Interesting Things This Week

Link dump of some cool, interesting, encouraging, and/or insightful things I came across this week.

Why English majors make lousy fundamentalists by Morgan Guyton from Mercy Not Sacrifice

This might be my favorite thing this week. First, Morgan talks about personality type (which I have an unhealthy obsession with). Then, he goes on to explain some of the nuance, beauty, and depth of meaning that is lost when you read the Bible in certain ways. I may not agree with every interpretive example Morgan uses, but that’s not the point. The point is that you have to understand something about literature in order to have a fuller understanding of the Bible.

When the Bible is “nothing but the facts,” then it’s been robbed of a critically important layer of its beauty.

Wanna Save Marriage? Stop Patronizing Women by Yaholo Hoyt from Red Letter Christian

Yaholo takes a look at how seemingly self-deprecating jokes can further the tension and misunderstanding between men and women. It amazes me that certain Christian cultures continue to paint women as overly emotional, unreasonable, and downright crazy when that same culture claims men are the ones who are unable to control their animal urges (which is why I’m supposed to wear floor length skirts).

We may get a chuckle with our little “guys are stupid” and “women are crazy” jokes, but they are pointing to a major problem. The picture often painted by church culture is that women are unreasonable and over-emotional. Therefore, the only way to a healthy marriage is seen as the man just making sure to be “humble” and apologize a lot. This kind of thinking leads to growing resentment on both sides.

Who are the meek? by Paul Walker from As above, so below

I’ve been studying the Beatitudes lately and came across this post. Not only does Paul do a great job of explaining what “meek” means, he also asked, “Christian scholars, leaders, bloggers and authors to ‘tweet’ me their definition of meek”. He did a wonderful job of pulling everything together and it was interesting to see what the experts thought.

The Extra Burdens Faced by Young People with Chronic Illness by Toni Bernhard, J.D. from Turning Straw into Gold  on Psychology Today

I’ve lost count of how many people have said, “Oh, you’re too young for that. You should just exercise more and you’ll be fine.” (Sure, exercise will magically rewrite my DNA.)

This ignorance about young people with chronic illness has other consequences. Several young people have told me that they’ve been openly challenged when they park in a disabled spot, even though they have the required placard or sticker… A young woman with multiple sclerosis told me that someone spit on her when she didn’t give up her seat to an older person on the subway.

When God Calls a Complementarian Woman into Ministry by April Fiet at the Junia Project

I appreciate April’s honesty and her willingness to go into ministry despite her reservations. I’ve often seen woman ministers painted as prideful, power-hungry, militant feminists that are trying to wrest power away from men. April’s story doesn’t look anything like that.

I had already come to realize that you could take God’s Word seriously and believe that women could be used in church leadership. I wasn’t doing it because it was easier to follow cultural trends of equality.  I was being faithful to God’s calling and the Bible.

The Church Can’t Afford the Muskox Model by Jayson D. Bradley

I’ve been known to go off on rants about how Christians tend to view anyone who isn’t exactly like them as “that other group”. I get frustrated when we start other-ing instead of trying to understand and love. Christian culture has taken “in the world, but not of the world” to the extreme in some cases. A friend of mine flipped that phrase around in a way I thought summed it up even better “of the world, but not in the world”. We have Christianized everything that the “world” has to offer, but we keep ourselves separate so that we don’t have to actually interact with the world. That separation is more illusion than anything. We just stamp CHRISTIAN on everything that pop culture has to offer and hide out among our “own kind” so that Christianity won’t actually cost us something.

The problem with adopting the defensive strategy of the muskox is that we begin to live at odds with the message we say we believe. We talk a big game about taking care of the poor, but talk down to people who live on government subsidies. We speak endlessly about grace and forgiveness, but refuse to let people experience it until they’ve become a muskox themselves.

101 Amazing Facts from mental_floss

I really like random bits of trivia. I know way too many completely useless facts, but I just can’t help myself when I come across more of them.

Most Shocking Second a Day Video

War always involves civilians. When we’re talking about war, we can’t forget that.

Blessed are the poor in what now?

poor box

Photo credit: Steve Willey

In an attempt to steer myself away from being so freakin’ confrontational all the time, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the Sermon on the Mount. It’s my favorite part of the Bible and it’s ultimately what keeps me chillin’ with the Mennonite crowd.

Oh, I know what would be a good idea,” I thought, “I’ll write about the Beatitudes. One post per Beatitude. That’ll be soooo easy.

Then, I opened my Bible, re-read the Beatitudes and went, “Well, crap.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3

Of course, the first Beatitude is the one I never understood. So, I’ve spent the past three days trying to figure out what “poor in spirit” is all about. I’ve waded through commentaries, books, articles, and random blog posts. This is what I’ve come up with.

The poor in spirit understand their need for God.

These aren’t self-satisfied, self-righteous people. These people understand grace. They aren’t smug and don’t go around boasting about how spiritual they are.

To be poor in spirit is to recognize clearly that one has nothing which he has not received from God, that one is nothing except by the grace of God. – Orthodox Church in America, The Beatitudes 

They have endured spiritual poverty. That is a painful condition. It’s nice to feel sure of yourself. It’s comforting to know that you have everything all figured out. But, admitting that you don’t and that you can’t earn your way to God is difficult and disconcerting.

Jesus starts his sermon by mentioning these people who know they need more than they already have. These people who recognize their emptiness.

People who are “poor in spirit” are those who are humble before God. They realize that they have nothing in this life that they can contribute to receiving the kingdom of heaven…There is no arrogance in them, no self-righteousness, no self-sufficiency. They are free from their own pretensions, and therefore they are free for God. Everyone who wishes to enter the kingdom must be “spiritually poor,” for salvation is a gift from God. –

I want to point out that being “poor in spirit” isn’t about telling yourself you’re worthless. It’s about not being your own idol.

The poor in spirit are in solidarity with the poor.

This is about empathy. It isn’t enough to throw money and resources at others. It isn’t enough to “do good”. We need to meet people where they are and on their terms, not ours.

I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person. – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

If I drop off some cans at the food pantry, does that help me understand what it’s like struggle to feed your children?

If I donate money to a homeless shelter, send a school kit to a child in another state, plug my credit card number into an online form… does any of that help me understand the people I’m trying to help?

I know people who are living comfortable lives, but are poor in spirit. They identify with people who are poor. They don’t even see them as “the poor” but as “people”. They don’t pass judgment on people just because they’re struggling financially. They realize the causes of poverty are complicated. They realize that they could easily have been “the poor” if life had worked out a little differently for them.

The Gospel calls us to a paradox in its teaching on poverty. First, it bids us recognize in the face of the poor the face of Christ. Our culture is resistant to this idea and likes to hurriedly put emphasis on the words “in spirit” in order to distance ourselves from looking into the faces of the hobos, winos, toothless geezers, street kids with fleas, addicts, schizophrenics, brawling illiterates and smelly people who are, after all, what the word “poor” often refers to. – Mark Shea, Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

The poor in spirit understand that they aren’t entitled to what they have. The poor in spirit understand that we are only temporary stewards of God’s property.

“…if I let the Spirit infuse me with holy poverty, I become generous, for what once appeared to be mine isn’t mine at all.” –  James C. Howell, The Beatitudes for Today

Am I poor in spirit?

This is the question I didn’t want to ask. Maybe this is why I was always happy to skip over the first Beatitude in the past.

So, am I “poor in spirit”? I wasn’t. I know that much. I was arrogant and self-righteous. I was convinced that willing myself to believe the correct things, to perform the correct actions, to avoid the incorrect actions would earn myself God.

Getting rid of all that was incredibly painful. (There’s no pain quite like soul pain.) It was humbling to realize I could do everything right and still completely miss the point.

So, where do I stand now? I’m spiritually exhausted.

I have a complicated relationship with Christianity. I don’t actually want to be a Christian or associate myself with the religion. I’m not the kind of person who has a lot of faith.  (I’m probably running a faith deficit here.)

The crazy thing is that once I admitted I didn’t believe, that’s when Jesus swooped in all, “Yo, look at me!” I had to get rid of my own spiritual garbage before I could see him.

So, yes. I would say there’s some spiritual poverty up in here. (But, that sounds kind of self-righteous, so I take it back.)

As for being in solidarity with the poor… not as much as I should be. I’ve always been more worried about keeping myself from being poor. I’m nominally generous (a few dollars here and there), but I don’t do anything that has any real impact. I have too big of a “this is mine, I worked hard for it and I deserve it” attitude. Every once in a while I remember that I’m not actually entitled to anything, but then I tell myself to shut up.

Mostly, it’s just really hard to get involved with people who are suffering. It hurts to see people hurt. I need to get over that.

What do you think? Is there anything else to being “poor in spirit”?