group (p. 41).

In the short story study, adults on a train were asked to read short stories and divided into three categories of groups. In one category, participants were told to vary 3-6 aspects of each story, read it from different perspectives, change the endings, etc.; in another category, participants were told to focus on three or six  aspects of the stories; lastly, one category was told to just read the stories. They were all told they would be questioned afterwards (pp. 41-42). The result was that the mindful groups remembered more of the stories. Langer comcludes, “Varying the target of our attention, whether a visual object or an idea, apparently improves our memory of it” (p. 42).

Now, onto the applications in religion and language learning. First of all, religion. Langer herself references the difficulty of focusing in meditation (p. 39), and I personally know the difficulty of focusing in prayer, as do many others. I will offer suggestions based on Langer’s findings. First of all, for the liturgically-minded, I suggest reflection on the meanings of the prescribed prayers, and to view them from different perspectives. There is talk that the lectionary tells the story of God’s narrative of redemption and His work in redemption. I would suggest looking into how the liturgy reflects that narrative, how that works in the world and your personal life. Ask,”What is my role in God’s story?” I would also urge reflection the scriptures used in the lectionary. My advice is similar for those who don’t use liturgy (as I was raised). In this case, prayers are more spontaneous. I would suggest reflecting on the Names of God, as they reveal His character, and how they apply in your life and the world. I  would also suggest looking at scripture in a different way,  reflecting on differing perspectives, and using that in prayers. I would urge everyone (whether or not they use liturgy) to look at the world and reflect on how God may be working in it. In addition, I also recommend, since prayer is talking to God, to make prayers out of your wandering thoughts. (Since I am a Christian, I wrote this from a Christian perspective. I know a little about Judaism and have read that there is a narrative of God’s working in the world and our partnering with him there as well. I guess the applicability is there as well. For other religions, I am not knowledgeable enough to comment. However, I hope that all the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., who may be  this will find transferable aspects to make it applicable. For those in Eastern religions, does any of this apply to meditation?)

Now, to discuss language learning. First of all, I will discuss how varying the image helps with vocabulary. One way (for those more advanced) is to think of various sentences in which new words can be used, or googling them to see images of what they represent or memes involving them. An easier method is tying the foreign word to a word in one’s native language. For example, consider север (syevir), the Russian word for “north”, which resembles the word “severe”. We could say that it is severely cold in the North Pole. As for grammar, when it comes to learning a new point of grammar, think of various ways new things can now be expressed. Describe personally relevant things that require that grammar. 

I personally love this chapter, since I have, since childhood, often been told, sometimes angrily, to focus and/or to pay attention. (I was even, on occasion, spanked for unfocusedness, such as when my mind wandered while I spoke in tongues.) At the time, all I had was what Langer describes as “holding the image still” (p. 38). One comment of Langer’s I particularly like is as follows: “Since we are so successful most of the day at paying attention, perhaps we should look for the situations in which we find it difficult, rather than blame the problem on a lack of character or a mental deficient” (p. 37). This sticks out to me because it shows practically that there is a “how” to paying attention, that there is a better way. The prospect of passing on the message to others who have beat themselves up over an inability to pay attention sp that they, too, can find a better way makes it my pleasure to review this chapter.

Now, to evaluate Langer’s claims. I find, based on her research and experiences, as well as my own experiences, her claims to be valid amd helpful. I appreciate her out of the box perspective. However, Langer acknowledges that more research is needed (p. 49). Nevertheless, I think that what she says will help us all.

In conclusion, Langer claims to pay attention, we should “vary the image” instead of “holding the picture still”, and supports that with her research and experience. Her studies show that a mindful approach is more effective in maintaining attention, and this has application for subjects such as religion and language learning. In addition, my own experience supports her claims, which I find overall to be valid. I hppe that readers will find these ideas as helpful as I have found them.

Feminism Reflects Christ Better Than Does Fundamentalism

I grew up Fundamentalist, and in my circle, feminists were bashed as man-haring rebels against God’s Divine Order. However, over the past couple of years, I have read feminist blogs and interacted with feminists on said blogs and on Twitter. As a result of all this, I have concluded that the teachings of Jesus are better reflected in feminism than they are in Fundamentalism. Let me explain how.

Let’s start with a popular definition of feminism: the radical idea that women are people too. We find this idea reflected in the Bible, back to Genesis: “God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.”(Gen. 1:27), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, their is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female — for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”(Gal. 3:28)

This belief in women’s being human motivates feminists to insist on autonomy, boumdaries, and consent in human interactions, and that corercion should be avoided. This consent must be informed, and is considered invalid if obtained by deception. Well, this is integrity par excellence, and integrity is a value everywhere in Scripture. Also, it is written, “Love your neighbor as yourself”(Lev. 19:18). This respecting other people’s boundaries and acknowledging their autonomy is a integral part of showing concern for others, allowing us to have what Martin Buber describes as an I-thou relationship(approaching them as people) rather than an I-it one(approaching them as objects). Also, Erich Fromm mentions that a healthy self-love and others-love are interrelated. Setting our own boundaries is an expression of that healthy self-love. 

By contrast, autonomy, boundaries, and consent are sorely lacking in Fundamentalist circles. Despite the scriptural injunction, “But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness — or distorting the Word of God”(2 Cor. 4:2a), Fundamentalists are infamous for their lack of honesty and alternative facts, calling it all “The Truth[TM]”. They apply Philippians 2:4-11 to the populace, but the leaders act more in line with the boast attributed to Lucifer in Is. 14:13-14

They love Eph. 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”, using it to justify misogyny. However, some ancient Greek manuscripts do not include the word translated “submit”, in which the verse reads, “Wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.” This means the verse is a continuation of v. 21, “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”(emphasis mine). Also, in Greek, the word for “submit” has a meaning of its being voluntary, which requires consent. Fundamentalists tends to not get consent, and prefer coercion. They sometimes reference Eph. 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her”; however, this often is used as a means of promoting paternalism.

Christian feminists are not opposed to submission per se, but only opposed to it when it is one way, and/or the burden is placed solely on women. As we saw from the quote in Eph. 5:21, this is a biblical criticism. This is in agreement with what Jesus Himself says, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and are called ‘benefactors’. Not so with you; instead, the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.”(Luke 22:25-26). But demanding that their followers submit to them and that wives submit to their husbands, these leaders are “lording it over” them. Also, treating people in a paternalistic way, justifying control because it’s for “their own good”, is NOT an example of being a servant; it is still “lording it over” them. 

Another way in which feminism reflects the character of Christ can be seen by comparing the depictions of Babylon and the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. First, it is written about Babylon, “The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed in the earth”(Rev. 18:24). Next, onto what it says about the New Jerusalem, “The kings of the earth will bring their grandeur to it”(Rev. 21:24b). Throughout Revelation “the kings of the earth” refers to humanity in rebellion against God, and the passage indicates their redemption, rather than their destruction.

Fundamentalism damages even its own. There are countless spiritual abuse survivor blogs out there, with this list being just a few, and many people raised Fundamentalist go through religious trauma. There is widespread silence on abuse in Fundamentalism, and encouragement of women to stay in abusive marriages. 

Feminism is opposed to abuse. This is reflective of the heart of Christ because the Bible depicts God as hearing the cry of the oppressed. Feminists teach that your pain matters, and that oppressing others is wrong. This is why they support autonomy, boundaries, and consent, since abusers tend to ignore these things. Feminism concerns itself with ending the oppression of women. However, I, though a cisman(a biological male identifying as male), have benefited from these ideas. The church I grew up in did not teach boundaries and consent; so upon reading feminists online, I realized I could set boundaries for myself! Pick-up artists tend to be extremely unpopular in feminist circles, due to their being notorious for not respecting women’s boundaries or accepting “No”. However, in her book Confessions of a Pick-Up Artist Chaser, Clarisse Thorn mentions a PUA who actually benefited from feminist ideals and used them for himself. Also, feminists insist that the boundaries of even jerks and abusers need to be respected, and that one can only do what is needed to protect oneself and others. This is a good example of Christ’s command to love one’s enemies. 

So, while Fundamentalists decry feminists, and accuse the latter of destroying God’s order of things, and even of being an Illuminati plot to destroy the family, when you look at the Bible it seems that the spirit of the law is better reflected in feminism than in Fundamentalism.

Why I Believe Jesus Is The Answer

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”(John 14:6)

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”(John 1:14)

It is no mistake to say our world is broken: as Dr. King said, “Dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless cavalries; and men do reverence before the false gods of nationalism and materialism.”(From the sermon, “Transformed Nonconformist”, reproduced in Strength to Love, p. 18). This has been the case since King spoke the words, and has continued, though it’s been swept under the rug. But, in the last year, the rug has been thrown out. Racial injustice continues, expressed hostility to minorities continues. People group together in their tribes; politically the other side is demonized. Religious Fundamentalists seek to use religion(be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism) to impose their hateful agenda on others.

I grew up in a Religious Right echo chamber: we were far right conspiracy theorists, liberals were demonized as God-haters who wanted to remove all traces of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, Muslims were stereotyped and demonized as out to kill non-Muslims, a jingoistic foreign policy was advocated.

I look at the world, the violence, injustice, and deceit, then I look to Jesus, and I see Someone worth following, Whose teachings inspire me that it doesn’t have to be this way. He scandalized the powers that be by hanging out with those the establishment called “sinners”: tax collectors(basically Jews who collaborated with the Roman occupation), prostitutes, and others. However, Jesus interacted with all sectors of society: Roman soldiers(who were a foreign power occupying Judea and Galilee), tax collectors, prostitutes, Zealots(who called for an armed uprising against Rome), scholars, fishermen, etc. Why, He had, in His inner circle, both a Zealot and a tax collector. He spoke up for “the least of these”(Mt. 25). He criticized most harshly those among the leaders who cared more for rules than people, who laid heavy burdens on people, who took advantage of the defenseless. He challenged the systems of power and privilege, saying the first shall be last, and the last first. Jesus also said , “The kings of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’  Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.(Luke 22:25‭-‬26). In a time of imperialism He says to love your enemies, and that “He that takes up the sword shall perish by the sword.”(Mt. 26:52). 

While He was God, according to Christian teaching, Philippians 2 says that He gave up His divine privileges; according to other verses, this was to fix the brokenness of the world. In our world, people seek to go to the top, regardless of who gets trampled in the process, and jealously guard their position. Jesus shows a different way. In the second verse I quoted at the top of my post, it means that Jesus is essentially God’s moving into the neighborhood. In Colossians 1:20, it’s written that God is trying to reconcile all things to Himself through Jesus; in Ephesians 2 it’s written that Jesus destroyed the hostility between Jews and Gentiles (and thus between all groups in enmity), and the church concluded in Acts 15 that no culture has a monopoly on the Gospel. Basically, Jesus’ being the Way means that He is the Way from God to us; that He, by His life, showed us what God is like.

This allowed me to break out of my shell to reach out to liberals, Muslims, and the LGBT community. Many liberals dismiss conservatives, especially Trump voters. I didn’t vote for Trump; in fact, I think he represents many horrible things, and a lot that’s wrong with our world. But, I choose to interact with his supporters(mainly because they include my friends; by the way, I am mixed race). First, I was taught, growing up, that liberals are terrible, that abortion is killing babies, and thus depraved. However, upon interacting with pro-choicers online, I came to see their viewpoint. (I will not be discussing this, as I’m a cisgendered male who can never get pregnant; however, I do think there is too much dogmatism on both sides.) Jesus met people where they were, and guided them to wholeness.

Well, these are my thoughts, as a Christian. In another post, I will address some of the issues the first verse I quoted raises, and other issues raised by my post. I recognize that Christians aren’t the only ones with stories, or that can be good. So, if you are a non-Christian, I am willing to listen to your story if you are willing to share it; and, please, leave any objections in the comments, and I will try to include them in the follow-up post. 

God’s Hosts/Guests (originally by James Woody; translation mine)

Today I am doing another translation; this time a sermon by James Woody (a Protestant pastor in Montpellier) called “Les Hôtes de Dieu”(original in link). Now, for Pastor Woody.

Hebrews 13:1-3
“1)Persevere in brotherly love.

2)Don’t forget hospitality; for, while exercising it, some have welcomed angels without knowing it. 3) Remember prisoners, as if you were also prisoners; and those who are mistreated, as if you yourselves were in a body.”

“Some, without knowing it, have welcomed angels”, as a result of the hospitality which they showed. Without knowing it…in other words, while being unaware, without knowing anything in particular, without dominating the events, without controlling precisely who was arriving, without following a church project to the letter. In an unexpected manner, some welcomed angels.

To not dominate the entirety of events is to allow those whom we meet the liberty to be themselves and to be bearers of differences that could enrich us. Even better, to not dominate from beginning to end those who arrive in the course of the meeting  a discussion, or an interview, is to accept change in contact with the Other, and to not impose limits on reading and interviews, a predetermined  order of required passages. There’s no divine liturgy in the sense of mechanics of the sacred that, without fail, bring in the presence of God.

To not dominate is to not presume who will arrive to a dialogue, a meal, or a walk. It is, in the case of a dialogue, to not know how one will respond before our interlocutor has finished responding.


The word “hospitality” comes from the French word “hospitalité”,  which gives the French language the word “hôte”, used in the French title of this piece and charged with a delicious ambiguity. The word “hôte” leaves us unaware; meaning that when we say “hôte”, we don’t know in advance who welcomes and who is welcomed. To be l’hôte (host, guest) of God could be welcomed by God, or whoever is welcomed, to welcome him. This uncertainty is sweet, because it indicates that we welcome each other, that we never know very well who welcomes, and who is welcomed. This indicated that welcoming is an affair that both enjoy.

Without knowing it, some who thought they were welcoming had been welcomed by those much greater, as a result of the hospitality that they manifested. They were simply available, open, and welcoming of the events that presented themselves. They were opportunists in the sense that they were prepared to take hold of the opportunites that life offered them.

To tell the truth, the Greek text speaks of “philoxénia”, the inverse of xenophobia: the love of foreignness, the love of the foreigner/stranger [“L’ Étranger” can mean both], neaning that the invitation made is to appreciate whoever arrives and not to consider him a priori to be a threat.


Some people, thinking to offer a meal, ended up at worship; for worship isn’t only Thursday at noon and Sunday morning. Worship is each time we live hosting the life that the Gospel speaks of, each time we have the desire to embody the Gospel, to be the living word of God in Jesus Christ.

Worship is each time we’re a soul; that is, when we are host of life, capable of welcoming opportunities; and guests of life, ready to be taken by that which life proposes to us, by the projects that are developed, by the adventures that are conceived. Worship is each time we’re a soul in the sense where our personality gets up and grows in the view of the Other, in interaction with whoever introduces himself and enlarges our horizon as much as he deepens our understanding of the world. Worship is each time we are a soul, that we are deeply moved by the world that knocks on the door of our personal story, and to which we extend a nice welcome, unless it be the world that welcome us.

Remembering those in prison, as the letter to the Hebrews invites us to do, is to be host to those that society judges less worthy, the outcasts, those from whom one wants to protect him/herself. The church responds to its call when it is host to those wothout rank, those of ill repute, the importune, and even the guilty. According to the words of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The church is only really itself when it is the church for others.” The church is the host of the world, welcoming people into intimacy with God; and guest of the world, in making itself at home on the concerns of its contemporaries.

We could call this “diaconian worship”: the service rendered to those we welcome and who welcome us, a service giving meaning to the living, in the manner of the angels that guide, that consists of strengthening brotherhood and developing gestures of solidarity. We all get enjoyment when we help each other.

“Hospitality” is, perhaps, a term that we could have in mind to give the assembly of church life an intensity rising to the heights at which the Gospel invites us to live: to make our church a place to be the hosts and guests of God.

No, LGBT Rights Is Not The Sin of Sodom!

“If God doesn’t judge America, He’ll owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.”

This is a popular saying among Fundamentalists, used to attack acceptance of homosexuality and LGBT rights. But, even coming from a traditional view and more literal reading of Scripture, this view does not hold up, and I will show you why.

The view that Sodom was destroyed for homosexuality is derived from Gen. 19:4-5, “Bedore they could lie down to sleep, all the men — both young and old, from every part of the city of Sodom — surrounded the house. They shouted to Lot,’Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!'”

Well, there is a difference between modern same sex couples and the men of Sodom: in the case of the former, there is consent. The fact that the Sodomites tried to rush the door when Lot refused them and the angels blinded them shows the Sodomites didn’t care whether or not the angels wanted to have sex. Thus, this was an attempted gang rape. Rape is not actually about sex, but about dominance. In fact, most cases of same sex sexual assault are committed by heterosexuals. In fact, some convicts claim to be gay, because they more fear rape from straight inmates than gay ones. I guess you can say Sodom had a rape culture.

Also, Sodom had other vices: first of all, xenophobia. When Lot tried to talk the Sodomites out of gang raping the angels, they replied, “This man came to live here as a foreigner, and now he dares to judge us!”(Gen. 19:9). Ezekiel lists other vices: “See here — this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease; but they did not help the poor and the needy. They were haughty and practiced abominable deeds before Me. Therefore when I saw it I removed them.”(Ez. 16:49-50). This passage doesn’t even mention homosexuality(something even conservative scholars and preachers bring up every so often). 

Also, the king of Sodom brought Abraham to see Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High. In the New Testament Melchizedek is seen as a type of Christ. This shows the king of Sodom as a religious type. In other parts of the Bible, God insists justice as necessary to piety (Is. 1:10-18, 58, Amos 5:18-24, Mt. 23, Jam. 1:27), which the Sodomites lacked. 

Basically, Sodom’s sin was both individual and group narcissism. They refused to help the less fortunate (according to rabbinic writings, they punished anyone who gave food to a stranger). They were xenophobic, as indicated by their reaction to Lot and their attempt to gang rape the angels. (The rabbis say their streets were paved with gold and that they flooded the approach to their city to restrict immigration.)

All this convinces me that we are not a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah due to recognition of same-sex marriage and trans-inclusive bathrooms. Even if you think homosexuality is always sinful and that it’s wrong to act like the opposite gender, even a literalistic interpretation of the Bible does not support the God-discriminated-against-Sodom line, at least in reference to QUILTBAG people. 

However, based on what I shared, I cannot say we are NOT a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Today USA is one of the most religious countries in the world. Well, arrogance is prevalent, with Evangelicals particularly having a reputation for arrogance. Xenophobia is prevalent in segments of the American population, with certain theologies in Fundamentalism actually baptizing it. There have been cases of sex abuse cover-ups, and, according to many feminists, a rape culture exists in much of American society and includes Fundamentalism. Stats say Americans overall are generous, and Christians have done a lot. But, are we actually helping the poor or are we doing  things that look like help but actually harm? Are we caring for the least of these?
However, regardless, the desire for judgment is misplaced. When informed of Sodom’s destruction Abraham interceded, asking God to spare the city, going down from fifty to ten righteous people(Gen. 18:22-33). There is a debate over whether Abraham should have kept going, or whether less than ten was a threshhold indicating the city was corrupt to the core. But what I see is that we should pray for our nations, and we should pursue justice ourselves, thus inspiring others to follow in our footsteps promote a just society. In the New Testament Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is here, but that we should pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as in heaven”. 

My Story: Purity Culture, Part 1

CONTENT NOTE: This post contains discussion of a sexual nature and is rated PG-13 if not R; reader discretion is advised.

In the past year I’ve seen quite a lot of criticism of t purity culture and modesty culture prevalent in Evangelical/Fundamentalist circles. One of the people who popularized these ideas is Joshua Harris, through his 1997 book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Over the past couple of months he has reached out to those who say they have been harmed by the teachings in the book, with some questioning his sincerity. However this post is not about discussing Harris’s apology; this post is to tell my own purity culture story. (A lot of the stories I’ve read on the damage of purity culture are those of women. I am a cisgendered, heterosexual male who grew up an only child. Thus this will focus more on the impact on males. However the purpose of this post is not to engage in the Oppression Olympics, but to say, “Me too” (according to Anne Lamott, the most powerful sermon in the world); see here .

My first exposure to sexuality was the Bible and devotionals in a teen Bible I used to have. From this I learned that any expression of sexuality outside of a heterosexual marriage is sin, something I just accepted. All I knew about sex was that’s where babies come from and later found out that it involved removing clothing. (I did look forward to discussions on sex in youth group.)

In our church dating and flirting were forbidden(some of my friends got spanked for flirting), even before Harris’s book came out.(For this reason I’m not going to use him as a whipping boy.) However, after the book came out, they showed us the videos associated with the book in youth group. In discouraging dating, the analogy used was a paper heart. They cut pieces of the heart, saying this happens every time you date, so that by the time you marry, all you have is a cut-up heart to give your spouse.(Other analogies I’ve heard when people share their purity culture stories is that of a petalless rose or of a cup everyone spit in, to describe those who have premarital sex. In these stories the sting is directed to the girls.) Later on, our pastor quoted another preacher from the pulpit, asking why is it that in dating/romance do Christians insist on being like The World[TM].

For modesty our rules were more lax than they were for a lot of the people I’ve encountered online: women wore sleeveless tops, shorts, and flip flops. (Trousers were also permitted for women.) However, when swimming, shorts were required. At one camping trip, the homeschooled girls modesty policed the public schooled girls(resulting in tension). The youth leader gathered all of us around the campfire and had them talk it out. The homeschooled girls insisted they were only enforcing the rules. Eventually the youth leader encouraged them to learn and rub off each other.
When we watched TV or movies the guys were always told to look away if there was ANY scene depicting nudity or scantily-clad women(and probably punishment for looking). I adopted it into my daily life. (To this day I jerk away at those sights.) It took me awhile to find out the reason.

One of the older men started reading me Every Man’s Battle and later Every Young Man’s Battle. He’s the one that told me what masturbation is, something our church was not into(because Jesus said, “Whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her in his heart.” [Mt. 5:28] and masturbation almost always involves sexual fantasies.) So thus began a period in which I received regular phone calls concerning how I was doing on stopping masturbation(not very good). There were also claims that masturbation could lead to homosexuality(which is something else considered sinful).

As I mentioned before, I started questioning my upbringing after turning 18, seeing my world as the Cave in Plato’s Allegory, wondering how much of what I learned was just shadows on the wall, that there’s more to the world than just my church hole. When I decided to look up fetishes in the encyclopedia (ritual objects in traditional African religions) I discovered the sexual meaning, and also what sadomasochism is(later I learned the labels “S & M” and BDSM). Discovery of what a sexual fetish is was the beginning of the end of my belief in modesty culture, as I heard nothing from them policing women’s footwear. I also read an encyclopedia article on sexual intercourse, finding out what actually happens.

I wasn’t particularly interested in being horny until I could get married, and thus didn’t want to wait forever. At one point I got called out for looking at the women. After being talked to I was asked if there was anything else. I mentioned questioning God’s existence. I got confronted on this, told this was the last chance God is giving me; that if I don’t take it, He’s getting out the bricks and I’ll cross a line of no return. I was told I’d either go insane, become a womanizer and thus get a venereal disease, or get into a sexless marriage; thus I’d be tempted to cheat, and start a slippery slope towards hell. But, if I went with God I could get married and tell her to put on her teddies(maybe I should look up what that means), and have sex.(Even then that sounded a bit crude.)
I was told when I liked someone to tell leadership, “I like So-and-so”, they’ll talk with So-and-so, pray about it, and see if God might be into it. I was also told that God can bring me a wife here.

My mom got me a copy of Every Man’s Battle. I couldn’t relate, as it was geared towards married guys and includes “cherish your one and only” (your wife), and I had no prospects for marriage. So I started reading Not Even A Hint by Joshua Harris. Harris claimed God’s opposed to lust due to a commitment to our pleasure, not an opposition to it. He also acknowledged it isn’t lust to notice attraction and beauty, to be turned on, to have a strong sex drive, or to be excited about sex in marriage. He says these can become lust, though. He talks about the need for grace and the inability to save ourselves. However there is a perpetuation of gender stereotypes and comp theology. Apart from these, this encouraged me. This is a bit of a long story, so I’ll continue my story in part 2.