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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

How Quitting Prayer Made Me a Believer

This post is copied from here.

I’ve always struggled with the idea of an interventionist God. The idea of treating an omnipotent power like a vending machine: If you put in faith, good works, and requests, you’ll get the world to go your way.
This assumes God operates within a meritocracy. It assumes that the better you are, the better you’ll be treated by the almighty. It assumes you can get everything you want if you just pray hard enough, if you’re holy enough, if you never stray. But when “ask and you shall receive” ends up being your proof of faith, how are we meant to react when God says “no”?

About 17 years ago, I was attending church three times a week. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer and then gone into remission, only to find out that her husband, my stepdad, had been cheating on her while she was in chemo. After an ugly divorce, her cancer returned, but this time it didn’t look like she was going to win.
Church became our solace. The community we built there helped us through her divorce and her illness. They prayed our way through each crises, and I prayed with them.
But each time, God seemed to tell us “no.”
After my mom died, I kept praying. It was inertia. But it gradually began to feel hollow. I didn’t throw a tantrum and tell God, “I’m never speaking to you again.” Instead, it was a slow decline in trust. It was as if I were a child, and my parent had stopped showing up for me.
For someone who’d been so embedded in prayer, and the culture of faith, my decision to stop praying wasn’t easy. When life is hard, hopeless, and confusing, prayer is often the only thing that empowers us. It’s how we fight helplessness.
But when we stop praying, helplessness is all that’s left. For most of us, that’s very uncomfortable. And even after I’d decided to quit, I kept fighting the urge to pray. I’d think: How much easier would it be to say a quick prayer on the off chance it might work?
I’d been leaning on the “We’ll pray for you” method of doing nothing.
Then, I started to notice how often Christians substitute prayer for more direct action.
When was the last time you said you would pray for someone? When’s the last time you actually did? And when’s the last time you did something else to reach out and give support? Offered a meal, an ear, a social connection, a protest sign? I’d been leaning on the “We’ll pray for you” method of doing nothing. By not praying, I forced myself to either admit a passive stance or roll up my sleeves and get to work.
I began to reject prayers from those around me. When someone told me they were going to pray for me, I did not feel grateful. I felt resentful. Though I knew they were coming from a good place, I didn’t want their prayers. I wanted their support, concretely.
To insult people’s prayers is to insult their faith. For many, traditional prayer is a central tenet of faith. I never found a way to have this conversation graciously, to politely acknowledge another’s belief without being made complicit in it. And while I wouldn’t say it was easy to decouple prayer and belief, I found that, ultimately, I still believe in a higher power, even if he doesn’t take requests.

After giving up prayer, a part of me wondered: Did I give up on it too quickly? Is it a valuable tool? Does it actually work?
I did some research. In a study on intercessory prayer concluded in 2006, researchers asked three Christian congregations around the country to pray for 1,802 heart surgery patients. They divided them into three groups: patients who knew they were being prayed for, patients who did not know they were being prayed for, and patients who were not prayed for at all. Thirty days after surgery, it appeared there was no significant difference in results between the group that was prayed for and the group that wasn’t. In fact, the group that was told they were being prayed for actually had a higher incidence of complications post-surgery: 59 percent versus 51 percent.
On the other hand, there have been other smaller studies suggesting that prayer may lend a helping hand. Reachers in Seoul studied 219 infertile women who received in vitro fertilization embryo transfers. Remote prayer was conducted by groups in the United States, Australia, and Canada, and the women were not informed they were being prayed for. The result? Women who were prayed for had nearly double the pregnancy rate of those who had not been prayed for: 50 percent versus 26 percent.
Clearly, we still don’t know whether praying for others works. But maybe there’s a less clinical benefit. A personal reward for prayer, one only I can feel. I wondered: Could a daily prayer practice help me achieve some sort of inner peace? Was I willing to try?

When I was in high school, a counselor taught me to meditate as a strategy to manage my PTSD, and it soon became a consistent part of my mental health regimen. I generally feel better when it’s part of my daily routine, and science backs that up. Meditation has been linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduction in anxiety, stress, and pain, as well as a heightened immune response.
Meditation soon became my replacement for prayer.
When meditation is given a spiritual quality, instead of simply sticking to the secular, it can be even more effective. In a study of migraine sufferers, one group was asked to meditate for 20 minutes a day with the mantra “God is good. God is peace. God is love.” Another group was asked to meditate with a more neutral mantra, “Grass is green. Sand is soft.” After a month, the group that meditated on God reported a greater decrease in migraines.
Meditation has been linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduction in anxiety, stress, and pain, as well as a heightened immune response.
Once meditation was already a part of my daily practice, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to give it a more spiritual charge. In fact, it might help. And because it felt different from traditional Christian prayer, it was less likely to bring up all the negative feelings of theistic abandonment.
But how could I incorporate the highly Westernized version of prayer that I’d been taught with my Eastern meditation practice? Both would have to shift.
I returned to the prayers I’d learned growing up, specifically the Lord’s Prayera model from which all other prayers should follow. I’m not a theologian, but I’ve bounced around enough denominations at this point to understand that the Lord’s Prayer is essentialit may be one of the only things all Christians can agree on. When I stopped reciting the Lord’s Prayer by rote and really unpacked it, I began to realize that my understanding of what prayer should be was warped.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we’re taught to include three things: praise, submission, and request. And it’s the last part that trips me up, because there are only three requests in the Lord’s Prayer: for bread, for forgiveness, and for guidance. That’s it.
How freeing! None of what Westernized religion had taught me to pray forhealth, wealth, personal successwere there. How much easier would it have been to accept my mother’s death if I’d been asking for forgiveness and guidance instead of health? Maybe it wasn’t that God hadn’t shown up, but that I’d been asking for the wrong things. He’d never made a promise to fix me, or my mom, upon request.
Instead of asking, maybe I should have been listening. After all, if you believe that God gives us gifts and talents, then maybe it’s our job to do the fixing. With guidance, of course.

I still don’t prayat least, not in the typical way. I do try to make time each day, however, to sit and listen. My time with God is a time of quiet and stillness. It’s a time to let clarity come to me slowly, gently, instead of demanding it on cue.
I will probably never tell you that I’ve been praying for you. What I will do is consider the gifts I have been given, and listen for ways that I can use them to truly help you. Then, I’ll get to work.

To My Mom, and the Cult that Tore Our Family Apart

This post is copied from this link.

I’m about to tell you the worst imaginable thing; I’m admitting that I am an Apostate.
For those of you reading along at home, that means I’ve spoken out against what my mom’s religion refers to as “The Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, directs all of the actions of their organization and leads the men in charge to make the decisions that God wants them to.
I know this means you probably won’t talk to me ever again. If you follow their rules, you won’t even invite me to grandma’s funeral, and I won’t be welcome at yours. But I want you to reconsider.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) actually have two forms of extreme shunning. The better-known form is called “disfellowshipping.” It usually lasts a minimum of six months, but can be reversed once the member is found to be “repentant.” The other, less talked about, form of shunning is to label someone as an “Apostate.” This means they have said or done something in direct opposition to the organization. The punishment for this is non-negotiable. The Apostate can never return; they are not to be spoken to, or even mentioned, again. Family and friends are instructed to act as if the Apostate is dead. If a member breaks these rules, they too will find themselves disfellowshipped or marked as an Apostate very quickly.
I want you to take a hard look at the organization of men you serve, and what they are asking you to do. I want you to think about it as someone who hasn’t sacrificed 30+ years of their lives for it. I want you to think clearly and rationally, even though being in a cult makes that hard.
When I was a baby in my mom’s arms, they came knocking on her trailer door in rural Arkansas. She was fresh out of prison and hadn’t gotten her pardon yet. Her three children had different dads and none of them were in the picture. You might say she was in a hard spot. You might have heard that JWs target people in hard spots, as many cults do, and keep them through doctrine.
All I’m doing is expressing a contrary opinion. I can do this with my Catholic friends, my Muslim friends, my Hindu friends, and my agnostic friends. Why can’t I do this with you? Are your beliefs truly beyond scrutiny?
Do you really think it’s normal for a religion to ask you to not have a close relationship with your children and grandchildren? When was the last time you spoke to or saw your oldest child? Do you really think wishing any of us happy birthday will destroy our spirituality, or chances of salvation?
For the record, my mom celebrated my first birthday. It was before she was baptized — which is the point from which breaking the rules will result in discipline or shunning — but shewas studying at the time. Her guilt in the matter was overwhelming, and last I heard she still felt bad for this “sin.”
Do you know how many children were abused like me? Do you know how many families they’ve broken to hide and protect pedophiles? Do you remember how, when I was fifteen and still looked twelve, he kissed me? And how nobody went to the police? And how the elders punished me? Do you really, really think that’s normal? Do you know that’s part of their policy, handed down by the Holy Spirit? Do you really think it’s okay to protect Jehovah’s name before victims of sexual abuse?
The JWs maintain a “two-witness policy” which requires at least two members, in good standing, to have witnessed a thing for it to be valid. Here is a BBC article explaining it.
I’m not blaming you for the decisions they’ve coerced you into making, but I am asking you to consider them with some real scrutiny. A big part of what you always liked about the organization was that, in your words, they encouraged their members to really study, and think deeply. They said we should not blindly follow, but have a deep understanding of our beliefs.
So ask yourself: Do you think it’s right that positions of leadership, down to who gets to hold a microphone or say a prayer, should all be in the hands of men? Do you honestly think women are inferior, and should be subjects of men?
JWs maintain that women are not to hold positions of power, of any sort. They are to be in subjection to their husbands. When I was nine, my mom married a member in good standing. They never told us why he wasn’t allowed to see his other daughters, but I have my suspicions. He became progressively more abusive after they were married, but the elders kept telling mom to display humility with her husband, and to be “meek.” She was eventually disfellowshipped for leaving him and marrying another member after a decade of celibacy.
Do you really think Jehovah disapproved of your relationship with Stefan? Do you really think his Holy Spirit directed them to punish you for it while you cared for your dying father? Do you really think these men have the right to dictate your life the way they have for the past thirty years?
If you were to research on your own, you would see just how flawed both the doctrines and policies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are. But you refuse to look outside your own circle of influence because you are scared. You have been told that anything that contradicts how these men interpret the Bible is wrong, and anything that disproves their policies is Apostate. How could you logically consider or evaluate what they’re asking you to do while doing it? It is literally impossible.
And I know you think they have done so much for you. But let’s consider what has really happened since you joined. You had a rough past and decided to clean it up in your late 20s. Some people told you they would help you out if you followed a few simple rules. The rules weren’t simple, but then they promised everlasting life. That’s kind of ridiculous, if you think about it, but you were told you could bring your children so long as you raised them to love Jehovah. They raped your youngest, turned your middle child into a pretentious asshole, turned your oldest into a stranger. They punished you when you had proof of your spiritual cleanliness, and you took it.
This leads me to believe that you are scared, tired, and possibly defeated. You have spent over half of your life investing in a lie, and to acknowledge it now would break everything you know. They are your support system and your social life. You traded your family, higher education, career advancement, and financial security for this.
I know what it’s like to leave and have almost no one.
I was disfellowshipped after years of sexual abuse, and later reinstated so that my mom would talk to me. They punished me for being a victim. They do this often.
It’s been fourteen years since I’ve stepped foot in a Kingdom Hall.
JWs have their own vocabulary for everything. You’re not allowed to call it “going to church.” It’s not a church. It’s a Kingdom Hall. Sigh.
And the truth is, the only reason you’d ever find me back in one is to confront the elders about their abuse, or to convince people to leave. That’s right Mom, I’m the worst thing you could ever imagine. I’m an Apostate, and I’m proud of it.
I know that means you’re probably going to chose Jehovah’s Witnesses over me, again. I understand why you’d do that, but I want you to know that I will always love you and hold out hope that you break free. That you realize these are just men, without any real connection to God.
I hope that someday you will be proud of me. I hope you will understand what a fantastic daughter you raised. How strong and tenacious I am, how fiercely I fight for what I believe in, and how much I love you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What we can learn from an Indonesian ethnicity that recognizes five genders

taken from here

Copied and pasted from this link.

On June 13, when a judge in Oregon allowed a person to legally choose neither sex and be classified as “nonbinary,” transgender activists rejoiced. It’s thought to be the first ruling of its kind in a country that, until now, has required that people mark “male” or “female” on official identity documents.
The small victory comes in the wake of a controversial new law in North Carolina that prevents transgender people from using public restrooms that do not match the sex on their birth certificates.
The conflict rooted in these recent policies is nothing new; for years, people have been asking questions about whether the “sex” we are born with should dictate things like which public facilities we can use, what to tick on our passport application and who’s eligible to play on particular sports teams.
But what if gender were viewed the same way sex researcher Alfred Kinsey famously depicted sexuality – as something along a sliding scale?
In fact, there’s an ethnic group in South Sulawesi, Indonesia – the Bugis – that views gender this way. For my Ph.D. research, I lived in South Sulawesi in the late 1990s to learn more about the Bugis' various ways of understanding sex and gender. I eventually detailed these conceptualizations in my book “Gender Diversity in Indonesia.”

Does society dictate our gender?

For many thinkers, such as gender theorist Judith Butler, requiring everyone to choose between the “female” and “male” toilet is absurd because there is no such thing as sex to begin with.
According to this strain of thinking, sex doesn’t mean anything until we become engendered and start performing “sex” through our dress, our walk, our talk. In other words, having a penis means nothing before society starts telling you that if you have one you shouldn’t wear a skirt (well, unless it’s a kilt).
Nonetheless, most talk about sex as if everyone on the planet was born either female or male. Gender theorists like Butler would argue that humans are far too complex and diverse to enable all seven billion of us to be evenly split into one of two camps.
This comes across most clearly in how doctors treat children born with “indeterminate” sex (such as those born with androgen insensitivity syndromehypospadias or Klinefelter syndrome). In cases where a child’s sex is indeterminate, doctors used to simply measure the appendage to see if the clitoris was too long – and therefore, must be labeled a penis – or vice versa. Such moves arbitrarily forced a child under the umbrella of one sex or the other, rather than letting the child grow naturally with their body.
taken from this link 

Gender on a spectrum

Perhaps a more useful way to think about sex is to see sex as a spectrum.
While all societies are highly and diversely gendered, with specific roles for women and men, there are also certain societies – or, at least, individuals within societies – who have nuanced understandings of the relationship between sex (our physical bodies), gender (what culture makes of those bodies) and sexuality (which kinds of bodies we desire).
Indonesia may be in the press for terror attacks and executions, but it’s actually a very tolerant country. In fact, Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest democracy, and furthermore, unlike North Carolina, it currently has no anti-LGBT policy. Moreover, Indonesians can select “transgender” (waria) on their identity card (although given the recent, unprecedented wave of violence against LGBT people, this may change).
The Bugis are the largest ethnic group in South Sulawesi, numbering around three million people. Most Bugis are Muslim, but there are many pre-Islamic rituals that continue to be honored in Bugis culture, which include distinct views of gender and sexuality.
Their language offers five terms referencing various combinations of sex, gender and sexuality: makkunrai (“female women”), oroani (“male men”),calalai (“female men”), calabai (“male women”) and bissu (“transgender priests”). These definitions are not exact, but suffice.
During the early part of my Ph.D. research, I was talking with a man who, despite having no formal education, was a critical social thinker.
As I was puzzling about how Bugis might conceptualize sex, gender and sexuality, he pointed out to me that I was mistaken in thinking that there were just two discrete sexes, female and male. Rather, he told me that we are all on a spectrum:
Imagine someone is here at this end of a line and that they are, what would you call it, XX, and then you travel along this line until you get to the other end, and that’s XY. But along this line are all sorts of people with all sorts of different makeups and characters.
This spectrum of sex is a good way of thinking about the complexity and diversity of humans. When sex is viewed through this lens, North Carolina’s law prohibiting people from choosing which toilet they can use sounds arbitrary, forcing people to fit into spaces that might conflict with their identities.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Marriage-Oriented Society

More or less ten years ago, I believed that only in Indonesia (plus perhaps some neighboring countries) we could find people who adore marriage. The so-called (boring) “normal” life cycle for Indonesian people is this : being born – going to school – going to college – graduating – getting a job – getting married – having kids – getting old – finish.  :) To be (considered to be) happy, someone MUST get married, then MUST have kids. Without getting married and having kids, someone’s life is considered not complete, even perhaps dull.

While watching serials in Sex and the City (season 5 dan 6) around a decade ago, I noticed that for New Yorkers, to be considered happy, there are three things they must have (1) established job (2) house (3) life partner. 

The main focus of Indonesians and New Yorkers are a bit different. But there is one similarity : life partner, although in Indonesia, someone must get married (legally) in order to avoid being gossiped by neighbors, (cohabitation is still considered morally low here) while in New York, someone does not need to get married, as long as they have life partner. 

Recently I have started watching SATC again, but this time starting from season 1 and 2. In these two seasons, the four girls were still single, changing dates very often. I saw how unhappy they were when they broke up, or when they had no dates. Despite the fact that they wanted to be known as “being single and happy”. Isn’t it contradictory? This made me question whether this serial really wanted to show that girls can choose to be single and happy? 

We know that by the end of the serial (season 6), Miranda and Charlotte both were illustrated as happily married. Samantha was happy with her young boyfriend, Smith. Meanwhile, Carrie (eventually) married Mr. Big in the movie. :)

Perhaps marriage-oriented society still lingers everywhere, not just in the developing countries. J Feminists still have to struggle to convince society – especially girls – that to live single and happy is absolutely possible. Well, at least, minimize the number of people who choose to get married only because of social pressure. Get married when they are really ready for that.

LG 2015 - 2016

The pic was taken from here