*8 Things: I Believe

8things from Magpie Girl

There are things I believe in at bedrock level—ideas I cannot imagine myself without. The kind of stuff you feel like you might carry around in your genetic blueprint.

Yet as strong as my passion is for these ideas, I know the list could change – the list has changed. There are definitely fewer ideologies I feel confident of these days. But if anything, the ones that remain have become stronger, more distilled with age.

These are them, these are they. If I could wear them on a t-shirt I would.

In case you are interested. In case you’d like to know more.

*8 Things: I Believe

1. “You have to use art to preach”

2. “God does not have a penis.”

3. “Make dialogue, not debate, your primary language.”

4. “I heart pagans.”

5. “Gentlemen, kindly own your own shit.”

6. “Christianity is extending the loving hand of Christ to the world.”

7. “Jesus got ‘jacked.”

8. “I speak patriarchy, but it’s not my mother tongue.”

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Jen Lee June 26, 2008 at 8:35 am

If you ever do get around to putting them on t-shirts, put me down for a #8, size small. Or maybe a dozen.

eliacin June 26, 2008 at 11:05 am

I carry my good share of “shit” and it’s quite heavy, I confess.

I do speak patriarchy, it is my mother tongue, but I am learning new languages. I also confess that I still have a lot to learn.

neil June 26, 2008 at 11:23 am

What do you mean by # 7? Just curious.

Re: #2. He did when he was incarnate as a man, but apparently didn’t use it. Jesus referred to God as Father, no? Perhaps God’s personhood is as a father, something we don’t even come close to knowing the perfect model of, and if he didn’t have a penis, perhaps his sexuality is not as important as we think ours is in this day and age. Just some thoughts.

Why can’t you wear these things on a t-shirt?

Tiny Mantras June 26, 2008 at 12:37 pm

These are great.

I completely adore #1! Believed #2 since preschool. I might be happier if my husband embraced #3 a little more… and #7, oh yeah.

Bitty June 26, 2008 at 1:45 pm

It’s so funny, I remember sitting in a theology class at a small, “orthodox” college and having my frustrated professor exclaim, “God does not have genitalia!”

I grew up learning to speak patriarchy and yearning for the day when I would use my knowledge of the language to revolt and take over the world. There’s nothing for cracking a glass ceiling like throwing out a few sports references. I also once asked a preaching professor if I, too, had to wear a tie for my senior sermon as the syllabus stipulated. Very embarrassed, and gracious, he said no :)

Jennifer/The Word Cellar June 26, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Neil: I’m thinking that Jesus *did* use his penis. After all, even God as man had to pee sometimes. ;)

celticbuffy June 26, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Love it! I love your posts. I am trying to find where I fit in spiritually/religiously. I don’t believe in so many of the things the church says and feel that spirituality is far more important than being religious. I am learning a lot from your posts and look forward to reading more. Thank you.

neil June 27, 2008 at 7:57 am

Good point Jennifer! So obvious I missed it! Lol…

Rachelle July 11, 2008 at 1:50 am


in #7 I’m talking about how much the teachings and example of Jesus have been hijacked — by many branches of the church, by Paul, by politics. Most of what we think of as “Christian” has so little to do with the life of Christ. It’s shocking really.

Karen Armstrong has some fascinating things to say about how so much of Christian theology is shaped not by the teachings of Jesus, but by Pauline writings — which don’t always have the same emphasis. I tried to find the quote in my notes but came up short. It’s in her book “The Spiral Staircase” though, which is a fascinating autobiography and well worth the read.

We aren’t going to see eye to eye on the sexuality thing…we should probably just give up. :-)

Thanks for the silly Twitter Whore link. It cracks me up that people have the time to do stuff like that (she said, self conciously as she continued blogging.) :-)

neil July 17, 2008 at 9:04 am

Yes, true we probably won’t see eye to eye on that and many other topics; but I guess that’s where I am challenged by your #3 above. I figured from the get-go that we had different ideas but I was using the opportunity to learn more about and practice dialogue rather than debate (because I’m so bad at the former while being unfortunately tainted by the latter due to the culture I grew up in and my own sinfulness). What’s the use in talking to only those who are saying what we want to hear, right?

On the Twitter Whore thing: yeah, I can see the implication that that little video was the result of someone having too much time on their hands, but on the other hand it’s parodying folks who have that kind of time on their hands and truly use it for self-absorption. Satire is one technique, maybe not the best one; but it’s refreshing that someone’s pointing out the obvious, yet overlooked: that there really is a problem with narcissism in our culture. It is kind of funny that the producer of the video has a Twitter account herself and a video show that is pretty useless, though. We’re all a pretty mixed bag, I guess.

neil July 18, 2008 at 10:37 am

Another question for you regarding the hijacking of Jesus: If you’re saying that Paul hijacked Jesus, are you implying that Paul’s contribution to the Bible is erroneous? (As you’ve heard me say before, I think, Paul was never one of my favorite writers. I’m making a bit more peace with that as I understand his language more, but anyway… ) It seems like you would at least find some value in the four gospels or you would have to be getting your information about Jesus’ teachings from elsewhere. So I know that this sounds debate-ish rather than dialogue-ish, but I would truly like to understand your perspective, and hopefully find something useful for myself in it. So my question bowls down to: how did you come to accept some writers of Biblical books and not others (assuming I’m connecting the dots correctly here)?

Thanks in advance,

Rachelle July 18, 2008 at 11:43 am

Okay, onward with the dialogue. (And asking good questions is always good for dialogue — don’t you think? So, kudos to you, you dialoguer you!)

Re: Paul. I don’t know that I would say his works are erroneous. Although, I do think that they are a representation of the understanding (or mis-understanding) of Christ’s teachings at a given time in a particular culture. These then, have been applied throughout church history as though they are universally accurate regardless of time and/or culture. This has led to lots and lots of problems, not the least of which is loads of damaging teaching regarding sexuality and gender equality.

To me, the epistles are a recording of _some_ of the ways Jesus’ teachings and example have been interpreted through history — but they only represent one take, in one place, in one part of history. So, I accept Pauline writings as an example of how the life/teachings of Christ _can be_ and _have been_ interpreted, but I reserve the right to say that they are not the only, best, or most accurate interpretation — or that this interpretation is effective for fostering the continuance of Jesus’ teachings in the time, place, and culture in which I current am required to live.

I suppose in the spirit of disclosure, I should make it clear that while I consider myself a person of the Book, I do not understand the Bible as being infalliable or inspired in the evangelical sense of the term. Nor do I see it as being entirely literal. I still read it though, and I still claim it as a the history of both my physical and spiritual family.

What does it mean to you? Do you accept all of it with equal aplomb? Do some books weigh heavier for you than others in their influence? Or is it all of equal importance in your spiritual development? Are any of the writers allowed to be wrong? Or in your view is it completely error free? And how do you understand how the Book works across time and culture? (Not that you have to answer all of these — they are just a fistful of curious questions that cross my mind and that I have come, over time, to ask of myself as well.)

Rachelle July 18, 2008 at 11:45 am

Oh, and in regards to sexuality and the gender of God…Perhaps it would be interesting to try to imagine what it would be like to be raised in a faith in which the God you were supposedly ‘created in the image’ of had nothing to do with your physical gender? It’s an interesting pair of shoes for a man to try on, don’t you think? (I’m not trying to be snide, honestly Neil, I’m just trying to figure out how to talk around and about this topic…it’s a hard one, isn’t it?)

neil July 18, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Thank you, Rachelle. Just when I think that I’m probably going to piss you off with my inquiries —not that I mean to AT ALL — you respond graciously. You remind me of something I read recently about a traveler in Greece who runs into some monks who call him over to share some refreshment before he has a chance to clean up a bit from the long hike: They call out to him saying, ” just drop your bag and come over, you won’t offend us. We are not offendable!” pretty cool stuff.

I have to think about the first set of questions a bit, but I want to try to share my thoughts on them. Regarding the pair of shoes you suggest ( I do love women’s shoes!), I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of God as being strictly one gender or another. Let me rephrase that. When I consider being made in God’s image, I don’t think of my maleness as part of that image to the exclusion of other people’s femaleness. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever thought much about being created in God’s image until recently. And my understanding now is leaning largely towards that image as meaning the difference between a person — characterized by needing to be in some communion of love with others in order to be ever-more-fully realized and true — and an individual — characterized by isolation and self-absorption leading ever closer to non-existence or death. Yikes. And that pair of shoes is new to me. Or maybe I’ve haphazardly put them on in the past, but not as a way of life. It doesn’t always look like it will be comfortable, but after slipping the pair on and walking for a bit I find that my feet are not sore as much as they feel like walking farther. That’s a pretty thick metaphor, but I think you get it. Enlargement of the heart is another way I’ve heard it.

more to come. Thanks for the dialogue.

neil July 18, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Okay, I think I can give share some of my perspective on the questions you posed about scripture.

My understanding is under construction, for one. I guess that’s why these matters are important to me. I do not think that the Bible is always literal. I do not believe that it is entirely infallible, either. I do believe that it is best read, and perhaps only read well with a guide. The Holy Spirit? Sure. But where to find that guide? I think that part is tied up in my previously stated perspective on personhood. I do not think that an individual will correctly read all of it without guidance. So again where to find that guide? To bare my soul, as they say: I am hoping that what I hear is true and that I will grow ever more confident that the guide may be found in the church. The Orthodox Church? Yeah, the Orthodox Church, in the spirit of disclosure. I don’t believe that there’s a perfect church anywhere on this earth, but that’s part of the mystery I hope to have more and more confidence in. May I be bold and say that that is my big dream? To be able to trust that somehow there’s a visible and real Body of Christ that can be my guide and that I can participate in, that I can sow myself into (like a Van Halen patch on a jean-jacket…?! Had to say it, it was begging for release in my quirky head. Okay, more like a thread in a beautiful but useful rug). Again, there’s mystery here, because I don’t believe that the Church will contain all who are in the Body, or that all in the Church are included in the Body, but not because of God’s providence; rather because of free will. Anyway, beside the point. That point being that I am coming to believe and am hoping to believe more that the Church has been a good and reliable guide to understanding scripture and its purposes, through all the centuries of copying, translating and retelling. I would agree with a lot of what you said about the scriptures not being the best tool for understanding Jesus and His teachings (my paraphrasing of what you said, of course). But I am coming to believe they can be with the help of the Church as a guide, along with other writings and the lives of the saints.

Ultimately, I am at the mercy of God revealing Himself to me (I do still call God “He” and maybe there is a purpose for the masculine article or maybe not, I don’t know… but it’s not really a big item on my agenda, as I do know that God is Other, regardless).

Big hugs to you, Rachelle. Thanks for the grace in dialogue. Give Paul a kiss on the forehead for me; I would love tour the town with him. (Your town, that is, not Denver)

Rachelle July 18, 2008 at 5:55 pm

I’m glad that for you the church has been a good and reliable guide for understanding scripture. I have not found that to be true for myself, but I can hold that it has been true for you in the same wide open palm. (Ah! The joys of postmodernity.)

I too rely on a community of voices to act as my guides: history; inspiration; the juxstaposition of ‘the ideal’ and ‘the actual’ results of various attempts to apply scripture; the wisdom of authors (both Christian and otherwise); and right now, the intutitive wisdom of women who are walking together to find a broader span of knowing of the Divine. I’ve spent years on the Biblical scholarship thing. It feels good now, to see the Book from another angle. Different approaches work for different people at different stages in our spiritual developments. It’s not “either or” but “both and”.

neil July 19, 2008 at 7:26 am

I guess I was posing my dream as hoping to be able to trust the church as a reliable guide, rather than saying that I currently am fully confident that it is so. And along those lines, that’s why I am interested to know how you have come to have your beliefs about scripture and where you find an authoritative guide. *authority* is probably heard as a bad word in so many cases, and I’m assuming to your ears it is heard from a patriarchal point of view when speaking of the church. I understand your point of view there, I think.

The thing I disagree with in the postmodern mindset is relativity. I don’t believe in a strictly black and white world, either. I don’t believe that everyone has their own version of truth. I certainly don’t believe I understand what the full truth is or where to find it all, either. I don’t think postmodernity is something we came up with as a smart solution to history’s problems. I think it’s more of an ethos that happened to us, something that at times can be stifling and that can enslave us. There is a bigger, better version of freedom out there somewhere. I believe postmodernity to offer many false freedoms.

Okay, sorry for the blabbing, I got carried away maybe. What I seek from my questions to you are mostly 2 things: first, an opportunity to practice dialogue with a friend who knows me to a degree, but who I often find myself disagreeing with, but who also knows a bit more about gracious dialogue than I do; and second, to understand perspectives that seem to be growing larger in our culture, large enough to have to pay attention to, perspectives which I’m challenging myself to explore enough to either accept or reject.

All that said (phew and sheesh!), I think I’m getting a better picture of where you find your guides. Thanks for your kind responses. I’ve been thinking about posing some completely different questions for dialogue (perhaps along the lines of art, music, writing, surfing or travel…), but I’ll leave those for an email sometime.

Peace to you, friend.

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