Does the abstinence doctrine really exist in the Bible?

I am often fascinated by tactics of the enemy. Satan is a master manipulator, who has been around a long time, but there’s this interesting tactic that he used in the garden:

God: “You may freely eat from any tree, except for the tree of Knowledge, otherwise you’ll die”

Satan: “Did God really say that you couldn’t eat from any tree?”

Eve: “We can eat from any tree, but we can’t even touch the tree of Knowledge”

Why was it important for satan to convince Eve that she couldn’t touch the tree? Why was satan trying to paint God as someone who was so rigid?

I can see this tactic applied in a myriad of ways. Religion itself is based around this simple manipulation tactic: add more rules than God did, and put words in His mouth. In this way, you can deceive mankind in two ways: first, his view of God will be shattered, and second, his view of himself will be shattered.

We need to be incredibly vigilant then, that we don’t “add or take away anything” from the Bible. And this is where pretty much every conservative church denomination would echo an “amen” and I’d get that approving look from a pastor — until you bring it uncomfortably home:

The Bible doesn’t directly forbid premarital sex.

That statement has been about an 8 month journey for me, and by far the most uncomfortable one I’ve come to believe. Before you assume, no, it didn’t come because I had an “oops” moment and had sex. It didn’t come because I’m wanting to justify myself and I gave myself a free pass. It didn’t come from doing some kind of “plug my ears and hum” routine. Quite the opposite actually…

One of my guy friends sort of rediscovered his faith recently. He grew up conservative, and legalistic, and recently made a huge lifestyle change. He told me that he wasn’t sure what the bible said, but that he prayed about having sex with his girlfriend and got a thumbs up.

Thinking that wasn’t a very thorough way to test whether or not God gave something a thumbs up — I went home and decided to do a full study in order to prove what I already knew: God wants sex to be within marriage alone. Here are the rules:

  1. Best argument wins. Doesn’t matter which side wins, I will go at this completely unbiased
  2. I will devote adequate energy to both sides.
  3. I’m not going to be having sex with anyone in the meantime

To be honest, I naturally had a little bias towards abstinence, because I was a perfect candidate. I had gotten a purity ring at 13. I had waited until 29 to have sex. I have seen what it’s like to wait, and what it’s like to “lose it”.

I had this great argument in my head: “it’s worth waiting for. I know what it did to me and the damage that it caused. I want to wait for my next girl”

I mean, it’s romantic, it’s idealistic, and it probably has potential to save you some heart ache.

While my backstory may not be incredibly important, I want to convey my state of mind here. I wasn’t coming at this wanting an excuse to have fun. I wasn’t wanting to go to great lengths to justify something. I went down this journey so that I could give a new believer some definitive scriptural ammo.

What the Bible says…

At first glance, it would appear that the Bible is pretty clear on it:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? Flee sexual immorality. Every sin, whatever if a man might do, is outside the body, but the one sinning sexually sins against the own body” – I Corinthians 6

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” – Hebrews 13

“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” I Cornithians 7

Awesome! Close up the book and end the argument! At least that’s what I wanted to do. But my rules were that I was going to devote adequate energy to both sides. So, as in most cases of the Bible, the original Greek and context make a world of difference. So I went to Blue Letter Bible and looked up the Greek word for “sexual immorality” and found out that it was this word called, “porneia”. A few google searches later and I found that “porneia” was a word that often meant “impermissible sexual acts” so fornication, adultery, pornography, and prostitution. Great!

But then I discovered that porneia was a word that had progressed throughout the years of the church. You see, like most words, there is a progression of the meaning throughout time. A word can start and end in two entirely different places throughout hundreds or thousands of years. Modern cuss words are a great example of that today. Ok, so here’s the million dollar question, where did that word start, and where did it end? More importantly, what did it mean in Corinth in 70 A.D?

A little Etymology…

Porneia was first recorded around 340 B.C. and it was originally “adultery with a female prostitute”. The context of it was “In seeking to discredit a rival, the Athenian orator and politician Apollodorus charged his enemy’s partner Neaira with being a porne” (more info here) — that is, someone who has sex with prostitutes. It was meant to be a jeer and an insult.

After 300 years to the time of Paul, the word progressed to be a bit more encompassing. Rather than just “adultery with a female prostitute”, it had a more general, “sex with a woman who has no status”.

To further understand this word, another word is helpful: “moichaō”

In ancient culture, a woman’s status was determined by men in her life — either a husband, a father, or a brother. Harsh, I know, but a woman who had no man, had no status. Additionally, if a woman’s virginity was taken, she lost her status and brought shame on her father or brother and she wouldn’t have any chance of marrying a man of good reputation.

So you see, whenever you see “adultery” in the New Testament, they are using the word “moichaō”. They are partially correct in this translation, but a more correct way to translate this word would be, “sex that hurts a male 3rd party”. Yes, I know, sexist and pretty horrible, but the Bible didn’t invent this word: Ancient Greek culture did, and Ancient Greek culture was pretty terrible. So, in that sense, moichaō would be “sex with another man’s wife”, but it would also include, “sex with a man’s virgin daughter” or “sex with a man’s virgin sister”.

Sex, for a woman in ancient culture, was all about status.

This wasn’t confined to Jewish culture. It was worse in Greek culture. The ancient Greeks wanted to stop their men from ruining women of status (and thus, hurting men), and could be summed up with the pithy statement: “forbid moichaō (sex that hurts a male 3rd party) by building brothels”. In that culture, sex with a prostitute was a way to “scratch an itch” and was considered a way to discourage you from having sex with your neighbor’s wife or virgin daughter. Wives had no say in that practice, and it was a way to say, “hey, we’ve created an alternative so that your animalistic urges don’t ruin a woman of status and thus, hurt another man”. It was allowed, but kind of mocked — much like pornography today.

Enter “porneia”. The word is the solution to moichaō. In 70 A.D. it would have probably been best described as “sex that doesn’t hurt a third party male and thus, is careless and meaningless”.

Ok, now with that context, let’s revisit those verses:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? Flee ‘porneia’. Every sin, whatever if a man might do, is outside the body, but the one sinning sexually sins against the own body”

Paul here is clearly talking about sex with a prostitute and he is insulted by the idea of making sex so cheap and meaningless.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” — For God will judge “moichaō” and “porneia”. He’s countering a very misogynistic culture that says that married men are allowed to partake in “porneia”.

Paul continues:

“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But because of the temptation to “porneia”, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”

Do you realize how incredible this statement is? It would have been shocking in that culture to say that a woman has just as much right over her husband as a husband has over his wife. And you notice that it’s “because of the temptation to porneia”. The context here cannot be understated.

The church gave the word a meaning of its own throughout the years

Throughout the years, the church adopted the word “porneia” to be a sort of catch-all for any kind of sex the church deemed immoral. It lost its context and became a “church word”. That’s why the meaning today is so confusing: most lexicons make it an all-encompassing word that includes “fornication”. However, we can blame the hundreds of years of church culture for where this word ended up.

Remember that tactic that I talked about outlined in the Garden of Eden? It is incredibly important that we don’t put words into God’s mouth. God didn’t tell Eve that they couldn’t touch the tree, only that they couldn’t eat from it, and satan was trying to get Eve to go even further to say “is it true that God doesn’t want you to eat from any trees in the Garden?”. So here are a few things that Paul (or any other New Testament writer) doesn’t say that he could have easily said:

“Any sex outside of marriage is a sin”

“Sex is meant for marriage”

With that said, the most convincing argument that I heard supporting sex within marriage was the part of the verse above: “But because of the temptation to ‘porneia’, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” — the idea being that the solution to wanting sex would be to get married. There is an implication here that Paul has three options:

  1. Abstain from sex entirely and be celibate (like him)
  2. Be tempted to have careless and shameful sex
  3. Get married

However, in that time period and culture, those were literally the only options. We’re talking about a culture that would toss a woman’s eligibility aside if she wasn’t a virgin, and a time period where they hadn’t invented birth control, so any sex outside of marriage ran the risk of leaving a woman alone and helpless with a child.

Paul doesn’t just simply say (as he could have), “If you can’t be celibate, you should get married” — he includes, “because of the temptation to ‘porneia’”. In other words, “let me give you reasons that are culturally relevant”.

So where does that leave us? Let’s compare cultures:

Ancient Greece

  • A woman’s status was defined by a man
  • A woman’s virginity dictated her value in society
  • A sexually active woman always ran the risk of getting pregnant and having no means to raise a child alone

Modern Culture

  • A woman has all of the same status as a man
  • A woman’s virginity makes no difference in society
  • A woman’s chances of getting pregnant can be nearly zero, and she has all of the financial opportunities as a man, even if she were to be a single mother

What Paul is saying would be akin to:

“It’s good to have a furnace, and it is good to have a wood burning stove. However, because of Y2K, you should get a wood burning stove”.

If we read that today, we’d be like, “well since I don’t have to worry about Y2K, I’m pretty sure a wood burning stove isn’t 100% applicable here”. Now take that example and apply it to “because of the temptation of porneia, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband”

So it is essentially this:

Romans and Greeks saw sex as a cultural construct. Everything is fine unless you hurt another man by sleeping with his wife, daughter, or sister.

An ancient group of “Stoics” saw anything resembling sex as “sensual” and “to be avoided” to find true enlightenment (sound familiar?)

Paul started a sexual revolution by saying “sex is sacred and significant”

The history of the morality of ancient culture is too expansive a topic to be fully touched on here, but it’s worth noting what Roman historian Kyle Harper said on the topic:

“Moving in a society where it was totally unexceptional—and casually expected—for men to indulge their sexual desires with prostitutes, slaves, and others who lacked social honor, Paul forbade it. Not only that, he proclaimed sexual congress to be a mysterious union of the flesh, something of transcendent significance. The body is a temple, a site of sacred communication. Sexual sin, therefore, is a kind of pollution, as scandalous and disruptive as the desecration of a holy sanctum. We are a long way from the rigorous but pragmatic counsels of Epictetus. The Stoic urged self-control, on the grounds that physical pleasure was a dangerous distraction from the virtuous life. Paul does so because sex implicates us in something with sacred significance.”

So by taking all of that into account, here’s what I can say about sex from a biblical standpoint — this is my version of: “You may eat any fruit in the Garden, but don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge, otherwise you will die”…no more, no less:

  1. Sex is never meant to be casual, meaningless, or to “scratch an itch”. It is a deeply personal experience that makes you “one” with a person and you should treat it as such. You can offend the Holy Spirit within you, as well as betray your own body by having careless and meaningless sex
    1. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”
    2. “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.'”
  2. If you are married, sex with someone else is never ok. This would include open marriages, etc
    1. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
  3. Illicit and shameful sex is always wrong. There was a word for this in Greek “aselgeia” and it meant a shocking and filthy kind of sexual act. Unfortunately, this word is often just translated as “sensuality” in the bible, which is infuriatingly inaccurate
    1. “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality (aselgeia), not in strife and jealousy.”

That’s what the bible says. No more, no less.

This isn’t a license. It’s not a black and white, “oh this means that now I can have sex with whomever I want” and it’s a free for all. There are clear guidelines and those include taking sex seriously. I can’t understate that. Sex is incredibly powerful and the bible reinforces that.

However, the whole abstinence and purity movement hinges on black and whites that the bible never drew up.

I personally believe that this issue is gray in the bible for a reason. And for whatever reason, God didn’t choose to include the abstinence doctrine in the bible, despite 2000 years of church tradition making that a topic so engrained that we wouldn’t even question it. Whatever you do with that fact from here is up to you and God.

Of Nike, Kaepernick, and Referees

I rarely ever post political things. This isn’t because I don’t have an interest or a desire to be aware of politics. It is because politics are one of the most polarizing arena’s and, call it “middle child syndrome,” but I constantly feel the need to play referee in the fray.

Last week, Nike released an ad showcasing the very controversial Colin Kaepernick (as you may recall, it was Kaepernick who started the movement of not standing during the national anthem). At first, Nike’s stock plummeted. The right-leaning supporters pointed fingers in a childish “serves you right” kind of way, just to have the stocks start to rise again days later, which then had the left-leaning supporters pointing fingers in a “I told ya so” kind of way. And thus, explains my hesitance to ever get into the middle of these kinds of things…

The truth of what actually happened unsurprisingly lies somewhere in the middle. Nike was in the midst of it’s most successful year ever before the ad. Then the ad hit and their stocks plummeted briefly, but then soon after, they began the same trajectory upwards that they had before and made it all too convenient to say “Nike hits record stocks after Kaepernick ad!”.

So now to the actual moral issue at hand: Let’s be clear, Nike is not a humanitarian company. Nike has frequently been plagued by humanitarian horrors, and it’s plagued them since their cruel working conditions were uncovered in the 90s:

“Workers complain that many faint during shift from exhaustion, heat, fumes and poor nutrition. Ernst and Young similarly found in China that the plants have no safety goggles, fume hoods or gloves for workers handling dangerous chemicals such as benzene and toluene, a known carcinogen that poses a fatal risk. Exposure rates were upwards of 177 times that considered dangerous. In the same Chinese factory, almost 78% of the workers had a respiratory disease. Despite the respiratory illness, not one of the workers had been moved to a department that was free from these dangerous chemicals.”

It took a CBS special investigation to finally bring those horrors to the public light, and only then did Nike agree to adapt a Code of Conduct. However:

“According to the Educating for Justice group, between 50 and 100 percent of Nike factories require more working hours than those permitted by the Code of Conduct. In 25 to 50 percent of factories, workers are required to work 7 days a week, and in the same percentage of factories, workers are still paid less than the local minimum wage.”

Let’s not forget, Nike builds these factories in places like Vietnam and South Africa because they can get away with paying them $73.94 and $31.43 per MONTH, respectively. It would take 2 months for Nike to have paid one of their Vietnamese workers what they will sell one pair of shoes for.

So as far as ethics go, it seems all too American of us to flood to the stores to support Nike because of an ad that they ran, without even stopping to consider if they are putting their money where their mouth is. Nike doesn’t care about people. Nike cares about money.

So then there’s the curious experiment about our nation: perhaps it says a lot about the civil rights movement if Nike’s stocks rise? Or perhaps it says a lot about the right-leaning movement if Nike stocks take a hit? Party wars are fun right? Because it’s like cheering on your favorite football team. Except it’s not. Try explaining to a Vietnamese woman — who works ungodly hours and still can’t make enough to live — that the reason you’re cheering on the corporation that is oppressing her is because of a fun political party rival. Besides, the fact that Nike is having a record year in sales is something to celebrate right?

If the left were to actually care about human rights more than their “party badges,” they would have called Nike out for their hypocrisy and boycotted Nike for attempting to use an ad to pander and manipulate the left into believing that Nike, as a company, cares about people.

The right constantly complains that they are falsely accused of cruelty, when in fact, (or so they would claim) they are the one’s who are helping people. If that’s the case, then your Nike shoe-burning social media posts and boycotts should have started a long time ago, not just when it became a convenient club to bash the left with.

Lastly, if Colin Kaepernick actually cared about humanitarian efforts, he would have done his homework and refused to be the face of a company that cruelly takes advantage of the laws of 3rd world countries in order to exploit the people working there.

Right, left, conservative, liberal — I’m frustrated by the smokescreens that everyone buys into. What if we stood on principles instead of parties? Maybe then we could actually get something done.

See? I told you, it sucks being the referee.

Operation – Make Mondays Happy Again

Mondays. For most people, just that word is enough to cause a sigh and a long list of negative associations. It’s like sledding: for most of the week you climb that hill with your sled, trudging up as far as you can, until 5:00pm on Friday rolls around and you can actually start sledding down the hill. You have a ton of fun through Saturday, relax on Sunday, and then Monday begins the climb back up the hill.

Mondays are even worse for entrepreneurs I think. People wake up on Monday and are often in a bad mood and forcing themselves to be productive. In consequence, they come up with all kinds of “urgent situations” and this turns into a sort of “kick the dog” scenario where the president kicks the COO who kicks the assistant who kicks the department lead and somewhere down the line, the entrepreneur gets kicked because he’s supposed to offer a service somewhere in the mix, and then down the line it goes until the kid kicks the dog.

So what happens to the entrepreneur, is that (in my case) I have 5-6 clients that I could be working with at the same time. So I end up getting kicked 5-6 times on Monday.

My phone and email blows up with all of these “urgent” requests and everyone wants to know what my plans are to resolve their issue so that they can report back up the chain of command.

Monday is the day that everyone holds a lighter in one hand, and a fire extinguisher in the other. They start fires for those below them, and try and put out the ones that their superiors light above them. The entrepreneur ends up trying to put out 5-6 fires and in my experience, wastes so much of their peace and energy and enjoyment to try and please a group of people who are too stressed to prioritize or negotiate respectful timelines and expectations.

I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur now for 2 years. It took me more than a year and half before I realized that it was possible to actually enjoy the start of your week. Believe it or not, the entrepreneur can have better Mondays than those who are employed by others…it just takes a few uncomfortable weeks to set a premise.

Enter, Operation: Make Mondays Happy Again

I decided to try something out: take Monday off. Tell my clients that I will be out of the office on Mondays, and will return on Tuesday. To take it a step further, I decided to plan to make Monday my favorite day, by making it a day for me. I record music, write a blog, go shopping, work out and any and all hobbies that might sound good at the time. I also spend a portion of the day setting things up for the week.

At first, my clients were confused and some of them made such a fuss over the high priority nature of the task, that my first Monday was only a half day off. But after a couple of weeks, my clients started to get used to it. They stopped reaching out, because I would just politely reply, “I’m sorry, I’m not in the office on Mondays, but I will review this task tomorrow”.

The result was incredible. Strangely enough, issues that were “ASAP!” and high priority and high stress environments — those same issues weren’t a big deal on Tuesday morning. When they would reiterate Monday’s request on Tuesday, it was delivered with a realistic suggested timeline, and some tasks ended up being forgotten altogether.

High priority doesn’t always mean highly important. Being busy doesn’t always mean being productive. In a scramble to feel as if you are being productive, you often forget to see if that task is even necessary, or worse, if that same task could be done in a different way that might be more efficient or provide better results. Nothing makes you spin your wheels unnecessarily, more than a stressful environment and high tension demands.

Inventory of my time made me realize that Mondays were responsible for 90% of the hours that were busy but not really making an impact towards anything.

What happened when I turned Monday into me-time, was that I was able to better prepare for things. I would clean my house, meal prep, play music, go get a massage, strategize the week, etc. and by the time Tuesday arrived, I was in a good mood and ready to take on my tasks with vigor.

As far as productivity is concerned, I accomplish more during the weeks where I take Monday off. It’s that simple.

I used to go to bed really late on Sunday night, because I dreaded Monday morning and I would want to squeeze every bit of freedom out of my weekend before I would have to wake up to the chaos. I used to feel like someone kicked me in the gut by the time Monday was over, and it would set the tone and stress levels for me for the entire week. Now, I relax and go to bed early. I wake up in a good mood, and look forward to finally getting to invest in myself.

Work a few hours on Saturday or Sunday if you really need to. Work longer days from Tuesday-Friday. Get creative. Just do your sanity a favor, and avoid getting in line with the firing squad that is Monday morning.

Most people don’t stop to think about what’s effective. They are more concerned with what appears diligent. It is because of this, that you might get some pushback, especially in the initial stages. But the benefits far outweigh the discomfort and if you are an entrepreneur, I would suggest that you are one of the few people who are even capable of defying this poisonous habit of turning one day of your week into the day you hate the most. And if us entrepreneurs pick up the torch, who knows? Maybe we’ll get others to follow.

A Backpacker’s Crash Course To Europe

Last fall, I had the opportunity to backpack Europe for just shy of 2 months. I left with not much of a game plan, and learned nearly every perceivable lesson the hard way. Despite this, it was an incredible trip that I was so fortunate to have taken.

After I returned home, I had multiple friends of mine who felt inspired to do the very same thing, and many of them were asking for advice on exactly how to do it.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to do it, but you just never knew where to start? Perhaps you never thought you could afford it? Perhaps you are just scared of being alone, overseas? This blog post is my attempt to answer many of those questions, as well as give you some practical advice on how to make it as fun an affordable as possible.

It’s not as expensive as you might think

1) Timing is crucial

I for one, don’t really care if I’m in Europe in July or September, but apparently that’s not the case for many. If you extend your trip to late Summer and early Fall, you’ll save thousands, not just in airfare, but in bus fare and lodging as well. Besides, Europe in the Fall is gorgeous.

2) Airfare.

I think the first obstacle that many face when they plan to go overseas, is the price of airfare. When I initially researched the idea, I nearly lost hope, as most tickets I found were in the $2,000-$3,000 range and my budget seemed entirely unrealistic. It was quite a pleasant surprise then, when some friends of mine referred me to websites that became a staple in the rest of my European travel. Here are some that I used to find tickets well south of $500:

Get to the East Coast first

The biggest mistake that I see, is when people try to book direct flights out of Denver or Chicago. Getting to the East Coast is fairly cheap if you shop deals with Southwest or Frontier. From there, flights to Europe are incredibly reasonable if you know where to look.

WOW Airlines

Based in Iceland, WOW Airlines not only offers nearly unbeatable prices from the East Coast to some of the major stops in Europe, but they offer to let you take a stopover in Iceland for no extra charge. As I’m writing this, you can go from Boston to Amsterdam in September for $200. Seems too good to be true right? It’s not. I did it last Fall.

Pro Tip: Don’t book round trip. Fly from US to Europe in the American version of the site, and then change to the European version of the site to book your flight home. Strangely enough, I found cheaper return flights that way, even considering the currency change. Sure, it’s not much of a difference, but who doesn’t like saving $10 when they can?

Norwegian Airlines

I’m not sure how they do it, but Norwegian Airlines manages to have even cheaper flights than WOW Airlines. You won’t get the option to have a stopover in Iceland, but it’s a great flight to book on your way home, after you’ve seen Iceland on your way out. If you book from the East coast in late Summer or early Fall, you can get flights South of $200*.

*Note, there is extra cost for baggage. If you are like me and managed to get everything into a large back pack, then you’ll be fine. But planning a family vacation with multiple items of luggage might add up quick.

Easyjet

Easyjet was my go-to airline once I got to Europe. Many times, it was cheaper to fly than to take a bus or train. I was able to get from Prague to Barcelona for $40, and from Barcelona to Rome for $60. I wish I would have discovered them before I left for Europe, as I wasted hundreds of dollars in the first half of my trip using busses and trains. It’s not a luxury airline by any means, but I’d much rather spend 2 hours on a plane that didn’t give me complimentary peanuts, than 8 hours on a bus that did.

Google Flights

Did you know Google has their own flight search website? I didn’t find this one until mid-way through my trip, and I wish I had. It has a very handy search tool, that allows you to pick a departure airport, and then simply search around the world map, viewing prices for every airport on the globe. This way, you can instantly see if going to a major airport offers the same price as a smaller one a few miles away. It’s also a great way to go places that you may not have thought of.

Final thoughts

I’m assuming the basics are already known to you, but try to make sure you aren’t booking flights on the weekend. Tuesday and Wednesday are going to be cheaper than Friday or Saturday in most instances. Lastly, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Paris are often the cheapest cities to fly in and out of on an international flight. Don’t worry too much about going straight from America to your desired destination. Easyjet and Google Flights can get you almost anywhere in Europe for incredibly cheap once you’re across the pond.

3) European Travel

Knowing how to travel inexpensively, once you’re in Europe is going to be vital in having money left over to do cool things like enjoying the restaurants and sites. Here are a few ways you can do that:

Uber

One of the best apps I ever downloaded. Not only are the prices far cheaper, but everything gets paid through your app, so you don’t have to worry about tipping a cab driver or whether or not the cabby accepts cards. Lastly, the Uber drivers find YOU, which is incredibly convenient when you’re lost in a foreign country. Not that that ever happens *ahem*.

Cabs

If Uber happens to not be available and you must use a cab, don’t make the mistake of hailing a cab at the airport. When I arrived in London, I called a cab and was quoted $130 for a 30 minute drive. I did a quick google search of nearby cab services and got the same drive for $40.

Car rentals

Renting a car in Europe comes with the benefit of total freedom, but at the cost of quite a few challenges. Be very sure that you need to rent and consider those challenges beforehand. Here are some of the challenges I faced:

  • Most cars in Europe are manuals, and if you’re in Northern Ireland or England, you’ll be driving on the opposite side of the car, shifting with your left hand and trying to navigate roundabouts whilst driving on the opposite side of the road. I was very comfortable driving a stick, and still had a lot of trouble getting used to everything.
  • Always buy extra insurance and don’t ever put the rental on a debit card. I made the mistake of using my debit card in Germany, and saw $1250 taken out of my account due to a flat tire. Apparently Germany isn’t very familiar with mishaps. The fact that I spent an extra $20 on insurance was the only reason I saw that money again, but not for another 2 months.
  • Map out your route beforehand and become familiar with it. Cell phone service can be sketchy in Europe and few things are more stressful than to be desperately trying to take the correct exit in a backwards roundabout while your GPS is saying “recalculating”.

Bus

Airfare and Trains are fairly cheap when you’re in a developed part of Europe, but if you are wanting to go somewhere like Croatia or the Austrian Alps, bus lines are going to be a stress-free and fairly cheap alternative.

FlixBus

FlixBus was by far the best bus line that I used. Every one that I used included WiFi, power outlets, and onboard rest rooms. Also, there are no baggage fees.

Be careful with Eurolines. They offer cheap tickets, but they have baggage fees and they only take cash in the currency of the country that you’re in. I would have been stranded in Munich, had not a generous man in the back of the line come forward and paid mine for me.

Subways and Public Transit

This was one of my favorite parts of Europe. At first it seems like a rat race and it can be difficult to surmise the correct stops to get off on, but most countries offer 3 day unlimited bus and subway passes for very cheap, so if you happen to miss a stop, it costs nothing but time wasted to retrace your steps. I met quite a few friends on the public transit system, and it’s a liberating feeling to know that you can explore an entire European city at your leisure and not have to worry about conforming to a time schedule or having to count the miles you traveled.

Tip #1 – Google maps can navigate the public transit system.

While using phone data in a foreign country can get expensive, keeping your GPS on won’t charge you anything. I suggest mapping your route beforehand on your Google maps app, and then just watching your GPS location to know which lines to take and how close you are to each stop. This is much easier than trying to ask someone who doesn’t speak your language if it’s time to get off, and it will give you the peace of mind of being able to tell from the GPS if you are close to your destination.

Tip #2 – Pay for a ticket.

Countries like France and England have strict security in their subways and bus stops. However, countries like the Czech Republic and Croatia have little to none. While it may seem tempting to do what “everyone else is doing” and just step on to the public transit, keep in mind that most people there have cards that they pay on a monthly or yearly basis. Random checks are rare, but the last thing you want is to be detained by law enforcement in a foreign country, all because you didn’t want to pay $25 for a 3-day unlimited pass.

Tip #3 – Be aware of when the public transit closes

In some countries, the public transit system runs all night. However, I almost got stranded in Prague because I wasn’t aware that they shut everything down at midnight.

4) Lodging

This is another necessity that can both be intimidating, as well as expensive if you don’t know where to look. However, if you do it right, you can stay in most places for a fraction of what it would cost you in the States.

Air B&B

Air B&B is a collection of homes that hosts open up to you. This was hands down my favorite way to find lodging. Not only are they nearly everywhere in Europe, but they are often incredibly accommodating, as well as cheap. Granted, the rates go up and down depending on location and time of year, but the most that I ever paid for an Air B&B was $24 per night, and on some occasions, I only paid $11 per night.

With Air B&B, you get a chance for some well-needed alone time. This might not seem that important if you’re an extrovert, but I didn’t discover Air B&B until midway through my trip, and after 3 weeks staying in hostels, I was entirely sick of people and you’d be surprised how refreshing it is to finally get a room to yourself.

The other underrated aspect of Air B&B, is the fact that on many occasions, the host of the home gave me advice on what to see, from a local’s perspective. I was also fed countless meals for free, although that was merely a perk and isn’t to be counted on.

Hostels

Hostels are a great way to meet new people. Not only will you be in the company of many other travelers like yourself, but the atmosphere is often very fun and exciting.

Hostel Tip #1 – Bring a towel and shampoo

Most hostels charge extra to rent a towel, and soap and shampoo are luxuries.

Hostel Tip #2 – Buy a padlock

It’s very easy to get things stolen when there are 16 random people in a room. Keep your belongings close and buy a padlock to store everything while you sleep. I had a camera stolen in a hostel in London after leaving it for less than 5 minutes.

Hostel Tip #3 – Privacy is obsolete

Once again, 16 random people in a room. If you want the room to be same-sex, you’ll have to pay extra. Don’t be surprised to have people changing in front of you and if you’re a woman, use extra caution to not get yourself in a vulnerable situation.

Hotels

Hotels in Europe aren’t like the ones in America. In Europe, you usually get what you pay for. Rooms can go for $20 per night, but they are often a tiny room with a cot and may or may not have a shared bathroom. If you want a hotel that is similar to America, you’ll have to pay American prices in Western Europe.

Eastern Europe is a different story. EVERYTHING is cheaper in places like Prague and Croatia, so getting a nice hotel is much more affordable.

Bed and Breakfast

The bed and breakfast that I stayed in in Ireland was far less expensive than I thought. I payed 60 pounds for one night, and it was by far the most accommodating place that I went to in Europe. I can’t speak for anywhere else in Europe, but don’t immediately write off a Bed and Breakfast until you’ve shopped around.

All in all, I would recommend a mixture of all of those options. Stay in Air B&B’s for price, privacy and local travel recommendations, stay in hostels if you want to meet a ton of really awesome people and don’t mind close quarters, and be sure and break it up with an occasional stay at a hotel or Bed and Breakfast. Backpacking Europe can be tiring and you’ll be glad you spent a little extra a few times to stay in a nice place to break things up.

What to pack

If you are truly backpacking it, then the biggest curse you’re going to have is packing too much stuff. It might seem tempting to want to be able to dress for any occasion, but the truth is that when you get dropped off at a train station and you have to walk 2 miles, you’re going to want that backpack to be as light as possible. Furthermore, the more you pack into your backpack, the more time you’re going to have to spend to put it all back together when you leave for a new place. Lastly, souvenirs are going to be impossible to get if you’re backpack is bursting at the seams.

  • I recommend no more than 4 or 5 sets of clothing and extra underwear and socks.
  • I had two pairs of shoes; one for hiking, and one for strolling. Make sure they are supported, as you will be spending hours on your feet on cobblestone streets.
  • Try and dress semi-European. While it’s fairly obvious that you’re not a local, looking like you’re an American will leave you more susceptible to pickpockets, and it’s kind of nice to be able to blend in a little and not feel like a tourist everywhere you go. I bought a newsie cap and I often wore a scarf. Hats are also nice when you don’t get a chance to shower for a couple of days.
  • Get a conversion kit so that you can plug into the outlets out there. Best buy sells a whole European kit for fairly cheap.
  • Take a small bag to bring along on day trips. I had a burlap bag that I could stuff some food, etc. into and it came in very handy. It’s also nice to stuff layers of clothes into when it gets hotter later in the day.
  • Be careful with your overcoats, as they can take up a lot of space. I packed one coat, flannels and a thick hoodie. By layering up and using a scarf, hat and gloves, I was able to stay warm in almost any weather.
  • Pack a portable charger. Battery life is a necessity over there when you’re trying to navigate back to where you’re staying.
  • Pack a small extension cord with a splitter at the end. This was vital when you have one power converter and more than one electrical device that needs charging.

How to pack

By the end of the trip, I had finally mastered the art of packing my stuff up in a way in which it all worked efficiently. Packing and unpacking your backpack when you get to places will prove to be no easy task, but if you follow my steps, you’ll be able to do it much more effectively.

  • Go to a supermarket and get the biggest ziplock bags available. Gallon sized bags worked for me, but it was very tight. Also, get a pack of dryer sheets.
  • Take a set of clothes and roll each article of clothing as tightly as possible.
  • Put the dryer sheet in the zip lock bag, and then put each article of clothing in the bag.
  • Compress the bag so that there aren’t any air pockets and then seal the bag.
  • Do this for every change of clothes that you have and be sure to pack extra zip-lock bags.

This method proved effective for multiple reasons:

  • The zip-lock bags keep all of your clothes dry in case your bag should happen to get wet.
  • This method effectively prevents your dirty laundry from contaminating your clean laundry.
  • The dryer sheet makes all of your clothes smell awesome.
  • By packing a change of clothes in one zip-lock bag, you can just reach into your bag and pull out one change of clothing, without having to dig around for other articles. Very handy when it’s 4am and you’re in a dark room with 16 other sleeping people.
  • On several occasions, there were shower stalls with very little in the way of preventing water from soaking the floor. By putting your clothes in a zip-lock bag, you can prevent them from getting wet.

How to plan

Don’t cram it all in

When you’re in America, plotting your course, it’s going to be tempting to try and hit every place in as little time as possible. What I learned, was that if you don’t space things out enough, the experience starts to be like a slideshow moving too fast; you don’t have enough time to enjoy yourself and take it all in. On top of that, travel is exhausting. It’s disheartening to know you only have one night somewhere and you have to get up early the next morning to catch a flight. It’s better to fully get to experience 5 places, than to rush through 15 places.

Account for jet lag

It’s no joke. It takes 3-5 days to fully start to function like a normal human being after you get there. Start staying up late a few days before you leave and don’t expect to hit the ground running when you get there.

Buy a camera

Yes, cell phone camera’s have come a long way, but having a camera with optical zoom made for some priceless photographs. Also, having a camera makes you more conscious of the fact that you should be taking pictures. Lastly, being able to use my camera allowed my phone battery to stay alive for much longer. If you’re traveling alone, a selfie stick isn’t a bad idea. It gets exhausting to make random strangers stop and take your picture, and it’s a little nerve racking to give your phone or camera to a stranger.

Keep an empty credit card on standby

You never know what kinds of things might happen over there. By having an unused credit card as an emergency reserve, you’ll have a way to buy a last minute hotel, or if worst comes to worst, a flight home.

Hidden gems in Europe

I wasn’t over there for nearly long enough to see everything, but I can highlight some of my favorite places that I did get to see, as well as comment of a few that were a little disappointing. I have separated them by their different types of appeal, but keep in mind that I’m not personally drawn to parties and fast-paced cultures, so my tastes might not represent yours.

Scenery

Iceland was the most magical place I’ve ever seen in regards to scenery. It was a mixture of foreboding white-capped mountains, breathtaking waterfalls and surrounded by plains that were a striking contrast of black lava rock, blanketed in rich green moss. However, expect the culture to be a bit standoffish and be prepared to spend a lot of money. Iceland is the second most expensive place in Europe, the first being Oslo, Norway.

Switzerland was a close second. It has plenty in the form of beautiful rolling hills, but the small towns were unmatched in their art and quaint village fronts.

People

Ireland, no contest. The people there welcome you like you are family and I got to experience my lifelong dream of raising a Guinness whilst singing Irish folk tunes in a crowded pub. It’s a place of hospitality and there’s a warmth there that makes you feel like your home.

History

Rome was like being in a dream for the historically inclined. You’ve seen pictures of the colosseum, but I can assure you that it’s nothing like walking through it and witnessing the sheer magnitude of it. Be sure and take a least 3 days aside for Rome if you love history. It’s eerie, surreal and simply magical.

Vienna was fascinating for the more recent history. You get to go to coffee shops that frequented the likes of Hitler, Freud, Stalin and Toto and you pass by countless sites that you’ve only previously seen in black and white photos. The culture was also very hospitable and polite.

Architecture

I had previously been impressed by the architecture in London, Paris and Vienna, but they were nothing in comparison to some of the buildings in Prague. Prague was one of the few places that Hitler didn’t bomb and it was because he took such a liking to it. And for good reason.

Overall Experience

Croatia has recently gained popularity, and for good reason. It’s a perfect combination of breathtaking ocean and mountain views, rich culture, and historical cities that date back to the early Roman Empire. Plus, the exchange rate is fantastic, so you’ll be able to enjoy incredible Italian-style meals for very reasonable prices. This was by far the most surprising hidden gem that I discovered in Europe

London was wonderful! It was very charming and you have the ability of seeing a variety of fascinating and historical sites in one leisurely stroll. It’s also fun to see constant arial footage in movies and news broadcasts and be able to say “I was there!”.

A bit disappointing

Perhaps I have exceedingly high standards from being able to see so much, or perhaps it just didn’t fit my taste, but Paris was surprisingly a little disappointing. There were some really rough spots that I wasn’t expecting, and the people there were less inviting than anywhere else I went. Plus, they are dedicated to their French language and don’t bend over backwards to help you if you can’t speak French, so it can feel a bit overwhelming.

Barcelona would probably be a top location for many, but it just never struck a chord with me. I was expecting a laid-back, Spanish lifestyle, and instead it was a very fast-paced, bustling city. It was also very diverse, so it didn’t feel like you were experiencing one culture. Perhaps I was all too familiar with that kind of thing in America, so it wasn’t as exciting as some of the other places. I wouldn’t go out of my way to return to it.

I may have based this off of one bad experience, but Germany charged me $1250 for a flat tire, and then almost made me sleep on the street because I couldn’t pay cash for a 4 euro baggage fee. The town of Munich seemed very industrial and closed down a 9pm and the people there were rude. I had a manager unplug my phone charger in a coffee shop because it wasn’t allowed, even though I had bought a cup of coffee. There was just nothing warm about it.

In closing

So there you have it…a hitchhiker’s crash course on Europe. I hope that it proved useful for some and I hope that if you have an opportunity to visit Europe, that you take advantage of it! I know I’ll never regret doing it!

My R rated faith

Coloring books; I think that’s where it started. I used a dull crayon to begin my childish masterpiece and brought to life a giant, and a kid, and this kid defeated the giant with a slingshot. Later, I watched a remake of the scene, played out by a pickle and a cucumber.

Later on, I read a story about a kid, undermined and unvalued by his family and forced to spend most of his days and nights alone in wilderness. He managed to survive the brutal land by learning how to kill some of the most dangerous creatures in the world without traditional weapons.

The giant was a Nephilim, meaning he was part demon and part human and he terrorized the country.*

The kid tells the freakish demon/giant that God was going to use him to kill him, then takes down the giant with the same methods he learned in the wilderness, and then hacks off his head and holds it up in the air. Afterwards, a kid who had about as much social contact with women as he did with the enemy, ends up winning the beautiful daughter of the most powerful man in the country.

Somewhere in my head, the G rated version sounds like the real version, and the R rated version sounds so unlike the bible. One sounds like the hero ends up marrying Lady Elaine, and the other one sounds like something out of Greek Mythology.

Coloring books. This time I’m bringing to life a caucasian, saxon-looking bearded guy who looks like he’d own a successful calligraphy shop and drive a Prius. Behind Him is a furrow-browed mob of people, holding stones that look more like smooth loaves of bread, and in front of him is a woman who looked to be in her 30s with a dress on that was slightly ripped in the shoulders and she was strewn on the ground in dismay with a caption in old English saying “let him without sin cast the first stone”.

Later, I read a story about a girl who could have been as young as 15 (based on how Jewish girls could get married as young as 13), cheating on her husband and being drug out into the streets in front of the most righteous people in the country, with only a small-time carpenter standing between her, and being bludgeoned to death with rocks.

Lonely. Naked (most likely). Sweaty. Ashamed, and the dust is sticking to her. The town searches the ground for the most jagged looking rock they can find and look at her like the catcher at a baseball game.

“Whoever hasn’t sinned, throw first”.

Somewhere along the line, “coloring books” had tamed the bible down so far, that Jesus never seemed like a guy who would ever be in the same room with a naked, slutty girl…much less protect her. The G rated bible never seemed to show the extremes: the scandalous sex and the potential bludgeoning, so my head makes that scene seem like a tame proverb about “being merciful” and moving on.

A service at church, and Sunday school coloring books come back to mind. Everything is so tame there. We talk about general concepts like “peace” and “mercy” and use it to give us a tranquil feeling. If the content isn’t appropriate for a toddler, then it has no place in church. And how many times have you heard someone say the phrase “don’t say that kind of thing in church.”? It is the epiphany of a “G rated bible”, and my own sin and shame and nakedness make the congregation look like baseball pitchers. And somehow the “G rated Church” and the “G rated Jesus” has made the Jesus in my mind unable to stand in the same room as I, and he certainly wouldn’t be defending me.

We talk about how our generation is leaving the church in droves. I’ve heard suggestions along the lines of “we’re refusing to talk about hell enough” and, “this generation is tired of a seeker friendly church”, but I beg to differ. I think my generation is tired of the games, and tired of the bullshit. Tired of a G rated church that can’t tolerate the fact that someone said the word “bullshit” (Because apparently, mentioning cow turds is more offensive than Jesus calling the religious leaders of the day “children of snakes” and “sons of hell”). We’re tired of going to a place that can’t tolerate nakedness and shame and real problems – problems that we’re all dealing with, but an image of jagged rocks keeps us from talking about them. Most of all, I think we’re tired of turning this messy thing called “life” into a G rated coloring book, because at the end of the day, R rated problems don’t get solved with G rated solutions.

If we are to be Jesus, then we are to be able to stand in front of the lonely, naked and ashamed and not be offended. And hopefully, (albeit a bit idealistically) when we do become exposed, we find the church to be standing in the way of us, and stone throwers.

A G rated faith becomes a faith with pretense in the place of grace, because G rated problems don’t need grace or humility. Only an R rated faith has the audacity to expose things worth forgiving. If reality isn’t allowed to be talked about, then neither is grace, and if that’s the case, then we’re not worshiping a Savior, we’re worshiping a carrot in front of our face; held up by well-meaning pastors who are too scared of real problems to ever give us a means to a real Savior.

*Crazy huh? But totally biblical. Here is some more info