Thursday, April 30, 2015

Church Rules

Church girls
My dad is a Minister of Music. For those who are unfamiliar, that means my dad is sort of a combo preacher/musician/choir director/pastor. So for most of my childhood, my dad didn't take his talents to South Beach; he took them (along with his family) to Pentecostal (specifically C.O.G.I.C.) churches that hosted  three-hour services on Sunday morning, a brief intermission for a much needed meal, then a follow up evening service. There were also weekly choir practices my dad led, Bible studies and something on Fridays called Joy Night. I imagine some adults found joy there, but I can't say I shared that emotion. 

As a teenager, my mother volunteered my services as Baptist Sunday School secretary; in college, I was tasked with enticing students to come to the local AME church with promises of home cooked soul food on their ride back to campus. 

As an adult, I've been a choir member at a Baptist church, social media coordinator at a non-denominational church, and at the church I currently attend, I interned, led a couple Bible studies, and I (happily!) serve on a few teams. 

If anybody loves, respects and understands the value of the church community, I am your girl. No matter where I lived or worked or learned, my tie to the church has been a constant and I am forever grateful.

Another constant has been the unwritten but oft-spoken "rules" provided by what I lovingly call "church folk." When I was younger, I blindly accepted them. Most of them were harmless anyway. (Bow your head during prayer in reverence, men should take off their hat inside the church... and so forth.) I often assumed that church rules were also Biblical rules. 

But the older I get and the more I study the Word for myself (which I highly recommend), the more I realized many of these rules are steeped in tradition, not divine instruction from the Lord himself. 

I think it is fair to argue that the thickest section of the unwritten Church Rule Book is the Relationships chapter. I am often confused or amused by the rules/strongly suggested guidelines I hear from my church family. Here’s an example:

After a few months of planning, my boyfriend and I visited my brother in Hawaii for several days – a vacation/meet & greet. The night prior to my departure, a friend texted me. 
Her: So who are you going to Hawaii with?
Me: Who do you think silly? I'm going with my guy. Who else I would I go with?
Her: That's like a honeymoon. You guys are gonna have nothing left to do after the wedding. 

I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that vacations were reserved for husband and wife. I've gone on vacations with family, girlfriends, coed groups, people that are almost strangers, with only my mother protesting that I'd end up on a milk carton, but a vacation with the one you love most was an issue. While I was still processing this text, I tapped back jokingly, "Nah my honeymoon will require a passport" and left it at that.

But it made me wonder... in a time where we choose our spouses based on love and compatibility, not someone our parents picked out for us at 13 a la Biblical times, what behaviors are taboo for unmarried couples? 

While I don't believe all parts of a relationship need to be "Try Before You Buy" (to keep this post PG, I'll let you all figure out what I mean here), I do believe it's important for people to get a good sense of how their prospective spouse deals with adversity, how they handle their finances, their levels of domesticity, and many other variables that you really just don't know until you spend a lot of time around them. What ticks them off? What is their kryptonite? How do they juggle career, family, their faith, friendships and other priorities?

Obviously, there's no way to do a true trial run. You're not married until you're married.  Kids, the loss of a parent, the relearning each others bodies post child birth and age, sharing of bills, sacrificing for careers and so forth… these are all challenges and joys most likely reserved for married couples. But I believe people are endowed with sound minds (So does the guy who wrote 2 Timothy 1:7).  If we want to honor God with a lifelong marriage, using God-gifted discernment to avoid throwing rice at a doomed union makes practical (and Biblical) sense.

A few other rules I’m not convinced are based in Biblical doctrine:
1.    Don’t go on a formal date with a prospective spouse until you’ve seen each other in group settings and had a preliminary coffee date.
2.    Save domestic activities such as grocery shopping for life post nuptials.
3.    Support of civil rights like marriage equality for same sex couples is akin to endorsing homosexuality and must be avoided. Active viewership of shows like Modern Family can be interpreted as an embracing of homosexuality and is bad.
4.     Attending the wedding of same sex couples --friends and family alike-- is an absolute no-no. 

Proverbs 19:20 advises us to “hear counsel and listen to direction that you may be wise” and I have been fortunate beyond measure to have friends and mentors who love Jesus and who love me too.

They manage to hold me accountable without passing judgment, they push me to grow in my faith (and my career and relationships too). I do believe they are iron that sharpens iron. They are often the same folks who give me “Church Rules” but more often than not, they advise me to go directly to the source to learn how to best live my life for Christ.

They know that wise counsel is still a step removed from the ultimate Counselor, Jesus Christ.

Every church I’ve been a member of, particularly the one I am a member of now, has helped to improve my faith, provided lifelong friendships, and most recently, it has been the place that introduced me to the man I love. Ironically, church consistently reminds me that their rules aren’t the ones that matter. God’s rules are.

Think about the things you’ve been taught to do in your church or by believers, and consider if they reflect what Christ wants for you, or just something that’s always been done. Are there any rules you’re unsure on? I’d love to hear them. My former pastor always says “If you read your Bible, you’ll be a better Christian.” It sounds a bit like cliched rhetoric, but it’s true. Are your rules in the Bible?

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Inconvenient Truth About Blocking Traffic (And Other Kinds of Protests)

Last week I was meeting up with some friends in downtown LA to watch the Clippers game. Per usual traffic was crazy, but it was a little more busy than usual around the 110/10 freeway. As I pulled closer, I realized there was a protest stopping traffic. It was an inconvenience. To be honest, in a city where traffic is already horrendous, it was an extremely unwelcome one. But at most, I'll call it an inconvenience.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was at my house and we were having girl chat. This friend was pregnant and suddenly, without warning, she felt sharp pains in her abdomen and began bleeding. We hopped into the car and headed for the hospital. Just a few blocks from my house, we encountered a police checkpoint and had to pull over. The police officer asked us a few questions and was moving at a maddeningly slow pace for a few minutes until in frustration I yelled "My friend is pregnant and we think's something wrong, we have to get to the hospital now." Thankfully, he let us go. This was more than an inconvenience; it was a critical interference in a medical emergency which we later learned was a miscarriage. While unintentional, it is a symptom of what happens when transportation is stopped.

After the murder of Michael Brown and the failure of the grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, demonstrations have taken many forms - boycotts of Black Friday, marches at police departments, silent vigils, and as I mentioned above - the blocking of traffic. Most notably, traffic on 395 in DC was brought to a complete standstill as protesters formed a human chain on the highway.

Since then, debates have arisen about the value of these protests. Some say "We stop traffic to bring attention to our cause and to start the conversation about police brutality/racism/social injustice. It's a mere inconvenience for a greater cause." Others say "Get out of the way; I just want to go home and all you're doing is making me angry!"

Left: Black Panthers at Seattle Capitol Steps | Right: Black Panthers providing breakfast
Both sides have merit. I believe that there is a duality to bringing about social change that requires radical elements (e. g. The Black Panthers very visibly arming themselves) as well as practical tools (e.g. the Black Panthers providing free breakfast to young children). For that reason, I applaud the  sacrifice of citizens that drive people to the polls as well as the bravery of protesters willing to dangerously step out in traffic in the name of what they believe.

However, my respect for that bravery does not extend into a full-throated endorsement. It takes a certain kind of arrogance to assume that stopping traffic is merely an inconvenience. When there isn't a clear line between your actions and the result you want, often those actions become dramatic displays of your emotions/feelings versus strategic methods yielding favorable results. When I discussed this with a friend he said "I'm not in a moral position to express how oppressed people express their rage or react to dehumanization." When I suggested that stopping traffic may not be the best use of people's time and energy, he responded "[Your opinion] comes from a high and mighty, armchair activist standpoint."

Fair points. But history suggests I may be on to something. We all know about the famous Selma march and the Birmingham boycotts led by MLK. We all know about the radical move to ask middle aged women to walk for miles to tiring jobs as domestic workers to protest segregation on buses. What we don't all know is the practical side. In "Why We Can't Wait", MLK outlines how it took over a year for them to decide to boycott in Birmingham. There were meetings, detailed plans, an end goal, and a demonstrated commitment from a community working together to effect change. In short, they used practical efforts to affect radical change to the system. The genius of that is often overshadowed in movies and Black History Month vignettes that focus on America's obsession with the concept of nonviolence. (TaNehisi Coates quips, "American society's affection for nonviolence is notional.")

So you may say "Well that may all be fair and true, but why are you so critical of the protesters versus the unjust system and its perpetrators?" Well, it's because I don't care about the system in the way I care about the communities who are recipients of injustice. These communities fighting and protesting are where my heart lies. I want these communities to win and they are the ones that lose on their way to their second job, or to take care of their children or an ailing parent, or maybe even some kind of medical emergency when they are sidelined by traffic. In all honesty, this post isn't even really critical of traffic stoppers; it's critical of those who both dismiss it by calling it a "mere inconvenience" while also elevating the conversations it allegedly creates as a healing type of town hall meeting and Kumbaya moment.

That is simply false. It is neither an inconvenience or a positive jump start to conversations on race relations. I'm not seeing the direct line between preventing a mother with two screaming toddlers in the back from getting home at a reasonable hour to preventing police brutality. Does it start a conversation? Sure. But I'm not convinced a profanity-laced conversation about traffic is a fruitful one. And that is the inconvenient truth of inconvenient traffic stops and other reactive measures.

If we want change, let's look to the example of those who created it in the past. There's no need to reinvent the wheel. If stopping traffic is your form of radical protest, I won't get in your way (even though you are literally in mine). But I will ask, so what's next? What's the plan? What's the goal? And how will we get there?