“You Seem American to Me”

I struggle with finding balance for all my experiences and characteristics. It seems that others have a much easier time at expressing themselves in all the ways that they can. Like most Americans, I am multi-ethnic, meaning that I have more than one ethnicity. But my background is more than that, too. I have a Caucasian father and a Puerto Rican mother (and if anyone knows anything about Puerto Ricans, it’s that no matter what percentage it is, it’s Puerto Rican blood nonetheless). I’m not quite multi-cultural in the sense that I was raised in two cultures, but my mom did her best to teach me about Puerto Rican traditions. I’m apparently not really biracial, either, as one co-worker remarked “you seem American to me” after I commented about being biracial. She prodded further, “Do you really consider yourself biracial?” As if to disbelieve that I could be anything more than the one-dimensional office admin.

That’s my issue: people fail to see the multi-dimensional me and I want them to see that. And it’s more than just culture and race, too. I have diverse experiences around the world and in several different communities that it’s hard to piece together. My life feels scattered all over the world, like a dissembled jigsaw puzzle. It’s not that I want the whole world to see who I am–that wouldn’t be possible anyway–but I would like a few friends to see that at least. I think the first time I realized that I wanted a lifelong companion to share all these aspects with was when I stood in front of the Acropolis for the first time and thought “no one will ever know what this means to me.” I want someone to be there for all the important moments in life. Instead, the closest I can get to have that kind of intimacy is in the retelling of those events.

So, my dear co-worker, you see me as the receptionist. But have you seen me with my Puerto Rican family? Have you seen me teach a class? Have you been with me while I lived in the remote areas of Uganda? Or worshipped in a church? In each part of life I am a little different, sometimes very different. I long for someone to see and accept it. Even more, I long for a place where I fit in–but I don’t think there is any place that has all the pieces of the puzzle for me.

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My Opinion on Christian Premarital Sex

A few years ago, I posted a question in an online discussion group that my friend and I created which was exclusive to our Christian undergraduate peers. The question was whether or not premarital sex as a Christian is really a sin and against the Christian lifestyle. Knowing what I had been taught all my life (that sex before marriage is wrong) I had asked for specific Scriptural references. Several friends/members of the group jumped into the discussion to all point out the value of purity, sexual morality, and the special union two people share when they enter into a sexual relationship. Yet no one cited Scripture. I was no dummy–I knew what Christians thought of the subject, but I had wanted to know where they had gotten that idea! In my own studies, I had found nothing that explicitly said where it was absolutely wrong and forbidden.

My inquiry was ignited by a friend, who after spending time in Korea she learned that the Christians there (young and old) do not  have an issue with sex before marriage if the adult couple are in a committed relationship. This gave her (and me) a whole new perspective. I had never considered the possibility that it is even OK in Christian principle. I had just never questioned what had been told of me my whole life. This made me want to think more deeply on the issue rather than dismissing it as heretical. What basis do they have to believe that it’s OK? What basis do I have to believe that it’s not?

Supporting Arguments for Premarital Sex

I asked a family member what she thought. I just don’t know what to think! I said. She very wisely stated an answer that didn’t give an opinion one way or another, but guided me by pointing out that a lot of the Bible, as we know, was written to a culture in a specific era. She pointed out that where we see a lot of verbiage on the subject is in Paul’s letters to the churches, who usually writes concerning a specific issue among church people, not necessarily meant to be taken literally for all readers*. It seems that the issue concerning premarital sex is not mentioned in the Bible directly so that it could be left interpreted and appropriately applied among cultures, time, and individuals.

Not Commandments But Good Advice

When doing a more in-depth study (hermeneutical?) of the Biblical culture, it’s easy to understand why sex before marriage would be a very bad idea. Women were often stoned or outcasted for adultery and promiscuity. A woman was not considered pure unless she were a virgin and was utterly unfit to be a bride if she were not. In fact, to prove the bride’s stature and worth, part of the traditional marriage ceremony was to consummate the marriage in a tent and then show the guests the blood on the sheets to affirm that she is in fact not an adulteress nor promiscuous. Yet this is in lieu of a patriarchal, male-dominating, female subordinating culture in an era that offered no contraceptives–and Paul is merely adding good advice by instating to both men and women to not give in to these desires before marriage.

It’s Meant to Be Interpretable

So does this translate directly into our 21st century Western/globalized world? To answer that question we need to find out what exactly is meant when the Scripture speaks of (or implies) sex, just as we have to for everything else. Does Paul say in 1 Corinthians that we shouldn’t eat meat if it is a weakness for others? Not exactly. The message here is actually that we don’t want to turn others away from the faith with offensive behavior. So then, what is really meant in Scripture regarding sex?

I’ve read the Scriptures which talk about sexual immorality many times but no where is it explicitly said that premarital sex is wrong or that we should only have one sexual partner in our entire lives. Even monogamy is a question with some parts of the Old Testament. Yes, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that it is better not to marry, but that marriage is better than burning with passion yet I am not convinced that not following Paul’s advice is a sin. He only says it is better. But again, we must look at the context. Is it better because of the culture they were living in at the time? Is it better for me? In fact, this passage seems to suggest that it is a choice made by the individual and perhaps it is a case-by-case decision. It can be better for some, not for all.

Define, define, define. That was drilled into my brain as a communication student in college in every single class. Everything I said, every term I used, needed to be defined or have an appositive. I learned to critique rhetoric by analyzing their terminology and definitions. Without a definition, even for a word that we may all know, it may not be received the same way it was meant. What does the Bible mean by “sexual immorality”, “purity”, “passion”, and “marriage”? Because these terms are not fully defined it leaves the reader with no option but to look at context and infer. Was this deliberate or just because the authors of these Scriptures assumed everyone would know what they meant? If it was the latter, then what about the translators who toil over every word to be sure that it is best translated into the most equivalent word that conveys the meaning closest to the original intent? Wouldn’t they have done a better job at making it more clear? It seems as though the authors left some of these things without explicit definitions with wisdom knowing that it’s better to leave it with more interpretability so that it could cross over to future believers of other worlds.

Culture Changes Meaning

Also, I just find it strange that the language that is used to describe women whenever the topic is about sex or marriage the Bible always refers to women as virgins yet when it talks about men, it uses the words “husband” or “man”. Could there be a double standard? Could it just so indicate the heavy cultural boundaries of that era, as I such described earlier? In this same chapter, Paul writes that if the man’s passions are too strong then he should just marry the virgin. Oh if only it were that easy these days! The modern world is so full of options and alternative lifestyles that women and men are in no rush to marry.

If I were living in the Biblical times, I would hope to get married so that I would have property and basically someone to take care of me, and basically so that I wouldn’t be outcasted or homeless. That of course isn’t the way things are these days (and we certainly don’t consider our independence a sin). There wasn’t any dating in the Bible (arranged marriages, usually) but if there were, they would be very short and public courtships, not as drawn-out and intimate as they are today. I read an article about a writer, a Mormon woman, who in had lived most of her adult life a virgin, yet at age 35 she was considered “un-datable”. She wrote, “I’m unwilling to believe that’s what God wants for anyone”, and I agree.

Culture, like time, is not static. It must change. Not everything is universal or timeless. Premarital sex, I think, is an example of standards and how things may vary. It may vary among time, culture, community, individual, or lifetime. My support for premarital sex is not to say that we should to do away with all and any standards regarding sex; simply, just in regards to the inference that Western Christians gleam from strict, antediluvian, patriarchal, and culturally relevant advice from an apostle.

Anyway, if I am completely wrong in my opinion of premarital sex, then this wouldn’t be the only thing I’ve gotten wrong in theology (after all, I only got a B in Intro to Theology!). Thankfully Christianity isn’t about being perfect but about grace.

*i.e. women instructed not to speak in church does not equal all women everywhere cannot utter a word in church, only that those who do not understand the teachings should not interrupt with stupid questions or disrupt with chatter. (Women in those days were not educated and were illiterate, so could not understand the teachings in the temples as well as the men who also probably spoke in a different vernacular that was probably used in the church).

The problem and relativity of pain

I recently had a conversation with an old friend that I have not spoken to since we grew apart. It was the first time in a long time that I had opened up to her about my life. What I found to be so interesting is how I tended to spar with her and best her in our life experiences of pain and suffering.

She cannot understand my pain and how my struggles have led me to who I am today. I feel like her pain is quite so insignificant compared to my own. Yet, I also cannot understand what she has gone through.

As she draws on her own experiences of pain in the attempt to relate to mine, I cast it aside because I believe that she could never understand the depths to which I have been broken. Nor do I believe she can understand the slow, trudging up-hill battle that it has been toward healing.

But, WHY? Why do I feel the desire to be so competitive? Why do I not allow myself to accept her attempts at empathy?

It is all because she has never experienced anything similar.

It is so hard for us as human beings to accept the sympathy of others because we know they have no basis for understanding our predicaments. This is why we gravitate towards and befriends those most like ourselves, those who can truly empathize. These relationships bring with them a feeling of connection, of belonging.

We often forget that simply because others have not had similar experiences, they too experience pain and suffering. Everyone’s experiences are unique. To live in this world is to have experiences of both suffering and joy, hope and anguish. We should never diminish the experiences of others simply because they are dissimilar from ours.

However, the truth still remains that we cannot expect to understand the experiences of every person. And we should not expect them to understand our own lives. It simply is impossible to achieve.

Life is difficult and we’re all flawed and broken in some way or another. We must accept each other as we are. It is a good reminder when you believe are you open and understanding only to realize how judgmental you’ve become.

These are the ravings of an apologetic mad woman.

Why do people justify the bad things people in leadership do?

I don’t normally watch this show, but I watched a blip of Dr. Phil the other day and thought this segment was interesting: http://www.drphil.com/shows/show/1529 The show was about why good people do bad things (like the Stanford Prison Experiment), but I found it interesting when the soldier told Dr. Phil about performing the “suicide test” to please his commander. I have encountered a lot of stories on the news and in my personal life where people who know and respect the person (usually in leadership) stand up for the person’s horrific actions.

I just don’t understand it.

Healthcare Mentality

What is goal of medicine? To cure, of course! It’s supposed to restore health that has degraded. Does it matter how health is restored? Do the means really justify the ends?

To some, this is a complicated issue. Sometimes it’s a political issue (health care plans versus copay), sometimes it’s economical (whether medicinal marijuana will boost jobs and overall market), and sometimes it’s a spiritual conflict (going to witch-doctors or going to church for prayer). And it’s a cultural issue (surprised?).

Western medicine: a cultural analysis

As always, culture seems to affect everything–even our pursuit of the “right” medicine. Most people in the U.S. don’t realize how Western our clinics really are and that there are other forms of medicine that are also valuable to our health. MD’s obtained their degree in Western medical schools, or are otherwise not recognized as valid. In the U.S. and Europe, MD’s have the highest standing in medicine, and all other forms are almost considered imitation, fraudulent, mythical, or evil. Yet actually, many of these other forms of medicine have existed for millennia longer than the relatively recent scientific methods, that have become standardized until around the 18th century during the late modernity phase (at least roughly around that time). It has become so widely accepted since then that the government health care reform and basic health care plans are limited to licensed physicians and clinics.

Western medicine (biomedical) is really about the science. Every prescription drug is tested in a lab to determine if it works. There is extensive research behind finding cures for diseases and the elements in prescripted and most over-the-counter drugs are often manufactured with chemical components. Western medicine, like Western thought, has a vertical alignment: it’s about control and mastery of the disease. The scientific method we use today is mechanistic and limited to what can be seen and tested. What we don’t see and don’t know by facts or tests frighten us; our trust in medicine is in the statistics.

Yet despite our general fear of natural medicine (such as naturopathology) there is a growing trend for yoga, acupuncture, and organic herbs and foods–all of which are ancient Eastern remedies. This may be because testing and statistical analysis gives a positive report on these health methods. (Alternatively, the testing and statistics that show common household products and food as harmful is not always accepted.)

A look at natural medicine

Natural medicine really stems from the humoral theory, which assumes that the balance of the “four humors” is a healthy state, and when one humor is deficient it indicates illness. Natural medicine is also based on natural interactions and is more horizontal in its relationships. For example, earth, wind, water, and fire are all equal in nature and without harmony, this also affects people and life. In this case, all aspects of life are considered to affect health either positively or negatively. Unlike Western medicine, it has no sense of “ego” or “I” as something that should begiven priority or authority over matter. One thing affects the other, in a way. The earth supplies natural remedies when things are ill: ginseng, for example, is known as the “cure-all” by the Chinese. Although to the West, this is almost laughable, but to the Chinese, it has apparently worked to some degree, as it has remained in their traditional medicine for a very long time.

Personalistic Stystems

The most over-looked form of healing is probably the spiritual, which to many people, has no linkage to the flesh whatsoever. How could the spiritual realm reach into the physical? Ever since the Age of Reason and Enlightenment Era, the supernatural has mostly been left out of the equation. It rejected anything to do with spirituality and thereafter has been heavy focus on science. Anything that is superstitious, magical, or religious falls into the excluded category for healing. Even the word healing itself is often associated with spiritual methods. Yet should the West reject the spiritual for help in wellness as we typically do with natural remedies that we are once again learning may actually help? The problem with spiritual assistance is that it requires a submission of control. For many people, this is too much to give up; it’s one thing to extend to the suggestions of natural health teachings, but another to rest the power in the supernatural.

When I was in Uganda, my host mother explained to me that when a person is ill it is because they are spiritually ill. The two are hand in hand. Balance. What is so wrong or scary about seeking that? Yet when natural remedies like ginseng are nearly made fun of, how much more is calling after a spiritual being? Unfortunately, anything like this is seen as  primitive–as something illogical. Although the West is considered going into post-modern era, Western epistemology is still immersed in the Age of Reason.

Politics, economics, religion and culture do affect our decision making with health care. Whatever medical theory we subscribe to, it is impossible to separate from worldview.

White Noise TV

American TV has come a long way from its racism (think: the 1970/80’s sitcom Taxi and the foreigner, Latka, who was coincidentally the stupid guy) but it still has a long way to go. Now it’s not so obvious when there is cultural superiority or racism taking place in TV, but I still get a sense of it when I watch shows like UnderCovers where they cast the whitest looking African-Americans as their leads. Yeah, The Cosby Show was a breakthrough for American television because it was a positive portrait of an African American family, showing that not all black people have to be low-lives. But there is a difference between defying a negative stereotype and hiring actors who can only be as white as possible. But networks like NBC and CBS wouldn’t make as much money if they actually aired African American comedy like Tyler Perry shows during prime time!

The issue of race on TV is still difficult. There are still a lot of jabs against immigration, negative portayals of foreigners (i.e. characterization in Disney media where all foreigners are either stupid or evil), and the general lack of cross-cultural TV shows. We want TV to be funny, so jokes about cross-culture is funny (for example, I love All in the Familyfor its satirical humor) and we want characters to be relatable. The problem is, with the networks aiming for a largely white audience, relatable characters have to be relatable to white people. Maybe the writers do this because they are afraid of stereotyping if they were to make them “un-white” but on the other hand, it makes it look like normalcy is white. [frowny face]

Last night I watched the new NBC show “Outsourced” and thought it was mildly funny loaded with cross-cultural information. Perhaps that’s what the writers were going for, but I thought maybe the humor could have been stronger and the intercultural insights could have been less obvious–it’s almost in both ways they were trying too hard. Of course this television program exists because there is a market for it out there. The audience is vast: the outsourcing of American jobs is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for folks, there is greater interest in traveling abroad among college students, and then perhaps those who experienced India would find it interesting, too. Yet after watching the show I wasn’t too sure who really was the audience. The humor was almost innocent (except for that subtle reference to Internet porn with the boss eating ribs on webcam) that it seemed more suitable for Nickelodeon. Like any other traveler I know, I like to make jokes about the culture differences but maybe I am just biased to my own sense of humor. It’s obvious to me that the audience is at least American because of the design of the show: they had to select the most American looking Indian actors and the office doesn’t look anything like the photos I’ve seen of India. They don’t need to make it look like India’s worst, of course, but they don’t have to make it look like America, either.

Am I just totally off with thinking that American networks are superiorists? (But I still love my American TV time…is that my white side?)

Today in the lunchroom, a co-worker of mine that I’ve never talked to prior came in and we greeted each other. Quickly after some small-talk she asks “Are you a Taurus or Capricorn?” A bit surprised at her out-of-the-blue question, I responded that no, I am Aeries. Apparently she’s an astrologist in training and is always trying to guess people’s sign. Still wanting to practice, she offered to look up my natal chart–and I agreed.

I think most Christians (least the ones I am mostly familiar with) would have said no thanks to the natal chart reading. I was curious about what it might say–and why not? She’s having fun with it, I didn’t mind, and I was kind of making a friend (or as many Christians would put it “building relationships”). So, she read my natal chart to me. A lot of it was pretty accurate (I’d say there were a few things that were majorly off) but vague. I figure any person has those traits in them to some degree and so naturally nod their heads in agreement when a description of their Zodiac is read. Then there was actually a moment when it got kind of eerily accurate–like no one’s business.

Coincidence? Probably. Yet, I’m just now wondering (sort of thinking out loud) if perhaps there is true science in it (sorry astrologers for the insult). From the traditional Christian perspective, astrology and psychic readings are “not from God”, but as I’m just thinking out loud here….I wonder if the Bible really does condemn it. Weren’t the three wise men astronomers? I’m sure there was some astrology mixed in there–after all, they were from the Orient, where we know astrology has it’s roots. I know it’s a weak link–there is no indication that their practices were ungodly–or Godly.

When I was an undergraduate at the Christian university I attended, my professors and classmates would always discuss the importance of contextualism* for cross-cultural ministry. Everybody pretty much assumed this meant to cultures that were really different from our own and that for some reason it was OK to “tweak” the Bible to make sense on their terms but not OK to do that in the American culture (possibly because we were all egotistic and believed we had the correct Biblical practices already down). Now that the U.S. is where I live indefinitely, I’m seeing the need to contextualize in sub-cultures here just as much as elsewhere.

So, I’m willing to be flexible when it comes to getting my natal chart read. I’ll listen with respect and interest–heck, I’ll even take some of its advice! I mean, why not–it’s useful.

Still, I’m not easily convinced that astrology is really a tool to unlocking the human personality. It may be useful, but accuracy is important, too. Just like those 10 question personality tests, the description is too vague–could be anybody.

*In missiology, contextualism goes beyond the Wikipedia definition and is further described as a way to make Biblical concepts understandable and practiced in cross-cultures. For example, prayer in other cultures doesn’t have to be done the same way American churches pray–other cultures prefer communal prayer (everyone prays aloud at once) and the more extreme contextualization regarding prayer includes Muslims praying (and performing all the Islam prayer rituals) to “Issa” (Jesus) in spirit.