Revisiting Past Creations

I haven’t written poetry in at least eight or nine years. Sometimes, I look back and think, “Gosh, what utter self-absorption. What sentimental dreck.” But then, I go back and read them and some aren’t half bad. (At least, in my personal, unbiased opinion.)

Anyhow, I miss that part of me, but unfortunately, most of my poems sprang from a deep sadness and were a way to cope with depression and typical drama. (Years of therapy have definitely helped!) I am not sure I can even write a poem if I wanted to now. Not because I am in a good place – I find the idea that art must only come from depression to be sad and trite. Mostly, it may just be because I am out of practice and haven’t gotten into that type of mindset anymore. It is a muscle that I’ve let atrophy.

At any rate, this is just a long preamble for me to say that I will likely start sharing some of my poems on this blog. Just because I am a glutton for punishment (and praise!).

This is the last poem I wrote.

In All Seasons

I say
Today
I will blast through the dam of my soul
and tears will spring forth from a well
of thirst
salt water carving its course down
my radiant cheeks
full and round
bursting with joy
as I say,
“Glory Be! Praise the Lord, O My Soul!”
Even if it be through gritted teeth
It is still so.

– 10/13/05

I am surprised by how difficult this entry is for me to post. In fact, this post is harder for me than some of my more obviously “vulnerable” ones on my father. I suppose it is because while my posts about my father are vulnerable, they are my experiences and feelings. Who can dispute that those are indeed my feelings and experiences? Even if a person disagrees with me, my thoughts are still my own and perfectly valid.

However, if I create “art” (see, I can’t even bring myself to write “art” without quotes. As if what I created is insufficient to be called Art. Well, perhaps just art with no Capital A.), that can be judged as good or bad. may think myself quite the poet or wordsmith, but now, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.

It’s like the deluded people who audition for American Idol. They think they are the next pop star but in reality cannot carry a tune if their life depended on it and are astonished when the judges boo them. (What they really should be astonished about is that no one in their life loved them enough to say before they humiliated themselves on national TV, “Sweetheart, you are good at many things. Singing is not one of those things.”)

Hmmm. I suppose that is an inaccurate comparison. Mostly because you are either on tune or not. That is not a subjective situation. That is an indisputable fact.

Anyway, you get my drift.

Well, good poetry or bad, it is not the SOLE reason to write and share. In fact, that applies to all art and creation. Yes, we would all ideally create only beautiful, wonderful things. But if that were the limitation we put upon ourselves, likely, there would not be any good (dare I say, transformative) art all. If the main driving factor behind our creations is whether or not something will be “good,” we have already hobbled ourselves, tamping down our free expression. But, if we are free to create utter crap, then we open ourselves up to making something that could possibly be True and Good.

Keep in mind, we likely have to throw away a lot of crap on our way to making something good. For some of us, we may have to throw away a lot MORE crap before we get to make anything mediocre.

That’s ok.

For so much of my life, because I picked up certain things really quickly (such as sight-reading music for singing or playing piano), I found it very difficult to try activities in which I did not immediately excel. Obviously, innate talent is a consideration, but ultimately, most activities worth doing well are only done so after much failure and practice. I wish I had been more willing to accept “failure” along the way to becoming proficient at dancing, drawing, and perhaps basketball.

Well, it’s not too late for me yet! I have enjoyed taking dance classes in my adulthood, and one day, when I am willing to make the time sacrifice, I will take drawing lessons, too. That’s one of my favorite things about becoming older and more comfortable with myself – I have mostly stopped caring about failure. I am more interested in getting what I want and sometimes, the only way to succeed is to fail along the way.

Nagging an Inattentive God

According to this Huffington Post article, nagging is one of the top reasons people divorce. (Incidentally, I’m obsessed with the HuffPo Divorce section. I find that sometimes, you don’t know what works until you see what’s broken.) I can tell you absolutely that if nagging is the main reason, I’m screwed because goodness knows I would never try to change my behavior. Everyone knows that Hapa Papa is the reasonable one in the relationship.

The main reason I nag Hapa Papa (other than, apparently, my being female – sexism alert!) is because I don’t feel heard. Hapa Papa has a bad habit of rarely acknowledging things I say to him. Of course, he claims that my heavy onslaught of orders/mandates/”conversation” makes it near impossible to acknowledge them all. I just say he’s a quitter.

So, I keep nagging Hapa Papa until he acknowledges me in some way (usually with annoyance). And then I nag him until he actually does what I want. (Two separate actions.)

Hapa Papa is not the only one in the family to bear the brunt of my constant nagging. So are my children. I constantly harp on Cookie Monster and Gamera to sit down properly in their chairs, (Cookie Monster falls out of his chair AT LEAST once a day. Like, seriously? No learning from experience, that child.) eat their food, pick up after themselves, put away their toys, hurry up, etc. The other day, Cookie Monster told me to stop talking and go away because he couldn’t stand hearing me tell him to sit down in his chair anymore. Then, he promptly fell out of his chair. Again. (I felt smug and vindicated; I am a small and petty person.)

Lately, I made the connection that my kids whine in due part because I nag. (Ok, I didn’t make the connection on my own. It was spelled out in this Parents article. More on this article in a future post.) My kids whine because they are afraid that they aren’t heard or acknowledged. So, they keep asking for the same thing over and over again, with greater and greater urgency. I really hate that they are learning my bad habits. I am hoping that if I stop nagging, they will stop whining. I think I made it fifteen minutes.

Anyhow, the other night, I was praying for my kids and I found myself repeating the same plea to God over and over again. “Please keep my children safe. Keep my children safe. Keep my kids safe. Watch over them and keep them safe from harm.” Sometimes, I varied it up and said the same thing but in different words. Or in a different order. And then I stopped.

Did I think that God didn’t hear me the first time? Or that God might have missed part of what I was saying? Or that God was stupid and required me to explain things repeatedly and slowly, as if God were a foreigner who couldn’t understand English?

When I thought about it, God doesn’t really need me to pray for Him to know what I want or need. And certainly not on repeat. Presumably, being omniscient and all, that’s stuff God would already know. After all, prayer is for the supplicant, to get to the root of their heart’s desire. So what did that mean when I kept praying the same thing over and over again, as if I were stuck in a loop?

And then it hit me. Some part of me thinks God isn’t listening. Or that if God is listening, that He doesn’t care. Therefore, the only way to get and maintain God’s attention is to whine and plead and cajole and just wear Him down until He’s like, “STFU! Here’s the stupid thing you wanted. Now, please STOP with the praying!”

If I were God, I’d have punched me in the throat. I’d be totally offended. And super annoyed. (I suppose who’s to say that God is not offended or annoyed? *slowly looks up and backs away*)

So I decided I’m going to try a new thing. I am only going to pray ONCE for something per prayer time. It’s really hard. It’s as if I am trying to fill up the airtime with God so that I don’t have to hear anything He has to say to me about my life or my desires.

It is hard to trust that God takes me seriously and wants me to have good things. It is hard to remember that God is the original Prodigal Father. That my love and desires for my children pale in comparison to how God feels about me. I find it incredulous.

Then, I find that the only prayer available to me is a short but apt one: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV)

Inappropriate Bible Stories FTW

A few weeks ago, I complained about how Sunday Schools teach Bible stories that make either the Bible completely unappealing because everyone is a saint, or it sanitizes stories that are incredibly hard to digest and process. Well, today, I’d like to remind us of the stories I WISH Sunday Schools would teach – not because they are appropriate for children but because they are awesome.

Most people, when they think of Bible stories, don’t really consider comedy and potty humor to be part of them. They think of the Good Samaritan or Moses and the Red Sea. You know, morality plays or epic situations. And there are many of these types of stories to be found in the Bible. Otherwise, people usually think the Bible to be full of rules, lists of people who begat other people, and a bunch of overly religious prattle.

But that’s not true. Yes, there are boring bits, but personally, I think there are far more interesting snippets that if we learned them when we were younger, we’d be utterly hooked on the Bible because it is a crazy book!! (I’m not even including the insane acid-trip that is the book of Revelations.)

Here then, are two Bible stories that I submit for your edification. One that I find terribly intriguing and the other I find awesomely hilarious. What this says about me is uncertain except perhaps that I have somewhat deranged sensibilities.

1) Angels have sex with human women and make Nephilim babies!!

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. […] The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

– Genesis 6:1-2, 4 (NASB)

WHAT??? This is like, barely making it through the first few chapters of the Bible and we get freaky angel/human sex that results in GIANTS!! I mean, I get why they gloss over this detail in Sunday School but OMG! The original urban fantasy novel!! And it’s just matter-of-factly summed up in three verses. WHY? Why wouldn’t they include more information on this? Instead, this is just served as the backdrop and setup for Noah and the Great Flood. BORING! I want more crazy angel sex!

2) Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and Asherah

Here’s the tl;dr version. After a long drought in Israel (which Elijah announced before it happened as God’s curse), Elijah wanted to prove to the Israelites that God was more powerful than the false gods they were worshiping. So Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to a very public demonstration. He has two altars built and completely drenched in water. Then he has two bulls sacrificed, one for each altar. Whoever’s god can light the sacrifice on fire is the True God.

Elijah lets the prophets go first and they beg Baal and Asherah for hours, cutting themselves, sweating, dancing, and pleading. Elijah mocks them and gleefully says, “You’ll have to shout louder than that […] to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” (1 Kings 18:27 TLB, emphasis mine)

I don’t know why this is my all-time favorite story but I suspect it has something to do with Elijah asking if the gods are out dropping a deuce and are therefore indisposed and cannot be bothered to send fire for the sacrifice. It is literal shit-talking!

Why don’t they teach this version of the story in Sunday School? Most translations use the euphemism “busy” instead of “pooping” – which is a shame because OMG, HILARITY.

I mean, really! The Bible is terrible and bewildering – full of totally fucked up people and unbelievable setups and resolutions. And yet somehow, this long, continuous and continuing epic love story of God pursuing completely undeserving people is how God chooses to communicate (in writing, no less!) to us. (And not because we’re so great – but because He’s so great. Of course, your theological mileage may vary on that interpretation.)

Can you imagine if we taught this in Sunday School? No kid would ever complain about the Bible being boring again! Off the top of my head, I can recount at least two or three more stories that reference pooping or peeing (of course, because I am twelve), a few that involve gruesome humor, and many more that are achingly beautiful. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Furthermore, we’d get a far more nuanced, sarcastic, and scathingly funny God. (And yes, compassionate, passionate, loving, and gentle God, too.) Far better to reject a God we are a little more accurately depicting than to worship a god about whom we are completely deluded.

What about you? What are your favorite (for any reason) Bible stories and why?

Testing God: Money Series Pt 4

Obviously, you don’t have to believe in God to be a charitable person. (And many people are generous because they’re just good people!) But the reason why I make our family give away Hapa Papa’s hard-earned cash is because of a college Bible study on Malachi 3 (because I’m not good people!). Before that, it’s not that I was opposed to the idea of tithing or giving, but since I didn’t make any of my own money until after college, it wasn’t particularly applicable. But the study, particularly the following verse, rocked my world.

Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

– Malachi 3:10 RSV

The tl;dr version is basically God telling the Israelites to stop cheating Him out of His tithe (usually the first part of a harvest) and to trust that He will provide for them (and abundantly, at that) by having more of the harvest come in.

If you think about it, when you’re a farmer, it’s totally poor financial planning to give the first and best portions of your harvest to God versus keeping it for yourself to provide food for your family or as seed for the next planting. But God commands His people to do so as a way to remind them that everything they have is from God and that He alone provides. In fact, God almost begs the Israelites to put Him to the test so He can prove to them that He keeps his promises by lavishing them so incredibly with blessings – to the point of overflowing!

It sounds absolutely terrifying.

Now, I tithe not to bribe God to give me more stuff (although I am not averse to it – I’m not totally bonkers), but to remind myself that God has provided generously to my family and will continue to provide for us – regardless of me doing something as counter-intuitive as giving our money away. Since my first paycheck, I have chosen to tithe approximately 10% of my income. It’s funny how being faithful with my pitiful $11.50/hr starting salary helped with being faithful with ever-increasing amounts of money. (That’s a concept I also remember from my college days. I am pretty sure it was Pastor Ken Fong who taught this to me, but I can’t be sure. Either way, super helpful.)

True fact: Even though Hapa Papa is totally an atheist, he said his respect for me as a Christian went up when he found out that I tithed on a regular basis. It was early in our relationship and made a big impression on him. Now, it makes a big impression on his bank account. (Ok, not really that big. I don’t want it to seem that we give more than we actually do.)

So you see, other than the benefit of getting more blessings from God, you can get prospective spouses, too! Tithing is AWESOME!

Of course, it’s all fine and good to give money, etc. but I do think there are some responsible ways to go about it. Here then are some of my tips and reasoning behind our giving. (I’m pretty sure these work regardless of your religious devotion, but I could be wrong.) Obviously, just because this is how I’ve forced Hapa Papa to give doesn’t mean that this is the method proscribed by God and if you do not do so in the same manner, you will be smited/smitten/smote/smoted. Your theological mileage may vary.

1) Make sure your financial house is in order. Don’t be giving money away if you cannot afford to do so. If you have mountains of debt, I’m not sure it’s good policy to give away money that robs you of providing for your family/kids/rent etc. This is not to say that you cannot/should not give if you do have debt, but be sensible about it. And who is to say that the only way you can give is monetarily?

2) Donate to places that are responsible financially. There are a lot of groups that spend more money on advertising and fundraising than they do helping the cause for which they are advertising and fundraising. I want to make sure as much of my dollar as possible goes to whatever I’m supporting. You can look into a charity’s financials through sites such as: Guidestar or Givewell.

3) Give deeply vs broadly. In the past, I would give small amounts to many charities/worthy organizations. But now, I am more focused on selecting a few groups and giving more concentrated amounts. For example, instead of giving $10 to ten different groups, I would prefer to give $100 to one group. Nothing wrong with giving a charity $10, but $100 may be a bit more effective.

4) Give with purpose and planning. When I first graduated college, I chose to support friends who went on staff at InterVarsity (the Christian group I was part of at UCLA). I did so because I wanted to love my friends as well as thank the organization that made such a huge impact in my life. I also chose to support and contribute to friends who became missionaries (either in an urban or international setting) through groups like Servant Partners.

However, my philosophy towards giving has evolved a bit. I still support some of these folks and I enjoy reading and hearing about how my money helps my friends do college and urban ministry. But a lot of these types of para-church ministries are very fuzzy in terms of results and doing good. How do we measure success in these areas? Yes, people convert to Christianity or their lives are changed, but that is a lifetime commitment. Life is long and prone to many twists and turns. Who knows how it will turn out?

I think relationship based ministries are important – that’s why I still support my friends. But now, I try to focus on organizations that have very discrete and measurable results. I tend to give money to groups such as my local food bankHeifer International, or World Vision. Next year, I’m thinking of adding the Hamlin Fistula Organization. What I love about these organizations is that I know exactly what I’m getting – and people are benefiting in a specific way. I give $450 to the Fistula organization and one woman gets a fistula (basically a hole caused by childbirth complications between a woman’s vagina and bladder/rectum that causes constant leaking of urine and feces) fixed. I give $100 to the food bank and they can buy 100 lbs of food. I really love how the very necessary needs of people are being met in supremely practical, boring ways.

Figure out what type of person you are and how you want your money to have impact. I like both “soft” relational results as well as practical, nitty-gritty results. That’s why I split my giving.

At the end of every year, I decide which organizations I want to support for the next year and decide what amount I want to give each month. Furthermore, it comes in very handy when people/causes to whom you don’t want to donate ask for money. I always tell them, I have planned out my giving for the year already and although I am sure their cause is very worthy, I only give to organizations that I have researched and vetted. They are welcome to give me information about their group and I will consider them for next year.

4) Budget for miscellaneous donations. With that said, every year, I have friends running marathons for cancer or asking for donations for causes that are meaningful to them. I want to support my friends so I make sure I donate to a few of these as well.

5) Set up giving on an automatic basis. Just like it’s much easier to auto-pay your bills or savings, it’s much easier to automate your giving. That way, you don’t forget, it’s in smaller monthly increments, and you don’t miss the money (as much).

6) If you are tithing or donating on a percentage basis, figure out what number to use. By that, I mean, do you use pre-tax or post-tax salary? Pre-benefits or post-benefits? I don’t think there is a right or wrong number to use. Just choose the one that sits on your conscience the lightest and be consistent with it. Personally, I am lazy and somewhat cheap, so I just use whatever number is deposited into my bank account (and that is the post-tax and benefits number).

7) Make giving a priority. Every time we have an added expense (eg: preschool) or a set back (eg: a layoff), Hapa Papa always mentions that we could lower our giving. I always immediately nix the idea. Not because I’m a good person, but because I know that I often spend foolishly. So, I am not about to “cheat God” when I could just spend in a more judicious manner. Also, it helps that so much of our giving is automated that it’s already built into our budget.

You’ll notice that I don’t mention anything about teaching my kids to give. I haven’t really started to teach my kids about money or giving – but in the future, I will. When that happens, I’ll likely blog about it. But for now, I’m leaving that blank and to other experts. 😉

You’ll also note that I do not give to a church (which is what most people think of when they think of tithing). This is mostly because I do not currently belong to a church. However, when I did attend church, I gave on a more sporadic basis. In the future, I may also give to my church of choice because it will support their many services and activities from which I directly benefit.

Anyhow, this post was not just an excuse to brag about how generous I am with Hapa Papa’s hard labor. When I was just starting to give money to charities I was pretty clueless on the practicalities of the matter and since all my friends were newbies just like I was, it wasn’t a particularly helpful bunch. Hopefully, this post can help you choose to give in a useful and practical manner. After all, it is your money. You should steward it wisely.

Rainbows and Genocide

‘Cuz God is a killer from the start
Why you think Noah had to build his ark?

Heaven, Ice Cube

Everything I ever learned in Sunday School about Noah’s Ark involved cute little animals marching up the plank onto a giant boat. Oh, and of course, 40 days of rain, rain, rain and crows and doves and olive branches. And rainbows. Pretty, pretty rainbows. And perhaps some passing mention of flooding the world to the point where everyone died except for eight people stuck on a boat.

Wait, what?!

God kills almost every person on the planet (not to mention all the animals and plants) and we Christians teach it to kids with catchy songs because it has cute fluffy animals and boats and stuff?

I find that really inappropriate.

In a related vein, my kids’ Sunday School teachers are going to hate me.

It doesn’t bother me that everyone dies by God’s hand. It bothers me because we gloss over hard parts of the Bible, Disney-fy a Grimm story, and put a pretty bow on it with a nice banal song to boot. Maybe even add a talking animal friend.

Basically, we lie to our children about God and His story and one day, they’re going to read the Bible for themselves and hit Noah’s Ark and say, “What the flying fuck is this?”

And not just Noah’s Ark. The Bible is page after page of completely messed up stories and people that challenge us and make no sense sometimes, and often bring up more questions than answers about God and His infinite mercy and wisdom.

Don’t think the Bible is that edited when we teach our kids? How about the raping of Dinah and her brothers killing all the men of the offending tribe when they are recovering from circumcision? Or David committing murder so he can cover up adultery and knocking up someone else’s wife? Or God commanding the Israelites to kill all the people – women and children included – in their skirmishes as they invade another people’s land to turn into their own? Or the tenth plague of Egypt where the Angel of Death kills every single first born – including babies and toddlers (which I have a huge problem with)? Or when Abraham whores out his wife, Sarah, to various kings because he is too cowardly to claim her as his wife?

I mean, this barely scratches the first few books of the Old Testament! You could say, “But that’s the Old Testament! God was different and full of wrath!” To which I reply, “Oh, God changes personality then? He is inconstant and schizophrenic? That’s comforting.”

But let’s say you’re right. What about the cozy, heartwarming stories from the New Testament? Like when the lovely baby Jesus is born and King Herod massacres all Jewish baby boys under two or three? (Kinda like with Moses.) Or that delightful, kid-friendly crucifixion – the basis of the Christian faith? Or John the Baptist’s head on a platter because King Herod lusted after his grand-niece/step-daughter (let’s not even get into the incest!)? Or Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead on the spot for lying about how much money they got for a plot of land?

We Christians give our kids such sanitized Bible stories that when they inevitably find out the truth by actually reading the Bible, our kids are totally unprepared for the brutality and hard questions these stories raise. At best they will think the Bible has no relevance to the real world and at worst, they will think the Bible a pack of lies. We rob the Bible of any teeth and power by serving it diluted. We do an immense disservice to our children when we “clean up” and serve God and the story of His people in palatable bites.

The Bible is NOT palatable. The Bible is not easy. The Bible is not safe.

The reason, of course, is that God is not palatable, easy, or safe.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis [emphasis mine]

Why are we so afraid of teaching our kids the unedited stories of the Bible? Is it because we secretly don’t believe that God is good? Or that God is big enough to handle our questions and doubts? Or maybe we are too lazy to think about these things at all? Because if we did think about what the Bible actually says about gossip, the poor, money, and grace, we would actually have to change our way of life?

I realize no parent in their right mind wants to discuss after Sunday School why it seems okay for God to kill babies or what adultery means. But that’s our job as parents. I don’t want to talk about drugs or sex or race with my kids, either, but I will because that is my job as a parent. To frame and put hard things in context. To equip my kids the best way I know how even if eventually they decide that my values and faith will not be their values and faith.

For me, that is the hardest thing. To trust that God will take care of my family and kids even if they reject everything I teach them. That even if I do everything “right,” there is no guarantee of safety or shelter from suffering. That life is like the stories in the Bible: messy, complicated, and sometimes, really screwed up.

Yes, life has beautiful and grand moments. It’s easy to think God is good then. But as we all know and experience, life is not always lovely and wonderful.

If we only cherry pick the good parts of the Bible and God, how will our children know to cleave to God when life spirals into the grimiest shit? How will they respond to the seeming disconnect between “God is good” and the world they see with their own eyes?

This is why I get so mad about Sunday School stories as they currently are. They paint a lie of the world – that if we just believe in God, everything will be shiny and full of ponies! That God makes everything better and rewards good little children. That only pillars of faith make it in the Bible – not real humans.

But that’s NOT TRUE. It is a lie.

The truth is, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45, NIV) That no matter how faithful you are, sometimes, prayer doesn’t work out the way we want and families split up or friends die of cancer. That despite all our good intentions, babies starve, women are raped, and children are sexually enslaved.

It is a fallen and broken world in which we live. The same fallen and broken world in which the Bible and its characters and the story of God’s people take place. I’m not saying that Sunday School should be a depressing experience, but it should at least sometimes reflect reality and not a Pollyanna view of the world. Sunday School should be a safe place for equipping our children to examine and question what the people do (as well as how God responds) in the Bible. Sunday School should not only be a place for our kids to learn about the Bible, but to learn how to grapple with the tension between the hope and promise of a new kingdom, and the temporary reality of pain and suffering in this world.

This sounds great in theory, but I have no idea how to implement this with my own children. They are young, yet. Plus, I doubt I will ever find this type of Sunday School while my kids are still eligible to attend. *sigh*

What do you do with your kids? How do you explain suffering and hope in an age-appropriate manner? For that matter, how do you approach religion and faith in your family? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking for ideas I can blatantly steal. 🙂 Cheer me up, please!